Sunday, October 27, 2019

THE DEVIL TO PLAY

I thought for several years that there was a book called The Devil to Play about French horn playing, but when I finally went to look it up, it was called A Devil to Play and it wasn't quite what I was thinking it was. I decided to order it anyway, along with two other books that should help me improve my horn playing.
Lately, every lesson I have had has resulted in some breakthrough, large or small, that has led to my ability to reach some of the higher notes with greater ease and fluidity.  It has been a combination of practicing on top of the refrigerator, which seems a strange approach, but the refrigerator in my office, which used to be my parents' is at exactly the right height so that I can set my horn on top and practice playing it entirely with my embouchure which means no hands, just open notes, and the work I have been doing with my teacher to strengthen my embouchure.
Two days ago during my lesson, I went higher more easily than ever before, and yesterday during my practice, I did it again and astonished myself. Hearing those high, clear notes reminds me why I first chose the French horn, and it also recalled a scene from two Christmases ago, when I was learning the solo part written for a soprano saxophone for "O Little Town of Bethlehem," arranged by Dan Forrest. It was an extremely challenging piece particularly in terms of timing, but I worked on it endlessly and gradually mastered it.  When we rehearsed it at choir practice, and I made it to the final note, the choir director held it much longer than it was written. When he finally cut it off, he told me that my tone was so beautiful he didn't want it to end!  To paraphrase Mark Twain, I could live a year on a compliment like that, especially since I was myself enraptured by the sound of that sustained note.
All the work and the lessons culminated today in playing at the Mass which was offered for my husband on the seventh anniversary of his death. I had a very productive practice session before I left for church, when the high notes again seemed to be easier to reach--and more buoyant, as my teacher says).  So I told myself that I won't get flustered any more when I'm playing pieces that I have practiced endlessly, and I didn't. When I was waiting for Mass to begin, the choir director went back to find out what the homily would be about so he could choose a hymn for Communion that will echo that theme, and he came back and told me we would do "One Faith, One Hope, One Lord." I practice that nearly every day but can still see it as my nemesis, and at first my heart sank. But then I realized that I had practiced it perfectly that morning and that there was no need to be perturbed. I then sailed into the high E in the Sanctus with great verve, and played the Communion anthem confidently. When we got to the final hymn, "Holy, Holy, Holy," I play a trumpet solo which has a high B which is held for nearly two full beats, and we play three verses. I had no fear and enjoyed playing it, neither worrying about the different timing nor the notes nor the four sharps, and I am convinced that Wes was listening and probably liked my playing even better than the angels' (but then they were probably only playing harps)!

Sunday, October 20, 2019

"HOMESICK FOR A PLACE YOU'VE NEVER BEEN TO"

When I was following a thread in my Mission Accomplished coaching group, we ranged over pressure, comparisons, crustless sandwiches and hair.  Many of us struggle, fight, and at times are overcome by our hair.  When I was in college, the look was long and straight, and my best friend had it.  When she first met me (in the woods behind my house), it was a typical New Jersey high humidity day, and my waist length hair was twice its volume thanks to the frizz (neither waves nor curls) that caused her to tell me later that she thought I was the Wild Woman of the Woods--and she called me that till the day she died. To achieve some semblance of the correct look, I would put it in a pony tail on top of my head, roll it on four huge orange juice cans, and sit under the hair dryer (the big bouffant style) for a minimum of three hours.  If it rained, or the humidity skyrocketed, the effect would disappear and the Wild Woman of the Woods would reappear.  Eventually I discovered that if I had it permed, I could wash it and wear it, pick it out and have a head of curls with which I finally made my peace, although after 10 months I often put it up on electric rollers and get 4-5 days of a softer curl. I have some gray, but not enough that I have really thought about coloring it, unless I put a little cobalt blue in there. Any of my children that I have mentioned it to either haven't believed me or don't care.  
One of my daughters dyed her hair purple (she didn't bleach it and you could barely see the purple) and then realized she was meeting with the man who was in charge of her college scholarship the next day.  When she told my husband at their weekly lunch how worried she was at how she would be received, my husband told me later that he hadn't really noticed that she dyed it, and that the man she was to meet had undoubtedly seen every possible permutation of hair color and style in all his many years of dealing with college students. He probably didn't notice it either.
But my kids are used to the fact that I seldom fit inside the "norm." They had to start making their own school lunches when they were in second grade (and some of my friends made their daughters' lunches in high school). Crustless sandwiches were a waste of food, and they had to eat the whole crust. I figured it gave them stronger characters, and they all have pretty strong characters as adults. One of my daughters who now has six children of her own told me that she understands why I only took them to the beach once a year!
I often felt trapped by the school schedule and the doctors' and dentists' appointments and all the other things I judged I had to do.  It may have been one of the reasons I decided to homeschool the last two in grade school. I could set my schedule, decide on the curriculum and when we would do what.  I drove my husband crazy when I homeschooled my daughter, and I'd give her the assignments for the day and the we'd roll dice to see which one we'd do first, second, etc. Those were adventurous years!
I came across a quote yesterday that I had cut out of somewhere and put on the binder cover of one of my collections of my poetry, which expressed many of my feelings of wanting to be somewhere other than where I was. "Every dreamer knows that it is entirely possible to be homesick for a place you've never been to, perhaps more homesick than for familiar ground."--Judith Thurman, "The Hand of Distance." 
I bought a book on moving to the country when I was near despair over the struggles with my parents when they lived with us.  My dear husband finally said, "But I don't want to live in the country. I like the suburbs."  And I realized that I didn't really want to live in the country; at times I wanted to escape from the situation that I was in. And there were other times, when I would be coming back from taking the children to school, driving down our suburban street, and I would think, this is what my mother did when I was little, and I would experience an odd sense of contentment because for all our differences, we had chosen a similar kind of life, and I had a sense of a delicate balance that could be disrupted, but because of a husband who believed that my happiness was even more important than his, I had a great sense of the worth of our lives and an awareness of the small moments that stunned me with their beauty, like the day I turned the corner on the way home from the school run, and plunged into a whirlwind of Monarch butterflies passing through so that I slowed down and drove along with them as if I were surrounded by a glorious cloud of orange and black wings escorting my gold chariot of a Suburban back to my miraculous home.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

