learning, politics

How Could It Be A Blessing?

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Oil On Water – Anamaria Campbell

I’m wracking my brain trying to figure out how Election 2016 could be a blessing – because to me it appears disastrous not only for our country but all of humanity. And yet the laws of spiritual reality insist that it MUST “work together for good” somehow.

What has been brutally uncovered in this political campaign? For starters, the confusion, ignorance, pain and fear of millions of my fellow Americans. Maybe it’s a blessing their distress has been brought to light so graphically. Maybe it’s better that we actually KNOW how many racist, misogynistic, homophobic and ignorant sentiments infect the hearts of so many of our citizens. Maybe this becoming known and felt is the only way we can become educated and compassionate enough to change?

Maybe it’s a blessing for the media to confront the way they misused their power; perhaps the news outlets will realize the folly of hyping the “drama” of this election for advertising revenue at the expense of actually reporting the NEWS truthfully and even-handedly?

It could be a blessing if enough citizens reawaken to the preciousness of our democracy – the value of the vote, so that the 46% of eligible voters who were “no-shows” this time around actually take the time and make the effort to educate themselves on the candidates and issues and weigh in next time!?

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Oil Upon Troubled Waters – Aurelius Cat

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self-acceptance

Embracing Limbo

No… not THAT kind of Limbo!?!  🙂

Jeff Foster was nice enough to send me the following in today’s email:

“Whatever it is, stop trying to figure it out now.
Let it remain unresolved a little while.
Stop trying to fast-forward to the ‘answer’ scene in the movie of your life;
trust the present scene of ‘no answer yet’.
Allow the question itself space to breathe and be fertilised.
Relax into the mysterious ground of Now.”

 

I’ve been in limbo professionally for quite some time; while I still think of myself as a songwriter and musician, I haven’t composed any new songs for many-a-moon and my piano-playing gigs have dried up substantially from earlier years. At times I’ve despaired that I might not have anything more to say, musically at least.

But I’m learning to trust myself because every time I’ve tried to force the issue, the results have been disappointing. Call me lazy if you like, but for the time being, I’m letting it be what it is, which is: Limbo (an intermediate, transitional, or midway state or place).

 

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learning, self-acceptance

Worth Defending

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The oncologist had given my father a 3-4 month prognosis, and even without treatment, he lasted for almost 10. Mark and I had just bought our first house in L.A. and he was commuting to Chicago, spending half the time away from home, working feverishly and the other half recovering from travel and having overextended himself.  I called my dad every other day and traveled to NYC to see him and be with family whenever I could but basically had to stay home with our 4 dogs most of the time.

My 3 sisters and mother all lived in or near Manhattan and they met for weekly powwows to discuss my father’s condition, their emotional fallout and to comfort one another. After 6 months of this, in spite of visits, letters and phone calls, I began to feel a bit left out and in need of support for myself, so I began weekly therapy sessions at a hospice group in Pasadena. While I didn’t feel exactly excluded from my family, I did feel alone, especially as my dad lingered on well past his projected expiration date and my sisters and mom became more exhausted by the stresses of caring for him and their own emotions. 2,500 miles away, what could I do? Not much as it turned out. We were all doing the best we could but it was increasingly difficult. At a certain point my therapist suggested I take self-defense classes, to literally protect the boundaries I needed to feel safe.

At first I signed up for a Learning Annex class: Self-Defense for Women. There were 30 of us in the first class, and we got to punch and kick bags and it was even kinda fun! By the 3rd class, though, more than half the students had dropped out, and it was increasingly clear that I was not going to get the empowerment I had come for – not from this instructor! Fortunately a friend shared her experiences with Model Mugging.

