Sunday, March 30, 2014


I remember, as a nine-year-old child, begging my parents to let me buy a guitar with some money a grandparent gave me. I was already taking viola at school, and they were reluctant to let me take up an additional instrument. "You must practice until your fingers ache," my father said, and relented. Oh dad, how proud of me you would be now. My fingers ache, and my arms ache, and the muscles around my scapula ache, and my neck aches, and my collarbone aches, and my ears ache, and my head aches.

Tonight at the end of practice I pulled out an etude book I bought a while back. I don't use it now because my teacher says I'm not ready for it (he's right), but my former teacher let me play with whatever shiny thing I saw, so we suffered through some of these etudes at one point. Anyway, tonight I read one of the etudes just for reading practice, and I was (happily) able to play it with a reasonable sense of rhythm. It wasn't performance-ready, but you could tell what I was trying to do and what it was supposed to sound like. And it occurred to me that my former teacher must have the patience of a saint. I almost want to email her an apology for making her sit through my attempts at that etude two years ago, or whenever it was.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

the best two days

The past two days have been the best in a long time.

I ran a bit - faster yesterday, longer today.

I seem to be climbing out of the musical rut. Some things are feeling a lot easier, getting noticeably better. Yes, even I notice.

Had a good viola lesson yesterday; worked mostly on the solo recital piece. There's still more to be done, but it seems doable, if I work hard enough.

Today was my cellist friend's recital, and we played our duet, and it went ok! People seemed to like it, which just blew me away. They applauded; they talked to us afterward. Not like last recital, where I felt like a pebble that had been tossed carelessly into a deep lake. I have never felt so good about a recital. I may never again, for that matter. But I'm really glad it happened.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

two days' vacation

I've been at my job almost a year and taken just one vacation day, so I decided to take two days this week.

This morning my cellist friend came over and we had our final rehearsal for the recital Saturday. We're down to picky little things at this point, so we tried to stop before we got too deep. I have almost reached the point where I am stale on this piece, so I'm glad the performance is coming up. I am still not nervous, but rather I am nervous that I will get nervous and not deal with it well.

Otherwise, all I did today was, well, play. I played my recital piece for my husband, with him standing 2 feet away (he was trying to follow the music on the stand). I never play with someone standing 2 feet away but I did not get nervous - well, just a little, maybe. After that I played up to and past the point of diminishing returns. On the Mozart (Saturday's piece), I am now afraid I will mess up the last page or make a lot of extraneous noise and sound bad. Maybe the extraneous noise won't happen Saturday, or maybe it's not really audible except to me, but now I worry. Afterward, I played the 2 slow Telemann movements with my newborn baby vibrato. I fantasized that they were so beautiful and well-played that I would warm up for my lesson with them and my teacher would be amazed at their beauty and well-playedness, and immediately suggest I add one of them to my recital. Fat chance of that, I'm sure. We seem to be on the outs again. I wonder if I said or did something wrong, or whether this depression just cannot help but push people in the opposite direction.

Monday, March 24, 2014

more baby steps

I ran again this morning, another very few miles in the dark, in the rain. I thought I was going much faster than yesterday, but my watch said otherwise. It was not particularly fun, but doing it is better than not doing it, I think. If I do survive this, I will be better off for having kept up the running.

Running used to take me out of myself. It does not do that anymore. One reason I put so much value on viola lessons is that when it's good, it takes me right out of myself - it's just music and how to make it happen. Unfortunately, times like that are rare. But when they happen, I am so grateful. I wish I could find a way to get out of myself and stay there.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

baby steps

Yesterday I had a really good viola lesson, for a change. Actually it was two lessons: the first was devoted to a piece I am going to perform with my cellist friend at her recital next week, and the second was my regular lesson. The cello teacher is a good friend of my teacher, and she holds her studio recitals at his house, so we all convened there yesterday afternoon for a runthrough, which turned into a 90-minute polishing session. The cello teacher had heard us play the piece, but my teacher hadn't (though I had played my part through for him once). Both teachers kept coming up with suggestions for shaping and phrasing, but I didn't feel like it was because we sucked; rather it felt more like they could see ways to make it better. My cellist friend later told me she felt the same way. It always, always amazes me when people listen to me play and assume it's music. As an added bonus, one of the cello teacher's other students sat and listened to the whole session (he had come to run through his recital piece) and I was able to play in front of this complete stranger without excess nerves, shaky-bow, etc.

After this, everyone left and I had my regularly scheduled lesson. We spent a little time on the scale of the week, skipped the etude, and went right to the piece I've been working on for my recital, which we haven't touched (in lessons) in weeks. My teacher's studio recital is coming up soon and I've been more than a little worried about this piece; it's not hard hard, but it has to sound like music. I've been working on it all this time, but wondered if I'd developed bad habits that would be hard or impossible to fix in time. Much to my happy surprise, this lesson was not a bust either. Once again, it was not "you suck, this is awful" but "here's how we could make this better." Once again, it was such a nice surprise.

