Category Archives: Creativity

Piano Lessons Redux

Faye at piano; circa 1953
Photo by Marv

These days, my time-out is at the keyboard, stretching my fingers, practicing exercises, rag, and blues pieces. After 9 years of classical training, at age 16, I precipitously walked away from my year-end recital. Likely cause: adolescent angst, frustration over a Beethoven Sonata’s arpeggios, my teacher’s adamant distaste of Boogie Woogie and popular music.

Two years ago, at a music store, I noticed a beautiful Roland electric piano. When I opened it and sat down to play the full keyboard, I was delighted by the sound. The price was right—reasonable as the two lowest keys were irreparable and this being a professional keyboard, it was not selling. It was an impulse-buy, a balm against anxiety during the presidential election.

Did I immediately sit down to play? My memory muscle failed. I could no longer amble up and down the keyboard with Deep Purple or I’m in the Mood for Love, favorites I had played all during my young adulthood. Parenting and launching two musically talented children, a full time therapy practice, and marriage challenged all my resources; I drifted far away.

I felt regret at the sight of my silent piano. I knew well the difference between my adolescent skill-set and my flailing Octogenarian effort. I needed help: a teacher who could relate and guide me. All these months of gratitude practice had taught me the benefits of embracing the beginner’s mind. My hubris long dissipated, I needed to begin again.

In September, I returned to the place where my children had grown as musicians: The All Newton Music School, which, thankfully, is ten minutes by car from my home. The woman in charge of new enrollees interviewed me on the phone about my preferences. “I’d like a teacher who can relate to an Octogenarian, but who also teaches children,” I said.

The first day, Kim, her eyes dancing, greeted me as I walked through the front door. “Are you Faye?” she said. I was her first student, 12:30 for a half hour. I told her my story, how far away I was from proficiency, my trepidation. She taught children in a group, had students of all ages, and instantly began to talk goals, how to proceed.

Eight lessons later, I am grateful to be coming into my own. I started with a simple version of Scott Joplin’s The Entertainer and now am challenged by an intermediate version. The goal—to follow the music , maintain the tempo, integrate the offbeat rhythms, and keep my hands in sink..

Last week, in frustration over my dogged rendition, Kim explained that I was approaching the piece as I had long ago— counting methodically as if I were playing Bach. Joplin’s pieces are dance pieces, alive, fast, and driven by varying rhythms. I needed to tackle small segments, practice each hand separately, each day setting the metronome a little faster. In time, the hands would come together.

Gratefully, I report progress. Sometimes, the past calls with a treasure: a gift of engagement, a lost passion, waiting like the sound of Joplin, deftly played and up beat.

On Boundaries & Me Too

Sally Brecher’s Olin Birches

A friend recently mused how she was unable to feel gratitude these past two weeks, especially in the face of the Harvey Weinstein story and the implosion of the “Me Too” response. Her comment gave me pause.

How was it, in spite of all the awfulness, I am able to come up for air, take deep breaths, seek and find moments of gratitude. It’s about belief. I believe in balance. I believe nature provides balance and in as much as human beings are part of the natural order, the striving for balance is dormant within us.

The challenge, as I try to describe through this blog, is in the seeking and recognition of meaning. For each of us, it is different. To my friend, a talented artist whose soft edged images of slices of white bark trunks invoke the impulse to touch, I am grateful. Her talent in seeing and transmitting what she sees invokes my connection to nature.

Is this not how as human beings, we are wired? Has not the Me Too outpouring of the experience of hurtful boundary violations given rise to the opportunity for hidden voices to be seen and heard?

In The Boston Globe, October 21st column, “Me Too? It Was Started By Her,”Christela Guerra interviews Tarana Burke, who “originated the idea a decade ago through her work, particularly with young women of color.” I was grateful to read about Burke’s original intentions.

In many regards Me Too is about survivors talking to survivors. It was never really about amplifying the number of people who are survivors of sexual violence. It was about survivors sharing empathy with each other. But when I talk to young people, I use pop culture to promote the idea of Me Too all the time. We have to have something that reaches the masses.

Empathy is key. As a therapist, I specialized in treating women who had been sexually abused as children. Many came to therapy because of symptoms, the source of which they had dismissed or forgotten. Me Too is a call to women to speak out on serious boundary violations, which require the empathy of others to bear witness for healing.

