A Cornucopia of Sounds

I Heard It Through the Grapevine

I Heard It Through the Grapevine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Prompt: “You make a new friend. Make them a mix tape (or playlist, for the younger folks) that tells them who you are through song.”

To discover who I am through music I think it would be germane to go back and listen to a few songs from my younger days before hearing some songs that sum up who I am today.

We should start with three tracks that were played and played when I was quite young. The first is from an album that I thought was Petula Clark or Julie Andrews but I can’t find it in the discography of either. It was an LP of children’s songs on thick plastic and the track I remember best is ‘Teddy Bear’s Picnic’ – “If you go down to the woods today you’re in for a big surprise”. The other record I remember vividly was an LP with Prokofiev’s ‘Peter and The Wolf’ on one side and Saint-Saëns ‘Carnival of the Animals’ on the other. I particularly loved Peter and The Wolf.

There was also a song my mother used to play a lot which was a mother singing with her small daughter. I can’t now remember the song or the artist but it was a song of love. I’d like to add that to the list, I’ll try hard to remember it over the next few days. That song would define both the closeness of my mother and I back in my early years but the closeness I now have with my own daughter.

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Beauty In The Moment

Portrait Ludwig van Beethoven when composing t...

Portrait Ludwig van Beethoven when composing the Missa Solemnis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Prompt: “Describe what it feels like to hear a beautiful piece of music or see a stunning piece of art.”

I’m not a great one for classical music, I don’t listen to a lot of it or know a lot about it but there was one day when I spent time listening to some of the most beautiful classical music with a friend who was an expert.

I went over to visit Jason to choose some music for my father’s funeral.

He introduced me to Beethoven’s ‘Missa Solemnis’ and Bach’s ‘Mass In B Minor’. These are two of the most beautiful pieces of music, both written as masses late in the career of both composers, both written after they had lost their faith and both written after they had lost some of their faculties, Beethoven was deaf and Bach by the time he finished his Mass was blind.

Both of these pieces start with huge, swelling masses of music. As I hear the Mass start with those massed voices I can feel my body slow to the rhythm of the music and a calm comes over me when the voices fade and the woodwinds take over. Bach seems to be quite deliberately manipulating me into a calm and contemplative mood before the choir comes back with the hymnal section.

This piece of music was designed for a church service. It is meant, designed, to manipulate your feelings and put you into a receptive and reverential mood. It works brilliantly. As I listen through the hour and half, approximately, that the Mass takes I find it calming yet at the same time there are a couple of sections where I find it difficult not to cry.

For a truly moving experience get a really good recording of the Mass (the one of the Münchener Bach-Orchester conducted by Richter seems to be considered the best), put it on your iPod and take it to the best cathedral in your town.

The Beethoven Missa does the same thing to me. It is a wonderfully calming and moving piece of music that deliberately sets out to manipulate your mood and emotions. If you open yourself up to it that is exactly what it will do.

Seeing great paintings can be the same. When I think of the artistic wonders of Rome and Florence I did appreciate and enjoy the works in the Uffizi and Vatican galleries but the pieces that truly moved me were the ones in churches and chapels.

There is a secret to truly allowing the art to work its magic on you. The first thing to remember is not to rush. When you first enter a church take a moment to calm yourself. Take a seat on a pew and allow the place to affect you, allow your eyes to adjust and your mind to open.

When I do these things looking at a fine painting in a church is a marvellous experience. I’ve stood in both small chapels and grand cathedrals awed by the beauty of the work. I’m filled with wonder at the skill of the artist.

Though I am an atheist I can understand how, particularly hundreds of years ago, this art and music moved people closer to their god and made it easier to believe. It certainly fills me with a sense of wonder and awe, in me it is towards the power and beauty of the human condition that it can throw up such joys as these.

Polo Shirt And Chinos

A Lacoste tennis shirt, from the 2006 spring c...

A Lacoste tennis shirt, from the 2006 spring collection (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Prompt: “How important are clothes to you? Describe your style, if you have one, and tell us how appearance impacts how you feel about yourself.”

