Tuesday, December 15, 2015

It's too hot for December.

At Sunday's lesson, the Schubert concerto was "performed" end to end and then unceremoniously dumped into the latrine. Thus ends my career as a player of concertos, and I will never stand among the ranks of Mateo and Michael and Clarissa and Cassandra and Mark and all the other fabulous studio kids. In place of the Schubert I was assigned a 2-minute, half-page piece of largo sustained notes written by a Hungarian I've never heard of. The instructions for this week were to finger and bow it, without "cheating" (finding it online and listening to it). As the week goes by I am developing some idea of how it should sound, but I have no idea if it's correct - I often hear things differently out of context. Next lesson, not only the notes but the interpretation will be up for scrutiny. 

I am not in the mood to take up the campaign for elder rights, or push my interpretation of this piece. Just tell me what you want and I will do my best to play it that way. My other teacher - the one whose relative optimism and indifference to age helps me tolerate Mr Critical Teacher's low opinion of my playing - has been dealing with a family issue for the past couple of weeks, and we haven't had a lesson in a while. I miss him. I need a bit of shoring-up.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

going backward

It's been a while since I've written. Things are different; things are the same. The same three things still dominate my life:

Work: I went back to a company I used to work for, doing the job I used to do, for the salary I used to make. I've traded the fabulous (heh) contractor $$$ for stability and security and paid time off. The company was organized very attractively when I first went to work there, promptly turned itself inside out a few times, and now seems to have its shit together once again. We'll see.

Running: I keep injuring my damn left calf. I can kind of run for 8 or 9 or 10 or 45 minutes at a time, depending. Not very fast. It's not very fun right now. I keep plugging away at it though.

Music: yes, above all, music. Some of the work I put in this past summer is paying off a little bit. I still have days where I can't string two bars together, but I am slowly making headway. I also got a new bridge and tailpiece, and my viola is much easier to play and sounds much better to my ear. Since I take lessons from two people and play in two groups, I have to squeeze a lot into my limited practice time, and I have been trying to become more effective in practice. Mr Critical Teacher turned me on to something he calls the "Chinese way" (he is of Chinese descent) but it's really just starting from the end of a piece and working backward. It's pretty neat because it eliminates surprises as you play through a piece - you know what's coming, and you've played it umpteen thousand times already.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

running, and the gotchas of aging

For the past five months I have been trying to build back my running mileage. Things were going well until June, but since then I've had injury after injury and just can't catch a break. It's really frustrating because I've been so good, favoring endurance over intensity, taking regular cutback weeks, backing off at the first sign of any little newborn injury.

And yet the past month has been a study in frustration. I strained my left calf (no known cause) so I babied it, walking, walk/running, and finally run/walking until it was pain-free and I could start running again. Two weeks later (including a super-cutback week because I was inexplicably tired) I strained it again (no known cause) and I have been babying it again. This time the walking and walk/running has aggravated the lateral quads on both sides, and the tibilais anterior on the uninjured side hurts like a motherfucker, even sitting at my desk, even at night when I turn over in my sleep and leg cramps wake me up.

I say the walking/running has caused this because I really don't know what has caused it. But it sucks to shuffle around like an old woman. I'm not even fifty-two years old.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

sometimes I almost feel just like a human being.

Yet another article floating around on facebook about adult starters, with many teachers coming forward to talk about the lovely adult students they keep like cute pets in their studios...It's never to late to learn; it's never too late to start learning. What many teachers think (and what few will tell you) is that you'll never be good. Any good. Very good. 

Which is it, and what is good?

Will an adult starter ever be a virtuoso? No. I mean, very likely no. But there is a whole continuum between "virtuoso" and Joe Positive sawing out "Happy Birthday" a month after taking up the viola. I think of the teachers I have had: a soloist (yes, for you violin people; there are viola soloists); section violists; an associate prinicpal violist; a principal violist. Not one of them is a virtuoso (yes, we have virtuosi in viola). Is any one of these better simply by virtue of his title? Yeah? Which one is better? Do the section people bemoan the fact that they don't sit first stand? Do the principal people envy the soloist? Do any of them feel they failed? Do any of them secretly feel they should have quit, because they'll "never" get to that next level?

I don't want to be a virtuoso, or even a soloist. I don't aspire to play in a professional orchestra, or even a very good amateur orchestra. I would be thrilled to pieces to absorb anything from my teacher, but in reality I would like to get to the level of a good middle-school or maybe high-school violist. Is that good? Probably not. But it's a long way from not-ever-any-good.

