Leslie F. Miller2

7 POSTS 0 COMMENTS

The Boys and Girls We’ll Always Be: Poetry by Leslie F. Miller

2

Leslie F. Miller’s sexy and daring debut poetry collection, BOYGIRLBOYGIRL, will be published this spring by Finishing Line Press. In Leslie’s own words: “The collection is about the boys and girls we know. It’s about the boys and girls we are. Betsy Lerner, literary agent and author, calls it, ‘anxious, angsty, and full of longing.’ She says that in my best poems I find ‘the loneliest knife in the drawer and [sharpen] it.’ Richard Peabody, editor of Gargoyle, calls my poems ‘arty’ and ‘electric.’ My daughter likes this book, too, though she thinks I’m a little weird.”

To pre-order by March 5th, and help determine a hearty press run, please go here.

 

PENNY FEATHER
 
you’d expect a girl named penny
to keep a bright one in each shoe
but penny had a feather
blue-black spear that poked an inch
beyond the toe
made the teacher glower
penny
speckled egg
in a world of white
could spell parasite
before the class could read
had dogs to eat her homework
but chose the crows
pages poked with three-toed feet
composition with pointed beak
math with funky white out
oh penny I loved you then
your mother’s rescued birds
all those feathers
on the checkerboard floor
black silk beneath our summer feet
frost white polish shining on our toes
I pocket what I find
but thirty years of pennies is a mountain
thirty years of feathers and still I cannot fly   

ON SEEING JIMMY AT THE HOME DEPOT
 
improper noun right out of the womb
always hitching over the side
of your swim trunks
to wag your thing at a girl.
 
jimmy, sweet, sweet noun
and never enough of you
like your Sunday morning offering
behind the church rectory—
summer’s possibilities ahead
ours all gone.
 
jimmy
swollen verb
wrestling bra hooks and buttons
shaking everything loose
heart jacking.
 
you were born to drive the big rig
haul ass with lumber and tools
made to wedge dirt beneath your nails
hammer all the pretty girls.
 
jimmy
you were always so good
with your hands.
twenty-two years
and my skin still remembers.
twenty-two years
you’re still under there.   

 

Climbing the Steps to High School

1

School has begun, and, if you’re like me, you’re probably still helping your kid put the finishing touches on book reports and finish the dreaded summer math. You’re arguing about whether she needs a brand-new tin of $40 colored pencils, or whether his backpack from last year has some cool left.

And, if your kid is entering the eighth grade, you’re panicking with each mail retrieval of glossy brochures and postcards announcing the open houses of every high school in a 30-mile radius. Each school boasts about its academics, its sports, and its technologies. Some institutions show off their lush campuses; others, their well-adjusted students.

The latest mailing on my kitchen table is an oversized postcard from Maryvale. On the front, two girls—a white one in a sweatshirt that says “we are” and a black one in a sweatshirt that says “maryvale”—seem overjoyed to participate in this racially balanced school with a “new turf field, track and practice fields” and “school-wide iPad grogram.” My eyes go naturally to the bottom bullets: financial aid and County transportation.

Many of my friends have done this before. “It’s worse than college,” Andrea Dixon tells me. Her daughter, Margot, is in my daughter’s eighth grade class. We are sitting with 20 other moms and dads at our children’s desks for this mandatory meeting, where parents of eighth graders will learn the high school application process.

Andrea’s been through this nightmare before with her older son. She rolls her eyes: “The pressure, the financial applications, the waiting.” And what makes it even more rotten is that every eighth grader in the vicinity is applying to all the same schools at the same time, and all their acceptance letters are mailed out on the same day.

Mary Carol Lidinsky, our kids’ homeroom teacher, has prepared a handout to help us with the process, which includes school selection, paperwork, test prep, open houses, shadowing, school fairs, up to three different kinds of testing, deadlines, fees—my head is swirling.

If you break it down, it sounds less daunting. After all, you’ve been giving it quite a bit of thought at the dinner table for the last two years. I know that our discussions have helped to narrow our focus—away from Catholic schools and toward a couple of City schools.

