Friday, October 29, 2010

Wooden boxes

I was privileged, again, to attend a concert given by the Minnesota Orchestra tonight. The concert was entitled, "Osmo Vanska Conducts Future Classics," and was the final event of the week-long, tenth annual Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute.
I am thrilled and again amazed by the tremendous talent shared by the orchestra members, the conductor, and the new composers. One composer was only 20 years old. Some favorite pieces were "Winter Bells" by Polina Nazaykinskaya, "The Body Electric," by Clint Needham, and "Mutatis Mutandis," by David Weaver. And "Namaskar," by Narong Prangcharoen. And all the others.
As a dear friend of mine reminded readers in her blog, music is truly a component of our brain. Why else would someone, somewhere, so long ago, decide that he or she simply must build a box that would resonate in such a way as to create what we know as music? What would possess such a person to do something like that? Why is it that we are so strongly compelled to create music?
I don't know, exactly. I'm sure I could find in my reading a solid physiological explanation for these questions (anything by Daniel Levitin, Oliver Sacks, or E. Thayer Gaston comes to mind). But I do know that I respond very viscerally to the sound of that orchestra, and to those people playing those boxes of wood with their surprising, athletic dexterity.
Thanks for reading.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Sometimes I have the opportunity to read the blog, "The Happiness Project" (, written by Gretchen Rubin. (There is a book by the same name, a predecessor to the blog, that was given to me by my sister. I find the subject to be well worth my time and energy.) A few days ago, one of the ideas about which the author wrote was that people with intensely positive or intensely negative personalities annoy one another, and that the people with these personalities can't convert the others into thinking and feeling differently. I have never been one to attempt to convince or convert people, save some times when it's been very trivial. One of my goals is to validate people's feelings about their experiences and situations, no matter what they are. And though I agree that conversion is never really a possibility, I do believe that my thoughts are products of choice; I "think" in a way that is flavored by emotions that I've attributed to the thought. I too often assign emotion to experiences or occurrences or inflection of voice, etc. This emotion is generally Debbie Downer in nature. I feel like every day something or someone surprises me, and today I surprised myself. Even though I was feeling pretty stressed and vaguely unhappy when I went to work, I changed myself so that I could lead a group session effectively. And I did this by deciding, by intentionally speaking differently and breathing differently and making myself smile. All of these actions have physiological effects that elevate one's mood. The choices to do things like smile trick the body into thinking it's happy, as usually the only time one smiles is when, in fact, one is happy.
I did that. I tricked myself and it worked. The group was engaged, I felt connected to my clients, and I was enjoying myself (I usually do, but today I had to use extra effort).
Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Runner's breath

To the best of my knowledge and recollection, worrying has never done me any good. Anticipating the nature of a future experience might typically be good practice for most people, but not for someone such as myself who quite often expects difficulties ahead, or at the very least, judgment by others. More often than not, fortunately, I am able to reach said situation and feel a certain amount of pleasant surprise when realizing my predictions were wrong. However, I still have trouble remaining in the present and not foretelling my future. I believe I am getting better and becoming less anxious, and therefore unhappy, but the process is hard. 
Deep breathing is so important in relieving panic. I used to enjoy running for the breathing. I would get to a point in my run where I could think of nothing other than continuing to move forward, which, once the run was finished, I really appreciated. The act of running focused my attention on the very, very present. 
I have so much yet to do. To accomplish, to settle, to understand, to believe, to finish, and to grieve. I suppose my best bet is to breathe.
Thanks for reading. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Experts in transition

