In the year of the masks

do I want to know a secret?

Unity MaskIn some way, there was no date more 2020 for me than December 7. I received three packages. All contained masks.

One was a package of 50 disposable items I had ordered about a week earlier. The second was a mask featuring the mustache of John Green, which I had ordered about a month and a half earlier. It was a Pizzamas thing; don’t worry about understanding that, because I don’t either.

The third, though, I had ordered so long before that I had forgotten about it altogether. Ten black masks with the letters UNITY in white silhouette. Within each letter, a message. all in caps.

Healthcare for all. Back Lives Matter. Save the Planet. Protect Dreamers. Ensure voting rights. The image description from Democracy for America: “We believe there is more that unites us than divides us. These issues are not just for the few, they are for all of us.” I hope so.

In my Christmas stocking, Santa brought two more masks. One was a woodsy scene. The other was a black mask with Day-Glo musical notes. I like these.

One more

Finally, in the mail on New Year’s Eve, came a mask with a card, sent ostensibly from my church’s address. The lettering was intentionally designed to obscure the handwriting of the sender. The white mask had a pinkish rectangle that featured a white cross. In red letters:
FIRST PRES CHOIR
2020

For the last few years, an anonymous benefactor had left the choir t-shirts and pens, both emblazed with messages about the church, left near the choir loft. Since we haven’t sung since March 2020 – haven’t even been in the building – I was particularly surprised by this largesse. I have a theory about who it might be; my wife thinks it’s someone else. Thanks to the choir Secret Santa once again, whoever you are.

Football!

I went to the local grocery store on Tuesday, moving through as quickly as possible. The cashier wore a Pittsburgh Steelers mask. I asked her if her team was going to win this weekend. She said, “I hope so. They only lost by two last week, and they rested some of their players.” I added, “And the Cleveland Browns needed that game. But what about that three-game losing streak?” She sighed, “I don’t know WHAT that was about.”

I mention this because, too often, the mask is a sign of less sharing. You can’t see people’s facial expressions. But at that moment, the mask facilitated a human connection that I too often miss.

Here’s hoping that in 2022, I won’t need the masks anymore. But I keep seeing those newspaper headlines. LA Times, Jan 1.: Spiraling COVID-19 deaths leave morgues overflowing and funeral homes turning away grieving families. And even around here. Times Union, Jan. 1: In Albany County, the mark of 346 new infections in one day is 77 more than the prior record. So know I’ll still have those masks available in 2021. It’s good to have a variety…

At least I don’t have to deal with these folks.

Church choirs, Stacy Wilburn (and Chuck Miller?)

It’s nearly impossible to explain how tightly-knit a choir can be.

Did you ever do something and only later realize that there was a subtext that was totally unrelated? This would apply to my advocacy in favor of my buddy Chuck Miller, whose April 1 blog post on the Times Union site had gotten his post removed and his ability to post there suspended.

Somewhere during the various writing I did for la causa, I realized this wasn’t just about Chuck, or the misrepresentation of Chuck’s article by the newspaper’s editor as “fake news” rather than satire. It was that sense of powerlessness, being left in the dark, that resonated, rather like the events leading to leaving my old church.

Since I joined another FOCUS congregation, I have had opportunity to worship back at Trinity, the first church I joined in Albany. The former pastor has been gone for more than a decade.

The first couple times I returned there was really weird and uncomfortable, with church members cajoling and pleading me to come back. Enough time has passed – I’ve now attended First Presbyterian as long as I had attended Trinity – that it’s no longer an issue. Still, old members there greet me fondly.

I’m going to sing in the choir there again – today, actually – because one of my old choir compatriots, Quentin Stacy Wilburn, died on July 9. He usually went by Stacy, or Q. He was 91.

It’s nearly impossible to explain how tightly-knit a choir can be. I still recall that we were all together at a choir member’s house on Christmas Eve 1989 or 1990, before we were to sing, when we got the word that our tenor soloist, Sandy Cohen, had had another heart attack and died. (He’d had one before, IN CHURCH, during the service, but wouldn’t leave until he “finished the gig.”)

Until the choir director recruited more tenors, I sang tenor with Stacy for a few months, high in my range, and not as instinctive to me as the bass line.

So now we’re going to come together, Trinity folks and former Trinity folks and FOCUS church folks and friends and sing for Stacy, because that’s what choir people do.

