OBT Day 8

#OBTChallenge Day 8

My new goal on the blog for a while is to post one “bright thing” every day…or at least most days. This can be a tough time of year for those of us, like me, who struggle with anxiety and depression. Last week, I was feeling especially down, so I asked myself how I could turn those feelings around and put some light out into the world. The OBT Challenge was born.

Today’s OBT has to do with holding a good thought about yourself. Right now, as I’m facing down resistance and some discouragement in the face of “stuff I have to do but don’t want to,” I’m taking a rare minute to think deliberately about something about myself that I like. If you’re like me and deal with depression – or even if you don’t have that particular “frenemy,” but are just like a lot of us tend to be at one point or another – you spend a lot of time listening to the self-critical voice in your head. It can be hard sometimes even to find one thing you think you’re good at, or something you’re proud of.

I’m pretty stubborn. Sometimes I’ve put that in the negative column about myself: “don’t know when to quit,” “can’t give up when I should.” But it’s also a useful strength. I don’t want to go through my to-do list today, and I have a feeling I’m not doing everything just so or the absolute best it can possibly be (for instance, writing query letters, which can always drain the go-getter feelings right out of me). But I’m doing those things anyway. I’m plugging through the list and showing up, whether or not everything is as perfect as I might like it to be. Often, like today, stubborn is a good thing to be. And yes, it does mean that I don’t know when to quit…and sometimes that’s meant that I can make things work, even when they might look hopeless.

I invite you to take a minute now and celebrate something about yourself. Maybe, like me, you have that stubbornness that translates to getting stuff done and refusing to give up. Maybe you’re good at finding the positive in the difficult. Maybe your trait is energy, or compassion, or some particular skill or gift.

Take a minute, focus on that, and honor it. Alafair (below) insists that you do.

Alafair portrait
You are excellent. Like me.

As always, thanks for visiting, and stop back again soon. If you like what you see here, please share! Also think about posting your own bright thing somewhere on social media today. It could be a photo, a drawing, a poem, some music: anything that makes you smile and puts some light out in the world. Bonus points if it’s something you create yourself. 🙂

If you post your OBT on Facebook or Twitter, you can tag me (@kfaatz925 on Twitter) and use the hashtag #OBTChallenge. I’d love to see what you share! If you’re not on social media but would like to share something with me to post, crediting you of course, please email me at kfaatz925@gmail.com.

One Bright Thing, day 7

#OBTChallenge Day 7

My new goal on the blog for a while is to post one “bright thing” every day…or at least most days. This can be a tough time of year for those of us, like me, who struggle with anxiety and depression. Last week, I was feeling especially down, so I asked myself how I could turn those feelings around and put some light out into the world. The OBT Challenge was born.

Today, because I’m tired and need a quick smile myself, I’m going with a staple. Cat pictures. I take a lot of those. 🙂

This is Fergus. He’s photogenic, largely due to his funny face. (Hover over each pic to see its caption.)

As always, thanks for visiting, and stop back again soon. If you like what you see here, please share! Also think about posting your own bright thing somewhere on social media today. It could be a photo, a drawing, a poem, some music: anything that makes you smile and puts some light out in the world. Bonus points if it’s something you create yourself. 🙂

If you post your OBT on Facebook or Twitter, you can tag me (@kfaatz925 on Twitter) and use the hashtag #OBTChallenge. I’d love to see what you share! If you’re not on social media but would like to share something with me to post, crediting you of course, please email me at kfaatz925@gmail.com.

One Bright Thing, day 6

#OBTChallenge Day 6

My new goal on the blog for a while is to post one “bright thing” every day…or at least most days. This can be a tough time of year for those of us, like me, who struggle with anxiety and depression. The ordinary day-to-day gets complicated by the weather, the increased hours of darkness, the post-holiday slump, and very often, the news in the wider world.

A few days ago, I was feeling especially down, so I asked myself how I could turn those feelings around and put some light out into the world. The OBT Challenge was born.

Today’s post (which might also be tomorrow’s, since I’m putting it up late 😉 ) breaks from the music string of the past days and instead is just a short line of thought.