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I had to do some research to find them, but it was well worth the effort. In one weekend of intensive instruction, I learned several basic strategies for self-defense, and, most importantly, the attitude that I was worth defending! (as we all are!!)  Knowing that I literally “had it in me” to fight back against physical attack empowered me to defend myself from psychic and emotional attacks; to actually experience how it felt in my body to connect blows, to yell, “NO!” and protect myself. All of the Model Mugging students got what we’d come for – the will to survive and the confidence that we could and would fight back against an aggressor.  It may get a bit complicated when that aggressor is your own flesh and blood, but I think it’s even more essential to maintain boundaries with our loved ones under stressful circumstances – just because you love them and they’re in pain doesn’t give them the right to abuse you!

The final exam at the Learning Annex happened a week after my Model Mugging training, and of the 8 remaining students, I was the only one who was able to successfully escape from the instructor. Even though I was the most out-of-shape, unathletic and oldest student, I was the only one who breathed deeply and verbalized “NO!” as I was striking back, and the only one who actually hurt the instructor enough to make him stop coming after me! (and was he surprised!!?!)

I’ve been very fortunate to have lived in relatively safe neighborhoods most of my life – the only actual physical attack I’ve had to fend off was an unleashed Doberman who wanted a bite of my knee while I was out jogging – and super-loud “NO!” was enough to stop him long enough for me to escape unscathed.

Women are taught to be submissive in our culture – to avoid defending ourselves, which leads to many of us feeling disempowered on more than just the physical front.  I needed reminding on a visceral level that I was worth saving – and to learn that I could muster the power to defend myself.

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learning

Blogwatch 2/19/16

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Since the desert only looks like this at certain times of the day, sometimes I spend time reading other people’s blogs!

a few online posts that interested me this week:

Because of Toni Morrison, I will never be a writer – too late!  You’re already a writer!  🙂

Guess I’m right (write?) and it’s a good idea to turn on the Idea Lamp: Why Rituals Make You Productive, Creative

A couple decades ago Mark and I signed up for the Flash Forward Institute, a month-long industry networking program that promised a year’s worth of career progress within 30 days time – and while it was not quite as miraculous as advertised, it DID make a difference, along the lines of what’s suggested HERE and HERE

I remember being fairly young (early teens) when I first experienced that “mental math” of figuring out whether my life was in danger merely for being born female. That was 50+ years ago and I honestly thought we as a society would have gotten past this sexism nonsense by now. This piece in Medium perfectly captures why my terror persists – To Men I Love, About Men Who Scare Me

and this post really hit a nerve with “finger-sized bruises” under long sleeves — that was the first clue I had 45+ years ago that the boyfriend I’d thought was okay was actually an abusing sociopath who stalks me to this day. The Story I’d Hope For You

 

 

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learning, music biz, self-acceptance

The Bumpy Road to New York

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I left the house while it was still dark, telling my half-asleep mother that I was headed “to the library” when she asked where I was going.  After hoofing it 2 miles to the Hartford train station, I bought a ticket and just… went! At 14, I was too afraid to explore much of anywhere once I got to Grand Central Station, but I DID make it across 42nd Street it to the Library, so I hadn’t been exactly lying.

Train to NYC! New York, New Haven & Hartford

I think my folks understood – they’d always had a yen for New York – the theaters, the museums, the glamour – New York had it all!  There honestly wasn’t any other place to be as far as they were concerned – witness that they both retired to Manhattan in their 50s and breathed their lasts there 20+/- years later.

So as soon as I’d graduated, that’s where I needed to go. I didn’t have a job lined up or money in the bank, so I temped for Kelly Girl that summer and saved my sheckels while calling and sending out resumes and cover letters to every company listed under “Music” in the NY Yellow Pages. At the end of the summer, finally a job offer appeared: librarian at E.B. Marks Music on West 50th Street, a company that published some of my teacher Hale Smith’s compositions. I’m pretty sure he put in a good word for me and I was SO grateful to finally have a MUSIC JOB in NEW YORK!

I got the idea of living in an office from my dad, who had camped out in a friend’s NY office while trying to break in to TV sketch writing a decade earlier. I think he may have lasted 10 days before he threw in the towel and returned to Hartford; he said he’d gotten lonely and missed us too much, but I always suspected that when the Big Apple didn’t greet him with open arms, he became discouraged and felt too old to be couch surfing and taking Marine baths in the sink instead of showering at home.

