How I Found My Inner Harpist On My Smartphone

 

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Image courtesy of wallpaper flare.com

Ah, the image: I am seated at a magnificent golden harp, my flowing blonde tresses resting on my shoulders, my tall, slender body leaning slightly forward, long fingers playing glissando after glissando. I am just warming up, but I am already enraptured.

Oh, the reality: It’s true that I’m thin and have long fingers. The rest of the description is more problematic. I’m short (slightly shorter each year) and my hair, though longer than it was pre-COVID, is definitely untresslike—closer to distresslike.

It’s also never been blonde; it’s brown, flecked with what I’m sure is more gray since the pandemic began. In fact, if the folks from the Pantone Color Institute were seeking a new description, I think “pandemic gray” would be appropriate.

But that’s the least of my worries. In fact, I never really wanted blonde hair except as part of my harp fantasy.

To round out the picture, I guess it’s worth noting that as far as I know, I have zero musical ability. I’ve never studied a musical instrument and can’t carry a tune. ( I did, however, lead the band when I was the drum majorette as a high school senior.)

But I do love music—all kinds of music—and get a special chill when I hear the elegance of a harp. I’m also fascinated by the concept of music and the brain, so I did a little research.

Note: everything about this topic is complex. Indeed, there are actually nine areas of the brain participating in our hearing and/or making music, with different parts involving rhythm, tone, tempo, and the like. I have simply tiptoed into this complicated topic. (You can click here if you’re interested in a neat graphic depicting the various areas—where they’re located, what they’re called, and what they do.)

That special chill, the critical emotional component of music, is largely created through the nucleus accumbens (NA), the pleasure and rewards center of the brain, and is intricately related to the neurotransmitter dopamine (DA), which—depending on the amount and our personal makeup—has the potential to make us happy or sad.

So music can act on us like chocolate, or sex, or cocaine. One neuroscientist, Kiminobu Sugaya, said in the article cited above that “music can be a very addictive drug because it’s also acting on the same part of the brain as illegal drugs.”

My mind immediately went to the many talented young musicians who died prematurely of drug overdoses.

That’s simply an interesting aside that most of us needn’t worry about. And it has nothing to do with why it’s suddenly become very important to me to make music.

I’ve repeatedly heard that as we age, one very good way to forestall dementia is to learn to play a musical instrument. I wasn’t surprised to learn from the research that the musician’s brain is noticeably different from the rest of ours. The differences are so noticeable, according to famed neurologist Oliver Sacks in a talk on NPR, that they are apparent with the naked eye.

Musicians, who obviously practice many hours a day, have greater development in various parts of the brain. Sacks mentioned enlargement of the corpus callosum: the bundle of nerve fibers that connect the brain’s left and right hemispheres.

One scientist found that when musicians listen to someone playing the piano, about 25% more of the auditory regions in their left hemisphere respond than is the case with nonmusicians, a phenomenon associated with musical tones.

And musicians who play the keyboard have better development of a certain area (the omega sign of the precentral gyrus) of the left hemisphere that’s associated with hand and finger movements, while that portion was found to be more prominent in the right hemisphere for string players.

There’s an increase in the gray matter nerve cells in musicians, a very good thing. And, though I’m skipping a bunch of steps, once music has been learned, it moves into the cerebellum, which coordinates voluntary motor movements. This is the part that interests me most.

When music has finally taken up residence in the cerebellum, it remains, and can be called up even when dementia or a stroke has damaged brain function. The stories are remarkable.

Sacks tells of a man whose daughter had written to him about her father and then brought him for a visit. The man had played the baritone part in an a cappella singing group for nearly 40 years. He’d begun showing signs of Alzheimer’s 13 years earlier, when he was 67.

His daughter had written:

“He has no idea what he did for a living, where he is living now, or what he did ten minutes ago. Almost every memory is gone. Except for the music. In fact, he opened for the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes in Detroit this past November.

“The evening he performed, he had no idea how to tie a tie…he got lost on the way to the stage—but the performance? Perfect…He performed beautifully and remembered all the parts and words.”

Music therapy has been used to enhance the lives of dementia patients even more severely afflicted than this man. It’s a wonderful field that has also improved the lives of many stricken with strokes, Parkinson’s disease, autism, and other brain-associated diseases or injuries.

I would love to write more about all this, but I fear I’ll soon be venturing too far into the reeds (!) for a blog post.

So I’ll move on to my personal musical quest, hoping you’re accompanying me.

I concluded that though I can’t fight whatever may lie ahead, and it’s probably too late to flex my corpus callosum muscles, it surely won’t hurt to try to tackle a musical instrument and put in some time each day—even if it’s just for the hell of it.

