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Apr. 12th, 2015

Signpost

Sometimes I feel like I spend a majority of my time trying to figure out why I'm not feeling especially well. In those stretches of time I sometimes forget that feeling light and excited is even a possibility. The little colored bars in my Google Calendar become hordes of scary bugs that I hide from rather than declarations that yes, here is a fun thing to look forward to. I wake up exhausted, feel anxious or indifferent to the day's latest practice, show, or work assignment. I mechanically move my body through strenuous and tiring motions at the gym because I know it helps a little bit. I read at breakfast and before bed and remember little of what I read. I inhale food at the appropriate quantities and intervals because I know that if I don't, it makes the day just a little harder to bear.

A week or so ago I realized that that feeling of trying to escape a nameless, difficult, and suffocating situation was missing. It happened so gradually that I didn't really realize it until I was several weeks into it. So, I'm writing this as a signpost that declares that, yes, being happy is a thing that is real and here is what the creature looks like. And that maybe I can return to it if I need to. As far as I can tell, here are some components that make up my current pleasant situation.

1.

I am doing what I want to do, not what I believe I have to do. Unconsciously trying to follow a standard American storyline produced a lot of stress for me. The storyline being: find a partner, move in with that partner, eventually get married, save up for a house, buy a house, prepare for the eventual decline of health of my parents, all while being both generous and financially successful. Not that I'm not open to actually doing any of those things, but I think I was trying to force myself to follow that pattern without actually feeling in my heart that I wanted to do those things. (The downside to this attitude is that I probably paid too much in taxes and that I don't have health insurance right. Oh, and an oil change and visit to the dentist are way overdue.)

2.

I am playing music. Lots of music. Thanks to wedding season and a couple big gigs, music paid the bills last month. I am playing in several great bands with great people. Nothing better than a week full of what I love to do best. I am also trying to take on a more active role in rehearsals which I have found has helped me to feel a greater sense of reward and closeness with my fellow bandmates.

3.

I am doing interesting work, but on my own terms. Software engineering keeps my inner eight year old Lego self happy. I'm not in the office forty hours a week, though. This means I don't make much money, but it also means that when I work, I work. I don't waste time on FB, reddit, etc. when I am too tired or burned out to be productive.

4.

I am working from home and can set my own schedule. This is huge. If I am tired, I can take a nap! If I am hungry, I can cook food that I make myself. I save money and can code while the rice timer ticks away. If I need to concentrate, I don't have to crank up (distracting) music in my headphones because I can work in total silence with zero chance of interruptions.

5.

It is not winter any more. Being thrifty and allergic to clothes shopping means that I probably don't dress warmly enough for winter. Being cold makes my body feel contracted and my joints stiff. This tightness and contraction of the makes me feel anxious. The coming heat of summer makes me feel pliant and pleasantly drowsy. Note to self: buy a couple cold weather hats, thermal underwear, more long-sleeve shirts, finger gloves, and warm slippers.

6.

Close companionship and friendship. My number one fiddle friend has become a very dear and important person to me. More than simply providing me with a distraction and a remedy from loneliness, my relationship with her has helped me to uncover and address some painful emotional places and has helped me develop a better idea of the kind of relationship style I may want to continue cultivating. Here are some highlights:

  • Space. Having my own place and often sleeping in my own bed lets me preserve a sense of identity and emotional support that I cultivate on my own. This means that I don't have to lean on my relationship partner for all of my emotional needs which can lead to problems and often feels unsustainable.

  • Shared projects. Sharing a big project with a relationship partner is really a wonderful gift. I find that it creates a shared sense of excitement and provides an opportunity for bonding and intimacy that can transcend the unpredictable flaring and ebbing of physical attraction. It can create friction and frustration and conflict, but this friction is its own reward in that it produces an opportunity for personal growth in a way not possible when I am single.

  • Revisiting painful or difficult subjects. Carefully revisiting difficult or painful areas helps prevent buried ill feelings from fermenting and bursting out in unpleasant and unpredictable ways. While it is necessary to cultivate letting go of difficult feelings, letting go is not a silver bullet. Confronting the feelings head-on is vitally important. Only close relationships drive up painful emotional habits. I find that even "unsuccessful" relationships are a gift and a blessing, as long as I keep a sense of humility and willingness to learn.

