The First Performance

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Today the students of Studio de Chaos are taking the stage to perform some selections they have been working on this term for their friends and families.  It will be a day filled with music, fun, and excitement. But for some, there will be a few hours of anxiety and nerves, and uncertainty.  I have a lot of first time performers this year -who have no idea what to expect.  And these kids are nervous.  Excited but nervous.  Walking into the unknown can be a bit scary.  Explaining what is going to happen can only prepare them for so much, because something different happens to us each time we walk on stage. Sometimes its magical, and sometimes it isn’t. But its always an adventure.  So we take a breath, and hold our heads confidently, and we walk on stage just like we practiced so many times before.

But there are things we can do the day of the performance to make ourselves feel a bit more calm and confident. Here is my to do list on performance day:

  • Eat a breakfast that has not a lot of refined sugar – oatmeal is a good choice.
  • Something warm to drink is always nice, though Im not sure how many six year olds drink tea. But for me, a cup of tea rather than coffee is helpful.
  • Do a short practice in the morning, I would rather you not play the songs you are going to perform this afternoon, but if you feel you need to play them one more time – then do that.  No more than 5 minutes on those songs though.
  • If you are feeling nervous, read a chapter of a fun book.  Or tell someone a few jokes.  Laughter is great for relaxing the nerves.
  • Go for a walk at some point this morning. Pay attention to what you see, smell, and hear.  I expect all of you to be doing this at some point – and I want a report.
  • Most importantly, I want all of you to come prepared with a prank for the reception afterwards – because this holiday will be about fun and pranking!

I understand that sometimes we don’t feel up to playing in front of an audience, and that’s fine. If you feel like you cant do it this time, then stay and watch and learn from some of the other students. And if you feel like going up afterwards – we can arrange that too.  The recital is supposed to be fun.  It doesn’t always have to be serious.  And when the time comes, and you don’t feel like playing the song that we rehearsed, but want to tell a story or a joke, or a dance routine -then that’s fine too.  Anything goes!

The reward will be great today!

*Photo Source – David Vidmar via flickr

 

 

 

 

 

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One Year, One Hundred Books

Back in January, I had made a goal of reading 12 books in 2017, mostly because I thought I should be more social.  That didn’t exactly happen. Being social is beyond difficult for me. Staying at home, being quiet (and alone) is preferred. So when I quickly passed my reading goal of 12- I decided to double it, and then double it again, and double it again – and now here we are, almost at the end of the year – and I have just finished my 100th book.

This is what I have discovered from my year of reading:

  • Reading with a number in mind is only fun if you are doing it for sport.  When someone else is doing the same kind of challenge, its fun and a bit bloody. But when they drop out, it gets a bit tiresome.
  • When you fall behind your count goal, and you need some quick reads, it may seem smart to pick some easier books. Im not talking Young Adult or Kids books – because they can be both challenging and awesome. Im talking about crap produced by Charlaine Harris and the like. Don’t fall into this trap. It’s not worth it. No reading goal is worth the pain of reviewing the books you read this year, and seeing those titles pop up. It doesn’t matter that you can read a book in an afternoon. These books are garbage, and they do nothing for your brain. Unless you are on a beach – or you like those kinds of books – don’t let my snobbery or attitude stop you from reading them. They are popular books, they just aren’t my thing.
  • There is a disturbing lack of diversity in my reading this year.  A mistake that I will not make again. I’m quite ashamed of this.
  • The majority of the books I read were fiction – not because I don’t like non-fiction.  Just the opposite actually, I love non-fiction.  But I really felt that I needed to work on my empathy this year, and other than talking to real people – I don’t know of a better way to practice being an empath.
  • Carrying a book with you everywhere will help you to read more.  Also if you like people, they will come up and talk to you about what you are reading. If you choose to read in a pub (I like to do this), be prepared to be called a nerd by drunk patrons.