I was teaching a creative writing workshop this afternoon, in which we talked about how pretty much any storyline you might think about writing – a love story, a war story, a heist, a quest, anything really – has probably been written before, lots of times. The one unique thing any writer can offer is our characters, the people who live our stories, because our characters come from ourselves and who we are.

This morning I got up feeling pretty down. Sometimes I get very much into self-comparison, and I usually decide I’m not doing nearly as well with my life as this or that other person, or doing as well with my life as I “should be.” In those times, I start to wonder what exactly I have to offer at all.

But this afternoon’s workshop reminded me that, just as any writer’s unique offering to the world of story is their characters, so any person’s unique offering to the world-at-large is themselves. There’s no one else quite like me. There’s no one else quite like you who are reading this. We might be doing things, or trying to do things, similar to what other people are doing, and we might be inspired or daunted by the achievements of others: but no one else can be exactly like us. No one else thinks like us, talks like us, loves or cheers or cries like us.

And no matter how we sometimes feel, the world could not be the same without us, exactly as we are. No one else could shine the unique and specific candles we light in the world every day, just by living and doing and being.

So if you need a good thought to hold, maybe this one will help. And this seems like a good place for a picture of one of my critters, who absolutely knows that there is no one else in the world like him:

Fergus piano

As always, thanks for visiting, and stop back again soon. If you like what you see here, please share! Also think about posting your own bright thing somewhere on social media today. It could be a photo, a drawing, a poem, some music: anything that makes you smile and puts some light out in the world. Bonus points if it’s something you create yourself. 🙂

If you post your OBT on Facebook or Twitter, you can tag me (@kfaatz925 on Twitter) and use the hashtag #OBTChallenge. I’d love to see what you share!

One Bright Thing, day 5

#OBTChallenge Day 5

My new goal on the blog for a while is to post one “bright thing” every day…or at least most days. This can be a tough time of year for those of us, like me, who struggle with anxiety and depression. The ordinary day-to-day gets complicated by the weather, the increased hours of darkness, the post-holiday slump, and very often, the news in the wider world.

A few days ago, I was feeling especially down, so I asked myself how I could turn those feelings around and put some light out into the world. The OBT Challenge was born.

Today’s post features music by Felix Mendelssohn; not my own playing this time. 🙂 This is the first movement of Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 49, as performed by the Zukerman Trio.

I’m currently learning this piece, and it’s a big challenge. If you’ve read about me here on the site, you know I’ve been balancing work in music and writing for a number of years. Sometimes that balance leans more one way or the other. Lately, I haven’t been as much of a “real pianist” as I trained to be, and this Mendelssohn is definitely pushing me to get my chops back.

Learning it has been a mix of fun and frustrating. Over the past few days especially, I’ve caught myself getting really impatient with my own limitations. Why can’t you remember those notes? Why can’t you get that passage up to speed? I know the real issue is that I’m scared I “can’t do it well enough,” that I’m not enough of a pianist anymore. But if I let myself get impatient and angry, it only makes the work harder. If I try to keep a sense of humor about it and let myself learn and grow at my own pace, things happen much more easily.

It’s hard for me to be patient and accepting with myself and to honor when I’m trying my best. If I want to be able to do that with others, the buck starts here. This piece is teaching me lessons about more than music. And it’s a wonderful piece too: full of drama and fire and all shades of expression.

Please enjoy the video and visit back again soon. If you like what you see here, please share! Also think about posting your own bright thing somewhere on social media today. It could be a photo, a drawing, a poem, some music: anything that makes you smile and puts some light out in the world. Bonus points if it’s something you create yourself. 🙂

If you post your OBT on Facebook or Twitter, you can tag me (@kfaatz925 on Twitter) and use the hashtag #OBTChallenge. I’d love to see what you share!

One Bright Thing, day 4

#OBTChallenge Day 4

My new goal on the blog for a while is to post one “bright thing” every day. This can be a tough time of year for those of us, like me, who struggle with anxiety and depression. A few days ago, I was feeling especially down, so I asked myself how I could turn those feelings around and put some light out into the world. The OBT Challenge was born.

Today’s post features music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. This is a recording I made of his Sonata in F Major, KV 280. It’s about ten minutes long, and like a lot of Mozart’s music, it’s joyful, sparkling, and full of energy. Guaranteed to give your day a boost.