You’ll make choices based on a number of factors. How close is it? How big is it? Who teaches there? What’s the curriculum? We are looking specifically for schools with a good music department. We hear McDonough has an excellent program, and they send a bus to our neighborhood. Those details push that school to our top choices. Other top choices for us are Baltimore School For the Arts, where Serena has been attending TWIGS for saxophone, and City College. With her excellent grades thus far, a City graduation could mean free college tuition at Johns Hopkins University through the Baltimore Scholars Program—a detail that pushes the BSA to the top of the school heap.

Ready or not, here are the steps necessary for the high school application.

Step 1: Attend High School Fairs

Don’t have a clue where you want to send your kid? Have many clues but want more options? At a fair, you can get visit a dozen schools at once. The Catholic Archdiocese has at least 19 fairs between now and the second week of October.

Non-Catholic private schools also show at fairs, and Baltimore City’s “Choice” fair is held this year on November 19.

Step 2: Attend Open Houses

Narrow your choices, and head to some open houses. You can search for your school’s open house date online (or call the school). How many open houses you attend is up to you.

Step 3: Shadow

Pick your final three schools together, and schedule a date for your son or daughter to shadow—that is: follow another student around his or her school. Be sure your date does not conflict with important dates at your own school (field trips, testing). Your child should be prepared to be interviewed, too! Finally, for a more realistic picture of the school, shadowing is best done without a friend; having that camaraderie could make the school seem more fun or more friendly than it really is.

Though it’s only a day, shadowing is the best way for your child to decide whether she can spend the next four years there. Don’t be surprised if his favorite school makes him uncomfortable or her last choice becomes her favorite. (And don’t expect a clear explanation for the change of heart!)

Step 4: Paperwork and Deadlines

If organization is not your strong suit, this is the time to get a calendar—and panic. You’ll need to fill out applications—and your child will probably need to write an essay—for each of the schools you’ve selected. You’ll also need letters of recommendation, copies of transcripts, and application fees (about $50 for each school). And your child will need to take the required High School entrance tests.

Letters of Recommendation:

Give your teacher enough time! Remember: the other 20-plus kids in the class could be asking for letters, too. Provide teachers with pre-addressed, stamped envelopes. And help them with the recommendation process by preparing some background. Mrs. Lidinsky recommends detailing the following: School Activities (sports, clubs, student council); Leadership
Qualities or Roles; Outside Activities (sports, clubs, groups); Special Talents and Hobbies; Service Projects and Volunteer Work. Finally, include a list of qualities others see in you that would benefit a high school.

Note that City, private, and religious schools all have different application processes. While your teacher can mail letters of recommendation for you to private schools, you’ll have to send them to City schools yourself—along with proof of residency.

Testing:

The High School Placement Test for Catholic Schools (HSPT) is given on December 3rd and December 10th. The Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) is given on multiple dates in multiple locations. City schools also have their own criteria and tests. Of course, each test has a different study guide, and those textbooks are recommended.

Financial Aid:

If you’ve been keeping yourself in the dark about tuition costs, now’s a good time for a reality check—and half your paycheck. McDonough, my kid’s top private school choice, is in the $25,000 range. That annual tuition doesn’t include books, musical instruction, field trips, and other miscellaneous expenses (for some other fancy private school, a nice wardrobe that won’t subject your kid to ridicule; for McDonogh, uniforms).

But don’t let the price tag frighten you. Though you will be applying for financial aid through an independent agency, many high schools have additional monies to spend on the right student. High school application forms often ask what you think you’re able to spend, taking into
consideration help you might receive from grandparents and other sources.

If they want what your child has to offer, schools will give you additional support.

Step 5: Wait—Patiently or Otherwise

You’ll likely spend a good bit of time on the phone making sure all those separately mailed documents—test scores, letters of recommendation, transcripts—have reached the schools. It’s not uncommon for these important items to be misplaced, so get to know your school administrators (in a good way). Acceptance letters are usually mailed at the end of March.

By the end of our meeting in Mrs. Lidinsky’s Homeroom, I am overwhelmed but ready to make my lists and fill out my applications and schedule all the open house visits and shadowing and testing and—who am I kidding? I’m ready for a beer and a nap.

Before we get up, Andrea and I each tuck love letters to our daughters in their desks for them to find on Friday. We’ve been doing that for nine years at this school, in every classroom, on every floor, as we have attended report card conferences and meet-the-teacher nights, our adult-size behinds spilling over their tiny chairs, our big knees banging on their low tables.

Now here we are talking about high schools. When did our children’s desks grow so big?