Today I saw a woman who is actively dying. When I entered her hospital room, she was alone, in bed, but seemingly awake. We exchanged a couple of words before she began breathing in a manner that is distinctive of the end of life. I began playing for her, attempting to match the rate of her breath, and hoping to play something soothing at that tempo. Her son came into the room soon thereafter, and he and I had a wonderful conversation about his mother. He told me that his mother had worked in a grocery store for a number of years, and that she accumulated a large group of shoppers who went to that store specifically to see her. She worked as a grocery-bagger, and her son said that the line of shoppers waiting to have their groceries bagged was consistently significantly longer than any other person's. The grocery store where she worked rewarded gifts of pins to those workers who received excellent customer service acknowledgments, and that drawers full of these pins were found when the family was moving my patient to another home. This other home was her daughter's, where she lived when she fell ill and had to be hospitalized for a short period of time. At the new home, the patient was also living with her 12-year-old granddaughter. According to the son, this past summer was very special for both his mother and his niece. They were able to spend months living in the same home. While working at the grocery store, my patient became accustomed to co-workers who were in their teens. Knowing popular culture and icons likely gave this woman a unique appeal to her granddaughter-- not only was the granddaughter given the opportunity to spend a great deal of time sharing her living space with her grandmother, but her grandmother was actually in-the-know. My patient's son said that his mother had been entirely lucid until Sunday, when the condition she has transitioned into something much worse. Now, she is unresponsive.
Speaking with my patient's son was an enlightening experience. He seemed very grateful and appreciative of his mother, and of his relationship with the rest of his family. The way he described his mother's life was joyous. He said that he is happy to know that she won't suffer long. 
The son of the patient I met today is likely experiencing loss and transition. Though not every person who suffers death of a loved one identifies the death as transition, what I find interesting is that each person who grieves a loss is never able to again live in the same reality as he or she was before the death. The grieving process is not a renewal, in regard to the idea that one will again live in the same way, or "get back to normal." The renewal following the grieving comes in the ability to normalize the newness of the living circumstance. Life is a series of transition. Even, and probably especially, on a molecular level-- we are constantly going through the breaking-down and the building-up of the fabric of our bodies. Quite simply, we exist in transition. We are experts at this process. We just have to acknowledge this fact and give credit where credit is due; we may be stronger than we think.
Thanks for reading.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Half way

Today I truly felt that I am at the half-way point in my internship. I am assisting with orienting and training our new intern, and am taking on a larger caseload of patients. With this transition, I find looking ahead three months to be easy. This is not to say, by any means, that I am entirely competent at what I'm doing now; but it is to say that I know three months, especially during the holidays, will go very fast. Soon I will be applying to positions within my field-- even before the completion of the internship, hopefully.
In three months, with the end of my internship and the potential start of my professional career in music therapy, I hope to have cleansed my life of its debris so that I can face what's next, whatever that may be, with a degree of confidence, competence, experience, and training in transition.
And I am nearly there.
Thanks for reading.

House of a thousand rooms

When I was contemplating writing a blog, my thoughts about it were that the blog would be about everything other than my internship experience. Originally, I thought my writing here would be separate from that "professional" part of my life. However, one of the many lessons I'm learning from this internship and the music therapy work I do is that solid separation such as I thought I wanted is both impossible (for me, anyway), and undesired.
Separation is not synonymous with compartmentalization. The latter is a skill that some people are much better at grasping than others. I feel that I have always been good at separating, and much of the time, to a fault. I have always considered separation as being compartmentalization, and that's not the case.
In my mind, I have different rooms for people and the places with which they are associated. Events and items also occupy rooms, but usually they are in partnership with either people or places. I have never been comfortable socializing with someone I know from a workplace, for instance. These rooms don't have windows, so to speak. They are separate entities.
A couple of years ago, I went on a weekend trip with one of my best friends. She and I were in a band together, and we had a gig in Boise to play. During the trip, we spent some time at the library, mostly so that we could use the internet. But we saw that there was a book sale on the ground floor, and we looked through it. The books were of a variety, and I think we both both two or three. One that she bought was a book of short "inspirational" or motivational stories or essays. We read aloud from the books on the drive back, and from that particular book, there was a memorable selection. Of course I don't remember the title of the book, who wrote it, who wrote the selection, or what it is called, but I do remember what it was. The image portrayed was that of a four-roomed house. The author assigned Cognition, Emotion, Physicality, and Spirituality to each of the four rooms. The instruction was that the reader enter each of these rooms once a day. This made sense to me, and attributed a very clear visual to the thought. Clearly, it's stayed with me since.
My house has more than four rooms, and it has a basement. I take a mental picture of my house every so often and assess the condition of the rooms. The Spirituality Room is something of an addition, and it's under construction, so even though I visit it every few days, I still don't quite know how it's going to look later. The Physical Room usually is a-shambles, though sometimes I'll give it a surface clean. The basement, though, has been on fire for a while. The fire is slow-burning and mostly quiet, but every day it burns a little hotter. Smoke has been damaging the rest of the house, and lately the flames are no longer contained. The rest of my house is affected.
Separation and compartmentalization are two different animals. Compartmentalizing is a gift-- an ability to acknowledge the existence of strengths and limitations of daily living, but to keep those items and images and ideas contained somewhere should they not directly apply to the situation before me at that moment.
I am finding that I am no longer able to separate. And this is a good thing, because this means I am learning the truth in containment. To contain, for me, is to hold with me all of everything in my life, but to recognize that only tiny trinkets in that mammoth house are really useful in the moment.
Appraise the value of my house, and see that each room influences the others, but don't allow for one to burn the whole.
Thanks for reading.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The power of C