Briefly, very briefly, I considered seeking to fulfill my longheld dream and trying the harp. A nice young woman on YouTube promised that some people had become professional harpists even though they’d started in their mid-20s. Well, I’d passed that threshold quite a while ago.

But then she added kindly: “even people in their 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s…” can learn to play the harp (under her tutelage). I listened to a few beautiful examples, considered for a nanosecond, and realized I simply didn’t have it in me to pursue that particular grandiose dream.

We have a piano sitting in our living room, once played beautifully by my older daughter. For a while, our answering machine message contained her rendition of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata in the background, which never ceased to delight me.

Yet with my current musical knowledge confined to “Every Good Boy Does Fine,” I found the piano too daunting. At least for now.

Then I stumbled, truly stumbled, on GarageBand, the music composition app that had all this time been mutely residing within my iPhone. Suddenly there was a keyboard, and I could plunk away to my heart’s content.

New worlds opened up. I am actually making music—indeed, even composing a little bit. Not a harp in sight, but I have been on the keyboard and the guitar—played some minor blues last night. And GarageBand is certainly easier on my delicate fingers than real strings would be.

I’ll acknowledge that I don’t know what I’m doing. Sometimes I’m faced with a page that is filled with arcane stuff. I knew this effort wouldn’t be a snap when I found YouTube video how-tos for GarageBand that were definitely not for my newbie level.

And when I saw the telltale ad for the book GarageBand for Dummies, I was reminded of the weeks when I was first thinking about starting a blog, and my techie daughter suggested Blogging for Dummies. I dutifully bought the book, eagerly opened it—and understood not a word.

But with GarageBand, I get immediate feedback because I can make sounds. Mastery is not my goal. I may not even be increasing my gray matter or strengthening my corpus callosum. But I’m making music, dammit, and that’s a joy. If some of it finds its way to my cerebellum, that’s all to the good. In the meantime, a little more dopamine is a very lovely thing!

And I can still listen to this—and dream.

Have a lovely weekend, stay safe, and wear your masks!

Annie

 

Continue reading “How I Found My Inner Harpist On My Smartphone”

The Attorney General for the Person of the US Receives Scrutiny

The Attorney General for the People Person of the US Receives Scrutiny

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Bill Barr Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

Once again I must turn to Bill-Barr
To examine behavior bizarre;
This is not the first time
That things seem to skirt crime
And his antics sink less than subpar.

Barr’s descent has made some feel quite sad
For the straight-shooter rep that he’d had;
But the gloss is long gone
And the battles he’s won
Have been awfully, terribly bad.

You recall when the Mueller Report
Raised questions of quite grave import?
Barr’s goal was persuasion
Of exoneration;
No Russians? Of course nyet, he’d retort.

He’s the President’s guy, that’s quite clear
In every last case that we hear;
According to his lights,
The Executive’s rights
Are absolute (I quiver in fear!).

He’s helped various convicted men
Such as Roger Stone and Mike Flynn
Although Flynn confessed twice,
His lies didn’t suffice–
Barr found “hinky stuff” made the case thin.

It was Bill-Barr who served as the source
Of that outside White House show of force–
When those marching in peace
Were peppered by police
While generals in haste reversed course.

And then came a Friday night surprise:
The US attorney’s job demise;
Though Barr said Berman quit,
Berman had none of it–
So was pushed out the door by sunrise.

Berman said that ongoing cases
Will move along on the same basis;
That appears an alert
He was nearing pay dirt,
Leading to some powerful places.

Expect Barr to go on the offense
With “findings” purportedly immense
The purpose: to confuse
It will all be a ruse
And may well be at Biden’s expense.

So what should happen now to Bill-Barr,
Who’s done damage that’s been wide and far?
Will the Dems try impeach
For his gross overreach?
Or at least, let us hope he’s disbarred!

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Image courtesy of pixabay.com

Note: It is unclear at this point whether Barr will appear before the House Judiciary Committee, which he has agreed to do on July 28, to explain his sudden firing of Geoffrey Berman, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and his handling of other cases.

Two existing Department of Justice employees appeared before the Committee this week to express their dismay at the politicization of the department under Barr, including pressure to get a lighter sentence for the President’s convicted friend Roger Stone and interference in antitrust decisions based on his personal preferences–not the legalities.

But the most damning comment came from Donald B. Ayer, deputy attorney general under President George Bush, seen here on video explaining why Barr’s actions are setting the US “on the way to something far worse than Watergate.”

Previously, in an article in The Atlantic,  Ayer had gone into considerable and specific detail about the damage that Barr is doing to our Justice Department and the rule of law.

His conclusion:

“Bill Barr’s America is not a place that anyone, including Trump voters, should want to go. It is a banana republic where all are subject to the whims of a dictatorial president and his henchmen. To prevent that, we need a public uprising demanding that Bill Barr resign immediately, or failing that, be impeached.”