Online cheat sheet for parents of soon-to-be high schoolers:

For information about applying to Baltimore City public high schools, go here. For a list of open houses at Baltimore Independent Schools go here. For information about Baltimore area Catholic schools, here. For the AIMS Baltimore-Area Independent School Fair, click here. And for ISEE test dates, visit here.

Summer Camp Revamp

0

Summer camp—that annual repository for poison ivy and mosquito bites, gimp friendship bracelets and macramé plant hangers, homesickness and summer love—has gone boutique.  These days, kids can put a new twist on textiles at art camp, trade rock climbing for rock and rolling, and become Broadway—rather than Outward—bound.  And for kids who couldn’t get enough of school, there’s an academic camp just like it.

Theater Camp

Does your daughter recite lines from movies she’s seen only once?  Does your son still like to play dress up?  Gloria Krutul has a camp for that.  The piano teacher and choir director runs Three-Ring Theater, a year-round musical acting camp and after-school program.  Summer sessions for kids age five through teen are two-to-three weeks long.  With the help of experienced student assistants, Gloria teaches campers to sing, dance, and act—all toward the goal of performing in an end-of-season musical. 

Cassidy Vogel has been a student director for three years, but she was an eight-year-old camper when she first joined Three-Ring seven years ago.  What she likes best is how it creates independence.  “We learn to do all the things on our own; there’s not a bunch of adults doing it for us.  We learn the tech stuff, costuming, sound—everything.”  And all campers participate as much as they want.  There’s even a little theater for kids 5-8.  ($690, Little Theater—$325)

The Spotlighters Theatre runs the Young Actors Academy, with a five-week day camp for middle to high-school students and a three-week program for younger kids.  The older kids enjoy courses in stage combat, makeup design, and improvisation, while young students study what the Academy calls “FUN-damentals.”  These programs are Monday through Thursday; on Friday, a local theater pro teaches master classes.   (Middle & High School—$575; Little School—$375; three Fridays—$35)

And don’t forget local colleges, which often feature interesting outlets to occupy your kids’ days.  CCBC gives kids 8-13 lessons in all things theater—singing, dancing, makeup, costuming, and critiquing.  Plus, if your child has ever threatened to run away and join the circus, you can make her trek more likely to succeed with one-week circus camps that teach the fine art of clowning around. (Three Weeks—$629; Four Weeks—$786; Circus—$259)

Sailing Camp

Ahoy, matey!  If your kids can’t get enough of the water, whet their appetite for adventure on the not-too-high seas of the Chesapeake Bay at sailing camp. During one of the week-long Downtown Sailing Center day-camp sessions, children learn techniques on both wet and dry land that will nurture love and respect for the water and its crafts, while encouraging safety above all else–which feels especially important, in light of the recent tragic death of the Annapolis sailing student.  At the end of each session, campers test their skills in two-seater dinghies.  For a more extensive ride, kids can live on a sailboat with a Coastguard captain for a week, while learning the ropes—from steering to anchoring and everything in between.  (Day Camp-$400; Overnight—$950)

KidShip Sailing School, part of the Annapolis Sailing School, also makes sailors of 5-to-15-year-old campers.  (About $495/week)

Academic Camp

Brainiac kids—those who score above the mean on your SAT or ACT tests (and don’t have to look up the alternate definition of “mean”)—can join their bookish buddies at the Johns Hopkins CTY camps. 

CTY camp is like regular school, it’s also a lot like college.  Mia J. Merrill, a junior at Park starting her fifth season, appreciates the imaginative course variety. “Instead of just English or just biology, you can take Utopias and Dystopias (a lit course),” Mia says, or you can take Neuroscience.  What Mia likes best about CTY camp are the far-out courses and comforting/quirky traditions.  For instance, near the end of every dance, “Stairway to Heaven” streams, and “American Pie” is always the final song.  “During ‘American Pie,’ everybody holds hands in a huge circle in the beginning, but then we all run into the center.  Everybody knows all the words, plus we have callbacks and gestures.”  One of the few things she hates about CTY is that cell phones are off limits everywhere but the dorms.  Hey, they may be your brain surgeons tomorrow, but they’re still your teenagers today. (Prices vary; inquire via the website.)

