License to Kill

Three weeks ago I was supposed to try fishing but it rained all the time. So two weeks ago I was going to try fishing but it rained some more. I took it as a sign that I shouldn’t fish, but my husband insisted that we could find a two hour window with no rain some time during the week.

I come from a family of fishermen. My dad even wrote a book about it. He is an obsessed experienced fly fisherman whose office and car are prominently decorated with flies.

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My brother is fly fishing guide in Wyoming whose calves are prominently decorated with flies.

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I’m not sure how I managed to go my whole life without fishing, but I can’t say I have any regrets. The trouble is that my husband took up fishing a few years ago and my youngest son is constantly nagging him to go. He even made a fishing license so my husband couldn’t use that as an excuse.

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Fritz loves telling me all the best places to go and the best kind of bait to use, always ending with, “But we never have any luck when we go fishing.” And yet, he still wants to go again and again and so does my husband. I don’t really understand it – is it like gambling? Do people fish because even after failed cast after cast, there’s always that chance of luck the next time around? Is that the attraction, that it’s like a slot machine?

I thought I should at least try it, especially because it means so much to these four guys. I bought a license, and not just a one-day license but a 365-day license on the assumption that I would want to go more than once. How’s that for gamblers’ optimism?

But then the rain came and it was so easy to procrastinate. Why did I keep trying to put it off? I always try to stay away from places where I think I might be cold – camping, football games, movie theaters. I pile on the layers every time I board an airplane (there are never enough of those “blankets” to keep me warm). Also, fish creep me out because they twitch and squirm when you are least expecting it. Also, fishing seems so boring. Also, if you catch a fish, you have to clean out its guts. I think I’d rather be bored than have to gut a fish. Also, fish hooks are dangerous! Look what happened to me last summer just watching my family fish.

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But on Friday afternoon the heavens parted for exactly two hours so we could give it a try. And here, from my very brief experience, are my impressions of fishing:

Cons:

The Gear – Packing it up, buying more, knowing which thingamabob to use with which goopy stuff, unknotting line. Tedious.

The People – We did meet a few very nice people at the reservoir, but there were other not so nice people yelling at their kids, playing loud music and swearing, and sound carries over water so we could hear them clearly no matter how far away we were.

The Cold – It was cold.

The Smell – Fish and bait and reservoir water kind of stink. It wasn’t overwhelming, but it was there.

Carpal Tunnel – The repetitive motion and grip were not good for my delicate (wimpy) hands and wrists, but I was able to recover after some Advil and a few days’ rest.

The Worms – In my fridge.

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Pros:

The View – Utah’s a beautiful place to live and I don’t get out to see enough of it.

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The Company – Hanging out for a few hours with these guys made braving the cold totally worth it.

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The Thrill of the Chase – I have to admit, I was secretly relieved that we didn’t catch anything that day because I know my husband probably would have made me touch any fish I caught. But there were a few moments when I felt some tugs on my line, when there was some hope of success, and it was kind of exciting. I wasn’t really disappointed when the fish got away, but I can see how people who actually wanted to catch a fish would be disappointed.

I know I didn’t spend enough time fishing to get the full experience. I really did want to go a few more times, but the weather didn’t cooperate. I know I’ll be going again because I’m now fully trained and licensed. Maybe I’ll even learn to love it, you never know.

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(Fritz’s favorite joke: “Looks like you caught your limit! You’ve got a really big fish in your net!”)

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So Unoriginal

I stumbled on something that kind of ruined my whole week. While doing some reading for what was supposed to be my next challenge, I made a terrible discovery: someone else had already done my blog. Okay, not exactly, but after only a few minutes’ reading of her book I felt like a giant copycat.

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Since I had never heard of the book or blog I knew that I wasn’t actually stealing her ideas, but that didn’t prevent me from feeling pretty dumb that it had never occurred to me to do a quick google search to see if there were other blogs around about people trying new things. So this week, even though it was painful to realize just how unoriginal I am, I checked out a whole crop of others who did exactly what I’m doing.

There are several “try new things” blogs out there by women and men who are younger than I am and older, trying new things, trying scary things, exploring New York or exploring the world, all searching for adventure, growth and happiness. Not only did I feel silly about my lack of originality after reading these other blogs, I felt pretty lazy as well. Some of these folks were challenging themselves daily and here I was patting myself on the back for getting around to something once a week?

