Tag Archives: Evan Quinn

Creative Mind Under Stress

The recent suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain sparked my mind to return to my interest in what happens when psychological trauma rules a mind and life rather than the mind confronting it and healing. I didn’t know either Spade or Bourdain so I’m not writing about them specifically. But I chose to make the protagonist of the Perceval series a 30-something American man, Evan Quinn, who suffered severe psychological trauma as a child and who has an aversion to any kind of psychiatric treatment because in his America the government uses psychiatric treatment as an instrument of mind and behavior control as well as a way to make someone disappear. I wanted to explore through Evan Quinn the possibilities of untreated psychological trauma. How does the mind deal with the psychological trauma? How do the mental coping mechanisms affect behavior? How do they affect the person’s thinking? Just as the physical body has its responses to trauma, so does the human mind to psychological trauma.

When a person experiences a life-threatening situation, or a situation the person perceives as life-threatening, and the person is powerless in that situation, the mind experiences psychological trauma. Some examples (not all the possibilities) of such a traumatizing situation: natural disaster, car accident, combat in war, being the victim of attempted murder, being mugged at gunpoint, being raped, and especially for children, being abused physically, sexually and/or emotionally. Once the threat is over and the person is safe, it’s important for him or her to talk about the experience, to debrief. This includes talking not only about the facts of the situation but also how the person felt, what the person was thinking during the situation, and what, if anything, the person did in response to the situation. For example, I live in Minnesota, and during tornado season over the years I’ve heard of a small town being hit by a devastating tornado, and then witnessed residents of the town talking about their experience with the media, being heard and supported, helped and comforted. This is actually a very important step toward healing the psychological trauma of the natural disaster. But what happens when the traumatized person cannot talk about the event immediately afterward and receive support, help, and comfort?

Evan Quinn experienced abuse as a child growing up. He was a powerless, defenseless child abused by a person he trusted to protect and defend him. For any child, this betrayal and injury can have a devastating effect on the child’s psyche including dissociation at the time of the trauma. When there’s no outside intervention to protect the child afterward as there was none for Evan, the mind copes by compartmentalizing the thoughts and emotions of the memory of the trauma. In other words, the mind puts the memory away in a closet. The memory isn’t gone, though. The mind takes steps of its own to protect itself and the child. So, for example, the child may become quiet, sad, afraid, and hyper-vigilant in contrast to previous behavior. The child’s thought processes change. It only takes one trauma to do the damage, and subsequent trauma reinforces the mind’s coping measures. Each person is a unique individual, and so each person will respond in a unique and individual way to a psychologically traumatizing event(s). There is a common coping mechanism, however, that manifests as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Evan Quinn has PTSD. He’s grown up living with his abuser, putting the memories of the abuse away in a mental closet even as he remembers witnessing his father abusing his mother and her response. He makes it to adulthood because of classical music and his friendship with the Caines, especially with his mentor in music, Joseph Caine. In Europe, he’s far away from his abuser and he’s finally safe. It’s usually at this point that PTSD begins to really make itself felt because the circumstances no longer require its coping and protective function. Memories will pop out of the closet in the form of flashbacks, also affecting mental function, sleep, and emotional control. For women, depression is common, as well as acting out in inappropriate ways. For men, there can be acting out, sometimes violence, paranoia, as well as depression. Hallucinations, auditory and/or visual, are not uncommon. A profound sense of hopelessness and uselessness, deep hot rage and short temper, and despair can pervade daily life. None of this happens all at once but develops over time. PTSD is a symptom of unresolved psychological trauma.

In Perceval’s Secret, Evan begins to become aware of his PTSD and it’s recognized by Klaus Leiner who offers Evan help. Evan receives other offers of help, but his aversion to psychiatric treatment and his belief that there’s nothing wrong with him prevent him from accepting those offers. The PTSD affects his thought process and the choices that he makes. How his life progresses after that is what the Perceval series reveals. My big discovery, as the writer that Evan chose to tell his story, was that power plays a crucial role — having power over others, being powerless vs. feeling powerless, and the desire to feel powerful vs. actually being powerful in oneself. And I feel often that I am only scratching the surface of this complex human experience and condition, as well as its relevance to current human life.

 

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Evan Quinn, Antihero

Antihero: a central character in a story, movie, or drama who lacks conventional heroic attributes.

Matt Damon as Tom Ripley in "The Talented Mr. Ripley" (1999)

Matt Damon as Tom Ripley in “The Talented Mr. Ripley” (1999)

They are the protagonists you love to hate.  Protagonists that are more villains than the archetypal heroes.  They exhibit clinical narcissism and grandiosity.  They usually lack the self-awareness necessary for change.  Are they capable of growing and developing self-awareness?  What would it take?

