Category Archives: Writing

Finding Calm & Compassion

Junior Blue Jay
McCauley Library
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology

My home, located across from the Charles River, surrounded by trees, is a choice nesting site for birds.

Yesterday, as I finished whisking off the frayed bed sheet I’d thrown over my lemon tree to prevent freezing, I took note of a tiny grey bird tucked into the corner of the top step. Its stillness compelled me to pause and take note.

Still and barely breathing, the flutter of feathers at the edges, she was clearly alive. I surmised she was a fledging Blue Jay from the truncated tail, striped blue/black, just the beginning of a familiar tail.

Imagine what that first effort of fluttering one’s wings and leaving the nest must feel like. How many poems and stories have transformed this common experience in metaphoric language to describe separation and gaining mastery?

Often, in the spring, fledgling robins hit the windows along the front of the house. In their efforts to fly, I hear the “thwack” on the glass and run to the garden to see if a bird has fallen. There were one or two who were quite stunned but in time, regained their wits to try again.

I worried about this young one. She seemed sturdy and well fed, her coat soft and thick, her breath steady. Would she muster the energy to fly again? And if not, if she stayed through dark, what would I do?

In the moment, there was nothing to do. By dusk, just as silently as she had come, she left, leaving no trace except in memory, where she nested still.

What was it about the presence of that gentle, calm creature on the back step? As I recall her image, I breath slowly and more deeply.  Given the horrifying story of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi this past week, the fledgling Jay’s calm was a gift.

Like so many of my friends and family, I struggle with reactivity to the day’s events— they pile up, build into crescendos of anxiety. The fact that she landed on the step in the window of time when I stepped out was fortuitous.

I was drawn to her soft presence. Softness— and by extension, compassion, being the operative word for what has been missing in the day-to-day world in our October, 2018, headlines. Be it compassion for the children in “temporary” detention centers longing for family or the caravan of refugees with visions of America “The Beautiful,” this tiny creature embodied both the freedom to fly and the risk of vulnerability.

When I decided to write this week’s blog on the encounter, I wondered why I hadn’t taken a picture of the bird and had to resort to the internet for a likeness?  Upon reflection, I worried that my attempt to get “the perfect shot” might startle her.

I am grateful I had the presence of mind to step away and provide safety. In so doing, I was able  to gain perspective, as well as to write and share the meaning of the experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Truth Telling: Part Two

Christine Blaisey Ford taking oath
Thanks to Win McNamee/Pool

Is it because I am a woman, a therapist with a trained ear, who has listened to countless women with similar stories, that I believe Dr. Christine Blaisey Ford’s story?

There are so many ways in which Dr. Ford’s narrative felt compelling and believable. As television cameras rolled, her voice shaking with anxiety, I again bore witness to a sexual abuse survivor willing to walk through the trauma of truth telling—this time, to a national audience. I took note of how she paced the telling of painful details, and her deliberate effort to be even-handed in her story as she declared only what, as a highly trained psychologist and woman under sexual siege, could she ascertain.

The day we awaited the release of the FBI report to the Senate, I tuned into Rachel Martin’s NPR interview with Missy Bigelow Carr, a long-term friend of Judge Kavanaugh. She did not believe Dr. Ford’s account and could not consider any part of it as true.

  • At one point, after Ms. Carr asserted, there’s a lot of holes in the stories of Ford,Ms. Martin observed, it is common to have holes in one’s memory, that you can’t recount, necessarily, the address where it (the assault) happened.
  • Well, that there’s holes are one thing. But lies are other things.  I mean…fear of flying not true. The second door on the house —again, the data, the history shows that this—the second door was put on four years before the therapy session that apparently was about this incident.

Dr. Ford did state that she had a fear of flying and yet, acknowledged that she did fly. I understood that although the fear of flying limited her options, that in special circumstances such as trips across the country to visit her parents, work commitments, and testifying to Congress, she found a way to cope.

At one point in my life, when my children were young teens, I developed an intense fear of flying. For days before a necessary professional trip, I practiced specific coping imagery. On the day of the flight, I sat in an aisle seat to assure my mobility and during the trip, I often closed my eyes to envision safe landing and walking onto firm ground. Like Dr. Ford, I understood the power of specific strategies for coping.