As a woman of 85, I have experienced sexualized verbal and physical assaults. My first incident, at five years old, I was chased around my dining room in the presence of close family who laughed as my father’s friend grabbed inside my dress and placed his hands far down my back to grab the “bugs” inside. I screamed; everyone laughed. Boundary violation, Yes. “Boys will be boys,” the unempathic and uninformed explanation.

“Me Too,” is about candor, a space where people can say, in their own words, what has caused them fear and hurt, bewilderment, shame and grief. What of the difference between harassment and assault? Burke, to her credit, does not discriminate. She states,

If your Me Too was about sexual harassment versus sexual assault but it’s traumatizing to you, then it’s important for you to be heard and seen.

 The memory of strange and icy hands on my back has never left me. It likely planted seeds of gratitude for empathy and the humanness in a response that says you are not alone.

 

 

 

 

 

ON GRATITUDE STRATEGIES

Faye in Reflection

Given the preponderance of awfulness—awful violence, awful weather, awful words, awful politics— over the past two weeks, I turn to a consideration of simple, effective gratitude strategies that can be helpful in shifting our attention away from the negatives that swirl around us.

  • Intentionality is the key
  • Decide on a practice
  • Make gratitude a habit
  • Select a strategy

In this post, I will review 4 four key research-based principles for turning gratitude into a lasting habit recommended by The Greater Good in Action Website https://greatergood.berkley.edu/article/item/four_gratitude_strategies

  • COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS. Select a dedicated notebook. At the end of the day, write in detail about three things, large or small, that went well. Spend time with the details of the why and how each event left you with a sense of appreciation, happiness, or well-being.

Over this past weekend, my 13 year- old granddaughter, Zoe, accompanied my son, Craig, for a visit. One night, she prepared caramelized onions and asked, if I had a pair of protective eye goggles she could wear while cutting onions. “Will swimming goggles work,” I asked, pulling a wide framed pair from my catch-all drawer. Goggles in place, she cut and prepared the Vidalia onions like a pro. I experienced such pleasure in watching how carefully she positioned the cutting knife and how patiently she stirred until she perfected the texture.

  • MENTAL SUBTRACTION. This is a “what if” exercise that results in expanding the sense of positivity of a positive event. Consider a positive event such as a job opportunity, the meeting of a friend, an educational achievement. Reflect on what your life would be like without them.

Where would I be without this blog? Without the blog, I would not have the ongoing inspiration or motivation to continue to expand my dedicated gratitude practice and to step up on a regular basis to impart what I am experiencing and learning. The effect is a sense of aliveness in the challenge of daily living in these unprecedented times.

  • I’ve written at length about my practice of soul tracking where I suggest choosing a place in nature and paying attention to what attracts you— sights, sounds, smells— and pausing to reflect and savor. Researchers have coined this process The Savoring Walk—noting a 20-minute walk by yourself once a week, ideally a different route each time, has lasting effects one week later.

I am grateful for my winding garden path and tiny frog pond. Every day brings new possibility as unexpected lily blossoms open in October and tall zinnias continue to bloom. A ten-minute very slow walk can shift my mood and leave me content and happy for hours after.

  • SAY THANK YOU. All forms of acknowledgement of appreciation to others can make a difference to both the giver and the receiver. Research indicates that the effect of writing and delivering a gratitude letter has the greatest positive impact on happiness one month later.

 Dear Readers, Thanks to each and every one of you for reading this post and bringing the possible practice of gratitude into your life. I hope you will choose one strategy to try with the hope that you will find a measure and contentment as you embrace a practice. As always, please share your experiences in a comment.

On Empathy and Repair

Women with Buckets
Thanks to Ginnette Riquelme/Reuters

I spent my entire professional life as a social worker/psychotherapist listening to my client’s struggles, their questions, and feelings. Through it all, in every hour, with each person or persons, I learned that empathy for another, understanding of another, came from mindful attention to the details of another’s life.

Without empathy, I could not imagine the dilemma of others; I could not think through what it would be like to lose a mom at eight years old, to be a first time mom and deliver a stillborn child, to carry on in spite of losing a job to a younger person.

Perhaps, that is why, no matter how hard I try to move away from the subject of President Trump’s personality and leadership style, to consider and write about other subjects, I return to his influence on the mood and lifestyle of our country. His war mongering speech at the United Nations, his name-calling tweets and bullying threats days after Hurricane Irma’s shattering strike reek of empathic-deficit leadership.

