Life lessons. (About learning the ukulele…)

I went to a ukulele lesson last week.

In the following days, I admitted to myself that the ukulele isn’t what I should be learning. The lesson was fun, the teacher was excellent, but I was a student who wasn’t a fan of the ukulele – the instrument itself, or the sound that it makes, or the music commonly played on it. I realized that I was in the wrong place, and it wasn’t fair to the teacher or to a potential student who could fill my time slot.

Passion fuels perseverance over a learning curve. I was happy to be at my lesson; I left feeling determined to practice, but once at home, it was a different story. I had no desire to practice, and when I sat down to do it, anyway, I found that practicing with a lack of interest is difficult. I’d had this idea that I wanted to learn the ukulele, but that wasn’t enough. Sometimes, an idea isn’t enough.

I don’t love the ukulele.

If not passion, navigating a learning curve requires necessity, I think… necessity as in you have to learn it because it’s a job requirement, or for some other practical reason, or your life depends on it, like someone’s holding a knife to your throat saying learn it or else.

There has to be a compelling reason to allocate time to the effort. Rather than passion or necessity, my reasons for starting ukulele lessons came down to sentimentality and a desire to do music again… emotional, general reasons that had nothing to do with the ukulele.

I hate to let anyone down. Some people had great expectations of me. For instance, I have a friend who’s going to be extremely disappointed that I won’t be bringing my ukulele to the gym to play “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” during Body Pump in place of the workout tracklist, as he’d expressed his eager anticipation of my obliging.

Callaghan couldn’t appreciate this “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” gym scenario when I told him about it, because he didn’t know the song, he said. I went to YouTube to find it for him. I then learned that “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” was featured in the horror movie Insidious, which I thought was fitting because I know if I heard Tiny Tim singing “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” in my house in the middle of the night, I’d be horrified, too. I can see how a demon would choose “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” as his entrance song through the gates of hell, or whatever it was going on there…

 

 

[Aside: I would love to see a boxer or an MMA fighter walking out to “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.”]

I don’t really remember Insidious, by the way. The story didn’t stick with me, and I didn’t think it was scary. It’s safe to say that going to bed with “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” in my head that night was scarier than Insidious.  

But I digress.

I’m sorry that there will be no tiptoeing through the tulips during Body Pump or anywhere else. I didn’t intend for my endeavor to be a mere dalliance, though I did go in with a “try it out and see” attitude.

My instructor was awesome, though! If any of you locals are looking for a teacher of string instruments, let me know, and I’ll gladly share his contact info.

I will say that this experience intensified my desire to do music again. Any learning curve would be a fun challenge if I were passionate about the instrument. I know exactly which instrument that would be, but it’s not worth mentioning here, because it’s unlikely that I’ll get one.

All of this said, I still have great affection for my ukulele. Mom gave it to me; it was hers. It gives me joy just being here. I’m keeping it.

 

The ukulele that came home with us.

 

What do you get when you cross a flamingo and a ukulele? My office.

I had a hard mental health day on Friday, and all of the late-afternoon popcorn and Perrier couldn’t fix it. Neither did it help that that was the day I decided to watch Childish Gambino’s “This is America” video. Excellent song and video. Bad timing.

But then things got better, because when I woke up the next day, it was a gym morning and it was Mother’s Day weekend. I got cards from Nenette, Geronimo, and Callaghan, and for my main gift, Callaghan took me to Home Depot and said I could go crazy and choose any plant I wanted, emphasis on “any”! I chose this tall guy and named him “Flamingo”:

 

Flamingo! (He’s a Dracaena ‘Massangeana’)

 

My desk now, as seen from the doorway:

 

Four of my nine office companions, from left: Holder, Flamingo, Icarus, Thoreau

 

At some point, I’ll do an updated office tour and take you around to see all of my companions of the chlorophyllous persuasion. Two of them have joined me since my last such update, and some of the older ones have migrated to different spots.

Also, you may be noticing that there’s a ukulele sitting next to my desk. Yes, I’ve brought the ukulele back into the light! I haven’t dusted it off yet, but it’s out. That white binder on the shelf above it is a lesson book. Mom gave these to me, as some of you may recall, and I proceeded to capitalize on the opportunity to share some of my favorite ukulele jokes.

i.e. (from my previous blog post about the ukulele):

What’s the difference between a ukulele and a trampoline? You take off your shoes to jump up and down on a trampoline.

What’s “perfect pitch”? When you throw the ukulele into the garbage can without hitting the rim.

What do you call a beautiful woman on a ukulele player’s arm? A tattoo.

And my personal favorite:

A ukulele player suddenly realizes he left his vintage ukulele out in his car overnight. He rushes outside and his heart drops when he sees that his car window is broken. Fearing the worst, he peeks through the window and finds that there are now five ukuleles in his car.