Here are some stats on the books I have read this year:

  • 47% of the books read were written by women
  •  44% of the books I read, were read on an e-reader,  26% of the books I “read” were audiobooks,  16% were paperbacks, and 14% were hard covered books.
  • Most productive reading month – October – 13 books read
  • Least productive reading month – December – 3 books read (so far)
  • 44% of books read were loaned from the library
  • 20% of books read were memoirs
  • 16% of books read were proper non- fiction
  • pages read 30,656
  • 21 books read were rated 5* (5 being the highest rating possible by me).
  • My favourite book read this year was The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure
  • My least favourite book read this year was Love Warrior by Glennon Melton.

If you want to see my list of books that I read this year – here it is, the good, the bad, and the ugly (anything hi-lighted in yellow is an unfinished book, that I plan to finish in 2018).

Or you can find me on Goodreads

 

The Practice

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Playing guitar doesn’t come easy to me these days. Almost all aspects of playing have become challenging – even areas where I once excelled at have become foreign and a bit enigmatic.  Which is why a daily practice has become more important than ever, to me.  I’m slowly adding my old pieces back into my repertoire, but am cautiously adding new to me composers as well.  For someone who has invested almost her entire life to the playing of classical guitar, there are some huge gaps in my knowledge of guitar music. For instance, almost the entire baroque repertoire, with the exception of the Bach cello suites.  So I have added this Weiss Fantasie into my practice.  And surprisingly, I am beginning to love it.

For those of you who are interested – this is what my rehab practice looks like.  I try to get in an hour a day. Sometimes I am unable to play that long – and sometimes I want to play more, but I know that if I push it too much, the pain that will occur will be too much for me to handle, and I will have to take several days off – and I cant afford that.

  • Arpeggio exercises – 10 minutes.  I do this instead of scales, because its easier on my hands, and it gives my brain a workout, when I progress past the standard PIMAMI
  • Sarabande by Francis Poulenc – its a simple piece, but its quite difficult to master.  Its meditative and somber.  It was my dog Charles favourite piece, and when I play it, I can feel him next to me, keeping time with his tail.  Its a great warm up. Usually I play this for 10 minutes.  Trying to get the tone as even as possible.
  • Suite no. 1 – Richard Rodney Bennett – A suite of Pieces for the early intermediate student. Structurally there isn’t much happening, but the soprano and bass voices are written in different keys, which makes playing a bit challenging.  But mostly its brain work. Usually by this point my fingers are warm and about as agile as Im going to get in the practice session.  So the set of pieces usually flows fairly well at this point. – 2 complete tun throughs- plus any extra practice where its needed.
  • I am now halfway through my practice session. At this point I choose a couple of pieces I have had in my repertoire for years, and I choose a passage or 2 in each to deconstruct and re-learn.  I usually do about 10-15 minutes on this.  Usually this is an older contemporary piece, it might go back as far as Mauel de Falla’s Homenaje, or some thing from the Four Pieces by Frank Martin, or probably one of the many pieces I have learned and loved by Leo Brouwer.  The only requirement here, is that it had to be something that was at one time, performance ready – and had to have been played in front of an audience.
  • The remainder of the hour is devoted to new work(s).  I have several in rotation.  Weiss, Bach, Stephen Dodgson, Richard Rodney Bennett, and Scarlatti.  I usually work on a phrase or 2.  Because I usually have between 15-20 minutes left in the session – learning new works is a slow business for me.

This time of regimen is new for me.  I used to be the type of musician who would skip warmups.  I hated scales and other technical exercises (I still do). I didn’t think technique was necessary.  Ah youth – so stubborn, so wrong!  In the past, I was the master mistress of thoughtless practice. I’d just play whatever was sitting on the music stand. I was a really good sight reader, so I didn’t have to think about what I was doing – I just did it, and I could get away with minimal amounts of practice.

Im in a very different situation now, I actually have to think about alternating my fingers. They don’t do it on their own anymore.  When you have to put that much thought into movement, playing becomes laboured, heavy, and clumsy. There really isn’t any way to make it sound good. So you have to look at your practice in a new way.  Instead of reclaiming a new skill. I have chosen to look at is as an adventure through history. Which is why I am trying to close the gaps. It’s going to take me a long time – since I am lucky if I can master 1 single measure of a new piece in one practice.  But if you aren’t aiming to get better, you are getting worse.

