Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve

On the last day of 2009, I've taken some time to review where I've been, what I've been doing, and what I've learned over the last decade. I realized that in the last decade I've lived in 12 different apartments, 7 different cities, had 3 different boyfriends, 4 different cats, and been in 2 different degree programs. I started to think about how many different jobs I've had and realized I didn't have the patience to figure it out. Between office jobs, teaching jobs, and singing work, it adds up to a lot! At the end of 1999, I lost a beloved grandmother and my dear stepmother. I was fraught with so much anxiety that I suffered a number of crippling panic attacks. In the beginning of the year 2000, I lost my other grandmother and also that year made a career move that allowed me to quit my job in a hotel catering office so that I could work full-time for myself as a voice teacher in my home. I had no idea that the next decade would not only take me out of Rochester, NY, where I had lived for nearly a decade already, but all over the country: New England, the Midwest, and California!

I had no idea that each time I moved to a new place I would have to start all over again, that it would take a great deal of time and patience in each place to establish myself as a singer and a voice teacher. I had no idea how difficult it would be to be so far away from home, from my family and friends, and I had no idea how terrible the grief would be in losing my two elderly kitty cats who had been like children to me for much of my adult life. I didn't know that experience would not make it easier to survive another break-up, that the emotions of losing a deep and valued friend could be so agonizingly painful and intense even with the additional benefit of age and wisdom. I didn't see ahead to the ways in which my body would break down and the resilience that would be required of me in order to keep up appearances in my various circles.

One of the most important things I have learned this decade is that laughter is essential. I am very grateful to my last boyfriend not only for teaching me just how healing laughter can be, but more importantly, how many places one can find funny things on the internet! Also, I have learned from a number of people I work with that we all have our burdens to bear and it *is* possible to put a smile on your face and do your job in spite of them. In fact, I've learned that often right action leads to better feelings. I've learned that ignoring problems does not make them go away and I've learned that I need to take what other people say at face value even if it's not what I want to hear and even if there is part of me that doesn't think what I'm hearing is true. Also, I've learned is that if there's something I want for my life, I have to make it happen. I have to be brave enough to admit that I want it and take action and not wait for someone/something else to help me or worse blame the world for the fact that it hasn't happened.

I have also learned that I am not always a good person. I make mistakes and I hurt people, even though I don't mean to or want to, and I have to own up to that and take responsibility for it. And, everything is not black and white, as my mind sometimes wants it to be. It's rather unlikely that at any one time *everyone* hates me, even though sometimes I think that is the case. It's also unlikely that everyone I encounter thinks I'm the "dog" that everyone apparently thought I was in high school. It's possible that some of the people who have told me they think I am beautiful are actually telling the truth.

I guess this sort of summarizes much of what has changed about me over the last decade or so. I used to think that at some point everything was going to fall in place, that I'd find someone who would rescue me and then everything would be alright. What I've learned is that in those times I thought things were good because of someone else, that sense of security was faulty. Also, things are always in process and, I think, the more you are able to live with your own imperfections and the imperfections of those around you, especially those you love, the happier you will be.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

My favorite vegetarian holiday recipe

Cheese, Rice and Vegetable Strudel
Based on a traditional Russian dish called "Koulibiac", this makes a
perfect vegetarian main course.

Serves 8

Ingredients:
7/8 cup long grain rice
2 tbsp butter
1-2 leeks thinly sliced
8 oz Gruyère (or cheddar) cheese, grated
8 oz feta cheese, cubed
2 tbsp raisins
1/2 cup chopped almonds or hazelnuts, toasted
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
10 oz package frozen filo pastry, thawed
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Cook the rice in boiling, salted water for 10-12 minutes, until
tender. Drain, rinse under cold running water and set aside. Melt the
butter and cook the leeks and mushrooms for 5 minutes. Transfer to a
bowl to cool.

2. Add the well-drained rice, the cheeses, raisins, toasted nuts,
parsley and season to taste (be careful with the salt as the feta
cheese is very salty).

3. Preheat the oven to 375F. Unwrap the filo pastry. Cover it with a
piece of plastic wrap and a damp clot while you work. Lay a sheet of
filo pastry on a large piece of wax paper and brush it with oil. Lay a
second sheet, overlapping the first by 1 in. Put another sheet with
its long side running at right angles to the long sides ofthe first
two. Lay a fourth sheet in the same way overlapping by 1 in. Continue
in this way, alternating the layers of the two sheets so that the join
between the two sheets runs in the opposite direction for each layer.

4. Place the filling along the center of the pastry and shape it
neatly with your hands into a rectangle approximately 4 x 12 in

5. Fold the pastry over the filing and roll it over, with the help of
the wax paper, so that the join is hidden underneath.

6. Lift the strudel on to a greased baking sheet and tuck the edges
under, so that the filing does not escape during cooking. Brush with
oil and bake for 30-40 minutes, until golden and crisp. Let the
strudel stand for 5 minutes before cutting.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Songs

I really can't think of a darn thing to write about, but I do have some more songs posted on my MySpace page, so I'll put that link HERE just to write something...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

fix you

when you try your best but you don't succeed
when you get what you want but not what you need
when you feel so tired but you can't sleep
stuck in reverse

and the tears come streaming down your face
when you lose something you can't replace
when you love someone but it goes to waste
could it be worse?

lights will guide you home
and ignite your bones
and I will try to fix you

high up above or down below
when you're too in love to let it go
but if you never try, you'll never know
just what you're worth

tears stream down your face
when you lose something you cannot replace
tears stream down your face
and I will try to fix you

(coldplay)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Neruda makes me weep

When I die I want your hands on my eyes:
I want the light and the wheat of your beloved hands
to pass their freshness over me one more time
to feel the smoothness that changed my destiny.

I want you to live while I wait for you, asleep,
I want for your ears to go on hearing the wind,
for you to smell the sea that we loved together
and for you to go on walking the sand where we walked.

I want for what I love to go on living
and as for you I loved you and sang you above everything,
for that, go on flowering, flowery one,

so that you reach all that my love orders for you,
so that my shadow passes through your hair,
so that they know by this the reason for my song.

SONETO LXXXIX

Cuando yo muera quiero tus manos en mis ojos:
quiero la luz y el trigo de tus manos amadas
pasar una vez más sobre mí su frescura:
sentir la suavidad que cambió mi destino.

Quiero que vivas mientras yo, dormido, te espero,
quiero que tus oídos sigan oyendo el viento,
que huelas el aroma del mar que amamos juntos
y que sigas pisando la arena que pisamos.

Quiero que lo que amo siga vivo
y a ti te amé y canté sobre todas las cosas,
por eso sigue tú floreciendo, florida,

para que alcances todo lo que mi amor te ordena,
para que se pasee mi sombra por tu pelo,
para que así conozcan la razón de mi canto.

Pablo Neruda, 1959

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hi!

Neighbors

I knew that my last apartment must have had pretty thick walls, because I could never hear my neighbors, but I guess I didn't realize just how lucky I was until this morning at 5:45am when my kitty cat started crying incessantly and woke me up. Finally, seeing that she couldn't be appeased by petting and soothing words, I got up and turned on the light, gave her some food, brushed her, and even gave her some kitty treats. Still, she roamed around the apartment crying and sniffing at the wall. A woman neighbor was having a heated conversation with someone on the phone and even jumped up and down a few times. Nashira was trying to figure out where she was. She was really distressed about it. She still is. It's only 6:23am. This has only been the second night we've spent in the new apartment and I really have no other complaints. It's a great place. But Nashira is still getting used to the new sounds coming from all sides. Well, I guess I'll make some coffee and start unpacking my books...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Packing

I'm packing up my stuff today so I can move into my new apartment tomorrow. I have never been so poorly prepared for a move. I can hardly believe how slowly I'm going with all of this. I am normally super organized about moving. Part of what is difficult here on this busy city street is not having my car right in front of my apartment to use easily. That means I have to do several more runs just to get boxes, walking down the street with a huge stack of boxes in my hands. Well, now it just occurs to me that when the "NO STOPPING" / "TOW ZONE" period ends on my street this morning, maybe I can park my car there... Anyway, I guess I'm dragging my feet because I'm finally moving out of the place where I lived with someone I loved for two years. In a way, I am excited to start fresh in a new place of my own, but I can't help also being sad to leave behind all my old hopes and dreams -- and the fun and good times we had here. But alas, it is time to get cracking.