I have never thought of myself as an adequate or even functional piano or keyboard player. Though I took some lessons when I was in middle school, and some in college that were required for any music major, I have remained ever-intimidated by the instrument and its complexity. I feel this way about most instruments (which possibly will be the subject of another post-- specifically the learning process in relationship to the Suzuki Method), but the piano has always been something that frightens me.
Today, though, I had the privilege to play it on one of the floors of the hospital where I work. Because lunch time was very near, I chose to play in the halls of the floor as opposed to having 1:1 sessions with patients who may be preoccupied with eating. I improvised on the keyboard, starting in the key of C. I don't think I give myself enough credit, musically, sometimes. I improvised for a while, and had two people come up to me to express that they liked what I was playing. (I promise I wasn't playing loudly or being intrusive.) This is a new experience for me, given that I actively avoid the instrument, so have little opportunity to receive any feedback from anyone. What was happening with my playing was that I was relaxing into music, as opposed to obsessing about technique or theory. And by doing this, I was sharing more of myself with the people who were listening. From there I moved into playing in different keys and different styles-- all things I can do easily on violin and with my voice, but definitely not things I thought I'd feel comfortable doing on keyboard. (Not that I'm magically functional now.) My surprise was in that I was able to find the music in the doing, the bigger picture, the point of the activity. Typically I see in front of me all the reasons I cannot play or do something, or I think that I shouldn't even attempt to do it unless I am pretty certain I can be great at it. Sounds ludicrous, I know. But I am being honest.
Today I was able to pry open, slightly, a well-shut door, and I did it of my own volition. Maybe, if I practice doing this, I might actually practice playing the instrument so that I don't have to feel terrified of it. We'll see.
Thanks for reading.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


I wonder if I have ever defined my sense of purpose. I don't know that I have. My boyfriend took me to a fundraising dinner for the Center for Grief, Loss, and Transition tonight, and we spoke about the possibility for music therapy to be utilized in this organization. This is an exciting prospect, but one that I will let incubate for a few more weeks.
Another piece of our conversation centered around purpose, and our own senses of it. I am going to take this opportunity to define mine, as it stands today: My purpose is to find ways to serve and to help other people, using my unique musical talents and abilities as well as my capabilities to identify and acknowledge characteristics of others that need be lauded as well as developed. I am fascinated by people and the systems in which they survive.
There. There's a change for me: I defined my purpose for the first time in a long time, if not ever.
Thanks for reading.

