Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Miscellaneous rock star visuals

My friend Neill managed to get a pretty good photo of our Green Valley gig. It may be the only snapshot we have in which my face isn't obscured by the mic. Yay instrumentals!

Courtesy of my friend Sally, here's that rock star business card I mentioned earlier.

Some background: I do book design by day, and every once in a while I make geeky posts on Facebook about fonts. Sally knows a fair bit about typefaces herself and often comments on those posts. So when she made up the card, she used Comic Sans and Brush Script. I told her that if she'd really wanted to be obnoxious, she would have thrown in Lucida Handwriting.

If you're a font geek, you know why this is funny.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Guilt-free donations to the WPI

The problem with giving to charity—with any kind of do-gooding, really—is that it never feels like enough. No matter how much money, time, or effort you invested, you could have invested more. Just think of all the money, time, and effort you've put into things that only benefit you.

Charities like to take that guilt and build on it. You can't really blame them, but it's still annoying to get a ream of address labels attached to a heartfelt donation plea. Regardless of a cause's worthiness, who likes to be manipulated like that?

Though I don't officially represent any charity, I do occasionally try to persuade my readers to donate to the Whittemore Peterson Institute. Currently, WPI is the best hope for people with myalgic encephalomyelitis, fibromyalgia, Gulf War syndrome, and other neuroimmune diseases. These patients have been abandoned by just about everybody else. Not only do they suffer terribly, but many have little or no support. Friends, family, and physicians often don't take their suffering seriously.

So here's my proposition.

Click the donation button below and give some money to WPI. If you're a multibillionaire, then by all means, please feel free to donate one meeeeellion dollars. But if you're a person of slightly more modest means, give whatever you feel comfortable with. Then buy yourself that video game you wanted. I won't judge you. As far as I'm concerned, if you donate to WPI, you deserve to have nice things.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Green Valley surround sound

We have returned from our Green Valley gig. All in all, things went very well. A few people came out to see us, and a bunch of passersby stuck around to listen too.

Due to the warm weather and lack of shade directly in front of us, we often had more of an audience than we could see. We'd end a song, and we'd hear clapping, and a lot of it would be coming from behind us, from folks hiding from the sunlight.

Applause is nice. Applause in surround sound is especially cool.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Green Valley bound

On Saturday, Cinder Bridge will be trekking down to Green Valley to play the 47th Annual Spring Market. I love outdoor gigs this time of year. The temperature is supposed to get up to 74 degrees by the time we go on at noon.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Origin stories

One week ago I posted the story of how I wrote my first song. It was a long, meandering tale, and I felt more than a little self-indulgent writing it. Nobody, I thought, could possibly be interested except for close friends and family.

But what the hell. If you can't be self-indulgent on your own blog every once in a while, where can you? Besides, I love origin stories. Spider-Man battling the Green Goblin is nowhere near as captivating as the series of events and choices that led Peter Parker to don a weird costume and fight crime in the first place.

You don't need to be a tights-clad comic book character to possess an intriguing narrative, either. Let's face it—sometimes you have to be a superhero just to make it through the day.

So now it's your turn. What is your origin story?

If you'd like to play, here are a few guidelines:
  1. Post your origin story on your own blog. The idea isn't to write your entire life history ("I was born feet first ..."), but to share some pivotal happening that helped make you who you are. For instance ...
    • Embarking for the first time on some creative endeavor, or learning the craft
    • Discovering what you wanted to do with your life
    • Overcoming some type of challenge or adversity
    • Learning to live with some type of adversity (not all are overcomeable)
    • Learning an important life lesson that's stood you in good stead

    All of these are just offhand suggestions. If yours isn't on the list, that's fine!

  2. Post a link to your story in the comments here.

  3. Tag 10 other people who might have a good story to tell, and challenge them to tell it.
I'll start. Here are 10 bloggers whose stories I'd like to hear:

Billy and/or Bob, Bottom of the Glass
DeppityBob, Postcards from Scotsylvania
Fireblossom, Shay's Word Garden
Josh Hanagarne, World's Strongest Librarian
Pris, Songs to a Midnight Sky
Priscilla, Heaven in My Foot
Jeff Shattuck, Cerebellum Blues
Laurel, Dreams at Stake
RachelCreative, RachelCreative
Dave Rhodes, The RhodesTer Chronicles

There's no time limit on this, by the way. If circumstances don't allow you to write anything right now, feel free to put something up next week, or six months from now, or whenever. No stress. Just have fun.