I used to play bass guitar in some indie bands. The novelty (at the time) of female bass players notwithstanding, I was pretty good at it, and I was not the only person who thought so. I was lucky to have really good material to work with, and some very good musicians to play with, but the truth was I worked really, really hard at it. I once read an anecdote about George Harrison, how he labored over his solos note for note. That was me, sitting up late at night with this song, lifting the phonograph arm and putting it back down over and over, trying to figure out what this guy (the excellent, underrated Bruce Thomas) was doing. I remember thinking that if I ever learned this song, there would be nothing left for me to learn, and I would retire from bass-playing. Eventually I learned the song well enough to perform it live, at tempo, and then it wasn't the Holy Grail anymore, and there were other, more challenging songs to learn. I was maybe 23 years old. I started playing bass at 20. I was not a Suzuki Electric Bass kid. I was not a virtuoso. I was an adult starter.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

some (more) thoughts about learning vibrato

This has been a decent week, but I will write about that another time; it's late and I did want to write this down before bedtime (which was an hour ago):

I've been using Doree Huneven's video (thanks, Lee!) to help me in my mission to destroy and then recreate my vibrato. She breaks things into small pieces and advocates spending weeks, or even a month, on each small piece. Wave hello (she waves hello, not goodbye): a week. The "string-polishing" exercise everyone learns: a month. Holy hell. As an adult with a Busy Life and Goals To Meet as well as a pre-existing, fairly weak and inconsistent vibrato, I think: "a week? a month? Why must it take that long? I see what she's doing, and I can do it (for the most part). So why can't I go on to the next little piece as soon as I get in my head what I'm supposed to do?" But I think the answer is that it's not about getting it into my head. It's about doing it for a week, or a month. I can wave hello (or goodbye) to myself, but I notice that my hellos aren't as fluid, and don't have the range of motion that Ms Huneven's have. I want my hellos to look like that. I want to know what those hellos feel like. That's why it takes so long.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

work stress.

I sure know how to pick 'em.

I was hired to do SQL performance tuning, to fix long-running queries so they weren't so long-running, to teach people how to write queries properly so that this wouldn't keep happening. This is something I'm good at and something I like. This is also Code, not Hardware or Network or Server. It's Code. I am a developer, not a DBA.

When I started my job, a few people started asking me to do DBA stuff; the company had lost its DBA months before and was lumbering on without one, and some people assumed (incorrectly) that I was the new DBA. Even after I corrected that notion, some people still referred to me as the DBA, in the hopes that if they repeated it enough times I would eventually agree to assume a position I have no interest or expertise in (and which pays a hell of a lot more than I am paid). I do not work for the guy the previous DBAs worked for, and that guy is very protective of his fiefdom. I took advantage of this general organizational/political confusion, dug in my heels and said "I am a developer, sorry, I am not a DBA, go ask Fiefdom Guy to fulfill your DBA needs." I am a damn good developer, but I am not a DBA.

After a few months, the CIO decided to hire a DBA. The recruiter sent two pretty mediocre and uncharismatic candidates, and one was hired. He reported to work two Mondays ago. He's a contractor (we all are; there are very few real employees). They gave him a cube, a laptop, very limited internet access so he can't even get to microsoft.com, and no access to any SQL boxes at all. He does not work for the person that DBAs used to work for, and that person is still guarding his fiefdomFiefdom guy (we'll call him Dick) won't give the DBA access to anything, basically wants nothing to do with him. This new hire drives 90 minutes each way to come sit and twiddle his thumbs. He asks for work to do and access to do it, and is ignored. He has gone to the CIO about it and has gotten a runaround. Dick's people have flat-out told him they don't care what the CIO says, and have refused to help in any way.

What the hell is going on? The guy happens to be pretty abrasive, sure, but no more so than when he interviewed. Why would a company go to the expense of hiring someone and then leave him to wither on the vine?

So the DBA is getting very frustrated and is going to walk out tomorrow if no one will give him any work, or explain why he's not getting any work. And that sucks. But what makes it suck more is that the work the DBA should be doing will fall to me. And I'm not qualified to do it, nor do I have any desire to do it, and that's not what I was hired to do. And this makes my stomach hurt. I am so fucking sick of taking jobs where they just lie to you, say anything to get you in the door. How do I manage to pick such companies over and over? There must be something wrong with me.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

overthinking is what we do best.

Q: If wrist vibrato is a single, simple motion, a rocking of the hand on the wrist, then why is it harder to vibrate on some fingers and easier on others? After all, the finger's not doing anything.

A: the finger may not be doing anything, but something is being done to it - the rocking of the hand causes the finger to wobble about its spot on the string. If the finger isn't flexible, it will sound jerky as the hand rocks it.

