Relocation

My website is finally up and this blog has migrated permanently to it’s new home: www.rashidajsmith.com

The move has been a long time coming, and partially responsible for the drop off in recent posts.  Please update your bookmarks, and stop by to stay hello!

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Adventures of a Clumsy Yogi: Knowing How to Fall

My first thought as I lost my balance and crashed to the deck this morning was: Thank goodness for my yoga. My second thought: ouch, my knee.

Thank goodness, because a fall like that could have been much worse. It had all the elements of a trip to urgent care: high heeled boots, a semi frozen wooden deck, and the series of repeated forceful jerks it took to get the weather swollen door to fit into the frame behind me as I tried to leave for work (running late, of course). Factor in having my weight being way off center due to the laptop bag swinging off my shoulder while I tried to hold the screen door open with my free hand and I’m lucky I didn’t tumble down all the steps when the final decisive jerk closed the door behind me.

As it happened, my heel slipped out from beneath me and I landed what might loosely be viewed as Skandasana (Archer’s pose). My left leg sprawled extended to the side and my right knee slammed into the line where the rubber doormat met the deck just a second before (or after) my palms touched down. For a moment I just rested there, doing a mental status check for damage of all the affected joints and muscles. Ankles: good. Check. Left knee: good. Check. Right knee: ouch. Check.

Hold on a minute.

As I set my bag down and maneuvered my left heel underneath me, I experimented with shifting the weight from my bent right knee – waiting the sharp stab of pain in the joint. I’m no stranger to knee issues: coming from a family full of them. But after ten years of yoga I find my knees to be stronger and more resilient than they’d ever been in spite of all they have been through.

This morning was no different. As I leaned on the porch railing, rocking my weight from one foot to the other, testing my right knee and waiting to see if it would register any more than the dull ache of a newly forming bruise (and contemplating whether I should retreat to the couch for a bag of ice as preventative medicine) I realized how many things had gone right in a split second of chaos thanks to my habit of putting my body in awkward positions on a regular basis:

1. I am comfortable falling. I think the sound I made was something like a “wooaa-oof” as I went down and the air escaped my lungs. It was about the same sound I’ve made tumbling out handstand or losing my balance in side angle. I’ve experienced the sensation of being not in control of my body on the yoga mat enough times that when it happened in real life there was no sense of panic. Alarm and surprise yes. But ultimately I knew I was going down and didn’t bother fighting it.

2. My body knew where to go. Was it an accident I wound up in some semblance of a yoga pose (and one that I happen to really enjoy)? Quite possibly. I’m also willing to entertain the thought that by giving my body practice getting into (and out of) positions that aren’t generally a part of the standard office workers repertoire (sitting on butt, hunched over keyboard for too many hours a day, anyone?) my body had something to work with when things got unpredictable. I’m no ninja, but just maybe, rather than just collapsing in a heap, some muscle memory kicked in and put me in a position that was familiar, if a little unusual, for a Monday morning at 8am.

3. It’s all about attitude. As I glanced around to see if any of my neighbors had witness my little party trick I found myself smiling. No need for coffee this morning. I was officially wide awake. When my knee passed the muster, I officially started to laugh.

Sure, it could have been much worse. But I could not have landed better, without as much as a splinter in my palm from the mossy old deck or a pulled muscle (groin or hamstring, ouch). As it stands, the bruise on my knee is no worse than the ones I’ve acquired bumping into chairs or the benches at the kitchen table on my way into my seat at mealtimes.

So yes, thank goodness for my yoga.

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Speaking of, I’m now teaching on Saturdays at a gym in Bothell. The class size averages about 20 people and it’s rapidly becoming the highlight of my week. I’ll be teaching community classes in Seattle soon, and will get my schedule posted at some point in the near future.

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Too Good Not to Pass Along: Airport

This may just be my new favorite musical humor site – the sketches are simple and on point. Plus some of them give me an opportunity to practice sight reading (so that I can to get in on the joke), which never hurts.

And this was too close to home to resist a cross-post.
"Ouch"

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It’s all in how you look at things…

After 20+ years of wearing glasses and contact lenses, I finally took the big jump last week and had LASIK. I say”finally” like I just up and walked into the clinic and said “slice my corneas open and wiggle that laser around there a bit so I can be rid of these pesky glasses.” The truth is, I’ve vacillated for years because that is EXACTLY what they do once they’ve got you sedated and in a chair with wavers signed. And I don’t know about you, but that’s not the kind of decision I make lightly. However, after an increasing inability to wear my contact lenses comfortably for more than a couple of hours at a time and my uncanny ability to lose a lens during an inopportune moment (ducking a wave in Costa Rica, hanging out upside down in handstand, for starters), I signed the wavers and wobbled my sedated ass into the chair.