**UPDATE: One trip to the grocery store in my car was all I needed to get more than enough boxes. Yay!**

Friday, September 25, 2009

Shower the people

You can play the game and you can act out the part,
Though you know it wasn't written for you.
But tell me, how can you stand there with your broken heart
Ashamed of playing the fool?
One thing can lead to another; it doesn't take any sacrifice.
Father and mother, sister and brother,
If it feels nice, don't think twice.

Shower the people you love with love.
Show them the way that you feel.
Things are gonna work out fine if you only will.

You can run, but you cannot hide.
This is widely known.
What (do) you plan to do with your foolish pride
When you're all by yourself alone?
Once you tell somebody the way that you feel,
You can feel it beginning to ease.
I think it's true what they say about the squeaky wheel
Always getting the grease.

They say in every life,
the rain must fall.
Make it rain.
Love is sunshine.

- James Taylor

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Hypercementosis?



I have no doubt that this is super dorky, but I just got this panograph done the other day and think it's kind of neat and weird and crazy. My dentist thinks I may have hypercementosis at the roots of two molars on my lower left side. I guess that's not a huge deal. The picture is pretty neat, though.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Funny Church Stories

It's common practice in the Catholic church during the part of the mass when you say the Lord's prayer to hold hands with the people on either side of you. And if not, people usually hold their hands at their sides with their palms up in a gesture of reception or don't hold their hands up at all. Last Sunday I was cantoring the late mass at my church and when we got to the Lord's prayer, the priest, who was a visitor to the parish, held his hands up in front of him in a way that made him look like he was getting arrested. It was all I could do to keep myself from laughing. For whatever reason it just struck me as hilarious. This is not an uncommon occurrence for me in church. Because the ritual is so particular, when someone makes a mistake or does something different than what you expect, it can be hilarious. I have often thought it would be very amusing to collect stories from other singers about their experiences in church. I have been a professional singer for a Presbyterian church, several Episcopal churches, a Christian Science church, and a Catholic church. I have sung or played violin for weddings for people of many more traditions. The funniest things have definitely happened while cantoring for the Catholic church and I suppose that is because the expectation for uniformity is the greatest and the room for error most wide. I'm finally at a point where cantoring is enjoyable for me and doesn't make me incredibly nervous, but there was a long time when I was so afraid of making mistakes that I almost couldn't avoid them and then those mistakes would lead to more mistakes. And usually the mistakes were pretty funny (singing the wrong word or something) and I had to keep myself from laughing at what I had done. This happened mostly when I was not familiar enough with the music and was trying to look up at the congregation while singing. One time I lost my place in the music and when I looked back down for some ridiculous reason what came out of my mouth right at that point was "Wah wah wah wah". I was simultaneously mortified and at the verge of uncontrollable laughter for the rest of the mass. Moments like that make me wonder whether Hollywood could sell a movie called "The Cantor". Do you have any funny church stories? I would love to hear them. :-)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Privacy vs Exhibitionism

Having a blog is kind of weird if you're the kind of person who wants to write about personal stuff, because where is the line between a healthy amount of privacy and sharing things that are appropriate? I know there are only a small handful of people who are even aware that I have a blog, let alone read it on any sort of regular basis, but still I wonder sometimes if I've said too much. People vary a lot in their tolerance for sharing private things, too. I am pretty liberal with what I share most of the time, but then later I will get embarrassed when I think about how different people will interpret what I've said. Sometimes I write a post and then delete it. Sometimes I have to seriously assess whether I am saying something out of a desire to get attention, a need for love, some sort of exhibitionist tendency, or a genuine desire to communicate something interesting. I think in many ways this is what makes it more desirable to write blog posts about non-personal topics.

I remember the first time I went to a counselor. I was in college. My best friend/roommate and I discovered that we could get 12 sessions for free covered by our school health insurance, so we both thought it was worth trying. It was the first time in my life when I talked about a lot of the stuff that had gone on in my life up until that point and I found the process of trying to sort through things and analyze my resultant behavior to be very interesting. We spent a lot of time talking about our sessions and I also found myself talking a lot about my feelings to other friends and family. It took many years for me to realize that spilling everything in such a way is not always appropriate, that sometimes I need to filter what I talk about with people for my own sake as well as for the other.

I am still sorting out what feels ok in terms of what I write about on my blog. I guess it's a process that will take more time. In the meantime, I will be thinking about more non-personal topics to write about.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mom's backyard

I wish this picture included the backyard bunny, the chipmunk, squirrels, cardinals, chickadees, goldfinches, and Bearsie, my mom's kitty, or the other half of the yard, but you can definitely get a sense of how beautifully green it is. :-)



I guess I was pretty deep in thought... I would love to put pictures from my visit with my cousin and her adorable son, but I think I should ask her first. I don't want to violate her privacy. In the meantime, here is a picture of me at the playground. Too bad I didn't get any pictures of me and my mom together. Looks like I was alone the whole vacation... but I wasn't. You'll have to just imagine the other people.



*By the way, my mother is the expert photographer who took these pictures. :-)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Nose Mystery

I have always wondered why my nose looked totally normal as a child and then at some point during high school became crooked. Did I break my nose at some point? Today I have figured out what happened and I am so weirded out. When I was in high school and had braces, I also had a palate expander. A good friend of mine from Boston told me a long time ago that when he had his palate expander, it actually broke his nose, but I never put it all together. I just did some online research and discovered that your palate is the "floor of the nose" and using a palate expander will expand and change the appearance of your nose. Does that mean it might make your nose look like it was broken? I'm thinking yes. Holy crap. This is what I found:

"The palatal expander works to spread the bone suture on the palate, which is also the floor of the nose. Depending on the amount of spreading of the palate, the nose can definitely get wider. If excessive widening occurs her entire facial appearance can change... When excessive widening is necessary to reach the goal, surgical intervention is often used to assist in the movement and minimize the amount of facial change... The only way to regain a more pleasing anatomical appearance will be with plastic surgery."

(from http://en.allexperts.com/q/Dentistry-966/2008/1/palate-expander.htm)

I don't really know what happened. I looked so normal as a child, but then I got crazy crooked teeth and went through an incredibly long awkward phase with braces and glasses and the works. I've always thought that as an adult, with contacts and relatively straight teeth, that I look ok, especially since I look so much better than I did during my super awkward phase. I mean, I guess I really needed the braces, so having a crooked nose now is probably a small price to pay. But I had no idea that part of what fixed my teeth "broke" my nose. Weird. Should I get a nose job to fix it?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Syracuse

There is something really cozy about being in Syracuse. I'm sure part of it is the feeling I get being around my parents and my best friend -- the comfort I feel in my mother's home surrounded by the things that remind me of family and of the past -- but I think another part of it has to do with the trees here. All around me at every level, everywhere I go there are trees of many varieties, in all shades of bright green. They surround me with a loving layer of bright, verdant protection. California is a gorgeous place of stunning beauty, but the vegetation is very different there. The climate is arid and the colors are much more varied, including green that has been turned to straw by the heat of the sun and lack of ample hydration. The green vegetation here in Central New York feels like home. There are trees with an active community of bird and squirrel residents surrounding every human home. Bunnies, chipmunks, and myriads of other small creatures live in every neighborhood, under every house, in every back yard. Soon, here in Central New York, the weather will get much cooler and the leaves will turn red, yellow, and orange. The air will begin to smell of sweet maple sap and its crisp coolness will invigorate the senses. And I will go back to San Francisco where flowering bushes, trees, and plants will continue to thrive all throughout the winter in my concrete neighborhood. I'll be happy to see flowers outside in January, but I'll be sad that the only birds I'll see on my block will be pigeons and the only small creatures I'll see will be rats and cockroaches.* There is something nice about not ever having to deal with extreme weather, something good about not having to change plans or activities because of snow and ice, but I have to admit I miss the seasons and especially the Fall in upstate New York, where autumn is a very special time of year.