I’ve made no secret of my fascination with antiheroes.  I wrote about them in 2010 here.  I’ve been intensely interested in how a human being becomes such a person.  With my antihero Evan Quinn, I wanted to explore three things: how an American would react to a totalitarian dictatorship, how an American would deal with emigration to another country under circumstances echoing Russian emigrants who left the USSR in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and what could happen with someone whose PTSD is left untreated.

Americans now are more familiar with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) because of our military veterans and their suffering with it.  PTSD is not unique only to war veterans, especially those who saw combat.  Anyone who experiences extreme psychological trauma in which he feels threatened and powerless to protect or defend himself can develop PTSD.  This includes children who experience physical or sexual or psychological abuse, accident survivors, domestic abuse survivors, survivors of crime, and survivors of natural disasters.  It’s important for the survivors of trauma to talk about their experience and how they felt as soon after the trauma as possible.  Talking begins the process of psychological healing from the trauma.  So when the media descends on a town destroyed by a tornado, for example, and starts interviewing the survivors, that is helpful somewhat.  The media, however, are not trained to guide the survivors through processing their experience and feelings so they don’t get stuck in the psychological flashback loop characteristic of PTSD.  Not everyone will develop PTSD after major psychological trauma.  I don’t know why.  I have not heard that researchers have figured that out either.

Perceval’s Secret is the beginning of my exploration into Evan Quinn’s psychological present and how that affects his choices and his life.  We don’t like to think too much about the powerful effects our past experiences have on our lives, but they make us who we are.  That’s also true with Evan.  Joseph Caine and his family provide a sanctuary for him that, I hope, may give him what he needs to break out of his PTSD.  However, in the subsequent four novels, I really put him through the ringer as far as his choices are concerned.  In Perceval’s Secret, he only begins to notice the effect having power and control exerts over him.  I have the final scene of the final novel in my mind, although I’m still uncertain how it will end.  The question for the Perceval series is this: Does Evan Quinn have the capability to redeem himself, and if so, how?

Other antiheroes have been far from redemption.  Their creators have seen them as psychopaths, incapable of human connection and empathy, and without conscience.  Dexter Morgan of the Dexter series of novels (and TV shows, although these took a different direction than the novels) is an example, or Tom Ripley in Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novels.  Hannibal Lecter.  Looking farther back in literature, there’s Kafka’s K, Camus’s The Stranger, Holden Caulfield, Tyler Durden and the Narrator in Fight Club, Philip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s mysteries, Scarlett O’Hara as one of the few women anti-heroes, and yes, even Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series.  There’s also a long list in film and TV of antiheroes.

What makes an antihero?  What in a character’s past makes her the villain in her own story?  That’s part of Evan’s story, too.  Not many antihero creators dive into that murky sea.  I believe his past holds the key to Evan’s healing.  Now if I can just convince Evan….

 

 

The Lockout is Over!

classicalmusicThe announcement came on Tuesday afternoon when the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra and MOA management each held press conferences to share the news.  The actual collective bargaining agreement that everyone signed off on has yet to be posted online, and each side has emphasized in their press statements what was most important to them.  Neither side got everything they wanted.  What I am still amazed about — shocked, really — is that MOA management and the musicians negotiated without either side getting the condition that they had said they needed before negotiations could begin, i.e. a counter offer from the musicians (management) or the end of the lockout (the musicians).  So what happened?

The last four days have been full of speculation, but it seems that the City of Minneapolis used the lease issue to put pressure on the MOA Board.  The MOA was clearly in default on the lease requirements and they needed the Orchestra to return in order to resolve the default and keep Orchestra Hall.  This is my guess.  I have not seen any confirmation from the City or the MOA, but something stuck a firecracker under the MOA’s butt.

The lockout ends on February 1.  The musicians and the MOA have announced “homecoming concerts” for February 7 and 8, and February 14 and 15, the first in the renovated Orchestra Hall.  Before each concert, patrons are encouraged to arrive early to explore the new lobby area and other features of the renovation.  Tickets go on sale Wednesday, January 22 at 5 p.m.  Visit here for more information.

I am still trying to take it all in.  I’m ecstatic for the musicians, and especially happy that they are satisfied with the agreement.  What I really want to hear is an apology to the musicians for the really terrible things said to them and about them during the lockout, and for some of the really childish behavior of various Board members toward the musicians.  It would be a huge step toward repairing the damage that’s been done.  The musicians have nothing to apologize for.  I’m proud of the way they conducted themselves throughout this ordeal.

