Another Year for Aanora!

This afternoon, I edited Aanora: A Kelvin Timeline Story at I’d been meaning to clean it up a bit and add the URL for this blog in my bio at the end. When I did the edits and saved them, I discovered that the novella will remain on for another 365 days. YES!!

If you haven’t yet read it, you can find it here. Read, enjoy, and leave a review!

Thank you!

Live Music Again

A cab driver told me a couple weeks ago that the increase in traffic congestion meant we were returning to “normal” after enduring lockdowns, masks, social distancing, vaccination hesitators, and an increase in body weight from stress eating. I laughed. He thinks the pandemic is over, I thought to myself. It’s not. We are hanging on by our fingertips. The Delta variant has shown us just how fragile our defense has been, although people who are vaccinated completely fare much better than those who aren’t. No, a sign of a return to some semblance of normality is the return to concert halls of symphony orchestras, and the musicians on stage are no longer sitting six feet apart.

About the time I listened to that cab driver extol the increase in traffic, my friend J emailed me with the offer of a ticket to a Minnesota Orchestra concert on Friday, July 30. After checking the program and conductor, I jumped at the opportunity to be one of approximately 900 people (in an auditorium that seats a little over 1800) to attend the live orchestra concert. Of course, COVID protocols were still in place — I received an email Health screening a day before the concert asking me to attest that I did not have any COVID symptoms and to wear a mask at the concert. I’m more than happy to wear a mask anywhere because I tend not to trust strangers in public places.

I was excited to attend a Minnesota Orchestra live concert after months of watching concerts on TPT public television or listening on Classical MPR radio. J picked me up and we headed to downtown Minneapolis, parked in the ramp across the street from the concert hall, and strolled into the lobby where we found people congregating around the bars, standing around talking, and enjoying the pleasant weather on Peavey Plaza. Minnesota Orchestra musicians dressed in concert attire mingled among the people both in the lobby and on the plaza. A musical appetizer drew people in the Atrium concert space off the lobby. We kept running into people and musicians that we knew. A common comment was “So happy to be here tonight to hear live music!” But the crowd was definitely thinner than before the pandemic. The joy, however, was palpable.

Conductor Ken-David Masur (Photo: Beth Ross Buckley)

The concert would be broadcast live on TPT (Twin Cities Public Television) so we were in our seats 15 minutes early watching the orchestra musicians settle into their seats. The concert would be hosted by Sarah Hicks, the MO’s Principal Conductor of Live at Orchestra Hall. Attending a concert that’s also being broadcast live was a new experience for me. There were breaks in the flow of the concert to accommodate the broadcast and Sarah Hicks’ introductions. Sometimes we heard her, sometimes we didn’t. We did hear the male voice from off stage saying “Maestro!” whenever the music could continue.

Guest conductor Ken-David Masur led a rousing opening of Summon the Heroes by John Williams written for the 1996 Summer Olympics. The principal trumpet soared. The acoustics in the Hall made me feel as if I were inside the music itself. In fact, my feeling during the piece was of relief. My hometown band was back. Yes, some of their faces wore masks, but they were sitting closer together, and there were more of them on stage. And with this concert, the musicians honored frontline workers in the neighborhood of Orchestra Hall — those people in jobs considered essential as well as medical professionals. Some of these frontline workers were in attendance, listening to this music live.

The concert program sampled American composers. Three of the works I’d never heard before: Amy Beach’s Gaelic Symphony (first movement), Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson’s Sinfonietta No. 2 (2 movements), and William Grant Still’s Second Symphony (one movement). I especially enjoyed Perkinson’s music — the quiet lyricism of the first movement we heard, and the pizzicato humor in the second movement. Pianist Jon Kimura Parker (also the Orchestra’s creative partner for summer programming) dazzled with his solo performance of William Hirtz’s Wizard of Oz Fantasy for solo piano. I’d forgotten how lovely some of the melodies are in that movie. The themes brought back fun memories of watching the movie in black and white as a child and the first time I saw it in color as an adult.

Two works dear to my heart highlighted the concert for me, although we heard only one movement from one of them. Samuel Barber’s Essay No. 1 for orchestra begins in the cellos and basses with a simple motif that threads its way through each section of the orchestra in the 8-minutes of what I think of a dramatic sorrow. During the forte fortissimos, this orchestra produced waves of sound that washed over me. Their ensemble playing never ceases to astonish me — the precision and discipline of it. The pandemic certainly hadn’t affected their dedication to excellence. Barber is one of my favorite American composers, and the Essay No. 1 is a wonderful introduction to his unique musical voice.

Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Marin Alsop conductor

The concert ended with pizzazz, jazz, singable melodies and flash. The first movement of George Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F major with Parker again as piano soloist. I thought the tempo was a bit slow for this concerto — not much flash — and there were times that Masur let the orchestra play too loud, drowning out the piano. The conductor’s job when accompanying a soloist is not only to follow the composer’s wishes in the score but to balance dynamics so that the soloist can always be heard.

National Youth Orchestra of USA, Michael Tilson Thomas conductor, Jean-Yves Thibaudet piano (a very relaxed Michael Tilson Thomas — the kids are great!)

The Minnesota Orchestra played magnificently throughout this concert, and we left feeling we’d been given a sample of what was to come in the new season beginning in September. Live music is back.

Why Music Makes You Cry

Thanks to Frances Wilson at the Interlude blog for this essay on how music stirs human emotions. Enjoy!

Just this afternoon at the beginning of Bruckner’s 8th Symphony, I got the tingles.

A Lost Earring

Obsession. Ludwig van Beethoven, obsessed with a lost penny (pfennig), composed a little piano masterpiece.

Obsession. Today, I’m obsessed with a lost earring and it’s so occupied my mind that Evan Quinn’s sojourn in Chicago of 2050 has been obliterated for the moment. How could this happen? I thought obsession fueled creativity. For me today, it’s blocking what I want to write. So, instead, I decided to write about the lost earring.

Here is its twin, the one that was in my right earlobe and made it through yesterday secure in my right earlobe.

Sorry about the slight blurriness, the earring was dangling, moving from side to side in front of my computer camera (because I’d discovered that a battery corroded in my little Olympus camera and it won’t turn on), and I was challenged to click the camera icon to actually snap the photo without moving anymore than I was. These earrings are of mauve and green crystal beads, faceted to catch the light like prisms. I’ve been startled at times when they’ve caught sunlight and reflected it to a nearby wall in sparkling purple light. They are pretty. They are fun. And they are in my two favorite colors. I love them.

The loss of one destroys the pair. The pain I felt, standing in my bedroom after I’d arrived home from work, seared through my chest. I took out the right earring, but there was nothing in my left earlobe. I wanted to scream.

Why? It’s just an earring, right?

Well, first of all, this pair of earrings was a gift from a good friend a long time ago. They cannot be replaced. They have always been one of my favorite pairs of earrings. I don’t wear much jewelry, but I did get my ears pierced as a freshman in college and have enjoyed wearing earrings — all styles, colors, shapes — ever since. I have a pair of black chandelier earrings that I love but one broke. I couldn’t bear to throw them away. Could they be repaired? If they could, I’d love to have them back, you see. So, I took them to a neighborhood jeweler’s that specialize in custom-made jewelry and asked if they could repair them. Yes. And they did. It cost me probably 3 times what they were worth, but I have those earrings back.

There’s no repairing something that’s lost. Only finding it. And I believe I know what happened. It’s the face mask. Having to wear a face mask for protection against COVID-19 has affected my earrings. Sometimes the mask just hides them. Sometimes the earrings get caught in the mask or stick out at weird angles from it. I believe that at some point yesterday when I removed the mask, the earring in my left earlobe slid out of my ear from the mask brushing it. When did it happen? Where did it happen? Considering the number of times yesterday I put that mask on and slipped it off, it could have happened at any time during the day. On the bus. On the train. In the office. At the train station downtown. Some of my wire earrings have wire guards to prevent that from happening from any cause. I wish I’d thought yesterday morning to take the extra precaution of putting wire guards on these earrings to protect them.

That darn face mask! I’ve been wearing face masks for a year now, every time I go out of my home, on the city bus, on the train, at the office, in stores, at the bank, to get the COVID-19 vaccination, and to go to the restroom at work. Even at the hair salon as my stylist trims my bangs and the mask catches snippets of hair against my face and mouth. I can now say that my lost earring is a casualty of COVID-19 because if I hadn’t needed to wear a mask, it would never have slid out of my earlobe and disappeared. Maybe that’s the reason I’m feeling the loss of this earring particularly acutely. I have lost my pre-COVID life when I wore earrings and no face mask, and didn’t need to worry about a face mask pushing an earring out of my ear.

Will the vaccination I received 10 days ago protect me from infection by the SARS-CoV-2 virus? I believe it will for a while, but no one knows how long, really. Everything about this virus and its effect on humans is a mystery. Except its deadliness. I recently read about an antibody treatment that, if begun within the first week of symptoms, can actually shorten the course of infection and decrease the severity to mild symptoms. This morning, I read an article in the April 2021 Atlantic Monthly (“Unlocking the Mysteries of Long COVID” by Megan O’Rourke) that described the damage the virus does to the human autonomic nervous system and heart, and how it resembles a difficult to diagnose disease that can be treated. Medical researchers are questioning the relationship between the virus and the human body’s immune system, i.e. does the virus trigger the immune system to go on a rampage against the human body rather than defending it against the virus? A virus that cannot be seen by the naked eye. Amazing how something so tiny could cause such devastation and pain.