This morning I ran for the first time in 2 weeks, about 3.25 miles. This was the longest I had gone without running (apart from injury) in 12 years. I was amazed at how quickly the cardio health goes away; I was breathing much harder at 9:40-something pace than I thought I would. I have been suffering lately from severe leg cramps, and after running I noticed that some of the more cramp-prone muscles were sore. Still, I will do it again tomorrow.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

how I escaped my certain fate

Day starts out really bleak, bottoms out, gets better. Every day. Not that every day gets better. It's just that this very same thing happens every day. It's much better on the days I don't have to see or speak to anyone.

During the last very-bad time in my life I became convinced - rightly or wrongly - that I was nothing but a drain on people, that anytime anyone spoke to me it was out of pity. Looking back on it, this was a pretty psychotic way of thinking, but that's the way I was back then. There were plenty of nights I prayed not to wake up the next day, and a few times I worked up the nerve to try to make that happen (I did not have the anti-suicide bias I have now), but obviously nothing ever came of it. This lasted for about a year, after which I moved up north for a few years and left all my troubles behind, so to speak. By the time I moved back, I'd quit caring what anyone thought about me, and thus commenced ten or twelve of the best years of my life.

So now here I am, thinking - rightly or wrongly - that I'm a real drain, and anytime anyone speaks to me it's because they feel sorry for me, and I have failed at so much, it just all seems impossible. Is this the whole remainder of my life, or just another terrible year? Back then, it was not a matter of making the conscious decision (Wait). Back then I was just chickenshit and unsuccessful in my attempts to escape.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

we cannot choose what the day will bring

Work reached a new low of lousy today - I have officially been put out to pasture, doing scut work that has nothing to do with my job title or the job of anyone else with my title (or anyone else with my former title, for that matter). It's as though they advertised for a developer, hired me for the job, then said "here's a bucket and a scrub brush, you get to scrub floors every day, for ever. No one else can do this except you; we only allow developers to scrub floors. You are the only developer not currently working on anything important, so you're it." This is never said to me outright, maybe for fear I'll quit; instead, they tell me it's just temporary, until XX time, but as XX time approaches no changes appear to be forthcoming, and the directives become more like "we're, uh, going to need you to go on and do this shit work forever, until we figure out some other way of having it done, which we can't seem to do even though we are a bunch of smart people heading up a soon-to-be-Fortune 500 company."

I spent most of the workday trying to avoid an abject funk. Decided to make rehearsal the fun point of the day (which it should be), but the tired jokes, the disorganization, and my inability to count/play that stupid viola-free boccherini just got under my skin. I got really pissed off at myself, took it out on the conductor, almost caused a repeat of that one awful rehearsal from a while back. So I toned it down and made sure to apologize afterward. Still, I felt like a head case. I should quit that orchestra; I'm sure it would be much more fun for everyone without the constant negativity from the viola section.

That last sentence could be a metaphor.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

observation on positive thinking

I was reading the blog of someone I don't know. I follow the blog because the person is a professional musician, and even though there is very little about music in the blog, I read it anyway.

In the latest entry, the blogger mentions moving alone to a new house (presumably because of a relationship's end). The tone is hopeful instead of miserable. But what struck me most is the remark that the blogger will be 50 years old in a few months and sees this as a new start, a reinvention. What? A new start? A reinvention? Here I sit, at 50 years old plus a few months, thinking my life is over, there is no more in front of me, no hopes, only regrets, only decline. I wish, I wish so much that I could think like that blogger.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

something I learned today

Today I went to Viola Day, a day-long event sponsored by ASTA and devoted to viola. The guest-clinician was the associate principal violist at the Met, and the schedule included performances and a master class, as well as a few all-comers activities.

The day started with a play-in (sight-reading session), which used to strike terror into my heart. Somehow or other I have become a better reader, so this was actually ok, kind of fun even, for a while. I have also learned to follow a stand partner when I get lost, a skill which came in handy as we played through more and more difficult pieces. I reached my limit, though, when the clinician decided to share our stand - even though he was very nice and not at all critical, nerves took over and my brain just shut down at times, usually during a change in clef. So we did actually reach and surpass the point of demoralization, and I spent the rest of the morning beating myself up for not playing well, and beating myself up for beating myself up.

