Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Frisky

I have a problem.  Sometimes when I'm at work, I'll read  I like to keep up with the news, and although I have up all day at work, they tend to cover a lot more local stories.  It's actually pretty common that I'll get some piece of news through feminist blogs, I won't ever see it on, but a couple days later, it'll be on

That's not the problem.  The problem is that while I'm looking at CNN headlines on the page, I'll inevitably run across a headline that I KNOW will piss me off, and then I click it.  The majority of these headlines are from The Frisky, a relationship advice site, and CNN apparently finds their relationship advice worthy of being on the site.

"You're a feminist.  You inherently hate all relationship advice columns, or social advice columns in general."  Bullshit.  Have you read Love Letters or Miss Conduct, both in the Boston Globe?  Phenomenal.  Relationship advice columns are not inherently bullshittingly stupid.  They're also not inherently feminist, relevant, or true.

I read Love Letters regularly (Miss Conduct has been busy lately, but I subscribe to her blog), and I like the way it works.  Meredith Goldstein, the columnist, receives buckets of emails and picks ones to run on the blog.  For each letter, she posts the letter and her response before asking for commenter involvement.  While many of the commenters are not very nice or enlightened, Meredith herself seems to be.  She never resorts to ridiculous stereotypes about men and women, and she calls people out where appropriate.  While I've noticed that most of the letters seem to be about hetero-issues, I've read a few that weren't hetero-issues and so I wonder if perhaps Meredith just gets more hetero-issue letters.

I distinctly remember one particular Love Letter column (well, I guest blogged on Shakesville about it; I'd hope I remember it!) where a man wrote in complaining that all the women he dated were either ball-busting feminists or shallow gold-diggers.  His letter reeked of complete disrespect for women, and he made it clear that he was a traditional guy who wanted to find a real lady who liked being treated like one.

Meredith called him out brilliantly, even reminding him that a lot of women want to be treated like people, not ladies.  It was totally awesome.  She wasn't cruel, but she didn't sugarcoat her response to protect the guy's ego.  I wish I remember it better, or I wish I could get up the energy to link to my guest post.

What does this have to do with the Frisky?  Well, granted, it's an entire site dedicated to relationship advice (for women).  But I'm not really in the mood to read that women REALLY want the guy to pay for dinner, even if they pretend otherwise.  Or that women should REALLY let the guy touch them in intimate ways on a first date.  Or that women are ALWAYS on dates and in relationships with men.  Of course.

To be fair, it doesn't necessarily make sense that all relationship advice columnists should have to be educated in sociology and sex and gender.  Why not?  Because the vast majority of the population isn't. But at the same time, isn't that the point?  Don't we want to write to someone who is more knowledgeable about social interaction, about how gender plays into our interpersonal relationships, and ask them for advice?

I suppose it all comes down to who we're invalidating with this advice.  But considering how many normal people have said, "Yeah, I've noticed that even though I'm a woman, I'm really not that comfortable with guys always paying for dates!" or "I keep the bathroom cleaner than my wife does," I don't think it's all that invalidating when feminists write these advice columns.
If I read something that tells me that, as a woman, I OBVIOUSLY must like having a guy pay for the date, even if I "pretend" to protest, I get really, really pissed off.  I don't like having my date pay for dinner.  It's not that I don't  like it because I'm a feminist.  I'm a feminist because I don't like it and I know that it's okay for me to not like it.

In other words ... The Frisky SUCKS.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Case of the Mondays

It's a pretty serious one, too.

I slept a lot Saturday night and Sunday, probably because of working on Saturday.  I think that's why I had so much trouble sleeping last night.  I was also over-thinking things a lot, like work today and this form I keep forgetting to scan.  Ugh.  I remember looking at the clock before I was even drifting off and it read 1:30, which was slightly disheartening.

I'm having a bad hair day and a bad acne day.  I forgot to do laundry yesterday, so I scrambled to find a cute outfit for today.  I (correctly) assumed that it would be warm enough for me to leave my scarf at home.  I (incorrectly) assumed that the heat would be working in the lab (to be fair, I think it's working now, but it's still on the cool side).  My boss embarrassed me in front of the post-doc who was helping me with a long, involved experiment.  Generally, today is really, definitely, certainly Monday.
The good news, I suppose, is that I think I'm going to leave early so I can grab some groceries, do my laundry, maybe locate those forms, and spend some time with the Lokster, who was very upset that I had to spend Saturday out this weekend.  Whee.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Welcome to my job

I've been at work for three hours so far today.  That's right: not only have I been at work since 8:25 am this morning, but it's fucking SATURDAY.