Making no sense to her architect or her husband, Dr. Ford insisted on a second door years before her secret propelled the couple into therapy. The need for protection was so strong that even the embarrassment of double front doors for all to see did not prevent her from such an unusual and unaesthetic decision. The extra door meant safety and safety was all.

There is no turning back from the disregarding, vitriolic Senate Supreme Court election we have lived through this past week. Just as Dr. Ford feared, she was deemed a woman who “ruined a good man’s reputation.” She needed more than two front doors to keep her safe from President Trump’s egregious, inflammatory words in which he mocked her testimony to a cheering and raucous crowd in Mississippi. I was appalled and disgusted by his careless and hurtful rhetoric.

  • After all this, for what am I grateful? I am grateful to find the words for this blog.
  • I am grateful for Dr. Ford’s courage to stand before so many and lead the way for other silent survivors to step forth and participate in a dialogue about sexual abuse that is long overdue.
  • I am grateful to add my name to the many women and men who believe Dr. Ford’s truth and stand by her. May she stay safe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Truth Telling

Christine-Blasey-Ford

Ten years post retirement from my therapy practice, I shredded drawers of client notes— at least fifty per cent of which involved stories of both sexes who suffered childhood and adolescent molestation by a parent, uncle, cousin, boyfriend or girlfriend, priest, acquaintance or malevolent stranger.

To a person, each one struggled with the emotional burden of “double living”—that is, in the retelling, each individual faced the specific events and relived the emotions of the experience. It’s one thing to tell a therapist, a trusted preofessional trained to help contextualize and manage sudden and unexpected violence to one’s body. It is quite another to sit before an all male Senate Judiciary Committee in Circa 2018, the age of Trumpism, and reveal what up to a week and a half ago was privileged and private information.

I am grateful to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford who has bravely come forth to tell her story to the American people. Months ago, she decided to write a letter to her Congress woman in order to “do the right thing” when she realized that Brett Kavanaugh was the very person who had attempted to rape her and muffle her scream.

Dr. Ford speaks for all my sexual survivor clients, especially those who were muted and intimidated into silence and were not able to confront their abuser.

I am grateful to Dr. Ford’s therapist both for her careful note taking (which is no small task) and for her willingness to hand over her notes to Dr. Ford to ascertain credibility to her story.

This has been a cliffhanger week for me. I have been on edge since re-watching Anita Hill’s dignified struggle to answer Joe Biden’s tortured and specific questions about Clarence Thomas’s licentious “come on” in 1991. In the presence of her mother and father and loving relatives, this Baptist raised, private woman spoke truth to power and was thanked with humiliation.

I recall a family session with a client who shared her abuse as a child by a male caretaker only to be rebuffed by her mother. As hurtful as her mother’s judgment and lack of empathy were  in that moment of truth telling, my client shed her muted self and lit the growing flame of self-respect.

Judge Kavanaugh is fighting for approval so as to be appointed to the highest court of our land. Dr. Ford is fighting to maintain her self respect in sounding the alarm about allowing a man who has a history of drunken violence against a woman to vote upon protocol, procedure, and laws that will effect women for decades to come.

According to a Facebook post, here’s what Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is facing.

The Violence Against Reauthorization Act of 2013 passed the Senate 78-22. The following 6 Representatives voted against it— Senator Grassley, Senator Hatch, Senator Graham,Senator Cornym, Senator Lee, and Senator Cruz.

These Senators are NOW ranking members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and will be  questioning Christine Blasey Ford.

May Dr. Ford stay strong and speak her truth. In gratitude.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Real-Life Storytelling in Film

Grace Lee, Film Director                Ann Hornaday, Film Critic

We’ve just returned from a week of learning about voice and ownership in film, Marv’s and my fifth season at The Chautauqua Institute with Road Scholar. As a writer, I am drawn to topics that edify and explicate literary aspects of the creative process. What better way to understand process than to listen to an astute interviewer dig into the background, motivation and story of the birth of a film.

Day five, Ann Hornaday, film critic for the Washington Post interviewed Grace Lee on what prompted her to begin her film career with “The Grace Lee Project,” in which she interviewed women named “Grace Lee” from all over the country. As an Asian American who grew up in Missouri, she was the only person she knew with her first name, but upon moving to New York and California, she realized there were many women with her full name. Likening the name “Grace Lee” to the “Jane Smith of Asian-American names,” the germ of her project was born and she set out to interview Grace Lees all over the country.

