Taking Music Back

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It’s not super well known, but spent a lot of years playing trombone at least once a week. I played nearly non-stop from fourth grade up until my early 30s. From high school on I didn’t even take the summer off – I’d still be playing a few times a week. If you add all of this up, it’s roughly 20 years.

Most of that time was spent in a church setting. The church I attended from tenth grade until I left the church for good (again, in my early 30s) had a band. The membership varied from year to year, but I was one of the few constants. When I started playing in it it was mostly made up of professionals from the Air Force Band of Flight, and by the time I left it was mostly just a bunch of amateurs like myself.

The few years I spent playing with professionals taught me a lot. In school I learned how to play an instrument, but I never really learned how to play trombone. There is a difference in learning how to play an instrument, and learning how to play it like it’s meant to be played. Each instrument is different, with different histories and backgrounds, and to play it right, you need to learn about the instrument itself… it’s color, it’s timber, etc. It’s all unique to the horn you’re playing.

Since I was performing weekly, I was forced to get really good at sight reading. This is a hard skill to learn. Learning that it’s okay if you don’t make all of the notes – drop the ones you can’t play – but whatever you do, don’t get lost. My high school band (like all school bands, pretty much) went to “contest” each year. Part of the things the band had to do was sight read. We’d practice for weeks leading up to this. The teacher would give us a pile of music to read as a group, and we’d hand it back in at the end of the class. This was always super easy for me, because I was doing it each and every week, and learning from some of the best in the business.

I loved playing next to folks that really knew how to play. I learned so much, and had a lot of fun doing it.

 

But the good times didn’t last for forever. The group at church changed over the years. It got smaller and smaller. The professionals moved on. The music minister we’d had for forever moved on, and the new person came in totally determined to do his own thing, and tossed out all of the charts I nearly had memorized… and the new ones were super hard, and way beyond my ability to play. (But not read!)

At the end the weekly practices had gone away, and we were down to just a brief read-through before the first service, if we even got that at all. The thing I had totally loved to do changed radically, and not in a good way.

I tried complaining about this (the pieces were so difficult that I needed more than one read-through), but no one really seemed to care. It all fell on deaf ears. I felt like the band was no longer anything anyone cared about. Like we were just an annoying thing in the way that ate into time for sound checks before a service.

Finally, I hit my breaking point. I’d been really upset at how poorly a service had gone (one were we didn’t even get a single read-through – meaning I was sight reading for the performance), and when I said something about how we need more time, and more people (it was down to just a small handful of people at that point), they fired back with “well, maybe if people want the honor of playing in this building, they’d get here earlier.”

I was crushed. I felt like not a single person cared. I’d put 15 or so years of my life into this group, and we were just being tossed away. That was the day I walked out of the doors and never came back.

When I left the church, I thought for sure that music was just something I was going to have to give up. My trombone sat in my closet for many years, because I was scared to touch it. Just looking at it brought back all kinds of memories that I didn’t want to feel. All that angst I had from watching the group at church get tossed away would just bubble to the service and I’d be overwhelmed with emotions.

 

Playing trombone wasn’t the only type of music I did. I was also in choir, and had a pretty good range and ear. (Playing trombone helps a lot with your singing skills – both require you to find the right pitch yourself.) I had a pretty good range as a vocalist. I could sing bass and tenor, and just about anything in between.

When I transitioned, I re-learned how to talk. My vocal range changed. It’s much higher than it used to be. (Not because of hormones… they have nothing to do with it. It was just shear determination that I was going to pass all of the time, darn it.) I had to give up the range in my voice to do this. I bet I could sing alto, but my days of singing bass are long over.

It’s kinda weird. Trombone (and tenor and bass vocally) are all bass clef. I can barely read treble clef, which is the one most people think of when you show them a piece of music. If I were to try to sing alto, I’d have to learn how to read pitches all over again. Sight reading would be hard.

I’d just kinda felt like my days with music had come to an end. I couldn’t touch a trombone because of bad memories, and I could no longer sing the parts I used to. (Nor would I want to even if I could!)

It made me really sad that I’d lost something that was a big part of my life for so long.

 

Flash forward to a few years ago. I somehow picked up an interest in some forms of jazz music. (Namely pieces from the Great American Songbook.) I started listening to Great American Songbook music on the radio. I learned a few of the standards and could pick them out by ear. I’ve learned how different you can do a single piece by playing it in a lot of different styles, or changing the words slightly… all sorts of little tweaks you can do. (I’ve also learned that I like Frank Sinatra’s songs, but I can’t stand listening to him. Hello, Frank. Dynamic range is a thing!)