There's actually a good reason why I'm here today.  We've got all these mice whose genotypes (that is, their particular genes) we aren't sure off.  Their parents were heterozygous for our gene of interest--heterozygous means that of the two copies of this particular gene, the parents have two different alleles (forms of the gene).  For us, that means they have one "wild-type" or "normal" copy of the gene, and one non-functioning version.  When we breed these mice, they give, randomly, one of their alleles to each of their off-spring.  We don't know which.  So, for all of these baby mice we got, we know about 25% of them are probably completely wild-type (two copies of the wild-type allele), 50% of them are probably heterozygous or "het" (one copy of the wild-type allele and one copy of the non-functioning allele), and the last 25% are probably "knock-outs" (two copies of the non-functioning allele, which means the gene has been effectively "knocked out").

I hope you enjoyed this biology lesson.

So, we have tails samples of about 24 different mice.  We have their retinas and their retinal RNA, too, but in order for us to make sense of the information we can get from those samples, we need to know their genotypes.  In order to find the genotypes, I have to dissolve the tails to get the DNA out of them, and then I have to make lots and lots of copies of the DNA.  When I use PCR, I use these DNA templates called primers; the primers make it so that only the gene I'm interested in will show up in my PCR results.  If the DNA sample doesn't have the gene that the primer works for, it'll come up negative in the results.  I've got primers for the wild-type and the knock-out versions of the gene (and a generic primer that should work for all samples, and if it doesn't, it means I made a mistake).

When I get the PCR results, none of the samples should come back completely negative.  If it comes back negative for wild-type, but positive for knock-out, the mouse is a complete knock-out.  If it's the opposite, it's a complete wild-type.  If it has both, it's heterozygous.
So, what the fuck have I been doing at work since 8:30 in the morning?  I prepared the tail samples, and I just put in my first PCR plate about 15 minutes ago.  It'll be done in about 2.25 hours.  Then I'll put in the second one, and then later the third one.

Our PCR machine can only run one plate at a time, and you can't even use the computer while a run is in progress.  Since a lot of people need to use the machine, you have to sign up for it.  There are three time slots per day: 9:00am-1:00pm, 1:00pm-5:00pm, and 5:00pm-overnight.  I'm signed up for all three time slots today, something I would never do if it weren't a weekend.  I'll probably be done by about 6:30, I'm guessing.  I could leave the last plate overnight, and I might do that, depending on what else is going on.  I also have to do some other stuff today, like feed cells.

And that is why I'm here so early on a Saturday.  The end.

PS: Kicked the GRE's ass.

Friday, February 12, 2010

GRE tomorrow

Tomorrow, I'll be taking the GRE (Graduate Record Examination).  On the one hand, I feel quite unprepared; I didn't do flashcards nearly enough, and I'm still tripping over myself in the math every so often.  On the other hand, no only am I a total badass when it comes to standardized testing (90th+ precentiles on the SAT), and I'm 95% sure that the Barron's book I have is a piece of shit.  Let's compare:

- The Princeton Review book I had was clearly organized.  It discussed, in accessible language, the way that the test works, how to use the test's structure and scoring to your advantage, and how to best study for the test.  The techniques it taught were helpful and easy to remember.  Tonight, I'm going to take the second computer test that came with the book.

- The Barron's book was disorganized.  The language was much too terse for me to really get anything out of it.  The strategies were called "tactics," were numbered instead of named, and were too numerous to actually remember for use on test day (it's easier to remember a multi-step method than it is to remember multiple tactics).  Many of the practice questions, including those in the model tests, did not seem like question that would be on the actual test.  Some of the math questions either lacked the correct answer choice, or had the correct choice printed twice.  The math section was especially mind-bogglingly unhelpful, with too much content and too many "tactics."

So, I'm going to take the second Princeton Review test tonight and see how it goes.  I have a feeling it'll go better than anything from Barron's.  And while I do appreciate a challenge, especially since complacency is a bad idea, the Barron's book was just unhelpful in addition to frustrating as hell.