I tried to see if there was some connection between us, something to explain the sudden need to change our lives one new thing at a time, but there was no simple answer. Maybe instead of seeing my need to expand my experiences as unoriginal, I could look at it as universal. People need to grow and change, and I just happened to choose one method of growth that others have chosen as well. Children face new challenges every day but growth tends to level out as we age. Most of us in our adult life have settled into patterns and schedules and often go years without noticing the routine of it all. But then when we do, when we stop to see how deep our ruts are in the road, we have to decide if we want to change anything. Pulling a wagon out of a rut is much more difficult than just letting it continue in its accustomed path, and sometimes it’s easier or less painful to let it stay as-is for a while. It’s actually comforting to me that there are others who have felt the pull between the comfort of the familiar and the lure of the unfamiliar and lived to tell the tale.

I’ve been having trouble getting motivated to do any blogging the last few weeks. I blamed it on time constraints (even though I’ve stuck to my schedule during much busier weeks) but maybe I hit a wall because I reached the one year mark. What if that’s the shelf life of something like this? Has my experiment run its course? I started to think, all these other blogs only lasted one year, maybe I should just follow suit. Then again, if I use that as a reason to quit after only a year, that would just make me a big, fat copycat.

Stay Classy

April is over, and nobody’s feeling that more than I am. During my month of fun, I got to try many things I’ve actually wanted to do. It was delightful. But Fun April is over and I’m back to making myself do things I just don’t want to do, things I’ve never wanted to do. After all the joy April brought me, I knew the transition wouldn’t be easy. But oh, man, after this week, I think I need a long shower.

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In an effort to become less judgy and to try to understand others’ points of view, I decided to watch professional wrestling. What’s the attraction? Why do so many people love it? And how has it managed to grow in popularity over the sixty or so years it’s been around?

I was familiar with many of the WWF wrestlers from my childhood – Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Rowdy Roddy Piper and the Iron Sheik – but that wasn’t from watching any actual wrestling matches. It was from the marvelous Saturday morning cartoon Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘N’ Wrestling. Quality children’s programming, obviously.

Aside from the Governor of Minnesota and the Tooth Fairy, I’m not familiar with any wrestlers after 1986. I’ve never been curious even the tiniest bit.

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Several years back, a member of our church congregation participated in a local wrestling organization so my husband and several friends attended one of the bouts to support him. My husband enjoyed himself so much, he still talks about it ten years later. And after our experience watching a local roller derby match, I started to think maybe if I gave WWE a try, I might not think it was so bad.

So this week I immersed myself in professional wrestling. I watched almost every WWE show offered on hulu (because there’s no way I’m paying money to watch this stuff) and I sometimes watched for ten whole minutes at a time before skipping ahead. I spent so much more time than I ever imagined I would (almost two whole hours!!!) and it was not easy. You know, sometimes when I try something and don’t like it, I try to find a nice way to explain why it was awful. But I just can’t find a nice way to convey how much I hated this.

Most of us worked at crummy part-time jobs when we were in high school that gave us the chance to spend time with people we wouldn’t necessarily choose as friends and with whom we would never, ever want to hang out outside of work (or even accept a ride home from, even if our mom was really late picking us up). That’s how I feel about the WWE wrestlers. And announcers. And audience members.

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Or you know the People of Walmart who are interesting enough that you might spend thirty seconds wondering about their lives outside of Walmart but you wouldn’t dream of following them home to actually find out? That’s what it felt like I was doing this week. And I don’t think it’s accidental that I made that connection. I think that’s just the vibe they’re going for.

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It’s as if they keep a copy of The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste on hand so they won’t leave out a single detail: Rednecks? Check… Hair Weaves? Check… Pleather? Spray tans? Spandex? Man perms? Check, check, check, and:

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And the formats of the shows are just as bad, combining the worst parts of television: reality show backstabbing, gratuitous violence, objectification of women, and annoying sports announcers.

There are many different shows on the WWE Network  and I didn’t watch all of them, just enough to give you a quick tour. WWE NXT features new and up-and-coming performers. Its production value is not nearly as overblown as the bigger shows like Raw and Smackdown and the audience is pretty small. It’s kind of entertaining to watch the fights because they are more obviously choreographed than those between more seasoned performers (“Ok, set up to be flipped, now flip, now I’ll grab your arm…” kind of like me in my self-defense class.)