When I started asking other people about the Grace Lees they once knew, they were always stereotypically perfect, over-achieving Asian Americans. They went to Harvard at age 15, were excellent violin players…devout Christians, and I was none of those things. (Chautauqua Daily)

During the making of this 2005 film, she met Grace Lee Boggs, an Octogenerian Chinese-American woman who lived and worked as an activist-writer in a predominantly African American community in Detroit. A decade later, Lee returned to Boggs at age ninety to make a film titled “American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs.”

As a writer of memoir, as a clinician who savors story, the film clips and discussion of how Grace Lee and her camera crew followed Boggs about on her daily encounters mesmerized me. Earlier in the week, listening to Ken Burns and his two writer colleagues, I learned the value and importance of weaving “stills” and back footage into the story line.

I attended Wayne University in Detroit in 1953, just at the time whites were fleeing to the suburbs as African Americans were moving into  neighborhoods. As a sociology major, I went from door to door, interviewing whites and African Americans about their neighborhood concerns. Wariness of the “other” was everywhere. I was on the fringe, unaware of Bogg’s world, encased in an academic bubble.

Lee, who had taken on the Grace Lee film as a way to research the stereotypical Asian-American as “passive,” commented how she had studied social history and the civil rights movement in college but also had never heard of Boggs. She zoomed into Boggs life, thereby transporting me to a time before the women’s movement, before Betty Friedan’s book, to Boggs’ 70 years of living in and advocating for the African American community.

After a week of film clips and discussions from film directors and writers, I am appreciative and grateful for the special visual and auditory qualities of documentary film story telling. I wish I had known about Grace Lee Boggs when I was a student at Wayne; she was such an inspirational woman. Thanks, to Grace Lee.

 

 

 

On Leadership & Compassion for Others

Ervin Staub, PhD

Sometimes, the universe offers a remedy in unexpected ways. I’ve been upset and troubled by the Trump administration’s policy to allow border agents to forcibly separate children from their parents. All my mental health training in the need for a secure, safe and trustworthy environment in raising children opposes this unconscionable policy. But what to do; how to make a difference?

As luck would have it, I’ve been on a mission to collect ceu credits. The timing was perfect to listen to Ervin Staub, Ph.D, Professor of Psychology Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, and Founding Director of its PhD concentration in the Psychology of Peace and Violence. His topic: The Leader & The Led: How the Nature of the Leader Affects Organizations and Societies.

Citing years of extensive hands on research about German Nazism, Rwanda, prison life and bullying, he contrasted destructive and constructive leadership, followed by his insights on what people like myself can do to make a difference.

Neither the vast audience nor I were surprised to learn that Trump’s path fits many elements of destructive leadership.  “Leaders are only leaders if they can attract followers,” Staub began. Underscoring the word “vision,” which, to my mind is the difference that makes a difference, he framed how destructive visions are born in response to difficult situations in society. They arise  in the ferment of decline, political chaos, societal change and ongoing conflict.

Staub stated that because addressing the real problems are difficult and/or leaders choose not to address such issues (the poor track record of Congress re: healthcare, dreamers, immigration), a destructive leader elevates himself over others by claiming that one’s own group is not responsible for the problems. Trump blames others—Democrats, Obama, Jeff Sessions, NAFTA, you name it—and with it, succeeds in cohering his group.

The self-serving elite join in while bystanders, at the risk of complicity, do nothing,he said.

He warned about the harmful practice particulars of destructive leadership—the call for loyalty, the thrust towards patriotism, the use of rejection or punishing behaviors—to encourage compliance rather than concern for all.

Destructive leadership is where we are today in the matter of refugees and border security. I, for one, cannot be a quiet bystander when, as a mental health professional, I know that without careful assessment and placement, monitoring and follow up, wrenching children from the security of family can only result in damaging effects over their lifetime.

Staub left us with the following question: How can I be an active, effective bystander who contributes to constructive change? In what domain will I act, what will I do to influence leaders, followers, the social world around me?

For myself, I write to engage with the intent of distilling and offering constructive information. I reach out to my representatives re: critical issues, support multiple causes, and for the future, I plan to explore Staub’s interview titled Bystandership—One Can Make a Difference—published in his book, The Roots of Goodness and Resistance to Evil.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Self-Compassion

Zoe & Max
Thanks to Craig

I wore my therapist’s hat all day yesterday. My brain is still percolating with the ramifications of the seminar’s subject, Self-Compassion: An Antidote to Shame, and its relevance. How do we manage the day-to-day shaming behaviors of our president and our elected officials? I see and feel shame every day.