Am I right?

In other news:

A cutback week for running, 42 miles. Next week I'm going back to 7-days-a-week running, for the first time in at least a year, almost a year, over a year, who knows, can't remember, but it's been a long time. It will help me increase mileage without having to get up even earlier on weekdays.

On Wednesday I go for a 6-month mammogram and chat with the surgeon's NP. I am only a little apprehensive, actually not at all. Hopefully everything will look fine and I won't have to go back for a year.

Speaking of vibrato: this week I've started bringing my mind along while doing the teacher's vibrato exercise, instead of daydreaming or looking at the computer. The exercise is the one where you glue (not literally) your wrist to the bout, set the metronome at 60, and wobble one, two, three, etc times per beat. At that tempo, anything above 6 or 7 wobbles/beat just sounds like regular vibrato, so the slower wobbles are meant to teach control and pulse and variation of amplitude and such. Today, for the first time ever (I am talking 2 1/2 years), I was able to get to 6 clearly articulated wobbles per beat with first finger. Whoohoo, small victories...

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

the unasked question

Tonight I had a viola lesson with the teacher I'm studying with this summer (at least). In the midst of explaining something, he just tossed in something like "You are playing more musically; I can tell you have music in you; sometimes your phrasing is really neat." Yeah, something like that, an answer to a question no one had asked, but which was really nice to hear.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

I really need to get my shit together as far as practicing goes.

Tonight while practicing, I not only imagined the general criticism of The Thin Critical Man With Folded Arms, but imagined in detail an imaginary conversation about the Schubert, specifically about the tempo, specifically about how it's not fast enough, specifically about Janie or Johnny TigerStudentKid who achieved performance tempo after Just Two Weeks of Practice!, specifically a conversation in which it is pointed out that because I, an adult, cannot achieve performance tempo after Just Two Weeks of Practice!, it is a done deal that I will never be able to play this piece, and I will lose the audience two bars in. Damn! There goes my Carnegie Hall debut.

Monday, May 18, 2015

let these chips fall where they may.

I am looking at a few things that, should they work out, will help bring me back to a calmer and less complicated existence.

Meanwhile, there is this:

Sunday, May 17, 2015

oh, suck it up, positive.

Yesterday I
  • did not play well, for the 3rd day in a row
  • forgot how to lock my car (disclaimer: I never lock my car), only succeeded in setting off the alarm
  • missed a turn driving home
  • did not remember to "shut" the iPad properly when I stopped reading and went to sleep
ugh, what is wrong with me? and can anyone tell?

Last week's optimism about playing is gone and I fear I will never be more than an enthusiastic but incompetent player. I hear every off note, every wobble in tone (there are many), every variation in vibrato. In my practice it's like the teacher is sitting there, arms crossed, looking at the clock, bullet point thoughts forming in his head: out of tune, out of time, doesn't sound nice, wrong note entirely, no vibrato, ugly vibrato, too slow, do I have to teach this to you line by line, sigh. 

For the umpteenth time, I want to go back to the beginning.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

the past year has not been kind to my face.

I accidentally put on a good pair of glasses today and saw my face in the bathroom mirror. It's old.

I ran 44.7 miles this week. I'm not getting any faster, or any thinner.

At my viola lesson today my teacher found fault in everything - bowing, intonation, vibrato, even my viola being out of tune. He assigned a new etude and a new piece, both of which are notey and fast, and I wanted to ask why didn't he go back to twinkle or Mississippi Hot Dog, but I held my tongue.

Monday, May 4, 2015

the universe is OK with it

Today I had my 3-month followup with the medical oncologist. I expected her to be annoyed that I stopped taking tamoxifen after only a couple of weeks. But she just said it's a shame I can't tolerate tamoxifen, because I didn't have radiation, so there's no extra thing protecting me from recurrence (other than the surgery itself, which was completely successful). But she - as cold a fish as I - was generally as unconcerned as I. I'll see her in six months.

Meanwhile, in joe-positive land: running is holding steady at around 43 slow miles a week. After a long battle waged almost entirely in my head, I played my erstwhile teacher's studio recital yesterday; I did not suck and I did not shine, and I took my lumps without incident. I still take lessons from two people (for the moment) so today it's back to the salt mines. So often I wonder if I sound as awful to other people as I sound to myself.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

I am not a Judy Garland fan.

As I was running down my street this morning, chewing on various things that tasted like problems, I came up on someone walking ahead of me. My eyesight isn't very good and I don't wear glasses when I run, so it took me a little to realize that the person was female, and bald. And I realized that my problems were nothing, compared to what they could be.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Wonders never cease

Good day at work, rest day from running, good rehearsals. I wish today could last forever.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The shit keeps hitting the fan.