The afternoon started out with a concert of works by Richard Lane, a composer who wrote a lot for viola. Among the performers were people I know: my former teacher; her colleague who also ran a chamber-music workshop I participated in a couple of times; one of her former students who is now a superstar about to go to grad school in viola. Also performing was a famous professional violist I had only heard of (he has retired to this area). I'd never heard of the composer, had never heard the pieces before. The performances were beautiful, for the most part. And sitting there in this gorgeous chapel, listening to these beautiful viola ensembles, it hit me: what they were doing bore no more relation to my "study" of viola than, well, anything. We exist in separate universes, as performers. I will never, ever be able to play the way I hear. It is too late. I started too late.

As this dawned on me, I wondered whether it is defeatist or freeing. Should I quit, or should I just accept that I will never perform what I consider to be real music in a real way, and quit stressing about it? Does this make me look stupid that I have been taking it seriously? If so, how stupid does it make me look? I am truly grateful that I can hear music and love it and try to make sense of it, but what I actually do is not music, and will never be. There is this can-do-ism, at least in this country, that applauds any effort, no matter how futile. I suspect it is tied to capitalism. As an adult, I am a cash cow; just keep telling me "it's never too late!" and I will buy an instrument, attend your camp, take lessons from you, donate to your orchestra, whatever. But you know what? Sometimes it is too late.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

just wait

Just wait. Wait long enough, and it will pass. Don't do anything, just take a deep breath, close your eyes, and wait. Don't do anything now, just wait. Wait long enough, and everything passes. This is what I wish I had been able to tell Mike O'Neill.

Friday, March 14, 2014


I have lost the desire for my two most important hobbies, running and music. I last ran about a week ago, haven't felt the slightest urge to run since then. Today - the last day of the first workweek of the new horrible work regime - I found myself thinking about practicing this evening, and thought "why bother." I can step outside of myself enough to be concerned about that (which I guess is a good sign). But I can do no more about it.

There is a wonderful group of adult string-learners on facebook, but I can't bring myself to drag this crap into that group. Although it has a direct effect on my attempt to learn music, the cause(s) really has (have) nothing to do with it. And I am always going in there complaining about something or other. If I can ever become less of a drag, maybe I'll post more, but for now I'll stick to mostly lurking.

I hate mornings

During the last very-bad time in my life, some 18 years ago, nightfall seemed like the saddest time of day, and I would go to great lengths to avoid it, usually by taking naps.

Now, for some reason, mornings are the worst. The whole day stretches ahead of me, full of chances for me to mess up, full of drudgery, full of nothing, full of chances to rack up more screwups and failures, chances to alienate more people with my negativity.

In the mornings before leaving for work, I play viola for an hour, mostly warmup stuff to develop a relaxed right arm. Because it is so mindless, though, it gives plenty of opportunity to let negativity creep in. I have a lesson tomorrow. In my current state, I easily imagine the lesson as some ordeal. It occurs to me that, given the way other areas of my life are going, I should see playing and lessons as the high point of an otherwise-crummy existence. I should look forward to lessons; I should enjoy them. But my state of mind is so fragile that I make the worst of anything.

Earlier today I had some thought about making a conscious decision to enjoy learning music and (in particular) enjoy tomorrow's lesson, to let it be the high point of the week, mistakes and all. I thought, "you can decide to enjoy it, or you can just allow yourself to shit all over it." The ability to make such a decision seemed so possible at the time. It seems much less so now. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

the eternal afternoon

The Eternal Afternoon was a song I wrote a very long time ago, trying to describe an emotional state when something bad has happened in the morning, and now you have gained several hours' perspective and things don't seem so hopeless, but whatever happens will not happen until evening, and you're still in that holding pattern, waiting, waiting. It was not a very good song, but it was interesting in that I wrote the music immediately after dreaming it, instead of thinking it to death. Although I wrote the lyrics, I did not sing lead, just did the Exene-weird-interval-wailing thing. That was such a very long time ago.

I feel as though I'm approaching the point where I've had enough. Despite my still-strongly-held opinion of suicide, I also can't see any other way. I am not a fan or believer in "talk therapy;" I would not know how to ask for it or what to ask for; I don't see the point in paying someone to be my "friend" and stand me back up on my feet. Talking to a paid professional won't change things anyway.

There used to be (and maybe still is) the option to wait, wait until this cloud passes the sun and I can go on again. But I feel as though I am such a drag on everyone around me. It is such an effort to hide so much negativity, and much of the time I don't do it very well. 

And even once this passes, everything is so pointless and inconsequential; I might as well be throwing punches at the air.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

I could be shooting myself in the foot

I think this thing is pretty well locked down, and not discoverable if you just know my real name. If I learn otherwise, I will take this down. But maybe, if I let this stay, someone will stumble across it someday and learn what not to do, how not to be.

Work: the organizational shuffle continues, and for me it is bad news. I have been shunted into the most noncreative, dead-end role available. "They" say it is only temporary, but "they" say whatever the hell they want. What this tells me is that my work is inconsequential, I am washed-up as a developer, I am only fit for typing data from spreadsheets into databases, with a smile, of course. I have begun looking for work, but my heart sinks at the prospect. I am too depressed at the moment to sustain a conversation.