*The truth is, I can see much more vegetation and wildlife if I go to the beach or the park, but I won't see any of it in the neighborhood where I live. And, I'm hoping my new apartment will not have the rodent and insect problems I have had at my current residence.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Labor Day

It used to really bother me when people in my family suggested we go to restaurants and stores on Thanksgiving or Christmas, because I hated the fact that people had to work on those days. My intense feelings originally arose the year I was required to work Thanksgiving day at the country club where I was employed as a waitress. I was so angry that I was forced to serve rich people on a day when I should have been at home with my family that I'm afraid I didn't do my job very well. Later, as I have been employed by churches that have required my service on Christmas eve and Christmas day, I have realized a couple of things: one, that where I work is my choice, and two, that not everyone celebrates the same holidays I do, so going to an Indian or Thai restaurant on Christmas seems more ok to me now (but still, of course, not as good as eating a home cooked meal...). Today, I find myself thinking about many of the same things. Labor Day is supposed to be a nationally recognized day off, but how many businesses are actually closed? And, how many low wage earners need to work today so that they are able to pay the rent? I have mixed feelings about organized Labor. If every union operated like the University of Wisconsin's TAA, I would be more supportive, but it doesn't seem to me that that is the case. However, generally, I would definitely say I am pro-union. The Musician's Union has helped my parents' orchestra fight for a fair wage for decades. The struggle for decent wages, working conditions, and health care goes on. Today I'd like to do my part to recognize those who have to work today, those who earn minimum wage or less, those who work several jobs just to break even, and those who are forced to work boring, repetitive, or dangerous jobs because that's all they can find in this economic climate. And I'd like to give thanks for my fortune in having found work singing and teaching, and working in the office of a very hip environmental non-profit. Happy Labor Day, everyone!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Needing to let some light in

Sorry for all the darkness, folks. Ian left me a week ago, just after the end of my most successful opera performance ever. I was called "excellent" by the San Francisco Chronicle! But, alas, I have been devastated and barely functional for the past week. I could use some support right now.

That said, I am really enjoying having more time with my kitty cat, Nashira. She is so awesome and it is so nice to finally get more cuddle time to myself -- and more play time and brushing time. Also, I have to say, it's really nice to be able to wake up in the morning and turn on the light -- and the radio!

Thanks for listening. On my way out... here's a poem my best friend sent me:

"Movement"

Towards not being
anyone else's center
of gravity.
A wanting
to love: not
to lean over towards
an other, and fall,
but feel within one
a flexible steel
upright, parallel
to the spine but
longer, from which to stretch;
one's own
grave springboard; the outflying spirit's
vertical trampoline.

-Denise Levertov

Also... I need to re-do my list of blogs from scratch. I'll work on it soon.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Grief.

denial anger bargaining depression acceptance

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I sorry...

I am doing a really crappy job of keeping this blog up. It has been a really busy summer for me. I wish I could think of something interesting to write about quickly. But everytime I write a blog post of any quality, it takes me a couple of hours. Oh well...

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Getting To Know You

1. What's on your feet?
2. What is the last beverage you consumed?
3. What will you be doing in 2 hours? In 12 hours?

(me: 1. Terra Plana Vivo Barefoot tennis shoes; 2. Water with Cranberry Electrolyte Stamina powder in it; 3. Teaching a voice lesson; Sleeping)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

If You Forget Me

I want you to know
one thing.

You know how this is:
if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats
that sail
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

Well, now,
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.

If suddenly
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you.

If you think it long and mad,
the wind of banners
that passes through my life,
and you decide
to leave me at the shore
of the heart where I have roots,
remember
that on that day,
at that hour,
I shall lift my arms
and my roots will set off
to seek another land.

But
if each day,
each hour,
you feel that you are destined for me
with implacable sweetness,
if each day a flower
climbs up to your lips to seek me,
ah my love, ah my own,
in me all that fire is repeated,
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
my love feeds on your love, beloved,
and as long as you live it will be in your arms
without leaving mine.

(In Celebration of Pablo Neruda's Birthday)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Help Find Jack!


If you live in the San Francisco area, please download a picture of Jack, the partially blind kitty who was recently stolen from the SF SPCA, and put it up somewhere in your neighborhood.

From the SPCA press release:

He is a partially-blind kitten, who depends on his brother for many of life's necessities.
He is particularly vulnerable and we are gravely concerned for his safety and well-being.

Visitor!

My friend, Jake, came to visit over 4th of July weekend! It was fun to experience San Francisco through the eyes of a first-timer, although it was a little too cloudy for my taste during most of his stay. I keep forgetting that July is the month when it really gets cloudy here. One thing that visitors always seem to comment on is the hills. Not only do they create challenges in walking from here to there, but they also provide lots of beautiful vistas at various points throughout the city. I didn't take any pictures, but perhaps Jake will post some of his somewhere?! :-)

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Lost Day

Today I had an upper endoscopy, a procedure in which my doctor took a camera on a long rubber tube and shoved it down my throat to look at my esophagus, stomach, and part of my small intestine (a procedure he routinely prescribes to people like me, who have had acid reflux for more than 5 years). I had to be sedated with a drug that made me very sleepy and only semi-conscious during the procedure (something I have never experienced before). I sort of remembered the procedure right afterwards, but basically I have no memory of what happened. The narcotic (and amnetic) drug I was given made it so that I felt really drowsy and out of it for the entirety of the rest of the day. It has been a really weird day. I came home and after eating a bit and catching up on email, I fell asleep for 4 hours. So much for going back to work. Then I went out and got some food, read a few internet articles, and sat in bed some more. My throat is quite sore in one spot, so much of what I ate was ice cream and apple sauce. Finally after Ian came home, I ate a little (including some butter he made...) and we watched an episode of Futurama. I feel like if I had a cup of caffeinated tea or coffee, I could finally start my day. Unfortunately, it's 10:42pm. I wonder if I'll be able to sleep?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Bonk

I normally am pretty careful to only post about subjects I think anyone at all who knows me (friends, family, coworkers, musical colleagues, students, etc.) would be comfortable reading, since this blog, although not read by all that many people, is still totally public and easy for anyone looking to find. Unfortunately, in order to review the last book I read, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, I would have to change that pretty drastically. Sex is a subject I have always felt very comfortable talking about with other people who are also comfortable talking about it. Unfortunately, I've found, there aren't a lot of people who are all that comfortable talking about it. Suffice it to say, the book was very interesting, hilarious, and something I would recommend to pretty much anyone who is interested.

Friday, June 26, 2009

MJ

Thanks for the music, Michael Jackson. May you rest in peace. Oh, and the moonwalk. That was pretty awesome.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Getting To Know Your Leftovers

1. If you don't finish your plate at a restaurant, how often do you take the leftovers home? If you do take them home, do you usually end up eating them?

2. If you order take out and don't finish everything you ordered, how likely is it that you will finish the leftovers in the next day or so?

3. If you are eating a plate/bowl of food at home and don't finish it, but think you might eat it later, would you consider putting the plate/bowl in the fridge "as is" until later? or would you insist on putting it into a tupperware or other sealed container?

