Saturday, December 31st, 2005
Sylvia has been taking violin lessons for a couple of months now. She seems to be really enjoying the playing part of lessons and practices, but it is hampering her, that she hates making mistakes and not being able to do things. (No diagnosis here -- I think this will give her trouble and need to be overcome at some point, and I think she picks this mode of being up in part from me -- just saying how it is.) Most of what she does in lessons and practices is of course stuff she is not able to do yet, so it gets frustrating for her. My current approach is not to push at all, just let her approach it from a place she feels comfortable, and this seems to be working out pretty well for the time being.
Today she came up with a new strategy which I think may be very useful to her, which is to transfer her frustration with not being able to do things onto her bow. We are learning to play "I Have a Little Dreydl", for the seasonal tie-in, and she has got the sequence of notes correct but was not getting the meter. So: I tried explaining to her that the notes were played in pairs, and played it through exaggerating the pairs; and she said, "I know that -- but my bow makes mistakes." A little light went on for me and we talked back and forth for a few minutes about helping the bow to get better by practicing. And I realized, we should really be doing "I Have a Little Dreydl" in the same way we play "Twinkle, Twinkle, Litle Star", repeating a set rhythm for each note, that will be a lot easier for Sylvia's bow to remember. So we tried it with the "Elephants-and-mon,keys" rhythm and she was able to do it straight through, very smoothly.
A note on the Suzuki method: I learned Suzuki violin from when I was approximately 5 years old until 13 or so (IIRC) and hated much of it. It took me until I was 18 or so to start getting back into music and until this year to pick up the violin again; in between then and now I think there are a lot of lost opportunities. I have thought all along that whatever I did, I would not subject a child of mine to Suzuki music instruction.
But I had a bit of a change of heart last year or so. Whatever the faults of Suzuki, it does seem to have left me and my siblings, all of whom were in the program, with an abiding ear for music. So my new idea is to start Sylvia in Suzuki, but (a) keep a very close eye on whether she is enjoying it and having a good time, and make it clear it is her option whether to stay with it or not; and (b) encourage her to learn to read music early on. (Her teacher seems to be pretty good about not viewing Suzuki as a doctrine, just as a teaching tool, which is encouraging -- my memory of my own childhood experience suggests that this attitude is not universal.)
Friday, December 30th, 2005
We are in Boston until tomorrow. Today Sylvia and I walked around town while Ellen visited with her friend Deedee and worked on her writing. The day's itinerary: breakfast with Ellen at Faneuil Hall (if that's how you spell it), then split up. We went to the aquarium (lovely jellyfish exhibit and interesting turtle activities) where we stayed until about 11:30. Took the T to Massachussetts Ave. where we had a slice of pizza and went in to the Mary Baker Eddy library to look at the Mapparium. Had not done any research and was expecting from the name, a kind of museum devoted to maps; instead it turns out to be a huge stained-glass globe, which you view from inside while they shine lights in and play a tape recording about the world. Kind of neat but not as much so as a map museum would be. From there we took a long walk down Commonwealth Ave. to the Boston Public Garden, to see the pond from Make Way For Ducklings. Walked through the park, then stopped in at Borders to have a snack and look at the children's books. Happened on a very nice used bookstore across the street from there, where I bought Postcards by Annie Proulx. Then back to Faneuil Hall (which Google seems to think is the proper spelling), picked out a Hanukkah present for Ellen, and back to the hotel, where we are now waiting for her to get back. Nice times -- as walked back to the hotel we speculated about what would happen if (as we were walking from Faneuil Hall) we were to go back to the aquarium, and then out to the Mapparium, have lunch, etc.
Thursday, December 29th, 2005
Today I finished The Shipping News; and also I read Roger Ebert's review of the movie based on this book. I must say Ebert captured the problems I had with the book pretty well, though I don't know if he read it. The characters in this book were not fully human, just collections of idiosyncrasies designed to highlight their author's cleverness. (And yet Proulx is such a good writer, the book still ends up being a fun read. I feel ungrateful, carping about its failings.)
Tuesday, December 27th, 2005
We have read seven chapters of Prince Caspian; chapters 4 through 7 are a story-within-a-story, in which the dwarf Trumpkin tells the children how Caspian came to leave Miraz' castle and to be recognized as king by the old Narnians. Last night as we sat down to read chapter 7, I had almost forgotten that this was a digression, and was thinking of Trumpkin's story as the main story in the book.
Sylvia however had not forgotten. She said she was bored with this story as I opened the book; I didn't quite get her meaning and asked if she wanted to stop reading about Narnia and find a different book. But that was not it -- after a little back and forth, searching for expressions, she let me know that she was tired of hearing the dwarf's story and wanted to get back to the main frame where the children were. So, we skipped 7 and read 8 last night.