Annie

Continue reading “The Attorney General for the Person of the US Receives Scrutiny”

Mindfulness and Trumpiness–plus a little something extra…

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Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

In the world of the lovingly kind
I’ve found myself caught in a bind:
Consumed by my hate
It made my gut ache
’Twas a matter far over my mind.

Of course I can always deep breathe
Whenever I’m starting to seethe
But hate’s the wrong path;
There’s just too much wrath,
So my ideals I tried to retrieve.

This effort is surely ongoing
The seeds of contempt could keep growing
As malevolent eyes
Ignore COVID’s new highs
And the pain in the streets’ overflowing.

But one thing I’ve learned is that thoughts
If dwelt on can leave one distraught;
Accept that they’re there,
Make space for more air,
And allow them to flutter aloft.

Thus I’ve moved beyond being whiny
And reduced trump so he’s quite tiny
He’s gone from my head,
I don’t hear what he’s said…
My plan, on Day Two’s, working finely!

_______________

And, because my inner critic suggests this reflection is self-indulgent when there’s so much grief in the world, I’m adding a delightful, gently philosophical video that I hope you haven’t seen before and I think is guaranteed to make you smile.

Its title: “Amazingly simple theory for a happy life.”

Namaste!

Annie

Continue reading “Mindfulness and Trumpiness–plus a little something extra…”

Here’s a Guy Who Really Made Good Use of His Time!

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Image courtesy of pxfuel.com

 

Nobody would ever accuse me of being a math whiz, though I do feel I have skills some of my younger acquaintances lack: I eschew a calculator on occasion to make sure the various cortices of my brain responsible for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division get a little workout.

You just never know when your battery may run down while you’re stranded on a desert island and have an immediate need to balance your checkbook.

Oh, and there’s another mathematical task that I’ve mastered.

An older friend told me not long ago that physicians who are concerned that a patient may be in the early stages of dementia will test mental agility by asking said patient to subtract backwards from 100—by 8s.

I’ve gotten quite facile at that effort—and have moved on to 7s with similar success.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I’m inviting you to join me in exploring a story that involves number theory—a deep dive that I have no business whatsoever attempting.

But my friend Allan, who excels in math, knows I like quirky stories and thoughtfully sent me this one, which appeared in Popular Mechanics.

So once again, Annie plunges ahead—undeterred by her total lack of experience. I promise, though, that I won’t go beyond what I understand, which means there won’t be a whole lot of number theory here.

I hope not too many of you will be disappointed by this limitation…

Christopher Havens (Chris) is the name of the guy in the title. He’d made quite a mess of his life: a high school dropout, he had become a homeless drug addict.

And then in 2010, he committed murder, killing a 25-year-old man with whom he’d been feuding; there was apparently a methamphetamine connection.

He was convicted and sentenced to serve 25 years in the Washington Department of Corrections.

He didn’t immediately transform himself into a model prisoner—far from it. Soon after being incarcerated in 2011, his behavior earned him a place in solitary confinement.

That’s where and when he “got math”—recognized his love for mathematics.

He’d spend as many as 10 hours a day studying, and then entered the Intensive Transition Program, ITP, which he described (with a vulgarity) as

“a one-year program which helps people get their minds right. It’s designed to effectively aid you into ‘taking your head from your backside.’

“This was my schedule. Eat, math, remove my head from my backside, brush, rinse, repeat. It was an important time in my life.”

After that, he sought information to help him with his studies by writing the following letter:

“To Whom It May Concern:

I’m interested in finding more information on a subscription to Annals of Mathematics for personal use.

I’m currently serving 25 years in the Washington Department of Corrections and I’ve decided to use this time for self-betterment. I’m studying calculus and number theory.

As numbers have become my passion, can you please send me any information on your mathematic journal. Thank you…Chris Havens.

P.S.: I am self-teaching myself (sic) and often get hung on problems for long periods of time.

Is there anyone I could correspond with, provided I send self-addressed stamped envelopes?

There are no teachers here who can help me so I often spend hundreds on books that may or may not contain the help I need. Thank you.”

(It isn’t clear where he gets the “hundreds” he spends on books, but that’s not central to our story.)

The letter circuitously reached a man named Matthew Cargo in January, 2013. Cargo, then production editor for Mathematical Sciences Publications, forwarded it to two mathematicians: the parents of his partner, Marta Cerrruti.

Cerruti wrote about the results of that connection in phys.Org.

“Initially, my father, Umberto Cerruti, a number theorist who was a professor of mathematics at the University of Torino, Italy, agreed to help Havens simply because we asked him.