We'll have to see how it goes.  I'm looking forward to it being over because I'm sort of tired of studying.  Today, I'm not studying (just the practice test tonight), so I got to read Possession on the train this morning (yay!).

Monday, February 8, 2010

Spam texts

Recently, I've been getting a lot of spam texts.  I changed my text settings and filed an FCC complaint, and for about a week, I got no spam texts.  It was pretty surprising and annoying as fuck to get 6 spam texts in the span of 20 minutes when I hadn't gotten spam texts in about a year.

So I had one week to think to myself, "Phew, I guess it got taken care of."  WRONG.  I got one at work today.

1) We all sort of keep our cells one during work, and while people don't make/take a lot of personal calls and texts ... well, sometimes we do.  You can hear ringtones throughout the day, but they tend to be infrequent.  But my ringtones are louder than everyone else's because of an annoying flaw with my phone (2nd gen LG Chocolate), so when I get a text or a call, and it's spam or a wrong number, it's embarrassing because EVERYONE heard it.

2) I'm not embarrassed to have the "success!" chime from the Legend of Zelda series as my text/voicemail alert ring tone.  If I were, I'd have changed it to something more mundane.  But for the love of god, don't text me at work!

3) I pay for this shit!  I mean, there's a reason it's illegal, besides the fact that it's pretty fucking annoying.  But it costs me money.  That's all kinds of uncool.

4) Stop making me think that people actually want to talk to me!  It's SUCH a let-down.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


I admit, this issue hasn't bothered me so much as it used to, now that I'm older, and the people I spend time with are, too.  But while it used to bother me a lot more, I couldn't put my finger on it, and now I think I can do so to some extent.

A lot of people, teens especially, talk about how so-and-so is SO perfect for them because they like the same music!  Or how, "Oh, I don't know, he seems all right, but he likes THESE BANDS instead of the ones I listen to!"  I was reminded of this recently, when I last put myself through Taylor Swift's "You Belong With Me," a song that has problems EVERYWHERE.  Attractive male friend, why are you dating your current girlfriend when she doesn't like the same music you do?  I mean, have you HEARD that your friend Taylor Swift Character loves the music you do?  How could you be so STUPID, you know?  Clearly Taylor Swift Character is the right match for you!

I don't think I've ever dated anyone with similar taste in music.  Or, when I think about it, movies.  The closest I've gotten was my college boyfriend, who would watch Friends with me, and who I got into Psych.  And even then, he wouldn't watch Supernatural with me, and I would sort of zone out when he started talking about Doctor Who.  And while it's good to have things in common, I think a lot of people would agree that as long as you're not annoyed to shit about someone's taste in music, movies, television, or even their hobbies and habits, it's really not a good way to measure compatibility.

But it's not just that in reality, you're not going to find your perfect match by searching for someone with the same list of music as you have on your Facebook profile.

The other day, I was thinking about the bands and artists I listen to, and which songs I like.  I've found that quite often, while I enjoy a wide variety of music, very specific songs tend to mean something more to me than others.  Not simply because, "Oh, this was the song so-and-so and I first danced to!" or linking them to specific events.  Some songs just evoke specific feelings in me, sometimes ones I can't name or fully understand.  It's not just pop songs or rock songs, or mainstream music.  Often times, it's classical music as well.  But it's hard for me to tell someone, "Oh, here's a great song!" because the reasons why this song might be great might have more to do with who I am than the song itself.

Music is very personal for me, and private.  That doesn't mean I can't talk about the songs I like.  But whereas it's easy for me to say, "I really like P!nk's music, especially her newer songs," it's not always easy to say, "For some reason, listening to some of her songs, I really feel this emotional ache, like I'm  mourning the loss of someone from my life," or even, "When I listen to the Khachaturian flute concerto*, I find myself closing my eyes and sometimes even crying after certain parts, not because those parts are very lyrical or that they invoke sad memories, but because there's something inexplicably emotionally powerful about some of the passages in the music, and it moves me to tears for no reason I can understand."

All these things are true (of course they're true; I cried while listening to a recording of middle schoolers playing Shenandoah).  But they're deeply personal.  And at the same time, they're a shared experience; there are few people I've met in my entire life who haven't found deep meaning in the music they listen to.  The thing is, though, that liking the same genres or artists as someone you're interested isn't meaningful on its own.