Music: well, we've spoken about that. I think my fanatical attitude toward learning and "progress" may have strained the student-teacher relationship. I live for tiny crumbs of praise, do not receive them (or write them off if I do), grow difficult. All smarts aside, I'm not much fun to deal with.

Do not let yourself get to 50 years old if you are going to be like this.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

one more thing

In a rare let's-play-through-some-stuff mood, I pulled out the lime-green Watson Forbes Bach Cello Suites book and just read for a while. Right off the bat, I noticed how much easier reading is. I mean, I see it, I read it, my brain whispers something in a foreign language to my fingers and there it is, albeit way under tempo. As I played through the gigue from the first suite I marveled at how much easier it was to play in tune (thanks to a smaller viola), and how much easier it is to actually say things with the bow (thanks to my teacher, and bow circles, and fear of failure, and...). But what struck me most of all is how I had absolutely no business playing that piece at last year's recital. That was a terrible choice, really bad.

walking on sheets of glass

I was in no mood for it, but I went over to my cellist friend's house today to work on the duet we are going to play at her teacher's studio recital. It was pretty obvious we'd both done our homework; we really made a point of listening to each other and playing with each other. For a brief time I felt like a musical person and not the idiot holding the viola.

Post-lesson days are usually the worst when it comes to playing with confidence, because I am all too aware of everything I do wrong. I am not used to people wanting to play with me, or enjoying it. It floors me every time.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

please, keep knocking me to the floor

Lousy lesson today. I had been feeling really good about practicing this week, and had hoped for a lesson where I could show what I'd learned and work on what I needed to learn, but it was not to be.

The scale went well, the etude wasn't great but he decided it didn't have to be. So it came time to pick another etude; the next one in Kayser he looked at and said, flatly, "You can't do that. You're not ready." and fuck me, that was all it took to send me to self-loathing-land. It was just a little thing, but it caught me the wrong way at the wrong time. After that, I heard mockery in every critical thing he said. And there were a lot of them - you'd never know I ever practiced at all, for all the things he found wrong. We spent a lot of time on something he tossed at me at the end of the last lesson (and which I had not practiced much at all), so of course that had many awful things in it. I swear to god, if I played one nice thing, he certainly didn't notice it. By the time we got around playing something I *had* spent time on, I was so demoralized I just wanted to run away. 

Why do I keep doing this? It's like I'm volunteering for humiliation, week after week.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

in other news

In other news, my right arm is working! I had one of those rare practices where the bow felt like it was just hanging from my hand (i.e., I was not gripping hard) and it was an extension of my arm. I'd move my arm and the bow would go; I'd sink in (not press) and a different sound would come out. It was like learning to work a pantograph, or  Leroy lettering system. I would get so fascinated with the different things I could do with my arm that I had to force myself back to whatever left-hand thing I was trying to accomplish.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

the cliche of running as therapy

My achilles has healed to the point where I can run without pain, and so I feel obligated to run every day. It is not fast, or fun, or goal-oriented. These runs...I guess they are a sort of therapy for me, but like real therapy (or so I've heard), it can be very painful. Nothing but me and my thoughts for 60-90 minutes, ugh, I cannot conceive of anything worse. I carom from one bad scenario to the next, then suddenly the weight lifts a little and things seem bearable, there is a way out after all. Then a stray thought sneaks in, unbidden, and once again there's no way out. Every once in a while I come to some realization about something, but those can be painful too. I hope at least the physical exertion does some good. In fact, I wonder if my thoughts would race even more without the daily exercise.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

weak end miscellany

I somehow managed to haul myself around the neighborhood more than 50 miles this week. Incredible, considering what an awful week it's been.

A former colleague posted a recommendation for me on LinkedIn, completely out of the blue. I did not ask her to.

Some people I know only online have been amazingly kind.

My viola lesson today went fairly well. My teacher found some nice things to say, and mentioned some new and different things I needed to work on, instead of just the same old things he's been saying for a year. We didn't quite get into the how of fixing them, but maybe that will happen someday. He had me play the atrocious baby piece and started picking it apart and we worked on it. He had it in mind for a recital piece, but I balked (because I really dislike it), and there commenced a discussion of potential recital pieces where he vetoed everything I suggested, for various reasons that all translated to "you are not good enough". Of course this got under my thin skin, but it was the tail end of the lesson. I shouldn't mind not being good enough - after all, it's a fact, and why argue with facts? I will tell him I'll play the atrocious baby piece if that's what he thinks is appropriate. And I will stop calling it the atrocious baby piece; maybe I'll learn to like it better.