“My father thought that Havens was likely one of the many cranks that fall in love with numbers and come up with a flawed theory. To test him, he gave Havens a problem to solve.

“In return, my father received a 120-centimetre-long piece of paper in the mail, and on it was a long and complicated formula. My father entered the formula into his computer and to his surprise, the results were correct!

“After this, my father invited Havens to work on a problem involving continued fractions he was working on.”

OK, here’s where I have to stretch a bit. Continued fractions, which Euclid discovered in 300 BC, enable the expression of all numbers through sequences of integer numbers, which are positive and negative numbers expressed without fractions.

Cerruti gives pi as an example: the ratio of a circle’s diameter and circumference is written as 3.14159…

“The sequence of numbers after the initial digit continues forever and is totally chaotic. But written as a continued fraction its expression is simple and beautiful.”

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Continued fraction of pi. Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

Although this particular aesthetic is beyond my ken,  Cerruti’s point is that continued fractions show the power of number theory.

Much of this is theoretical, pure math, but number theory plays an important role in cryptography today.

Even I understand that its many uses are applicable in both financial institutions and the military, among other areas. It’s the reason you can buy something online or pay your bills in what are for the most part secure transactions.

Havens was so motivated that he started a Prison Mathematics Project in which he explained math to other inmates.

The group met biweekly and used books sent by Cerruti’s father. That change from the man who’d been in solitary confinement struck me as extremely impressive.

And the story gets dramatically better:

From his prison cell, Havens made a significant contribution to the field of continued fractions—so significant that he is named the first author in an article published in the January, 2020, issue of the journal Research in Number Theory.

(If you want to read the article, you’ll have to plunk down $99 for it.)

He reached this lofty spot using the highly sophisticated tools of pen and paper, “exchanging ideas with his co-authors in Italy though hard-copy letters mailed across the ocean,” Cerruti writes.

Cerruti describes Havens’ pathbreaking work: He “showed for the first time some regularities in the approximation of a vast class of numbers.”

In essence, he provided number theorists with an important new tool whose applications may be vast. According to Cerruti,

“finding new ways for writing numbers is one of the most important problems for a number theorist, although the results may not have an immediate application.”

She points out that some supercomputers are employed solely for computing pi digits into the trillions.

Havens’ achievement has also had a huge impact on his own outlook and future plans.

He’s studying for an associate degree through the mail and is determined to complete bachelors and graduate degrees in math and to pursue a career once he’s released from prison.

And he hopes to turn the Prison Mathematics Project he founded into a nonprofit organization to help inmates with a talent for math.

He told Cerruti:

“I definitely have plotted out a long term life plan to accommodate paying a debt that has no price. I know this path is permanent…and there never is a day that it’s finally paid off.

“But this longevity in debt is not bad. It’s inspiration. Maybe this will sound stupid, but I serve my time in the company of the soul of my victim. I dedicate a lot of my biggest accomplishments to him.”

Annie

Continue reading “Here’s a Guy Who Really Made Good Use of His Time!”

What’s On My Menu? Annie Needs You…

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Image courtesy of Pixhere.com

I’m not about to write of food
Or remembrance of repasts

My blog is clogging up right now
And I need your help real fast.

I used to have a sub-menu
That offered all my oeuvre

But a WP Engineer warned
Its growth was a SNAFUer.

S/he led me to the solution
That’s inspired this short chat

To see if what works for WP
Isn’t a bothersome gnat.

I’ve passed my one-hundredth post,
To me, that’s really cookin’

Computerwise, it’s not too bad
A widget* helps those lookin’

So to the right of the full texts
Linked titles are there to see.

I like to keep them all in view
And many seem to agree.

My stats tell me that lots of folks
Read posts going quite far back

But on your phone to reach that list,
You must scroll, scroll, scroll—alack!

Our Happy WP Engineers
Have told me what to do:

You must change your design, they say–
Or else we just can’t help you.

But I like the look I have now
I really hope to keep it.

So I turn to you, dear readers
It’s time you interceded.

Must I choose between my fond wish
You see all posts, come what may—

And my perhaps stronger hope this
Menu won’t drive you away?

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Image courtesy of pixabay.com

______________________

Ok—enough with the rhyme. I know I should be archiving older posts, but if I do,  I’m not at all sure that as many people would read them. 

Often after five or six older posts have each received a single view, the next day I’m pleased to welcome a new subscriber. The ease of perusing those lists is clearly helpful in exploring my work.

And I realize that most of you are probably reading my most recent one or two posts as they appear, so this may not be an issue for you at all. I would still welcome your observations.

Is a tradeoff necessary? Please let me know your thoughts about my current setup and any possible ideas for helping me accomplish my dual goals. 