According to the psychological research on mindfulness and well-being, the best antidote to shame is self-compassion. But how does one attend to self-compassion if we are feeling angry, disgusted, anxious, overwhelmed, worried, scared, and incredulous? How often have I responded to a news alert or a banner on my i-phone with an out loud shout: “Unbelievable!”

As a therapist, during the decade of the eighties, my most challenging work involved clients with repressed memories of early childhood sexual abuse. Shame infused every session. Empathy and compassion for the client’s struggle, developing trust and a sense of safety, were key. The goal: to enable clients to face their story and to cultivate empathy and self-compassion.

Several of my most challenging clients uncovered events, came to an intellectual understanding, but continued to struggle with esteem and lifestyle choices that might ease their suffering. Shame and self-blame, often in the remembered voice of a stern and blaming parent, held a strong grip.

I don’t think it’s too big a stretch to say that our democracy is in the grip of a blaming, self-absorbed leader who puts family and friends first. Many pundits have likened his bullying to mob style leadership with all the innuendoes of secrecy, switch and bait, “what I can get away with” behaviors. For 483 days, we have been in the throes of a man decimating President Obama’s legacy and attempting to deconstruct our institutions. Abuse, in word and deed, are rampant.

Considering how Trumpian leadership triggers fear and undermines our sense of safety, I share the essence of yesterday’s 6-hour seminar on how self-compassion can be a significant resource in managing the stress of daily events. According to the seminar instructor, Chris Germer, PhD, a member of the Harvard Medical School and Cambridge Health Alliance, self-compassion consists of three main components—

  1. Self kindness: entails being warm and caring towards ourselves when things go wrong in our lives.

  2.   Common humanity: recognizes the shared nature of suffering when difficult situations occur.    

  3.    Mindfulness: involves turning inward toward our painful thoughts and emotions and seeing them as they are without suppression or avoidance.

Ask yourself, What do I need now? Is it a cup of soothing, hot tea, a walk in nature, a good book, talking with a friend, listening to music or working in the garden before the rain comes as I did earlier today? After planting the Zahara flame zinnias and deep purple stock plants, I felt relaxed and ready to tackle this post.

In this Trump era, we need to approach information mindfully and adopt a self-compassionate attitude. In so doing, we can sustain our empathy and compassion for others like the #Never Again and #Me Too Movements, the Dreamers, the refugees at the border, the women in danger of losing their healthcare under Title 10, and the many more who are vulnerable to every day threats to their safety and well-being.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Positive Aging

 

Faye’s 86th birthday
photo by Marv

A week ago, I posted a picture of myself facing a large bowl of fresh fruits holding an “86” candle. At that moment in time, looking into the flame of light, the abundance of color and sweetness arranged by my daughter, surrounded by my husband, daughter, her significant other and two granddaughters, my heart soared with gratitude.

Several Facebook friends commented on how happy I looked. A runner/writer friend said, “Yay, interesting, the cake you Bostonians eat.” I replied, “Yes,” and delicious, too.”

Do I feel 86? No. According to recent scientific studies, accenting the positive, such as embracing gratitude, has a positive effect on aging. The May 3rdBoston Globe highlighted a Washington Post article about how our attitudes about aging can effect our aging process. .https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/cliches-about-only-being-as-old-as-you-feel-are-starting-to-have-scientific-backing/2018/04/13/4ccd9c4a-3125-11e8-8abc-22a366b72f2d_story.html?utm_term=.d130e75d145e

Paola Sebastiani, a researcher at the Boston University School of Public Health, reports, Aging well is not only delaying disease…feeling good about your life is an important aspect of healthyaging.

It turns out that I am not alone in feeling younger. One study found that as people age, they consistently say they feel younger—“much younger”—than their actual age. In truth, when I ask myself how old I feel, I’m a little flummoxed. As I look in the mirror, walk the stairs in my house, practice Tai Chi, change the linens on the bed, garden, write, discuss, plan ahead, eighty-six is hard to believe. It’s not that I’m slowing down. Of course I am, but not much. Engagement, learning, following my curiosity, sharing with others, continues on.

