Saturday, May 6, 2017

Why I Love Classical Music

Lately, the world has been an awful place, and frankly, we have no one to blame but ourselves. I could list all the events and people that have made the world such an awful place, but I think you already know the contents of that list.

What are the things that make this time bearable? Sleep.  I've been far more fatigued lately than usual. Sleep and dreaming. Sunshine. Birdsong. Cats. And actually at the top of my list is classical music. Perhaps some of you would include Rock or Jazz or popular music or even specific performing artists who help to make your world bearable right now. For me, it's classical music. Why?

Please allow me to use a recent example.  A month ago, I attended a Minnesota Orchestra concert in Orchestra Hall, downtown Minneapolis. I've written about this orchestra before, its artistic excellence and some of the sublime music that it makes under the baton of its Music Director Osmo Vanska. I love that the Twin Cities has this orchestra, and a superb chamber orchestra across the river in St. Paul: the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. For large symphonic music, I go to Orchestra Hall to be transported to another realm and to be transformed by the Minnesota Orchestra.

A month ago, the program began with the ultimate in sublime: the Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G major. There were 3 soloists -- a violinist and 2 flutists (instead of the usual 2 recorders) -- and the orchestra was a small one with harpsichord. The joy in this music comes from the melodic order and the comforting sound of this combination of musical instruments. My body relaxed, but my mind was right there with the musical notes dancing through the air.  The musicians must have complete concentration as well. Like the example below, they played without a conductor.

Modern music begins with J. S. Bach with his robust clarity, passionate logic, and sublime orderliness. I remember studying his music as a music student, and all the rules that applied to his music. Hearing his music in concert both calms and energizes. (It was Bach's keyboard preludes and fugues that taught me how to think in layers.)

When we think of the British, it's usually their stoicism in the face of adversity that comes to mind, not passion, romanticism, or whimsy. And certainly Edward Elgar, the composer of any number of Pomp and Circumstance marches, does not immediately pop into mind for passionate music. But he was quite capable of writing music of the most profound emotion, and his Cello Concerto in E minor traverses the human heart and soul with its sound of loss and acceptance.

This concerto was the second piece on the program with cello soloist Alban Gerhardt who made the cello sing in a white heat of emotion in sound. He and the orchestra musicians were so in sync that it was like they were breathing the music together. Elgar begins with a bold statement from the cello before introducing the elegiac theme in the orchestra. This theme will haunt the rest of the concerto. But there were moments of whimsy also, even playfulness, in exchanges between orchestra and soloist. This is music one feels in one's body, in the pulse of blood, and in the vibrations of cells. I felt that for the first time, I'd truly heard this concerto and what it had to say to me.

In contrast, Gerhardt played an encore from a J. S. Bach unaccompanied suite for cello. I'm not certain from which suite, or which movement from that suite, only that it was Bach's voice, orderly, soothing, compassionate, and bold. It was a lovely echo of the Bach that opened the concert.

After the intermission in this concert, Osmo Vanska conducted the orchestra in Franz Schubert's Symphony in C major, "The Great." Schubert's music tends to be much lighter than Elgar, singing more like the human voice than any other musical instrument, and at times with a joyful dancing quality. His C major symphony, however, tends to be a bit darker and heavier, and Vanska seemed to emphasize this by employing a full complement of strings rather than scaling down those sections. Schubert's musical voice always makes me think of a time when people lived without technology, but with the same human concerns we have now. I think of Schubert as loving life, loving Vienna, and loving to make music, and that's what I hear in his music.

Music is the sound of human emotion. It connects people in ways that simple conversation cannot, and certainly also affects the human body. I've had the experience of listening to music and my blood pressure lowering, my pulse rate slowing, and my whole body relaxing. Music gives me joy and it gives me hope in people and life.  If we are still playing and listening to music, the world cannot be such a terrible place.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Giving Heart for a Second Chance #WATWB

Here is my second installment for the #We are the World Blogfest!  The last Friday of every month a group of bloggers spread some peace, love, and positive thinking about humanity by sharing stories of the best of humanity. This month's blogfest is hosted by Belinda Witzenhausen, Inderpreet Uppal, Mary Giese, Peter Nena, and Simon Falk. Visit their blogs to learn more!