THE POVERTY OF DIVORCE

I can remember my husband saying that one of the greatest causes of women living in poverty in the United States was no-fault divorce. Although he was a litigator and corporate lawyer, he tended to be a compassionate father-confessor to many of the women who worked with him and saw them struggling with financial as well as emotional issues after being abandoned by their husbands.  
When he taught each of our six children to drive, he began by telling them that in the state of California, parents of children between the ages of sixteen and eighteen can have their teenager's driver's license taken away for any reason or no reason. And that is what can happen with marriages now: one spouse, usually the husband, can divorce the other for any reason or no reason. This necessarily leads to a deep instability in the institution of marriage where husbands and wives can feel as if they are walking on eggs because at any moment the person who promised to love them until death can break that vow and leave. If there are children in the marriage, the instability has deep repercussions for them: not only is their family split apart, but the fact that their parents don't love each other any more can easily lead them to doubt whether their parents love them. And in many cases the parent who walks out of their home also walks out of their lives.
I understand the mentality that drove the push for no fault divorce, where women were caught in abusive marriages and often seemed unable to escape.  But as my husband also used to say, hard cases make bad law and the resulting apparent revolving door approach to marriage has resulted in far more chaos and heartbreak. 
Since I began volunteering as a team presenter on Beginning Experience Weekend retreats for the widowed, separated and divorced, I see the devastation wreaked by separation and divorce in a landscape littered by broken promises and dreams, and abandoned spouses and children who are deeply wounded. Being involved in a ministry that reaches out to enable participants to begin healing has also made me thankful that I am a widow, since at least I know that I was faithfully and passionately loved. The law teaches as well as legislates, and what it is teaching now is that marriages are disposable; it is time to bring back some protections to those who are most at risk with this perception, the abandoned spouse and children.

Monday, October 7, 2019

FAREWELL TO DRAGON CITY! (ALAS!)

I realized about halfway through this week that I had missed posting a blog last week, and I would like to say that it is all the fault of Dragon City. Dragon City, the game introduced to me by one of my granddaughters who was going through a rough time, which I started playing because I could send her gifts through the game.  It seemed like such a simple thing, and pretty soon some of my other grandchildren were playing it and we could check and see which dragons we had and what level we were on, how many jewels, and how powerful our dragons were getting.  When I got the beautiful Crystal Dragon, I thought I had finally arrived. 
Now, some of the Dragons were truly hideous and fierce (although they were good for defeating other dragons), but my heart was with my beautiful dragons, and when the game introduced a K-Pop dragon, I asked two of my Korean grandchildren to name him.
But I also noticed that I had become addicted to playing, and actually had two Dragon Cities, one for each of my email addresses, which meant I was spending twice as much time playing, and not always getting to things that were far more important. In addition, I seldom had much interaction with my grandchildren in Dragon City--they had moved on to other things, and I was getting increasingly obsessed with it.
Then, last week, just as I was closing down my computer before I left for a business conference in Palm Desert, I found an email that said someone had one of my passwords and that unless I paid a ransom in some form of cryptocurrency (not Bitcoin), they would release all over the internet all the bad things I'd been doing in front of my computer.  Since all I do in front of my computer is work or play Dragon City I didn't feel impelled to pay any ransom (and I wouldn't have paid it anyway, even if I had heard of the cryptocurrency demanded), I shut down the computer and took it off the internet until I could deal with it when I returned.  In the meantime, I emailed my daughters, sons-in-law and son to see what they had heard about this RAT (remote access trojan) virus.  From what I read, the virus gets in when one clicks on something like an Adobe Flash update that is not from their website, and I realized I'd done this any number of times when I started playing Dragon City. I assumed that because I had originally downloaded it from their website, that it was all good, and I was very wrong.
It took me hours of work when I returned home to deal with the virus; hours on the phone with Cox, who supplies internet to me, and hours on the phone with Apple (10 AM till 6 PM one day) to dig into the inner workings of my iMac to track down every trace. We deleted reams of stuff that I didn't know I had, which helped speed up the computer, and it has given me the impetus to start deleting more things that I know I don't need.
I haven't been tempted to go on Dragon City since I learned about the virus. Today at Scripture study, when we were continuing to delve into the Gospel of Mark, we came to the passage where Jesus says if your hand or foot causes you to sin, to cut it off. As our Scripture scholar noted, the Catholic Church forbids self-mutilation, and what Jesus meant was to cut out of our lives anything that leads to sin. While I don't know that playing Dragon City was sinful, I do know that I have accomplished so much more just in the week since I stopped playing it. So today I deleted the game from both my Facebook accounts and my phone.  And I am preparing for blast off into the productivity zone!