As Gina Hunter writes, there are still questions to be answered and work to be done.  At the top of my list: will Osmo Vanska return?  I also think the MOA governance structure needs reform, but I doubt it will come from the Board of Directors itself.  I suspect they see nothing wrong with the way they do things.  I agree with Hunter: they are accountable to no one but themselves and this has to change.  We were lucky this time — the City of Minneapolis was able to have leverage over the Board and hold them accountable for the way they were conducting business.  But just as a corporation has shareholders to whom the corporation’s board and leadership are accountable, the MOA needs to be accountable to someone interested and involved in the Orchestra, classical music and non-profits.

Courtesy nytimes.com

Courtesy nytimes.com

For Evan Quinn and the future of the Minnesota Orchestra, I feel like we narrowly missed plunging over a cliff and losing the Orchestra altogether, as well as the tradition of artistic excellence it has been building.  Indeed, the next few years could be difficult ones anyway.  But at least the Orchestra continues to exist and will continue to perform and grow.  I hope this horrible lockout will show both sides the need to work together for the future of the organization, and not blame the musicians for what the Board has done.

Will I attend the “homecoming concerts”?  I don’t know.  I know I should be feeling happy and upbeat and excited, but I only feel sad.  Is it because the MOA leadership team remains intact?  Perhaps.  The same people who haven’t been open to learning about non-profit governance are still there, the same people who didn’t comprehend that they didn’t understand artistic excellence and how important continuity is to maintain it.  The same people who were willing to lose Osmo Vanska, and who treated him (in my opinion) with incredible disrespect.  And I kept seeing online this week one person after another saying that as long as Michael Henson remained President, they would not donate their hard-earned money to the MOA.  The Board and MOA leadership has a monumental task ahead of it to heal the deep rift they created between themselves and the community.  They need everyone in the community, not only those who can donate $10K plus.

So, I’m in a wait and see mode….

Evan in Minnesota, 2013 to 2048

Photo by Jeff Wheeler

Osmo Vanska and Emanuel Ax in Farewell Concert (Photo by Jeff Wheeler)

As I continue to work on revisions to Perceval’s Secret, I also continue to think about Evan’s life in Minnesota and specifically with the Minnesota Orchestra.  The contract dispute continues between the musicians and management, now in its 14th month.  I know Evan would have stood strong with Osmo Vanska and his decision to resign after management pulled the rug out from under him by cancelling the Carnegie Hall concerts that were scheduled for early November.  I attended Mr. Vanska’s farewell concert — the pain and sorrow were palpable in the Ted Mann Concert Hall at the University of Minnesota — there was not a dry eye in the hall, including the musicians.  Management has not budged, nor, I believe, will they.  Their offer of September 25, 2012 was their “final” offer, after all.  What’s there to talk about?  Their claims of willingness to compromise is for public consumption only.

During my work on the first draft of Perceval’s Secret, I imagined America in the near future to have succumbed to the New Economic Party and their promises for security from terrorism and economic prosperity.  My model for the NEP was the Communist Party in the Soviet Union of the 1930’s, when the iron fist of communism came down particularly hard on artists in all the arts.  The

My excellence resource on music in the USSR

My excellence resource on music in the USSR

Ministry of Culture (the American version = the Arts Council) set policy and established Socialist Realism as the only kind of art it would allow.  In music, Goskonzert and the various musicians’ unions enforced policy as well as the Ministry.  In the USSR, the goal was control to maintain power, and to show the world the success of communism.  In America 2048, the goal of the Arts Council is profit, and if a composer or musician couldn’t deliver, that person could find herself out on the street, destitute and alone.

I had imagined the Arts Council as a federal government agency with branches in each state.  Their destructive influence touched every state, every music organization and school in the country.  The good news is that music does make a lot of money for the Arts Council in its various forms, although classical music tends to struggle.  Movie and game soundtracks are the most popular forms of classical music.  Evan, as a conductor and violinist, must prove himself to the Arts Council as a musician who can make money for them.  He does from the beginning of his career while he’s still studying at Juilliard.  The Arts Council eventually returns him to Minneapolis where he leads the Minneapolis State Symphony Orchestra (former Minnesota Orchestra), and performs as first violinist in the Hartleben String Quartet.

Today’s reality has jolted me in many ways, but none more than the realization that the Arts Council I envisioned is the Board of Directors of the Minnesota Orchestral Association and executive management.  They want to take over management of the Minnesota Orchestra in all aspects, but especially financially, to insure “financial sustainability” into the future and their control.  To that end, they have inserted themselves into artistic activities for which they are not qualified (according to the September 2012 proposal), taking much of what the Music Director does away from him/her.

