Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Voice

The Voice is not happy tonight.

The Voice has been with me for many, many years now. It has been my companion through every stage of life — the good, the bad, and the severely depressing — and we have survived. The Voice has been shaped and molded over several decades. It is nowhere near as elastic as it used to be; but then, neither am I.

The Voice even survived puberty with me. In fact, in many ways The Voice made that transition in far better shape than I did. Over the ensuing years I have done my best to master The Voice. At this stage of life I can only say that, far from mastering it, The Voice and I have reached a mutually beneficial agreement. We are comfortable with each other now. It does its level best not to make a complete fool out of me (difficult, given the roles I've pursued on stage in the past), and I try not to take The Voice too far outside its comfort zone.

The last time I did that was a near disaster. The Voice was fresh out of high school and singing for the local J. C. The choir director had it in his head that The Voice must be capable of stretching into the realm of the counter tenor. Dangerous ground for one so inexperienced and — at the time — relatively intractable. The Voice was asked to perform the treble solo work in Schütz's "Magnificat." Heinrich Schütz liked his tenors, ah, surgically altered, and I probably had no business trying to emulate one at such a tender age. The Voice survived, but that director and I have parted company, never to work together again.

When The Voice started speaking to me again, I vowed not to rough him up so much in future gigs. I stuck to stage work where I could use my Character Voice. The Character Voice shares facilities with The Voice, but doesn't wear them out quite so much. Different still is The Speaking Voice, which at one time was compared with — this is true — a rusty hinge on helium. On stage, one can project to his heart's content, safe in the knowledge that The Character Voice is making few demands on The Voice.

(Note: Once upon a time it was referred to as The Singing Voice, but The Voice is a pretentious snob and prefers the more mysterious cognomen.)

About fifteen years ago I hit my vocal prime. The Voice had somehow matured to a point where it was fairly easy to put up with. It had also gone through what I can only define as a secondary puberty. The Voice insisted it was a 2nd Tenor, and I was more than willing to go along with it.

On second thought, I lie. What I really wanted was for The Voice to drop into baritone range. Baritones are 2nd tenors with attitude problems. But they get meatier roles.

Musically it's been a wonderful time. I have performed for some truly wonderful conductors over the years, and have been invited to solo far more than when I was a scrawny 1st Tenor. I have a recurring gig (until they get tired of me) doing the tenor solo for our annual Messiah Sing-Along here in Yorba Linda. The Anaheim Mormon Chorale has kept me happily busy doing an occasional solo, including some Gilbert & Sullivan.


We had our first rehearsal of the season a week ago. Our director, JoLane Jolley, is a wonderful musician. Educator, adjudicator, having worked herself with some of the finest conductors in the business. She also knows what she wants to hear, and right now what she wants is more oomph in her 1st Tenors. "Woody," she asked, "would you be willing to do 1st Tenor in falsetto?"

Since this question put Woody immediately in mind of a certain brush with counter-tenorhood, Woody was not pleased. Willing, of course, but not pleased. Woody is extremely comfortable as a 2nd.

The Voice is furious.

The Voice hasn't been stretched like this since I was 18. The Voice is starting to mutter under its breath. I'm hearing words like "mutiny," "retirement," and "Harry Belafonte." (Woody is not implying for a minute that The Voice would deliberately go around singing "Daaaaay-o!" until it went so hoarse that Woody could only speak in croaks, but I'm certain The Voice wants Woody to know that it's capable of doing just that.)

Tonight, after another two-hour workout in this truly unnatural range, The Voice came very close to not speaking to me again. I tried to soothe it by reminding it that I stayed in head voice for as long as possible. I only resorted to falsetto on a few occasions, and only for short bursts! The Character Voice has been chuckling to itself all night long. The Voice, meanwhile, is huffing around the house demanding its own dressing room. With chilled sparkling water.

No, The Voice is not easily appeased. Woody has been sort of croaking since returning home tonight. I'm hoping that The Voice feels much better after a good night's sleep.

"Daylight come, an' I wan' go home."

Monday, September 17, 2007

Daddy Is From Mars

Of course I love my girls. They've had me wrapped around their dainty fingers from the time they were grainy images on an ultrasound monitor. But you have to understand that, love them though I do, I'm still in a part of life where I can honestly say I've never had to deal with certain things before.