  • Loving in an open-handed way. Maintaining physical and emotional independence and not letting my feelings of self-worth be connected to my notions of how the relationship should work is tremendously freeing. And lets the relationship evolve and adapt rather than abrubtly terminate because it doesn't meet some narrow preconceived notion of what a relationship should be.

  • I realize that I have a passive / accepting / following personality. This makes it difficult for me to find a romantic partner because I almost never make romantic advances and because this passive role is not considered masculine by typical American norms. However, I feel best when I am supporting and often taking direction from an individual with a strong sense of vision and drive. My musical persona as bassist and supporting instrumentalist is an expression of this strongly Yin character in my personality. Deliberately stepping outside of this Yin role (as with the band Blackfire) can be energizing and empowering, but I find nourishment in the nature of supporting, following, and being receptive. Every woman I have dated is also attracted to women. Coincidence? ^_^

7.

An evolving meditation practice. I still meditate every day, but I am less worried about doing it *right*. I scratch myself. I pause my timer and get a glass of water. I crack the bones of my feet and knuckles. Looking back, it's the same attitude I have toward music practice. When I practice the cello, I play intently for a while, take a break, jam a little bit and get distracted, return to practicing intently, etc. And results come even if to an outsider I am not practicing as efficiently as possible. If I were to judge myself for not being able to engage in laser focus for hours at a time, I probably would not practice much at all. Bringing the same attitude to my meditation practice has helped eliminate a layer of anxiety from my day. Who wants to meditate if you are cultivating self-judgment the whole time?

8.

Working on something big and kind of scary. I am going to tour with Blackfire and ...Y Los Dos Pistoles in June and this is my first time booking a tour. It really triggers feelings of unworthiness and vulnerability and a part of me screams to not want to do it at all, but pushing through those feelings and seeing it slowly come together has been really rewarding.

Dec. 25th, 2014

Blackfire - Kolo Da Igramo



Blackfire, is the project started by kaleidescopekas and crewed by her, the great fiddler Arthur Rosales, the great drummer Zach Randall, and myself. We released an album titled Kolo Da Igramo.

Recording it was quite challenging and fun. Challenging as in exhausting, maddening, tear-stained. Fun as in exulting, joyful, and tear-stained. Performing the CD release party for this was a blast. It's rare, I think, for all five acts of a long evening of music to feel engaging from start to finish, but that's exactly what I think happened.

Nov. 25th, 2014

Mmm, Music

>> Blackfire

Blackfire is a quartet consisting of two violins, a cello, and a drum kit. We can also perform as a duo and trio. We play modern arrangements of traditional European music from Klezmer, Sephardic, Swedish, Gallician, Balkan, and other traditions. We play pretty much anything with a bit of edge, fire, and passion in it.

This band has been one of my favorite musical projects of the past few years. It has helped me to grow musically by giving me an opportunity to sing and play cello, and it tickles the part of me that is satisfied only by listening to or playing metal and other forms of aggressive rock music. It also feels like I have more ownership and direction over the material, which is something rare for me since I tend to naturally settle into a supportive role in musical projects.

We are currently working on a full-length recording(!) and expect to be done soon. I've been genuinely moved by the rough mixes we've recorded so far. Such a great feeling.

>> Wax Wings

Wax Wings is my opportunity to make music with the incomparable Chelsea Carnes. I take more risks musically and allow myself to make more mistakes with this group. We play a lot of fun gigs and have even been on a small tour.

Recently we played at Swallowtail festival and also shot a video. The day of the shoot was really sweet. Hanging out in costume with friends. The band were ghosts and our friends were dressed up in black and performing a seance. There was an industrial fog machine, pizza, general sweet sillyness, and lots of cute people doing cute things. A wee child bumbling about. Rolled-up capoeira pants. A crazy-cool staff made with a dog skull and spine.

We kept the vibe going at a porch jam where I jammed with one of my favorite fiddle players for hours and hours. I jammed a little on guitar and even accompanied a singer on guitar (I don't get to mess around with one very much these days). Frisbee! (The rule was that you had to jump while throwing the disc and also while catching it). Silly giggling into the night.