WWE Divas is very different from the other shows because it’s about girls and instead of threatening each other backstage like the men do, the Divas hug, talk about hair, guys, and phones…you know, girl stuff. And then they go fight each other. But then they’re totally BFFs afterwards. A big chunk of the show is spent following the women’s “real” lives outside of the ring in a reality show format. I couldn’t bear to watch any of their conversations (especially between the Bella Twins) for very long though because they were unbelievably dumb. Like I actually cannot believe anyone can be that dumb, and I’ve even seen those Facebook Fails.

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After giving WWE shows a try and deciding that I was right to stay away in the first place, I wondered what exactly bothered me the most about it? Was it the outfits? No, I was raised on He-Man and The Dukes of Hazzard. This wasn’t any different.

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Was it the violence? Surprisingly, not so much. I can’t handle violence, but it’s all just choreography so I watched it more as a dance routine than a fight.

If anything, the violence just got boring after a while. If everything is scripted and the outcome is already decided, then I have no reason to care. I know a lot of WWE fans tell critics like me that it’s just like watching a scripted fight scene in a movie or show, which may be true. But most shows I watch only have short fight scenes, if any. My attention span for caring about imaginary winners of imaginary fights is limited.

That’s not to say I wasn’t disturbed by some of the characters. The cheesy spandex costumes and Lucha libre masks made the fights more obviously clown-like so it was easy to see it for the fictional story that it is.  It was the performers whose costumes were designed to look everyday clothes that made me uncomfortable to watch. Luke Harper’s sweaty wife beater shirt’s pretty bad, but the worst for me is Dean Ambrose. There’s nothing “dressed-up” about him, which is what makes him so creepy – normal clothes, haircut, and name. The only thing “put on” is his facial expression when he’s trying to look unhinged, but when he’s not making goofy “crazy guy” faces, he looks like he could be someone’s neighbor or boyfriend or manager at Taco Bell. That’s what makes him scary to me.

I think what really bothered me about watching these shows was just how dumb it all was. The writing was about as smooth as an LDS roadshow and the acting made me feel like I was listening to A Prairie Home Companion, except with more shouting and threats.The storylines include not only the rivalries between wrestlers, but also the WWE executives who have their backroom discussions right there in the ring and often work out their differences by (you guessed it) fighting it out. Just this week the almost-50-year-old retired wrestler/Director of Operations of WWE changed out of his suit took off his shirt to fight the 28-year-old WWE World Heavyweight Champion in an effort to teach him to respect his elders, even if doing so might cost him his job.

But judging from his visit to the Daily Show, the whippersnapper didn’t learn his lesson.

I always try to learn something from each new thing I try and this week is no exception.  I think I learned that it’s just not classy to shout or get angry. I’m rarely tempted to try a flying clothesline or a diving fist drop, but I do allow myself to get sucked into arguments and to raise my voice on occasion. Maybe the next time I find myself in that kind of situation, I should remind myself how annoying it was to watch all the yelling on WWE. If it’s tacky on t.v. (or in the checkout line at Walmart), then I should have more class than to stoop to that level. Because the greater the distance between me and the WWE, the better.

Sol Fa Sol Good

I love to sing. A lot. All the time. And I’m loud. I just wish my love of singing came with a nicer voice, but we work with whatever instrument we’re given, I guess. Sadly, my voice is only utilitarian. It does the job in a choir, but that’s about it – nobody would ever want to hear me sing a solo. But it doesn’t stop me from singing and singing, like Prince Herbert from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. All I want to do is sing, but since I know it can be annoying to others, I try to limit the frequency and volume.

I got pretty good at sight singing using solfege syllables in high school and college and sometimes I pull out a book of sight singing exercises to practice alone in my room. It’s for fun. Before we had kids, sometimes my husband and I would spend our family home evenings singing hymns using solfege. Nerdy, I know, but I really miss it. There’s something about having to read and think and sing all at the same time that is especially satisfying. I sometimes think about joining a choir but I don’t have time for it right now. What to do? Luckily my husband found the answer.