I have no idea if this is true, but I'd like to think that while an emotional connection to specific music is deeply personal, we all have the shared experience of being moved by art in this private, meaningful manner.  So while I might not know if the guy I'm dating feels the same way I do while listening to specific songs or pieces, I do wonder if it's safe to assume that there's something, be it film/TV, music, visual arts, dance, what-have-you, that moves him in a way he finds hard to explain.

Meanwhile, time to listen to some of my music now.  This playlist is a mix, with mostly fun listening songs.  But there are a couple songs that really just blow me away, quietly, so you wouldn't notice just watching me listen.

(Random aside, but shit, the lead singer of OneRepublic has a higher range than I do.  I dislike this development.)

* There really isn't a Khachaturian flute concerto.  There's the violin concerto.  Jean-Pierre Rampal asked Khachaturian if he would please write a flute concerto, and Khachaturian declined because he took some sick pleasure in knowing that his decision would one day break my heart.  Instead, he allowed Rampal to transcribe the concerto for flute.  It's one of the most difficult pieces of music I've ever played, and it's one of my favorite pieces of flute music to listen to (the other is Ibert's flute concerto, which is also fucking difficult, but at least it was written for flute, so there are sometimes places to breathe!).

Friday, February 5, 2010


ELISA.  Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay.  A helpful, interesting biological assay.

To perform an ELISA, you have to have a target molecule.  Let's say the target molecule is histamine, a molecule that causes an inflammatory response, which is usually the culprit in allergic reactions.  And let's say you want to know, "How much histamine is in this sample?  Which of these four samples has the highest or lowest histamine concentration?"  ELISA can answer those questions.

You take a 96-well plate and in however many wells you need (2 wells per sample, 2 wells per standard curve sample--usually 16-18 wells), you add in antibody.  This antibody sticks to the bottom of each well, and it's specific for histamine.  So if you put histamine in the well, it'll stick to the antibody.  Nothing else will.

So you coat the wells with histamine antibody, and then you add your samples.  You let them incubate, and the histamine in each sample sticks to the antibody.  Of course, if one sample has more histamine than another sample, you'll get more histamine binding.  Then you wash out the wells, leaving nothing except whatever histamine stuck to the antibody.

Then you add more antibody for histamine, which sticks to the histamine in the wells, creating a sandwich (these are actually called sandwich ELISAs).  These antibodies are special; you can then add various reagents to the wells and those reagents will react to these detection antibodies.  Eventually, you'll be left with a bright color in every well; the brighter the color is, the more histamine is in the sample.  You then stick it in a special reader which tells you the concentration in each sample.  Tadah.

Well, I'm not doing an ELISA on histamine; it's just my fav molecule and something people tend to be familiar with, thanks to things like allergies and Benadryl.  Next week, I have to run an ELISA for VEGF, a growth factor.  Here's what I've got:

Samples from 1 day, 3 days, 1 week, 2 weeks, 3 weeks, and 4 weeks.
For every time point, I have three different conditions.
For every condition, I have three different samples (that is, the experiment was done in triplicate).
For every sample, I have one sample from the top of the well and one from the bottom of the well.
For every one of these samples, I have to fill two wells.

So, math.  6 time points x 3 conditions x 3 samples x 2 samples x 2 wells = 216

But I have to do a standard curve so I have something to compare the sample concentrations to!  There are a bunch of different concentrations (2000 pg, 1000 pg, 500 pg, 250 pg, 125 pg, 62.5 pg, 31.2 pg, 15.6 pg, 0 pg) that I need for the standard.  Additionally, since my samples are all conditioned medium (medium that was used to grow cells--it's not fresh and clean), I need non-conditioned medium so I can show that the VEGF didn't just come from the medium itself.  So that's 10 more samples:

10 standards/zeroes x 2 wells = 20

That leaves me with 20 + 216 = 236 wells.  But wait!  In order for me to be sure that my results are good, I need to make sure that I take into account plate-to-plate variation.  Since we use 96-well plates and I've got more than twice that number of wells, I'm going to need at least 3 plates, which means at least 3 standards/zeroes.  So I need to see how many wells that'll take up, so I know whether I need 3 plates or 4 (4 plates also means 4 standards/zeroes!).

3 plates x 20 standards/zeroes wells = 60 wells.  60 wells + 216 wells = 276, which fits on 3 plates (12 wells to spare!).

