Here’s What I Read in August…

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August was a month of some gigs, some meetings, a week of R+R in Ireland, piccolo trumpet shedding and reading. Here’s where I tell you about the reading bits…

Another Day In The Death Of America (Gary Younge)

This one came as a gift from my mother-in-law, one of the few special members of the trusted book recommenders/gifters club. She’d read it and highly recommended it and it’s one I’ve seen now and again on bookstore shelves and in reading lists. It arrived on a day where I’d just finished a book and had a craving for some non-fiction after reading solely fiction in July, so the timing couldn’t have been better. Gary Younge is a Black British journalist who lived in the US for a number of years. The book focuses on this rather sobering fact – every day in the US, an average of seven children and teens die from gunshot wounds. Younge selects a day, November 23rd 2013 and tells the stories of ten such deaths; black, latino and white people aged between 9 and 19 who were shot and killed that day. This is an attempt to humanise; to present without judgement the lives of ten young people that are frequently referred to as statistics by politicians, activists and the media. It’s an incredibly honest and respectful book that touches on the issues that surround these deaths – issues like gun control, the incredible sway of the NRA in legislation and the relationships between police, state and the black community. A sore book but a necessary one.

The Corrections (Jonathan Franzen)

This is a tricky one. The book centres on an American family, chronicling their flaws and desires, their complex relationships with each other and others. It’s a slice of middle America in the 20th century. But I have to say, I resisted reading it for quite a long time because, with no searching or provocation, negative comments about Franzen and the book snuck into my brain and coloured my opinion before I’d even started. This is why reviews are often garbage (she says writing one. But this is a journal of books, not a review. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) I bought it on kindle because it popped up in a sale and although I own a kindle and definitely understand the benefits of such a device, my reading experience is always worse than if I hold the book in my hand. Focus and the ability to become immersed suffers on an e-reader, I think. I would say it’s the type of book I love, but I didn’t love this one in particular.

Brief Interviews With Hideous Men (David Foster Wallace)

Short stories are a particular creature. For me, three authors have really ripped my heart out with their short stories; Raymond Carver ,(What We Talk About When We Talk About Love) George Saunders (Tenth of December) and David Foster Wallace. To make a profound statement in a short story is something special. It’s like a glimpse into a world that leaves you wishing you knew more. Succinct and devastating. I loved every one of the pieces in Brief Interviews With Hideous Men but if you’re only going to read two, read The Soul Is Not A Smithy and Incarnations Of Burned Children.

The part of the featherfall into sleep in which whatever lines of thought you’ve been pursuing begin now to become surreal around the edges and then at some point the thoughts themselves are replaced by images and concrete pictures and scenes. You move gradually from merely thinking about something to experiencing it as really there, unfolding, a story or world you are part of. Although at the same time enough of you remains awake to be able to discern on some level that what you are experiencing does not quite make sense, that you are on some cusp of edge of true dreaming.

In Pursuit Of Silence (George Prochnik)

If we’ve hung out in the last month or so, we’ve probably talked about silence and quiet and noise because it’s a major focus in my creative practice at the moment. I’m fascinated by society’s relationship with sound and silence. This book is wonderful and I’d highly recommend it (and probably have done already) to everyone I know. Prochnik explores our relationship with sound and silence in a range of different settings; trappist monks, astronauts, the links between noise and our health, technological advances designed to address an increasingly loud world to name but a few. It shines a light on an issue that many of us take for granted but is omnipresent. Like, did you know that the number of reported cases of mental ill-health rose significantly around the area of Heathrow airport following their expansion? And did you know about Audiac, a sonic analgesic developed by a dentist that was used sound as the sole painkiller for dental work and reduced the pain of a cavity treatment down to the level of a mosquito bite according to the majority of patients? OK, I’ll stop now. Go read it.

Down And Out In Paris And London (George Orwell)

Orwell was a visionary, a truly great mind. My mind was utterly boggled after I read 1984 for the first time. And it was written in 1948?! Extraordinary foresight in his social commentary that resonates as strongly as ever. I read Down And Out…last week while we spent the week in Ireland, another from my mother-in-law’s home library and I absolutely loved it. Profound words on the human condition, shocking insights into poverty and Orwell’s beautiful prose meets Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. I’m drawn to books that deal with non-romantic relationships and this one does it so well, dealing with friendships and companionship borne out of circumstance.

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter (Carson McCullers)

My first Carson McCullers novel (though that’s probably the case for everyone…) which I finished this morning. It centres on a deaf-mute named John Singer and the people drawn to him as he lives in a quiet American town. Singer is like the sun in a solar system full of oddball planets, all of whom have created their own mythologies about the sun’s origin and purpose and spirit. It’s a beautiful illustration on the way people are drawn to stillness and quiet, all of the characters feeling a strong sense of calm and belonging while visiting Singer’s room in a boarding house. It reminded me of something Anne Truitt says in her journal, Daybook, about the importance in loving people for who they are rather than the idea of them that exists in you.

Unless we are very, very careful, we doom each other by holding onto images of one another based on preconceptions that are in turn based on indifference to what is other than ourselves…The opposite to this inattention is love, is the honouring of others in a way that grants them the grace of their own autonomy and allows mutual discovery.

Now I’m onto Delusions of Gender but that can wait until September’s round-up…

 

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Big breaths & baby breaths

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The week’s gotten off to an interesting start and in a number of different settings, I’m thinking about breath. I’ve been working on a funding application and those can really drain the life-force out of you. But I came across a video of a stranded octopus thanking the man who saved him and that made me feel much better.