I still love to laugh at the ukulele, but I do respect it, and I’ve decided to learn to play it. Going through my old rhythm and timing workbooks, composer collections, and sheet music made me realize how much I miss doing music. Self, I said one day recently – yesterday, in fact – why don’t you learn to play that beautiful, new ukulele Mom gave you? Why not.

I’m sure I’ll be back with ukulele-learning updates for any of you who may be interested; I can’t wait to laugh at myself as much as I laugh at the ukulele.

Oh, and my second Mother’s Day gift was a new tool box! Callaghan knew that I wasn’t thrilled with the one I’d been using. My new one (which I chose) is shiny and black and spacious and lovely. I should’ve taken a pic of it, too.

I hope you’re all having a great start to your week!

How I Alone: Halloween safety precaution edition.

Callaghan’s been back for 11 days. I’d been alone in the house for 12 days, which isn’t an unusual situation, as he does have away-business of one kind or another every once in a while. I’m not here to gloat about the awesome time I had with the whole house to myself for almost two weeks. (Of course he was missed, but not terribly; thanks to Skype, I “saw” him several times a day.) I’m here to gloat about how I totally outdid myself on the aloning this time.

Yes, there’s a difference between “aloneness” (neutral/positive) and “loneliness” (negative). And yes, it’s “doing alone,” rather than “being alone.” I’m declaring “alone” to be a verb, because this is my blog, so I can. “To alone” refers to how you behave in the absence of human company, of course. You aren’t alone alone when you share your abode with cats or dogs or fish or iguanas or horses or an ant farm or whatever-you-have. (We have two furbabies of the feline persuasion, in case you weren’t aware.)

Aloning is an art, but this time, it occurred over Halloween, so there were special safety precautions to be taken, and that put a different slant on things. It was a learn-as-you-go sort of situation since I’d never aloned over Halloween before. As you can imagine, I came away with a wealth of knowledge. Such as, at dusk, you should close all the window coverings on the south side of your dwelling (in case of a siege such as zombie apocalypse).

You should fill up all of your five-gallon water bottles and hoard them in a closet (in case of zombie apocalypse).

If you don’t already have loyal animal children who will guard you with their lives, you can get a guard dog of some kind. If you’re more of a cat person, you can get an ocelot. If you’re allergic to dander and alligators aren’t your thing, you can get a carnivorous plant or a saguaro. (In case of zombie apocalypse.)

 

With saguaro and a bunch of sun and wind.

With saguaro and a bunch of sun and wind.

 

(The saguaro cactus in the picture isn’t at my house. It’s just near my house.)

You can keep a stash of delicious pickled turnips (in case of zombie apocalypse).

You can play the ukulele (in case of zombie apocalypse).

You can keep the gas tank in your car topped off in case the zombie apocalypse happens and you need to drive to Mexico, where zombies don’t go.

There are many things you can do that you’ll never realize until you’re alone over Halloween, and this is invaluable, especially since zombies are much worse than other things that can happen, such as three consecutive earthquakes (in the desert) one night and a threat of a mass shooting at your workplace the following day.

Each time is a learning experience. Maybe next year Callaghan will be away in early October and I’ll be able to write “How I Alone: Columbus Day edition.” The siege threat in that case would be even more formidable than zombies!

So I have this ukulele.

Recently, I came into possession of a ukulele. If you know me well, you’re probably blinking your eyes to see if you read that right. You did. I have a ukulele. I’ll explain, but first, for those of you who aren’t aware, here’s the backstory:

The ukulele has always been my favorite object of playful ridicule, which I’m slightly ashamed to admit since my family is from Hawaii. It’s not that I hate the ukulele, mind you. It’s not, like, how I’m an Arizonan who hates the Kokopelli with a mad, burning passion. (True story. I cannot stand the sight of the Kokopelli.) I just find the ukulele to be hilarious. It cracks me up, and it always has. I don’t know. I can’t explain myself.

Some sample ukulele jokes:

Q: What’s the difference between a ukulele and a trampoline?

A: People take off their shoes to jump up and down on a trampoline.

 

Q: What is “perfect pitch”?

A: When you throw the ukulele into the garbage can without hitting the rim.

 

Q: What do you call a beautiful woman on a ukulele player’s arm?

A: A tattoo.

 

And my personal favorite:

A ukulele player suddenly realizes he left his vintage ukulele out in his car overnight. He rushes outside and his heart drops when he sees that his car window is broken. Fearing the worst, he peeks through the window and finds that there are now five ukuleles in his car.

 

I used to enjoy telling my family ukulele jokes like these, until I realized one day that no one was laughing at them but me. In fact, they weren’t amused, at all. They’re from Hawaii, and they take their ukes seriously.

Then, at some point in the last 15 years, I think, the ukulele suddenly got a foothold in the Indie crowd. Inexplicably, the uke love pulses on in popular culture today. The ukulele managed to assert itself in random places, from the Arrested Development theme music of the 2000’s to the Bob’s Burgers theme music of present day. I hear it all the time on YouTube. (Garfunkel & Oates, anyone?) It’s like the ukulele spawned and sent its babies from the islands to branch out like a chain of sandwich restaurants across the U.S., and now it’s the quirky and hip answer to the jazz club xylophone of the 1930’s and all the cool kids love it. It’s become a part of our cultural acoustic landscape.