So, there you have it.  276 wells.  Monday, I'm coating the first plate, and I'll stagger them all throughout the week.  It's going to be interesting AND ridiculous!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Cis Privilege and Other Privilege Checklists

Last night was complicated.  I'd had a headache most of the afternoon because I had hoped that lab meeting food would carry me through until dinner.  Unfortunately, that wasn't the case.  When I don't eat a lot of calories, whether I'm hardcore fasting for Yom Kippur, or I'm just eating small amounts of food over the course of a long period of time, my body assumes that it's Yom Kippur and tries to make me lose my appetite so I can make it through.  So by the time I got home, I had no appetite and so I did not eat until 8:30, when CA came over for dinner and Psych (I also almost threw up after I had my noodle soup, which hasn't happened in a while after fasting).  So that sucked, but Psych was fun.  Then I stayed up because I'm a huge idiot, and then I couldn't sleep, which brings us to this morning, when I was not able to get up at 7:30 as planned.  Boo!

Anyway, I say last night was complicated because I was having a conversation with a friend about a story he's writing.  In his story, he has written in a character whose biological sex is unknown and whose gender presentation is ambiguous* (not as much like Pat from SNL; the best similar character I can think of is from one episode of Bones, where a Japanese specialist is visiting and the team is trying to guess if the specialist is male or female--not one of my favorite episodes, obviously).  The point of this ambiguously sexed and gendered character is two-fold; the character serves a purpose in terms of having a hand in the plot, which my friend acknowledged has nothing to do with sex or gender.  But the ambiguity, apparently, comes into play because the two main characters are supposed to be flawed, and the way my friend was representing some of these flaws was to make them mean to Sex/Gender Ambiguous Character and even bet on SGAC's sex (and later, one character actually TELLS SGAC that they have a bet going, so could SGAC please clear things up so they know who owes whom money?).

Needless to say, I was angry, hurt, and really confused.  Here's my friend, a very liberal person.  He's never struck me as actively progressive, but he never struck me as, well, transphobic.  I ended up exacerbating my headache trying to explain to him the problem.  It took a while, although credit goes to him for not being a total douche about it.

If you're curious as to why I have a problem with this idea, then I'll try to explain here.  A person's biological sex is not anyone else's business.  In our patriarchal culture (that is, a culture where we have people arranged in a hierarchy, where men are at the top and non-men are at the bottom, and this hierarchy is constantly enforced and reinforced in a self-perpetuating cycle), there is a strong tendency for people with penis-like biological parts to dress in a certain way and present their bodies in a certain way, and one for people with vagina-like biological parts to dress in a different way and present their bodies differently.

When you see a person on the street, and you perceive this person as a man, it is not because you can see the persons genitals and those genitals consist of a penis and scrotum.  It is because the person is presenting as masculine/male.  What if you see someone on the street and you cannot tell, based on their presentation, whether or not they are male or female?

Do you have any business asking this person to show you their genitalia so you can know?

I asked my friend how much it mattered whether or not SGAC was male or female or in between, genital-wise.  He said it didn't actually matter.  What mattered, of course, was that the main characters didn't know, and they wanted to.

Now, if he were writing a story about how his characters were douches who thought it was okay to ask a stranger about their genitalia because in the end, we were going to see, as readers, that this behavior is wrong and unacceptable, that's different.  But, as I pointed out to him, this plot point means one of two things.  Either:

- it's meant to demonstrate that the main characters are not perfect because they're transphobic/unaware of their cis privilege, which means that being transphobic is an acceptable human flaw that will not prevent readers from identifying with the characters, or
- it's meant to be humorous because making a trans** person the butt of a joke is acceptable.

He and I discussed this at length.  There were no other reasons for this plot bit to be included.  The conversation was resolved when he acknowledged that the message he was sending was not something he agreed with in any way, and that it was absolutely not necessary for his characters to be transphobic.

We got into a discussion of various privileges, which is what brings me to what I'm referring to in the title of this post: privilege checklists.

Privilege checklists are easily available on the internet, although some are more well known than others (such as the ones on Alas, a Blog).  These lists detail several different privileges that groups of people have based on sex, ethnicity, sexuality, cis/transness, religion, etc.  The idea of the checklists is, from what I know, to both validate people without those privileges and to introduced privileged people to their privileges.  Why would we need to do the latter?  Because privilege is often invisible to people possessing it.