The result has been pretty much magnificent as far as my vision goes. I was 20/15 in both eyes less than 24 hours after surgery. However from the cornucopia of potential side effects, I’ve picked up increased light sensitivity and headaches and a dependency on those little single serving preservative free eyedrops that makes me feel like I am single handedly destroying the environment every time I throw away a handful of the little plastic tubes. I’m also taking lots of little naps which helps with the headache and the dryness. Monday was my first day back at work and while I made it through the day, I immediately came home and slept for about 10 hours. Thankfully all of these should resolve themselves as my eyeballs recover from the trauma of the aforementioned slicing and lasering.

And being to see without glasses or contacts is totally worth it.

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So in between naps, I spent a lot of time this weekend working on the pieces for our next performance, “To the Stars and Beyond” on March 31st at the Edmonds Center for the Arts

A couple of things that have been super helpful this time around –

1. While napping (and driving and cooking and wandering around the house), I’ve been listening to recordings of the pieces – nice to know how everything’s supposed to sound. Even if I’m still working on getting there.

2. It’s also nice knowing our entire set well in advance of the performance. I’m sure for a seasoned musician that’s not an issue, but we’re talking about me here.

3. It’s always good to keep an open mind. Just because a piece is from a movie (and a series of books) that I have no love for *cough, cough TWILIGHT* doesn’t mean that the theme music from New Moon can’t be a fun and challenging piece to learn to play.

4. And when you get sick of sparkly vampire music, there’s aways the THEME FROM BSG.(Which is way trickier than it appears) Hells yeah!

I’ve been out for two rehearsals (one cancelled due to a freakish amount of snowfall in my fair emerald city and the other for the surgery) so I’m really looking forward to getting back together with the whole group on Thursday to see how it all sounds.

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From the bedside stack*: Revisiting old Territory

*the stack of books beside the bed, a.k.a. books that that have been on my reading list well past the “new release” period.

I’m not exactly sure why it took me almost three months to finish Emma Bull’s latest novel, Territory. It’s a slim volume about a period in history which has been so well-trod in movies and books that all I have to say “OK Corral” and I’m sure you could tell me how the story goes. Well at least some version of it. The story of Tombstone, Arizona during the 1800s (“The Town to Tough to Die”) has grown into American mythology. It’s been told and retold, fictionalized and revised for fact. We all have our favorite version.

Well, I now have a new one.

By now this shouldn’t be a spoiler but consider yourself warned:

Bull doesn’t spend her considerable talent retelling the events of the OK Corral. Her attention is fixed firmly on the relationships that bring the figures of Wyatt Earp (and his gaggle of brothers), Doc Holliday, Ike Clanton et al. to that famous moment. As it turns out, what happened at the OK was the tip of an iceberg. Beneath the surface, politics, intrigue and murder are rife in the burgeoning silver town. Since this is an Emma Bull novel and a touch of magic just beneath the surface like the scent of spent incense lingering in a room rests beneath Tombstone’s dusty streets. She resists the urge to define it rigidly, but when reading the book it feels that rules of magic in this world are concrete even if not always understood either by the characters or the reader. The descriptions of magic are lush but almost intangible. Its no surprise that, as one of the forerunners of the urban fantasy sub-genes, Bull knows how to avoid weighing down magic with words.

“Watch, Jess,” She’d said, and the candle flame went out.
“You blew it out. I’m not stupid.”
In the moonlight through the window he saw her grin, a fey, wicked look. “No, you’re not. So watch again.”
She’d stared at the wick, her lips thinned, her brows drawn together. The wick had smoked, glowed – and burned again.
He’d made her do it over and over until she had a headache. She tried to explain to him what she was doing, but he couldn’t do it, couldn’t even put the flame out, which she said was easier.
Think your way inside that wick, she’d said. You have to draw pressure around it, draw heat into it from the air.
On the writing desk before him, at the tip of the clean white wick of each candle, a flame wavered and rose.

What makes Territory feel like more than a fairy dusted western is how well Bull rounds out the cast of known characters with a host of other figures popular history has for the most part ignored: the Earp wives, Doc’s wife Kate Holliday, a thriving Chinese community, and many of the people who came west for reasons other than cattle or land. In this, the book finds unexpected depth in the relationships and interactions. This west is clinging desperately to the veneer of respectability, as evident the way Bull expertly captures the cultural and gender interactions.

Bull finds rich ground with her two main characters Jessie Fox and Mildred Benjamin. The former is anything but the stereotypical plains drifter, being partially college educated and semi-fluent in Chinese. The latter is a widow and typesetter at the local newspaper, who writes dime store western stories under a thinly veiled pseudonym that allows her readers and editors to assume she is a male writer.