If scrolling through all those posts on your phone to get to the linked titles is a drag, please tell me. All suggestions are welcome, as long as you’re kind.

*Explanatory note for my email subscribers: “In WordPress, widgets are blocks of content that you can add to your site’s sidebars, footers, and other areas…” 

If you’re viewing this on your computer, the sidebar widget facilitates the index. But since on the side of the phone there’s no room for it, the linked list appears at the very bottom of those now many posts.

Annie

Continue reading “What’s On My Menu? Annie Needs You…”

My Fraught Relationship With The Man-In-The-Box

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Jack in box vector image Courtesy of freesvg.org

I reallyreallyreally do not like inanimate objects talking to me. I avoid Siri, preferring to do my own research than to hear her voice—or to have her record my every Internet search (though I hold no illusions about privacy anymore…). I am not tempted to invite Alexa into my home to find that old Sinatra record for me, thank you very much. 

And back in the day when we actually got into cars and drove places, I always resented the high-pitched voice of that GPS woman, who on occasion directed us to dead-end streets and once recommended that we exit sharply to the right when we were in the middle of a bridge.

I’m not accusing her of malicious intent, but her satellite-guided bumbling was not a confidence-builder. I am perfectly capable of bumbling on my own.

Why then, do I invite the man-in-the-box into my life practically every day? It’s because he’s integral to The Device, which shall go nameless so that I’m not guilty of unintended promotion—or worse. 

Let me sidepedal a bit here and note that I am very receptive to integrative medicine, which brings together the best from East and West. My daily meditation, linking me to the Buddhism of 2500 years ago, has been a great help.

I do try to stick with practices that are evidence-based, and to maintain a healthy skepticism about things that sound extreme to me—Eastern or Western.

When several people whose opinions I respect raved about a physician who practices integrative medicine, I made an appointment.

I wanted to see whether she would offer me new, preferably non-pharmacologic approaches for handling my chronic conditions: specifically migraines that I know have an anxiety component, and mild hypertension.

Well, some of what she suggested made no sense to me. But she recommended The Device, which she felt might help alleviate these issues. And it turned out that she was right.

It wasn’t inexpensive—costing several hundred dollars—but it involved deep breathing, so I felt it was sufficiently safe and akin to the meditation that’s a valued part of my life.

The beloved neurologist who treats me for migraines thought it was a good idea, as it’s a form of biofeedback, which is an evidence-based method to alleviate migraines.

A description: An elastic belt holding a sensor is attached to a computerish small box, as is a pair of earbuds. I snap the belt around my torso and insert the earbuds. Then I listen to the instructions that the little man-in-the-box provides. Note: I am substituting The Device for its brand name. 

Here’s how a session begins:

“Lean back and relax and listen to the music as The Device detects your individual breathing patterns,” he tells me.

If I perform that difficult task to his satisfaction for several seconds/minutes, he says, “The Device has detected your individual breathing patterns. Now breathe according to the guiding tones.” I hear sounds—bom, bom—and I match my breath to the tones. 

Sometimes, as in this morning, he immediately tells me I’ve reached the “therapeutic breathing rate,” which means I’m really cookin’. More often, seconds/minutes pass as he goads me with that familiar refrain: “Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out” before I reach that coveted goal.

Once there, I continue breathing in and out in sequence with the tones for another 14 “therapeutic” minutes (not sure why it’s that time length, but it always is) until he says, “The Device is turning off. Bye for now.” Let me tell you, I’m never sorry to part with him at that point.

And then I get to see how well I’ve performed by clicking on the box’s levers. Here’s where I realize my slight touch of OCD kicks in. I’m back in school, and I really want to do well. 

In fact, I usually do. The range deemed acceptable for the initial breathing rate is between 6 and 30 breaths per minute—the lower the better. I’ve never gone above 7.2; this morning’s readout was 5.2, which I guess means I had a pretty restful night’s sleep. 

The recommended final breathing range is 5-10 breaths per minute, and I’m nearly always below that—usually 4.8-4.9. Occasionally, I’ve gotten to 4.3, which is nearly Yogi territory, I think. More about that shortly. 

The Device also reports my synchronization rate (how well I synchronize my breathing with the tones) and my breath detection rate (how well the sensor can recognize my in-and-out breaths).

I’m usually right where I should be with those as well. Except if I cough or sneeze. Or hiccup. Then all bets are off.

But I’ve learned one especially bitter lesson. If my initial inhalations are too long while the sensor is assessing my pattern, once the tones begin, I wind up struggling to match them. And the man-in-the-box knows it. He chides me: “Don’t hold your breath!” 

Try breathing in for longer than you possibly can—and continue for 14 minutes—and you’ll see what it’s like. (Actually, just take my word for it; it’s not something a sensible person would do.) 