Funny, this was a little like The Princess Bride except in reverse -- Dad did not have it together enough to abridge the uninteresting portions of the book so young Sylvia took the task in hand herself.
Monday, December 26th, 2005
For Hanukkah, my father sent us a book to read with Sylvia -- The Three Questions by Jon Muth, which is based on
an aphorism a fable of the same name by Leo Tolstoy. A good story, and a good moral -- the questions are, "What is the most important time?", "Who is the most important person?", and "What is the right thing to do?" -- the answers are, "Now.", "The person you are with.", and "Do good toward the person you are with." This evening we read the book and the original story. Muth's book wins out because it has animals as characters, and lovely illustrations. (Sylvia's favorite animal character was Pushkin, the dog.)
Here is an interview with Jon Muth.
Update: Ugh -- apparently I have misused "aphorism" -- I understood it to mean "fable", but apparently it is only the moral of a fable.
I had the day off! I spent part of the afternoon in a bar, reading The Shipping News. It is a well-crafted story -- I am laughing at the jokes and feeling sympathy for the characters. But this is where I think it compares poorly to the short stories -- I can see the craft in the story, see Proulx making transitions and nod to myself in appreciation of a skillful transition, laugh at a punchline and think the joke was told well. When reading the stories I was much less conscious of my identity as a reader.
In 1997 (or thereabouts) I bought a pair of ice skates. Ellen had recently learned to drive and gotten a car, which made getting to a rink easy, and was excited to take up her childhood passtime; I had never skated before (and had always been a lousy roller-skater), but was game to pick it up -- 5 or 6 years of seeing people roller-blading merrily by had made me feel like learning.
I didn't get very good at it over the course of the two or three winters I tried to; and eventually in the Wollman rink at Central Park, I fell down and hurt my knee badly enough to make me not want to try any longer. (This knee injury also played a major role in stopping me riding my bike, an activity that I had a lot more invested in.) So the last time I skated was, very roughly, in 1999.
But I would give anything to have Sylvia grow up less physically timid and awkward than I did; so when Ellen suggested that we take Sylvia skating this winter I thought it sounded good. This morning I pulled my skates out of the garage and we drove on over to the South Mountain Arena. And it was alright. I skated around the rink several times without falling, and with getting a moderate speed going and the gliding that I like, instead of stepping/walking on my skates. I held Sylvia's hand going back and forth along the edge of the rink. Primarily I just felt pretty comfortable; when I am able to say that at the end of the day I have a sense of accomplishment. (This may speak more to my general level of comfort than to anything else.)
Sylvia's first time on the ice went pretty well. She only wanted to stay out on the rink for short periods -- holding Ellen's hand and the wall, or my hand and the wall, or at one point my hand and Ellen's hand. She and I practiced falling down and getting up a few times. Her ankles seem pretty strong.
It sure rained a lot yesterday. We drove through the pouring rain to Great Neck, to have dinner at my brother-in-law Kenny's house. Ellen had the great idea to invite Sylvia's friend Kaydi along, with two beneficial effects: Sylvia and Kaydi were not bored on the ride over there, which with rain and traffic took about an hour and a half; and Sylvia had a much better time at the dinner than she usually has at family events when there is nobody in her age range present.
Saturday, December 24th, 2005
Have a good day tomorrow. It's getting hard to say "Merry Chrismas" in an un-self-conscious way, without a gently raised middle finger in the direction of Bill O'Reilly and his co-psychotics; still I wish you a Merry Christmas. And to all of my co-religionists, Happy Hanukkah. If any druids are reading, let me apologize for missing your solistice day, and I hope you enjoyed it. Mostly, everybody should enjoy their day off work, everybody that has a day off.
I've been reading The Shipping News by Annie Proulx, gotten far enough in to start forming an opinion of it. I tentatively like the short stories better but am thinking this book maybe just starts out slow, and if it stays on the trajectory it's on currently, it could end up being a really good book. -- I guess short stories don't have as much room to start out slow before grabbing you.
Why does it start out slow? It might be that Proulx is trying to show how Quoyle's whole life from his childhood until his wife's death has been spent in a fugue state, without any connection to the world around him. This would make sense to me but I don't think it quite worked -- I didn't have any connection to Quoyle in his fugue state. It might have worked better in first person.
Since the family's arrival in Newfoundland, the story has really picked up and the characters are seeming a lot more real to me. This is only about a quarter of the way in, so there's plenty of room for the book to redeem its opening. One gripe I have is, Quoyle has no first name. Seems to me like his aunt at least should address him by first name. (I'm not sure now that she has yet called him by name at all, maybe when she does this will be resolved.)
Drop me a line! or, sign my Guestbook.
Check out Ellen's writing at Patch.com.