This is my second (or "new") life. I was married previously, and that union gave me two children. My son was an open adoption, and we brought him home from the hospital. My daughter was a foster-care placement (age 13!) whom we adopted as an adult because the Great and Terrible State of California doesn't believe that teenagers need parents, just emancipation. Later we took on two additional boys as foster kids, thus giving me three rambunctious young males in the house at one time. Coming home from work became an exercise in pain management.

"Daddy's home!"



[Sound of Woody's back being used as a trampoline]

"Dear? Where's the Tylenol®?"

But I knew how to deal with boys. With boys, you buy lots of things that can be swung, hit, kicked, beaten, and thrown. You take them out in the backyard, let them do precisely that, and let them run themselves into the ground so they can burn off the pound and a half of sugar they've consumed when Mommy's back was turned. Then you put them to bed, wait five minutes, put them back in bed, wait another ten minutes, put them back in bed again, and cross your fingers. Then you go to bed and wake up three hours later to begin your hellatious commute "down below." At least that's how I handled it. Your actual mileage may vary.

Unfortunately, my eldest daughter gave me absolutely no warning as to what to expect with girls under the age of 13. By the time she came to live with us, she was already in junior high school. Preparing for puberty was not the issue. Dealing with a post-pubescent adolescent was suddenly de rigeur. I found myself asking my brother-in-law, the deputy sheriff, for tips on how to keep boys at bay. Cleaning the shotgun on the front porch when they came to call was his considered response. (I note, for the record, that to my knowledge, Deputy Dan has never once cleaned his shotgun on his porch when boys call at his house.) (I'm not actually certain whether he even has a shotgun.)

(I certainly don't.)

Anyway, girls between the ages of zero and thirteen remain a mystery to Woody. You might think, now that my girls are 10 and nearly 8, that I have at least 10 years' worth of experiences from which to draw. You would be wrong.

What follows is a nowhere-near exhaustive list of things that still surprise me about girls, from a parental perspective:

1. The nesting instinct. Boys are pack-rats. Girls are nesters. Boys keep their junk until someone — Mom, generally — forces them to throw it away. Girls line their bedrooms with knick-knacks of all shapes and sizes as if they were children that need constant nurturing and care. Daddy tends to ignore this phenomenon right up until he cracks his toe on some doll with a cast iron skeleton that is always placed strategically next to the door when Daddy checks on them in the middle of the night.

2. American Girls®. Daddies don't get American Girls®. So, okay, I understand the part about telling each girl's life story from the perspective of their time in history. But what they are, primarily, is a merchandising coup. "You want HOW MUCH for that doll?? I guess I can always refinance if she needs clothes, too!" (Warning to Dads: two girls in your home means two SETS of American Girl® products. Do the math.)

3. The marriage thing. Both of my sub-teen daughters are married now. When this happened I can't exactly say, but they both have husbands, neither of whom I've ever actually seen. This is probably good. The bad part is that Daddy is expected to remember who these virtual husbands are whenever their names are mentioned. These names always fail to trigger anything in Daddy's admittedly selective memory, and Daddy is constantly being censured by his increasingly exasperated daughters. So I try to at least acknowledge that their hubbys exist, but I refuse to send them Christmas cards.

4. Inate ability to confound Daddy's logical arguments. When Daddy grew up and became a programmer [insert geek joke here], he quickly came across something called a "circular reference." This generally means you're trying to point to some calculation that is itself dependent upon your subroutine and you get the whole program locked up as a result. When dealing with daughters, this is the point where Daddy must admit that he has met and been subdued by a superior intellect. Whatever passes for seven-year old logic will always (repeat: always) overcome any argument that Daddy might use to refute their statements. This is how we end up buying American Girl® merchandise (see no. 1 above).

5. Reducing Daddy to putty. My teenage daughter was never able to pull this off. In fact, from the moment she first tried to wear her hair in a more "adult" fashion, or go to a dance wearing a skirt that was a bit too short, Daddy was on to her. Thanks to hormones, teenage girls seem to forget about their feminine wiles for a few years and attempt to take the direct route to infuriating their parents. My under-eleven girls are still in the "feminine wiles" stage. If they want Daddy to bend to their will, all they have to do is smile at him. Or cry. Or just pout. Daddy will invariably give them whatever it was that they wanted, usually with interest. Mommy can get this effect, too, because she got past the hormone-driven lack of subtlety many years ago and has returned to her feminine wiles.