What have I learned in 2016?

The cost/benefit analysis of singing in the choir mitigates in its favor

Melanie, who got married recently – congratulations, you’ve made an honest man out of your honey! – asks:

What was the most important thing you learned this past year?

That I REALLY have to be more selfish. I find this, at some level, to be an anathema to me. There’s all this service that needs to be done, people to be helped, tasks to be fulfilled.

And I get this message not from my church, though it emphasizes it, but from deep within me. It was modeled by my father and I understand its import.

But if I’M not happy, then I’ve got nothing to give. It’s like when you put your air mask on first if it should drop from the airplane ceiling. If I tend to the other first, without getting my oxygen, I’m likely to suffocate.

Not sure I can pull it off. But emotionally, 2016 was emotionally battering, and it wasn’t just Agent Orange and those who supported him.

Another thing I learned is that some folks just are not fact-driven. A person mentioned, on FB naturally, that “Under God” wasn’t always in the Pledge of Allegiance. In reply, someone wrote: “I’m too lazy to research it at the moment, but, actually, I think ‘under God’ was always in the pledge.” This person had IN HIS HANDS a device that would allow him to access the answer.

What is something you are hoping to learn this coming one?

I want to know if I really can write in long-form. Blogs are, relatively, easy for me, but I suspect a book, on one subject, would be hard. Yet I’m about 75% sure I want to write one, which will mean clearing the deck of other things.

But I’m not giving up the blog, because the blog is what keeps me sane. Looking for a graphic for something else, I came across the item pictured. I’ve known it a while, but it’s no less true for that. And sometimes I forget.

I don’t know ANYTHING, in terms of many opinions, until I’ve written it down, which may require looking up facts – REAL facts, not GMO facts. Until then, I’m in flux. This is why I always do those Ask Roger Anything things in the first place, to find out my truth, as it were.

I also need to keep singing in the choir. The cost/benefit analysis mitigates in its favor.

I’ve tired of half-read books, and old newspapers and magazines piling up. I want to read more, NEED to exercise more. But time is not fungible, it’s finite, at least on the three dimensions I understand.

Facebook will be a casualty; no big loss, though items will continue to be automatically posted there, since it is an effective tool.

Oh, I have a book on learning how to play bridge, the card game. Always wanted to learn that. To be continued…

Reality hits hard (with apologies to fillyjonk)

One catalog company I ordered from called me to tell me my card had been declined.

hospital-bed-talk-with-doctorThe blogger fillyjonk wrote on December 15: ” I dunno. Locally and globally, sad and difficult stuff.” She was SO right.

*Her post began: “Someone took hostages in Sydney. In a Lindt chocolate shop.” Unfortunately, that ended with two of the hostages being killed, along with the gunman.

*About the same time, I’m listening to this story of a guy killing his ex-wife and five of his ex-in-laws at three different places in Montgomery County, PA, just north of Philadelphia, before turning the gun on himself. Worst of all, I awaken the next morning to the news of 140+ people murdered by the Taliban in western Pakistan, most of them children.

*Locally, and more recently, there was an Amber alert for a five-year-old boy near around here, then canceled 10 hours later when the boy’s body was discovered. The abduction story was a crock; his 19 y.o. cousin has been arrested. Meanwhile, eight children were slaughtered in Cairns, Australia.

*The Daughter complained of sharp pain on her left side, and we went to the ER at Albany Med on Saturday night, December 13. We were there from 8:30 p.m. until 2:30 a.m., and bed after 3 a.m. I SO don’t do 3 a.m. well anymore. Then I went to church in the morning. I’ve been on fumes all week.

*She has some infection in or around her kidneys, and she has to take an antibiotic. But halfway through the regimen, the hospital calls to say that the type of infection she has is resistant to the antibiotic she has been taking, so she needs to take a DIFFERENT one and start the regimen all over.