>> Mourning Glories

I've gigged so much with this group. Such easygoing and sweet people. We play traditional old-time and Irish music. We may have a chance at playing an event for the GODS which would be a lot of fun. Several folks are working to make this happen and it's a really nice validation of the hard work we've put in to promote contra dancing and practice our calling.

>> Klezmer Katz

I have a memory of a nice date back in 2007 where Bear, Carrot, and I stumbled upon the Klezmer Katz for the first time and I heard Klezmer for the first time. I had never heard the style and I was completely floored by it. I can tell that a music had really touched me because it overrides the part of me that analytically enjoys music and breaks it down into recognizable components. I was just struck by the Klez.

Fast forward to 2014 where I find myself playing with them. Arco bass on the cello is so much fun. I have to thank Bach for helping me appreciate that. And helping me to form my chief instrumental identity as bassist.

Dun.
Dun.
Duunnn.

We play at Satchel's this Wednesday.

Nov. 22nd, 2014

Tech Update

I am currently working to create a small web application targeted for both desktop and mobile that can run offline. We are using the HTML5 ApplicationCache to hold on to downloaded content when a connection is not available. PouchDB is used to store data locally, and it is configured to automatically sync with a CouchDB server. We are using AngularJS as our web framework, and I am coding my contributions in Coffeescript. I am using the excellent Grunt task runner, the Bower package manager, and various Node.js tools. In production we are serving with Nginx but in development I am using http-server.

Figuring out how to use the HTML5 ApplicationCache has been a bit irritating, but I think I finally have the hang of it now. I was having trouble with the appcache manifest itself being cached which was preventing me from updating files in the cache, but setting the cache-control header with a max-age of 1 resolved that.

Writing in Coffeescript again has been really easy and fun. It's such a terse little language with plenty of power. AngularJS documentation has improved substantially since I first started using it, and I feel that I am really beginning to get the framework more -- there are some bits of it that I find to be a bit unintuitive still. Having to declare dependencies twice is kind of annoying and is something that still trips me up. I am going to look at Blackcoffee and see if a macro could be written to resolve this issue.

PouchDB is really cool and fun to use, but I find it to be slow enough that in one particular case we had to write a custom cache just to make a UI element responsive enough. A simple search on a document ID was taking 400ms to return. Writing the cache and making sure it is kept up-to-date by PouchDB synchronization events was fun, but it is effort I shouldn't be having to make. What the PouchDB devs are attempting and largely succeeding at is quite laudable, so even if it is a bit slow right now, I really appreciate what they have accomplished.

~~~

Before, I was coding largely in Ruby on Rails. I became proficient in it but am by no means an expert. As nice as it is to take a break from the framework, I really do miss ActiveRecord -- the ways that I am interacting with CouchDB feel a little hacky and verbose. It's possible that I just need to write a small service to wrap some of the common calls a little more nicely.

Four Panels

Dread and misery. Rain. The same cold and bare tiles. The same little Go board. The same proprietor, only aged a bit. Balder and with more gray. The same streets.

That moment when you finally give into the realization that all is not well and that the dark and painful place inside can no longer be ignored, rationalized, or patiently endured.

~~~

Band date with C and P. WW trio. Farm festival, bringing up memories of previous band festivals with friends that have since moved away, a lover that has since disappeared completely from my life, and a musical acquaintance that has since become woven into the fabric of my life in a significant way.