I was a sheltered child. Yet, on a Sunday afternoon, perhaps seven or eight years old, I accompanied my parents to a visit to an Uncle’s home where, upon retrospect, I participated in a death vigil for Great Aunt Becky. She was truly old (though I have no idea how old), lying in a double bed—tiny, emaciated, smiling wanly, waiting to die. The image never left me. The article cites William Chopik, an assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University.

Negative views about aging are communicated to us early in life, through media, books, and movies and what our friends and family tell us…These attitudes are present and pervasive already in childhood, so naturally it’s hard to enact meaningful change to these attitudes—but that’s what we are trying to do at the moment.

After many health events, I have learned about the importance of mindful listening to my body. This birthday, I decided to break a family tradition.  Because I have a history of candida and am lactose intolerant, I asked my daughter to bring dessert but to forego the family tradition of a Lizzy’s coffee-oreo yogurt cake laced with chocolate sauce. Savvy in her own choices, I was grateful for the ease in which she honored my request for a bowl of my favorite fruits including pesticide-free, organic strawberries filled with sweetness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Balm of Lullaby Road

Reading Lullaby Road
photo by Marv

Can a quiet novel written about a self-effacing, reflective character named Ben draw you in and transport you from the miasma of current events? I am grateful to my Solstice MFA colleague, James Anderson, for creating Lullaby Road, his second book about Ben Jones, a twenty-eight-foot tractor-trailer driver in the high desert of Utah who embraces the expanse of isolation and space while surrounded by characters with challenging circumstances.

I follow the poetic rhythm of Anderson’s words. There is no need to hurry, to find out what’s next. I linger, pause over Ben’s description of his route— tall grasses and twisted junipers, mountains of tires, filled with hissing rattlesnakes—as he delivers drums of water, propane, essential items to his varied customers

I rarely had sharp discussions with my customers. I rarely had discussions at all. Silence joined with indifference to keep conversation to nods and shrugs. Sometimes it almost compensated for how long it took some of them to pay me.  

Every aspect of Ben’s life—the landscape, troublesome and endearing customers, friends and loves still on this earth and those who have passed—are woven into the fabric of this novel. Yes, Ben is fictional, contained on the pages of a book, born from Anderson’s imagination. Yet, he is real and lingers long after I leave the page.

Characters, such as John The Preacher, Ginny, a teen, the Doctor, serve to speak the author’s truth. Combination philosopher, poet, human being with a high moral code, and exceptional story–teller, Anderson commits to bringing us a character of moral integrity. Ben Jones is the antithesis of Washington insiders, the subjects of our everyday news, the stories in which we are drowning.

…too damn often a gun might seem like a preserver….I considered them a tool…carrying one around all day was like putting a wrench in your pocket in case  one of your nuts came loose. In my experience it seemed that once you started carrying the wrench you started suspecting everyone’s nuts were loose except your own.

I met Ben three years ago in the pages of Anderson’s first book, The Never-Open Desert Diner.It was a page-turner, part mystery, love story and desert journey. I have been to the Southwest desert twice. Both times, I welcomed the change from the frenetic pace of the East coast as I entered the ease of meditative wanderings evoked by the landscape.

I walked out to the front of the truck and paused to watch the sun come up over the desert. …. the white expanse of snow-covered ground began to stretch out before me farther and farther until the sheer cliff face of the red, mica-flaked mesa a hundred miles distant was revealed, its flat top still obscured by clouds and behind them the first piercing rays of sunlight. And forbidding as the desert might be in summer, it was nothing compared to the silent and cold emptiness of winter…. Utah 117 ran straight through its bloodless heart. Driving it was my job…I felt safer in a natural world no matter how treacherous and unforgiving…

At the end of the day, tucked into the quiet night, I am drawn to the next phase of Ben’s journey. Satisfied and grateful for each well-crafted chapter, I sleep well, often dreaming of red adobe mountains, desert, and endless, high-country highway.

#Never Again Marches Onward

Hunter at March
Thanks to The Other 98%

Gun ownership is on my mind. This week, following the dramatic progression of the Marjory Stoneham students Never Again marches “to make change against and stop gun violence,” I shared The Other 98% ‘s picture of a Republican hunter’s March 24th poster on Facebook with the comment: “A man with perspective and conscience.”

I was grateful a local friend had posted the picture and wanted to pass it on for others to see. It felt like a breakthrough, perhaps an opening of meaningful dialogue.

As a therapist, I am always curious about what particular image or piece of information draws us in and stirs meaningful links. On the surface, I was drawn to a hopeful feeling by this man’s poster.