Music Camp

If you’ve caught your kids playing air guitar or singing into the hairbrush at least as many times as they’ve caught you, forget the camps with rocks and find a camp that rocks. At DayJams, kids and young adults 8-25 take instrument lessons (guitar, bass, drums, vocals, keys, and horns), write songs, design logos and posters, and go to band practice.  Guitar hero and shredmaster Tobias Hurwitz founded the camp more than a dozen years ago.  (One Week—$600; Two Weeks—$1,140)  Likewise, School of Rock, with sessions in Baltimore and Annapolis, has similarly structured camps, though each is focused on a particular band or, for the more experienced musicians, the crafts of songwriting and recording. (Music—$495; Recording or Songwriting—$795)

Music camp isn’t limited to rock.  Check out other note-worthy programs, such as the Drumset and Percussion Camp at Goucher College, Bethesda’s Bach to Rock, the Baltimore String Orchestra Camp at Garrison Forest School, and music camps at McDaniel College in Westminster. 

Art Camp

You may have enough friendship bracelets, but you can never have too many magic lanterns.  Visionary Art Museum’s summer camp can light up summer days and nights, with week-long workshops in Magic Lantern making, screenprinting, and stop-motion animation.  (Call for pricing: 244-1900 x232) And if those courses don’t float your kids’ kinetic sculpture boats, enroll them in the Young People’s Studios Summer Art Camp at MICA.  First through twelfth graders can choose from courses like “Lines, Dashes, Dots! (Grades 1-3), “Kinetic Art: Kites, Mobiles, and More (Grades 3-5),” and “’Scapes’ from Observation and Imagination (Grades 6-8).” High school kids can take courses designed to help them prepare their portfolios.  (About $290-$320 per course.)  For more artsy craftsy summer sessions, check out the Walters Art Gallery and the BMA, as well as other local museums and universities.

Chris Ford Redirects Baltimore School for the Arts

1

The city’s most promising high school artists may have gone home for the summer, but Dr. Chris Ford’s studies are intensifying. Ford was named director of the Baltimore School for the Arts in April, beating out 185 national candidates after Leslie Shepard stepped down from her 10-year post. But Ford’s no fresh-faced kid. Despite having already spent three decades at BSA, he’s ready to learn something new.

Dr. Ford took recess in the Aaron & Lillie Straus Foundation Recital Hall to talk about what’s in store for the school, what challenges he’ll face, and what they’re still doing right. 

Until last week, Ford taught saxophone lessons—his first job at the BSA. And, while he’ll miss it, the idea of managing this school has long intrigued him. In the days ahead, the school’s administrative teams will meet and share their visions for the next five or ten years. “There’s a process, and I think dictating it from above is kind of silly,” Ford says. But he feels some issues pressing harder than others. “Most of the administrative team—certainly most of the arts department—are my age or older, so they will be aging out in the next ten years.” He intends to find a way to make it easier for new hires to come in and do well from the beginning.

“Side by side with that, for those of us that have been here for thirty years: We grew up at a time when the world of  professional arts was really quite different”—not just technologically, but economically. In order to direct students toward viable career paths, they need to ask whether the programs offered at BSA prepare students for the outside world. “And that’s a difficult, challenging thing to do, because you’re asking people who are comfortable with their training and their work to get outside their comfort zones a little bit,” he explains.

Twenty-five years ago, it seemed feasible for a violin student to enroll with the plan to become a concert violinist. Then, the NEA was throwing money at orchestras, and their numbers grew.  With them, the numbers of music schools grew. “So there was this great increase in terms of work, in terms of trained people,” Ford says, “and we’re not there now.” The jobs are simply gone. “Orchestras are figuring out how they can pay people less. I think the thing that really got people in the music world’s attention is when the Philadelphia Orchestra declared bankruptcy.”

And herein lies the school’s key challenge. “There’s not a cookie-cutter career path, and I’m not sure how much leverage we’ve got as a high school to help them with that, but we can certainly help them with the awareness that you need to have a lot of different skills.”

And perhaps that does mean a course in making YouTube videos and distributing your own music. “When I came out of school, people made LPs. CDs are now 30 years old. They’re done!  …So that’s more what I’m thinking about. The connection with the world of work for artists.”

