Friday, June 23, 2017

Inch One Hundred Seventy-Six: Life's Essentials 70% Off

We have weekend company arriving later today. This will be a shorter post than usual because I have been putting my time and energy into cleaning the house, getting their room ready, and getting groceries. A little gardening early this morning and going to the office later today are tucked in there too.

Oh, and a pie is in the oven as I type these words.

The guests are family: Warren's brother, Brian, and Brian's wife, Margaret. I have known Brian even longer than I have known Warren, and that's saying a lot. Margaret and I are very close. I have commented more than once to Warren that I am so glad his brother had the great sense to marry that woman.

I recently deleted a piece of spam titled "Life's Essentials 70% 0ff." I never opened the email, so I don't know what those essentials were and why they were 70% off. I strongly suspect my list would be radically different and I would have found few of what I consider essential in that email.

This weekend is an example of life's essentials. Family arrives later today. There is a small ensemble outdoor concert tomorrow. Brian brought his bike, and my friend Corroto, who bikes all the time, marked out some area routes for him. Margaret and I will talk and talk and fit in some long walks. We will make cinnamon rolls together for Sunday breakfast. There is pesto from last year's garden in the freezer and one of our meals will be pasta and pesto. They are staying until Tuesday so that Margaret can join me at Poetry Night.

And there will be pie.

Life's essentials? My weekend will be full of them. I will have family and music. There will be good talk and quiet togetherness. There will be walks and laughter and Poetry Night. These sorts of things tend not to come 70% off anything, as they are one of a kind ephemera.

After all, how can you put a price tag on homemade cinnamon rolls, made side by side with a friend you love? Or a slice of that pie, which I made for those I love?

Life's Essentials, Priceless.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Inch One Hundred Seventy-Five: You Know You...

You know you have lived a long time in a percussionist's world when, looking at an online auction to see its format, a set of five brass bells catches your eye and you bid on it. And then up your bid after the original bidder ups the bid. 

You especially know you have lived a long time in a percussionist's world when you watch the online auction tick down to make sure your bid stays the high bid and then gloat when it is over and you have won. I will be picking them up later this afternoon about five blocks from here. They are a gift intended for the percussionist in my life. He already knows, so I am not giving away any secrets here.

You also know you have lived a long time in a percussionist's world when, in trying to describe how you feel, you revert not only to musical terms but also to tuning terms. (Because, among other things, I have acquired more than a passing knowledge of how tuning bars and crotales works.)

For the next few weeks, I am on a drug holiday from all (ALL) chemotherapy and related treatment regimens. Earlier this morning, apropos of nothing, I said, "Well, I think we can answer Dr. Leung's question about whether it was the chemo making me ill all this time." 

Expectant pause.

"It's not. We all pretty much knew that. But it's different off the meds."


"Well, the exhaustion is one long sustained chord now, instead of being broken up with a whole bunch of different dynamics."


"And the sick feeling? Kinda the same. A steady pitch without any overtones. Does that make sense?"


So you really know you have lived a long time in a percussionist's world when not only are you analyzing your incurable cancer in music terms but also your partner (the percussionist) understands what you are describing.

Warren and I are coming up on 11 years together. I have lived in his percussion world all that time, including but not limited to attending international percussion conferences, having a timpani room in the house in lieu of a family room (doesn't everyone?), having a machine/wood shop in what used to be a garage (ditto), and learning that absolutely anything—anything—can be (and often is) turned into a percussion instrument. 

And you know you have lived a long time in a percussionist's world when that's the norm. And you're okay with that.

More than okay. 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Inch One Hundred Seventy-Four: Detroit

I spent three days this past week in Detroit, attending the national conference of the League of American Orchestras. When you are married to the Symphony, you often end up at these things.

The League has stepped up its focus on and push for diversity and cultural equity in the orchestral world. These are topics that resonate deeply with me, so I was thrilled to attend three excellent panel discussions (two being interactive with the audience) on these themes. I came away with new points of view, some new discussion points, and some new approaches for the implicit bias workshop I will be co-facilitating at work later this month.

The conference was held in downtown Detroit, at the Renaissance Center. The Center is the world headquarters for General Motors, backing up to the Detroit River. We stayed at a small, just adequate motel within walking distance, and so walked the 4 or 5 blocks daily to the conference. I also went off by myself to walk around the downtown, exploring a little before I caught the QLine (light rail) to the Detroit institute of Arts.

Much was made at the opening plenary session, a panel discussion, of Detroit's rebound from its bankruptcy of 2013 and the Detroit symphony's rebirth from the musicians' strike of 2010-2011. Rebuilt neighborhoods, urban farms, the QLine: these are all measures of forward progress. The Detroit Institute of Art, one of this country's great collections, was saved in the Grand Bargain. But some panelists reminded us that much is yet to be done. This July is the 50th anniversary of the violent Detroit riot and, some reminded us, the city is still dealing with the aftermath of that event.