The last Friday of the month has sneaked up on me!  But I had a wonderful story waiting, I just hadn't put it together yet for a post -- former Minnesota Twins infielder Rod Carew needed a heart and a young NFL player had one to give.  I found this story at

Rod Carew likely doesn't remember the first time he interacted with Konrad Reuland.
It was the late 1990s and Reuland was a sixth-grader in Southern California.
Reuland told his mother one day, 'Mom, I met Rod Carew today!" the Orange County Register reported.
Almost 20 years later, they are forever together. Reuland was an organ donor; after he died in December, his heart and a kidney went to Carew, who desperately needed a heart.
 The story continues when Reuland's family discovers to whom his heart and kidney went. And Carew being Carew, met them. Carew's number in at the Minnesota Twins was 29. Konrad Reuland was 29 when he died.

You can find the full story here, with photos, and a lot more heartwarming details. Because of Konrad Reuland's willingness to be an organ donor, and his generous spirit, Rod Carew has a second chance.

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Successful Patient: Writing to Heal

In the May 2017 issue of The Writer, Gail Radley writes about the health benefits of writing a journal. As I read this article, I thought of my own journal, neglected for the past 2 years due to a life far busier than I really wanted. Before financial distress and finding first a part-time job then a fulltime job, I used to write in my journal daily after lunch for about an hour. If I missed a day, I felt uncomfortable, like I'd forgotten something and could not remember what. During the last 2 years, the guilt about not writing has gnawed at me, but the time just never opened up enough to push it into my day again. That may change as my life settles down a bit and I'm not scrambling in 10 different directions to pull in revenue to pay bills.

Radley examines the healing power of writing a journal on a person's mental state. I could definitely use some help in that area! While no substitute for a human therapist to talk to, who will listen compassionately and be the guide to self-discovery and self-knowledge, journal writing can act as a safety valve for letting off steam on bad days and celebrating on good days.  It's a great way to work through problems, weigh decisions, and try to make sense of the world around us.

I've kept a journal since I was 11 years old, and over the years I've learned that how honest I am with myself as I'm writing in the journal determines if I gain psychological and emotional insights about myself from writing. It's so easy to get caught up in the everyday details of life, record what I've done, seen, heard, instead of what I thought of it all. Including what I've thought of myself. For me, my journal is the place to ask questions that are bothering me, set personal goals, and record important moments in my life. It has helped to keep me sane and focused during challenging times. It has been a valuable friend while I've gone through therapy for depression, PTSD, anxiety, and other issues related to childhood trauma. So, I agree with Radley that writing in a journal can be healing for the mind and soul but only if the writer is honest with herself.

Can writing in a journal help physical health? The mind has a powerful connection with the body, and we know that emotions can cause physical responses. If writing can calm the mind, can exorcise anxiety and ameliorate depression, then the body will not suffer the physical effects of these things. I know that for me, I feel better physically when I'm writing in my journal on a regular basis. And I support that writing with other things that enhance the effect such as meditation, qigong exercise, and walking.

It's important to remember the mind-body connection, and to pay attention to physical clues that the mind is distressed. It's especially important not to stuff feelings and writing them out in a journal can really help.  Expressing anger at a co-worker in person may not be the positive, constructive experience that you might want. Walking away, cooling down by writing down your thoughts and feelings can help gain distance from the situation and bring it into clearer perspective. What was your role in the situation? What was the co-worker's role? I remember saying to an acquaintance once who had angered me that my response had not come out of the blue as she was claiming. There had been a cause, and it had been something that she'd done. Sometimes it can be difficult to see a true cause in the midst of a strong emotional response. And sometimes the true cause of a person's anger is something that person has done, or is guilty about, or regrets, or any number of things, instead of what the co-worker said or did. Writing can help ferret out these hidden causes.

How to write a journal? It's actually very easy.  For example, I buy regular 3-subject spiral notebooks and write in them by hand using different colored pens. Some people use blank books. Others use the computer. There are bloggers who are actually keeping a journal through their blog about a specific activity or time in their lives. It doesn't have to be fancy, but it does need to be a form with which you are comfortable. If you feel in need of help to get started, there are books out there that can get you going. I just searched on "journal writing" at Amazon, and 50+ pages of titles came up. In the past, I've used At a Journal Workshop by Ira Progoff and The New Diary by Tristine Rainer to help me. 

Time for me to get back into journal writing myself.....