I suppose I should count myself lucky if all I’ve lost (to date) is an earring from a beloved pair of earrings. I do know people — co-workers, friends — who have been sick with COVID-19 and recovered OK. I know others who have lost family members, relatives, and friends to this virus. I will continue to wear a face mask (and be more careful about my earrings), stay at least 6 feet away from people, wash my hands frequently and telework. There is hope for an end to this pandemic.

Just as I hope that when I go into the office on Monday, I’ll find my lost earring on the floor by my desk.

Time to Think, Time to Dream

Last weekend, I took advantage of having President’s Day on Monday off from work and tagged on two vacation days to the three-day weekend for a five-day vacation. This was the first time in a very long time that I’d actually taken vacation days to take a vacation rather than take care of a health concern. I scheduled no big house projects or chores. Instead, I scheduled writing, reading, rest, and relaxation. Any chores were done as breaks from writing, since I did have some weekly chores that needed to be done.

The first day, I spent the morning relaxing, catching up with email and other online tasks. I read for a couple hours midday. Then I settled in for an uninterrupted session of writing on chapter 8 of Perceval’s Game. While writing that first afternoon, I discovered something. The chapter I was working on had a problem and I could neither identify it nor solve it. Has anyone else been in this situation? Something was wrong. I felt like I really couldn’t progress with the actual writing until I solved the problem. This was actually good timing for me to realize there was a problem. I had the time to think about it.

One thing no writing teacher told me about writing, as if it was something I would just know: writers need uninterrupted, relaxed time to think. I do some of my best thinking in the shower. It seemed too much to take a 2-day shower, so I sat on my sofa and stared out the window, listening to music playing softly in the background. Music, specifically classical music, helps to unlock my mind’s house and invite my imagination to come out and play. It begins by getting lost in the silent spaces between the music’s notes as I stare out the window, my eyes unfocused. Almost immediately, I began to get clues to what the problem was with the chapter. As my mind played with each clue, scenes began to emerge into my mind, playful scenarios both wild and serious. I just let those scenarios play out and lead into new ones. By the end of the afternoon, with the sun setting outside and the light fading, I knew what the specific problem was with the chapter.

On Sunday afternoon, I talked with a friend on the phone before returning to thinking about the chapter. Somehow, talking with her emptied my mind of the day’s clutter that clouded my vision. When I put on the music and sat down on the sofa, my mind was open and ready to pick up where I’d left off the day before. I was in the chapter with Evan Quinn and the young man driving him to Chicago, and suddenly I knew what needed to happen to resolve the problem. The scenes gushed out of my imagination with a sense of joy and abandon. But I sat quietly on the sofa, staring out the window, focused on what was happening in my mind.

On Monday, I returned to my desk and computer to write. With the problem identified and solved, the action and dialogue flowed out of me. And so, I wrote 1000 words on Monday and another 1000 on Tuesday, progressing the chapter closer to the end. I felt full of accomplishment. I felt supremely satisfied that I had taken the five-day vacation at crucial time in my work on the novel.

I can’t remember now where I heard or read this, but someone connected to the movie industry once said that the reason there are no movies about writers working is because it would be boring for the viewer to watch a writer write. Anyone who’d been watching me last weekend would have believed that I was doing nothing but sitting on my sofa staring out the window. Obviously, I was lazy. Obviously, I wasn’t doing anything. And it’s certainly not exciting for someone else to watch me when I’m writing at my computer. But…I accomplished a great deal last weekend in writer terms.

I miss having the time to think and daydream about my characters and their lives, their problems, their dreams. Before I went back to work fulltime in an office job, my writing day began with 15-30 minutes of stair exercise listening to classical music on my portable CD player and reading through my notes. I got quite adept at reading and walking up and down stairs at the same time. Then I went to my desk. turned on the computer, and began working for the next six – eight hours. I did that every day, six days a week. I followed a similar routine in 2020 when I was on COVID leave for four months and was able to finish the first draft of Perceval in Love. While working a fulltime job to pay the bills is necessary, it affects my creative life by draining my energy during the work week, consuming my time, and burrowing into my mind with issues and concerns that I wish I could leave at the office. So, I guard my writing time on weekends.

Perceval’s Game progresses but much more slowly than when I have a full six days a week to write. I take whatever time I can get to think and daydream about the characters and their lives because that work time is just as important as the actual writing words on paper (or the screen).

For other benefits of daydreaming, read here.