Dr. Ford is eager to send the message that the opportunities haven’t disappeared; they’ve just changed. He tells the story of a concert violist who graduated and went to Juilliard. She was interested in new music, works written by her contemporaries, and got a job with WNYC. Soon, she parlayed it into a career as a radio producer. “She had the right group of skills at the right time…and she has this new-music-all-night-long show, which is so weird. Who would’ve thought something like this could happen? She thought it could happen, and she made it happen.” He plans to continue sharing the stories of successful alumni so that students can be inspired by them—even if it means they’ll have to deliver pizzas for a couple of years to get that unusual idea off the ground.

The school’s relationship with its alumni is one of the BSA’s most successful areas. Others include the TWIGS program, and the school’s original charter, which allows this public school to hire career artists, rather than career teachers. “That wouldn’t be feasible now because there’s so much in the way of government regulations about what you have to do to be a teacher.”  Other schools don’t get to hire the concert master of the BSO, as the BSA has proudly done.

Perhaps the school’s best success is its community—not merely its proximity to Centerstage, the Walters, and the BSO, but its community of students. This recital room, where there are usually about 120-130 chairs, is where community begins. “Every music student starts the day [here], with chorus. They’re all together. Why do we do that? We think it develops their aural sense. We think it develops their sense of community—everybody knows everyone else.” That community is fundamental to being an artist. “I think they find their place as an individual, but yet their place in a larger group that’s embarked in a similar mission.”

Soon on Harford Road: Farmers’ Market Quality Five Days a Week

0

Face it: When you need to do a serious veggie shop, jockeying for counter position among the dogs and strollers at the weekend farmers’ markets is not as fun as it is festive. And what if you’re jonesing for an heirloom tomato on a Wednesday? Enter Green Onion, the latest addition to the “Clempire” of Winston Blick, owner of Clementine Fine Foods in Hamilton. The new retail store, at 5500 Harford Road, is undergoing renovation, but in about a month, you’ll be able to get your market on every day of the week. Soon, bins and cases will be overflowing with grass-fed beef, exotic lettuces, exquisite cheeses, and those heirloom tomatoes you crave. You will even find some of the restaurant’s most popular condiments and foods offered to go—like jams and relishes, homemade sausage and pickles, and our favorite, Green Goddess salad dressing. In case you haven’t been back east in awhile, the Harford Road corridor has become a haven for highbrow eaters, with the award-winning patés from the Chameleon Café, memorable muffins from the Red Canoe, the Hamilton Tavern’s burgers, Chef Mac’s Louisiana cuisine and live blues, Koco’s crab cakes, and, yes, those tempting Tuesday tacos at Clementine. And the neighborhoods of greater Lauraville just got upper-crustier with the opening of Hamilton Bakery next door.

We’re not saying that shopping in a Waverly parking lot or under the Jones
Falls Expressway on a hot summer morning doesn’t have its charms. (Some of your weekly faves are available nowhere else.) But Green Onion will certainly make it easy to sleep late most weekends.

Putting the Amp in Camp

0

A rocker mom is nearly identical to her predecessor, the soccer mom, except she lugs her kids and their instruments to rehearsal and gigs, rather than practice and games, argues with the show directors, not refs, and whoops and hollers from the dance floor, instead of the bleachers—beer in hand. Not just cooler but way more fun.

I know, because I’m a rocker mom, and I have the t-shirt and bumper sticker to
prove it. Most important, I have the daughter—13-year-old Serena, who started
at the Baltimore School of Rock at ten as a guitar player and became a musician.
She took what she learned in her guitar lessons with Jeff Klinetob and applied it
to drums, saxophone, bass, and voice—all instruments she will play this season in
tributes to The Blues, The Rolling Stones, and Lilith Fair. (She also plays with her
own band, the Oxi-Morons, and sits in on guitar and sax with grownup groups like
The Bad Neighbors, Tall in the Saddle, and Chalk Dust.)

Moms and dads who aspire to this level of rocker parent-dom can join Baltimore’s
School of Rock, where each kid gets a weekly 45-minute lesson (on guitar, bass
guitar, keys, voice, or drums) and participates in weekly three-hour rehearsals for
the rock show that’s the best fit. This season will mark Serena’s twelfth show; to
date, she has has learned more than 100 songs—for everything from New Wave and
Elvis Costello to Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd (her favorite band).