I'm listening.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Susan Wenger, Rock Star

I finally got around to seeing The Social Network a few days ago. In one scene, Mark Zuckerberg pulls out a business card that says "I'm CEO, Bitch." No idea if Zuckerberg has these business cards in real life, but that's pretty funny regardless.

The scene got me thinking. Though I have no desire to be CEO of anything, I'd love cards that say "I'm CEO, Bitch." No, forget that. I want cards that say "Rock Star."

* * *

Last night a bunch of friends and I went out to dinner to celebrate a belated milestone birthday: the big four-two. Yes, I'm the answer to life, the universe, and everything. (If you don't get the reference, drop everything you're doing and find a copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy immediately.) My friends Sally and Kyle presented me with a gift: some business cards that say

Susan Wenger
Rock Star

Awesome. Now we just have to get similar cards for Ron the Drummer and we're on our way.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

I've Been Waiting

Have you been half asleep, and have you heard voices?
I've heard them calling my name
Is this the sweet sound that called the young sailors?
The voice might be one and the same
I've heard it too many times to ignore it
It's something that I'm supposed to be
—from "The Rainbow Connection"

I'm 16 years old, waiting for my turn with the guidance counselor. The agenda for our appointed meeting seems simple enough. I tell her my goals for college, and she tells me what classes I should take to prepare.

What are my goals for college?

Everybody assumes that I'm going to major in music. Why shouldn't they? I have a reputation as a really good pianist. I can play by ear and improvise. I have perfect pitch. On the flip side, I'm a mediocre student with no other special interests. What else would I do?

Here's the problem, though. I'm not as good as everyone thinks I am. I'm better than most kids my age. Most kids my age begged their parents to let them quit after two years of lessons. That doesn't make me Vladimir Horowitz.

My assessment isn't based on insecurity. I'm just good enough to have some idea of what good really is.

An internal debate ensues.

What if I worked harder?

I don't want to spend seven hours a day in a practice room. I would be miserable.

OK, but what if I developed some self-discipline and did it?

Well, I'd get to be a lot better than I am now. Still not Vladimir Horowitz good, but maybe enough to play professionally in a lesser-known orchestra somewhere.

And what would happen if, after all that, I decided I didn't want to do it anymore?

I'd quit ... and thousands upon thousands of pianists would line up to take my place. Any one of them could play Brahms and Beethoven as well as I did.

The world doesn't need me to play Brahms and Beethoven.

When my turn comes, I take a seat in Mrs. Cannon's office and tell her I'll probably be majoring in liberal arts.

* * *

I'm hanging out in my dorm room, weighing my options. Graduation is a few months away. My plan is to go to graduate school, which will put me on track for a career in sociology.

I have reservations.

For one thing, I kind of feel like I'm done with school. My time at Indiana University has been good. Great, even. But I'm ready to move on.

A much bigger problem: I'm not at all sure I want to do sociology for the rest of my life. I love studying it. I love the way it helps me make sense of the world. I just don't know if I want to be a researcher.

My other option is to take a year off and get a job. I think I'd like that.

There's a catch, though. My bachelor's won't qualify me for anything in particular, and I have no idea what kinds of positions I would apply for. People tell me that the average college grad waits six months before finding anything. The most likely scenario is that I'll move back home, live with my parents, and take the same clerical job I worked over the summers.

That isn't exactly the growth experience I'm looking for.

If I choose grad school, I'll at least get funding as a research or teaching assistant, earning my own way.

* * *

Party at my house! Everyone seems to be having a good time. I stand apart from the scene for a moment, contemplating the guest list. The people I've invited are from my circle of computer geek friends. Woefully underrepresented are fellow University of Arizona grad students. I like them, and I don't think they dislike me. I simply don't know most of them very well.

Back during my first year, I'd felt the walls closing in. My entire life consisted of sociology classes, studying for sociology classes, doing research for a sociology professor, hanging out with people from the sociology department, and having conversations about sociology. If I didn't talk to somebody else about something else, I was going to suffocate. I went online, found some new friends, and gradually migrated my social life.

I didn't mean to detach so thoroughly. It just happened.

As much as I enjoy maintaining an identity outside of the department, I suddenly realize I'm courting danger. Graduate school isn't exclusively about learning a profession. It's about networking, making connections. Any one of my classmates could be in a position to help me get a job someday. But they won't, because they'll barely remember who I am.

Maybe I should try harder to talk to people in between classes. Forge some friendships, or at least acquaintanceships.

I find myself strangely unmotivated to do this. The truth is, after all this time, I still don't know if I want a career in this field.