So I deem it to be worthwhile.

 

A Very Nerdy Christmas Tree

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First it must be said, I am not a great fan of family holidays. They bring a lot of anxiety for me. Christmas is especially rough.  Most years I try to just ignore it. But this year, if feels like people have been preparing for this holiday since August. And while I am not exactly on jumping on board the Christmas train, I thought I would make the teeniest effort this year.

My apartment building does not allow natural trees, and I will never purchase a fake one.  So I usually go without. This year, due to my lack of bookshelf space more than anything, I decided to make a book tree. It looks a bit haphazard and lopsided, and that it may collapse at any moment, but I assure you it is structurally sound.  Besides I kind of like a quirky and not perfect tree. If you want perfection, go search pinterest– there are plenty of examples that will meet your needs.  But for me, a little chaos and a whole lot of imperfection suits just fine.

If you want to know how I did it – here is the breakdown.

  • Sort your books into 4 piles, large hardcovers, medium and small hardcovers, large paperbacks, and medium and small paperbacks
  • Put your largest book in what you imagine is going to be the centre of the tree.  My largest book is the Random House dictionary from196?  Its humongous!
  • Put your next largest books in a circle with the spines outward- make sure there are spaces in between each book – so that the corners of each are only touching
  • For each layer, lay the book in between the two below it
  • Use your largest books for the first few layers, and then move onto smaller and lighter books the further you go up
  • After you have created a sort of wall around your centre book, put box on top – that you can build your tree around
  • When you have finally reached the top of your tree, you can add a topper -I think most people use a star or an angel
  • Wrap some lights or garland around the tree – remember that if you choose to use lights, that paper is flammable, so make sure you keep an eye on it. Don’t leave the lights plugged in for long periods of time.

What I love about my book tree, is that not only does it free up much needed shelf space, and gives me a constant reminder of my very large to be read list (currently at 57 books), but it helps to remind me that its ok to take some time out for myself, and read or do some other solo activity when Im feeling anxious and overwhelmed.  Plus it lets me display my grandfather’s christmas ornaments from when he was a boy.  The snowman that sits on the top of the tree once belonged to him.  He is missing his nose, and there is a sort of noose around his neck – which is how he is usually hung on the tree – but I wouldn’t change him.  I love him, just how he is.

I have  a lot of books left over, so I think I might rebuild the tree tomorrow, and make it quite a bit taller. Which will give me an opportunity to restring the lights, clearly I need some practice in that area.

In celebration of reading 100 books this year, I rebuilt my tree – so it now consists of all the books I own.  And now it looks like this:

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The Renaissance – Part Deux

 

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It’s good to shut up sometimes ~ Marcel Marceau

This is not a time to be quiet. In fact the opposite is true. It appears that it is  our time to speak, yell, take action. To do anything but stay quiet. People who have endured abuse are coming forward to tell their stories. Stories of which we should not be ashamed of. There are so many, these stories are bringing down powerful people, and people who just abuse what little power they have. But people of both genders have come together to say #metoo – and from what I am reading, its working, people are taking their power back.

I have not been shy of talking about my experiences with abuse. It’s not easy to talk about – and my history with it is complicated.  But I don’t want to talk about sexual abuse, or my relationship with it. Rather a type of abuse that is not so easily defined, by me. Emotional abuse is something I am still struggling with- and for a long time I didn’t view it as abuse at all. I thought of this person as someone who knew more than I did, and who shared his rules of conduct passionately, eventually that passion became a bit constricting, and then over time became threatening.  This is where I am now. But lets be honest, it was emotional abuse right from the start.

