Tag Archives: music

in which my violin is fixed by a russian master and his dog

As you may or may not know, a few months ago I bought a violin. It should be noted that I am not an accomplished violinist by any stretch of the imagination. The word “novice” seems a bit generous to describe my skill. So my goal in purchasing said violin was to find something cheap but functional. I ended up buying one off Craigslist1. And for someone who knows nothing about violins and just wants to be able to play Greensleeves marginally well, it worked fine.

Until it didn’t. As the seasons changed, the pegs that hold the strings in place inexplicably refused to do their job. It didn’t seem like a big problem, but also not something I could fix on my own.

So a few weeks ago, I Gogglged violin repair. The first place that came up had both a high Yelp rating and was located near my school. Great, I thought, I have to pick up my diploma anyways. So I strapped my violin case to my back and set off.


What I failed to notice was that the shop was located next to the symphony hall. And if I had noticed this, I might have realized that this probably meant they were accustomed to a certain caliber of clientele. Namely, not wannabe Craigstlist-trolling slightly-less-than-beginner violinists.

I approached the shop door and found myself greeted by a sign that announced in large, firm-looking letters NO WHISTLING. That’s weird, I thought. Maybe it’s a joke and these lovely violin-fixing people have a great sense of humor.

As soon as I opened the door, I realized immediately that this was not the case.

Inside, I found a room with fancy red carpet and walls lined with framed newspaper clippings and magazine covers, fancy art2, and only a few violins. As someone who used to get a lot of enjoyment out of walking into fancy stores in Europe and pretending I was rich, I know that the emptiest stores are always the most expensive ones. This shop was very clearly very expensive. The only furniture was a table so shiny you could see your reflection in it, surrounded by three straight-backed green leather chairs, and a desk at the opposite end of room with a tiny man and a tinier woman bent over it, neither of whom looked up when I entered. And stretched on the floor in the center of it all was a massive blonde dog. My parents have a St. Bernard, so I know a thing or two about big dogs, and this dog was BIG.

I hovered in the doorway, debating whether or not I should bolt. The giant blonde dog seemed to be the only one who noticed me, and he trotted up and sat down at my feet. I scratched him behind the ears.


After a few uncomfortable minutes, the man behind the desk acknowledged my presence by calling, “Yes, what is it you need?” He had a very thick accent that I can only describe as Bond villain-esque.

Tentatively, I edged across the room towards them, and began with a confident, “Um, hi. I have a violin and it has a problem, and I didn’t buy it from you guys3, but I was hoping you could maybe fix it for me.”

“Where did you buy it?” the man asked without looking up.

“Uh, Craigslist,” I said.

Slowly and simultaneously, they both raised their faces from the desk and gave me what can only be described as “the look.”

“Craigslist?” he repeated. I lost a few inches of height under his glare and nodded. I half expected him to raise one long, bony finger and use it to point me firmly to the door. Instead, he pursed his lips, removed his spectacles4 and said, “You may place your violin case on the table and wait for me.”

Oh really? May I? I thought.

But I was too intimidated to be a smart ass. So as instructed, I wordlessly placed my violin case on the table and sat down in one of the very straight chairs. The massive blonde dog wandered over and put his head on my lap. I opened my case and waited.

After a minute, the violin man came over and peered inside. And he cringed. Actually cringed as though I had opened my case to reveal a clump of festering human organs rather than my slightly battered violin. “My God,” he muttered, then removed my violin and began a doctor’s examination of it. I watched. The massive blonde dog drooled gently on my lap.


After a moment, the violin man put down my violin and gave me “the look” again. I wilted. “Come here,” he commanded. The dog and I both stood and came to his side. “Hold out your hand,” he commanded. I disentangled my fingers from the dog’s fur and showed him. “You are a pianist,” he said. I was a little freaked out by whatever voodoo powers had granted him this knowledge I had definitely not volunteered, but I nodded. Then he said, “You are not a violinist.”

I began to babble senselessly about how that was definitely true, hence the crappy violin, because I didn’t really need anything nice and I couldn’t afford anything better, I just wanted to learn because I’d always wanted to learn and sometimes you have to follow your weird dreams—

Thankfully, he cut me off. “I can fix it for $10.”