4. Do you eat cold pizza? Do you normally reheat leftovers?

5. Do you have a microwave? If so, do you use it a lot?

6. Have you eaten any leftovers today? If so, what? If not, when is the last time you ate leftovers?

(me - 1. Almost always. yes.; 2. Pretty likely; 3. I would probably just put the plate/bowl in the fridge until later; 4. I am not opposed to cold pizza. The only things I usually reheat are dishes with rice.; 5. No, but I used to have one and I used to use it a lot.; 6. Yep - a little Burmese and a little Indian. Yum.)

I realize this is kind of a random topic...

Monday, June 22, 2009

Phidylé

The grass is soft for slumbering
Under the cool poplar trees,
By the slope of the mossy springs,
Which in the flowering meadows
Sprouting in thousands,
Lose themselves among the dark thickets.
Rest, oh Phydilé!
Noonday on the leaves
Sparkles and invites you to slumber!
Among the clover and the thyme,
Alone in the full sunshine,
The bees hum in their flight;
A warm perfume fills the air
At the turn of the paths,
The red poppy is drooping,
And the birds, grazing the hill with their wings,
Seek the shade of the wild rose bushes.
Rest, oh Phidylé!
But, when the orb,
Descending in its brilliant curve,
Will cool its smoldering heat.
Let your loveliest smile
And your tenderest kiss
Reward me for waiting!

- Leconte de Lisle

Saturday, June 20, 2009

i thank you God for most this amazing

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any--lifted from the no
of all nothing--human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

- e.e. cummings

Friday, June 19, 2009

Sleeping in the Forest

I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.
I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed,
nothing between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths
among the branches of the perfect trees.
All night I heard the small kingdoms
breathing around me, the insects,
and the birds who do their work in the darkness.
All night I rose and fell, as if in water,
grappling with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.

- Mary Oliver

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

With That Moon Language

Admit something:

Everyone you see, you say to them, "Love Me."

Of course you do not do this out loud, otherwise
someone would call the cops.

Still, though, think about this, this great pull in us to connect.

Why not become the one who lives with a
full moon in each eye that is
always saying,

with that sweet moon language,
what every other eye in the world is dying to hear?

- Hafiz

Monday, June 15, 2009

There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground

Today, like every other day
I wake up empty and frightened.
Don't go to the door of the study
And begin to read a book.
Instead, take down the dulcimer.
Let the beauty of what you love
Be what you do.
There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

- Rumi

Monday, June 08, 2009

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

by Mary Oliver

Friday, June 05, 2009

O boundless, boundless evening

O boundless, boundless evening.
Soon the glow
Of long hills on the skyline will be gone.
Like clear dream country now, rich-hued by sun.
O boundless evening where the cornfields throw
The scattered daylight back in an aureole.
Swallows high up are singing, very small.
On every meadow glitters their swift flight,
In woods of rushes and where tall masts stand
In brilliant bays.
Yet in ravines beyond
Between hills already nests the night.

(Text translated by Christopher Middleton, from the German of George Heym)

Friday, May 29, 2009

My Readers, My Friends

A note about how I know the last 15 people who commented on my blog...

Steph... is Suze's cousin. She is a writer and yogi. I have never met her in person, but I love her blog. I hope to meet her someday!

Suze... I met Suze in grad school at UW-Madison. She is a pianist, activist, amazing cook, gardener, and mother of two adorable children. I was officially (by email) introduced to her by my friend Jay, who is the best friend of an ex-boyfriend. He introduced us because Susan was the music department steward for the TAA (grad student union). We were co-stewards from then on and later became musical collaborators, too. I think it's about time for another recital, Susan. Don't you? :-)

Jake... I met Jake because we both worked at Church of the Redeemer in Chestnut Hill, MA as section leaders for the choir during the last year I lived in Boston. He is an excellent baritone who has a cool fancy day job, too. We have remained friends since I left, although our contact has been primarily via the internet. He is coming to visit me soon, though! Yay!

Celeste... Celeste and I sing together in a choir called Volti. She has a lovely alto voice and I love singing with her. She is also a physicist. I hope I don't have to wait until the Volti season starts up again until I see her again. She is way cool.

Andre... Andre and I went to the Eastman School of Music together. He is a composer and teacher. We have given each other much inspiration in the form of poetry and song throughout the years. Andre wrote me a beautiful song once. It's been much too long since I've seen him. I guess I'll have to drive down to LA one of these days.

Rob... Rob was three years ahead of me at Eastman and in the same class (and same primary/secondary major) as my older brother. He is a composer, entrepreneur, and father. I met him at a fraternity party. He recently came to San Francisco where I sung a set of his pieces with Volti. It was great to see him, Victoria, and Dylan!

Chris... Chris and I went to Eastman together. He is a flautist, teacher, and new father. He lived next door to someone I dated during my freshman year. We became very good friends in school because we have a very similar temperament (I think so anyway...). We played on a concert of Dana M's music several years ago. He lives much too far away. I wonder when I'll see him next?

Janine... Janine was a teacher at the school I worked at the last year I lived in Boston. She specializes in outdoor education. She is super funky. Her sister lives in San Fran, so I know I'll see her one of these days!

Scott... Scott was a student at UW-Madison while I was also a student there. He is a composer, teacher, pianist, and new father. We sang together in the madrigal group and I sung some of his pieces once, but I don't think I ever performed them. I should. I'll have to find them first... That sounds like a good weekend project!

Tom... Tom and I met in ninth grade. We were both super nerdy drama/music geeks. We got into a big fight in 11th grade, which made the rest of school until graduation suck. I'm glad we're friends again. He is a teacher of the deaf. I just know he is going to come and visit me one of these days, but if not, I'll surely see him again when I am next in Syracuse.

Yuhri... Yuhri and I went to Eastman together. She is a pianist turned techie, writer, comedienne :-), and new mother. I think we took a creative writing class together, but I'm not sure. I remember that Yuhri was always in the computer room using email long before I had an email account. She was always way ahead of everyone else. She lives in south bay. I will have to coerce her into some musical collaboration one of these days.

DJ... is my mom. I met her in a hospital in Syracuse a long time ago. :-) I'm pretty sure she's the best mom ever. She is a violinist and photographer. Her kitty, Bearsie, had surgery this morning. It went well. We are hoping for a speedy recovery!

Jesse... I met Jesse because he and Ian used to work together. He is a computer programmer and entrepreneur. He and his wife, Emily, are good friends who have made living in San Francisco a much more enjoyable experience. We like to eat, drink, and play Rock Band together and hopefully will do so again before long.

Dana... Dana and I went to Eastman together. She is a composer, pianist, and the mother of four adorable children. I sung some of her pieces on a concert in Cleveland a few years ago. She has since moved to Wisconsin. Hmmm... who else do I know in Wisconsin?

Terri... I met Terri at my current office job, where she used to work as a Project Manager. She is a scientist and musician. We got together one time and sang songs. It was really fun and we should do it more often... like as soon as she moves to her awesome new house?!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Oggles of Otters

For a really long time I have been going on and on about how I've wanted to go to Moss Landing to see the sea otters.

I saw a picture similar to this one:



and another one like this:



and decided that sea otters were the cutest animals on the planet and that I really wanted to see them up close in person. I found out that Moss Landing, which is less than 2 hours from San Francisco is where they hang out and dreamed about the day I'd have the time to go and see them.

Yesterday, my dream came true. Ian and I both had the day off and he suggested we drive to Moss Landing! Then, he discovered that we could kayak in Elkhorn Slough. We saw lots of sea otters, seals, and tons of birds: cormorants, pelicans, caspian terns, marbled godwits, various ducks, and a large white bird I couldn't identify even later with my bird book (maybe a whooping crane?). Also, there were some ground squirrels on the beach and, of course, pigeons and sea gulls.