I use social media mainly as a way to connect to people, to friends that I have had for a long time, or with people that I share common interests with.  I am completely authentic online, as I am in the “real world”. I find no reason to pretend to be someone else. So if I am sharing that I had a breakthrough, it really happened – and if I am sharing that I am having a really bad day, you can believe that I am really struggling.  So I don’t find it terribly productive, when someone I used to know sends me incredibly toxic and threatening emails, calling me “pathetic” or a “sick fuck” or referring to the fact that I am mentally ill, and that I am hurting people by being honest about who I am, because he is unhappy with my online presence. We aren’t connected on any of these platforms- he is seeking out my content, without my permission.  If I was really worried about what people thought about me, then I would just post videos of puppies being puppies.  But I am not a puppy, I am a person. A person who has passions and interests, and emotions. I have good days and bad days. I have people who care about me, and people that I care about. I don’t have time for someone who sends me threatening and hateful emails, just because he is too cowardly to post his comments publicly. This is not an invite to post nasty comments, I truly have no interest in reading anything negative towards me or the people I care about.

In the weeks that have gone by since I last heard from this individual, I have gone through some stuff. Most of that stuff is fear. Then fear led to growth, which has developed into some strength. I can handle things now. But during the time I was experiencing fear, I wasn’t afraid for my personal safety – it was something a lot more personal than that. The fear paralyzed my creativity. I lost the ability to express myself. And this is unforgivable. I have a business where my imagination is my most important tool. If I am unable to create, tell a story, come up with new ideas, then I don’t have a business to speak of.  Fear took that ability away from me.  These are some of the things I experienced, and what I did to get my creative self back. Continue reading “The Renaissance – Part Deux”

Studio De Chaos

IMG_1432Studio de Chaos is open for business starting in September. Its been a long year plagued with uncertainty and injury and lessons. Many many lessons.  Here is what I have learned:

1. I am not me if I am not playing guitar let alone teaching music.

2. This injury I have has basically put me at level zero of playing.  I do not sound like how I should. However, its given me a gift – I now know and understand the frustrations of the beginner.  The callouses, the awkward hand positions, the inconsistencies, the triumph of getting that measure perfect 4 times in a row, just to blow it on times 5-19 to get it almost right again on attempt #20.  Empathy is a good thing, and will get me back to where I need to be – at least on the teaching end of it.  Im still working on the patience side (for myself).

3. My imagination hasn’t gone anywhere. My imagination has always been the strongest asset to my guitar career.  I spent an entire year reading books just so I could at least keep one part of guitar game going.  And if my practice session this morning is any indication, its going to be a really fun year of telling stories while we learn some classical music.

4. My mental game may be strong – but my physical one is not – so I need to add more exercise to my daily practice. Strength training – along with a whole lot more physiotherapy here we come!

Im getting excited about the coming year – I have lots of ideas, and I am super excited to share them with new students.  And for everything that I have lost, I have gained so much more.

So if you are interested in an unusual approach to studying classical guitar, and live in Vancouver, BC – I may be the solution you are looking for.  Call 604-679-1731 to schedule a lesson. Ask for Laura.

I’m Back, Babies!

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There are very few photos of me where I am smiling or resemble anything that identifies as happiness. And there have been even fewer smiling photos than usual this year.

But today I was given some wonderful news, I saw my orthopaedic surgeon – who gave me the go ahead to play guitar *regularly*. Some of you may know that I am a classical guitarist, who has for the last several months (which felt like 10 years) has not been able to play due to a bone fragment from my elbow wrecking havoc with the ulnar nerve.

I got the swelling down to an almost manageable amount (its decreased in size by half), and my movement is good. Although, I am still struggling with rotation of my arm, in both directions.  There is not a whole lot of feeling in my fingertips -but that should come back in time.

I probably should mention that I am playing because of twice weekly physio and acupuncture sessions, and once a week lesson in Alexander Technique. I have a lot of work ahead of me, but I am celebrating this milestone. I have worked hard. HARD!

Anyway, today is a really special day  – I am excited and happy.  I sound absolutely terrible, but I must tell you – its the most glorious sound in the world.

I practiced for 28 minutes. 17 of those minutes were actually spent playing.  I aim to be playing an hour a day, by the end of September.

Im so happy.

The Killing Season

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the source of anxiety

Its 3AM and I have just woken from a recurring nightmare. I’m covered in cold sweat, I desperately need a shower, but I can’t move from my bed. It is hard for me to move around when its so dark outside. In fact, I have started going to sleep before the sun sets, because it feels safer. But I’m kidding myself. I don’t sleep, not really. Sleeping an hour or less at a time isn’t really sleep. It definitely isn’t restorative. I go to “sleep” so early, to stop myself from thinking about my past.