Please enjoy and visit back tomorrow, and if you like what you see here, please share! Also think about posting your own bright thing somewhere on social media today. It could be a photo, a drawing, a poem, some music: anything that makes you smile and puts some light out in the world. Bonus points if it’s something you create yourself. 🙂

If you post your OBT on Facebook or Twitter, you can tag me (@kfaatz925 on Twitter) and use the hashtag #OBTChallenge. I’d love to see what you share!

One Bright Thing, day 3

#OBTChallenge Day 3

My new goal on the blog for a while is to post one “bright thing” every day. This can be a tough time of year for those of us, like me, who struggle with anxiety and depression. A few days ago, I was feeling especially down, so I asked myself how I could turn those feelings around and put some light out into the world. The OBT Challenge was born.

Today’s post, keeping with the music theme from OBT Days 1 and 2, features music by Robert Schumann. The recording below, which I made a couple of years ago, is about fifteen minutes long. If you don’t have time to just sit and listen, I definitely recommend it as a soundtrack while you’re working. Guaranteed to make the work go faster. 🙂

Schumann (1810-1849) wrote this piece, Papillons, early on in his career. The title literally translates as “butterflies.” Schumann chose it to capture what writing the piece felt like to him: he was riding a wave of inspiration, with musical ideas flying around him thick and fast, a cloud of butterflies.

The music creates a ballroom scene. Schumann puts the listener there, watching the dancers, admiring all the costumes and masks, caught up in the swirl of light and sound. It’s been one of my favorite pieces since I first learned it about 25 (!) years ago: fun to listen to and joyful to play.

Please enjoy and visit back tomorrow, and if you like what you see here, please share! Also think about posting your own bright thing somewhere on social media today. It could be a photo, a drawing, a poem, some music: anything that makes you smile and puts some light out in the world. Bonus points if it’s something you create yourself. 🙂

If you post your OBT on Facebook or Twitter, you can tag me (@kfaatz925 on Twitter) and use the hashtag #OBTChallenge. I’d love to see what you share!

One Bright Thing, day 2

#OBTChallenge Day 2

In case you didn’t see yesterday’s post, my new goal on the blog for a while is to post one “bright thing” every day, in the spirit of lighting a candle when things seem dark. Today’s post features the music of Impressionist composer Claude Debussy.

This is my recording of the first movement of Debussy’s suite Estampes, which literally means wood-carvings, but we can think of it as the stamps we put on mail. Stamps from places around the world.

The first movement is called “Pagodes” – Pagodas – and is meant to take you on a trip to the East. In this piece, you’ll hear Debussy making the piano sound like chimes and gongs, and playing around with dissonant harmony to create beautiful washes of sound. It’s incredibly evocative, and also extremely fun to play.

Please enjoy and visit back tomorrow, and meanwhile, think about posting your own bright thing somewhere on social media today. It could be a photo, a drawing, a poem, some music: anything that makes you smile and puts some light out in the world. (If you post it on Twitter, you can tag me at @kfaatz925, and use the hashtag #OBTChallenge.)

 

A New Daily Challenge: One Bright Thing

#OBTChallenge Day 1

To bring in 2020, I’m repurposing the blog for a while. Let’s see how long I keep it going…

It’s already a tough year. A lot of us are probably struggling with more anxiety than usual because of the headlines, especially the news out of Australia and Iran. January is often a tough month to begin with: after the holidays, when life goes back to normal, but the days are very short and it’s often cold and dreary. All of this gets compounded if you already struggle with mental health challenges.

That’s exactly where I am. So I decided to give myself a new kind of challenge, in the spirit of lighting a candle rather than letting the darkness take over. My goal for myself is to post one thing on the blog, every day, that puts a bit of light out in the world and maybe makes someone smile. One bright thing.

My first one is some music, a recording I made of three of my favorite sonatas by Italian Baroque composer Domenico Scarlatti. (I have a feeling music will be a frequent go-to in this project.) I love these pieces for their clarity, peace, and joy. Other days, I might post a photo – hopefully not always a cat photo 😉 – or a short piece of writing, or even a sketch or watercolor.

I invite you to enjoy the music here and visit back tomorrow. I also invite you to post your own bright thing somewhere on social media today. If you post it on Twitter, you can tag me at @kfaatz925, and use the hashtag #OBTChallenge.

