Writing and Mental Health

Today I’m thinking about writing (when not?), and more particularly, the connection it has for me with mental health. Here on the blog, I’ve posted about my own mental health challenges, especially with anxiety and depression. I know many of us deal with similar challenges, and I like to be open about mine, because (a) they’re the truth and (b) I figure it never hurts if we can talk about these kinds of things.

Writing is often a great healer for me. I feel most grounded when I’m working. When my brain is busy with some project, hanging out with my characters and working through the puzzle pieces of story, anxiety and depression have a harder time getting their hooks in. I like how my brain is willing and able to latch onto the “good stuff”; I have a side helping of OCD, which, sadly, doesn’t translate to keeping my house even remotely neat, but does help keep me laser-focused on my writing-in-progress. Obsession can be a terrific superpower for an artist. It does tend to drag perfectionism along with it, but if you can separate the two for a little while, you can harness all that energy to help get a project done.

The flip side of the writing-and-mental-health mix is the fragility of sharing work, especially work that has meant a lot, and dealing with rejection. This has been much on my mind lately as the launch of Fourteen Stones gets closer. I’ve found myself thinking about some particularly tough times three years ago, when getting this book into the world seemed extremely far away and probably impossible, and between that and other factors, my mental health hit an all-time low.

My therapy cat, Fergus, who knows when his assistance is needed.

For the first time ever, I found that I couldn’t write: my brain simply refused to go into the world of story. A solid wall stood between me and the one thing that had always helped me. Even reading was no fun anymore; I couldn’t concentrate on books, couldn’t surrender and take a ride with another writer’s imagination.

If you’ve ever been there, you know how disorienting and difficult that is. When your creativity is such a big piece of who you are, and you can’t tap into it because your own mind won’t let you, you start to feel pretty detached from yourself and unsure about everything. I’ve never had the same level of anxiety, before or since, that I did during those months. If you have mental health challenges, you know it’s the worst when your mind is your enemy. You can’t escape from yourself, as much as you want to.

I spent a while (way longer than I’d have liked) in that limbo. Finally, in late fall of 2019, I found myself starting to edge back towards creativity. One day I found I could sit down with a novel and actually get into it. Then, a while later, my favorite characters from Fourteen Stones started to nudge at me. I found myself sketching scenes with them, not to use in any real writing but just for fun, just because hanging out with them felt right. That was when I knew I was getting better. My beloved characters were a solid, strong lifeline. I could hang onto them and they would help me heal.

Map of my fictional country, Namora, which I taped up over my desk when I started writing again.

The good thing, as I found when I finally started to come out the other side of that time, is that once you’ve gone through that kind of fire and know you can survive, it’ll never be so scary again. You might not feel like you’re quite the same person you were before – I don’t, and I’m still learning about what’s changed – but you can feel grounded in yourself and know you’re doing okay, even when you run into bumps in the road.

In the spring of 2020, when Covid hit and everything turned upside down, Fourteen Stones helped me again when I launched into an overhaul of it. It felt so good to dive into the world of story, especially in lockdown, when real-world escapes had mostly disappeared. Since then, writing has stayed around as a touchstone, motivation, and release that I’m very grateful for. Sometimes it feels bizarre to make art, and worry about story and characters, with everything going on in the world. But I do think that it matters to put ourselves, our hopes and pain and wish for beauty, into what we create, and that by doing it, we can make a difference.

I hope you can spend some time today with whatever grounds you and lights you up. As always, thanks for visiting the blog.

Midweek break: Maker’s Day

I thought I’d try something new on the blog on Wednesdays. In the spirit of creating mental space and maybe also extra beauty, each week I’ll share a small prompt: a picture, some music, a quote, etc. If you feel like it, I invite you to take a little time and see what the prompt inspires for you. It might simply be contemplative time, or, if you’re feeling creative, it might inspire you to make some art.

This is always and only for you: never any pressure to complete or share anything.

Today’s prompt is a picture of the new red irises I planted last year in the backyard. They’re bloomed out now, but they were lovely. Irises are my favorite flowers.

If you would like to receive more weekly prompts, please consider subscribing to the blog. Thank you for visiting!

Scarlatti Special

Welcome! 🙂 This blog features short piano pieces I’ve recorded at home. It began as a project for the quarantine, which initially was going to be a couple of weeks. I’m determined to keep it going as long as needed, in hopes that if you need a mental break during these tough times, you can find one here.

If you’re new to the series and would like to check out earlier posts, the first one is here. New posts go up on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. Starting on Thursday 5/7, I’m also doing a Storytelling and Sound project through Facebook, which you can check out by following me at Kris Faatz, Writer.