As I say, this was hardly an exhaustive list. My elder Woodyette, still only ten years old, has three more years before I'll find myself back on somewhat familiar ground. I say "somewhat" because, addlepated male though I may be, I'm not so dim as to forget that no two teenagers are ever alike, even in the same family. And since my Woodyettes came long after my eldest daughter had grown up and begun her own family, we're actually in the enviable position of being able to compare notes. My granddaughter is about a year older than my ten-year old, and their experiences are pretty similar.

In the meantime, I can soak up the reputation my girls have acquired of being polite, thoughtful little people. We were told this just this evening when their Primary president came to the house as one of our volunteer nurses for Mrs. Woody. "They're always offering to help," she said. "They take their plates to the sink without being asked. I wish my kids would do that!"

Lady, I'm just hoping they'll keep doing that once those hormones kick in. But I guess this is what prayer is for, right?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I Don't Do Windows®, Either

I'm just certain I've mentioned before that, while I do have a modicum of musical talent, I have never undertaken any real formal musical education in my life.


Oh, yeah, okay, I did take a couple of semesters' worth of theory and such on the off chance that I might parlay that into a career as a music teacher. It only took a few months, however, to realize that I could never get serious about such a career for one reason, and one reason alone: I don't play the piano.

Music majors are expected to be able to hammer out their "compositions" in theory class, for example, and my piano skills were (and still are) non-existent. A few years (okay, many years) later I tried one last time to get serious about studying music, despite my fear of learning to play piano. I applied (and was even accepted!) for the musical pedagogy course at Southern Utah. I auditioned for a man who told me that his own reputation as a pianist was to be nicknamed "The Claw" by his professors in college. I suspected that I would never rise to that level, even, and soon dropped out without ever having set foot on campus as a new student.

I find it thus ironic that I have been asked to teach men at church how to sing.

Our Stake is sponsoring a music workshop this coming weekend that is designed to help folks get more comfortable with certain basic musical functions. Things like learning how to conduct hymns, for example, or beginning organ skills. When I saw that there would be classes in learning how to sing different parts, one for women and one for men, I wondered what poor sucker they'd nail to try to teach a bunch of recalcitrant men to follow a tenor or bass line in a hymn book. What loser would even attempt to teach men who have never sung anything but melody by rote for the last 50 years to sing a tenor line?

"Hey, Brother Woody, I've been meaning to ask you something!"

That this person is our Stake Music Chairman fills me with a sudden dread.

"Oh, yes?"

What ensues is begging at its most refined. She was so desperate to find someone to take that workshop that she even contemplated asking her husband to do it. I know her husband, and he is a terrific guy, but music is not his strong suit. I think he plays some piano, but in the six years we've been in the ward, I've never once heard the man sing. She had wanted to ask me sooner, but knowing of Mrs. Woody's convalescence had been hesitant to ask at all.

"Will there be a pianist?" My last possible out. I don't do piano.

"I'll make sure you have one!"

I really can't turn the lady down. She was my first choir accompanist when I got the calling in our second year here, and I'm sure I owe her far more than this measly workshop will ever repay.

"Sure. I'll just make sure it won't conflict with anything we've been planning at home." (It doesn't.)

So now I'm on the hook to teach old dogs extremely new tricks. For some of them, at least. My current plan consists of dividing them up by voice, hammering out their parts on a hymn or two, and telling them what a wonderful job they're doing.

I plan to wear ear plugs and smile a lot.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Who Are You, and What Have You Done with My Children?

A new schoolyear grips the Woody household. Mrs. Woody is still convalescing, but she's been determined to not have the kids miss any more school than they already have. (Our school is not exactly year-round, but we usually only take a month off during the summer. This year they got two, and it shows.)

There is, of course, the need to get the Woodyettes' minds back into the swing of school things. They haven't had to really worry about math or history while we've been so distracted with getting Mommy healed. They haven't had to read aloud or practice Spanish. In short, they're out of practice.