A couple of weeks ago I was in Holland and there was a bit of a flight disaster. First, we were put on standby due to overbooking which we quickly made peace with; Schiphol is an OK airport to be stuck in as airports go. And at 5 euro (!) for some orange juice, clearly a bargain. Then, the flight we were on standby for got cancelled and suddenly everyone was trying to get on different flights, not just us. No space on any flight to London for at least 24 hours. So, we got a flight to Leeds. This was fine because we had a Family Band the next day in Durham, as part of the Brass Festival. What wasn’t so fine was that our instruments were in London.

Dave Walker at All Brass & Woodwind came to our rescue and we went into the shop to find instruments AND mouthpieces to use on the gig. Dave makes his own instruments and they play really well. I’m picky when it comes to valves but luckily, Arturo Sandoval had been playing Dave’s horns and had stretched the springs in one of the trumpets to brighten up the valves so felt great to play. Playing on a new mouthpiece and horn for the first time on a gig is a bit mental and it feels like trying to cook something in someone else’s kitchen; nothing’s where you think it is.

An unexpected bonus was that I ended up coming home with a piccolo trumpet. I’ve been on the lookout for one for a while and fortune favoured the flight-diverted so I bought it.

It’s led to me thinking a lot about breathing because it really is a different approach than trumpet. I’m so used to really filling up with air in preparation to play and if you do that on piccolo, all the air gets trapped in your throat with nowhere to go.  I’ve been checking out some helpful stuff on youtube, and someone said that you should approach piccolo the way you breathe while asleep. Sleeping, your lungs move between 40 – 55% capacity. He suggested that if the deep trumpet breath is a reflex, to breathe as you would then expel some air before playing the note. That’s helped a lot. Someone else said a lot of the difficulty with piccolo is psychological and I’m inclined to agree with that, too.

The great thing that working on piccolo helps with trumpet, too and makes you so aware of intonation which can never be a bad thing. So I’m having a nice thing on my voyage of baby trumpet and baby breaths discovery.

The big breaths are coming in handy when faced with difficult emails and business stuff. Some very smart people have taught me always to sleep on sending a response to an email that produces an emotional reaction in you. STERLING ADVICE. Emails are pretty crappy when it comes to important stuff; often unavoidable but still crappy.

Fate doesn’t hang on a wrong or right choice, 

Fortune depends on the tone of your voice.

The Divine Comedy are right. That’s where emails fall short. Alas! This is the world in which we live, so some deep breaths, some perspective and listening to Peter Evans’ album A Quietness of Water is all it takes to get stuff done.

Life is one big sequence of big breaths & baby breaths.

LINK DUMP

Stranded Octopus Thanks Rescuer

Peter Evans – A Quietness of Water

The Divine Comedy – Songs of Love

 

 

 

Sundays suck (& my thoughts on nurturing creativity)…

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Sunday afternoon. I have already hated Sundays, something inherited from my family. In fact, it’s a strong opinion in Scotland, to hate Sundays. A Calvinist overhang perhaps…? Being freelance, one’s relationship with the days of the week all but disappears but Sunday has a special, gross vibe to it. I have two things I really should be doing – booking flights and editing video footage. But I can’t…Too boring.

***I’m currently listening to an album called Tongue In Groove – Joey Baron, Ellery Eskelin & Steve Swell. I’ve never heard it before. IT IS AMAZING***

One of my priorities is how mental well-being affects creativity. When I was ill earlier this year (I had PTSD, it was rough), my creativity took a back seat. Now that I’m back and it’s back, I’m much more aware of it. In fact, I think of it now as a plant or a creature, a living thing that needs attention and nourishment every day. On a day-to-day level, this means –

  • Guided meditation when I wake up and before I start to play
  • Reading
  • Reflection – usually in the form of a written journal

For my guided meditations, I use a great app called Headspace. I usually do a general, 3-5 minute session as soon I get up then use one focused on creativity for 10-20 minutes before I start playing. For me it’s a way to ensure that the day starts well and doing it before practice works wonders for breathing and for focus. I also do unguided meditation, at least once a day. I didn’t even think of this as meditation initially; it was borne out of a need for stillness and calm which I realised was a priority while I was in therapy. I dubbed it ‘sitting nicely’. So I like to sit nicely for a couple of minutes each day, just finding my centre.

I’m a BIG reader. Reading for me feels like the coal I use to stoke the fire; it’s the input I need in order to say anything artistically. Right now, I’m reading a collection of short stories called Oblivion by the extraordinary David Foster Wallace.

A big part of trauma psychotherapy is the process of reliving a trauma. Once it’s done verbally with a therapist, you write it down and read it each day; a process called ‘flooding’. As I’m sure one can imagine, this isn’t a very pleasant process but it does teach you how to write well, how to build narrative. So I figured it was a waste of that skill to only write about horrendous things and started a journal. It’s become a lifeline, a wonderful daily activity to reflect and grow. It was inspired also by sculptor and beautiful diarist Anne Truitt, whose journal Daybook is a must for any artist, or woman, or human being.

LINK DUMP

Tongue In Groove – Joey Baron, Ellery Eskelin & Steve Swell

Oblivion – David Foster Wallace

Daybook – Anne Truitt

Headspace meditation app