So maybe I should admit that to myself and quit.

No, I'm not ready to do that either. Quit and do what?

At that moment I make a conscious decision: I'm not going to decide. For now, I'll continue to float with the currents and see where they take me.

* * *

The clock radio wakes me up at some ungodly hour of the morning. I lie on my back, trying to find any motivation at all to drag myself out of bed.

The temp job I've taken doesn't provide it. I'll be spending my day filing things, utilizing my extensive knowledge of the alphabet and the order in which it goes. If I'm lucky there might be typing.

Well, but at least it's only a temp job. It will be over soon. Except, no it won't. This one runs longer than most.

Okay, but the weekend is coming up, right? Nope. Still early in the week.

I'm 27 years old. The U of A stopped funding me a couple of semesters ago. I have less interest in the research I've been needing to do for my PhD than the temp work I'm dreading. My savings are running out.

Ten years from now, when you're still working the same crap jobs, will you be sorry you didn't just finish your dissertation?

Suddenly I am awake.

* * *

I lean against the counter that separates the kitchen from the living room, assessing my situation with a certain amount of satisfaction. I'm 30 years old, out of school for good, with a real, grown-up job at a tiny publishing company. For the first time I can remember, I feel like my life is on track.

Does this mean I've found my calling at last?

No. There are things about publishing I like, things I'm good at. But I stumbled into it somewhat randomly. It's not what I was born to do. I might end up finding something I like better. Or a series of somethings.

And that's OK.

All these years, I wanted my life to be like that verse from "The Rainbow Connection." Have you been half asleep, and have you heard voices? / I've heard them calling my name. I thought I should receive some sign from on high. This is what will make me happy. This is what I can contribute to the world.

In the absence of a clear sign, I was afraid to break free of what wasn't working. If I went off and experimented, I could end up in the wrong place, even further from my true destination!

But life doesn't work like that. The right thing won't come to you if you stand still and wait for it. You have to go out and find it. Every misstep is still a step forward. Every path you take teaches you a little more about where you really want to be.

I finally get it.

I think about the lessons I've learned, picturing an aerial view of a series of roads. I'm driving up one of them, exploring, willing to turn around if need be.

"Iiiiiiiiii've been waaaaiting."

The hell?

I haven't been thinking about singing. I haven't been thinking the words "I've been waiting." And yet, I just sang the words "I've been waiting." Out loud.

Part of me wordlessly ponders the strangeness of this, of momentarily turning into some ventriloquist's dummy. But another part is thinking, Hmmm, that's interesting. What could go next?

I sing again. On purpose, this time. "I've been waiting ... for something good to come along."

That's pretty good. How would the rest of the melody go?

I na-na out a melody. It comes easily, as if it's always existed, just like the little improvised pieces that used to flow through my fingers onto the piano keys.

Huh. That's kind of catchy. It could be a song.

That's dumb. I don't write songs.

OK. But if you don't, nobody else will.

* * *

I'm riding my bike home from work. Because my mind likes having something to occupy it, I say to myself, Hey, let's work on the song.

It's been a year since those first three words came to me. As is my wont, I never committed to seeing the song through to completion. I had no clue as to whether such a thing lay within my capabilities. But I figured out a basic structure, and every now and again I'd think about how to write this line or that. Bit by tiny bit. In no particular order.

Come to think of it, which part of the song should I work on right now? What's left to do?

I sing the lyrics to myself, looking for the holes. And slowly, realization dawns.

There's nothing left to write. No blanks left to fill.

At some point, I finished the song and I didn't even notice. When did this happen? What were the final words?

Where was I when I gave my first answer to a question that wasn't multiple choice?

As I contemplate these matters, there's no sign from above to tell me what my next steps should be, nothing to indicate what the future holds, nothing more to do for now except keep pedaling forward.