For today’s recording, I visited the wayback machine. This is a sonata by Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757), one of the great names of the Baroque Era in music history (about 1600-1750). This piece is still a favorite of mine, but I thought I already had a recording of it, so went looking and found this video I made almost four years ago.

Scarlatti modeled his sonatas on the structure of popular dances of the time. Dances like the minuet, sarabande, courante, and gigue were part of the daily life of the Baroque era. They were elegant and delicate musical “microcosms.” Scarlatti imitated that graceful dancelike character in his solo keyboard pieces.

This particular sonata has a lovely sound that harks back to the Renaissance. As you listen, you’ll hear some harmonies especially in the left hand that suggest music from an even older time. Those unusual harmonies are one reason why I’ve always loved this sonata.

As you listen, if you’d like, see if this piece evokes a particular time and place for you. Use it as a way to “transport” yourself to another setting. As always, you’re welcome to share your thoughts and responses to the music in the comments.

Make sure to subscribe to the blog if you’d like a regular dose of music, and visit back soon!

Tip Jar (no pressure!):

If you’re enjoying the blog and would like to help support it, please consider clicking on the link below to leave me a tip. You’ll choose your own payment amount and pay securely through PayPal’s platform. As always, thanks for visiting!

Re-post: Bach Talk

Welcome! 🙂 This blog features short piano pieces I’ve recorded at home. It began as a project for the quarantine, which initially was going to be a couple of weeks. I’m determined to keep it going as long as needed, in hopes that if you need a mental break during these tough times, you can find one here.

If you’re new to the series and would like to check out earlier posts, the first one is here. New posts go up on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. Starting on Thursday 5/7, I’m also doing a Storytelling and Sound project through Facebook, which you can check out by following me at Kris Faatz, Writer.

The content of this post originally appeared on the blog on March 22.

Today’s music is a pairing: a prelude and fugue by Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach was one of the icons of the Baroque era (1600-1750) in music history, especially famous for his fugues. He was such a force that after his death in 1750, the next generation of composers had to come up with new techniques and styles to use in their music, because no one could follow Bach’s act.

Fugue is a complicated musical form that involves several lines of melody going at the same time. Every fugue has a short musical idea, called the subject, that gets passed between the different melody lines. The subject usually also has a partner, the countersubject. When one line of melody, or “voice,” has the subject, another “voice” often has the countersubject.

Writing a fugue means that you have to follow a lot of complex rules. You also, ideally, have to write a piece of music that sounds beautiful even if you don’t know about all of the compositional trickery going on. Bach was fascinated with fugue and made a lifelong study of it. He was a master at making it work.

His collection The Well-Tempered Clavier includes forty-eight fugues, two in every key it’s possible to write in. Each of those fugues has a companion prelude. In today’s recordings, you’ll hear the Prelude and Fugue in C sharp Major, from the second volume of The Well-Tempered Clavier. 

As you listen, see if you notice the different lines of melody working together, especially in the fugue. See if you can hear a musical idea that gets passed around between the “voices.” Then, if you’d like, imagine that the voices in the music are actual people having a conversation. What are they talking about? What kind of moods do you hear as the conversation goes along? As always, you’re welcome to share your thoughts and responses to the music in the comments.

Make sure to subscribe to the blog if you’d like a daily dose of music, and visit back soon!

Tip Jar (no pressure!):

If you’re enjoying the blog and would like to help support it, please consider clicking on the link below to leave me a tip. You’ll choose your own payment amount and pay securely through PayPal’s platform. As always, thanks for visiting!

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Re-post: Mozart Meditation

Welcome! 🙂 This blog features short piano pieces I’ve recorded at home. It began as a project for the quarantine, which initially was going to be a couple of weeks. I’m determined to keep it going as long as needed, in hopes that if you need a mental break during these tough times, you can find one here.

If you’re new to the series and would like to check out earlier posts, the first one is here. New posts go up on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. Starting on Tuesday 5/5, I’m also doing a Storytelling and Sound project through Facebook, which you can check out by following me at Kris Faatz, Writer.

The content of this post originally appeared on the blog on March 16.

The music featured today is the slow movement of a sonata by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), one of the greats of the Classical era of music history.

Mozart’s style is often elegant and precise, the kind of writing Classical composers idealized. He also includes drama, humor, and deep expression in his works, even though on the outside they might sound straightforward. This sonata movement is a beautiful, lyrical short piece, both meditative and expressive.

Use the listening time to quiet your mind. If you’d like, as you listen, focus on a mental image that evokes peace for you. Maybe it’s an object, or a place, or a particular activity, like walking along a beach. Bring it to your mind and picture it in vivid detail.