I sorta fell in love with Jonathan Schwartz when he was a program director for XM Radio (this was before the merger ruined XM). His tastes in music matched mine, a lot, and I’d listen to his program every day at work.

XM got rid of him a few years ago, but I found that he has a streaming show on the Internet weekly, so I still listen to him nearly every day. His radio show is one of the things that I listen to while at work, even. I’ve learned so much about that style of music… and the flame kinda got relit.

I’ve been listening to the Great American Songbook for a few years, and started to long to get back into music, but never really got up the courage to do so.

 

Until a few weeks ago. 🙂

In Rocket City we have a giant piano on the floor in the loft. Normally it’s for running on, but you can play it by touching the keys, too. There’s a game that myself and few others play (hi, Mr. Genesis!) where we’ll play something and see if other people know what it is. Normally I just kinda goof around, but a few weeks ago I really wanted to play… but I can’t read piano music. (It’s treble clef.) Soo… I looked up trombone music, because I can read that.

I spent a few hours playing trombone music on that piano on the ground (poorly, I might add), but that was enough to do it. Just reading music again for the first time in ages… having to think about time signatures, key signatures… having to remember that accidentals carry though the measure… how repeats, codas, and other things work… it all just started flooding back into my head. All this knowledge I forgot I had. Knowledge I had made myself forget about because it reminded me of a horrible time in my life… but this time I was surrounded by friends… and playing songs that I know very well from the radio, but aren’t church songs… it was… amazing.

Finally it all started to click that “you know, there’s stuff other than church music you can play. You listen to it every single day.”

 

On a whim I went online and just started searching for trombone music, and was reminded about “The Real Book,” which is a collection of jazz standards. When I last looked at one of these, I didn’t know any of the songs in it…. but now? I know like half of them, and learn more every day.

My Trombone

My trombone, back where it belongs. ❤

Finally, just in the last few days, I dared to get my trombone out of the closet. I set it up on the stand. I bought Vol 3 of “The Real Book,” because it has “I Left my Heart in San Francisco” in it… and I’m having fun playing music. But this time? I’m just doing it for me. 🙂

I’m really rusty. You can’t take that many years off from playing a brass instrument and not have some rust. Towards the end of each session where I play (for no reason other than it’s fun!), I’ll grab my iPhone and record a little bit. I have a long ways to go, but if I listen realllly closely, I can hear the way I used to play hidden in there. It’s coming out little by little. I’ll have a terrible couple of measures, followed by a few where I’m all smiles as I listen. It’s still there. I still have it.

It’s so nice to have music back in my life. I took it back from the bad memories. They may have robbed me of it for almost a decade, but it’s mine, darnit. And I’m gonna keep it. ❤

Facebook and Life

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A few weeks ago I did a very healthy thing for myself. I deactivated my Facebook account. I didn’t close it – it’s still there if and when I want to go back to it – but it’s in a state of suspended animation for a while.

There’s a couple of reasons for this. The two reasons are kinda one in the same, but I view them as two different reasons.

The life I have now is very different than the one I had growing up. I’m very much a liberal atheist, and I am very sure of what I believe. I know what I believe works for me, and you’re not gonna shake me from it.

The life I had growing up was one of a conservative Christian. It never really clicked in my head. I was just mostly going through the motions because that’s what I was expected to do. There were always a few times when it was too much (such as “sanctity of life” Sunday, where an old white guy would lay in hard to the women in the room about abortion… I always felt so bad for a woman that was there and had had an abortion in the past and didn’t know this was coming), but by and large it was my world. I’ve written about this many times on this blog.

The thing is, for the rest of my family (outside of my brother), this is still their world. They still believe all of this stuff. Or at least have done a good job of convincing themselves that they do.

I use Facebook mainly to keep up with family things, and be able to see photos of my sister’s kids. That’s where the problem was.

Seeing the constant stream of “Like if you love Jesus” things, or the “thoughts and prayers” things, bothered me a lot, but by and large I could tune it out.

That was, until this election season came along. That was the other reason.

The constant negativity around the 2016 election that was ending up on my Facebook feed was too much.