Okay, that is the reality; but how does one live with gratitude and hope in the face of such astonishing and aggrandizing tone-deaf leadership? I have concluded that each of us must do our part, the best we can. Individual efforts, actions grounded in empathy, can and do make a difference.

I was transfixed by CNN and MSNBC’s empathic reportage of the Mexican earthquake, the lines of volunteers of all ages outside buildings, a decimated school, passing buckets of debris, energized by care, hoping to rescue adults and children from the crush of burial.

I watched images of rescue operations— electrical workers checking gear, loading trucks from sites all over our country readying to travel to Florida to help remedy thousands of outages. When I think of the networks attending to the detail of reportage, the camera crews on site, the reporters dressed in tall boots and rain gear sending out image after image, I am grateful for the details of efforts to rescue.

Yes, it rained a bit here and as it turned out, more than a bit in my home where water seeped into our solarium (once again) where windows open to sky and trees gave way to the pressure of an all night tropical storm, the after effects of Hurricane Jose on the East coast. I am grateful for an immediate response from Mike, a home team helper, whose attention to and knowledge of details traced the source and helped set the stage for repair.

In some way, we are all responsible for repair. It is in the seeking of ways to help, in the interest of others, to extend beyond ourselves, each in our own way, that will help right the imbalance in empathy. This day, I am grateful to readers of this blog; you inspire me to extend into difficult-to-articulate areas and to connect through writing. Please comment and share your own experience on this topic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spot Fake News; Get The Truth

 

Zinnias

In my fall garden, especially as flowering is on the wane, I am on the lookout for decay, the need to cut and clear spotted or curled leaves, the need to savor the remnants of growth. This morning, tall-headed—zinnias, orange, white, yellow—leaned into the warming sun. New, fresh buds are about to open. I am grateful for the possibility of fresh color, the possibility of mulberry pink flowers in September.

Would that the approach to news— how to spot decay (fake news), what to cut out and clear (disinformation)— were as obvious. In my last blog column, I offered concrete sites such as FactCheck.org as a resource which provides long-form accounts based upon factual sequences which can mediate presumptive bias. Since my week at Chautauqua on Media and the News, I am on the lookout for blight, spottiness, imbalance, bias in presentation, the shaping of news.

All news is written from a point of view. Over and over, Trump has labeled all mainstream media as fake news. In effect, his words eradicate most of the news media I reply upon for information. Countering his bluster takes effort. Clarity of sources and point of view about what is being written and promulgated in the daily news is essential to maintaining one’s perspective.

Judy Wolfe, in her presentation at Road Scholar’s week at Chautauqua, emphasized that by simply searching for media bias, one can come upon sites and graphs prepared and posted by a variety of people and organizations. In preparation for this blog, I gave it a try. Yes, the effort to discern and impart information about how to manage media bias is impressive. If you want to dig in, learn more about the possibility of what sites are LEAST or MOST biased, I recommend https://mediabiasfactcheck.com as a starter.

This media bias site offers both a chart and lists of news items according to bias categories from Left to Right starting with Left-Bias, Left-Center Bias, Least Biased, Right-Center Bias, Right Bias, Pro-Science, Conspiracy-Pseudoscience, Questionable Sources, Satire.

As a good example, their lead post on September 8, 2017, is titled How The Truth Can Get Damaged in a Hurricane, Too. Take a look at the following examples.

I’m grateful for readily available resources which, with a touch of the finger, can share multiple social media sites and verifiable facts of current events and issues. Hopefully, I have expanded your “get the truth” tool kit in managing true and authentic news and have inspired you to check out a site or two to use as a ballast in this time of Twitter, Facebook and variable news options.

 

 

 

 

GRATEFUL FOR CHAUTAUQUA

Amphitheater
Derek Gee/Buffalo News

As I write this, I am grateful to be anticipating and preparing for a week of learning, walking and socializing at Road Scholar’s Chautauqua Experience in Summer. This is Marv’s and my 4th summer!

The Theme of the Week: Media and the News: Ethics in the Digital Age. I cannot believe the timeliness of the topic. When we chose our date almost a year ago, we had no idea that Trump would be elected or that issues such as real or fake news, and ethical dilemmas in both the media and news would be so pertinent.

Every Chautauqua Road Scholar event has a resident scholar who provides a daily lecture on background and current information in preparation for the Amphitheater public lecture series. During two of our prior visits to Chautauqua, Marc Glassman, a radio and print journalist, and his wife, Judy Wolfe, a creative arts consultant, provided exceptional content through lecture and video examples. At luncheon and dinner, the couple circulated among our various tables to continue the conversation.