If you have any thoughts about the experience, or would like to share the image you focused on, please post about it in the comments. 🙂

Make sure to subscribe to the blog if you’d like a daily dose of music, and visit back soon!

Tip Jar (no pressure!):

If you’re enjoying the blog and would like to help support it, please consider clicking on the link below to leave me a tip. You’ll choose your own payment amount and pay securely through PayPal’s platform. As always, thanks for visiting!

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Friday dance

Welcome! 🙂 This blog features short piano pieces I’ve recorded at home. It began as a project for the quarantine, which initially was going to be a couple of weeks. I’m determined to keep it going as long as needed, in hopes that if you need a mental break during these tough times, you can find one here.

If you’re new to the series and would like to check out earlier posts, the first one is here. New posts go up on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. I’m also doing a Storytelling and Sound project through Facebook, which you can check out by following me at Kris Faatz, Writer.

Today’s piece continues my Beethoven trend (I will get back to other composers again, I promise 😉 ). This Bagatelle, in G minor, has a slightly different flavor than the others I’ve posted. The minor key gives it a darker sound, but it’s still full of charming energy and lovely contrast. Beethoven changes key in the middle with a hymnlike melody that contrasts with the light, percussive opening. Then he comes back to the tune from the beginning, but writes an intricate little variation on it. He ends the piece in G Major, a bright resolution to the darker beginning, with a lovely final cadence that gets back to the hymnlike sound of the middle section.

As you listen, if you’d like, see if this little piece with its contrasts it conjures up any particular story for you. As always, you’re welcome to share your thoughts and responses to the music in the comments.

Make sure to subscribe to the blog if you’d like a daily dose of music, and visit back soon!

Tip Jar (no pressure!):

If you’re enjoying the blog and would like to help support it, please consider clicking on the link below to leave me a tip. You’ll choose your own payment amount and pay securely through PayPal’s platform. As always, thanks for visiting!

https://www.paypal.com/paypalme2/krisfaatz

Wednesday cheer

Welcome! 🙂 This blog features short piano pieces I’ve recorded at home. It began as a project for the quarantine, which initially was going to be a couple of weeks. I’m determined to keep it going as long as needed, in hopes that if you need a mental break during these tough times, you can find one here.

If you’re new to the series and would like to check out earlier posts, the first one is here. New posts go up on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. I’m also doing a Storytelling and Sound project through Facebook, which you can check out by following me at Kris Faatz, Writer.

Today’s post continues my Beethoven Bagatelle explorations. This piece caught my attention when I was reading through some of the Bagatelles I’d never studied before…looking for pieces short and straightforward enough to pick up quickly and record for the blog.

This one starts out sounding charmingly simple, a lilting country tune. Very soon, though, Beethoven shifts the harmony into a totally different place. The simplicity of the tune never changes, but that sudden twist gives the piece a whole new character.

It’s a delightful little piece. As you listen, if you’d like, see if it conjures up any particular story for you. As always, you’re welcome to share your thoughts and responses to the music in the comments.

Make sure to subscribe to the blog if you’d like a daily dose of music, and visit back soon!

Tip Jar (no pressure!):

If you’re enjoying the blog and would like to help support it, please consider clicking on the link below to leave me a tip. You’ll choose your own payment amount and pay securely through PayPal’s platform. As always, thanks for visiting!

https://www.paypal.com/paypalme2/krisfaatz

Monday smile

Welcome! 🙂 This blog features daily short piano pieces I’ve recorded at home. It began as a project for the quarantine, which initially was going to be a couple of weeks. I’m determined to keep it going as long as needed, in hopes that if you need a mental break during these tough times, you can find one here. If you’re new to the series and would like to check out earlier posts, the first one is here.

Today I’m continuing with my Beethoven Bagatelle streak. This piece is a favorite bagatelle, which I first learned somewhere around thirty years ago (yikes). It’s warm and charming and full of the humor that comes through often in Beethoven’s music. We tend to think of Beethoven as angsty and angry at life, which he often was, but he also loved jokes, puns, wordplay and music-play. This piece showcases his lighter side.

The ending, especially, is classic Beethoven. After the drama and contrast of everything that came before, he decides to sit on one chord for the whole last line of the piece. He milks that last chord for everything it’s worth while he lets the music tiptoe away until it disappears. Playing it, I couldn’t help smiling. I could just imagine Beethoven laughing as he wrote it.

As you listen, if you’d like, see if this “miniature” piece with all its contrasts conjures up any particular story for you. See if it sparks your imagination about the man who wrote it. As always, you’re welcome to share your thoughts and responses to the music in the comments.