Delight in the genius of others

Tonight, I had the privilege to attend a concert the Minnesota Orchestra presented. I cannot recall the last concert of any orchestra I have seen. When I was younger, from middle school into high school, I played violin in the city orchestra. I remember feeling relatively indifferent toward the music I played for the concerts at that time in my life. I am sure I saw several concerts when I was in college, but since then, I do not remember having been.
I was so very excited to see this ensemble perform tonight. They were highlighting their upcoming season, and played a piece or two from different concerts on their schedule. So much amazed me about the performance, and some of that was how I was affected by it.
When I moved here, my primary focus was on my internship. The people I know here, I know because of the internship or because of their roles in supporting the internship (I can elaborate if you'd like). However, I have not sought out live performance for years, to be honest. I am beginning to identify myself as a musician (which still makes me uncomfortable), but I have been thinking in terms of research and academia for a long time. For the past three years, my thoughts on music related to how it helps other people, quite simply. My interests were concerning the research surrounding effects of music therapy in a number of populations. Even my reasoning for participating in a band, as I have since I moved here, had much to do with the potential development as a violinist in a non-classical context, which has everything to do with honing those abilities for music therapy.
Tonight's performance enlightened me. The orchestra and its soloists were phenomenal, and to see them use their talents in that way was especially wonderful for me tonight. I could hardly stop smiling. The energy and genius of those people was outstanding. I feel as though I am a better person for having gotten to participate in that experience. I am inspired, now, to believe in the music I have within me. I am encouraged to embrace the talent I possess, as well as to develop it further. But not because doing so will enable me to be a more effective music therapist (when I become a professional), but because I will be a happier, more fulfilled person.
Thanks for reading.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Perspectives on music

Today I have had a fantastic birthday. I was privileged to spend it with people I love, doing the job I love doing. I have spent a fair amount of time today with my boyfriend, my co-interns, my internship director, and the patients who so wonderfully welcome me into their lives. Not only this, but I received numerous phone calls and cards from friends and family members. I am so fortunate.
One of the gifts I was given was six pairs of tickets to the Minnesota Orchestra. This particular gift is not only thoughtful, given that I am a musician (oh, how hard it is to identify myself as this-- we'll get to that later), but entirely timely and relevant. What an important present.
I started playing violin when I was two years old, and played for hours each week from that time in my life to my early 20s. In college, I stopped playing. I was burnt out. I didn't understand why I was playing, or for whom. I grew up playing a musical instrument, but wasn't making music with it. I wasn't able to see the violin for what it could be-- a tool through which I could express. In music therapy, we consider our musical instruments as tools, and music itself as a tool, to enable us to reach our clients and patients by using it in whatever fashion necessary. When I grew up playing violin, I was not able or given space to infuse the instrument with anything other than the sense of obligation I had toward it. I think of my violin now as a character in my life, a family member. I think of it now as someone, and I do mean "someone," with whom I grew up; someone who saw me through a number of life changes, as I am experiencing now. My violin is important to me for so many reasons, but only very recently have I identified it as being another range of my voice. Only recently have I given myself permission to melt together my violin-playing-self with my identity as I regularly see it, and only recently have I enjoyed welcoming that part of my life as one with other(s). Having been given opportunity to see the orchestra on a regular basis seems ever-important to me in my growing this part of myself. I doubt a more serendipitous gift could ever be given.
Thanks for reading.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Today marks the final day of my twenty-eighth year; tomorrow, I will accept the opportunity and challenge that my twenty-ninth year brings.
I was telling stories about my childhood tonight. I told a story about how I never played with dolls, but much preferred Mirco Machines or some other car toy. I had a friend (and still do; we saw each other very recently, though she lives in another state) who seemed to enjoy dolls and all things having to do with them. I remember countless times she came over to play, she got so upset that we weren't going to play with dolls. She'd say, "I am the guest. I should be allowed to choose what we play," to which I would always respond, "Maybe, but this is my house, and we'll play what I want." (And we did.) After telling this story to my boyfriend, he said something to the effect of, "You clearly had no trouble saying what you wanted." I considered this briefly before moving on to share other stories of my peculiarities, but his comment brought to mind a question: Am I different now than I was as a child? Of course the answer is that yes, I am a changed being-- I am a certain number of years older, with a certain number of experiences that have weathered me. But am I a different person? At my core, have I changed? Have circumstances eaten me alive, leaving me to be disconnected pieces that were chewed and mashed and ground out to be single pieces of something that was once a whole? When I was a child, and even on through middle and high school, I was certain of things. The answers to questions were black and white; there was no ambiguity. I understand that maturity is the process through which I grew (and continue to grow) that declares, in a sense, the existence of ambiguity and importance of circumstance surrounding outcomes. But at least I had that certainty and that assuredness that allowed me peace to decide.
Today I feel very different from that person I remember being. I have changed. Now, were I to have a guest who wanted to play with dolls (at this point, I would hope that she or he would be the child of a friend), I would definitely play with him/her. There is something to be said, however, about that knowing what I wanted. I got what I wanted, at the expense of my friend's comfort and enjoyment (sorry, friend), and I remember really liking that we played with the toys I liked. I work in an extremely taxing environment where I not only serve my patients and clients in music therapy, but I also literally serve them food, beverage, and anything else they may need or want. I feel the need to be careful not to transfer my desire to help at all costs into my personal livelihood. I am recognizing the importance of identifying what I want, be it tangible or experiential, and not feeling guilty for finding ways to have it. I am excited to learn some lessons from my child self and to find and hopefully maintain balance once I do.
Happy birthday, Micro Machine-lover and doll-denier.
Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Daily routine