Big, old, shaggy white dogs. Big campfire. A sweet time with sweet friends.

~~~

The arc of relationships. The thrill and sense of danger and friction and magic when it intensifies. The sense of emptiness, confusion, and sometimes incredible fear and panic when it wanes. Coming and going. Going and coming.

Daniel confessed to having felt strong and intense emotions last night. Feeling very antisocial. I felt the same way. He claims it is the lunar cycle. They lost tomatoes but he didn't seem too concerned about it.

Last night I patiently endured many hours in a bar-type venue waiting for a chance to play. I retreated to the quiet of my car to nap but instead listened to the music project I am working on. And took notes. Edits and vocals on Tuesday.

Nov. 2nd, 2014

So Many Music

How do you know Jano dušo? You melted my heart!

Dual lasagna duel at the Tuscan hippo place.

Spanakopita and lentils under the Micanopy Oaks as fall fest folk stroll by.

Serenading the black-clad ironic ones. Cookie reward.

An ivitation to a Mount Dora festival.

Pizza and cake and gamma radiation.

Brains frying on the rainbow stage. Followed by riding around on a jazz truck and pizza.

Mental note: this is one of the best seasons of my life. 

Oct. 19th, 2014

Chassid & Chenrezik

A klezmer gig. Seniors in the Sukkah. We played for them. They fed us bagels and lox and some other tasty food. Also, they brought out the infants and small children out to march for us. We played for them. They marched around with googley-eyed plush torahs. They wheeled out the tiniest kids in a huge buggy that could hold six infants at a time. My sweet fiddle-friend and I traded looks and jokes and food. Such a joyous and fun-filled day.

A late night practice with the folk band. After midnight, compressed into various cuddle-shapes. Sleepover, breakfast cookie, and rosy-faced at the gym the next day. Good gig that evening -- chatted with a couple that had been together since their teens. She was of Sephardic decent and remembers hearing her grandfather speaking Ladino. We sang Avrix mi Galanica for them. Waltzed and freilached into the night.

A morning with students of the Karma Kagyu Tibetan lineage. Reading Rodger Kamenetz's books re-exposed me to Tibetan teachings and cleared a major misconception of mine -- that Tibetan Buddhist practitioners believed in deities in a theistic sense. Instead, they use them as meditation aids. In a sense, they create them as I have created my own deities. So I decided to give Tibetan teachings another go. I enjoyed my time there, even though I still have personal misgivings about the effectiveness of visualization-based meditations in my own practice. And feeling that the act of sitting meditation should be given a sense of primary importance. I have a conception that my ability to remain focused strongly on one image or task is not a talent that I have much natural skill with. This may or may not be an accurate evaluation. If it is, then silent mindful meditation should perhaps be my path for a while yet to come?

A conversation with my parents. My mother, on learning that I had performed in a synagogue suggested that I find a jewish girl to marry, thinking that a place of worship would be a good place to find a wholesome partner. I suggested that it would be easier if I were jewish to marry a jewish woman. Then she recalled the circumcision requirement and we had a good laugh. (Circumcision as a requirement for conversion depends on the rabbi). When I mentioned that I can work remotely, she suggested that I work at a cafe so I can meet an attractive woman and buy her coffee. With the end result, of course, that I get married. I told my father about the ups and downs our fair fiddler and I have experienced and he offered the same observation that he gave me many years ago and that rings true to this day. Relationships change, but what matters is that you still love each other.

I am really enjoying my flexible telecommuting work schedule. It's so nice to not be in maintenance mode and wedded to a 9 to 5 schedule and growing a new project from scratch. So nice to be able to jog and nap and eat whenever I feel the need. So nice to be able to cook and listen to pots simmering as I crank out code and squash any bugs I find therein.

Oh. And this afternoon a dog was under the house. Barking and whimpering and bumping around. It chased a cat under the house, maybe? We got it out.

Oct. 12th, 2014

Weeds

I sat most of a retreat with Valerie Forstman this weekend. I really appreciated my hours sitting in the darkened zendo with eyes half-open, watching mind, being lost in mind, listening to the music of a retreat: grumbling bellies, shifting postures, a sigh, a cough, the air conditioning unit clicking on and off. The room gradually brightening as the early morning turns to day, the yearning for sits to end, the occasional stretches of clarity and spaciousness, the way that all sounds sharpen their focus even as latching on to words becomes more difficult as the sleep deprivation and hours of trying to be present take their toll. I appreciated Valerie's impassioned delivery of her teachings, her sincere expressions of caring and concern, the obvious care she takes to shape each dokusan session to each individual she greets, and the way she uses each individual's experience in her reminders to the individual that there is really no one there doing anything. And that ultimate reality is beyond words but always available in every moment.

It has been helpful to me to bring her my problems in my practice. When a dissatisfaction or judgment arises, sometimes it is possible for me to let it go right then and there. But sometimes it takes years of practicing and living before it is really revealed, and then more effort yet to be able to begin to let it go. My problem: fear that meditation can lead me to adopt the practice of silently enduring a difficult situation. According to Valerie, enduring is a form of resistance. It is important to see a resistance and to let it go or help it melt through dilligent practice so that clear seeing becomes possible.

At the retreat I felt comfortable in my natural silence and unwillingness to engage socially. When called to speak at the closing and during dokusan, I felt natural in my terseness and my perceptions of lacking in the ability to eloquently express gratitude and sincere thanks. This sense of naturalness, more than anything, is a feeling of peace to me. Peace is not when I judge something as diminished or incomplete and then striving to make it complete. Peace to me is not becoming the eloquent speaker blazing in what I perceive to be sincere joy. Peace is just reacting to the situation with honesty and being OK with that reaction in that moment and then moving on to see what the next moment brings.

I think it's time for a longer and more intense retreat. At least a week or so. After reading Crooked Cucumber I'm fantasizing about visiting Tassajara.

Oct. 8th, 2014

Mourning Glories



Mourning Glories have released their first CD! Have a listen ^_^ Plz ^_^

After After After / ????? / Before Before Before

Books I read recently that I thoroughly enjoyed:

Crooked Cucumber by David Chadwick
A biography of Shunryu Suzuki, the author of Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind and the teacher that through that book led me to my core spiritual practice of meditation. Really sweet, funny, and accessible narrative shedding light on the perceptions of Soto Zen Buddhism in Japan and in America. Like all good books about spiritual figures, it doesn't hold back from revealing the figure's basic humanity and short-comings as well their great leadership, charisma, and wisdom.

Stalking Elijah by Rodger Kamenetz
I haven't prayed at all in about 8 or 9 years, but after reading this book I've started to pray during moments of intense feelings of unworthiness, sadness, uncertainty, and confusion. I've also offered a little prayer when I realize that I have made it through a time that seemed impassible and impenetrably difficult. Reading about the spiritual journey of a person that identified as secular and gradually started adopting spiritual practices was really useful to me. Learning, also, about the depth of Jewish mysticism and philosophy and its comparisons to Buddhism was really interesting. I am currently reading The Jew in the Lotus, also by this author. Enjoying it so far.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
When describing this book to a friend, I recommended it on the basis that it was such a good book that while I was reading it I felt impervious to any harm or suffering. The world was right because I knew I could go back to this book whenever I wanted to. The book follows the main character, a pharmaceutical researcher, on a journey to the Amazon to track down her old medical school teacher and find out about the death of her co-worker. The book is very fast-paced and includes lots of wonderful descriptions of the incredibly harsh beauty of the Amazon.

Zen Confidential: Confessions of a Wayward Monk by Shozan Jack Haubner
Honest, gritty, raw, and gross details of the life of a person that decides to practice Zen full-time and with 100% commitment. My biggest take-away from this book: it is easy for me to confuse a spiritual practice with a journey to become a "good person". To fit into some kind of vision of perfection imparted to me by all of the media I've consumed over the course of my life. Here is a little essay introducing the book.