“Great,” I said. “Great, great, awesome, great, thank you.”

The massive blonde dog and I sat down again and waited while the violin man took my violin into the back. I tried and failed to regain my cool. The blonde dog sat as straight as the chairs. I scratched him.

After about ten minutes, the violin man brought me my violin back and started showing me how I should be tuning it, and why the way I had been tuning it had apparently compromised its internal structure. At one point, he made what I thought was a joke about what a mess my violin was. I smiled and said something like, “Ha ha, yeah, I know it’s a terrible violin,” and thought to myself, maybe this man has a sense of humor after all.

He did the slow look up again, and I realized immediately that he didn’t. “That is not a joke,” he said. “You should not laugh, you should be crying.”

I shut my mouth.

While in the process of showing me all the ways I was slowly murdering my already corpse of a violin, a young man walked in. The violin man stopped his diagnosis of my dying violin and gave the young man the same critical eye he had given me. “Excuse me,” the young man said in a thick accent. “I am in the States for sixteen days and while I am here I wish to purchase a violin from you.”

“What’s your budget?” asked the violin man.

“No more than five thousand dollars,” the young man replied.

I snorted before I could stop myself. They both looked at me, and I chose not to explain that I had paid one hundred dollars in cash to a man out of the trunk of his car for mine. I should not even be there.

The violin man told the young man he could wait in one of the straight backed chairs5, and commenced his free lesson on how to make my crappy violin less crappy.


Turns out, the violin man was not humorless. When I handed him my credit card, he asked me how I survived with a last name like mine6. We had a good laugh over that. Or rather he laughed and I nervous giggled. Then he looked me very seriously in the eyes and said, “You can still take good care of it.”

I told him I was going to. And then I skedaddled out of there without asking why patrons were so vehemently prohibited from whistling.


  1. Literally bought it out of the trunk of a man’s car down a dark alley. I am a Dateline special waiting to happen.
  2. And three more “no whistling” signs
  3. You guys! Surely no one had ever referred to these very upright people as you guys.
  4. Nope, not glasses. Spectacles. The word spectacles was invented to describe this variety of eyewear.
  5. The blonde dog abandoned me for him at that point, since his lap was more available.
  6. It should be noted my last name is not Lee. It is in actuality a Dutch monstrosity that consists of fifteen letters, six syllables, two capitalizations, two words, and a space.



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in which I am reunited with my iPod

For those of you who do not know me, I come from a long line of pure-bred anxiety.

The primary way that this anxiety manifests itself both in my parents and me is in the form of insane punctuality. We are never late. Growing up, my memories are of arriving thirty minutes early for every film, leaving an hour and a half before the play starts, and beating the clock for every reservation ever. To this day, I have never walked in late to a movie, or a class, or an appointment of any kind. Ten minutes early is on time1.

This obsessive punctuality results in me being absurdly early to almost everything.2 Which is why yesterday, I found myself sitting in the Simmons College coffee shop two hours before my class was supposed to start3. I was hunkered down in one of the couches, listening to my iPod when a friend stopped to talk to me. I turned off my iPod, wound up the cord, and stuck it on the couch beside me, thinking I would pull it back out once said friend left.

But then said friend left. And I forgot about my iPod. And later, when I got up and walked to class, I LEFT MY IPOD ON THE COUCH!

I didn’t realize this until three hours after the fact, when class got out and I was heading to the train. I immediately booked it back to Simmons and proceeded to turn the couch I had been sitting on inside out in the hope that maybe my iPod had slipped between the cushions and no one had taken it. But my little green iPod was nowhere to be found. I decided to try the lost and found, even though, at this point, I had already resigned myself to the fact that most people upon finding an iPod wedged between couch cushions in a public place do not think, “I must walk across campus in the freezing cold to deliver this to the lost and found and ensure that owner and iPod are safely reunited.” Most people think, “Score! Free iPod!” My odds of being reunited with mine were very slim.

