Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Mozart for Babies

          I was doing some chores this morning and turned to our on-demand music service, MOG, to soundtrack my efforts. I usually use these house-to-myself opportunities to blast show tunes, which I sing at the top of my lungs.  I wasn't feeling quite that energetic. I wanted something I could turn on and let rip without much song-skipping or fear of getting randomized to something that would be stuck in my head all day. I turned to the search function and typed in  'Search albums by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart'. *click* Wow. So many choices. I took a whirl through the virtual 'album covers' and stopped, amazed at a lengthy series entitled 'Mozart for Babies'. Now, I'd heard about the 'Mozart Effect', the idea that classical music makes kids smarter or somesuch, though a study seems to point to this being largely hooey. Hooey or not, I have a friend who successfully soothed all of her children to sleep with classical music when they were small, so the albums labeled 'Calm and Soothe', 'Relaxation', and 'Peaceful Sleep' made perfect sense to me. Heck, I may try them myself.  I kept flipping, though, and it got a teeny bit ridiculous. The rest of the albums were:
  • Communication
  • Concentration
  • Confidence
  • Controlling Energy
  • Harnessing Emotions
  • Inquisitive Minds
  • Memory

My first question is, who decided which particular piece of  music improved which functions? Was there a control group of babies who were given concentration and memory tasks while listening to Vanilla Ice or Clay Aiken? I'm not sure I want to know what the 'confidence' control group had to listen to. And it occurs to me that if you want a child to 'harness emotions' or 'control energy' you'd give him something that would stir up a mosh pit. Get those emotions all harnessed in a big ol' circle. You can even surround it with baby fencing to give them the total concert experience.  And since they lack the balance and muscle tone to crowd surf you don't have to worry about anyone getting dropped on his head.

Don't get me wrong. I wish this worked. More so, I wish it worked for adults. If only music could be piped into public places that would encourage people to balance budgets, to pick up litter, maybe a 'Mozart for Considerate Behavior'. No more leaving a mouthful of scorched coffee in the office pot or two squares of toilet paper on the roll. Amid the swell of strings and the silvery piping of flutes people would share taxicabs, use phrases like, "Please," "After you," and "Thank you." Bloodless coups could be a mere Violin Concerto in D Major away.

What role has music played in my development into a passable-if-satisfactory human? I developed a fondness for classical music in my teens courtesy of WFLN, the now-defunct classical station in Philadelphia. Far too late to hone my hormone-addled brain. My earliest music memories are more of the Top 40 radio variety. I was one of those kids that sang songs word for word LONG before I had any understanding whatsoever of WHAT I was singing about. Here are a few of my formative 'concertos'. Do treat yourself to the videos, there are many golden 'What the...." moments here.

Believe it; I was 'git cha git cha ya ya da da'-ing all the way to afternoon Kindergarten. I figured out what this song was talking about roughly 23 years later. I have no explanation for the outfits. I guess my Mozart effect lesson here was, er, Effective Merchandising'.

My mother tells me I knew every word to this song when I was four. The only explanation I can offer is that it was probably on the radio ten times a day. It mentioned trains and I always associated it with my father's commute into Philadelphia for his manager job at Grant's. Mozart effect lesson: Dealing with 'The Man'.

This is a song I associate with riding in our Camaro in the summer, my legs sticking to the back seat (which was probably good since my feet didn't touch the floor and I wasn't wearing a seatbelt. You have to dig this video--I suspect the set designer for the Smothers Brothers was doing some serious acid. Mozart effect lesson: Respecting Gravity.

This is one of those songs that was just creepy. I couldn't put my finger on exactly what it was about, it just gave me a weird feeling when I heard it on my bedside radio late at night. Staring at the luminous dial I imagined all sorts of things, some probably darker than the song's intent. I also thought Helen Reddy was awesome. Don't judge me. Mozart effect lesson: If the glove doesn't fit, you must acquit. (I think.)

Now if I could just find that Mozart for Housecleaning and Organization album.....I'll be all set.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Writing the Words

(This post was inspired by the lovely Meleah, who asked the question 'Where do you write?' In this post. You should read it. And everything she writes.)

I was answering the question this morning 'Where do you write?' I found myself not so much answering the 'where' as the 'why'. I've been writing since I was eight years old. Stories, terrible poems mercifully lost to the ages; it seems that I have only ever been happy if I had a place to put down whatever I had to say. When I was 11 my aunt gave me a blank journal for Christmas. It was a large one; 8 1/2 by 11 with a pebbled black cover and my initials inside that she'd placed there in bold black rub-on transfer. Something about the size and heft of that book impressed me. This was no dainty pink book with a feeble, pickable lock, a diary worthy of Brady Bunch episodes and afterschool specials. This was a book that promised permanence and seriousness. Of course, I still filled its pages with nonsense about boys and when I might get my period.  I wish I still had both that journal and a later, prompt-filled journal called 'The Judy Blume Diary' that I filled cover to cover, because I'm quite certain they are filled with entries both hilarious and cringeworthy. I don't know what happened to either of them.Since then I've written in tiny leatherbound volumes, colorful blank books from bookstore clearance tables, dollar composition books, and, of course, in the flat blank spaces of Blogger.