I had the worst rehearsal I can remember this evening. Quartet rehearsal went ok, even better than ok. But orchestra was a different story. I was the only violist, and the pieces were tricky, and I they have often been the last thing I practice (or first thing I neglect to practice) after drills/scales.etudes/ recital pieces I will never play/string quartet for our on again/off again ensemble. I sucked, and was just mortified, and then depressed. I wanted to crawl under a rock. I told the director I was overwhelmed and something would have to give, and it would probably be orchestra, and he seemed ok with it, so I guess it's not just my perception - I am pretty bad, worse than the people who don't even practice. After a few minutes he suggested putting off a decision for a day or two. Maybe things will seem different then, but I doubt it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

not survivors' guilt

I do not consider myself a cancer survivor.

I had surgery to remove a very small something that I couldn't feel and that didn't make me ill. The something was so small that it wasn't even there by the time of the surgery; a prior biopsy had gotten it all. As small as I am, the surgery left me essentially unscathed. The very small something was deemed so small that I was allowed to forgo some of the more arduous cancer treatments. I did not "survive" cancer; if anything, I survived two-months-of-intense-worrying that I brought upon myself.

I am not a survivor, yet I did survive, and I feel guilty. Not that I survived, but that I survived and have decided not to take tamoxifen (or any aromatase inhibitors, should the oncologist suggest one instead). This whole thing has been relatively easy (except for the worrying), and so many other people have suffered through cancer that isn't curable or preventable, and here is this wonderful cancer-preventative drug offered to me, and I push it away because I can't live with the side effects.

Can't live with! What about people who have to do real chemo? Those are some side effects right there, much tougher than little old tamoxifen side effects. I read message boards and facebook groups full of people complaining about tamoxifen, some who attribute everything under the sun to it. Despite the misery, many of these people are resigned to the whole 5 or 10 years' course, for their children or their husbands' or their grandbabies' sakes, they say. I admire them for their tenacity, since I barely lasted 2 weeks on the stuff before I said no thank you, I'll take my chances with recurrence probability.

I have been so lucky, what with the nothing surgery and the exemption from radiation. The universe made things much easier for me than it could have, and here I am slapping its face.

Monday, March 23, 2015

man out of time

Running: this morning I ran 5 miles in just over 50 minutes, and it was a struggle. I must keep on, though.

Work: Day 1 (of 4) of agile training, and I want to stab myself. It's just so much crap. Plus I got taken off the work I was doing (longterm fixing) to put out some new fire some VP of muckymuck is screaming about. Plus I'm getting sucked into DBA work (again), the kind I don't know how to do. The company contracted to do DBA work apparently wants to get paid for stuff like that, and my company doesn't want to pay. I want to retire. I am not a company man.

Viola: morning practice ok; I even remembered how to do 3 over 2. evening practice not so great, but I was tired. Scales ok, etude worse, Bach better (I spent about 10 minutes on 2 measures, finally got them sounding consistently like what I hear in my head), haydn worse, Puccini sounded like I'd never seen it before. Does not bode well for Wednesday's rehearsal, when my stand partner will be absent and the other violist's attendance is always a question mark.

And now here it is going on 10pm , and this joe's dead tired and going to bed.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

from the existential to the mundane

joe positive can complain about anything, I tell you what.

I had another uncomfortable viola lesson yesterday. It was weird. We talked about the adult/recital thing and what it boiled down to was this: my teacher said I could play if I wanted to, but he thought it was strange. So basically, I would get no support from him whatsoever. I said no thank you, that's just ridiculous, recitals are hard enough, you really want your teacher to be in your corner for that. It also came out that he probably didn't have his shit together enough to get a separate adults-only recital going, and besides, the other teachers whose adults he wanted to include in this soiree don't share his prejudice, and prefer to have their adults in their own studios' recitals. 

So, no recital for joe positive unless I agree to the terms stated above. I said how about you teach me the erstwhile recital piece line by line, and we won't even think about a recital. He said ok, and proceeded to "teach" by having me play a line and then asking me what I was trying to do. This went nowhere for a while and then it was time to leave.

I am so insanely angry with him. He says things that are painful, he makes me feel terrible, He must want me to quit but he won't fire me. He may say one little nice thing every three weeks, one brava in all of two years, and I fall for it every time, but it always comes back to the same thing. I come to him for his teaching, but all he gives is the time. I ask him a question in email and he never answers. He is so dismissive of me, and he didn't used to be. I wish I knew why.