At first, I tried to console myself. After all, this iPod is coming up on five years old, and it is beginning to show it. It barely holds a charge, the buttons stick, the top is peeling off, there’s a gouge on the screen, and the sound goes in and out depending on how fast I’m walking4. It has been dropped, stepped on, had diet coke spilled on it,  slept on top of, been caught in a treadmill, buried under books at the bottom of my bag, and dropped down a flight of stairs. It has broken my fall when I tripped while jogging. It once had several silicone beads stuck inside the headphone jack that had to be removed by a jeweler5. It would not be the worst thing, I told myself, if I had to get a new iPod. In fact, I’m probably due for one.

But then, as I walked over to campus security’s lost and found desk, I started to think about all the things that little green iPod and I have been through. It has been to three continents and seventeen countries with me. It has moved to six different apartments. It has sustained me through countless flights, train rides, car rides, and hours of boredom. It provided the soundtrack for my life, and aided my antisocialness in countless situations. It gave me music to calm me down when I was freaking out about England, and music to help pump me up when I begrudgingly had to move back to Logan. The first time I heard Iron & Wine, it was on that iPod. All the podcasts from “Wait, Wait” with my name in the credits were listened to on that iPod. It helped me fall asleep on that one red eye flight to Spain and after that one time I saw Woman in Black.

In short, once I lost it, I realized just how attached I was to this little green guy.


On the Staten Island Ferry with the MT and the iPod circa. 2009. I have no excuse for those sunglasses.

I walked up to the campus security desk, looking sort of sheepish because I had to admit I had left my iPod on a couch like a moron, and asked the guy behind the desk, “Did anybody happen to turn in an iPod?”

“Oh, you mean this one?” He said, and he reached under his desk and produced my little green friend.

Think of the greatest reunion scene in your favorite movie6. Then times it by a thousand, because that’s how excited I was to see my iPod. I’m pretty sure the words, “I thought I’d never see you again!” left my mouth, accompanied by a dramatic swell of music. My iPod and I were reunited! The battery was dead, because it had been playing the whole time we had been apart, but hey, can’t have everything.

So, thanks to the kindness of a stranger who saw a little green iPod and decided to turn it in rather than pawn it on ebay for thirty dollars7, a great tragedy has been avoided. It is always encouraging to know that there are good honest people in the world, who understand the sacred bond between girl and iPod.

  1. There is no surer way to win my heart than by being on time.
  2. Hence the reason I have twice this  week ended up doing homework in an empty movie theater.
  3. Disclaimer though: two hours is a little much, even for me. I was partly there because my apartment was boring and quiet.
  4. Though this may have something to do with the fact that I chew on my headphones when I’m nervous.
  5. Though the Google told me this is a more common problem than one would think.
  6. I personally go I for Homeward Bound.
  7. I’m being generous – I doubt you could get that much for this little guy.
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in which Stargirl grows up

Let’s start with a sad story: Once upon a time, in a town called Chicago, a girl named Mackenzi Lee worked for a lovely company called National Public Radio. National Public Radio was a good and generous company, who gave Mackenzi many wonderful things. Including a free ticket to Lolapaloza, where Mackenzi would get the chance to see one of her all-time, most favorite ever bands – Florence + The Machine. Tragically, time was not on her side, and Lolapalooza somehow happened at the exact same time as her friend Sondhein’s visit to Chicago. And since Mackenzi Lee only had one ticket, and didn’t want to leave Sondheim out in the cold1, she opted not to go. Mackenzi Lee is a very good friend.

However, this meant that she didn’t get to see Florence + The Machine. And that made her sad.

However, this story has a happy ending. Because yesterday, at last2, I found myself at the Comcast Theater, waiting to see Florence + The Machine.

And friends, it was good enough that it was worth the wait.

On a note that seems unrelated, this weekend, I found myself writing an essay about the novel Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. In my opinion, everyone should read it. Stargirl is one of the great achievements in modern young adult literature. If you haven’t read it, go immediately to your local library, pick up a copy, then don’t even go home, just sit down on a bench outside the library and read it. It will only take you an hour – it’s a quick read. I’ll wait.