I’m LGBT. I’m proud to be LGBT. I get offended when people run their mouths off about how Trump is the best LGBT candidate ever, when his VP choice not only supports, but funds Gay Conversion therapy. People that honestly believe this stuff are totally clueless and don’t really understand what it’s like to be LGBT in this country right now. They’ll post stuff like that, and then talk about how LGBT people are destroying America… that because we now have gay marriage, their god is going to destroy this country… just… stuff like that. 😦

I couldn’t take it. I bailed. My life has been a lot better ever since. The constant reminder that I’m an outcast and how my views are nearly 180 degrees out of sync was hard.

The last straw was the recommendation that I join the group “Christians for Trump.” I know that Facebook works off a social graph – and that since a lot of people I’m connected to are in that group, it suggests it to me as one I might like too. That’s just how it works… but it was a reminder how different I am than my family. I decided I didn’t wanna hang out with people like that anymore.

So now I’m back to Twitter, Second Life, and this blog. The same way I was for a long time before Facebook.

I joined Facebook for one reason… it was a sneaky way to come out of the closet to my family members. It allowed them to see that not only am I still around, but actually, my life is pretty decent, and I’m not a monster that’s out to anger their god. Or something. That whole thing worked! They now know who I am, and it’s mostly okay.

Maybe it was just time to leave.

I’m Dyslexic

Here’s an interesting and not widely-known thing about me… I’m super dyslexic.

I’m fine with words. I really only have an issue with words when I get extremely tried, and I’ll start swapping whole words randomly. Like I’ll say “table” instead of “horse” or something.

What I really have a problem is is numbers. I cannot read numbers out loud with any degree of accuracy. It’s very frustrating. I can see the number, I can do math with it, but the moment I go to say it? I’ll say it wrong nine out of ten times.

Even worse than reading numbers is someone telling me a number and expecting me to do something with it. This comes up at work all of the time, since I’m getting better about helping to manage my team’s workload using JIRA. My boss will ask me something like “who’s working on BUN-2932” and I have a really hard time with it. She knows it’s an issue, and says “oh right, numbers,” and will send it to me via Slack, but it’s terrible. Triage meetings are the worse when we’re going over huge amounts of open issues and trying to talk about them.

The things that are the hardest are numbers that sound like. “67” and “76” might as well be the same number to me. And “35” and “53.” (The word sixty-seven vs seventy-six. And it took me four tries to type that just now.)

I’m pretty good at coping with it.

I don’t allow people to read me numbers and expect me to do something with them… I insist they use an IM program to send them to me. IP addresses are equality hard. I won’t read someone an IP since I know I’m gonna get it wrong no matter how hard I try.

Some folks have picked up on the weird way I read phone numbers. My phone number as a child in real life was 360-1283. I would read it as “the six oh, twelve eighty three.” I break the second part of the number up into two numbers, each two digits long, which makes it two numbers to me instead of four.

I was a cashier in High School briefly, and I made people mess up on sooooo many checks. (Remember those?) I eventually just gave up and would point to the display on the register and say “this is your total.” And yet, I was one of the fastest around at making change… just as long as I didn’t have to say any of the amounts out loud.

It’s extremely frustrating. I’m glad my boss at work is willing to work with me on it. I’m a really smart person, but somewhere in my head the connection between the part of the brain that can process numbers orally and the part that does math and understanding is miswired.

So now you know! 🙂

What Love Means to Me

A photo of one of Southwest's terminals at AUS.

My version of love is a lot different than most people’s, I think.

Mostly it’s because I’m asexual. This means that I completely lack a sex drive of any sort. I’m not sexually attracted to men or women in the slightest. I like looking at men, and will watch a movie just because the lead is a nice looking guy, but that doesn’t mean I wanna do bedroom things with him.

I think the part of my brain that’s suppose to think that bedroom things are a lot of fun just plain doesn’t work. None of that appeals to me, and I never think about it. It’d be weird to me to think about that stuff, and I often wonder how the world looks to other people.

My ignorance of sexual things is often frustrating. Just this morning I said something in the chat at work that made everyone else giggle and stare at me, and I hadn’t a clue what I said. I eventually had to use Urban Dictionary to figure it out. I’m hoping my naivety comes across as quaint, but I really don’t know. I definitely am not doing it on purpose… it’s just that that stuff doesn’t register in my head like it does for everyone else.

It makes me feel really alone at times. I often really do feel like a kid in a grownup’s world.

That said, I am certainly into romance, however, and that’s where the rest of this post is coming from.