I’d love to see what you come up with. Let’s put some light into the world for the New Year.

 

 

Season’s Greetings and Thoughts

Merry Christmas! I sure didn’t think I was going to write a blogpost today, but the brain came alive this morning with some percolating ideas…

Christmas can be a strange day. We know about the amazing pressure and busyness leading up to it: only X more shopping days! What’s on your dinner menu? Did you put up your lights? Is your tree camera-ready? Sometimes it feels like we race through those last couple of weeks or so with barely a minute to call our own, and then suddenly, you wake up and it’s Christmas morning, and everything seems to stop. All the preparation, and now here’s the day itself stretching out in front of you, and it can feel somehow…empty.

For some of us, this is a very tough time of year. We might remember folks who aren’t here to celebrate with us anymore. We might think back on past Christmases, which might not have seemed so perfect at the time, but seen through that backward-looking lens, are full of nostalgia and carry a sense of loss. For me, growing up, Christmas Day itself usually wasn’t the happiest, but the leadup sure was. I remember baking spritz cookies and gingerbread men, hanging foil icicles on the tree, helping my dad set up the electric train and the Dickens Christmas village. I remember A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life, carols on the record player (yes, I’m middle-aged 😉 ), and, maybe best of all, the Christmas Eve service at church, with the music of a magnificent choir and the light of hundreds of candles filling a space that echoed like a cathedral. There was beauty and joy, solemnity and peace that seemed to come at no other time of year.

As I said, Christmas Day itself wasn’t the happiest. In our house, there was a definite sense of frantic leadup to an inevitable letdown. We didn’t have much family, and the day could feel lonely. You get up and have breakfast and open your presents and then…what? There are no relatives crowding the house, no bustle to greet people and get a big meal ready for a dozen mouths or more. You know you’re “supposed” to be happy, this is “supposed” to be a day of celebration, but you aren’t feeling it. (And maybe you wonder what’s wrong with you that you aren’t.) You’re just marking the hours until you can quit pretending. I think all of us also have known the feeling of comparing what we actually have to those rosy Norman Rockwell images of the perfect tree, the pile of presents, the laughing kids, the big family around the dinner table. In every store we venture into, and in the car when we turn on the radio, we hear the relentless songs about “the most wonderful time of the year” and whisper to ourselves, “Really?”

For a lot of us, Christmas simply doesn’t look like that. Some of us are alone, by choice or because that’s the way things ended up this year. Some of us have a partner but no kids; some of us don’t have the money to make a big splash; some of us just don’t want to tap into all the craziness that goes with the season. It can be hard to be okay with what we have when society tells us we “should” have something very different.

My husband and I used to have a big get-together with his family every Christmas. After his grandmother passed away a few years ago (at the amazing age of 104!), the different branches of the family separated a bit and got into their own traditions. Christmas for us is now the two of us and our three cats. Today we’ll probably go for a walk and maybe watch a movie. I’m going to cook a chicken in the crockpot and serve it with rice and salad, and strawberry pie for dessert. It’s not a Norman Rockwell Christmas, but it’s ours, and I’m glad we have it.

Last night, we had our Christmas Eve service at the church where I work. When I first started directing the choir at First Presbyterian, six years ago, I wanted to make their Christmas Eve service look like the ones I remembered from the church I grew up in. But First Presbyterian is small and homey, where Bryn Mawr Presbyterian was the afore-mentioned cathedral-style building with a congregation that numbered somewhere around two thousand. It took me a while to realize that, in a smaller church with smaller forces at hand, I wasn’t going to be able to re-create the services I’d loved. It also took me a while to learn that simplicity and friendship can count for as much as formality and display.

But more about last night. Our new pastor delivered a homily in which she talked about how Christmas is a season of suspending disbelief. Everything from the child in the manger to the man on the sleigh seems wildly improbable, but for a little while, we let ourselves take in those so-familiar stories and delight in them. And if we can forget our skepticism about those stories, she said, maybe we can suspend our disbelief about other things. For instance, that such a thing as “peace on earth” could exist. And that we as flawed and uncertain individuals can do good and important work in the world. And that the small things matter and add up to create much bigger things than we can imagine.

