Saturday, May 28, 2016

"Always Look on the Bright Side of Life": Monty Python

Oh, woe is me (said Job, in the Bible--and me, recently, when health issues left me feeling blue).

Dear readers, I know that aging and suffering from the blues are not the kinds of adventure tales you expect! Thus, I feel compelled to keep the lamenting to a minimum while continuing to regale you with adventure stories (all true) of traipsing around the world with a broken foot, risking my life on boisterous ocean voyages, carrying out retirement projects, perfecting my musical acuity, saving the environment, changing the world, and otherwise pushing the limits of a human's physical and mental capacity. How many Americans can claim that? (In overseas travel alone, no more than 5% of Americans, even in our peak year.)

Keeping that in mind, I nonetheless feel justified in adding a few never-mundane yet somewhat less awesome activities from the past few weeks, all performed while laid up with a foot injury, chronic skin disorder, and...well, you don't want those unpleasant details. You want the tell-all tale: how many worthwhile pursuits and sundry affairs can one accomplish while hobbling around in a boot, if one sets one's mind to it?

1. If you can't dance, sing. Well, OK, this one IS kind of momentous rather than routine. Saturday night I took the stage for the first time to sing Cajun, leaving the partnering and maneuvering and moving around the dance floor to my fellow dancers. Despite my earlier fears of performing I did OK, in my humble opinion, and judging by comments from the audience. Here's a short video clip; longer clip on my Facebook page (may not load in all browsers):

Momentous accomplishment on May 21
2. Plan something fun. Agreed to help organize and publicize a Cajun dance in my Capitol Hill neighborhood on Friday, July 8, featuring our local Cajun band. I plan to make a guest appearance singing one of my favorites. Hope y'all will come.

Flyer by Brendan Bailes 
 Beautiful wooden dance floor at The Corner Store
3. Train. Returned to Results Gym three weeks after foot surgery, sticking to Pilates and weight-lifting moves that work the core and spare the feet. Felt great to be back after three weeks of slouching on the couch.
4. Get cultured. After a delightful repast at the National Gallery of Art's garden cafe, hobbled across the Mall to the Hirshhorn for some mind-popping abstractions. The next day, back on the bus to the Hawaiian festival at American Indian, in honor of the Hōkūleʻa traditional canoe having arrived in DC, after sailing across oceans using only traditional navigation by the stars. Mmm, mmm. I have not previously enjoyed the treat of young, fit, handsome Hawaiian men doing the hula. Nice hip rolls. Alas, must leave the details to your imagination, having forgotten my camera.
Watching over the delighted diners at the Garden Cafe

Robert Irwin's Untitled at the Hirshhorn
The Hawaiian canoe Hōkūleʻa arrives in DC; photo courtesy of Polynesian Voyaging Society
5.  Fix, mend, and repair. Finally got around to gluing my shoe sole back on. Searched the house for those tiny screwdrivers to tighten my glasses (where do they disappear to?). Sewed up the fraying edges on the boat curtains, threaded the machine for Pope so he can sew his sails and racing flags.

6. Polish public speaking. Further tested my appearing-in-public mettle by actively participating in meetings of the Lone Star Toastmasters Club on Capitol Hill.

7. Volunteer. This has been an ongoing theme for 6 or 7 years, mostly as a board member and hard-working volunteer at the nonprofit Yoga in Daily Life center in Del Ray, Alexandria. Tried teaching yoga previously; now focused on administration and event planning (such as the classical piano concerts in February featuring a member of Yoga in Daily Life from Croatia). This month, a lengthy board retreat to work on strategic planning, and preparation of follow-up reports. Make it worth my while--come on down for a class sometime!

Are we done yet? Am I done yet? Why, no. Also cooked, cleaned house, read library books, watched movies, lunched with friends, practiced guitar... even began cleaning out and donating "stuff" hiding in the backs of closets. Whew! My days CAN be productive and fulfilling if I get up off my butt and stop moping around the house lamenting.

Sit still, just because of a little pain and feeling blue? No. Set those blues aside or sing them out! I say. Just around the corner there is something fun, or at least worthwhile, clamoring for my attention. And I owe it to my readers to push on.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Battling My Fears (or, It's All in the Mind)

Last night, the demons caught up with me in the half-century race. The demons of the mind.

Here's what happened: I organized a practice session with musicians whom I have invited to perform with me later this month, at a house party. I had practiced to perfection my set list of tunes--singing and accompanying myself on guitar.
My repertoire of scribbled songsheets

Arrived at the practice, confident and bright. Began to play. And stumbled.

Clearly, I was thrown off by the presence of other people--even a couple of friends that I play with elsewhere. This time, though, it is MY performance at stake. I tried again; started over. Fingers failed to cooperate.
Practicing on Capitol Hill with Pearl on harp and Joel on accordion

What handicap is this, that has plagued me for five decades? The fear of making mistakes. Once upon a time, it destroyed any hope of a professional music or speaking career. (Did you know I studied violin, keyboards, classical guitar, and public relations?) Because there are no second chances in speeches, or in music.

Fortunately, writing is more forgiving--you can revise until you get it right! (That's why I prefer email to phone, FYI to my friends.)

Twenty years of delivering Toastmasters speeches, leading seminars over and over ... and over ... at work, and singing and playing with a group at Cajun jams have boosted confidence. But the verdict is in: still guilty.

Somewhere in the cell signalling sequence, being in front of an audience triggers "fight or flight." My grey cells haven't entirely adapted, even to years of practice.

Beyond public speaking and music, other threats abound. Venture beyond the four walls of my room, and it's a minefield. Some errors are hard to avoid, though fortunately rare in a carefully managed existence. Such as buying a house with hidden problems. (I only did this once, fortunately.)