 

There’s a story I like to tell that I call my “plane story” about how I define love. Here it is. 🙂

I fly a lot, both with work and just for fun. So far in 2016 alone I’ve been to Texas, Seattle, and Atlanta, and I still have at least two more coast-to-coast trips on the calendar for this year. I know planes and airports well. I think I can repeat the little thingy they tell you about how to put on a seatbelt before each flight by heart without even trying.

While I’m no stranger to airplane rides, I don’t handle turbulence well. When the plane starts shaking, I get totally scared. Last year while coming home from Boston (I had a direct flight from Boston to Oakland), it was bumpy almost the whole way. I arrived in Oakland so tense and shaken up that I was actually sore for several days. It was awful. 😦

Because of this, when I fly, I almost always take a stuffed animal friend with me. Usually Miss Bunny, if I can transport her in a way that I know will be safe. Otherwise I’ll take Snowy. Between the two of them I’m covered. When the plane gets bumpy I’ll quickly invite one of them to get in my lap with me, and we’ll snuggle as long as I need it to a pocket of clean air. Luckily they don’t seem to mind and are happy to sit there with me.

Here’s the thing. I’m an engineer.

I know the plane is safe. I know I’m not in any danger. I know the planes are built to withstand that. I know you never, ever hear stories of airplanes crashing and people dying because of turbulence, simply because it never happens. I get all of that. Completely. The engineer part of my brain groks all of this in every way.  I know my fear of turbulence is completely irrational. But… I still get scared.

So what’s love to me? Someone that’s willing to sit next to me on a plane when it gets bumpy and hold my paw and tell me everything’s gonna be alright. Someone that understands that Miss Bunny is the most important thing in the world to me right then, and doesn’t make fun of me. Someone that understands that, yeah, I’m an engineer, and lecturing me on how I’m being irrational doesn’t help.

Someone who sticks with me and comforts me, even when I’m running on instinct and scared out of my mind for no reason at all… and understands that deep down inside I’m just a little kid that’s super scared and trying to survive in a grownup’s world… that’s love to me. ❤

Slipping into the Shadows

My bedroom

I made it! March 24th, 2016 was the last day of my journey. I am now officially post-transition. It feels amazing to be able to call myself that.

Some things have changed with me in recent months. I’ve removed any references to being transgender on any of my online profiles. I’ve mostly even stopped talking about being transgender in Second Life, unless it’s in private, or if I know all of the people around me personally. I just simply identify as a lady now.

I guess I should say it outright in big bold letters in case any one gets confused that I am not ashamed of being transgender in any way, shape, or form. It’s a part of me. It’s always been a part of me since I was born, and will continue to be a part of me for the rest of my life, and I am totally fine with that. Got it? 🙂

Transition was a big part of my life for many years. I was in therapy for years before I was granted access to hormones, “just to make sure I’m serious.” (This is known as “trans gatekeeping” by our community.) It occupied all of my time for years. I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars. I sold all of the stock I had from a previous job just so I’d have more cash on hand. FWA was the first real vacation I took since transitioning, and it had been a long time since I was there. I had just been saving every last dollar I had to pay for transition related items.

I’ve been harassed more times than I can count, I’ve been told that “lord god almighty you make for an ugly woman,” I’ve had random tourists call me “tranny” while taking my photo, I’ve had gay men yell dirty things at me from across the street in the Castro, I’ve been the butt of people’s jokes while I’m the subway… I’ve been through a lot.

And really, I’m just kinda worn out.

So I’m pulling back some. I want to be just another random lady on the streets for a while. That’s not to say I’m gonna stay in the shadows for forever… most likely I won’t… but for right now, I’m just wanting to relax and move on a bit.

I’m ready to start taking vacations again. I want to get back into supporting rabbit advocacy groups, something I strongly regret having to stop because I didn’t have the funds.

Hopefully this is just a break. I’m hopeful that after I’ve had a few years of “normal life” back under my belt again I’ll feel differently and things will change once again. I have no idea how this is gonna go… I just know I’m worn out and ready to slip into the shadows.

I will, of course, keep on support people in any way that I can, even if I’m not on the front lines. Getting stuff done in the background is what I do for a living, after all. 🙂

Losing Faith in Faith

Union Lake Baptist Church

I’ve been reading Losing Faith in Faith by Dan Barker. It’s one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read, I think.

Dan is a former evangelical preacher that simply lost faith in his faith. The first part of the book tells his story on how he was “on fire for the Lord,” converting people to Christians while in High School, and even converting one of his teachers. I was never a preacher, nor did I go to seminary, but it’s very easy to see myself in Dan’s story.