Dad had always advocated living within walking distance of one’s employment, so when I was offered the job in August of 1972, I figured that the small 2-room office on the 11th floor of the Ed Sullivan Building on 53rd and Broadway would be perfect! It was only $110/month, in a 24-hour building, so I could come and go whenever I wanted. The ladies’ room was across the hall, so I planned to join the YWCA 3 blocks south on 8th Ave and get in a daily swim (so virtuous!) before showering and strolling over to my job, thereby expediting both exercise AND personal hygiene!

And so the family helped move me and my earthly possessions (2 suitcases of clothes and a trunk full of music scores, LPs and stereo equipment) into my new office-home. Some voiced concern over the fact there was no kitchen, bath or furniture, but I had a hotpot, I’d packed a pillow and envisioned no problem sleeping on the carpeted floor, so… no worries!

The first few days were pretty uneventful. So what if the doorman looked at me a little strangely as I exited the building just as everyone else was entering each morning?!  It was Autumn In New York!! I was a bit lonely, I didn’t have a phone and since my salary was only $100/week ($77.50 after taxes!), entertainment and dining options were extremely limited. But I had my hotpot and my stereo and the commute to work was sure easy!

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My good friends Peter and Cathy were getting married on Labor Day, so I dressed and got ready to take the train up to Stratford that morning, only to find that I’d been LOCKED IN! I hadn’t anticipated that this being a national holiday, my 24-hour building was closed and I could not get out!  I panicked until I managed to locate a janitor to unlock the door and fortunately, he was there when I returned late that night. But I began to feel a little less confident in my choice of housing.

After a few days, the daily swims became less frequent – not just because I wasn’t that interested in swimming, but… I began to feel a bit too vulnerable stripping down every day in front of strange women, some of whom seemed a bit overly interested in my body!? –  wouldn’t a Marine bath do for today? (and tomorrow, maybe?  and even the next day?)  So much for my athletic exploits at the Y!

Every day the walls of my office-home moved in a little closer; each weeknight the cleaning lady would unlock and open my office door, waking me in the wee hours to empty the trash — it always surprised us both. And the sideward glances from the doorman were getting more pronounced every morning.

After subsisting on instant cocoa, fruit and sandwiches for a week, I knew I needed to find a real apartment with a real bed, a real bathroom and a real kitchen with a refrigerator and stove – even if that meant dealing with roommates and having to take the subway. I asked around at work and was told about some affordable places in the East Village which turned out to be so rugged on the outside, I never rang the doorbell to even see the inside!  Then I applied to a real estate company that didn’t have any places I could afford but who wound up wanting to sublet my office in the Ed Sullivan Building.

So after 2 weeks of office-living, I moved for a week to a cheap hotel on West 112th Street where I had my first encounter with cockroaches. Then, knowing of my plight, Hale Smith’s wonderful wife Juanita put me in touch with a woman she worked with at the U.N. who needed a roommate for her Riverside Drive apartment at 125th Street. While  I could no longer walk to work, it was SO nice to have an actual BED to sleep in, not just a pillow on the floor!

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Riverside Drive at 125th Street – thank you, Juanita!!  🙂

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learning, music biz, self-acceptance

Gaslit* at the Gaslight

*gaslit = freaked outscaredunnerved into questioning ones own sanity (Oxford).

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While I was hardly “born in a trunk”, both of my parents were theater-folk; they’d met doing shows at Syracuse University and continued to perform in plays and revues throughout my childhood. My sisters and I would “run lines” for them when they prepared for a performance, type copies of my dad’s plays for 10¢/page (pre-Xerox!) and be an enthusiastic audience while they rehearsed and performed at tiny theaters around CT.  My father had a number of his one-act plays published and even had an off-Broadway show produced in NYC in 1965. The Fourth Pig

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My first (unpaid) theater gig was playing for an awards ceremony for the Mark Twain Masquers in Hartford when I was 15, and I later earned a few shekels accompanying dance classes while at UConn. I always liked actors personally but grew impatient with the number of rehearsals they wanted to do. (we jazz musicians like to “wing it” more than some other performers!)  When I participated in the terrific ASCAP, BMI and ASK workshops, I also discovered I wasn’t too thrilled with the degree of compromise required with working in the musical theater – the endless rewrites for non-musical reasons, for example. While it can be exciting to collaborate with other talented people, the old adage of “too many cooks” DOES come into play at a certain point – usually, for me, earlier than anyone else. (Which is ironic, since I truly love musicals – I’m just not crazy about the process of creating them, I guess!?)