Others are more frequent and more tangible: Wearing a shirt inside out, or socks that don't match. Losing a wallet. Not selling a stock before it crashes. Breaking a foot by stumbling on a curb.
Hmm, same color but not quite right

You know I am an adventuress (hence this blog). My closest friends know also that integral to all those adventures is driving myself hard, to the point of perfection. Why? To avoid the consequences of imperfection.

Psychologists are very familiar with this phenomenon. It is deeply rooted in childhood, left over from taking a beating for getting dirty or breaking a lamp. From hearing a hundred--or a hundred thousand?--times that my nose was too big and my legs too crooked. From being banished to the corner of a classroom for talking.

Maybe it is also embedded in genes. The odds, however, favor environment over evolution.

A logical plan of action, at this stage of life, is to stop racing the demons down the path of perfection. One option is to accept the inevitability of errors and let go of letting them bother me. A second option is to acknowledge and honor my limitations: Listen instead of speaking, and turn down invitations to lead.

Hmm. That sounds attractive! And easier! And that option logically leads to a simpler, less threatening mode of music: singing and playing guitar in my room, alone. Just as I have done, successfully outpacing the demons, for half a century.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Grabbing It While I Can Get It

A few months ago, when I was feeling blue because of some medical problem, a dear friend, Lisa, suggested going “shopping” online. “You’ll feel better!” she insisted. I took her advice, and it worked. I cheered up. I can’t remember what I ordered that day; however, I suspect it had something to do with svelte black leggings or a pair of size 9 Enzo Angiolinis, because clothes and shoes have long been known to be the magic elixirs for easing all sorts of womanly traumas and dramas.
My favorite flats. Please don't ask me how many pairs I have in my many times have I sung the blues???
Fast forward to May 5, 2016. Cinco de Mayo. What did you do to celebrate the Mexican tradition today?
I went shopping. This morning, I drove to Arlington to buy a used Martin backpacker guitar from my friend Terry. I was excited to find a high-quality mini-instrument that can be stowed in a plane’s overhead compartment and carried onboard for our sailing charter in Maine this fall. As you may recall, not playing guitar for many months--i.e., giving up a segment of my soul and losing my callouses--was one of the many little sacrifices I made for our Bahamas boat trip.
My new Martin, with full-size strings and a rich, deep tone--not bad for a skinny mini!
That was late morning, about 11:30 am. Later this evening, around 7:30 or so, I resumed shopping. I whipped open my laptop and, in quick succession, ordered a “little black dress” (females will know what I mean by that) from Lands' End, in size Small/Extra Tall; some homeopathic anti-inflammatory capsules from Amazon; three sets of Martin guitar strings, Bronze/Extra Light, for the new guitar; and several re-manufactured black ink cartridges for our Hewlett Packard printer, at one-fourth the price of new ink cartridges--a trick I learned from our neighbor Larry. 
Shopping--for anything, even a simple set of guitar strings, apparently--helps alleviate depression among women, as borne out repeatedly in the very latest controlled scientific studies. At least, it works for me!
Whew. A lot of acquisitions for one day. And to what did I attribute this sudden and intense interest in consecutive shopping sprees? Why, the blues, of course. Because this afternoon, around 4:00 pm, I went under the knife in the orthopedic surgeon’s office. That's enough to make anyone depressed!
Among the repercussions of breaking my foot a year and a half ago, I developed a bone spur and “scarred” ligaments. Today, we dealt with one of the two. The bone spur was shaved--in a technique that I won’t describe because it’s very scary! Hearing about it from the Doc left me feeling queasy and drove me to jam my fingers in my ears and cry out, “Don’t tell me any more! Just shut up and do it!” Even my partner, Pope, got squirrely when I told him. (Oh, by the way, Dr. Ferrell, I'm sorry about the screams; hope I didn't scare away any patients!)
Tonight, I am back on crutches, ice, and prescription narcotic pain-killers.  
Let's dispense with any critiques of the photo quality, ok? This selfie was an especially difficult one to capture--just you try it on crutches, under the influence of narcotics!

No zydeco-ing to Jesse Lege this weekend, I'm afraid. I'll be lucky if I can drive my stick shift, let alone waltz around a dance floor, in the next few weeks. Plus, this surgery followed a couple of other bodily traumas this week: a biopsy for a skin condition, and slicing the skin off my thumb while cutting vegetables. (Am I earning your sympathy yet?)
I could have postponed today's surgery; I didn't go into the appointment expecting anything traumatic, and the doctor gave me a choice: now or later. But I usually find that there's never a better time; there will always be a reason to postpone. And can you imagine what the anticipation would be like, once I had heard that breath-stopping description of the technique?
I don’t get a lot of sympathy at home. Despite his admirable qualities, which include gentleness, generosity, and being an excellent sailor and handyman, Pope is somewhat lacking in the ability to empathize, or feel another's pain. He says he doesn’t believe in whining; that everyone experiences pain, and that whining about it and seeking sympathy is like “grabbing” all the pain for yourself.

I don’t share that view, and am perfectly comfortable moaning and groaning and accepting all the warmth and caring and hugs and prayers that others are willing to share. I'm a whiner by nature. Just ask my friends.
 The door to my heart is wide open this week. Warm sentiments and good vibes welcomed within!

I assure you, however, that it's only for tonight. And maybe tomorrow. Dear readers, you have my solemn pledge that I am only "grabbing all the pain" for a brief moment and that I will not burden you with my whining and pleas for sympathy forever. In a day or so--promise--I will be ready and willing to hear your own tales of woe and suffering and to offer you my heartfelt love and caring. And loads of hugs.

I'll be sure to call you. Just as soon as these narcotic pain-killers kick in.