I've written on airplanes, on trains, hunched in stairwells of political party offices in Belfast,  in museums, on park benches, brooding by lakes, on bluffs overlooking summer camp waterfronts, on my couch in the wee hours when all my petty worries organized and presented a unified current of sleep-chasing anxiety. Lately I write at my cluttered kitchen table, despite a clear and perfectly serviceable desk in my bedroom, because the desk does not afford a pool of sun for the cat to sleep in.

In 2003 I undertook a major challenge; a 150 mile bike ride, and wrote 'dispatches' about my training and preparation. I emailed them to interested friends because other than some vague awareness of Salon. com, I didn't know about blogging. I started blogging the year we moved from our suburban home outside of Philadelphia to very rural North Central PA, mostly to cope with the four months of separation required by the move, since my husband  had to be up here in July and my then-job obligated me to stay within striking distance of Delaware until October. Once I got here I blogged to cope with the fact that I was a 'flatlander' who felt like I'd moved into a Larry the Cable Guy anecdote. 

People tell me I should write more. This is made difficult by the fact that these days I make a concerted effort to do less brooding than I used to. The 'humor' part of my brain has another passenger, one more Plath than Bombeck. Skimming along the surface and not peering overmuch into the depths keeps her contributions to a minimum and this is good all the way around. Or maybe I should be honest and say its easier. Maybe its just time to let go and Write the Words without restraint like I did when I was young and everything was raw, critical, vital and my internal censor was engaged elsewhere.

I can't promise it'll be pretty. Heck, I can't promise it'll be coherent. But whether you were here from the beginning or a new reader I hope you can say 'at least I'll enjoy the ride'.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Official Answer is 'NEVER', and other questions that need answering

Many people picture every call that comes in to a 911 center as a dire, life threatening emergency. Don't get me wrong. We have those. All the time. But I'm learning that there are three general categories of calls and radio requests. They are:

  1. Stuff we do in the interest of the general course of justice
  2. The aforementioned dire emergencies
  3. Actions taken for the protection and betterment of people who spit in the face of 'Survival of the Fittest' every day
Now I would say that the first item is probably what we do the most of, the second item is the most challenging/rewarding/thing that gets you out of bed in the morning, and the third thing? Well, you are looking at what that gets you.

Case in Point:
"911, do you have an emergency?"
"Um, yeah. I just got back from a drive, and there was this guy in my yard, and he attacked me, but I defended myself with a baseball bat, now I'm in the house but he's still in the yard acting crazy and I want to know when its OK to shoot him." 
Now, I'm no home defense expert, but I'm pretty sure "When you can shoot him" is NOT  after you've successfully defended yourself by another means, barricaded in the house, called for help, and declared your intentions on a recorded line.

I went through some stages when I started this job. First, you are too overwhelmed with the sheer volume of things to learn to pay much attention to individual calls and situations. You sit very still and watch, and believe me, watching an experienced dispatcher pull all the elements together and coordinate a multi-department response to a fire is fascinating.

Second, you start to notice patterns. Who calls every weekend? Where are the trouble spots? Which police seem to always get those people driving on a suspended license and sketchy plates? I call this the 'holy crap, people are breaking the law ALL OVER THE PLACE' phase. There's a little righteous indignation.

Third, you get a little paranoid. Did the county suddenly tip precipitously into lawlessness just when you started this job? Was it all 'Gosh, Wally, your mom sure makes good pie' before you got here? Of course not. You're just more aware of Stuff That Happens.  Because you don't deal with the 85 people who went to the bar, sang a little karaoke, had a couple of beers, and went home, you only deal with the one who drove on the wrong side of the road, knocked over a couple of telephone poles, flipped the truck, self-extricated, and made the rescue crew chase him through a cornfield. Again.  So you start giving unsolicited mini-lectures on defensive driving. On personal safety. On just saying NO. When you are aware of Stuff That Happens its really easy to start sounding like your own grandmother--full of buzz-killing, querulously-delivered information that no one wants to hear at parties.

The fourth phase is harder to explain. Its just a reconciliation with the fact that people will hurt, people will suffer, people will make poor choices, and despite our best efforts, this will not change. I heard someone say once 'Be kinder than necessary, because everyone you meet is carrying a heavy burden'. I have a keener understanding of what those burdens are these days. In one degree or another we're all lost, all flawed, all disappointed, all searching. If I am to do this job with honest diligence I have to remember that patience and compassion can't be things I turn off when I'm 'off the clock', no matter how infuriating 'other people' can be.

That's not to say there will not be snark. But I snark in love.