The problem with volcanoes is ash. The problem with ash is, you can't fly a plane through it without sustaining severe mechanical damage. You can imagine, then, the havoc wreaked at Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage when countless Alaskans tried to make it home from their Spring Break vacations after eighteen (scratch that, nineteen) back-to-back eruptions from our friendly neighborhood volcano. With cancellations backing up air traffic like a stack of bricks, our 9:00pm flight from Honolulu was inevitably rescheduled to 2:00 am the next morning.
Unfortunately, the rental car was due back by 8:00 pm, so I called Avis car rental to inquire about the price of adding a day onto our car rental. Instead of service, I got a fast-talking, impatient man with a thick accent who wanted an RA number, or RV number, or XYZ-something-or-other number. I couldn't understand him, so I hung up and dug out the contract, which explained that an additional day was $32.19, but after two days, they would send the cops after me. Which raised the question: what if we were delayed for more than two days? I should speak with an Alaska Airlines agent, just to make sure George and I weren't about to become incriminated via circumstantial volcanic activity. This time, however, I checked out the web site, where Customer Service was just a click away.
Instead of an agent, I got a virtual conversation with a virtual assistant who answered virtually none of my questions, save a brief response to inform me that she did not respond to "that type of language." By this time, our flight status listed a further postponement of 5:00 am, so I abandoned the cyclical computer animated conversation in pursuit of securing a place to stay for the night. Of course, then began the long process of rescheduling all of my Monday lessons. Just imagine opening ten successive phone conversations with the following line, and you will begin to understand what it is like to be a violin teacher in Alaska:
"Hello? Yes, this is Emily, and I'm currently stranded on a tropical island because the volcano blew up. I'm sorry, I'm afraid I'm going to have to cancel tomorrow's lesson. Any chance we could reschedule for Thursday?"
Being stranded on a tropical island is actually much more romantic on paper, isn't it? In reality, it plays out a little more like a dark comedy. Redoubt is erupting again as I type these lines. I still don't know if we'll be getting off the ground in the morning; it's possible we will be rerouted even if we do.
In that case, does anyone happen to know a good tiki bar in Portland?
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For the third time in three months, George took on a mounting headache that wouldn't go away, even after two days of ibuprofen and Excedrin. When he gets these, I just assume he is really going to die this time, so I spend the rest of the day asking how he feels. "My head hurts." Where does it hurt? "I don't know." Do you feel hot? Is anything swollen? What about when I push right here? How do you feel now? "My head hurts." Did you get enough water? Too much water? Not enough salt? Here, put some ice on it. How do you feel now? "My head hurts." After some more probing, we had it narrowed down to a tooth problem.
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Downtown Kailua is small and quaint; it's just the type of Hawaiian town you'd like to get lost in and disappear for a while. At night, people walk, jog, and hang out at tables that line the sidewalks of the strip malls. Shop doors are open wide and open late. So after hunting down our first dinner of the vacation, George and I joined the others, drifing idly along the sidewalk in search of coffee. Curiously I peered in each shop window to see what was inside: Swimming apparel. Vietnamese soup. Cheese steak. Hurley. "Hey George," I laughed, "Look, it's that fat guy from Lost." No really.
I couldn't go and talk to him, though. How corny, all I could think of to say would be to ask him if he was Lost.
Like he hasn't heard that before...
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In March, I am notoriously absent. After two months of "You can do it!" regarding community musicals, documentary recording sessions, symphony rehearsals, and a myriad of teaching hurdles, my unfiled tax forms lay before me like Heartbreak Hill in the Boston Marathon. I've an art show to put up in just two weeks, but my inspiration hangs at an all time low. And every morning I awake to February 2nd all over again, with one more inch of fresh snow to erase one more set of bootprints from the day before.
"Hey, did you get that song I emailed you? I'd like you to record a violin part to go with it." ...Eh, I forgot to check again.
"Would you join me at 9:00 am on Friday to play at an elementary school?" ...Uh, I don't do free gigs before noon.
"We wanna reschedule our lessons." Oh, sorry, no, can't do that this time.
Compose a spontaneous and clever blog entry? --Not today. Write a helpful response to a lesson inquiry? Maybe later. Walk the dog? Been there, done that. How about them taxes, Emily? Oh-shoot-would-you-look-at-the-time, gotta go catch that plane.
The phone is ringing again, but it's too late; I've already checked my bags.
...First, I'll try a sunburn out in search of brighter hues, and ask the songbirds in the palm trees to find me better tunes. And then I'll comb the distant beach in search of my lost muse, and see what else has washed up from this maelstrom called the blues. And when the waves smooth out the sand and wipe my footprints off, I'll think, what a good idea--I'll just write the whole thing off.
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Speaking of speed, today Jonathan showed up for his lesson with a present for me that he made himself. "Oh, that's so cool!" I responded. "He looks like... No, wait... That's Sammy XLR8, isn't it?" Sammy is a character from the Adventures in Violinland books. He's a space violinist, and he teaches my students about time travel and other curious fast-fingered adventures. What totally impresses me is, Jonathan saw the guy on the cover of a book sitting on my desk, and then went home and recreated him from memory.
I paused from our lesson and looked him in the eye.
"Jonathan, do you love the violin?"
"Yes, yes, I do!" He nodded.
"Promise me you'll always practice and never give it up."
"Yes, yes, I will!"
I continued, "See, you posses an asset. Do you know what 'asset' means?"
"It's kinda like drawing a hand of cards and getting an ace. Your ace is imagination. It's just something you were given, and it's worth more than anything I could teach you, and I want to make sure you'll keep using it, okay?"
He promised, but I suppose I didn't need to mention all that. Kids like Jonathan do what they do because they can't help it. With a supportive family and an open door, he will take flight with the same instinct that the birds use. It's just what he was born to do.
Next week he'll be returning with a bow for Sammy.
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More entries: February 2009
Violinist Frank Almond tells the life story of the 1715 Lipinski Strad in his new recording, "A Violin's Life."
Emily Grossman is from Soldotna, Alaska. Biography
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