Essentially, I live out of my trunk. Not only do I stay some nights at my place and some nights at The Boyfriend's, which necessitates keeping things at hand (but not leaving them at either place), I also need to keep instruments in my trunk. I use the guitar and the violin on a very regular basis, and while I am not using them, they go in my trunk. My sweet little tiny trunk home.
I don't have much routine, yet routine is something I crave. This morning while I was getting ready, I realized that routine is something I desperately need to create for myself so that I can allow for sustainable stability, wherever I am. Certain routines, having to do with work-related events, I keep well. For instance, when I am about to leave for a home hospice visit, I get in the car, record the miles I have on my odometer as a voice memo on my phone, use hand sanitizer, make the drive in silence-- no phone, no radio, no sound that I can control-- and use the hand sanitizer again before going into the home or facility for the visit. This kind of routine I keep. But the other kinds, those that contribute to my personal well-being, I have the most trouble maintaining. I have always enjoyed writing and especially loved writing right away in the morning. I started the day feeling centered and balanced and successful. This I don't do any more. I have found excuses and reasons, some seemingly very valid, to abandon such an activity. I wonder why I leave behind and let disintegrate these activities I find personally beneficial, and stay committed to those that do not directly contribute to my happiness.
To implement something, almost anything, on a daily basis could likely assist my ability to adapt to these changes I am experiencing. Potentially, to blog every day could be this something.
Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Calving glaciers

Maybe two years ago, when I was doing my music therapy coursework, I came across the image of calving glaciers. For those of you who do not know what this is, as I had no idea at the time, I will explain to the best of my ability: The calving process is that which happens when a glacier loses part of its mass in a seemingly sudden way (or at least this is what I gathered from the image and the explanation of it that I found). The glacier purges a sizable percentage of itself in an explosive manner, leaving behind a refined portion of the original being.
I became fascinated with this imagery, but haven't given it thought in the recent past. Until now, of course. Change. Sudden and drastic and dynamic and loud. Loss and a re-forming that occurs because of it. These are the metaphors I assigned to this image.
I have moved from state to state many times in the past five years. In the last 12 months, I have lived in three states, have taken and left three jobs, have begun an internship in which I work with the chronically ill and dying, and have experienced the loss of a family member. Now, at my halfway point in this internship, I have the sense that I am about to calve.
Acknowledging these changes in life circumstance seems to be crucial in handling effectively the dying process of the patients I see on a daily basis. I have the responsibility to find within me the ability to make choices actively that will promote my sense of self, such that it is in this state of transition. In doing this, or at least in trying to do this, I am actively releasing my former self. Sometimes, this release is striking and sudden and manifests in tears or anger or both. But I need to do this in order to find myself cleansed to the core, where I am most authentic. I need to shed and to split. At the end of the calving process, the remnants of the glacier are not smooth and rounded, but naturally jagged-- in preparation for further calving, I suppose.
Thanks for reading.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Surprise of a day