I consider myself not-stupid when it comes to issues of race/ethnicity.  I know that it's bullshit for me to claim that I'm "color blind," and that I treat everyone the same hurray because the idea of "color blindness" ignores the realities of the racism that people of color face every single day.  If I tell my friend that I don't see race, I'm not making the world a less racist place.  Instead, I'm just ignoring the way that her blackness makes it much more difficult for her to find a job, etc.  That's douchey.  Also, color blindness is a disability, so let's stop calling it that.  My brother is actually color blind, and he's not a douche when it comes to race.

However, even though I consider myself aware of my white privilege, when I was reading the white privilege checklist, I still came up against an item on the checklist that I had never thought about before.  When I buy "nude" underwear, it's almost always at least CLOSE in shade to my actual skin color.  But that's because my skin is light beige, and "nude" underwear is ... light beige.  But what if my skin were almost paper white or almost pure black, or just some darker shade of brown or olive or what?  "Nude" underwear is supposedly the color of nude skin.  But it's really the average color of nude white skin.

And that's privilege.  While that's not to say that every person with non-light beige skin has gone on Victoria's Secret and gotten pissed the fuck off because yes, they still sell "nude" underwear that's light beige, I think it's safe to say that you're more likely to notice that "nude" doesn't actually mean "nude" when it doesn't mean "nude" for you.

The cis privilege checklist (cis being the opposite of trans) focuses a lot on the fact that genitalia are considered private ... unless you're not cis, in which case people think it's totally appropriate to demand that you prove you have a vagina so you can use a bathroom that has a stick figure of a bald person in an A-line skirt (I wear pants; should I use the other bathroom?).

Here are some great privilege checklists, for your awareness-raising pleasure (if you're Christian, please read the Christian privilege checklist because omg so tired of people insisting that Christians are persecuted in the US!):

* Biological sex is not the same thing as gender.  Biological sex relates to the body parts you have (and "male" and "female" are not the only things you can be).  Gender is different and includes a variety of things.  Gender is a performance, a way of interacting, etc, and it includes how you present yourself.  When you see a person walking down the street and you assume they are male, I bet you're assuming they're male because they're presenting as male, which is a gender thing (unless they're in disguise after a bank heist, in which case ... totally different situation).

** What does trans mean?  The way I see it, a transgender person is someone who does not (either intentionally or otherwise) conform to the cultural norm, which in the US means a person who is biologically male who does things that are traditionally feminine, a person who is biologically female who does things that are traditionally masculine, a person whose genitals do not place them in a particular sex category, a person whose behaviors do not put them in a paticular gender category, a person who feels that they are both male and female, a person who feels they are neither male nor female, and so on and so forth.  In terms of privilege, however, we're talking about cis privilege, which means that although I actually would be considered trans under my own definition (that is, I'm biologically female, but I consider myself androgynous, not masculine or feminine), I have cis privilege.

*** I'm not sure that this is the best checklist, not because it's wrong or anything, but because there are other ways of being disabled/less abled/differently abled that are not "physical" disabilities (i.e. learning disabilities, mental illnesses, chronic illnesses, etc.).  As someone who is less than perfectly abled because of a chronic illness, I have privileges of being able in some ways, and disadantages in other situations.

+ Why won't this load?!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Last night, I was scrolling through my iTunes library, trying to put together a new playlist to listen to.  I've got a lot of different kinds of crap in my library.  I've got CDs that I bought when I was a kid, ones that I bought/downloaded as an adult, ones that I know by heart, and ones that I took off of other people's computers but never listened to.  I've got a bunch of albums where I just wanted one song, but I burned the entire CD anyway and still haven't listened to it.  I've got Broadway show albums (the only one I have from a show I haven't seen in its entirety is Avenue Q, but I've seen most of it).  I've got singles, I've got random video game music, and I have classical music.  Of the classical, I've got flute stuff and orchestra stuff, things I've played and things I haven't.

Among the classical things I've played are a slew of MYWE (Massachusetts Youth Wind Ensemble--acronym pronounced "MY-wee") albums.  Most of the ones from my later years in MYWE are CDs provided to us by our conductor/assistant conductor of the pieces that we were playing that semester.  I still don't understand how I used to get by without hearing a recording of the selections; it's a fantastic way to get the tempos right and to pick out the melodies and other interesting lines.  Otherwise, you just get used to hearing and thinking about just your own part.  Hearing the entire piece, played by professionals (sometimes semi-professionals, but always superb) means that you're going to play the entire piece of music, as part of the group.  You won't just be your one self playing your one part.