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Shape note singing is similar to solfege except it only uses mi, fa, sol and la, notating each syllable with a different shape. It originated in British parish church music but came to America around 1760, where it became popular in New England and eventually made its way to the south. One of the most famous shape note songbooks, The Sacred Harp, was published in 1844 and became so popular that communities formed Sacred Harp Societies for members to gather outside of regular church services to sing from the collection of hymns. Although not as common now as in the nineteenth century, there are still many active Sacred Harp groups throughout the U.S. who gather to sing and to keep alive arguably one of the oldest American musical traditions.

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I learned about Sacred Harp singing in college and have watched Youtube videos from time to time, but I had always assumed I’d have to travel to Alabama or somewhere else in the South to see or participate in a singing myself. But I am happy to report that I was wrong. It turns out there’s a Sacred Harp group in Utah that has been meeting in Salt Lake City and Provo for the last ten years. We decided we’d better check it out.

Trained singers or others hearing Sacred Harp for the first time might say it’s not very pretty or refined. One friend I was talking to likened it to the sound of honking geese.

But there’s just something about it – the lack of restraint, the gusto, the volume – when I listen, I get the impression that the singers are just letting all the music they have inside themselves escape. Sometimes I try to describe that effect when I’m leading our congregation’s choir and I want a certain verse to have a “revival” feel to it – so full of zeal and fervor and joy that it’s almost a shout. There are just some moments that call for that sound of raw, unaffected praise. When I hear Sacred Harp singers, I’m reminded of a favorite scripture: “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily as to the Lord, and not unto men;” (Colossians 3:23). These singers don’t really care what listeners think of their singing. They are too busy singing heartily.

Can you see why I might want to try this? A place where I can just sit and sight sing, a place where I don’t have to have a pretty voice, where I can sing as loudly as I want? It’s a dream come true!

The Utah Sacred Harp Singers meet in Provo at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church on the second Tuesday of every month. Books are available to use while you are there or you can purchase your own from them for $25 (you can also download it for free here). Participation is free of charge, but they do ask for a small donation to cover their costs. We happened to go at the end of the term so there were several college students participating to earn extra credit for their Folklore class.

A typical Sacred Harp singing is set up in the hollow square formation with each of the four parts forming a side of the square and facing inward.

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The group wasn’t large, maybe four to each part, but because our square fit into a relatively small space and because we all sang so loudly, it never felt like we were small in numbers. We sang for one hour then took a short break and sang for another hour. If I had known we’d be singing that long, I would have paced myself a little better. My voice was pretty shot by the end. But the amazing thing was that I was not the loudest alto there, not by a long shot, and that may be a first for me. I could sing as loudly as I wanted and not feel like I was sticking out, and it was really quite thrilling.

The format was pretty simple – we went around the square in order, letting each person choose which hymn we would sing next. The leader would call out our pitches and we would sing through the hymn once singing the shape-note syllables. Then we sang through with the text (but they limit it to only three verses per hymn.)

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I wish I had studied or practiced a bit before I came, if only to help me remember which syllable went with each shape. I kept up well enough, but on some of the faster passages, I found myself just “ahh”ing instead of actually singing the syllables. It’s also a bit tricky to read the text because the first verse is written under the treble line, the second under the alto, etc., so my eyeballs had to shift pretty quickly back and forth from the notes to the words, sometimes at a greater distance than I am used to.

I kept catching myself looking at the key signature so I could remind myself where “do” was, only to remember that there is no “do” in shape-note singing. It was hard for me to ignore all my old ways of sight singing and rely only on the shapes and intervals. Once I stopped trying to overthink things, I noticed that it’s actually a much easier way to sing. It still doesn’t make sense to me that there are two different notes given the same syllable, so I’m not sure how shape-note singing was supposed to teach note reading more effectively than solfege, but I just went with it.

I want to spend more time studying the hymns themselves because so many of them have some similarities with hymns I’m familiar with, but with different melodies or differences in texts. (Interesting to note – one number I wanted our choir to sing with a little more Sacred Harp style was the familiar hymn “How Firm a Foundation,” but in an arrangement which, as I just found out this week, takes the tune directly from the Sacred Harp.) It would be cool to trace the evolution of certain hymns from the nineteenth century to now (I’m sure I’m not the first to think that – there are probably several dissertations out there).

I haven’t had much time to look through the book but there are some interesting tune names, including Panting for Heaven, Ode on Science, War Department, and The Dying Californian (which seems to be relatively well-known among fiddlers and was even covered by a heavy metal band). Many of the tunes share names with places, including the last two towns we lived in, Pittsford and Granville.