Today was somewhat surprising for me. I knew I would have a busy day, working with people who have movement disorders all day and working at a restaurant all night. What I expected was to be rejuvenated by the work I do in music therapy and to be, well, annoyed by the work I do as a server at a restaurant.
What actually happened was that I arrived at the center where I do my music therapy work feeling sad and down. Nothing unusually upsetting occurred on my way to work, I simply felt sad for whatever reason. I recognized the same sense of sinking that I've been feeling the past week. I love the work I am privileged to do, and I truly enjoy most of the people with whom I do it. Each person with whom I work is an individual, though the fact that his or her disorder is slowly and certainly consuming every piece of the life once had is a shared experience among them. Some people openly cry, while others find laughter, saying, "Laughing is the only thing that gets me through the days." One person today asked if someone could help him with his dishes, though he didn't have any dishes in his hands. Watching his face fall when this information was explained to him made me feel heavy.
I believe in these people and admire the courage with which they live their lives. Talk about change-- the outstanding characteristic of the disorder is that there will be decline, change, in ability, cognitive and physical, to be certain.
I left my internship work today expecting to be ever-irritated by the restaurant-goers I would be serving the rest of the night, but I wasn't. Instead, I found that engaging in further conversation with fellow servers energized me. I am a person who typically finds satisfaction in relationships that are very strong and well-attended; I have a handful of excellent, close friends. Sometimes I am afraid to take time and energy to connect with people whom I do not expect there to be a long-standing friendship, but I was pleasantly surprised that tonight, while working at the restaurant, I benefited from doing just that. I am learning that the more connected I feel to people in any given place, the more grounded I feel. Maybe this is common sense to you, but this is new knowledge for me. I realize, however, that any kind of relationship takes a massive amount of emotional energy, and today I experienced both ends of the spectrum.
Thanks for reading.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

When is it that we are not in flux?

When is it that we are not in flux? When can we truly say that today is a day that is the same as another? In life, we live with death and loss, and with death, we live new lives. With each death we experience -- death of a loved one, death of a friend, even "death" in other terms (such as "loss" instead of absolute end of life) -- with each of these occurrences our lives are created anew, whether we like it, or ask for it, or even know it.
To know that loss is something I experience, to identify it and to acknowledge it as a piece of my life, is a new phenomenon to me. Loss -- loss of identity, loss of people, loss of place, loss of familiarity are each commonplace to me, though I did not recognize this until quite recently. Some of this loss is voluntary, and a lot of it is not. With all of this loss, however, there comes great opportunity for gain. Though these losses are not true voids in my life -- having lost my uncle just over a year ago has not created a vacancy that can be filled. Rather, my loss has created, or has begun to create, a new life in me -- a life in living with his death, and his absence, and all of the circumstances surrounding the suddenness of it.
Speaking of opportunity for gain, I think of opportunity for new relationships, strengthening of old ones, and the importance both kinds have when living in transition, as I am currently. Presently, I am in flux.
I am a person who, six months ago, moved to a city I had never visited and where I knew no one. I seemingly immediately found work (fortunately) and a band (also, fortunately), both of which occupied my time while I also prepared to begin an internship in music therapy. In this internship, where I have been working for three months now, I work with people in hospice, people who have cancer, people in inpatient care, people who have Parkinson's Disease and related movement disorders, and people who have eating disorders. I work the internship 40 to 45 hours a week, I work at a restaurant (the work I found soon after having moved here) about 16 hours a week, I practice and do gigs with the band between three and six hours a week, and I have a perfectgreatawesome boyfriend (whom I met here, too, soon after having moved here), with whom I like to and try to spend most of the remaining time in the week.
I have trouble finding calm. My hope is that writing about my experiences, in general and maybe specific ways, will help me find such a thing.
Thanks for reading.