Although both characters seem uncommon for their day, Bull creates a community around them that makes them feel even more believable. For Jessie, it’s the Chinese medicine man Chow Lung. The sense of their shared history of adventures imparts the relationship with that combination of affection and impatience that marks a master and his student. Widow to a much older man and Civil war veteran, Mildred treads the fine line of ladylike behavior even as she embraces her new found independence working for newspaper editor Harry Woods. To Mildred, Harry is far too concerned with her life, but it’s clear that he both encourages her fledgling career and has an eye on her future happiness.

If Jesse provides us with a view of of Chinese culture in the west, it’s through Mildred that see the world the Earp women: the wives of the brothers who have staked Tombstone as their territory. Also fascinating is the portrayal of Kate Holliday, Doc’s common law wife. A strong woman who goes up against every social convention, Kate is Doc’s match in every way. Their love affair provides the book with some of the most poignant moments.

Writing horses is always tricky – but unavoidable during a period in which horsepower involved hooves and teeth. Sam, Jesse’s horse, manages to avoid being a Disney caricature while still being involved in important scenes in the novel. I appreciate when writers either know horses or have done the legwork on research. Among Jesse’s many talents is as a horse trainer. His technique isn’t magic, but, to many of the people around him, it could be. The scene in which Jesse gentles one of the Earp’s fractious horses is as much about Jesse’s relationship to magic as about a style of horse training that, while uncommon for the day, was the building blocks for the type of equine psychology based training now popularized by modern day “horse whisperers.” (I also appreciate Bull’s opening caveat: don’t try this at home!)

The scenes with Fox and Benjamin shine. Their dialogue, through well grounded in “frontier speak” (thing Deadwood without all the swearing), sparkles with wit and chemistry. Thrown together by circumstance and initially mistrustful of one another, the attraction that blooms between Jesse and Mildred is born of growing respect and intellectual stimulation. Their scenes also feature some of the most delightful conversations about writing, authors and readers.

“I read [Twelfth Night] aloud to my younger sisters. They said it was pretty very pretty, but that no one would really have taken Viola for a boy.”
“They did if Shakespeare said they did,” Fox declared.
“I hope you aren’t that trusting with every author.” Mildred contemplated anyone getting their notions of human nature from “Stampede at Midnight” and quaked with guilt.
“I assume they’re trustworthy until proven otherwise.”
“How,” Mildred asked, feeling like a spy, “do they prove they’re not?”

Bull has a way of advancing the plot through dialogue in unexpected ways. Often times, it’s what is not said that is important, and seemingly innocuous conversations convey vital details. It’s not until last third of the book that the magic possessing the town is spoken about in any direct sense.

This may be why it took me so long to finish the novel. It’s not the kind of book I can read a few pages at a time before bed without having to backtrack a few pages the following night to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. It wasn’t until I sat down to finish it in a couple of solid chunks that all the pieces seemed to drift into place and hooked me firmly to the page. With this many characters, relationships, motives, and events magical and non-magical, the book is best enjoyed with devoted time.

I wonder if some readers will be disappointed to know that the OK Corral never features in Territory. I believe the novel ends right where it should, but perhaps not where we are used to seeing it end according to the familiar story. It’s a clever slight of hand: Bull takes the legend into her own special territory – infusing the western world with strong magic, rich characters, and well done romance. In this version of Tombstone, territory isn’t just claimed in land, but staked by the magic that binds people as much as loyalty, greed or love.

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String Players Wanted! Join the Rainbow City Orchestra

This one is for the Seattle area peeps:

I highly encourage anyone in the Seattle area who is either a current (or former) string player interested in playing with others to consider this opportunity. Playing with RCO has been great for my development as a cellist AND a musician.

Posted in Cello News, Orchestra | Tagged | 1 Comment

Refreshing the reading list

One of the thing I look forward to in the writing world is award nomination season. Not because I have anything up for an award, but because award nominees are a great source for replenishing/refreshing the reading list.

Depending on the award, nominations can be by membership, readership or even, gasp, the general public. So making people aware of their work in the hopes of getting nominated for something or other is a major part of a writer’s marketing work. The joys of self promotion…

For the second year in a row, write and editor John Scalzi has devoted a post and the comments section on his blog as an opportunity for Science Fiction and Fantasy writers/editors to promote work that is eligible to be nominated for various awards.

Also, Tor.com’s 2011 Reader’s Choice Award post comes with spreadsheets (Squee!) full of fiction and votes are “cast” using the comments section.

It’s a bit of the wild west (the good, the bad, and the ugly). It’s not for the faint of heart. There are no guarantees that just because somebody loved it enough to add it to the list it’s worth reading (especially if that someone is the author) But I have discovered piles of wonderful new fiction from writers that I now look for that I would have otherwise missed by combing the lists. Over the next couple of posts I’ll be reporting back on items I’ve found worth passing along.

Feeling brave? See for yourself!

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