It was really, really cool. A very fun trip indeed.

**PS - An oggle is a new word Ian made up for a group of otters. :-)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Food For Thought

"The opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith is poverty of the imagination." - Father Frank

Bearsie

Friday, May 22, 2009

Getting To Know You Again and Again (and enjoying it!)

1. What are you reading?

2. What's the last movie you saw?

3. Where are you right now?

4. Who's the last person you chatted with - or spoke on the phone with - or texted?

5. Do you have any plans for Memorial Day weekend?

(me - 1. *If Only They Could Talk* - James Herriot (which is known as *All Creatures Great and Small* in the US, I think. I am reading an edition which was published in the UK.); 2. *When Harry Met Sally* (I don't think I had seen it since I wrote a paper on it in college. I compared it to Woody Allen's *Annie Hall* for my *Hollywood Heroines in Film* class.); 3. Sitting at my desk at work.; 4. Terri (chat), Ian (text), Ian (phone); 5. No, but it's likely we'll see a movie.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Get Well Soon, Mr. Bearsie Bear

My mom has had quite a rough year. Not only did she lose two sweet kitty cats, but now her other kitty cat, Bearsie, is having health issues. Since I don't think I've ever told the story here of how Bearsie came to live with my mom, I thought this would be a good time.

Many years after I adopted Vana and Jezebel, I discovered another kitty was living under my house. I was living in Rochester, NY on Meigs St. on the first floor of a pretty dilapidated house. I noticed on several occasions over one winter that I could hear a kitty meowing in the basement, which had a dirt floor and was only accessible by pulling up a board on the side of the house and walking down a handful of rickety steps -- or, I discovered, through a broken window on the other side of the house. But, alas, every time I went to find this kitty, he was no where to be found. Occasionally I would see a few neighborhood cats hanging out together on one porch or another. I remember distinctly that there was a brown cat who was missing one eye. Then I started seeing another brown cat who looked much like the one I called one-eyed Jack, but who was a bit fuller with both eyes intact. I remember seeing him under the boughs of the great evergreen in the neighbor's yard the following spring and carefully tiptoeing over and then getting down on the ground at a distance to say hello to him. One day, after doing this a few times, he came up to me and let me pet him. I was so excited that he finally trusted me! After that, he would often come up onto my porch looking for some food and I would oblige. One day, I came out onto the porch to find him sitting with an opposum! In my ignorance (and lack of coherent thought) I found myself worried that the opposum was going to give him rabies and tried to scare him away with a broom. I remember watching the opposum's stupor and wondering why he wasn't moving and then later feeling like an incredible idiot once I realized that obviously he was playing possum. But I digress...



A number of months went by while I fed him on my porch. My boyfriend at the time, Randy, decided he should be named "Big Head", for some reason. I, on the other hand, started calling him "Little Bear". Bear was always a very sweet cat and the more I got to know him, the more I noticed that he was in great need of seeing a veterinarian. The most obvious reasons were that he had a number of wounds on his head and very dirty ears. I knew, though, that if I were to take him to the vet, I would also need to take him in. I had rescued several cats since adopting Jezebel and Vana, but never liked the idea of taking another cat in, because it didn't seem like we had the room or that it would be fair to the other kitties. I had been lucky in finding homes for the other cats, but I had run out of people to ask by the time I met Bear. I decided finally that I would take him in early in the year 2001. The vet treated him for worms, fleas, ear mites, and had to pop a couple of enormous abcesses on his head from infected fight wounds. I'm pretty sure he also stayed that day to be neutered, but I don't recall for certain. When he came back to the apartment to move in with us, Jezebel swiped her paw at him to show him she was the boss and Bear rolled over on his side and submitted to her. It seemed to me that he must have been very glad to be in out of the cold and in a place with someone who wanted to feed him and take care of him.



In late summer of 2002, I moved to Boston to start graduate school at New England Conservatory. In the process of moving I had to leave all three cats at my mom's house in Syracuse until I was able to move into my new Bostonian apartment. I knew after seeing the very small apartment I was to live in that it would be hard even with two cats, as we would be confined pretty much to one bedroom and very little common space. I proposed the idea to my mom that maybe she could take Bear for a while. She didn't have any pets and had never had a cat. Being the awesome mom that she is, she agreed to take him, not quite sure how things would go. But, in no time at all, mom and Bearsie grew to enjoy each other's company very much. They still do. In fact, I can hardly believe there was ever a time when he wasn't my mom's cat.



We don't really know how old Bear is, but his many years on the street probably added more than a few. He's got a kidney stone and a stone in his bladder, and now most recently a mass was discovered in one of his kidneys. I know he's going to be okay, because he's a super trooper, but he's going to need lots of TLC. And so will my mom.

My mom has a special request of you! When you think of Bearsie, don't think of him as sick. Think of him as well. Imagine him frolicking! Thank you! :-)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

I am not there.

I have this poem in my head. It's in one of the sets we're singing this weekend.

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am in a thousand winds that blow,
I am the softly falling snow.
I am the gentle showers of rain,
I am the fields of ripening grain.
I am in the morning hush,
I am in the graceful rush
Of beautiful birds in circling flight,
I am the starshine of the night.
I am in the flowers that bloom,
I am in a quiet room.
I am in the birds that sing,
I am in each lovely thing.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there. I do not die.

The poem is by Mary Elizabeth Frye.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What would you do?

What would you do if someone handed you a check for $30,000 addressed to you to use as you needed it? What would you use it for?

(me: I think I would use it to pay off part of my student loan debt.)

Friday, May 08, 2009

Getting To Know You

1. What are you reading?

2. What's the last movie you saw?

3. When is your next totally free day?

4. Where are you right now?

5. What are you looking forward to?

(me: 1. One Renegade Cell: How Cancer Begins - Robert Weinberg; 2. Star Trek!; 3. Sunday, June 14th? (not sure); 4. Sitting at my desk at work; 5. Reading my book at lunch and eating lunch...)

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Word game

I guess I'll play again...

1. Water is in short supply for Californian farmers.

2. Water is essential for life.

3. Water is plentiful in the ocean, but unusable as drinking water or irrigation unless it is desalinated.

4. Water tastes wonderful when I'm thirsty.

5. Water is not a good thing to inhale.

++

Take a word and write 5 sentences about it, alternating between positive and negative associations. I dare you. :-)

Here's mine:

1. Caffeine comes in many delicious forms. My favorite at the moment is black tea.

2. Caffeine makes my tremor much more pronounced, so that if I'm eating a bowl of soup, I can see the spoon going up and down. Luckily most of the soup stays on.

3. Caffeine makes me smarter. I am able to make connections more quickly when I'm thinking and talking about something.

4. Caffeine heightens my negative mood, so that if I am feeling bad about something, I will feel worse. I may even feel paranoid and jump to all sorts of unreasonable conclusions.

5. Caffeine heightens my positive mood, so that if I'm feeling good about something, I may end up positively euphoric.

Now it's your turn!

Sunday, May 03, 2009

New to my blog list

I just found out that another old classmate of mine from Eastman has a blog, so I've added it to my blog list. Rob was a composition major at Eastman in the same class (and with the same major instrument - percussion) as my older brother. Check out his blog here. He is actually coming out to San Francisco later this month because a choir I sing with, called Volti, is performing a set of his pieces. I am looking forward to it!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Food For Thought

"Better is possible. It does not take genius. It takes diligence. It takes moral clarity. It takes ingenuity. And above all, it takes a willingness to try."