The school days will get progressively longer as Mrs. Woody's endurance increases. Already we can see the Woodyettes getting back into their school habits. This can be both good and bad; some habits consist of whining about whichever subject is not their particular favorite. (Side story: our Bishop was at the house early this morning with a crew of young men in need of service hours. They came to put a primer coat on a wheelchair ramp that was built for us a few weeks ago. Doodle decided she wanted to go out and help them paint. Mrs. Woody caught a snippet of conversation Doodle was having with the Bishop: "Did you start school yet?" "Yep." "How's it going?" "Okay, but I don't really like math." "You know, that wasn't my favorite subject, either!")

On the second day of school, the Inner Dad was hammering away at one of his innumerable programming projects while Mrs. Woody took the kids through their paces. After the morning devotional, story time, and some Greek fables (world history stuff... they're into the Greek civilization now), Mrs. Woody declared recess until after lunch. Recess, as it is for so many other kids, is one of their favorite subjects. The Doodle immediately went into Full Paper Craft Mode, which consists of cutting out various paper dolls and assorted accessories. You can instantly tell where in the house my youngest daughter has been merely by following the trail of paper scraps and cuttings along the floor. Jelly bounced out of the room, presumably to get in some quick computer time, or maybe even read a book.

Except she didn't. What she did, during her recess time, was ask Mommy if there was a workbook she could work in. "Honey, don't you want to go play for awhile?" "Mooooooom, I really, really want to do a workbook!"

I suppose this is part of the homeschool disease. Homeschooled kids are apparently so twisted and deprived, that they will beg to do school work during recess.

Fortunately, all is not lost. Doodle seems to have inherited more of her father's genes, which means that she views school work with as much enthusiasm as Daddy has for those medical exams we male types receive at around this age of life. I think, however, most of her trouble at the moment is that she's having a hard time getting certain concepts. Jelly was there not more than a couple of years ago, but is starting to get those concepts now and is loving it. I suspect Doodle will get there before too much longer. This is, after all, the child who taught herself to read at the age of four, just so she could keep up with her big sister.

So school is off to a running start at Hacienda Woody. Mommy is primed and ready to deliver another sterling year of instruction. Daddy is primed for being stumped by two people much shorter than he is. And the kids? Well, the kids love being in 5th and 3rd grades this year. Jelly is especially excited about havng school experiences that she can share with her classmates in Primary.

Yes, our Woodyettes are pretty wonderful.

Weird, but wonderful.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Mrs. Woody Update

It dawns on me that, like many a bad writer before me, I've been leaving huge chunks of plot threads largely unresolved. I am primarily guilty of failing to provide an online update on Mrs. Woody's condition as she recovers from her horrific infection that had her hospitalized for twelve days after our vacation.

Mrs. Woody is doing extremely well considering what she's had to overcome. The infection is pretty much gone and the only thing left is the healing of the actual abcess. The trick there is to have the pocket left behind by the infection heal up at or around the same time as the opening. We have become stockholders in whatever companies make Iodoform. Also rubber gloves, ABD pads, and a number of other medical supplies that we had hitherto ignored. We also have become evangelists for Duo-Derm, which has saved Mrs. Woody's skin, quite literally. We use the Duo-Derm as a patch surrounding the wound, and the dressings are anchored to the patch, rather than to Mrs. Woody.

Woody sits second chair when it comes to wound care. We've had home-care nurses come out — every day for a few weeks, but now only twice a week — to do the irrigation and repacking. Volunteers from our ward take the off days. These sweet sisters are all trained nurses, but only one of them is a working nurse right now. However, all three of them have been more than willing to use their skills on Mrs. Woody's behalf and have huge rewards awaiting them in higher places. The upshot for Woody is that I become the work site foreman. Since we have so many different people (we've had at least 9 different home-care nurses so far!) come to repack and dress Mrs. Woody's "second belly button," we have to reiterate the instructions over and over and over. One physician's assistant that saw Mrs. Woody on a follow-up was quite pleased that we were able between us to give her everything she needed to know when she was seeing the wound for the first time. One learns a lot when one is subjected to modern medical care.

Naturally the Relief Society has been providing meals a couple times a week. Woody is not quite the miracle worker that Mrs. Woody sometimes portrays him to be, and my domestic skills are somewhat toddler-like in their execution. I can cook. I can clean. I can spend time with the Woodyettes. I have a miserable time doing all three things at once, along with putting in my eight hours (or more) a day for the office. Thank goodness I can telecommute!