What struck me hardest about Detroit was the visible and omnipresent poverty. I am not a newbie when it comes to poverty and I know that in big cities, I am more likely to run into people asking for spare change, for a few bucks, for some help. What I saw in Detroit was far beyond that. Yes, there were people asking for change, but there were adults, mostly men but some women, who were sleeping nightly in the green spaces downtown or in a little protected back entrance of a building with no place to go. Unless you deliberately turn a blind eye, you cannot help but see them. It cut me deeply. Call me a dupe, but I gave away every bit of pocket money I had. I don't care what the recipients did with it; once it left my hands, it was theirs to spend.

On Thursday, the last day of the conference, I took a break late morning. I crossed over to the park that runs alongside the Detroit River, just behind the Renaissance Center, and sat for a long time in the dappled shade of a tree, looking across the river at Canada. A musical duo was playing steel drum and keyboard somewhere over my shoulder behind me. In front of me was a sidewalk fountain, a series of jets that shot up different lengths (a variation of a dancing fountain, but larger and more complex than the ones I have seen). It was a warm, sunny day and children were playing at the fountain. Children shrieking, laughing, dancing, jumping, drinking, squatting, yelling with delight. They would run back and forth to their parents, sitting or standing in near proximity. I watched in particular one little girl, maybe all of 3, who saw an older child bend over and wet his head in a spray. She carefully bent over and doused her own head: her forelock first and then all of it. Standing up with a gasp, she shook her head and trotted back to her parents, laughing in delight. There are far worse ways to spend a long half hour in Detroit.

We left Detroit a few hours later, and I carried a swirl of images: the tiger sculptures at Comerica Park, the woman who slept each day in a sleeping bag, one medium-sized purse near her, on a grassy sward just yards away from the Renaissance Center, the Rivera Court in the Detroit Institute of Arts—stunning enough to make me gasp when I entered it, the young teen, who looked surly and unapproachable, but who helped an older woman with a cane boarding the QLine car to a seat, and helped her up when she reached her stop down the line, listening to passionate musicians of color talk about the need to stop talking and to move forward on breaking down the barriers, and the elderly man to whom I gave money, who thanked me and told me his name, and then asked me mine.

And the laughter of children. The laughter of children dancing in the fountain.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Inch One Hundred Seventy-Three: Ripple Effect

My brother Mark recently posted a long commentary on Facebook that caught my attention. After ranting about the anger and rage in the world, he wrote:

Would it be so hard to have some compassion or show some empathy towards someone? Put yourself in their shoes for a little bit. Look at their situation. We are all guilty of not doing this. You can affect your little part of the world and maybe, just maybe help someone in the process. The person you affect may help someone else. It is like when you throw a pebble in the water and you watch the ripple spread. 
Tomorrow let us be the starting point, the pebble so to speak. See if you can make the world a better place.

Music to my ears.

At Juvenile Court, we (coworkers and I) facilitate a class called Victims Awareness. We spend a lot of time working on concepts of control and impact.

We pose them this problem: What can you control? What can you not control? We write their responses on the room's whiteboard. Control? "My anger." "My choices." "My reactions." "Who I hang out with." Not control? "Other peoples' choices." "Other peoples' actions." "What someone says about me." 

Lively discussions accompany some of the selections. 

We discuss control after we take the juveniles through the ripple effect. The ripple effect is simply the concept that the choices you make almost always have consequences that you may not have thought of at the time. Like a rock tossed in a pond, your actions—good or otherwise—set in motion a series of ripples that affect others. One of our juveniles' tasks is to parse on a chart the impact of their offenses: who was affected, how they were affected. Here is a typical ripple: my mom was affected when I shoplifted because she had to come to court with me. Oh, and that impacted her employer because she could not work that day. And that impacted her paycheck because she lost a day of work.

Ripple effect, choices, what can I control, what can I not control. They all come together in the class. Often there is a moment, usually midway through the five weeks of class, where I see the lightbulb come on in the juvenile's eyes.


When I read Mark's post, I immediately thought of our kids. When we do the ripple effect exercise using their offenses, we follow that up with an exercise in paying it forward. The inverse of a negative ripple effect is doing something positive: a random act of kindness. We challenge our juveniles to find a way to do such an act before the next class. We emphasize it doesn't have to be BIG, it doesn't have to cost money. They report back: I helped my grandma clean her house, I bought my friend lunch at the school cafeteria because he was out of money, I helped someone at the grocery store load groceries. Little ripples of good deeds. 

We also have our juveniles weekly capture on paper a good choice and a poor choice. As the class continues, the good choices move from "I studied for a test" to "I walked away from arguing with my mom" or "I did not punch the kid calling me names." Our youth are reflecting on their control, and starting, slowly, to weave that reflection into their lives.  More ripples, more realizations that there are real choices even when you are only 15. 

My brother got it right when he wrote "the person you affect may affect someone else... [Be] the pebble so to speak." 

I'm stepping away from facilitating the Victims class. We are just finishing a sequence and this one will likely be my last one. My job has changed in ways that make facilitating harder to work into my hours and the later day (we run class until 5:30, followed by a debriefing) takes a bigger toll on my health and energy than it used to.

I will miss the kids. I will miss the lightbulb moments. 

And I will watch for the ripples.