Friday, March 31, 2017

Music Comforts and Heals: Sharing Notes #WATWB

For my first post in the We are the World Blogfest, I'd like to write about a wonderful organization that brings music to patients in Chicago area hospitals. The organization is Sharing Notes.

I found Sharing Notes in the fall of 2013 when I was setting up a fundraising project at Kickstarter. They had set up their own fundraising project.  I loved the idea of bringing music to people in hospitals. I have spent my share of time in hospitals, and I know how much music can ease the stress and anxiety of being a patient.

Music touches the human heart, calms fears, lowers blood pressure, and soothes the mind. Sharing Notes musicians bring a lot of love and compassion to people with their music, and a lot of fun to children who may not have had much fun in the hospital.

For more human stories of the heart, visit the blogs listed under "This is a Blog Hop" here. #WATWB bloggers publish their contributions to the blog hop on the last Friday of each month. Thanks to this month's blogfest hosts:

Belinda Witzenhausen, Lynn HallbrooksSimon Falk, Sylvia McGrath, and Damyanti Biswas.

"We are the World Blogfest" is a blog hop of bloggers dedicated to posting stories "that show compassion and the resilience of the human spirit. Sharing these stories increases our awareness of hope in our increasingly dark world."

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Taking Perceval to the Next Level

As my regular readers here know, I am a grudging member of The Working Poor in America. I work part-time and search for a fulltime job. A friend helps with paying my rent so I won't be evicted. About a month ago, I bit the bullet and launched a fundraising campaign at GoFundMe. This campaign has two purposes:
  1. To pay off the debt I have left from publishing my novel Perceval's Secret three years ago. 
  2. To raise the funds to publish Perceval's Secret as a paperback and launch it.
In the fall of 2013, I had a month-long Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds to e-publish Perceval's Secret. At that time, I raised over $3000, but because the campaign did not achieve the goal of $5000, I received none of the money.

I chose to take the risk of going forward anyway with publishing Perceval's Secret. All the expenses for the editor, book cover design, manuscript conversion to 2 electronic formats for publication, and marketing for the book launch went on a credit card. I used a $0 interest promotion offered by the credit card for the marketing expenses. Every month, I paid far more than the minimum payment, but the interest charged on the non-promo part really hurt my efforts. Then I reached the end of the promo period and the entire amount on the credit card was now earning interest for the credit card company.  I still continued to pay monthly more than the minimum.

Finally, last year, I transferred the balance on that credit card to another credit card to take advantage of another $0 interest promotion. That promotion would last 16 months. The promotion's end fast approaches. I'd like to finish paying off the credit card debt before the promotion ends so that I won't end up feeding the interest monster anymore.

While paying off the debt is my primary purpose for this GoFundMe fundraising campaign, if I manage to raise more money above the $5800 I need for that debt, I'll use the "extra" money to publish Perceval's Secret in paperback.

One person e-mailed me about 10 days into this fundraising campaign to inform me that I was "begging online." It disturbed me that he chose to look at it that way, even though it's probably a valid perspective. Others who have already donated to the campaign have chosen to express the perspective of helping a friend, a good cause, or giving an author a leg up. 

Perceval's Secret has garnered good to excellent reviews at Amazon and on GoodReads. I believe strongly in this novel and the 5-book series for which it is the first installment. Sales have not been what I'd hoped despite my marketing and promotion efforts in 2014 and last year (I was quite ill in 2015 and could not work as much on it).

I'd love nothing better than to have sales increase and keep increasing. So if you'd rather help out by buying Perceval's Secret, reading it, writing a review at Amazon or Barnes & Noble, and GoodReads, I'd love it! And especially if you encouraged others to buy and read the book, and post reviews. Go for it! To pay off the debt, I'd need to sell 2,850 e-books by the end of May!

Click on these links to buy Perceval's Secret:
Amazon Kindle US (but also available internationally on Amazon)
Barnes & Noble Nook
Kobo International

Click on this link to donate to the fundraising campaign:
Taking Perceval to the Next Level

For all those generous spirits who donate, I will post their names on the "Appreciation" page at the Anatomy of Perceval blog.

Also, if you are on Facebook, like the public The Perceval Novels Facebook page to find out about special fundraising promotions with "rewards" that I'll run through Facebook.

To all who choose to be generous, my heartfelt thanks! (And if you buy Perceval's Secret, I hope that you'll enjoy it!)