~~~

Currently unwinding? / re-negotiating? / discussing? a sweet but challenging relationship. It's been painful but also a good learning experience for me. I've felt proud so far of my part in this process. I trust that we will move forward as friends and musical collaborators no matter the outcome.

~~~

My current gym routine has been really rewarding. I've had more energy available to me and have needed less sleep than I usually do. My mood has been on the whole more elevated than usual. I try to do fit the following into my week as I can:

  • Two 20 minute sessions on the stairclimber with a 10 minute walking treadmill warmup beforehand

  • A plank held for 40 slow breaths

  • Side planks held for 10 slow breaths

  • Turkish get-ups

  • 20 kettlebell high-pulls per side

  • Two to three rounds of kettlebell clean and presses. Each round consists of four sets of 1, 2, 3, and 4 repettions each per side.

  • Two rounds of pull-ups, palms out

  • Five sets of incline bench dumbell presses, starting at 30 pounds and incrementing by five pounds each time to finish at 50 pounds

  • Three sets of kettlebell goblet squats

  • Unweighted leg lifts

  • Foam roller and a 10 minute walking cooldown afterward

I think that the intense cardio of the stairclimber has been the most beneficial part of this routine. I do find dumbell presses to give me a certain sense of power, control, and emotional release, though.

~~~

I'm experimenting with meditating 40 minutes in the morning. Sitting a one-day retreat this weekend and reading Crooked Cucumber inspired me to increase my sitting time. So far I haven't felt much internal resistance to this increased time. When I tried to move from 25 to 30 minutes I would feel quite a bit of bodily tension during the final five minutes.

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