So I’ve resisted involvement in many theatrical endeavors, despite my high regard for most thespians. In 2008, however, I agreed to sub for the pianist at a musical melodrama theater – an extremely underpaid gig that extended almost 2 years before I had enough financial wherewithal to walk away… umm, make that RUN away! For years afterwards I told myself that it was the unreasonable demands of the music director, some of the actors and staff that had made me so miserable during that period, when every single day for 7 days a week I would dread the one or two performances I’d have to play each Sunday. It was only after I’d subbed at another musical melodrama theater that I realized that, crabby and unappreciative as the cast might have been, they hadn’t been the problem – for me, it was the job itself! Juggling last-minute changes while responding to what’s happening on the stage and always being “on!” is nerve-rattling and I just don’t have the constitution to sustain that for 2+ hours. When it comes together, you might feel like Superman…

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but when something goes wrong (as it frequently can!), there’s hell to pay, whether it’s actually your fault or not!

Technological advances and shrunken production budgets have had a dreadful impact on the current state of musical theater; to be filed under “Spinning Straw Into Gold”,

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the last gig I was hired to play seemed easy enough when I checked out the songs via YouTube videos; the score was non-challengingly melodious and traditionally orchestrated, like musicals in the 1940s-60s. When I got to the first rehearsal, it was revealed that ALL of that orchestral music, (save a solo cello, solo flute and the music director’s piano) would be MY responsibility, courtesy of a jury-rigged computer-keyboard setup with multiple pedals, sampled sounds and sheet music indicating multiple instrument changes within 2 bars – an impossible scenario for low-tech me.  I knew that there was no way I’d ever be able to perform, let alone master this part, no matter how much I practiced, so I bowed out that afternoon. I later learned that playing this particular show had reduced more than one highly skilled professional pianist to tears.

My cap is off to theater musicians – especially music directors – who are able to run the show AND make superb music doing so. They create unique magic for an audience, and they are more-often-than-not ill-compensated for their alchemy.

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…… after all, fingers take a beating, doing this sort of thing!!

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self-acceptance

Fixing A Hole Where The Rain Gets In

schnauzShrinkOne of my college professors once told me that he didn’t believe in psychotherapy – that all we needed was a few really good friends with whom to discuss our problems. Well, I have some wonderful friends (including him!), but I’ve found great benefit from consulting with various professional practitioners over the years.

Marvin Beck was my friend Elise’s husband and only charged $25, so I went to see him several times in the mid-70s. I was struggling with being overweight; trying without success to motivate myself to exercise and diet “one last time.” After all, hadn’t I dropped 25 pounds in 1973 by fasting for 2 weeks? Hadn’t I gotten rid of 30 pounds on Weight Watchers over 4 months? Why couldn’t I just get myself back on track? WHAT WAS WRONG WITH ME?

I told him about a denim jumpsuit I wanted, but I wore size 18 and this outfit only went up to size 13. Every day I’d gaze longingly thru the store window, practically salivating for it, and then chastise myself horribly for being too fat and not having the pluck to whip myself into shape so that I could buy and wear it. Then I’d devour a couple packages of snack cakes from the bodega. Marvin pulled a Dr. Phil on me, asking “so how’s that working for you?” It didn’t solve my weight problem but it DID make me stop and think about it a little differently – how beating myself up wasn’t the best motivation for change.  We never got around to talking about my parents, my love life, or other big issues – but I still feel I got my money’s worth and more from talking with Marvin.