The lesson I learned: When using The Device, never-ever breathe in for long, lest the sensor monster constantly remind me of my failure.

In such instances, my synchronization rate would ensure a “needs additional work” message on my school report card.

He (my electronic tormenter) has also on more than one occasion said: “Try to breathe more evenly.” I make an effort not to take offense that he’s dissatisfied with my performance.

And he is oh-so picky about that sensor. “Tighten the sensor,”  he’ll command. Or  “loosen the sensor.”  Even “reposition the sensor.” His standards are high. I scramble to do his bidding. 

I used to strap on The Device just before bedtime, but I found all kinds of reasons not to go through the process then. So it’s now the first thing I do upon awakening—after taking a long drink of water to prepare my dry mouth for the routine.

Sometimes I wonder, as you may well, why I subject myself to this regimen-with-verbal-abuse on a daily basis. Of course, I always have the option of shutting the darn thing off.

But, while The Device hasn’t totally replaced medication, it really has done what the doctor said it might: migraine frequency diminished, blood pressure low-normal, anxiety lessened.

So I’m locked in to this challenge. Plus, in these pandem-icky days, I figure it’s not so bad to give my lungs a bit of a regular workout.

And then I meditate and express lovingkindness for all the nasty thoughts I’ve had about the bossy little man-in-the-box.

Annie

Another Trip to the Lighter Side…and a Message of Hope

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I guess I’m making a large leap in assuming that a) you haven’t seen this photo before; and b) you’ve had the Zoom online experience that so many of us have been introduced to in this time of social distancing.

At any rate, this image makes me laugh, and I hope you’ll enjoy it too. Even if you haven’t “Zoomed,” with so many of us worldwide living in isolation, I can tell from various posts that there have been some pretty weird changes in our daily routines. For example: It’s 5 pm. Is it really necessary for me to exchange my pajamas for sweat pants and a T-shirt?

I send good wishes to you all, and hope things are as pleasant as possible as we make our way through the specter of the pandemic during this time of Easter, Passover, Vaisakhi, Vishu, the Bengali and Tamil New Years, the Buddhist Theravada New Year, and Spring.

(I just learned that one of the traditions of Theravada is to build sand castles, with the belief that the waves’ washing away the effort symbolizes the removing of one’s mistakes and enables personal renewal. It’s a reminder of our impermanence, which by coincidence was my theme when I wrote this poem quite recently.)

All these occasions call forth the hope for better days ahead–something that whether or not we follow a religion is sorely needed these days. I am especially thinking of those among us who are in pain, mentally and/or physically, or have suffered a loss.

Though we’re separated, we know what we must do to speed the process that will enable us to emerge from this pandemic and be together once again. To that extent, we do have a measure of control, even if it seems that events have overtaken us.

And then, I fervently hope, we can begin the important efforts to work together–locally, nationally, internationally–to make this a more just world, where we care for one another, ensure that extra attention and resources are provided to those who have been hardest hit,  and at last give Mother Nature her due.

Annie

Living Through a Pandemic: The Lighter Side

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The photo disproving the adage that duct tape is the answer to every need.

 

 

Please don’t get me wrong: I am appalled, shocked, infuriated, and beyond sadness at what’s become of our country and world.

But I also know that laughter is the best medicine, and even smiling has been shown to have a positive effect on our immune systems. As we all need our immune systems to be as strong as possible now, I thought I’d tell you some fun things—a few real, others of undetermined origins that have found their way to my inbox. (I hope you haven’t seen them already!)

Earlier this week, my husband and I, both in the vulnerable population due to our being past 60, set out for our every-day-it’s-not-raining walk. Our next-door neighbors, a lovely couple with two sons, ages 3 and 5, rode past us, each on a separate bike. 

The dad, bringing up the rear, offered to add our grocery list to his when he went to the supermarket on Saturday. We gratefully agreed. Then the three-year-old, up front on his little bike, offered his own assistance: “And if you have any monsters in your house, call me!” 

Imagine our good fortune having a monster-destroyer just steps from our home. We’d no idea. “Gee, I said to them, “you’re a full-service operation!”

We do go to the supermarket ourselves during the newly enacted “happy hour” (my term, not theirs) for seniors and other vulnerables: 6:00 to 7:30 am. Actually, my husband goes, as my body clock isn’t at all happy at that hour. 

I arise a little later and quickly begin my responsibilities, preparing the kitchen for THE DECONTAMINATION: the washing and spraying and otherwise new bloodless rituals to slay the invisible foe that may be (but probably isn’t) lurking in our groceries. 

Are we being super-cautious with our decontamination? Not according to Michigan Family Physician Jeffrey VanWingen, in this demonstration video.