Somewhere along the way, he started to realize that what he was teaching as a pastor didn’t really make a lot of sense, and in 1984 “came out” as an Atheist on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Oddly enough, despite this, he went on to preach a few more times to fulfill commitments he’d made to other churches. (Wow, that must have been difficult!)

The book paints a pretty good picture about how there is no evidence that there actually is a god. Something that Dan is quick to remind people of, is that it’s not up to an Atheist to disprove God, it’s up to a Christian to prove that God exists. Quite often people forget this point.

His point is there’s no way to prove that God exists outside of the mind. Any conclusions a Christian might try to make aren’t actually based in science, they’re all things that exist only in their mind and aren’t measurable in the real world.

 

He was a bible scholar, and goes into great depth on showing how inconsistent the bible is from book to book, and even contradictions within the same book. This is something that, when I claimed to be a Christian, really bothered me. For example, one of the commandments is “Do not kill,” yet the bible itself is full of God-ordered killings.

The best example I’ve read so far is showing, exactly, how the four gospels differ on the Easter story. (You’d think for something so important to Christian that they’d get this right in their own book, but they don’t!) He’s gone so far as to issue a challenge to Christians – tell him exactly what happened on Easter.

He talks about what was, to me at least, the biggest challenge. If the bible really is God’s perfect and holy word, why does it take years of study of dead languages to be able to actually understand it? Christians would blow my questions off with “it was translated by humans, and they make mistakes,” but I was never happy with that answer. If the bible really is “God’s Perfect Word,” couldn’t he have directed the people translating it to do it correctly? That seems like an easy thing for him to do. 😦

 

Dan wrote several children’s musicals before his de-conversion and still writes music today, so the book is littered with bits of hymns and his own music.

He talks about how desensitized Christians are to a lot of brutal things… for example, here’s the first verse and chorus of a hymn I used to sing almost every Sunday:

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains:
Lose all their guilty stains,
Lose all their guilty stains;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.

So, let’s think about this. There is a fountain, and it’s filled with blood. How much blood would that be? We’re talking hundreds (if not thousands) of gallons. That’s… disgusting. And morbid, and gross, and nasty… and the song is about being dunked in it. Yet Christians seem to be just fine with this. (The same people that will freak out at a violent movie!)

Lots and lots of hymns and other Christian symbols are like this. It was just really eye-opening to me to have someone spell it out, and I’m kinda mad at myself for not realizing what I was saying. I was just simply signing along with my brain shut off. 😦

 

And finally, he explains in detail something that I’ve written about several times in the past – hell and God’s love.

How is it loving to offer someone a bandage after you cut them with a sword? Not very if you ask me. Rather than say “God saved me from hell because I’m a sinner” (never mind that God made hell in the first place), isn’t it better to say “I was innocent all along?” I think so. 🙂

My Feelings on the Super Bowl!

Super Bowl City

It’s the day before the Super Bowl, so I figured I’d write about it. 🙂

Normally the Super Bowl doesn’t mean very much to me. I don’t really pay attention to sports (other than baseball a few times a year), but I’m a bit more emotionally invested in it this year because it’s here in San Francisco, and I’ve had to deal with it. The Super Bowl City has the heart of downtown closed off, right in front of the Ferry Building, where I go to get to and from work. It’s been kinda a mess for the last two weeks and I suspect that when it’s all said and done, we’ll deem the Super Bowl a very expensive thing that cost the city a lot of money.

All that said! 🙂

The theme of the last eight or nine years of my life has been “be someone that makes you happy.” I like it when people are happy. Them being happy makes me happy.

I’m not into sports, and that’s okay. Most people aren’t into Second Life like I am, either. And that’s okay, too. Everyone being different is what makes life so much fun! If were all the same, life would be pretty boring.

If you’re into sports and the Super Bowl, then that’s great! I’m happy it makes you happy. You being happy makes me happy, too, so it’s a nice win-win. 🙂

I like being around happy people. That’s why I never say no to an invitation to go to a Super Bowl party, even if I’m mostly going to play with your pets and eat snacks. Playing with animals and eating snacks makes me happy, so it’s a win all around. (Plus some of the commercials are kinda funny. That’s neat, too!) To me, Super Bowl Sunday is a chance to hang out with people that are doing something that makes them happy, while playing with pets and eating snacks. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon, if you ask me. 🙂

I’ll never mock you for being into “sportball” or laugh at you for liking things I don’t like. I’m happy you like them, and that’s all I need to know. ❤