Okay, are you back? Good.

Even if you haven’t read the book, the point is that the most wonderful part about the book is the main character, Stagirl’s insistence on being totally true to herself at all times.

I am pretty sure Stargirl grew up, dyed her hair red, and became an internationally renowned singer named Florence Welch.

concert photography is hard, okay!!

Florence Welch is a force of nature, because she is unique. It’s like she’s from another planet. She is part nymph, part goddess, part siren. To quote the lovely Laini Taylor, she moves like poetry and smiles like a sphinx. Her songs are about seahorses and demons. She wears floor-length skirts and performs barefoot. She skips around the stage, moves to her song like she is some wood elf lost from her tribe, but totally content to just dance around the forest until they find her. She is Stargirl, all grown up.

Florence is outstanding. You can’t take your eyes off of her. Yeah, she has an extraordinary voice. But it is how she moves, it’s how she presents herself. Her confidence. She is totally herself, the kind of self that if she walked down the street and wasn’t famous, people would probably cross to the other side.

But they don’t. They cheer her. They scream her lyrics. They dance when she tells them to dance.

You all know how I feel about spending money to support the sort of things I want to fill the world with. And I want to tell the world I want more people like Florence Welch, who are not afraid to be themselves. I want to celebrate people who are true to themselves. It made me so happy last night, to see so many people embrace Florence Welch and her wild personality and the art that comes from it, and love her for it.

So thank you, Florence Welch, for being exactly who you are. For being beautiful, and making beautiful art, and inspiring so many people with that beauty. You inspire me. Thank you for an amazing show.

  1. Or rather leave her out in the heat.
  2. At long freaking last.
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in which the facebook proves it is good for more than farmville and discreet stalking

If I were to make a pie chart of things I do when I’m not at work or exploring the windy city, it would probably look something like…oh hold on, let me whip out some Paint action and show you1.


As you may or may not have noticed, there is a large chunk of that pie chart devoted to the facebook. Which makes me very angry at myself.

I HATE how much I am on the facebook2. I hate how I compulsively log on without even realizing it, like a Pavlovian response to opening an internet browser. I have made several successful attempts in the past to reduce my dependence on the facebook, and though it worked for a time, Zuerkberg’s monster inevitably crept back into my life, minute by minute, until I was sucked in the vortex once more. I would really like to go on a facebook fast, just to try and break myself of the habit, but at the moment I feel the book of face to be my most reliable connection to both the world I left behind me and the one I currently inhabit. This is a connection I don’t want to lose.

But I hate, hate, hate being this dependent on anything, especially something so petty and vain. If I was compulsively losing myself in a Bronte novel or couldn’t stop myself from listening to Florence+The Machine3, I would feel better about the situation.

But no, it’s the facebook that has snared me. And every time I log on, I feel like punching myself in the face.

But, on Saturday, my addiction finally paid off.

Those of you with good taste will know the band Neon Trees. Even if you don’t know who they are, you probably know their music, since you can turn on the radio at any given moment of any day and it is almost a guarantee that “Everybody Talks” will be playing on at least one station. I am a great lover of the Neon Trees, and I express this love in the best way my generation knows how: liking them on the facebook.

Around Thursday of last week4, when I did my customary every-five-minutes log on to the facebook, up on my newsfeed popped a post by the Neon Trees that looked like this;


A secret concert in Chicago, free to the first three hundred people to register. Wait, really?

Since I am compulsive facebook logger oner, almost everything I look at is only a few minutes old. Including this post. Meaning that I might have a shot at being one of those first 300 people. I immediately rushed over to the link and registered for my free tickets.

A few days later, I received an email: CONGRATULATIONS! It said in big letters. You are on the list for the secret Neon Trees concert, it said in slightly smaller letters. Then it told me where and when me, my photo ID, and a guest should show up.

Sweet, I thought, and immediately went about starting to recruit my plus one.

My plus one is a girl from the YSA, TheyCallTheWindMaria. When I texted her to ask if she wanted to go to a Neon Trees concert, she replied, “Where? I googled it and I can’t find that they’re playing in Chicago tonight.”