*The illness meant that I missed two days of work, one full day, and two half days, which feels actually worse than two full days because my work rhythm is off. I was going to go to a luncheon to honor people at SUNY Central who had reached milestone anniversaries. (Because we were switched to SUNY Albany for a time, both a colleague and I missed both our 15th and 20th-anniversary luncheons.) But I missed it, seeing my boss, a former colleague, and two long-time friends get awarded. Worse, the ticket I bought ($30) went to waste because we were so shorthanded. Because…

*Our office secretary left on November 5, so we – well mostly a library colleague and I – have been answering the main phones. One of our library colleagues, Amelia, had a baby at the end of November, which is lovely, of course, but she’s out on maternity leave until late February. So when one (OR MORE) of the five, currently four, librarians is out, it becomes a strain on the system. There were just two of us two Thursdays ago (snow and the flu kept the other two at home), and two on the day of the luncheon.

We usually have a week’s turnaround on the reference queue but, currently, it’s about 10 days. This will EVENTUALLY rectify itself as the demand slackens during the holidays, but looking at the list of questions undone is depressing and frustrating. And one of the librarians will be away for a week around Christmas.

*One of our choir members has been away much of the year getting treatment for cancer in Arizona. My mother’s first cousin Robert is now on dialysis. And while I didn’t know them, I mourn the loss of my friend Steve Bissette’s parents, his father in late October, and his mother in mid-December.

*We have lost our custodian at church a few weeks ago. The Wife chairs the Administration Committee until the end of the year, so this is a task that involves meetings, et al.

*All this busyness has made it difficult to concentrate on Christmas shopping. One catalog company I ordered from called me to tell me my card had been declined; what I didn’t notice in the pile of mail unread is that the bank had pulled one card as compromised and replaced it with another.

*Of course, it’s been havoc on blogging. I have a daily blog and write one post every two days. It’s not a lack of topics, it’s a lack of time. This will explain, in part, an increase in typos.

*I’ve had a deficit in not only sleep but good dietary habits and housecleaning effort. The house is messier than even my relatively low standards can bear. Where IS my cellphone? It’s in the bedroom, SOMEWHERE.

So, happy holidays, everyone. I’m told it gets better; sure hope so.

Can’t keep from singing

Oddly, I did not sing much in college. I certainly never joined a vocal group. I did sing in the stairwells with my friend Lynn, but that was it.

rogersingingThese pictures, above, my “baby” sister posted on her Facebook feed. I was 7 and 52, respectively. The first one, which was for Advent, was in some internal section, but the latter was right on the front page; in case you can’t read it, I’m rehearsing for the Faure requiem.

I reposted them on a Thursday – actually late on Wednesday night – and I was told that I was participating in Throwback Thursday. I am generally so oblivious to social media norms that I did not know that Throwback Thursday was a thing. I HATE doing social media “things”; next time I post old pictures, it’ll be on a…MONDAY.

This is another in those occasional pieces about how I’m surprised that people who know me don’t know me as well as I thought.

You may recall that I previously mentioned a choir member who did not know I was a librarian. On my birthday this month, I was at church. The choir was going to sing for something called First Friday. I see an old buddy of mine from my FantaCo days in the 1980s, but I know him better since he started blogging in the past few years.

He asked what I was doing, I tell him I’m going to singing with the choir, and he says, “I didn’t know you sang.”

I’ve written about how I used to sing with my father and sister, back when I was growing up in Binghamton. I also sang in the youth choir at Trinity AME Zion Church in Binghamton (see picture #1), and the chorus in high school.

Oddly, I did not sing much in college. I certainly never joined a vocal group. I did sing in the stairwells with my friend Lynn, but that was it.

I was in the church choir at First Unitarian in Schenectady for about five minutes in 1979. My real reintroduction to choir singing, though, began with my grandmother’s death in January 1982. She died on Super Bowl Sunday, in Charlotte, NC, but she had expressed a desire to be buried in her hometown of Binghamton, and she was, in May 1982. I got to sing in the choir, and I realized how much I missed it.

I went church shopping. Attended all the FOCUS churches at the time, the UU church in Albany, and about a half dozen others. It ended up being between Trinity Methodist and First Church, the Dutch Reformed Church downtown. During Advent, Gray Taylor, one of the tenors at Trinity, made a pitch for people to join the choir. A sign!

I sang for a week, then not the next two, but by January 1983, I was a regular. Stayed there until The Troubles in early 2000, after which I moved on to First Pres (see picture #2).

So yes, I sing. I’d rather sing harmony than melody. I’m a baritone and can generally find the bass line to any song, even those without one. I sing in the shower. I sing inside my head when singing out loud would be inappropriate.

I do sing.