- Atul Gawande (from Better)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Flowers on my desk

Ian sent me three dozen roses for my birthday yesterday. They are so beautiful.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Complications

I just finished one of the most interesting books I have read in a really long time, which is saying a lot, considering the last two books I read before this were very good. The book I just finished is called Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande. It's a collection of essays by a surgeon about different facets of medicine. It was riveting. It was so good that I just went out and bought his second book, which I am anxious to start reading. I have become really interested in reading about medicine and disease lately -- veterinary and human. I feel like I know far too little and I am hoping to remedy that.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Promise

I'm going to post about something happy soon.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

More pictures

My mom took this really nice picture of Jezebel in the snow.



I took this picture about 12 years ago. I've always liked it.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Jezebel, my love

These are some pictures I took of Jezebel with my phone camera while I was home at the beginning of March. She left this world yesterday and I can't stop crying about it. I loved her so much. I can't believe she's gone and I won't ever see her again.




Thursday, April 09, 2009

Jezebel

Send some good wishes and good vibes to Jezebel, would you? She is sick and needs your love. Thanks! xo







And, send some love to my Mom, too, who is taking super care of her. :-)

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Buying Organic vs Conventional Fruits and Vegetables

This article says that the following fruits and vegetables are the most heavily sprayed with pesticides and you should always buy them organic:

--Peaches
--Apples
--Bell Peppers
--Celery
--Nectarines
--Strawberries
--Cherries
--Kale
--Lettuce
--Grapes
--Carrots
--Pears

It says the following foods are less heavily sprayed and it's less risky to eat the non-organic kind:

--Onions
--Avocados
--Sweet Corn
--Pineapple
--Mangos
--Asparagus
--Sweet Peas
--Kiwi
--Cabbage
--Eggplant
--Papaya
--Watermelon
--Broccoli
--Tomatoes
--Sweet Potatoes

Interesting.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Getting To Know You

I'm home sick from work and need to take yet another nap, but first I thought I'd post a survey, since I haven't done that in a while.

Getting To Know You

1. When's the last time you took a leisurely, recreational walk around the neighborhood where you live?

2. When's the last time you took a relaxing bath?

3. When's the last time you made rice crispy treats or cookies or some sort of treat just for fun?

4. When did you last spend time looking at the stars (either through a telescope or not)?

5. When's the last time you sat somewhere and watched the sun set or rise?

6. When is the last time you went on a hike in the woods?

7. When's the last time you went to the beach (or to some body of water)?

8. When's the last time you played with a child - blocks or legos or something?

9. When's the last time you actively played with a cat or dog -- like fetch or chase the string or something?

10. When is the last time you hugged somebody?

11. What refreshes you -- restores your energy -- helps you get rid of stress?

(me: 1. I can't recall ever doing that.; 2. Maybe a month ago?; 3. I made brownies a couple of months ago.; 4. I haven't spent any length of time looking at the stars in quite a while.; 5. I think maybe we watched the sun set from the roof one evening not too long ago or at least intended to.; 6. Probably not since we went to Redwood National Forest. Was that last summer?; 7. I went to the beach a couple of weeks ago. I took off my shoes and socks, rolled up my jeans, and walked barefoot through the sand to the water and back. It was nice.; 8. Last Christmas I played Legos with my cousin's son, Andrew.; 9. A few days ago.; 10. Yesterday; 11. Going to a pretty, natural spot outdoors, taking a nap, laughing at something really funny, jogging...)

Food For Thought

"The optimism gene is probably the most important one in the universe. Someday we'll find it. That will be interesting."

- Scott Adams in a recent blog post

Do fish eat monkeys?

Yesterday I bought three kinds of frozen fish at Trader Joe's: some yellowfin tuna steaks, cod, and mahi-mahi. Today, out of curiosity, I looked up Mahi-mahi on Wikipedia. While reading the article, I ran across this curious sentence:

"Mahi-mahi are carnivorous, feeding on flying fish, crabs, monkeys, squid, mackerel, and other small fish."

At first I thought maybe they were referring to some sort of monkey fish, but the word monkeys is linked to this article. I am puzzled.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Cave Woman

For a little over a month (since Feb. 25), Ian and I have been on the Paleolithic Diet. We're just doing it for Lent, so come Easter Day (which is also Ian's birthday), we will be happy to eat some non-caveman food. It's really not so difficult. On this diet you can eat any fruits and vegetables raw or cooked, eggs, nuts, seeds, and any low fat meat, fish, and poultry. So, you can't eat any grains, dairy, beans, sugar, and most processed foods. It's basically like being on the raw diet (which is what we did last year) with the addition of significant amounts of protein. Since I don't eat red meat, for me this has meant lots of eggs, fish, and some turkey. I haven't been terribly hungry and haven't had many serious cravings. I mentioned the diet to the Physician's Assistant at my doctor's office the other day, who was really surprised to hear that anyone really did this sort of diet. She told me that they learned about the diet in her nutrition classes in school and that it's supposed to be a much better diet than the typical American diet, but she had never heard of anyone who had actually done it. Despite what I said about not being terribly hungry or having any massive cravings, I admit I am really looking forward to eating a "normal" meal two weeks from today.

Also, I should mention I'm just over half way through Three Cups of Tea and really enjoying it. Thank you, Steph, for recommending it!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Life You Can Save

I have just finished reading a 175-page argument for why we should give more money to starving children. It was very convincing. I had just finished reading this very depressing article about child malnutrition in India and was looking for something to read that might help me figure out how I could do anything to help when I found this book. It was exactly what I was looking for. In case you're interested, here is the website for the book and a list of some good aid organizations you could donate to if you wanted to. I think the Millenium Villages Project is my favorite.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Books

So, after the awesome indy bookstore near my work went out of business after 85 years, I had to find another indy bookstore to frequent, so as to avoid the guilt of patronising only Borders. I found my new love on my way to teach out in the Richmond district. It's a totally awesome store and I've overpurchased already on my two visits over the weekend. I started by buying Three Cups of Tea, which was highly recommended by Steph. Before I even started the first book, though, I went back and purchased three additional books of interest: The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis, India by V.S. Naipaul, and The Life You Can Save by Peter Singer. I am a little over halfway through with Singer's provocative book, but I am not ready to write about anything yet. So many good books, but so little time to read. Now I must go to sleep so I'm not super tired when I get up for work tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Taste Test

We finally did the taste test of organic vs. conventional fruit today. It was pretty unremarkable. I guess it would have been more interesting with more kinds of fruit, but as it was, I only bought apples. I bought organic and conventional Braeburn apples and gave them to Ian to taste. After chewing on a couple of each, I asked him, "Which do you think are organic?"

"Those," he said, pointing to the organic apples.

"Good call," I said.

"But it's not because of taste," he clarified. "It's because of size."

"Why do you think organic apples would be smaller?" I asked, wondering myself why the conventional apples were twice the size of the organic.

"Because they don't have all sorts of shit dumped on them," he said with his mouth full of apples.

In my opinion, which was not unbiased, because I knew which apples were which, I thought the organic apples tasted slightly more sweet and flavorful. The conventional apples were more juicy in a watery sort of way, but not as dense with flavor.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Worry Cure

It is so green and beautiful here. The rain really did it's work and since I've been back we've had nothing but cool (50-60F), sunny days. I wish I had more time to get out of the city and go to a park or to the beach or something, but for now I'm just happy that it's light at 7:00pm and it's not freezing cold here.