Okay, whatever. I didn’t begrudge anyone their love of the ukulele when this, um, evolution took place. I still enjoyed ukulele jokes.

BUT THEN. One day, Mom told me she was doing some research so she could make an educated choice. She was excitedly preparing to undertake a new hobby. She was going to honor the roots of her Hawaiian upbringing. She was going to buy…. Yep. A ukulele.

I didn’t laugh when she told me this, because first and foremost, I thought it was awesome that Mom was planning to learn an instrument. Also, her choice of instrument made perfect sense. She was reclaiming her cultural roots in the islands, and I was happy for her. I cheered as she selected and bought her ukulele and found herself an instructor. She got her instrument and her instructor and lessons and everything all in Hawaii (my parents live there half the year).

Fast forward two years. Mom had set the ukulele down after several months of lessons, because life happened. Life picked her up and carried her down a stream to a place that did not include playing the ukulele. The ukulele was collecting dust.

When we were up there in the Yay Area (NorCal) this last Thanksgiving, she said to me, “Kris, do you want my ukulele? You’re the musical one in the family, and I don’t want to just give it to anyone!” I understood. The ukulele held great sentimental value for her, and it had been expensive… and, well, what could I do? I had never been interested in learning the ukulele, but this was a no-brainer! I couldn’t reject it, this ukulele that had meant something to Mom, and that she was now offering to me. It held sentimental value. It was special. And besides, it was lonely. I couldn’t very well leave behind an abandoned ukulele, now, could I?

Such as it was that I, a lifelong believer that the ukulele and the xylophone are tied at first-place for Most Hilarious Instrument, wound up driving from San Jose to Phoenix with a ukulele in the back seat of the car. I’m now in possession of a ukulele. It’s sitting right here next to my desk, snug in its case, along with the book of lesson sheets Mom also gave me. Furthermore, I’ve resolved to learn it, because why should the poor ukulele go from collecting dust in California to collecting dust in (way dustier) Arizona?

Looking at the instrument, I have to admit that it’s a beautiful specimen of ukulele. Mom really did her research!

 

The ukulele that came home with us.

The ukulele that came home with us.

 

It says something on the end: NALO. Is that its name? Or is it the brand? I don’t even know. I don’t know anything about ukuleles, except for bad jokes.

Infernos Everywhere! Run! Or, Cover Yourselves.

Some of you appreciated my impromptu ramble about masks, so let me do another “1-Minute Topical” as a kind of Public Service announcement. Subject: sunscreen. I wear it on my face every day, no matter what. Even if there’s no sun. Even if I’m not leaving the house. It’s the one product about which I’m kind of fanatical; I’ve been using it religiously for decades.

I once read – and I truly believe – that where there’s daylight, there’s a need for sunscreen, because a room filled with daylight is a room filled with damaging UV rays. Yes, your skin can sustain damage under a cloud cover! The term “sun damage” is a misleading one, in my opinion. You don’t need golden beams of sunshine to end up with skin damaged by UV rays. You are not safe if it’s overcast. Know how vampires are affected by daylight even if they’re inside? Same danger.

 

Skin cancer happening

Skin cancer happening

 

While I envision horrible things happening to unprotected skin after sunrise, I’m not daunted. It’s easier to put on sunscreen than to hide from the daylight in a coffin until nightfall. I like an SPF of 30, minimum, in a broad-spectrum (that means UVA and UVB) formula. My current anti-UV ray weapon of choice is Eucerin’s Sensitive Skin Everyday Protection Face Lotion, SPF 30, which I’ve used since at least 2009. It’s great. (Side note: Eucerin and its parent company, Beiersdorf, claim to not test on animals, though their names don’t appear on current cruelty-free products lists… so I’m not sure what that’s about. Conflicting information alert.)

Speaking of animals, our boys’ true natures have really emerged since we’ve been here. It’s warm, and there’s carpet, so they’re letting it all hang out, so to speak. I’m not sure about Nounours (he’s harder to read), but Ronnie James is Hawaiian at heart. This is clear from the fact that he enjoys playing air-ukulele while lying on his back. We’ve caught him dancing the hula, also while lying on his back. And he loves to sit on his butt in big armchairs, as people in Hawaii are wont to do. (I know this first-hand. My family is originally from there, so I’ve spent a lot of time there, myself.)

 

WrahWrah-Bundy

 

Mmm-hmm… Ronnie James’s got the hang-loose ‘tude of the locals down (not that Al Bundy is Hawaiian), and he was obviously born with it, because his ukulele-playing, hula-dancing self has never been to Hawaii.

 

Hula dancing

Hula dancing