I left the service thinking about light. If you’ve followed my blog, you know that 2019 was very far from being my best year; I’m sort of staggering up to the finish line, annoyed about all the time that got eaten by mental health struggles, looking forward to shutting the books on this year and hoping maybe for better things in 2020. I’ve wondered an awful lot about what I might actually have to offer, what kinds of constructive things I can do in a world that seems to need so overwhelmingly much. I’ve thought about how messed up I have felt, and still feel many times a day, and I’ve felt just tired and way out of the energetic and productive mainstream. At this time of year in particular, I know I’m definitely a far cry from those people who do have Norman Rockwell Christmases.

After the service, though, I was thinking about how, yes, maybe I can suspend disbelief for a while. Long enough to believe that I carry a light of my own, and I can do something with it in the world, in the days and years to come.

So whatever your Christmas Day looks like, I invite you to find the light in it, and in yourself. Know that it’s there. Honor it. If you’re like me and tend to find the flaws in what you have and who you are, try to suspend any disbelief you might have in your own power, and honor that too.

As always, thanks for reading. Wishing you a day of peace and beauty, and all good things in the year to come.

Christmas tree 2019
Our tree this year. With cats, smaller is better…

 

 

 

Old into New

Thanks for visiting again! Today’s post (I think) will be short: an apology for the unintended hiatus over the past couple of weeks, and a note about the upcoming (probable) hiatus until the New Year.

I didn’t plan to miss last week’s post, but a pre-Thanksgiving cold has been hanging around, making any extra work a challenge. Now, as we’re going into the extremely active holiday season, I’m expecting my brain to shut down a little over the next couple of weeks.

Can’t believe 2019 is already almost over. I thought that for this short post, I’d mull over the transition between the old and New Years a bit.

To be honest, I’ll be glad to see the end of 2019. It’s been a tough year overall. To begin with, it was a year of saying goodbye. Here, on a personal note, I remember Lee Abbott and Van Reiner, two bright and brave souls whose passing this year has left things a little darker. Lee was an extraordinary writer whose gifts touched the lives of countless students and colleagues. Van was a scientist and one of the warmest and most genuine people I’ve ever known. It was too soon to lose them both.

While I tell myself to remember their light and carry it on in my own life as best I can, sometimes that feels really hard to do. Sharing a link here to Maroon 5’s “Memories,” which has resonated with me a lot over the past few months:

 

**

Shifting from the personal to the professional, the past almost-six months have been pretty disappointing. Anxiety has kept me mostly in survival mode since early July, and as I look back on all that time, it feels like far too many weeks that I won’t get back. None of my 2019 goals really came to fruition; I didn’t have the energy to work or hustle the way I needed to. While I know I did the best I could, given how I was feeling, I still don’t like seeing all that blank time in the rearview mirror.

On the other hand, things are getting better. Mornings, especially, have gotten a lot better over the last couple of months. If you’ve dealt with anxiety, you know that mornings can be the absolute worst, because your cortisol levels are high after the night. Sometimes it can be impossible even to sit down for five minutes to eat a bowl of cereal or drink a cup of coffee (and that’s if you don’t swear off coffee for a while, as I did). It’s been good, lately, to sit down and eat breakfast the way I used to, and yes, savor that cup of coffee. The agitation is still there, but it doesn’t run things anymore.

And though the last five-plus months do feel like a professional blank, I also have to see them as a time of growth. My anxiety forced me to look at some big, deep-seated issues I have with the way I feel about myself: the roots of what I’ve always experienced as chronic depression. As I’ve written about before on the blog, I’ve gotten used to depression, but the anxiety of this summer was a real wake-up call. It’s made me see that taking a different view of myself wouldn’t just be helpful: it’s actually necessary if I want to continue to work and do the things I care about. Before this summer, I didn’t know that self-directed shame could explode into something so destructive and inhibiting. I don’t want that to happen again, so I have to work on the shame.

Going into 2020, I want to let go of my disappointment about that big piece of 2019, learn what I can from it, and hopefully come out stronger and more ready than ever to work. Whether you have goals for the New Year, or prefer to take things as they come and focus on the day-to-day, I send you all positive energy and good wishes for the holiday season and the year to come. See you in 2020!