My husband noticed how many of the hymns deal with death and dying. Turns out that 78 of the 573 are about death, including this cheerful ditty:

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On a whim I looked up how many refer to joy or joyfulness and according to the online index, there are also 78, so there’s some balance. And even with all the gloomy topics and the minor mode of many of the hymns, I didn’t feel even a little bit sad as I sat in a beautiful church singing with all my soul with a bunch of strangers doing the same. I felt tired and my sore throat was ready for the healing power of a pie shake (just around the corner!), but it was the good kind of tired. I don’t mean to sound like a complainer because it really was joyful to sing a glad new song before parting friends with a thankful heart. I hope they’ll save a spot for me at the next singing.

My Year of Living Dangerously

It’s May 3rd, and I know no one needs to be reminded of its significance, but I’ll tell you just in case. May 3rd marks the one year anniversary of my first ever post on my first ever blog. I know it’s not a big deal to anyone else, but to me this blog has been a life-changer. Before it, I was a lazy, grouchy couch potato whose only interests were work, food, and movies. Now I’m still kind of lazy and grouchy and I still like my couch a lot, but I also get off my couch and do stuff. Doing stuff has taught me that I’m capable of more than I think I am, it has helped me to see things from a different perspective and understand others’ points of view, and it has been so much fun.

You know those episodes on old sitcoms that weren’t actual episodes but just vehicles to show clips from older episodes? Apparently they’re called clip shows (see, I’ve learned so many important things this year), and they were always the most annoying episodes to watch. Well guess what? I’ve created my very own Humdrum Stick-in-the-Mud clip show. It’s totally self-indulgent of me, but aren’t all blogs self-indulgent by nature?

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Thanks But No Thanks

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Some of my attempts this year were not very successful. For example, although I had always assumed it would be the case, I learned the hard way that country dancing is not for me. Also, I think we can all agree that the world would be a better place if I never, ever decorate another cake.

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And although I really tried, I just don’t think I will watch zombie movies,The Titanic, or Saturday’s Warrior ever again. You can’t make me.

Yes, Please

I’m starting to get myself in trouble because I’ve liked so many things I’ve tried this year and there’s just not room on the calendar or in the budget for me to go back to do them regularly, as much as I’d like to try. How will I make time to do Prancercize with the neighborhood ladies and challenge the Mister Wives at Trivia Night? And does anyone know where can I find a good deal on snowshoes?

I Can do Hard Things

I swore I would never eat sushi but I did. I was never going to run a 5K but I did. And I found that the most difficult challenges were those which forced me to face my fears and insecurities.

Wait, I take that back. The most difficult week by far was when I had to read all those gossip magazines.

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Favorites

Often some of my favorite things to try weren’t necessarily my favorites to write about, maybe because writing about them wouldn’t do them justice. I loved the day I spent watching opera all by myself, but my other favorites were the most memorable because of the people I was with: Racquetball with my kids, self-defense classes with friends and family, and karaoke with my siblings.

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If you ask my family, my youngest son’s favorite challenge was the two weeks I spent in his world. He still tells his friends all the time that his mom “researched Pokemon“. Another son told me his favorite week was spent sitting around watching all the Harry Potter movies. And although my husband has enjoyed most of the challenges this year almost as much as I have, his favorite is still the time we went to the roller derby. (He’s worried this sounds lecherous – he appreciated the sport, ok?)

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Some posts weren’t necessarily interesting to other people but were the most fun for me to write, like this one about scalpels, this one about Korean dramas, this one about 80’s television, this one about our first date,  and this one about my brush with death.

Some challenges were life-changing for me and my family. This year I found out that, contrary to what I had known to be absolutely true, I actually can give blood and I really do like genealogy. Because of a blog challenge, I now exercise in public all the time without panicking. And because of another blog challenge, our family (especially my husband) now looks for ways to bike or walk instead of driving whenever possible.

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Did I start this blog as some sort of turning-40-freakout? Maybe, but I can think of worse mid-life crises. It’s been a pretty great year and I’ve still got a long list of things to try, so I’m not quitting anytime soon. Thanks for indulging me on this clip show, and thank you for indulging me all year by reading about my adventures.