When I was in High School I went to two alternative schools and had a reputation at both schools for wearing “out there” clothes. They weren’t too strange but they certainly were outside the normal. One summer I wore a boubou my Dad brought back from Africa to school for a month, it was great colours, striped in earthy oranges and browns. A friend’s parents brought back from the US a pair of 1800s bib and brace train engineer’s overalls and matching hat that got worn to school as well.

In my final year my girlfriend was talking to a friend who had come to out school to pick her up and apparently said “That’s Tony over there. They guy in the clothes.” I’m not sure what I was wearing that day.

The funny thing was that I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about clothes, choosing what to wear or shopping. Part of it I think was that I kept an eye out for the unusual. For example, I had a collection of vests and suit jackets I’d found in op shops and at Paddington markets that got worn quite a lot.

Then something happened. When I was in my early thirties, I think it was when I was working at Australian Macworld, I started wearing polo shirts (I prepfer the ones with a pocket) and jeans almost all the time and that look has stuck. These days I’m just as likely to wear chinos as jeans but the polo shirt has stayed the same. It’s what I wear of a weekend and it’s usually what I wear to work.

One exception to that is when I’m going out. I might still wear the chinos but I have a bunch of really nice shirts (including a couple of silk ones) that I wear when I want to look my best. I do enjoy putting my glad rags on and going to the theatre or out to a nice restaurant with the woman I love, or I did when there was one in my life.

The other exception is when I go to Mad Racket, the dance parties that are thrown by my friend Andy. For Mad Racket I go to a great deal of trouble to find an interesting T-shirt to wear, most of them bought online from the US.

So clothes don’t play a large part in my life nowadays. They never really have, though I did enjoy wearing interesting stuff when I was younger. Now they are almost entirely functional in my life. My appearance is one of the few things that has no impact on how I feel about myself.

Choosing Is Hard

Choosing the Red and White Roses by Henry Payne

Choosing the Red and White Roses by Henry Payne (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Prompt: “How do you pick what blogs or books to read? What’s the one thing that will get you to pick up a book or click on a link every single time?”

Picking books is a task both difficult and easy.

I find it easy to pick some books, they are the books by authors I have already read and trust to deliver something worth reading. If David Weber publishes a new book I know I will probably enjoy it. There are also older authors whose works I am slowly working through, Philip K Dick is the most common of those at the moment.

There are also times when I feel the need to go back to an old friend, when Austen, Hardy or Tolkein call to me. These are like a holiday, a rest from the work, the intellectual effort of understanding a new book.

Then it gets hard. Finding new authors to enjoy is difficult. I often lower the cost of testing the waters by having a look in a second hand bookshop. I also subscribe to the free sample edition of ‘Fantasy & Science Fiction’ magazine.

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Immersed In A Culture

crane and papers of the same size used to fold it

Origami crane and papers of the same size used to fold it (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Prompt: “If you could pause real life and spend some time living with a family anywhere in the world, where would you go?”

When I first read this question I immediately leapt to an answer that was made from a view of tourism. Then I realised that the important part of this question is the phrase “with a family”. This phrase implies that I will be immersed in more than the usual tourist life, that I will become part of the real local culture.

This then pulls me in two different directions.

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Clutter, Junk & Treasures


Clutter (Photo credit: spykster)

Today’s Daily Prompt: “Is there “junk” in your life? What kind? How do you get rid of it?”

Junk? It’s not junk! It’s old books, souvenirs from overseas, toys and half completed projects. Oh, and I swear I’ll wear those old T-shirts again some day (probably the same time I wear those mismatched socks).

OK, I admit it. I’m a bit of a hoarder. There is a fair amount of stuff around that isn’t really required and will probably never get used.

Books used to be the largest part of that. I love reading and I love books. There was a time I kept every book I bought, even the ones I didn’t like and would never read again.

There are a couple of drawbacks to keeping hundreds of books. The biggest is that you can never find the book you want. The second is that they take up a lot of space, finally they are a nightmare to move.