I have to stop these lessons. I just have to. But I keep putting it off: until this, until that..."maybe it will do me good to just do etudes for a while and not have to worry about pieces, I didn't really want to be in that recital anyway, maybe things will be better now that I have accepted the role of the Adult Student, maybe, maybe..." I wrote a pretty good resignation email but did not send it. But I have it. And it's pretty good.

I will wait a week: 
  • one more lesson
  • one more (ugh) rehearsal
  • until after another teacher's open-house thing (a reading party for adults, imagine that) next Saturday
  • until I can find out when this other teacher is free to start
I will give it a week. But then I will have to make a decision.

Friday, March 20, 2015

decisions, decisions

We went to the orchestra tonight. While the program wasn't 100% compelling, it did provide me with a couple of hours completely unplugged - no email, no social media, no work-related instant messages, no viola to practice, no clothes to launder, etc. This unplugged time gave me a couple of hours to think. For example:

I want to stop feeling like my life is over

I want to start taking progesterone again, so I can feel like a real person

I want to stop trying to learn to play this god damn instrument

I want my life to be over, because I have lost so much of what was worthwhile

I feel unwell lately

I don't want to become a burden to anyone

My father died at 51 years 8 months. I am 51 and will have 8 months in July

There are people I idolize, wish I could be like

I don't want to be the one people point at and laugh at, because I'm so ridiculous

No decisions yet, just mulling it all over.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

it occurs to me

I just saw a facebook photo of an acquaintance sitting on a beach, looking happy.

I should go to a beach sometime.

Sunday, March 15, 2015


This has become one shitty weekend. I don't want to do anything. I try to practice viola and want to throw it against a wall. Don't want to go out, don't want to stay in. What I want is: nothingness.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

the elephant in the room

Long week, tiring week, feel really crummy physically, spills over into mentally. I can run, but it takes a lot out of me to do it. My feet feel like blocks of cement, and standing for too long is painful. Last night I had lots of foot cramps while standing to practice viola, but sitting down and taking pressure off them resulted in more cramps. I am always tired. I can fall asleep standing up. My concentration is nil. I have a swollen painful lymph node in my abdomen, of all places, what up with that? It could definitely be worse - I could still be on tamoxifen, for example - but this is no fun.

I was underprepared as usual for my viola lesson today, and my recent luck seemed to run out. What's wrong with the Bach? Everything, to the point that my teacher couldn't even articulate what he wanted, I guess because so much of it was wrong. 

He also let slip that he thought that adults participating in recitals was "very strange". I think he was trying to get me to opt out of the upcoming recital, but that was a crummy way to do it. I've played in his recitals for the past 2 years; was that also strange? Have I looked ridiculous all this time? This is the kind of thing I can drive myself nuts over.

Last week I had a trial lesson with a different teacher. I liked him, but decided to wait until summer to switch, partly because I had committed to playing in this recital (and orchestra and quartet, also led by my current teacher). Secretly I hoped that things would turn around and I would feel better about staying with my current teacher. Now I wish I had just switched and gotten it over with.

Monday, March 9, 2015

bleh Monday

A whine: I've been off tamoxifen 17 days, a day longer than I was on it in the first place. Right after I stopped taking it, a lot of side effects went away immediately, but now some have crept back. I am grouchy. My body temperature is beyond reason and beyond control, a bad thing to be when it's 80F outside, 75+ inside my house, and 67F in my cube. I am tired. I tend to fall asleep in weird places, like at the computer or while playing viola. My stomach is messed up. My old friend mr lymph node has popped up just below my belly button and it hurts. It aches. By evening my feet feel like waterlogged blocks of wood and it's hard to stand on them very long. This means I take a lot of breaks while practicing and lose my already-tenuous focus.


Sunday, March 8, 2015

in the name of

This morning I ran eight miles, and in the first time in ages ran out of my neighborhood, under the bridge where homeless people sometimes sleep, down to a riverside park with hills and quiet. And dogs. I didn't stop to chat with any of them, but it made me happy to see dogs enjoying a pretty park on a pretty day.

I had another bizarre hippy dippy dream last night: I was trying to coordinate a number of "good works" to be performed in the name of/in memory of my great friend who killed himself almost nine years ago. In the dream, it was the present, so this involved commemorating something that happened a long time ago, and it felt odd to be dredging that up. The "good works" consisted of things my friend himself had done or started, along with other things we thought might be nice to do. I had to find people I hadn't been in touch with for years, and in an odd twist, some of these were several-times-removed, like my friend's (the suicide) old college friend's brother, whom I had never met but was now contacting to do nice things for other people we both had never met. And all of this was taking place via telephone calls (which I hate), in a house or dorm or something where I lived with a lot of people from past and present corners of my life, and in addition to the good works thing we were having to coordinate stuff like getting the laundry started.