Parents pay monthly tuition ($300), and there’s no contract or long-term
commitment, though you are expected to stick it out for three months or so, if your
kid is in a show. Like soccer, rock is a team sport—and it’s just as competitive. Kids
who practice and show up prepared get the kick-axe parts; kids who don’t can get
their axes kicked right off a song.

If you’re looking for some rock of the summer camp variety, your kids can kick out
the jams from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for a work week. Boot Camps are for kids ages 9 to
18 and feature U2, the Beatles (both for beginners to intermediate players); Metal
(beginners to advanced), and Led Zeppelin (intermediate to advanced). They end
with a bang on Fridays: a friends-and-family performance, where kids show off the
chops they’ve been polishing all week. For teens 13-18 looking to hone other skills,
Recording & Songwriting and Recording A/V are also offered.

The real value is in what your kid learns by osmosis: that becoming a musician takes
daily practice and discipline, that every member of the band is important, and that
rock and roll will never die.

Janet Decker, General Manager
(410) 366-ROCK
[email protected]
515 W. Cold Spring Lane

Upcoming Shows
Saturday, June 4 @Bourbon Street
1:00 Rolling Stones
4:00 The Blues
Sunday, June 5 @Bourbon Street
1:00 The Blues
4:00 Rolling Stones
Saturday, June 11 @The Recher Theater
1:00 Lilith Fair
4:00 Pixies v. Sonic Youth
Sunday, June 12 @The Recher Theater
1:00 Pixies v. Sonic Youth
4:00 Lilith Fair
Saturday, June 18 @The Recher Theater
1:00 Progressive Rock
4:00 Dave Grohl
Sunday, June 19 @The Recher Theater
1:00 Dave Grohl
4:00 Progressive Rock
Saturday, June 25 @The Recher Theater
4:00 The Beatles
Sunday, June 26 @The Recher Theater
1:00 The Beatles

Yelling is Her Calling

3

This is as quiet as my house ever gets: the whir of traffic, often punctuated by the boom of bass; sirens and copters; yelping, yipping, barking dogs—from blocks away to the pair at my feet; wind chimes, lawnmowers, and the chirping of a dozen species of birds, including one who sounds like the laugh at the beginning of the Surfaris’ “Wipe Out.”

It’s only ever this quiet during the school day, when my husband and daughter leave me to my own devices.  Even then, I’m compelled to fill their sonic void with sounds—court TV shows, music, a random video shared on Facebook.  I screech Heart’s “Barracuda” in the shower, play guitar, shout at the dogs.  I’m shouting at them right now, as they have just knocked over the zero gravity recliner, where I sit.

When my family is home, it’s clear we are loud.  It’s partly because I am a yeller.  I come from a short line of yellers and loud talkers, a detail I was cautious about sharing with my infant, but you can’t hide noise in your diaper bag.  It’s hard to whisper “You ASSHOLE” to the pokey driver in front of you.  It’s tough to hide your parents’ arguments, telephone fights with your sister, a public loathing of litterbugs and Express Lane abusers, and general abrupt disgruntle when that’s the person you are, whether by nurture or nature.

Even though I yell, I don’t need anger management.  I need control.  I once wrote that I yell to get people—my family, mostly—to listen to me, to respond to my THIRD REQUEST, DAMN IT, since the two nice ones went unheeded. DINNER IS READY!  YOUR SHOES DON’T BELONG IN THE KITCHEN!  CLEAN YOUR ROOM!  I yell to insist I really did tell them the seder is Monday night.  I TOLD YOU LAST WEEK THAT THE SEDER IS MONDAY NIGHT! 

I yell at the dogs when they bang into me. WATCH IT, DOGS!  I yell at the TV news. THAT’S NOT NEWS, YOU IDIOT, IT’S A MCDONALD’S PRESS RELEASE!  I yell at Serena’s band when they are anywhere besides the basement or outside.  DOWNSTAIRS OR OUTSIDE!  I yell at my daughter’s friend to go home so I can yell at my daughter.  I yell to get my husband to stop interrupting me mid-sentence to nag me about why the spray paint is sitting quietly on the deck, to get my family to PUT MY CAPOS BACK ON MY GUITAR WHERE THEY BELONG, to get my puppy to SIT!