A few years later I began seeing a Christian Science practitioner; Mrs. Alton, a very sweet woman who gently encouraged me to be kinder to myself. I frequently suffered from horrible, debilitating headaches and in addition to her prayerful support, she advised me to soak in a warm tub and have a slice of toast. In other words, “be NICE to yourself! Treat yourself with kindness!” Being reminded that you’re a spiritual being is ALWAYS good medicine.

After a few cross-country moves (known in 12-step circles as “the geographical cure”), I found myself grappling with career and financial challenges and looked into more traditional help. I consulted with the pastor at the church we were attending, but he seemed more concerned about our diminished contribution to the collection plate than addressing my depression. The first place I went for actual therapy was more of a crisis management program and over before it began, so in conjunction with attending OA meetings, I began a longterm relationship with Charlene, an overeating specialist at Lutheran Social Services.  I remember waiting downstairs in the reception area before meeting her the first time and starting to cry, thinking, “well, you’ve done it THIS time, kiddo! This is an actual CLINIC where they do actual THERAPY so there really has to be something WRONG with you to wind up HERE!”

Sessions began well and I felt I was making some progress with my emotions, if not exactly getting a handle on my overeating. I attended at least 2 OA meetings/week, checked in with my sponsor daily, and began sifting through and processing family issues, both my own and some troublesome feelings I had about my in-laws. It was rough sledding at certain points because my father-in-law had died suddenly and sometimes it felt like all hell was breaking loose in the family. I told Charlene about an instance a few years previous where I’d been given a baby nephew to hold while the in-laws were admiring the view from the 22nd floor roof of our then-apartment house and how I’d stood frozen, as close to the middle of the roof as possible, as I’d had the terrifying thought, “what would happen if I threw the baby over the edge and he went SPLAT?” I trusted Charlene with this, and other shameful secrets every week I went to see her.

After 6 months, I was encouraged to add weekly group therapy, led by Charlene and one of her colleagues – and my faith in her began to unravel. The two therapists started to conspire to “stir things up”, pitting group members against one another, seemingly only for the therapists’ own amusement. When I questioned this privately to Charlene, I was subsequently shut down and shamed in front of the entire group. At our next private session, Charlene told me about a dream she had had about me, where I was a hermaphrodite (!?) – and then confessed that she was waiting to see ME go SPLAT! – and all my buzzers and bells went off. I called a therapist friend and asked, “is this Kosher?” – to which he replied, “no, that’s a pretty unorthodox treatment model – she should be talking about her dreams with her own therapist, not with you!”   He never said, “get the hell outta there!” but I began to think that maybe it was time to leave therapy with Charlene.

The next week on my way to our session, I twisted my ankle, falling painfully to the street, unable to walk, and I immediately called her to cancel the appointment, (for which I would still be billed, of course.) The week after THAT, Charlene stood me up for our session, leaving me waiting in the reception area with no apology.  I could clearly see how I was being abused and terminated treatment at our next (and final!) session.

Several years later when my father was dying of cancer, I again sought professional help and found it working with 2 different therapists who weren’t toxic, like Charlene had eventually become for me. One of them encouraged me to take self-defense classes to build up emotional strength and stamina while dealing with the emotional overwhelm, and when the first thing I tried (an 8-week women’s self-defense class at the Learning Annex) wasn’t delivering what I needed, I signed up for Model Mugging http://modelmugging.org/self-defense-articles/confluence/ – which in one intense weekend gave me exactly what I needed. At the final Learning Annex class, I was the only student who was able to defend myself from the instructor successfully!

I’ve tried various religions, spiritual practices, OA, AlAnon and other 12-step groups, in addition to NLP and other therapeutic modalities over the years and found something of value in each of them. Therapy might not be for everyone – (although doesn’t Woody Allen credit his long and productive career to decades of analysis?)  The best take-away for me has been the advice recommended by Marvin and Mrs. Alton: be kind to yourself and treat yourself like someone you actually LIKE!

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