So Mrs. Woody is home, healing up nicely, and raring to be back on her feet for good. We're in the first week of our school year, and Mrs. Woody hasn't been able to so much as boot up her computer to prepare her lessons for the Woodyettes. We're going to work on that today. Also, we're kind of hoping to catch Harry Potter 5 before it disappears completely from the theaters. We're back to Church now, but only for Sacrament and a portion of Sunday School. Endurance is another thing on Mrs. Woody's To Do list.

Meanwhile, the Woodyettes have enjoyed a far longer summer vacation than we had intended this year. Not only has Mrs. Woody not been able to start school up yet, but our friends from the ward keep inviting the girls over for play days and swimming parties. Tonight we do start-of-school-year father's blessings which is how they know we're serious about getting school started. I think they're actually looking forward to it.

So are we.

Monday, September 03, 2007

High School (NOT the Musical!)

If you've followed this blog for any length of time, you'll remember Woody's steadfast opposition to reunions of any kind relating to my wayward school years. My stated reason to this point has been the idea that kids in my class were either stoned, about to get stoned, or recovering from having been stoned. I just didn't want to see all those train wrecks.

So explain to me, please, why I found myself updating my® profile this evening.


I find no logic in this move. I've been "associated with" (which sounds marginally better than "stalked by")® for many years now, going back to our time in Ventura County. It seemed like a good way to keep up with the three or four people who gave my high school years any kind of bearable significance at all; see what may have become of them.

The problem, of course, is that none of the people I was thus interested in bothered to sign in and make themselves known to me. Also, my deep-rooted self-imposed boycott of all school reunions has kept me backpedalling in full reverse thrust mode whenever those letters appear in my mailbox. ("They've found me! What'll I do??")

So I ask again: What the heck was I doing updating my profile tonight?

I suspect it has more to do with wanting to correct any misconceptions about my life post-academia than anything else. I guess some explanation is in order.

As anyone who knew me in high school (especially those who knew me well) could tell you, ol' Woody was one self-centered little dweeb in high school. A very skinny self-centered dweeb, mind, and one whose social skills consistently ranked right up there with cockroaches and certain bottom-feeding parasites, only with less charm. Chalk it all up to "talent," if you like, because that's what the problem really was. I was a talented kid whose head became over-inflated about one month into my high school career and stayed that way right up until graduation.

As a tenor I was pretty much in high demand as a vocalist throughout high school. I somehow figured this was because I had some sort of miraculous voice. The truth, it transpired several years later, was that any tenor who could (not necessarily in this order) read music and breathe was considered a hot commodity. The fact that I was the supposed scion of an extremely musical family only served to enhance this self-image and made me the unbearable snot that I became. That, coupled with the tutelage of a choir director who felt the only acceptable form of self-expression was biting sarcasm, made me what I was: a hideous (albeit talented) child.

My high school experience was pretty miserable overall. For one thing, I stank as a student. If it wasn't a music or theater class of some sort, I was doing well to pull C's and occasional D's. One teacher had gone so far as to make me sign what he labelled as a "bona fide contract" in the presence of the dean and my mother in order to pass the class. It worked, but that was the exception rather than the rule.

My misery in my performing arts classes was compounded by the fact that I was (I may have mentioned) a skinny dweeb. For most of those three years I had the whole package: greasy hair, pock-marked face, concave chest. My chances of scoring any female companionship were nil until my senior year when one of them — no doubt in a moment of weakness — thought I really did have some talent and was worth a second look. (Just kidding, Betsy!) (Mostly!)

Oddly enough, the experiences I had in high school in a way helped propel me into my post-graduation life of serving a mission, marrying in the temple, and trying to raise a family. The moment I matured enough to take a hard look at myself, I realized that what I had become in high school needed to die a quick, painless death. I deep-sixed that part of my life with fond wishes never to lay eyes on it again. I decided to remake myself from that moment on, and I haven't really looked back.

So why the sudden interest in posting an online bio on "Classmates?" To let those poor kids who had to put up with me in high school know that I really have turned out okay. I suspect that, had the yearbook had such a category, I would have been named "Kid Most Likey to Have His Jaw Wired Shut By a Jock" in my senior year. I want them to understand that I'm still alive, but that I'm not the same miserable kid they all knew. I want them merely to know that people can change.

Even skinny, sarcastic little dweebs like me.