In Ellen’s interview with my ex-husband, Jerry, she asks about competition between my mother and me. She is following up on his description of coming to court me and having to sit through my mother’s latest song when he was more interested in me. I suppose my mother could have been competing with me for his attention, but since she sang new songs a lot to visitors I think she just saw him as an audience. 

I remember one time when I was in the primary grades drawing with crayons at home and my mother swiftly and effortlessly doodling a small lively symmetrical abstract in bold colors. I remember thinking it was much better than what I was doing, without factoring in that she was a grown-up and I was a kid. I just thought she was better at this than I was. It didn’t stop me from doing visual art, though, and when we could have electives I took art and ceramics in high school summer school, and then a painting class in college. I also was the crafts counselor at least one year at summer camp when I was in college.

My mom could carry a tune better than I could, too, but the person I remember feeling jealous of about that was a nine-year-old camper who could spontaneously harmonize and I, her high-school-age junior counselor, couldn’t. I can still remember her name, Pamela Winkel. I took piano lessons for a while when I was in elementary school, but I think my mom was my main music teacher. She started me out on the ukulele when I was in high school, or maybe a little younger, and when she started teaching guitar I was one of her students. I used piano mainly to pick out tunes of songs I wanted to learn, and that is how I use it today, or for composing, never for performance. Guitar and uke for that.

Ellen wondered if my mother’s returning to Cal a year after I started there, when she was fifty-three, was an instance of her competing with me. Lou Gottlieb had urged her to get more music theory behind her composing, and I do believe that was the impetus. One of my mother’s favorite stories was from that period: she was wanting to sign up for an advanced music theory class without having taken some prerequisite, and the TA at the desk said she couldn’t do it. She drew herself up and said, “I already have a Ph.D., I’m just coming back to take a few courses.” He immediately gave her what she wanted. She said it was the only time having a doctorate was useful to her.

When I was fifty-two or so a musician friend suggested that I take music courses at Laney Community College in Oakland for the same reason, and I did. At one point, a counselor called me into his office to discuss my grades. I had flunked harmony and my GPA was tending toward probation. I explained that I already had a master’s, I wasn’t there to earn credits, I was there to learn something. He was perfectly happy with that and we had a nice chat. And I did learn something. I wrote my first and best round right after I flunked harmony.

My daughter also started studying music again in her fifties. Maybe it’s genetic.

The other night we went to the Berkeley Ecology Center for a book-launching. Our friend Janelle Orsi (whom we met when she was playing bass with This Old Band, which Claudia sometimes sings backup and plays washboard for) was bringing out her new book. It’s The Sharing Solution: How to Save Money, Simplify Your Life, & Build Community (Nolo Press, 2009). Her day job is being a lawyer, and she specializes in facilitating community-building. With another lawyer, Emily Doskow, she wrote a book on all kinds of sharing—cars, houses, tools, skills, meals, pet care, you name it. They based it on their own experience and that of their friends and clients, and it’s filled with stories of people sharing as well as practical and lawyerly advice on avoiding the pitfalls, mainly by communicating well up front, getting agreements in writing, and including in the agreements ways to settle any disputes.

After both authors spoke, people in the audience shared information. I knew about the fruit-sharing and vegetable-garden-sharing organizations in Berkeley, but I didn’t know there was a Bay Area organization for sharing medical equipment. That would have been handy when Claudia came home with a new knee. Luckily we had friends who had the walker and the high toilet seat to lend her, and the hospital supplied the crutch.
All this brought up for me my own sharing experiences:
4sharing housing as a student at Cal. When I was a sophomore I’d shared an apartment with Connie, who knew how to cook, and I did the mechanical things like putting up curtain rods. We were about the same shape and coloring so we shared clothes, and since she was over 21, I borrowed her ID to get into night clubs. When she moved back to LA, we had to trade some clothes that went together too well to be parted from each other. A year later I shared a big old Berkeley house with three other students. We took turns two by two making dinner and I had what in retrospect was my feminist “click” experience in the kitchen there. Cooking one evening with Ted, I found myself handing a can and can opener to Ted because that was mechanical and he was the guy. Click. The others were all opera fans so we listened to the Saturday opera on the radio as we gave the house its weekly cleaning. Didn’t make me like opera...or housecleaning, for that matter. But doing it together did make it more fun.
4in library school, we always did the reference homework cooperatively. It required you to run around to the 27 libraries on campus for the answers. Then someone let me in on the stash of old tests for the class in book selection. The prof knew about it, and said librarians need to learn to share information. Now I find out fraternities and sororities have files of old tests, but I had never heard of that. When I was at a women’s studies conference, a university librarian/archivist said in her presentation that she had been surprised at how most academics hoard information—most librarians share it 
4living alone and sharing a lawnmower with a friend who lived five blocks away and trundling it down the sidewalk every few weeks
4being in a group (with the same friend) that met for a healthy dinner once a month, with the host cooking everything but the dessert, so two people were responsible each month and the rest could just enjoy. Now the memoir-writing group I’m in has twice-a-month potlucks and read to each other what we’ve written                                                    

The sun finally came out and I’m writing this in the backyard. Somewhere in the neighborhood  somebody is playing “Which Side Are You On” on the trumpet.

©2009 by Nancy Schimmel110D74C4-5567-4D15-A682-0EFFA3BAA636.html
Nolo Press, in Berkeley, specializes in do-it-yourself law (which includes knowing when not to do it yourself).
Saturday, June 20, 2009