It’s May, and this is when my PTSD symptoms are the strongest. Historically its been like that. The more I try to cope with them, the worse it gets. Its at a point now, where I am unable to answer the phone (something that I need to do for work). I have to force myself to go outside, but unless I am wearing the darkest sunglasses -that filters out all colours, I can last about 5 minutes. Its just too green here. And green is harmful.

I don’t know why this time of year is so hard. While I remember just about every detail of my rape (I was a kid)- I don’t have any idea of when it happened. It could have happened in May – it was a warm day after all.  No one was wearing a jacket, and the sun was out. But this is the time of year where its hardest to breathe, hardest to stay calm, hardest to sleep, and hardest to function like a normal person.

But I am approaching an anniversary of something else. Something that I never talk about. There are only two other people who even know it happened besides myself. One, my doctor who explained to me what happened, and a friend who I am no longer in contact with – who tried to help me figure out why it happened,

Several years ago, I was raped by my boyfriend.  Note  – this is my very first time calling this rape.  We had been dating for about six weeks, and during an intimate moment  he decided that he had waited long enough. I didn’t stop him. I was unable to speak. I was paralyzed with fear. Frozen. It was not my first time. But I was not ready. We hadn’t established a ring of trust where I was comfortable enough to be with him. After it was over, the sheets of my bed were covered in blood. He freaked out, and I spent the next 3 hours crying in the bathroom, He later told me that it wasn’t his fault. That the way men are wired, once they are aroused they can not stop. It is inevitable. This was my fault.

I knew about date rape, but I didn’t consider what had happened to be that. I hadn’t been drugged – and that is pretty much how I thought date rape occurred. I certainly didn’t think that boyfriends did this to their girlfriends. Which is why I didn’t consider it to be abuse of any kind. A girlfriend took me to see a doctor, when I told her about what happened. How empty and devoid of meaning it was. How it hurt. How there was so much blood. I was adamant that this was my fault. At that moment I didn’t think he had done anything wrong. He had patiently waited for six weeks.  I owed him this.  These were my thoughts. Other than him telling me that men can’t stop once they start – is the only thought of his that I know about – regarding this situation. I have no idea if he has ever thought twice about this. He broke up with me two days later.  It would have been earlier, I am sure -but I couldn’t pick up the phone.

It took a visit to a doctor, a visit that I never want to have to repeat because it was so humiliating, to learn about consent. That while consent is mostly verbal it can also be physical. I learned that what my boyfriend said to me was not actually true. That just because you are in an intimate moment – if you are scared (and by scared he meant paralyzed by fear)  partners pick up on this. A loving partner will not want to hurt you. That they will take that moment to discover what is wrong. its an opportunity for conversation. To make you comfortable, because that will be important to him.

I run into that “boyfriend” now and again.  He was a new girlfriend or wife. He always introduces me as “Tiffany”. I have no idea why. That isn’t even remotely close to my name. But it hurts me just a little bit more when he does it. That I wasn’t worth just a little bit of effort to properly remember my name. I am more angry at myself than I am at him, now. I wont confront him about it. I just need to make peace with it.

I don’t talk about that time of my life, because I don’t like to remember how naive and stupid I was/am. This story gets worse before it gets better, I am sad to say. But eventually I find some strength.  I moved on from that time.  But occasionally it comes up (like it did tonight), and I struggle to make sense of it.  As for the childhood stuff – I will never make sense of it. That doesn’t feel real, even though it is the most real thing that has ever happened to me.

Most of the time, I can recognize the strength it took to survive this – and the other stuff (and there is other stuff- stuff just as dark that went on for a long time), but right now these thoughts feel like they are killing me. They are attacking me from all sides, when Im not looking.  They are in my dreams, I feel them around me always.

I want to walk in the sunlight.  In order to do that, I need to crawl out from under the covers, and show my face to the world. Here I am. Please be kind.