I've been reading another book by Robert Leahy, who wrote one of the cognitive behavioral therapy books I wrote about in a recent post. It's called The Worry Cure and it is full of much of the same type of advice as his other book, but is specifically geared towards worry and anxiety. One of the first things he talks about is dividing your worry between productive and unproductive worries. Can you take action on what you are worried about in the near future? No? Then, it's an unproductive worry. The idea is to figure out which worries are productive and turn them into tasks. And, for the unproductive worries, there is lots more advice. He advocates distracting yourself when you get really anxious or upset about something with statements about what is happening in the present moment (mindfulness), like "I am sitting at my computer.", "I am breathing in and out.", "There are kids playing on the playground outside.", "Nashira is sitting on the bed.", "A car is passing by.", etc. This is very useful. Also, he recommends redirecting thoughts from worries about what someone else is thinking or feeling to asking, "What do I want to do right now?" and "What is important to me?" (because, he says, you can never know for sure what someone else is thinking or feeling). I have also continued to use the "feared fantasy" exercise repeatedly. When I notice that I'm avoiding thinking about something because I think it's too painful, I force myself to think about it and I exaggerate it. In some (but not all) cases, it's incredibly relieving. In the cases where it's not immediately helpful, it still clarifies further for me what the issue is that I need to resolve. Also, Leahy says that chronic worriers are people who are intolerant of uncertainty. They always want to know everything for sure. They want certainty. But, there is no certainty in an uncertain world. According to Leahy, "the more you can tolerate uncertainty, the less worried you will be." This is definitely true for me. The book has lots of general advice and some specific advice for people who tend to worry about certain things, like relationships, health, and money. As usual, I'm leaving out a lot of what he said, because I'm only concentrating on the things which seemed most useful to me. One other thing I've learned from the book is that I'm not nearly as complex as I thought I was. I tend to worry about the same thing/type of thing repeatedly and it's always triggered by a few specific things, which I have pretty confidently identified through the many exercises assigned. Unfortunately, the worries haven't been totally eradicated, but I definitely feel like I know how to deal with them much better than I did before.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Syracuse

is cold! The wind chill on my first day here was -15 F. Whoa. That takes some getting used to coming from such a temperate climate, even though I lived in really cold weather for my whole life up until about a year and a half ago. I hope I will be much less apt to complain about 49 F/raining when I return to SF, but somehow I imagine CA might still feel cold to me. The climates are just so different. It's freezing cold here in upstate NY, but the air is incredibly dry, and there is plenty of heat on inside. In SF, it's cold and damp, and we have less heat indoors.

Syracuse is a nice little city. It's like halfway between a city and a small town. I was at Wegmans, the local grocery chain (which is awesome), and bought some expensive wild caught salmon to have for dinner with my mom and dad. [Wegmans has an amazing selection -- of everything, not just fish.] The fish butcher was so friendly to me. When I told him which salmon I wanted, he made a big fuss over it and wanted to know who I was cooking for. When I told him it was for my mom and dad he told me they were very lucky. I thought that was sweet. Syracuse has a great library system, lots of excellent restaurants, and a ton of events of all kinds.

While I've been here, in addition to spending time with my parents and beloved kitties and seeing old friends, I've been going through boxes of my stuff. Since I only brought as many of my things to California as I could fit in my 1997 Subaru Impreza wagon, I had to leave a lot here. I have spent several hours every day since I arrived deciding what I can throw away, what can go to Goodwill, what I want to bring or send back to SF, and what I need to leave here until my next trip back. I have to admit I didn't realize how much this task would overwhelm me and stress me out. I'm glad to say I'm pretty much finished with what I'm going to do this trip.

Tonight my mom and I went to see *Slumdog Millionaire*. What a great story, but I didn't realize it would be so violent and upsetting. I have read accounts of life in India before, so I knew partly what to expect in terms of the poverty and deplorable living conditions of the people, but I had never seen so much of it with my own eyes. It was disturbing, but also made me interested to read/learn more.

I've been trying not to alter my schedule too drastically, but it's not easy. The sun rises at 6:30am, which is 3:30am PT, so it's a little hard to sleep in. It's 12:08am now, which is only 9:08pm my time, but I'm really tired and I have a big headache, so I think I will go to bed soon.

I think tomorrow we will go to Sapsucker Woods, which is part of Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology. Apparently it is a great place for birding, so I am really looking forward to it. It's supposed to be sunny-ish and 39 F!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Syracuse

I'm off to Syracuse in the morning and will be there until Friday. I'm not sure if I'll post anything or not. We shall see...

Friday, February 27, 2009

Coping With Social Anxiety (without drinking)

When social anxiety has come upon me in the past, my first instinct has always been to drink. And then drink some more. And drink some more. But, because of a recently diagnosed health condition, it has been recommended that I abstain from alcohol. Frankly, I haven't been able to enjoy drinking for at least a year and a half. Even one drink makes my body feel really uncomfortable, because alcohol is a vasodilator, and vasodilation is one of the conditions, along with dehydration and blood loss, that causes my symptoms to become much worse.

It took a while for me to get used to turning down drinks. It's hard to stick to your guns when other people seem to be invested in having you drink with them. It's also very hard for me to stick to my alcohol-free plan when I am feeling socially awkward, because I have used alcohol as a means to feel socially comfortable for a very long time, and until recently, I hadn't developed many alternative techniques. And, I used to really enjoy drinking and considered myself a connoisseur of many types of alcohol (including single malt scotch whiskey), so the temptation is definitely there.

But, at a certain point I had to weigh how much I wanted to drink vs. how much I wanted to feel like crap and drinking didn't win. Because I have a feeling I'm not the only person who has found myself in this conundrum, I've decided to post the things I've found that can help bring comfort to a social situation, for whatever reason it's needed. Please note that I am no expert and I am still not good at doing these things. This is sort of an experimental how-to that is directed toward myself as much as anyone else. Here goes...

What to do when you're feeling socially uncomfortable, but you don't want to drink:

First, whenever you're feeling anxious, tune into your physical body. Breathe deeply and try to relax yourself physically. The bathroom is a good place to take a few minutes and collect yourself. You can employ some of the techniques I outlined for getting through a bad mood or use meditation or prayer. See if there are any feelings/thoughts that are potential obstacles to having a good time. Try to change your focus to something more positive by reminding yourself of all of your best qualities and the reasons people like you -- and the reasons you love other people. Then, try to figure out why you are feeling socially uncomfortable and anxious in this particular situation.

Ask yourself:

Why aren't I comfortable? Did I come to this social event because I wanted to come or because I felt obligated for some reason? Do I want to be here? If not, can I leave? If I can't leave, can I create a reason why I might want to be here / a mission for myself? (It could be something totally random, like counting the number of people with blue/green/brown eyes.) Do I enjoy talking to people when I'm not feeling self-conscious? Yes? Great! Jump in! You could talk about the weather, art, politics, or you could ask a question, like, "What was the first musical recording you ever bought with your own money?" or "Where have you traveled?"

If you're distracted because you're fixated on the idea that you would be more comfortable if you had a drink and/or because you're having trouble saying no to someone who keeps offering you a drink, ask yourself, "How do I think I would feel after having a drink? Can I imagine/remember what it feels like to be more relaxed and less inhibited? Is it possible for me to create those feelings without alcohol using sense memory techniques?" (I swear, sometimes just being around drunk people makes me feel drunk without the side effects!)

One breath at a time and one moment at a time, you may start to feel more relaxed and at peace with your situation. You may even have some fun.

What methods have you used to deal with social anxiety?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Food For Thought

"When we try to explain why negative events occur, we may often overlook our own role in their existence. Avoidance, procrastination, and coercion are three types of behavior that foster self-fulfilling prophecies. The avoider eschews interactions with people and explains her lack of relationships by claiming there are few good people available. The procrastinator claims that it will make him anxious to work on the project, not realizing that the reason that he is generally so anxious when working on these projects is because he's put them off until the last minute. The coercive or punitive spouse complains about his wife's coldness, not recognizing that his criticisms have led her to withdraw... Are your problems the result of how you yourself make your predictions come true?" - Robert Leahy

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Taste Test: Organic vs Conventional

I am thinking of doing a taste test to find out if there is any significant taste difference between organic and conventional fruit perhaps next week when I am home visiting my parents. What do you think I will find? Will a blindfolded subject be able to tell the difference?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Coming to terms with magical thinking

I came across an exercise in one of the books I'm reading that posed an unexpected challenge to my current way of thinking. The name of the exercise is "Feared Fantasy Worry". It is in the chapter titled "Evaluating Worries". The author says,

"People often worry because they are trying to avoid having an image or thought that is very upsetting to them... All of [their] cognitive energy is deployed in trying to prevent this terrifying thought from occuring... But what if these patients practiced their feared fantasy worry?"