60—YEARS A HUNTER

50—YEARS A REPUBLICAN

I NEVER SHOT 17 DEER AT ONCE

BAN ASSAULT WEAPONS

Only when I began to write this blog did I realize my long history with hunters and gun violence.

I first encountered the violence a gun could render on the front stoop of my home on Route One in Portland, Maine. My parent, especially my mom, was protective. It would never have occurred to her to shield me from sitting on the front stairs. Every fall, I watched a parade of deer strapped to station wagon rooftops as hunters drove homeward from the Maine woods. I had no words, just the raw instinct of a child’s first sight of a bullet wound circled in blood on a gentle “Bambi’s” chest. Years later, this poem emerged.

Along Route One, Portland Maine, 1939

Five years old, on the front steps, as

she watched the parade of cars, she saw

a gentle “Bambi,” her legs splayed & roped,

riding atop a station wagon.

 

Curious about a deer asleep on a car,

it was when she saw the next, its head slack,

its body dripping dried blood, that

she winced as though that shot

had gone straight through herself.

 

She wanted to run

but her eyes could not turn

from that endless caravan of prey.

Years later, she would learn of other carnages.

Already, she knew to cry.

Only once, on a trip to Alaska, to visit a friend and colleague, have I been party to men shooting guns at close range. Our host, a liberal and Alaskan enthusiast invited us to join a friend’s dinner party to try “bear” steaks. Because I had cut back from eating meat, I was hesitant but drawn to what was described as an “Alaskan adventure.” When the brown-crusted steaks were served, I took one taste and pushed my plate away. It was far too tough and gamey.

But the highlight, for the four men, was the opportunity to target practice in the backyard with a pistol and live bullets. I watched from the window, repelled and repulsed by the sight. Even for “fun,” watching through a window at a safe distance, the shots rang straight through me.

I’m grateful to the committed teens who have lived their lives under the threat of school shooting violence and who continue to stand firm in their #Never Again resolve.

 

 

 

At The Piano: Trusting My Instincts

Faye at piano, photo by Marv

There is no doubt that the practice of jazz and blues grounds me every day. The rhythms, the pivot of note sequences, their unexpected sounds, delight, challenge, and frustrate me.

Old habits, dormant all the years of absence, awaken as I tackle a new piece. One cannot approach syncopated rhythms or swing with the same mindset as the repetitive rhythms of a simple Bach sonata. Yet, my mind leaps in search of predictability.

What is predictable is the need for focus and effort. To become acquainted with a new piece, I sight read. I try on the piece, test my ability to follow the upper clef melody or lay down the rhythms in the lower clef. The decision to dig in and learn the piece is mine. As an adult learner, I make the choices based on appeal and intuition. Unlike the strict tutelage I endured as a child, I am as responsible for strategy and questions as my teacher.

The work is demanding, requiring inordinate patience with myself. I have been here before— at the crossroads of embracing a challenge, wondering if I have bitten off more than I can chew. The irony of learning jazz and blues is that the simplest, most basic pieces are boring.

Parts of my first book by Martha Meir, found at a local music store, were challenging enough to lead me through the frustration of fingering and counting new rhythms into a sense of possible mastery.

With increased confidence, I purchased Meir’s books 2, 3 and 4. Book 2 called out to me immediately. The piece, Misty Night Blues, infused delight like the first taste of hot fudge over vanilla ice cream. Since beginning lessons, I’ve learned to trust my instincts. Without knowing how, I make choices that work well for me.

During yesterday’s lesson, after playing a piece, Kim, my teacher, asked, “Did you notice any funky rhythms?” I had, acknowledging that I had “faked” or improvised one measure. Rendering the mix of an eighth rest, sixteenth and eighth notes all in 4 beats had frustrated and eluded me during practice sessions.

Kim reached for the music, took out her pencil and drew a straight line between every note and signature in the top and bottom measures. As I followed Kim’s mapping, my hands eased over the keys. I came away with a new keenness to tackle the “funky” parts of two other pieces. Jazz and blues demand precision. I must, in effect, contain my impulse to improvise until I master what the composer intended.

Some days, the Trump era news is so rattling, I fear I will not be able to concentrate. But once at the keyboard, beginning with a piece I know well, allowing my mind and body to merge and become entrained into the sound of coordinated rhythms, I am grateful to engage in possibility.