They are not interested in the artistic excellence of the Minnesota Orchestra and sustaining it.  If they were, we would not be where we are today in the contract dispute.  There would have been no “final” offer and negotiations would have progressed in a “play and talk” period.  Mr. Vanska would not have resigned.  Alex Ross of The New Yorker would not have needed to devote a portion of his column to castigating the Board of Directors for cancelling the Carnegie Hall concerts because those concerts would have occurred and Mr. Ross would have reviewed them.  I think the atmosphere would not be one of animosity because the two sides would be working together to find solutions and ways to move forward while paying down the debt gradually over time.

The policy of the Board of Directors is grounded in finances, not music, exactly like the Arts Council in Evan’s world.

I am not pleased by this realization.  At least the MOA Board’s policy is not one accepted by the rest of the country.  You’d think a couple of bankers would have been open to all kinds of possible ways to pay down the debt, but no, that’s not been the case at all.  They have adopted the policy of “it’s my way or the highway.”

The Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra, at their community meeting this past Monday morning, re-affirmed their intent and goal to resolve the contract dispute and return to the MOA and the Orchestra Hall stage.  In the meantime, they have chosen their own road by producing their own concerts, and an entire 2013-14 season…..

Does the Minnesota Orchestra Have a Future?

classicalmusicAs I work on preparing Perceval’s Secret for e-publication, I’ve been watching the recent developments about and surrounding the contract dispute between the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra and the Minnesota Orchestral Association Board and executive management.  It’ll be 11 months tomorrow since the Board locked out the musicians.  One step in the right direction occurred this past week: a mediator was hired to work with both sides in a mediation process to resolve differences and reach an agreement.

So what’s the first thing MOA management (Board + management) does?  They submit an offer to the musicians outside the mediation process and without the mediator.  This contract proposal, according to the musicians, is exactly the same as the one MOA management offered them earlier in August and the musicians rejected.  Drew McManus calls it a “Trap Door” contract proposal.  Emily Hogstead, at Song of the Lark, has seven reasons why she’s wary of this proposal.  Gina Hunter, at Eyes on Life, wrote before the proposal but is also clearly wary of MOA management.

One, sort of, good thing occurred this week, sort of connected to the contract proposal from MOA management: Osmo Vanska has pushed back his deadline for the orchestra to be in rehearsal by September 30.  This deadline is directly related to the Carnegie Hall concerts early in November.  Mr. Vanska wants the orchestra to have time to play together as much as possible before those concerts.  One month isn’t a lot of time, but even if they’d played a full season during the last year, and a summer season, they would have been off for two months before the new season began.  I was heartened to see Mr. Vanska’s flexibility, Carnegie Hall’s management agreeing with the schedule, and MOA management actually trying to get it done…except they’ve tied it to that onerous contract proposal, so how productive is that?!

Governor Dayton worked to arrange a mediator that the two sides could agree on, former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, who was instrumental in the talks to achieve peace in Northern Ireland, and he’s been hired.  The community has turned up the volume on their vocal and written responses to MOA management’s tactics.  Orchestrate Excellence organized and held a community forum on August 20 in downtown Minneapolis.  A new community organization has formed in the last month called Save Our Symphony Minnesota.  They have a website, too, and are very active on Facebook.

Disappearing MN Orchestra Musicians

Disappearing MN Orchestra Musicians

As I watch all this activity unfolding, I feel a deep pain.  The musicians have stood strong and united throughout an extremely difficult year, but some have had to leave for financial reasons, or perhaps (this is speculation), they no longer could stomach the thought of having to work for this Board and executive management.  The orchestra is not the same one that ended the 2011-12 season.  That orchestra was in the top 10 of American symphony orchestras and had gained international renown through touring and recordings.  The musicians in that orchestra had accomplished an astonishing amount, and how were they rewarded for it?  At the same time, Osmo Vanska accomplished every single goal he set for himself back in 2003, and more.  We have been so fortunate to have him here conducting this orchestra.  How has MOA management rewarded him for his achievements here?  Is it no surprise that there may be some less than positive feelings toward the Board and executive management right now, especially since the latter has not agreed to any kind of cut in salary and continues to take home what they were taking home before.  It pains me that this is how the Board and management would treat the greatest assets the organization has and its reason for being.

In the Perceval novels, Evan Quinn’s backstory includes being Music Director of the Minneapolis State Symphony, formerly the Minnesota Orchestra.  However, in the novels he lives in Europe and is no longer working for the American Arts Council.  It occurred to me, after reading Gina Hunter’s blog post, that perhaps the Minneapolis State Symphony isn’t formerly the Minnesota Orchestra, but a different orchestra formed by the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra in defiance of management’s attempt to bust the union and gain corporate control of the organization and musicians.  Evan Quinn and his mentor composer and pianist Joseph Caine would have liked that, I think.

As a lover of classical music and the Minnesota Orchestra, it’s obscenely difficult to observe what’s happening and to feel that my voice, as well as other community voices, is ignored…..