A few months ago I took that particular problem in hand. I had six bookshelves packed full of books, paperbacks stacked two deep on some of them when I started. I was totally ruthless and finished with just over two bookshelves of books. It was painful but necessary. It was totally ridiculous to have IT books ten years out of date, for example.

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Shiver With …

English: Anticipation Deutsch: Erwartung

Anticipation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Prompt “When you’re giddy with excitement, does time speed up? Slow down? Tell us about the experience of anticipation.”

Anticipation. That precursor of pleasure.

I’ve previously written about anticipation. In my post “An Ideal Saturday and The Science of Optimism” I quoted Dr Tali Sharot “We prefer Friday to Sunday because Friday brings with it the thrill of anticipating the weekend ahead.” That post talks quite a lot about anticipation (and optimism).

When I’m excited, when the anticipation is strong, my mind is creating an image of the pleasure to come. A scenario is building inside me of what is to come. I imagine good things happening. Dr Sharot mentions that too, she calls it the “optimism bias” – our tendency to overestimate the likelihood of good events happening to us in the future.

I find that time can both rush and slow down. A great example can be found in the hours before I go to a dance party. Most good dance parties don’t start till nine or ten at night and the last few hours between dinner and leaving can seem to take forever. By the same token sometimes it can rush by, I find the last few days before I go overseas just zip past.

Anticipation is one of the great joys in life. Excitement almost requires it. I think about what stimulates my senses, what excites me and they all have an element of anticipation to them. Just think about sexual arousal, it is almost entirely built upon anticipation of the further pleasures to come. It’s also the perfect example of subjective time, a hand across your cheek can seem to take minutes, a kiss can last forever.

Giddy with excitement.

Giddy, frivolous and light hearted. Anticipation so strong that the excitement about things to come makes you impulsive. Sounds a lot like that first flush of romantic love doesn’t it. I really like that feeling.

So far I’ve assumed that anticipation is looking forward to something good but this isn’t necessarily the case. Dr Sharot tells us “people with severe depression tend to be pessimistically biased; they expect things to be worse than they end up being.” So we have anticipation of the negative.

At the moment this is quite familiar to me, when I anticipate the days ahead I don’t build a picture of pleasure and success but one of pain, problems and failure.

At it’s worst this is the dark side of anticipation, anxiety. The Wikipedia page on anxiety has a good phrase, “feelings of dread over something unlikely to happen”.

There is a difference between simple pessimistic anticipation and real anxiety. A common example of the former for me is that sometimes before I sit down at my drum set I am anticipating a hard, unsuccessful practice session. This is qualitatively different to my social anxiety, which is stronger and tied in to fears of things much less likely such as people laughing at me or telling me I’m stupid.

Anxiety can really make time drag. I have anxiety about dealing with government bureaucracies and the time I sit waiting in the dole office waiting to see someone is the slowest time I know.

However, I think we should stop talking about anxiety. Let’s anticipate a weekend of nice weather, nice meals and nice friends.

One Tiny Change

English: Johnny Depp in Cannes in the nineties.

Johnny Depp in Cannes in the nineties. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Prompt: “For a moment today, time stands still — but you can tweak one thing while it’s stopped. What do you do?”

A myriad of possibilities open up. From the almost infinitesimal to the huge. I think about the day I had today and what changes I might make.

There are, of course, the fantasies:
– Make me as rich as Rupert Murdoch
– Make me as handsome as George Clooney
– Make me as sexy as Johnny Depp

Then there are a few philanthropic ones:
– Reverse the Federal election results
– Give the illiterate Aussies the ability to read
– Trash all the poker machines in Australia
– Abolish nine out of ten liquor licenses in Kings Cross and the Sydney CBD

They all have their appeal. Are they really the “one thing”? “Tweak” implies a small change not a huge bunch of wholesale changes so it doesn’t allow us ot go for the really big ones, the almost impossible, such as
– Make cancer disappear
– Make poverty disappear
– Fix TV so there’s always something worth watching
– Give the Liberal/National Party Coalition a heart

Then there’s the elephant in the room. The one I’m not talking about. The big one. “I am wounded with knife, sting, and tooth, and a long burden. Where shall I find rest?,” as Bilbo asked Gandalf.