Make sure to subscribe to the blog if you’d like a daily dose of music, and visit back soon!

Tip Jar (no pressure!):

If you’re enjoying the blog and would like to help support it, please consider clicking on the link below to leave me a tip. You’ll choose your own payment amount and pay securely through PayPal’s platform. As always, thanks for visiting!

https://www.paypal.com/paypalme2/krisfaatz

Sunday in the Renaissance

Today’s post is a re-post of a piece I put up just a few days ago. I think this particular music deserves some more love. 😉 It’s also perfect for a quiet Sunday morning. 

Welcome! 🙂 This blog features daily short piano pieces I’ve recorded at home. It began as a project for the quarantine, which initially was going to be a couple of weeks. I’m determined to keep it going as long as needed, in hopes that if you need a mental break during these tough times, you can find one here. If you’re new to the series and would like to check out earlier posts, the first one is here.

Today’s piece is one of my favorites by English Renaissance composer William Byrd (1540-1623). This is one of Byrd’s folk-tune settings, in which he took a popular melody of the time and wrote a series of variations on it for solo keyboard. The song, called “The Maiden’s Song,” is gentle and contemplative, a little bittersweet. Byrd’s variations on it start out simple, and then get gradually more intricate before he returns to the original theme at the end.

I’ve posted before about Byrd’s harmonies, which can sound unusual to our ears as modern listeners because they’re based on an older tonal system. You can read more about the seven “modes” of Medieval and Renaissance music in this post. “The Maiden’s Song” also has an unusual feel to it, harmonically, because it’s in one of the modes that we don’t run into much anymore. This mode is called Mixolydian, very similar to major but with one note that sounds a little “off.” (If you have a piano or keyboard, you can hear the Mixolydian mode by playing from one G to the next G, one note at a time, using only the white keys. As you see, it’s a lot like G Major except for the F natural instead of F sharp.) Mixolydian was one of the most commonly used modes in folk music, and to our modern ears, it gives this particular piece its particularly Renaissance flavor.

As you listen, let the music take you back in history to a quieter time, with less ambient noise, clearer skies, and fresher air. See if this piece conjures up any particular images or ideas for you. As always, you’re welcome to share your thoughts and responses to the music in the comments.

Make sure to subscribe to the blog if you’d like a daily dose of music, and visit back soon!

Tip Jar (no pressure!):

If you’re enjoying the blog and would like to help support it, please consider clicking on the link below to leave me a tip. You’ll choose your own payment amount and pay securely through PayPal’s platform. As always, thanks for visiting!

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Folktale in Music

Welcome! 🙂 This blog features daily short piano pieces I’ve recorded at home. It began as a project for the quarantine, which initially was going to be a couple of weeks. I’m determined to keep it going as long as needed, in hopes that if you need a mental break during these tough times, you can find one here. If you’re new to the series and would like to check out earlier posts, the first one is here.

I went to the wayback machine for today’s piece: this is one I actually recorded a couple of years ago. It’s the second movement from a short suite called Tales of the Old Grandmother, by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953).

Prokofiev witnessed the Communist Revolution in Russia, and like many artists, found himself trying to maintain an especially tough balance. Russian artists were revered as showcasing all that was right about Communism for the world to admire. At the same time, as free thinkers and free speakers, artists were considered potentially dangerous and subversive, enemies to the new Communist state.

Prokofiev was in a particularly difficult position because he traveled outside Russia as a young man, spending time in Europe and the United States with the sanction and blessing – initially – of the Communist government. When he came back to Russia in the 1930s, though, he found that his time in the West made him particularly suspect to Stalin’s regime. He spent the rest of his life in a strange and often dangerous limbo, both an ambassador of the State and a potential traitor to it.

Tales of the Old Grandmother is a short, technically simple, but evocative suite for solo piano. Prokofiev is “storytelling” here in a literal sense, capturing the flavor of mysterious and magical folk tales in his writing.

The second movement, featured in today’s video, is my favorite of the suite’s four movements. It’s quite short, less than two minutes, but lovely and bittersweet. For me, it always conjures up the summer when I first learned the suite, some twenty-five years ago. As you listen, if you’d like, see if it calls up any particular story in your mind, or perhaps a favorite memory. As always, you’re welcome to share your thoughts and responses to the music in the comments.

Make sure to subscribe to the blog if you’d like a daily dose of music, and visit back soon!

Tip Jar (no pressure!):

If you’re enjoying the blog and would like to help support it, please consider clicking on the link below to leave me a tip. You’ll choose your own payment amount and pay securely through PayPal’s platform. As always, thanks for visiting!

https://www.paypal.com/paypalme2/krisfaatz