BLOCKED!

Image courtesy of pikist.com

B efore the WordPress genies
L avished us with New BLOCK Technology—
O verflowing with features galore that I
C an’t with my non-techie brain fully appreciate—-
K eeping to two longish posts a week was
E nergizing and whet my creative juices, but
D amn: as change is hard, my post, today, is short.

Note: I know the above will please the “don’t give me anything longer than 500 words” readers, but since there are actually more than a few of you who encourage my verbosity, I felt an explanation was in order.

My brevity for who knows how long (?) is due to my needing time to master this new editorial challenge—and not an abandonment of my desire to continue researching articles on topics that I always feel require more in-depth coverage.

In truth, WordPress gave us plenty of warning that this day would come, but I was too busy writing to pay sufficient attention to the looming new requirements. In greater truth, I pretended the warning would never really force me to stretch my meager techie talents. But as I sought to enter my new post, the page I opened scolded me: “Time’s up, kid. Get to it!”

Thanks for understanding—whether your tastes in my posts fall into the long or short of them!

Annie

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A Mid-Pandemic, Anti-Panic, Slightly Manic Flight of…Oh, I Dunno

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Harlem Globetrotters image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

Dribble is a silly word.

Maybe not when we’re talking about the Harlem Globetrotters—or kids in a schoolyard testing their prowess by bouncing, bouncing, bouncing that ball on unforgiving asphalt, then arcing skyward toward a topless/bottomless structure seemingly stitched by a gargantuan spider.

Or a baby’s slo-mo Vesuvius after imbibing squished bananas and squashed squash from a teensy spoon dipped too generously into a tiny glass jar by a harried automaton-a-mama whose patience is now pandemic-thin. In such instances, the word bib, found conveniently nestling within the words dribble and imbibing, is very useful indeed.

Or the moistened sand transformed into architectural castle-wonder, dropletted with exquisite precision by small fingers onto a soggy mound, defying the waves in what was once as close to ecstasy as a five-year-old could fathom.

Those three dramatic exceptions aside, dribble makes me giggle.

Giggle is also a silly word.

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Giggle also makes me giggle.

Giggling, at my age, is better than dribbling. Giggling can still be age-appropriate. But dribbling?

It is fine to giggle when alone indoors. Funny fauna and flights of fancy courtesy of Google make me giggle. Philosophizing canines and condemnatory felines make me giggle.

Sometimes, the images projected onto the inner walls of my cranium, like bunnies made by silhouetted hands, make me giggle.

It is fine to giggle on phone calls or Zoomfests. It is OK to faux-giggle when old friends tell old jokes that once upon a long ago yesterday evoked a natural giggle—indeed, a full-throated chortle. After all, my own stories have surely outlived their shelf-half-life as well.

It is not fine to giggle when ambling alone in 90 degree heat around one’s neighborhood while dodging others who are far too near. It is not tempting to giggle then either.

But if one is tempted to journey outside one’s yard, appropriately masked and distanced, and one finds the absurdity of our contemporary lives so bizarre as to be ticklish, there are always earbuds.

Whether attached to a cell phone or merely ornamental, protruding earbuds provide the appearance of sanity. Of normality. Of stasis. Connected only to oneself, while appearing otherwise.

Earbuds are the last refuge of the solitary giggler—assuming said person cares about appearances and wishes to avoid arousing neighborly concerns.

Once in a while, with timely intervals intervening, the heaviness of political/pandemical events is outweighed by the ineluctable desire to allow the mind to enter stream-of-drivelness.

Any time now, I just may surrender to that desire.

Annie

Continue reading “A Mid-Pandemic, Anti-Panic, Slightly Manic Flight of…Oh, I Dunno”

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!

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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…”