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 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.)

 

Trusting It

Thank you for visiting the blog again. Trying to stay a bit more reliably up and running! 🙂

This afternoon, I’m giving a lecture-performance about my book To Love A Stranger. Before I started having major anxiety struggles this summer, this kind of performance was a little nerve-racking, but mostly no sweat. Today, I’m considerably more nervous than usual. It’s a familiar format, and the kind of gig I’ve done many times before, but I’m having to trust that my performance chops are still there, and will do what they need to do.

It feels like a risk. Part of me wants to run from it, but I’ve learned that the worst thing you can do with anxiety is let it win. When the panic starts telling you that something isn’t safe, or isn’t possible, that’s the time to push back and show it how you know better. Over the summer, when I was really struggling, I had a few days where I let the panic dictate. I canceled my commitments (not many, fortunately) and holed up in bed, listening to music for hours on end. The music was great, but overall, taking this approach to panic was definitely not the right thing to do. It taught me that the only way I could respond to fear was by digging myself a burrow and crawling in.

It’s much harder to push yourself to do things when you’re scared, but it’s also the best way to re-wire your brain and learn that the fear reflex isn’t telling you the truth. Anxiety is an interesting phenomenon. Your hindbrain thinks you’re going into danger, and it wants to protect you, so it kicks in your fight-or-flight response, sometimes so intensely that you feel incapacitated. (If you’ve had the kind of panic attack that involves chest pain, nausea, shaking, dizziness, and the other kinds of symptoms that make you believe you’re in the middle of a heart attack, you know exactly what I mean.) All of this fuss on your hindbrain’s part because it wants to keep you safe from what it sees as danger. Meanwhile, though, its perception of that danger is a little skewed: it doesn’t need to protect you from working, or driving, or staying home alone, or any of the once-ordinary things that might be triggering it. You have to teach it this by doing those things that it doesn’t want you to do.

For me, today’s lecture-performance falls into that category of things. My hindbrain tells me it’s very scary, I won’t be able to get through it, it would be safer not to try. But I know I’ve done exactly this kind of performance before and will do it again, maybe many times. I can get through it, I will get through it, and in so doing, I’ll teach myself and my over-reactive anxiety a valuable lesson. I will trust myself instead of the fear messages.

The video below is a taste of what I’ll be playing this afternoon: the first movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 90. (Apologies for my somewhat out-of-tune piano. Also, yes, that is a Christmas penguin in the background. 😉 ) Beethoven is one of the composers whose music helped inspire To Love A Stranger, and I’ll be reading an excerpt from the book in which his music features, and talking about why he’s perhaps my ultimate musical hero if I could only pick one. As I write this, I tap into the familiar pattern of these performances, and I get a taste back of my own excitement and enjoyment at the idea of giving one. Take that, anxiety. 😉

Hope you enjoy the music. As always, thanks for visiting the blog. See you next time!

Musical Meditation

The blog is late again this week: it’s been a very busy teaching week, which has helped with my need to keep my mind busy. 😊 I’ve been leading a summer writing workshop with Writopia Lab in Washington DC. Writopia is a terrific organization that works with young writers, ages 7 through high school, and I’ve been having a great time with a group of very smart and creative teens. It’s fun to see how the next generation of storytellers is shaping up!

This week, I wanted to depart a bit from the subject of the past couple of weeks, though what I’d like to share today is still connected with the larger topic of mental health. I’m putting this out partly as a teaser, and partly as a way to motivate myself to follow through on a plan I’ve had for a long time.

As both a writer and a musician, I’m always interested in the ways in which these two art forms can dovetail, feed, and support one another. For several months now, I’ve been planning an online course which I’ll run through my website. Called “Musical Meditations,” this course is meant to support writers in particular, but also artists in general, and anyone who would find some music-inspired creative work helpful to their mindset and well-being.

In today’s post, I’m offering a sample of what the course is meant to do. It’s designed as a group of four sessions which will take place over four weeks, though participants can work at their own speed.

Each session will begin with a recording of selected piano music. Each recording will include multiple pieces, but they will all be by the same composer. Participants will first be asked to listen to the music and free-write, or journal, any response they have to it, or anything it brings to mind. This is the meditative part of the exercise: freeing the mind by letting it go wherever the music leads.

After the free-writing exercise, participants will be given information about the music they just heard. Each of the four course sessions will feature a different composer, belonging to a specific period in musical history and writing in distinctive ways. Participants will learn about the composers’ lives, the stylistic choices they made in their music, and why they wrote the types of works they did.