The baton, with attached foghorn and vuvuzela, has been passed.  Serena Joy (a garlic necklace of a name chosen to counter that of her mother, Neurotic Misery) yells, too—at her mom and dad, her friends, the dogs, her band.  And my husband, Marty?  Let’s call him a passionate discusser.  He comes from a long line of boisterous talkers, grumpy West Virginians—Hatfields, in fact (the real McCoy!)—people like his Uncle John, who drank beer at lunchtime in the diner and bragged loudly of his sexploits; people like his brother, the builder/rock climber/ballerina, whose answering machine messages are spoken as if we’ll be playing them back from a neighbor’s house. His mom, who has lost much of her hearing, can still hear us. 

Our family is overheard in restaurants.  Marty’s cheer of appreciation (YEA!) can be heard on every family’s School of Rock video.   But our volume is about more than our voices.  (Our hair might as well be an ad for volumizing products.)  At any given moment in the Miller household, in any room, you are likely to hear a movie, a song, saxophone, drums, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, keyboards, drum machine—many of them at the same time, often one turned way up to hear over another.  Doors slam.  Dogs tussle.  The refrigerator groans like a ghoul.  Serena can’t calmly tell her dad that his timing is wrong on Led Zeppelin’s “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”; she has to shriek the correction.  I yell from the living room to the attic, hoping to be heard over the Wii; Serena yells her reply.  Our dog, Chance, yells at our new puppy, Jett .  And Marty passionately discusses the mess I’ve made in the house, the unwalked dogs, the spray paint can left on the deck.   He chews his food passionately, too.  I turn on the TV at dinner time to drown it out, and Serena turns the volume even higher. 

Shortly after I gave birth, I developed a sleep disorder and became so sensitive to the pesky sounds heard above the quietude that I had to muffle them with a white noise machine and foam earplugs.   The last straw, the thing that bled through my barriers to a soundless sleep and led to my isolation was Marty’s nocturnal inhalations and exhalations.  (Marty snore?  Never!)  I eventually moved to the guest room because the volume of his “nighttime breathing” was the only thing standing in the way of a good night’s sleep.  Serena, who already sleeps with her door closed, often gets out of bed in the middle of the night to close his door—because, as she puts it: “he [nighttime breathes] like a frickin’ tractor.”  If he didn’t, the four battery-operated clocks—one on the wall, one on the dresser, and two next to the bed, all set for a different time and a different alarm, all with a second hand—would have done me in.   I have a clock on the wall of the guest room, where I sleep, but its batteries are on the dresser.

These days, if I manage to sleep through the alarms, the excited morning dog whimpers, the banging screen door, the whistling coffee pot, and the social studies documentaries (who am I kidding? Social Studies documentaries? Zzzzzz.), then I am awakened at 6:30 a.m. by the siren of ended lesson planning: a rousing version of Muse’s “Hysteria” on electric bass or one of Billy Bragg’s anti-government ditties, sung with Cockney accent and passion, if not perfect pitch, accompanied by zealous guitar strumming in the echoic kitchen, a favorite playing place for its acoustics.

I suppose I should be embarrassed, especially that the clean clothes are in the closet, but our dirty laundry is often wafting out the window for three seasons.   That my overnight guest, visiting from Hawaii, was awakened by the loud charms jingling from Jett’s collar every time the dog moved and the 4:30 a.m. alarm that went off in the bedroom, despite my husband’s being out of town.  That when my daughter told me on Facebook that I should yell less, the next-door-neighbor’s daughter, away at college, “liked” it.

I sometimes worry about how loud we are (the neighbors always tell us they enjoy our harmonies; they neglect to mention the discord), but the truth is that I don’t know of any other way to live. I apologize for the sounds of us, but, at the same time, I can’t stifle them. I love our cacophony, our laughter, our play, and our music, even if it comes bundled with the yelling, snoring, and loud-chewing package.  I feel guilty that I’m entering Excedrin’s “What’s Your Headache” contest with a video of my daughter playing every instrument in the universe, with the volume up as high as it goes, because it’s a downright lie.  The music in my house never gives me anything but delight.  She is a thirteen-year-old girl who rocks.  So does her fifty-something dad.

The time has come to wholly embrace the loudness that is the Millers. Songs and movies should be rewritten about us: Turn it Up. Pump Up Our Volume. It WILL Get Loud…er. WHO LET THE DOGS IN? 

Yeah, that’s right. We are the Millers, and we go to eleven. (That’s one louder.)

Guides