He includes a transcript of a therapy session in which he asks a patient to identify his worst fear, which in this case is that he will go broke and end up homeless. Next, he tells the patient to imagine himself broke and homeless in as much detail as possible. Then, he tells the patient to repeat over and over again, "I will go broke and end up homeless." At the beginning of the exercise, the patient reports being extremely anxious. After he has repeated the phrase for about 10 minutes, he is no longer anxious at all.

I was very curious about this exercise, because my initial reaction to it was very negative. When I was younger, I used to buy into the idea that repeating positive affirmations could have an effect on actual events, so that the idea of repeating something I didn't want to happen would have been the last thing I would have wanted to do. My views about positive affirmations have altered slightly, as I stated in a recent blog post, in that I think it's important to remind myself frequently of the positive aspects of my character and positive things that have happened in my life to perhaps counterbalance my automatic habit of immediately recalling and dwelling on negative things. But, I am not able to see why it is a good thing to repeat things that are not true with the wish that they will become true. Like, "Everyday, more and more people will read my blog and enjoy it." At best, it seems like a misappropriation of energy, when I could be concentrating my efforts on my writing technique and networking tactics. At worst, it is superstitious. The belief that repeating a particular phrase will create my desired outcome is simultaneously a belief that if I don't repeat the phrase, I will not get my desired outcome. It is a belief that my thoughts can control reality, which is stressful and unhealthy. If you think that if you concentrate your thoughts hard enough you can prevent bad things from happening, you will end up very tired.

So, since I don't believe I can control reality with my thoughts, I was surprised at my resistance to the idea of repeating something I don't want to happen. There was (and maybe still is) a part of me that thinks something is more likely to occur if I say it out loud. But, since I had already benefited from several other exercises in the book, I felt like it might be a good idea to try this one and challenge my brain's bias. I reasoned with myself, if I were to repeat, "I am a pigeon." over and over again, would I be more likely to become a pigeon? Would I suddenly turn into a pigeon? (No. I don't think so.) With that reasoning, I went ahead and tried the exercise. I imagined in my mind something that I very much do not want to happen and then repeated a statement that it was going to happen over and over again. What happened next is something I could never have predicted. I felt a sort of euphoria come over me. I actually started to laugh. I felt an immense feeling of relief. Then, I tried the exercise again with another fear. This time I didn't feel euphoria. I didn't start laughing. But, I started to relax and felt like maybe I wouldn't die if my fear did become true.

I have long thought that resisting pain hurts more than accepting it, so in that sense, the exercise makes total sense to me. By trying on my worst fear to see just how bad it might be, I discovered that the fear itself wasn't as bad as my fear of the fear.

Food For Thought

"Music is a basic need of human survival." - Karl Paulnack
This article really moved me.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Negative Thinking and Depression

I recently finished reading one book and am in the middle of another about cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is a type of therapy that has been scientifically proven to be at least as effective, if not more, than antidepressant medication in the treatment of depression. According to both authors, when you are depressed, you are much more prone to automatic negative thoughts. In fact, the main idea behind CBT is the belief that negative thoughts are actually what cause depression. CBT teaches the patient to identify habitual negative thoughts and then learn to analyze and refute them. So, if you all of a sudden find yourself feeling bad, you can think back to what negative thought caused you to start feeling bad, analyze and refute the thought, and then start feeling relief from its negative emotional consequences. Even though I haven't known about this concept very long and it is really rather simple, it has already proved very useful to me, so I am definitely a fan.

For example, when I am not feeling my best, I will often assume that when someone approaches me or walks by looking distressed or unhappy that I am the person who caused their unhappiness, that they are upset with me, that they think I'm not doing my job well enough, or something along those lines. Conversely, if someone smiles and looks very happy, it would never occur to me that it had anything to do with me. This hypocritical way of thinking is just one negative pattern that can be "cured" by cognitive therapy. Another example is a tendency to exaggerate failures and minimize successes to such a degree that each new failure or rejection lead to thinking,

I am such a loser. I am always getting rejected.

The first step in overcoming these cognitive distortions is to become aware of them. The next time you find yourself feeling depressed or anxious, ask yourself, "What thought caused me to start feeling bad?" And then, once you've identified the thought, analyze it. Is it true? If so, how true is it? What other relevant information am I ignoring in order to continue believing this negative thought?

A little over a month ago, I was rejected from the San Francisco Opera Chorus. I waited over a month for the result after taking the audition and in the meantime had put a lot of importance on it in my mind. When the letter finally came politely stating that the chorus master would not be able to offer me a position, I found myself overcome with emotion. I couldn't help but think of how long I had been waiting, of how hard I had worked to prepare the audition, and of what a great opportunity (one for steady musical employment with a very well-respected organization) I had lost out on. And then I started thinking about what a loser I am, how I am always getting rejected, how that must mean I am a terrible singer, that I am a terribly unorganized and irresponsible person, full of flaws that make me essentially an unsuccessful person who will never achieve anything. It took a lot of moral support from someone close to me before I was able to start looking up a bit and see that I need not be so discouraged. Later, I even learned some things about the financial health of the organization that made me wonder how they were even able to hold auditions in the first place. And, of course, I had to admit that the competition was very stiff and that (of course!) I need to take more auditions in order to increase my odds of winning one. But, at the time, wallowing in my own self-pity, I was not able to see that my negative thoughts weren't true.

Here's how CBT techniques might have helped me by analyzing and refuting each negative thought. Here are the thoughts:

I am a loser.
I am always getting rejected.
I am a terrible singer.
I am unsuccessful.
I will never achieve anything.


The idea is not to turn them into positive affirmations in the sense that I'm lying to myself and telling myself something that isn't true or exaggerating something so that it makes me feel better. The idea is to acknowledge the truth -- the positive truth that I was ignoring when I was wallowing in my downward spiral of negativity.

Let's start with the first one, "I am a loser". Well, what is the definition of loser anyway? If it means that I lost the audition, well, that's true. I did not win that audition. But, if it means that I am always losing everything, that's simply not true. I have had a lot of blessings in my life to be very thankful for.

"I am always getting rejected". The truth is, of the seven musical organizations I have auditioned for since arriving in California, I have been welcomed by six of them.

"I am a terrible singer". I have no reason to believe this is true. People often tell me they like my singing.

"I am unsuccessful. I will never achieve anything." In relation to the extremely ambitious goals I set for myself when I was much younger, I have not been nearly as successful as I had hoped. But, I have done a lot of cool things in my life and I'm sure I will do many more. This is a bit of a sore spot for me and an area I could use more work on.

This is an extreme example of a situation in which CBT techniques might be useful. When faced with major rejection, it is surely hard to see things in perspective immediately. But, I have found that even in a very short time, the brain does respond pretty well to retraining. The trick, I think, might be not only to learn to respond to the negative thoughts, but to remind myself of those positive truths more often, so that they are not so far from the surface.

For further reference, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David Burns is an easy read and addresses many helpful issues. Cognitive Therapy Techniques: a practitioner's guide by Robert Leahy has been even more useful to me, but I am doubtful that would be the case for most others. Leahy actually writes out the script of a number of therapy sessions so that the reader can understand exactly how he applies each technique with the patient. For me, it has been fascinating to peek into those sessions to see the humanity of others who are destructively self-critical and go along for the ride as their negative arguments are deconstructed and they are forced to admit the faulty nature of their critical thinking and subsequently find great relief and hope.