Which is when I got suspicious. Because I suddenly realized that this sounded almost too good to be true.

I continued to be suspicious as we lined up outside a little bar in the loop where the alleged concert was supposed to be held. It looked way too small and way too seedy to be somewhere that the Neon Trees would play. TheyCallTheWindMaria and I were concerned that we were about to be rounded into a back room where we would either have our credit cards stolen, or be made to fight to the death Hunger Games style. The second one especially because there were, inexplicably, cameras everywhere.

At the door, there were two people you had to get by before you were permitted in. One, the guy checking IDs. Since I am not yet of the legal age at which one can consume alcohol, he drew two large black X’s on my hands5. The second was the woman with The List. As explained by the email I received, you had to be on The List to get in.

And guess what. I was on The List6. I haven’t felt so legit since that time I rode in a taxi. But I was also still suspicious this was not real.

My suspicion did not go away once we were inside. We were ushered into this tiny backroom with a tiny stage, not the sort of stage an internationally successful group with two platinum singles would play. Maybe where they played before they were big, but it’s more the sort of place singers try to run away from. To make matters more suspicious, there were only about two hundred people there. We didn’t even fill the small backroom. Is this the real Neon Trees? I started to wonder. Maybe it’s a knockoff. Maybe it’s the Kneon Tees, and I just didn’t make the connection. Either way, TheyCallTheWindMaria and I were both suspicious. As we waited for the concert to start, we mused on what the catch was going to be, and the phrase, “If it seems too good to be true, it is” was tossed around several times.

Then the lights dimmed. And these guys walked on stage.


Then I sank deep into concert nirvana.

Because yes, it was the real Neon Trees7. And yes, they played for two hundred of us. Two hundred people who were not drunk or stoned or crazy, who were not moshingor rushing the stage or trying to push people over because they are teenage idiots who think that’s funny. It was two hundred people who were genuine fans of the music, who were singing as loud as they couldand jumping up and down and dancing and just having a good time. Nobody pushed me. Nobody spilled beer on my shoes. Nobody landed on me.

It was exactly my kind of concert.


So the moral of this story is that the facebook is not purely a time-sucking force for evil. It can be a good thing, too. So here’s to you, Zuckerberg. Thanks for one of the best Saturday nights of all time.

  1. Skills. I have them.
  2. Facebook is so a word, spellcheck. Try to keep up.
  3. Oh wait, those things are both real.
  4. I know these stories are coming kind of late. This weekend was busy, and thus yielded a huge amount of blog-worthy stories that shouldn’t be jumbled into one ugly summary of my life post.
  5. Which sort of made me feel branded, like a Jew in WWII, forced to wear bright yellow stars on all my clothes. Everyone who looked at me knew I was just a kid. It made me want to keep my hands in my pockets. Except I was wearing a dress with no pockets.
  6. The woman asked my name, and I told her. She laughed like she thought I was kidding, and said, “Well that should be easy to find.” It was. For those of you who don’t know me in real life, my last name is comically long.
  7. Sadly sans their badass Mormon drummer, Elaine Bradley, who is my hero. But she’s eight months pregnant, so it’s okay. She probably shouldn’t be drumming.
  8. How on earth do you spell mosh, as in mosh pit? Maush? Mash? No, that’s mash as in potatoes, that can’t be right….
  9. Screaming the lyrics to “1983” with Tyler Glen ten feet away is an experience I will not soon forget.
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in which i am alarmingly social, and eat the pizza served in heaven

I have never considered myself a social person by any stretch of the imagination. Last year, I could count my friends on one hand, and spent most nights on the couch doing homework and watching assorted trashy television programs with my roommates1. I spent almost every Saturday in various bookshops alone. The two weeks before the big move to the windy city, I was basically a book-reading hermit hunkered down in my living room, rarely emerging for anything other than diet coke.

And I anticipated my life to continue like that. I thought Chicago would just be a bigger city for me to be alone in. This summer of solitude would give me a chance to write every day, and I expected to read slathers of books in my first week alone.