So while time is stopped, all motion ceased, reactions halted I reach inside my bruised and battered brain and tweak those hormones and proteins and structures and erase a little, adjust a little and cure my fevered mind. Major Depression gone.

It would be nice if it was that easy. That’s not really a “tweak” is it? That’s a big change. It’s a lot of tweaks all together.

Small changes, minor adjustments or tiny alterations just isn’t going to do it. If I can’t have the one change that will actually effect some change in my life, some change in my future and make tomorrow even a little less lonely and painful then you can keep your “tweak”. Nothing, thanks.

Have A Talent?

Talent Show

Talent Show (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Prompt: “Tell us about a talent you’d love to have… but don’t.”

The first thought I had when I read this question is what the difference might be between a “talent” and a “skill”.

So it turns out that a talent is innate, it’s something you have, while a skill is something you can acquire.

The last time Daily Prompt came close to this topic it asked about learning something that came hard. In that case I talked about drumming.

Most of the things I’d like fall into “skills”. In that post I also mentioned Italian and Haskell programming. They are skills.

What talents do I already have? I think I have a talent for writing with some experience and skill in editing. I’ve also shown a talent for computer support.

What would I love to have that is a talent not a skill? Quite a lot of my desires are skills. A talent? I don’t really need to know how to dance, paint or sing – none of those artistic talents.

Where I sit at the moment I’d have to look at my life and say “relationships”. I’m not good at relationships, both platonic and romantic, and there are parts of finding and maintaining them that I think are innate. Some are skills, skills like knowing how to care for people and being a good listener.

Other parts of it I’m sure are innate, they are a talent. Making friends, understanding people, even seeing problems in a romantic relationship. These seem to me talents rather than skills. I’ve tried over the years to learn these things but they never seem to come to me. I lack the talent. I try hard, I’m a good friend to anyone, I’m always the first to help in a crisis and don’t mind doing any of those small favours. In a romantic relationship I always try to make the other person feel loved, I always make sure I say it and I always do a range of small things to make the other person feel good. It just doesn’t seem to work, I just don’t have the talent.

There is another talent I seem to lack, particularly at the moment. I’d like to be able find pleasure and happiness. As I sit here writing away with my major depression leaving me grey and lifeless I look back on the last thirty years and it seems that happy has been a fleeting state of affairs, never with me for long and always far too fragile. At the moment with major depression there are medical reasons I can’t find it – anhedonia, the inability to experience pleasure from activities usually found enjoyable, is one of the defining symptoms.

People tell me that finding happiness is actually a skill rather than a talent, that it can be learnt. I wish I believed that. It’s another thing I’ve tried to acquire, I’ve read any number of books, tried meditation, yoga, positive affirmations and all manner of things.

So Much Unfair

Medicare in Australia's brand.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Prompt: “Tell us about something you think is terribly unfair — and explain how you would rectify it.”

We live in a society that might be described as democratic capitalism (though if I am feeling argumentative I would disagree that we are truly either) and there is a great deal about the way we build that society that is “unfair”.

If you talk to the upper-middle class and rich in Australia they say it’s “unfair” that they have to pay taxes while people “bludge on the dole” and that people on the bottom “just don’t know how to work.”

Today I’d like to talk about unfairness at the other end. I’d like to talk about some benefits that the top get that don’t get down to the bottom. There are far too many to cover them all (how about public finding of private schools)

In Australia we have a publicly funded health care system called “Medicare”. This is funded through a levy. If you earn more than a little over $20,000 you pay the levy. If you don’t have private health insurance that covers at least hospital stays you pay an extra levy.

At the other end if you earn less than $130,000 then you will get a percentage of all of your private health insurance cost paid back to you.

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