Yes, according to Dave Price, an ICU physician at Weill-Cornell Medical Center in New York, whose soothing video says just wash your hands well after throwing away the bags. (His entire lengthy talk about protecting your family from the disease, though it has some technical glitches, is well worth watching–except that he keeps talking about Purell, which most of us can’t get.)

For the time being, we’ll err on the side of caution–even if our broccoli sometimes tastes a little soapy.

My husband describes his forays in the sparsely populated supermarket: he’ll start down the aisle, see someone about to enter from the other end, and reverse his direction. Simultaneously, the other person does the same. Result: the aisle remains empty in prime shopping time.

This pas de undo conjures up less a ballet than a scene from an old Western when both gunslingers at the OK Corral retreat simultaneously. Any suggestions for aisle etiquette arising from the new phenomenon will be most welcome.

When I hear horror stories about couples on the edge of divorce after just a few weeks (and the divorce rate has definitely soared in Wuhan, China), I realize how lucky we are. Our house isn’t large, but it’s big enough so that we can each have privacy. Thus, we haven’t been at each other’s throats, and we find enough absurdities in our situation to laugh a good deal. 

Except, that is, for the Bagel Dispute. It occurred because we are both aware that the stash of bagels from our beloved bagel store is rapidly dwindling—and alas! The store was an early casualty of the self-quarantine. We saw the owner, whom we’ve known for years, interviewed on the news, when he lamented that he just couldn’t keep going for long. 

Our last visit was three weeks ago, immediately after that interview. My husband quickly went in for a dozen bagels—buy six, get one free—which afforded us 14 bagels. 

He said the owner looked appropriately depressed. When my husband tried to cheer him up, acknowledging his 15 sad minutes of TV fame by requesting his autograph, the poor man glumly said, “You’re gonna have to pay me for it.” He and his bagels will be missed.

Back to our dispute. We cut the bagels in half and froze them in two large plastic bags. They’re big, so we usually have one-half at a time. Yesterday, after I had eaten a half, I thought there was one full bagel and one-half left in the bag I’d extracted it from. We took stock. There were two whole bagels in the other bag. “We have six halves,” quoth he. “No; we have seven,” insisted I. 

But the evidence-based fact, verified by the observation portion of the scientific method to which we firmly adhere, was that he was right, which made me, de facto, wrong. The big fat bagel half remaining in the bag sure looked like a full bagel, but it was not.

End of dispute. Cue more laughter. If this is how bad things get, and we’re lucky and careful, we’ll make it through. Of course, the bagels still aren’t completely gone…and bigger tests lie ahead.

At least we have enough toilet paper for the nonce—though we thought we should shore up a bit and found that was impossible. Who would have thought that toilet paper would be the gold bullion of this pandemic? 

Or that it would become the source of so many jokes. If you’re on FaceBook, you’ve surely seen the toilet paper roll in place, with each little square bearing a letter: M, T, W, T, F, S, S. Or perhaps you’ve seen the one that opens this post.

The astonishing news, according to an Op-Ed in The New York Times, is that we’ve had this toilet paper thing all wrong: toilet paper is BAD for us! Or so says writer Kate Murphy:

“…toilet paper is an antiquated technology that infectious disease and colorectal specialists say is neither efficient nor hygienic.” 

I’ve included the link so you can decide for yourselves whether this is one less concern for you to fret about—as long as you have running water. A bit of history for perspective: according to Murphy, substances that preceded toilet paper included “leaves, seashells, fur pelts, and corn cobs.” Ah, the good old days!

One of the things about the good old days a month or so ago was that most kids went to school. My heart goes out to parents who have also become their children’s teachers. This bit of pathos appealed to me:

Home Schooling Day 3: They all graduated. #Done.

Here’s one for all who care about writing well:

Out of an abundance of caution, the MLA and the Chicago Manual of Style will be reinstituting the “two spaces between each sentence.”

And the inevitable comparison with “Man’s Best Friend”:

You thought dogs were hard to train? Look at all the humans that can’t sit and stay.

Dogs have been the stars of a number of humorous bits. Here’s one of my favorites.

image

The other is Pluto, the talking dog, whom I gave the last word to in a previous post. I didn’t realize at the time how many of you had already seen her. That was her first appearance, but she continues to show up, making Pluto Service Announcements, or PSAs, such as Please stay indoors, and make sure that you look people in the eyeballs from a distance and wag your tail.

Pluto has become an Internet sensation. I was especially impressed during her Monday Funday episode, which yielded this astute canine observation:

A lot of the socialers have asked me for suggestions about how to spend their time during this period of hashtag home. It’s not a stellar declaration of the two-legged imaginations that you’re asking me about this…

But I echo Pluto when she says:  “We’ve got this. We’re all in this together. Be kind to one another.”