But since arriving here, I have not picked up a book, and my half-written novel is exactly where I left it months ago. Because I have been busy. And not just like work busy. Social busy.

Which is weird.

Last night, I went out with an eclectic group of people with only one big thing in common – we were all Mormons. It should be noted that the YSA community here is amazing. They do more stuff together than any other branch I have been in, and it is mostly stuff outside of and unrelated to church that people organize and then send out a blanket invitation to. This particular activity was organized by Iowa and me. We went to Millennium Park2 for their free concerts in the park series, meaning I spent about an hour lying in the grass at the most beautiful outdoor theater I have ever seen, with a full orchestra and choir singing to the city, and people around me drinking wine and eating cheese. It was, in all, rather blissful.

Said blissful concert was followed by my very first taste of Chicago-style deep dish pizza, at the legne3dary Giordano’s Pizzeria. The place was hopping. There were people spilling out of the doors and into the plaza waiting for a table, and since our group was kind of large, we had to wait an hour. Which was fine.

Because the pizza….oh the pizza. It was the kind of pizza that ruins all other pizzas for you. The kind of pizza that makes you never want to brush your teeth again unless it’s with a toothbrush made of that pizza. The kind of pizza that you want to take home to meet your parents, buy a nice little place in the upper east side, and then start a life with.

I cannot emphasize how much I liked this pizza4.

Afterwards, with pizza sitting like rocks in our stomachs5, we ventured out onto the streets of Chicago. As twilight fell, we walked along the river, and then out on to the harbor of the lake, looking out towards the Pier with a fleet of yachts and sailboats speckling the dark water around us.

As we passed a lakeside restaurant where a jazz ensemble was playing, I turned around to behold a skyline dipped in starlight, framed by the river and luminous against the midnight sky. The only words that came to my mind were breathtaking and happiness.

And my uncharacteristically social weekend does not end there, friends. This morning, I saw the city bathed in rosy sunlight and sweating beneath the humidity, as my friend Ms. Bennet and I took a water taxi south6 to Chinatown, where we found an eccentric collection of bookstores, herbalists, and seedy restaurants. We ended up eating some of the best Chinese food I have ever had, with fresh shrimp that set off fireworks of flavor in my mouth, and sesame chicken so delicious it was like Christmas in your mouth. Meat and teriyaki Christmas. We drank honeydew smoothies, talked about books, and I convinced myself I didn’t need another ten dollar scarf.

This city is made of awesome. I am constantly amazed by its complexity, by the layers of people that inhabit it, and the spheres in which they dwell, all at once different and the same. This is a city that moves and lives, with so much to see and do that you could live here your whole life and never do it all7.

Last night, as we walked along the lake, I thought to myself, how lovely it would be to fall in love in this city. To write novels and plays and poetry on park benches in the summer, to drink tea and watch the leaves fall from a café window. To make music on the streets of this city, songs rising above the crashing trains, to paint this city in its every incarnation, and then decorate your walls with renderings of its architecture. How wondrous to pass nights meandering along the harbor and watching sunset bow to moonbeam as night soundlessly falls.

And how lovely it is to be young in this city, to be reckless, and wild. To be able to eat pizza until you can’t move. To stay out later than the stars and fireworks, to race the moon across the sky. To be young and untethered, with a misty future before you, about which nothing is certain except that it is bright.

Chicago, how I love thee. Don’t ever change.

On an unrelated note, at the end of the night, heavy with pizza and happiness, Iowa turned to me and said, “So are you going to write about this on your blog?”

Guys….Iowa reads the blog.


  1. AKA the friends I could count on one hand.
  2. Home of the giant mirrored bean!
  3. Wait for it.
  4. Those of you who followed my blog when I was in England will remember I have a thing for good food. For those of you just joining us, here’s a little fun fact about me: I love food. I write about food a lot. Prepare yourself.
  5. Warm, delicious, pizza flavored rocks
  6. I think it was south. Maybe not, but I’m going to say south because it sounds better than “In a direction that was not towards the lake or my apartment.”
  7. True to form, I am already having tremendous anxiety about doing everything I want to before I go.
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