Why "good works"? I am not that good of a person. Why in someone's name or memory; why not just because? Why were all those people there? A head-examiner might say it was a wish to gather good memories (of good people) and keep them all in one place, or re-live them. But so what?

Saturday, March 7, 2015

don't rush

Someone said to me this week that maybe it's not always best to rush through bad stuff, trying to get to the other side, where it ends. Specifically, she was talking about my dog, and how it might be ok to just feel sad about it for a while. I have spent much of the past week and a half rushing around, staying really busy and really tired, probably to avoid feeling much. But maybe my friend is right.

Anyway, despite my rushing around and staying really busy and really tired, it still hits me like a ton of bricks sometimes. The house feels so empty. There is no one waiting for me when I get home from wherever I've rushed off to. I keep thinking I need to get home to take her out, or feed her, or say hi. Maybe it's one of her good days and she'll be on her feet, waiting at the door. Or maybe she'll be lying on her good side dozing, and not in so much pain, and she'll look my way when I come in the door. But of course that doesn't happen, because she's not here.

I have wasted this whole day doing nothing, or rather failing at most things I tried. I worked a little. I barely practiced because I can't stand the noise I make. Lesson tomorrow, yada yada, not ready, etc, and I have no excuse that I can offer.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

this has got to stop

Last night I dreamed I was running, in my racing flats, and I felt light and strong and nothing hurt. I kept marveling how my feet felt ok even in flats.

Ran six whole miles this morning (not in flats), calf tightened a little at 4 miles but eased up. Saw lots of dogs, wanted to hug them all. Mostly held it together until I got home and speedo was not there, of course. Now I need to clean the wall where I leaned against it, sweating and crying.

I am not actively thinking of speedo all the time. It's worse when I do. But even when I don't, it's still bad, like being in a hole I can't climb out of. The only things that get me away from it are work (constructive, maybe) and self-medication (definitely not).

 I wish that throwing myself into viola practice would help as much as throwing myself into work, but there is too much emotional trash there. It would be nice to say fuck it, I'm going to practice every minute anyway, and it will sound terrible, but maybe by the time this depression lifts (whenever that is) something good might have come from it. Yes, that would be nice. But not possible at the moment.

Friday, February 27, 2015


ok at work, but then home is a different story. My husband and I are both small people, and we live in a small house, and speedo (at the end) was not a huge dog, but the house seems gigantic, and chilly, and empty. I take xanax (speedo's xanax!) and have a tiny glass of rye and the world goes away for a while. Unfortunately, I don't much feel like playing viola, or even standing up. I drag myself out of the chair to the music stand, cringe at every mistake, stop and put the viola away before I fall asleep standing up. Wait for the world to go away again.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

there is so little to say

Anyone who has lost a child, or who dislikes pets will think I'm an idiot, but losing this dog, or rather letting her go, is so hard.

Monday, February 23, 2015

winners, losers

After 2 days tamoxifen-free, I feel 99% better. The only part of me that hurts is where I had a tetanus shot last Friday.

I started yet another job today, yes, I am a loser. This is a contract job, working for the former CIO of Company H (see some blog post from October if this confuses you), as well as a former colleague from Company H, and together we will work in the same commonality of spirit we had at Company H to fix all the many things that are wrong with the databases at this company, which I'll call Company P. At least I am being asked to do things that make use of my years of banging my head against the wall, rather than just clicking buttons and watching little boxes turn green.

Tomorrow is Speedo's Day, and I have really been holding it together pretty well but when I got home from work today she seemed so glad to see us both there...even laying on her side, not moving much, she was basking in all the attention. She made as if to play her fake-biting game and I just lost it, and begged my husband to let her stay around a little longer. He just held me and let me cry, and said nothing.

Saturday, February 21, 2015


After just 16 days, I have decided to stop taking tamoxifen. My joints - especially fingers/hips/shoulders/wrists, all the important ones - hurt all the time, my stomach is messed up, something is definitely askew in the cognitive department. I asked the doctor about these side effects and she said they would probably go away "in time", and she urged me to try to stay on the medicine at least 3 months. At first I said I would, but I've changed my mind, and I'm going to stop taking it, at least for a little while, to see if these side effects go away. The story I got from the radiation doc was that I had at most a 6% chance of recurrence, and tamoxifen might cut that down to 3%. I will gladly trade that 3% for 5 years of being able to function.