I've Been Waiting

lyrics by Susan Wenger
music by Cinder Bridge

I've been waiting for something good to come along
Blue skies and carpet rides to carry me away
One day I'll behold
The brightly shining streets of gold
And leave behind these thin walls painted
Endless shades of gray

Written in the stars far away and long ago were
Portents and promises I could not ignore
Someone said of me
Here's a child of destiny
With deeds heroic to perform
And worlds to explore

The time is right
So who will tell me
Where does the treasure lie
Where am I s'posed to go
Siren's voice
Keeps me awake at night

The years fly by
And I am patient
And I ignore them
And I ignore them in their flight

I've been waiting to wake up to that perfect day
The fates decide it's time to give me something else to do
I read my palms and trace the lines
Looking out for any signs
That I will get another chance
To learn what I once knew

Spent my whole life clocking in and marking time
God knows it can't be long 'til something starts to give
I'll flag me down some fairy wings
And move right on to better things
'cause any fool can plainly see
This ain't no way to live

The time is right
So who will tell me
Where does the treasure lie
Where am I s'posed to go
Siren's voice
Keeps me awake at night

The years fly by
And I am patient
And I ignore them
And I ignore them in their flight

I've been waiting for someone good to come along
See me for who I'll be
A diamond from the coal
Make me feel alive
And take me from this nine-to-five
Existence that exposes me
The ordinary soul

But when I call
No one hears me
When did the summer end
Where did the music go
Siren's voice
Is lulling me to sleep

The years flew by
And I can feel them
Did I have promises
Did I have promises to keep?

I've been waiting for something good to come along
I've been waiting forever it seems
Lately I think I've been wasting too much time
Floating on the currents of
These vague dreams

Dawn is breaking
I see my birthright clearly now
Highways and hiking shoes
Before me is the day
Go where the crossroads join
Cross my fingers, toss a coin
And pocket all the loose change
I find along the way


I've been waiting
I've been waiting

Copyright 2005 Cinder Bridge. All rights reserved.

* * *

Disclaimer #1: All of this stuff happened a long time ago. While I've tried to recount the events as accurately as possible, I'm sure I've misremembered a few details. You probably took that as a given, but I'm neurotic about such things.

Disclaimer #2: As it turned out, what I'd actually finished by that last scene was a first draft of "I've Been Waiting," not the final version posted here. About six months later I realized it needed something more and wrote verse 2. But that's a story for another time.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The power of delusional thinking

Things have been going pretty well for Cinder Bridge lately. And yet, I feel a vague sense of dissatisfaction. I crave something bigger for us. Grander. Why have we not yet achieved major stardom?

A popular philosophy is that we attract things into our lives through our thoughts. Believe all sorts of goodies are coming our way, and they will. Doubt, and they won't.

This means I've been keeping the band down by not fully embracing the belief that we'll hit the big time. In fact, I've been keeping us down simply by saying things like "Why have we not achieved major stardom?" When you think about what you don't have, you attract not having it.

So it's time for me to utilize the power of positive thinking. Ready? Here we go!

I can achieve whatever my mind can conceive.

Cool. Hey, I'm visualizing myself flapping my arms and flying. Think that'll work?

People will pay tons of money for our CDs because the universe is full of abundance and wealth. There is more than enough to go around.

Yeah! Except for the poor people in third-world dictatorships who have to toil endlessly just to keep starvation at bay.

I am a rock star.

I am? Why are we not playing 15,000-seat arenas? Why do I not hear us on the radio?

I suck at affirmations.

Wow, I really do.

Lookit, I have no problem using optimistic statements to psych myself up. Thinking OK, I can do this before embarking on something scary is better than ruminating on all the ways I could screw it up. Where I get stuck is the idea that all you have to do is think certain thoughts, and the universe will rewrite the laws of physics so it can drop shiny things into your lap.

Do I strike you as overly cynical? Read Barbara Ehrenreich's Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America for a few insightful reality checks. A belief that you can't fail doesn't always lead to success. Sometimes it leads to the subprime mortgage fiasco. Oh, and it turns out that a positive attitude doesn't make you any more likely to survive breast cancer.

Still not convinced? Skim a few blogs written by people with ME/CFS, a neuroimmune disease that causes serious pain and crushing exhaustion. Most of these bloggers refused to believe that their lives could be permanently sidelined when they first got sick. So with pluck and a can-do spirit, they pushed through the pain and crushing exhaustion to achieve their goals ... and made themselves much worse.

I'm pretty sure these guys want to get better more than I want to be a rock star.

Which brings us back to the point. If the think-and-you-shall-have brand of positive thinking amounts to delusion, I'm going to invent a delusional affirmation that can't be contradicted by harsh reality.

My failure to become a rock star thus far has nothing to do with a lack of talent, stage presence, or ability to market myself. The reason I haven't become a rock star yet is because I am a MISUNDERSTOOD GENIUS.

Yes. I feel much better now.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Doing the Tucson Folk Festival (again)

Cinder Bridge will be playing at the Tucson Folk Festival this year. The current powers that be must have decided we're folk enough for rock and roll.

We start at 1 p.m. on Sunday, May 1. More details when I have them.