Other ensemble musicians can back me up (I hope).  Playing in an ensemble that really clicks is an incredible experience, where you really feel like you're a part of this group consciousness.  It's when you feel like an individual, when you feel separate, that you're fucking up.

Anyway, that's not what I wanted to post about, or not really specifically.  People who know me well, especially people I've known since middle school, understand how important MYWE still is to me, five years later.  I auditioned back when I was twelve without knowing exactly what I was auditioning for.  I also was terrified when I first started going to rehearsals that if I didn't know my part perfectly, I would be kicked out (looking back, I understand now that no one who was mediocre enough to be kicked out was ever really accepted in the first place, as far as I can tell).  But what I do know is that for the next six years, I improved as a musician.  I improved much more than I would have if I had just done school band.  And while there's nothing wrong with school band, and while our school bands were always excellent ones, an ensemble made up of some of the most talented middle/high schoolers in Massachusetts is going to be more advanced.  And so I was pushed to be a better musician, far more than I would have been pushed in school band.

The friends I made in MYWE, although I don't see or talk to many of them anymore, were some of the most interesting, kind, fun people I've met and gotten to know.  My first serious boyfriend was a member of MYWE.  I went to Italy with the group and had a blast.  I always enjoyed myself.  I never really felt annoyed that MYWE meant that I was busy Friday nights.

So, last night, as I scrolled through my library, I found a song from one of the MYWE CDs.  While the CDs from my last few years are ones that we were given to listen to (and therefore are professional sounding, in tune, played correctly, etc.), the early CDs are the actual recordings of our concerts in Jordan Hall in Boston (MYWE is run through the prep school at the New England Conservatory).  And the song I was looking at was from my first year (I can't remember if it was the first or second semester).  It was Frank Ticheli's version of Shenandoah, which is played in a lot of middle school and high school bands.  It's not too difficult, but it's very lyrical and beautiful.  Ticheli writes very engaging fun music, even when it's something like this piece.

I remember playing Shenandoah because somehow, I ended up on the flute solo.  There were six of us that year (four 1sts, two 2nds--yes, we were accidentally top heavy, with two 1sts also playing picc), but we all got along pretty well and shared solos.  At that point in my career, I was still pretty insecure, especially in MYWE (remember, I thought I could get kicked out by making the tinest mistake), and so while I negotiated solos more later on, I never would have even TRIED to get a solo at that point.  But while we were playing Shenandoah for the first time, for some reason we never talked about the solos and for some reason I was the only person who picked up their flute when the solo came along during the playthrough.  We never discussed it (we also never discussed the flute trio, I don't think, or maybe we did.  But it's a round and easily evenly split, so that wasy easy and fun).

It was my first solo in MYWE, as far as I recall.  I DO remember being extremely nervous to the point of shaking when it was done.  Of course, I still get shakey after solos.  Go figure.

So I listened to Shenandoah last night.  It was out of tune all over the place, the brass players were constantly having problems getting their notes to sound from the beginning of their entrances, and there was one hilarious point (that I also remember at the time) where none of the flutes was confident about an entrance in a high register (so we all come in tentatively and late--awesome!).  But there was my solo, shared with the oboe and one of the trumpets, I think.  It was out of tune, although I blame the oboe, like I always do (What?  Do you know how much trouble I had in GBYSO my first year during the Suk?  DO YOU?  When a flute and oboe are playing together in a duet, and the flute is in tune with the orchestra while the oboe isn't, the flute sounds out of tune.  If the flute tries to play in tune with the oboe, the flute sounds out of tune again.  I say fuck it, and blame the oboe).  And then came the flute trio, which was actually very nice.

And somehow, I ended up crying for some reason listening to this very flawed performance.  I don't really know why.  Maybe it's because of what MYWE meant to me.  Maybe it's because the piece is lyrical and Ticheli's a very good composer.  Maybe it's because it was my first MYWE-solo.  Maybe it's because I cry at everything.  I don't know.

So, the entire point of this post was, "I cried last night listening to a recording from a wind ensemble concert when I was thirteen."  It took me a while to get there.