Speedo's time has come. My husband I and both noticed she's declined even further; she still loves food and treats, but she can barely walk. When we're home we carry her where she wants to go, but we can't be home all the time. We often come home from work to find her stuck on her bad side, unable to get up and lying in a puddle of pee. She is not really happy even when she gets to do what she wants (lie down in the yard all day). She will never get any better, and she seems to know this. My husband wants to be the one to take care of all this; he took next Tuesday off work (a day I cannot), and has made the appointment with the vet. This weekend has been very strange; we treat Speedo as usual, talk to her, give her food and treats, try (unsuccessfully) to get her to play, pretend she is talking to us (this is a running joke in our house), and yet we both know that in 3 days, 2 days, a day, she won't be with us anymore. Sometimes this makes us cry. I will leave for work Tuesday morning and when I get home she won't be there.

My beautiful, sweet girl.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

happy in a land of oz

Last night I dreamed that my house grew much bigger and turned into a party. The dream house had more rooms than my real house (though it was shaped pretty much the same), and it filled with people, different people from different times of my life, all of them musicians, all playing or enjoying music. There were people from Interlochen in one room playing together - people I hung out with while I was there, and people I wanted to get to know but never managed to. There were people from the college-music "scene" (how I hate that word, but it has its uses) I was part of, and they were now folkies playing their artisanal instruments in another room. The back room had swelled into a mini-amphitheater, and a sound guy was setting up some kind of laser light show for a bunch of people I liked despite the fact that they liked music that I hated (like the kind of music that begs for a laser light show). At one point the lights went out because the sound guy's equipment had tripped a breaker, but before I could find the breaker box, someone had fixed it. I didn't plan the party or invite anyone; they just appeared. All were there, all were welcome, everyone was having a good time.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

oh, the chemicals

Tamoxifen is doing something weird to my joints, so I take advil. Just started on buspar for anxiety; it is rumored to make you dizzy but it hasn't yet. I rub anti-inflammatory cream onto my muscles because running jacks them up (or maybe they were jacked up to begin with). Rub anti-rosacea gel onto my face. Take fosamax once a week, and calcium, glucosamine, and black cohosh every day. At the pharmacy, they know my dog (she has a prescription for human medicine) and call me "mother of Speedo", and ask after her. Today I showed around a photo of speedo I had on my phone.

Saturday, February 7, 2015


...and contrary to every one of my expectations, today was a good lesson, with the teacher asking some questions to get me to think about what I was doing (as opposed to just telling me to do something), some insight that was really helpful, and even a "bravo, brava" (first time I ever heard that). 

The insight:I was trying to play a long slur of 16th notes, and kept losing tone and running out of bow, and my teacher said "you start at the wrong soundpoint, don't like your sound, move the bow faster (to run away from the sound you don't like), and then run out of bow." Yes. That is exactly what I do, and I never realized it until he said it. I started making a conscious effort to start the run closer to the bridge so I could save bow without sacrificing tone, and it was like oh wow, this works, and look how much bow I have left to really zing that last note if I wanted to.

We did not get to the Bach I so dreaded "performing", but maybe I can use some of this bowing stuff we talked about to make the Bach sound better before I actually do try to play it at a lesson.

I hate being judged solely on technique (especially because my technique is so iffy), but I do see technique as a means to an end; the more things I am able to do, the more expressive I will sound. It's like having a bunch of different tools instead of the one hammer you try to staple papers together with, because that's all you have.

For so long I played too close to the bridge almost all the time - maybe it started because I was playing an instrument that was too big for me, but it became a habit - and then this past summer I learned to play closer to the fingerboard. All the time. I am just beginning to be able to make some changes on the fly. It would be great to get really good at that, and not have to make conscious decisions about it, but I will settle for having to think it through a lot, as long as I can do it.  

Friday, February 6, 2015

time has come today

Practicing all evening, like I do every evening...tonight I am practicing for a lesson tomorrow, and it makes me sad. I love playing viola, and I put a lot of time and work into it, and these lessons are just not fun. It's hard to say something like that, because the obvious question to that answer is "who said it was supposed to be fun?" But even the rigor that I loved so much in lessons is beginning to look not like a means to an end (do this every day and in 50 years it will pay off) but rather the end, the way my teacher can just keep feeding me busywork and not have to teach me, or think of anything for me to do to address my many, many weaknesses. Like Dounis' Daily Dozen, only that's all there is - Kwo's Kountless Kranks, which only wind me up. No context, no application, no connection to music at all. There are no goals, no suggestions on how to improve, only critique, or in this case Kritique: that's not an E, that's not a note, that's not a tone, that's not a sound. Make it sing, no I can't tell you how, you're an adult, I can't teach adults, just do it, even though you're an adult and will never be able to do it. Do you have questions about how to apply any of this to pieces you're playing in orchestra or whatever? Sorry, you are SOL, figure it out yourself, like the kids do, they just "get it", they're brilliant. You, however, well...