Gratitude for their friendship and a rich and varied learning experience influenced our choice for this summer. Who could predict the serendipitous possibility last July, over lunch, when we decided to join Marc and Judy for their gig in August, 2017!

Yes, I am up to my eyeballs in news, fake and real, trying to discern, stay the course, to be informed. I need a “chill” vacation and yet I need to understand more about how the news and media are influencing the day-to-day behavior worldwide. Just this week, with Trump’s impulsive shoot-from-the-hip Fire and Fury response to a news reporter, we are looking at nuclear warfare; the possibility of another Korean war outbreak is front and center.

How to manage what seems real from what is real? How to manage multiple perspectives? Hopefully, I will come away more able to discern, assess and distinguish what has heft and meaning from what is fear mongering.

Here’s the lineup:

Monday: Jeff Rosen, liberal media critic, writer, professor of journalism at New York University. He authors the PressThink blog on “the fate of the press in a digital era and the challenges in rethinking what journalism is today.”

Tuesday— Kathleen Hall Jamieson, professor of communication and the director of The Annenberg Public Policy Center. She runs Fact Check, an organization devoted to examining the factual accuracy of U.S. political advertisements.

Wednesday— Arzu Geybullayeva, columnist and journalist. She has been a co-director of the Imagine Center for Conflict Transformation since 2011, an organization that fosters relations between Armenians and Azerbaijanis.

Thursday—Nancy Gibbs, managing editor of Time Magazine

Friday—Marty Baron, Executive Editor, The Washington Post, with Eric Newton, Innovation chief, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Arizona State University.

I’m pleased with the distribution of men and women and their varied expertise. I’ll be taking notes with the intention to distill and share in future Gratitude is as Gratitude Does blogs. In the meantime, be mindful of options that can bring gratitude.

 

 

 

 

 

AGING,GRATITUDE & ONWARD

SOLSTICE FUN

As I age, gratitude is more present and possible. When I turned eighty, I was nervous about the future, how to live my life fully as an Octogenarian. I met the challenge of that birthday by committing to a daily gratitude diary. It compelled me to practice, to call to mind and appreciate the what, wherefore and how of a gratitude practice.

I’m not one for gratitude lists. A list, in its very form, is brief, shorthand. I needed to widen the context, to assess and ponder the meaning of my choices. The diary, all those lines on the page, cried out for descriptive language, mined from the senses, the story of my encounters. At the end of a year, I had amassed 8 notebooks of gratitude writing. Some notations took the form of short essays. Some explored definitions, where I searched for truth of a word, of language chosen. I followed what fascinated me, the usual and unusual, reflections in the moment, from memory.

At the end of a year, trusting my ability to “show up,” I turned the daily practice into a weekly blog— a commitment to friends and potential readers to write and share 500 words about the experience of gratitude.

Now, in this era of Trump, I write bi-weekly—sadly, a necessity so as to distill all the political and emotional input and pull out a meaningful kernel or two to explore and amplify. I am grateful to subscribers and followers on Facebook.

As I write, I keep my readers in mind. I feel supported, less alone. It’s curious how, as I age, I am far more able to discern, take notice and note grateful encounters. By putting pen to paper, I am challenged to shape the story of each encounter.

Earlier, this past week, a childhood friend who suffered a mild stroke remarked on her experience in rehabilitation. As she began to learn to use a walker to regain strength and balance, she assessed her good fortune at being on her feet and moving on her own. She was not wheelchair bound nor was she bedridden. She was able to read, talk, recall, laugh and complain.

I have learned that gratitude accrues as one ages. It’s inherent in the landscape of the odds as Carl Reiner, age 95, explains in HBO’s documentary If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast . “ I pick up my newspaper, get the obituary section and see if I’m listed,” he jokes in the film,

I am privileged to have many younger writer friends, the result of having graduated from Pine Manor’s Solstice MFA program in my mid-seventies. During the course of two years, I worked with three different mentors on creating and crafting long personal essays, mostly memoir of family and my professional work. Ageism was nowhere in sight. I was an aspiring writer among other aspiring writers. This past weekend, I attended my 12th Solstice residency as an auditor in several classes where I was again a student—learning and refreshing my dedication to the craft of writing. I am ever grateful for the generosity of a program that invites return and renewal.