If you have any smile- or laugh-inducing stories/jokes of your own, please insert them in the Comments box. Consider it a public service.

Annie

Continue reading “Living Through a Pandemic: The Lighter Side”

Wherein My Personal Blogosphere Expands Via a Fun Exchange With a Super New Acquaintance

I’ve often said that I’m one happy blogger: I love to write and to research new topics; I’m grateful for your feedback; and—this was one aspect of blogging that I hadn’t anticipated but is becoming one of the most valuable—I feel personally enriched by meeting so many extraordinary, talented people from all over the world.

The most recent is Judy Dykstra-Brown, a poet, writer, artist, and lecturer who blogs at Life Lessons. She’s a prolific blogger, posting something—sometimes several things—every day. That energy alone boggles my once-or-at-most-twice-weekly blogger mind!

My virtual meeting with Judy occurred in a manner that frequently happens among bloggers. As about 30% of my subscribers aren’t bloggers, I hope you WP folks will bear with me while I explain this process—very briefly.

Judy clicked on “like” concerning a comment I’d made on someone else’s blog. That triggered a WP email informing me of her action and citing some of her posts that I might find of interest. Intrigued, I visited her site. 

It’s a treasure trove, as you can imagine from the versatility I note above. I immediately knew I wanted to see more, so I clicked on “follow” and became one of her more than 5000 subscribers.

I was drawn to a funny little poem she’d written, which—as is often the case—fueled my own creativity. I responded in verse, and Judy then began to follow me. She also graciously reblogged one of my posts, a poem I’d titled “Chaos in America…BUT…We Can End It!” 

(An aside: The poem was written as a near-acrostic, in which the first letter of each line, viewed vertically, clearly spelled out the title. However, that little attempt at cleverness required indenting parts of the longer lines—formatting that apparently became lost when I had system problems and my WP advisors told me I needed a new menu. I didn’t realize the impact of the change until I saw the post again, lines now awry, with Judy’s reblog. The fix involves html, which is not my native language…so it may not happen soon. If you choose to read the poem, please note the bolded first letters.) 

Anyway, we had such fun with our first meeting that I thought I’d share with you Judy’s poem, my verse response, and our subsequent exchange.

Judy’s poem:

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Image courtesy of flickr.com

Piscine Phobia

I don’t eat salmon, don’t eat flounder.
I prefer my protein rounder—
chicken, roasts or food like that.
Fish is too fishy and too flat.

Tuna mixed with soup and noodle
I despise kit and caboodle!
Nothing could persuade me that
I should eat food fit for a cat.

I won’t eat food grown in a swamp,
so crabs and clams I never chomp.
No protein caught by motor boat
will ever pass my teeth and throat.

When dinner parties serve up chowder
I’m likely to just take a powder.
I simply can’t take the suspense
of what fish lurks in soup so dense.

So if you want to plan a treat
that I will find the nerve to eat,
once again, I must repeat,
forget the lobster. Give me meat!

And my comment:

“Give me meat,” the woman pleads,
But I must turn aside:
A bloody steak, a fatty slab
Will make my gorge uprise.

“No mammals” is my credo;
I find it tough enough
To eat a little Nemo
From seas serene or rough.

I used to love my bacon,
But now a baby pig
Reminds me I’m more comfortable
Just chewing on a fig.

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Image courtesy of needpix.com.

Judy’s response:

Touche!!! Ha. It takes all kinds of us in this world, right?

And mine:

It does indeed. And if we could all accept and embrace our differences with good humor, what a lovely world it could be!

————————

When I asked Judy if she was OK with my printing the above on my blog, she said, “Of course, you are most welcome to…It was a fun interchange. I predict future ones as well.”

I’ve written about inspirational people. After reading Judy’s bio. on her blog and information about the books she’s written, I’ve concluded that she’s clearly one of them. 

So with regard to future fun interchanges, the pleasure will certainly be mine!

Annie

Is There Anything Funny About the Coronavirus Pandemic?

How about this?

image

I understand this cartoon appeared on FaceBook. If anyone knows the originator, I would love to give him/her credit.

I dedicate this post to my late friend Peter, who said–under the worst possible circumstances for him–

“Remember to laugh!”

Annie

UPDATE: I’m pretty sure we’ve located the creator. Thanks to a tip from my ace researcher friend Fran Kaufman, who also sent me the cartoon, I journeyed from a Twitter thread to FaceBook, eventually finding a message from a woman named Susan Madsen stating the following:

“MY SISTER ALICE MADSEN drew this. It’s HER Original work!”

So thank you, Fran, and Brava, Alice Madsen! Your work brought a whimsical touch of humor to many people who sorely needed it.