Participants will then be given a specific writing prompt based on the music they heard. This prompt will in some way tie into the historical period the featured music belongs to, events in the life of the composer, and/or the construction or style of the music. For writers, this prompt may help create a new idea for a story, poem, or essay. For other artists, playing around with the ideas might support work in another art form. For all participants, the prompts are meant as a fun mental exercise to stimulate creativity.

Below, I’ve included a recording of a work by Claude Debussy. Debussy (1862-1918) is a French composer belonging to the Impressionist era in music history, which covers the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Impressionist composers loved to create washes of color in their music by using rich and often dissonant harmonies, and fully exploring the ranges and capabilities of the instruments they wrote for. Their fascination with musical color parallels the interests of Impressionist painters like Monet, who worked during the same time period. Like their colleagues in music, Impressionist painters wanted to create rich palettes in their work, fully exploring the potential of colors and how they could blend in new ways.

In the Debussy recording presented here, you can hear how the composer uses the full range of the piano, and how he creates a lush palette of sound that explores beautiful and startling dissonance. This piece, “Pagodes,” is the first movement of Debussy’s three-movement suite Estampes. The title of the whole work translates literally as “woodcuts” or “etchings,” and in each of the three movements, the composer intends to evoke a specific place, as one might create an image for a picture postcard. The first movement, “Pagodes” (“Pagodas”), evokes an Eastern flavor with the sounds of chimes and gongs.

If you’d like, I invite you to listen to “Pagodes” and, either while listening or afterward, free-write or journal in response to it, letting your mind travel wherever the music leads. I often find this is very helpful for calming and centering the mind, especially in times of stress or agitation. Then I’d invite you to consider the following prompt:

Debussy creates an image of a place he loves, through the use of particular harmonies and musical sounds. Consider a place you know well and can visit in your mind. Evoke it as vividly as you can on paper, using all details that make this place special: not only what you might see or hear there, but what you might taste, touch, or smell. Describe all of this to bring this place to life. [And for writers, the following additional prompt: does this setting suggest any sketch or lead to a story or other piece of written work?]

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be putting together the full course on my website, and will post an update or two as it’s getting ready. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoyed today’s sample!

Zen for Ten 28: Chopin and To Love A Stranger

Today’s post features an excerpt from Chapter 4 of To Love A Stranger, paired with two short excerpts from Frederic Chopin‘s Nocturne in B flat Minor, Op. 9 no. 1.

The excerpt from Stranger is told from the point of view of Jeannette Reilly, one of my two main characters. Jeannette has just started working as piano accompanist for the Richmond Symphonic Artists and has met their new director, Sam Kraychek. Jeannette is a shy, withdrawn woman who has overcome a lot to find her first “real” gig as a pianist.

She finds herself immediately attracted to Sam, who, like her, is passionately devoted to music. Her sister Veronica encourages her in this attraction, but Jeannette finds it dangerous and unsettling. She’s afraid to trust another person, especially one she barely knows.

Chapter 4 takes place during a break in a rehearsal Jeannette is accompanying for Sam. Right before the rehearsal, Jeannette’s sister Veronica insisted on giving Jeannette a makeover to make her more interesting to “that boy.” At rehearsal, Jeannette finds that Sam has in fact noticed her; he asks her to come early to the next rehearsal so they can play duets beforehand. Jeannette knows she ought to be thrilled about this, but her past experience has taught her how dangerous it can be to stand out and be noticed, and especially to make herself vulnerable by caring about someone.

During the rehearsal break, Jeannette finds a quiet space to get her thoughts together. At the same time, though, she takes in exactly what her sister has done to her looks. Jeannette’s new appearance brings back past shadows that she has tried to escape from, but can never completely leave behind.

Chopin’s B flat Minor Nocturne is a haunting, lyrical piece, less noticeable for the flashy writing Chopin often used than for a gentle, introspective quality that pairs well with this scene from Stranger.

As always, thank you for visiting the blog! Next time, the Storytelling and Sound series will feature work by Louise Marburg, whose debut story collection The Truth About Me launches this week. Until then!

Don’t have your copy of To Love A Stranger? Get it here.

Writers! Would you like to contribute your work for the Storytelling and Sound series? (You provide the words, I provide the live reading and the music.) Email me at kris@krisfaatz.com for info.