** Photo Source- Filipe Fortes via Flickr

 

What’s Behind Door Number 1

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When I was a kid, I was obsessed with doors. Behind doors lay magical worlds. Talking creatures that were not human lived just on the other side, colours not found in our world existed there, grand adventures were to be had, but most of all behind special doors there was a place where anxiety couldn’t survive.

In the house I grew up in, closets were a special fascination. My house had huge closets.  Walk-in closets, closets that could be used as clubhouses, and hiding places. Closets that could be used to escape from the noise. These were places where I could escape from myself.

These closets were big enough to drag in cushions, and mattresses, and pillows, and piles of blankets.  I could bring in a stack of books, a flashlight, and mugs of iced tea, and I would be happy there for days. Sometimes I skipped sleeping in my own bed just so I could stay in that world a little longer.

Today the start of (what I call) the PTSD season snuck up on me.  It does so every year. I don’t ever realize its approaching until its here – and I have a panic attack so bad that I don’t think I can survive – in case you are wondering, I did survive.  But I am now aware that for the next 6-10 weeks, life is about to get a bit more challenging.

And right now, the only thing I want, is a closet big enough to drag in an air mattress, and take a flashlight, some books, and a big mug of iced tea, and move to a land (albeit temporarily) where anxiety doesn’t exist.

*Photo Source- Stewart Chambers via flickr

The Power of Believing (or lack thereof)

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This is me. I don’t always look like I this, but I pretty much always feel like how I look in this photo. Scared, exhausted, and like I have just gotten my ass kicked. Also I pretty much always feel like I am six years old.

Over the past couple of years, there has been a great deal of change in the way I see myself. I have had a great deal of help from both professionals and friends- and I have come along way. But there is one area that needs a great deal of work still. I don’t actually believe that I am deserving of a good life. Professionally I mean. I have made great strides in my personal life – but I kind of forgot that there is a whole other part of my life that needs attention. And so recently I started thinking about this area.

I am a classical musician – but due to injuries I am unable to play music. I have had a teaching practice -that I have set aside for awhile, since it wasn’t working out the way I had planned, and I am was a member of a quartet, that has just started to do a lot of performing. Since I am  unable to play (until at least July 1) I had to find a replacement.  I have a lot of practice ahead of me, if I am to come back to where I was as a musician  -and we don’t quite know yet if I will get there, even with all that work.  My musical life is the only place I feel validated.  When I play music I feel like I am contributing. I feel valued and respected. This is all on hold now, while I heal. And all of these feelings have gone away.

I also have a day job. And this is where my problem lies. I have dreams. Professional dreams. I want a job that is creative. I want a job that makes me happy. I want a job that challenges me. I want to be able to feel good about what I do. And I want to enjoy going to work everyday. I have none of these things. Why? Because I don’t actually believe that I should be allowed to have them.

I had great role models growing up. I grew up in a house, where not only did my mother work, and work hard, but she was incredibly successful. She made sure that I knew that I could do anything I wanted. She instilled a sense of independence in me. That stuck  -I am incredibly independent. I don’t need help from anyone. I can take care of myself. And I do. But I am unhappy.

A long time ago, someone treated me like a garbage can (actually worse-but its too painful to talk about). And that feeling stuck. I have never been able to shake it off. I don’t believe people unless they say terrible things about me.  I just don’t think they are truthful unless they are telling me I am useless. Probably why I can’t actually count on anyone to be sincere, unless they are angry at me. I feel better when I have goaded someone into telling me that they don’t like me. I have done this to my own family, more times than I can count. I know this is self destructive behaviour. And I have worked so hard in order to move past it. I have successfully culled toxic relationships, and built healthy supportive ones. For the first time in my life, I have a support system in place. And yet I am still broken.

I work hard.  But I am unable to ask for simple things like a raise. Or for a job that I would be better suited at. I can’t even quit a job that I don’t enjoy, or one that I am not good at. I am not afraid of rejection – I have had plenty of rejection in my life.  But I can’t even bring myself to be put in a position of rejection. I am unable to do anything – because I am terrified. Paralyzed. Afraid of being happy.

Because I am a garbage can. Suited only for containing trash.