At the last lesson, he agreed (it took some convincing) to let me try again with a piece he deemed unplayable (by me) last spring but which I worked on all summer with Mr Summer Teacher. All week, and especially tonight, I have cringed every time I tried to play it, imagining all the faults my teacher would find with it, and the not-so-nice way he has of expressing them. And what then? Will I cry, will I lose my temper and say something I'll regret? It finally dawned on me that while I really love playing the viola, these lessons suck every last bit of fun from it. Yeah, only for an hour a week, can't I handle that? But no, it's not just for an hour a week, it's every hour I spend practicing what he assigns, every hour I spend dreading the next beatdown  lesson, every hour I spend rehashing all the Kriticisms from each lesson. 

I spend a good bit of time every week absolutely hating myself, wondering what I did to earn this. Viola is the thing I love, and these lessons make me so unhappy.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

dare I say

This morning the withdrawal seemed much worse - nearly-constant brain shivers and addled thinking and high anxiety. By afternoon I felt a little better mentally but nausea stealthily settled in. Now, near bedtime, the brain stuff is much better and the nausea is manageable. So what if I don't eat much for a few days? At least I can drive (I think), and concentrate (a bit better), and play viola. Maybe the worst of it is over.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

cold turkey

When I was diagnosed back in October, my doctor took me off progesterone (the cancer had progesterone receptors) and offered effexor instead, for its off-label use on regulating hot flushes, which I don't even have.  It did nothing worthwhile for me - didn't help me like the progesterone had - but did have some side effects I didn't like. To top things off, it has a reputation of being very difficult to stop taking. So I decided it was evil and I was going to stop taking it. Since I was taking the lowest dose possible, my only option was to stop altogether.

Today is the third day without it. The first two days were ok, and I thought that either I had escaped the bad withdrawal or that everyone on the internet was exaggerating how hard it was to quit. Today has been another story entirely. This is like the worst bad mood coupled with pre-flu (body aches, feverish confused thinking) plus, every so often, a crow walking over my grave. I cry over sad little infographics about dying pets on facebook. It's the weekend, thank god, and I don't have to go anywhere or speak to anyone besides my husband. I hope this doesn't last days and days.

Why on earth would anyone want to take a drug that does such weird stuff to your brain that there is actually a withdrawal associated with it?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

oh, it has been a while

A short while, anyway.

I have not been able to run in almost two weeks. I had a calf cramp while sleeping, ran on the leg and it cramped again, and since then I've been unable to run even intermittently without a lot of pain. It will heal, but it's frustrating.

My viola teacher and I discussed (the recent, unpleasant) things at our last lesson. At least, I think we did. He doesn't like to discuss via email and I don't like real-life conversations, so we are at an impasse without even realizing it. I'm sure something got said, but I can't remember what it was. As far as I know, lessons will continue, but I still have doubts. My former teacher (who is a friend and colleague of my current teacher, and a friend of mine as well) has been wonderful about shoring me up and making me see things as not-so-horrible; she told me about her teacher in grad school, who sounded like a first-class jerk (from what she told me about him) but from whom she learned so much. My current teacher and I did end up making recordings this weekend. Tomorrow I will send them to the people at camp, cross my fingers, and pray.

Work? I don't even want to talk about it.

I haven't seen a doctor since xmas eve, when the radiation guy said I didn't need it. I will remain doctor-free until Feb 3, when I see the medical oncologist for the first time. In many ways the last several weeks have been lovely; I hardly ever think about this health stuff at all.

Monday, January 5, 2015

the best we have to offer

It's interesting how quickly the drama can shift from things like Health and Cancer to things like Viola Lessons and Hurt Feelings. Not much has changed since Saturday's very bad lesson. I submitted my application to the camp (sans recording, which can come later), so now I am trapped. I must find some way to make that recording, even though I can't even pick up my viola without replaying (in my head) every mean thing my teacher said the other day.

In a polite email, I let my teacher know that constant criticism can be, um, demoralizing after a while. I fully expect he will fire me at the next lesson, if not before. I have made more inquiries into finding another teacher but haven't had much success. I wish this were a bigger city, with more viola teachers.

It occurs to me that one can't be that much of a jerk by accident.