Book recommendation: “Barfuß auf dem Sommerdeich” by Katja Just

I just finished reading this book. First of all, I’m quite proud of having been able to read it all without looking at the dictionary!

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I picked it up in my library, attracted by the wilderness and remoteness of the Halligen, small islands in the North Sea, near the coasts of Germany and Denmark. The story of the city-dweller who leaves the busy streets for a remote, natural environment invariably fascinates every human heart.

Katja Just’s journey from Munich to Hooge is however not so close to a dream. She had hard times, not only because of the trying living conditions on the island, but, according to my impression, the deeper cause was her approach to those hardships. She does an amazing journey of introspection and acceptance, of herself, of the life on Hooge, that is unique and brave. This makes me think that just following her example and move to Hooge myself would not necessarily be a good decision: my starting point and my mindset are different. Nevertheless, the lessons I wish to learn from her experience are:

  • observe, assuming that the information is out there and deserves to be noticed
  • learn more about myself through the analysis of my reactions – being honest and open, rather than intolerant to my weaknesses
  • be ready to stand for my ideas, firmly and politely

I hope there will be soon an English translation, so that more readers can have access to the book. I’ll update the post accordingly.

Until next time, good reads everyone!

Photobook #2: season and weather

I posted a while ago about my project of taking pictures of a particular tree, and I’m proud to have captured the change of colours during fall. Here are a few pictures from end September to end October. I was happy to capture different weather conditions, even fog (that I seldom see here) and a nice range of cloudiness and intensity of the sky. Stay tuned for the slow transformation into winter 🙂

On miscommunication: filtering inputs

Today I have been thinking about how communication can be inefficient or broken. There are times when I feel misunderstood by people, even when we speak the same language and we already spent plenty of time together. I realised how I feel estranged, as if instead we had no common language, and that all that time together didn’t count.

How can this happen?

My current hypothesis is that there is a form of filtering on the receiving end, that is dropping a lot of input, because it comes in forms it doesn’t understand. For example a baby is crying: as it can’t speak yet, I have no information about what is making the baby uncomfortable – but it doesn’t mean that the crying has no reason at all, and I can ignore it. Or a friend keeps mentioning a book, or a particular event, that doesn’t say anything to me – it doesn’t mean it means anything at all: it means a lot to them!

Most people live in an environment that bombards everyone with an insane amount of input -most of which irrelevant- so the filtering is actually a great protection for the mind. I would only warn not to leave it on all the time, especially with loved ones.

In some cases, there is no active filtering of information, but rather the listening on an inefficient channel: for example, when a person doesn’t know a language well enough, they will speak very little and very simply. I could derive that that’s just how they are internally. But if I switch my attention to body language, or any other channel that the person is comfortable with, I will probably get closer to the actual thoughts and inner complexity of that person. I notice that it’s also how I interact with animals, observing, trying to parse the silent input, to find the language that expresses their internal world.

Icelandic friends, by Alessandra Barilla (Flickr)

I am trying to become aware of these filters of mine, by asking myself: “Is there really nothing more than this input? Can I increase the amount of input that I can understand? What are the inputs I am collecting, but not considering?” Sometimes these questions are painful, because they show me my limitations, and remind me of the situations where I was not able to listen and understand. Nonetheless, I feel the obligation to explore my limitations, because I can’t forgive myself if I said “I don’t understand” and I meant “I don’t care”.

That’s all for now… as usual, let me know your ideas in the comments!

Autumn celebration and thought about teaching

Magic Fall

Autumn keeps being my favourite season, with its flamboyant colours, and its connection with school’s start. As a kid, I loved the beginning of school, with all the new books, pens, pencils, the lofty mountain of knowledge ready to be presented to me. The last weeks of summer holidays were filled with expectation and impatience. Even now I welcome the freshening of the air, the discolouring of leaves, the arrival of rain and mist with that same joy.

At the end of October I’ll start again with drum lessons, after a break that lasted a whole year. It’s hard for me to wait for these few more days, because my teacher has that blessed ability to spot what I can already do (no matter how minimal it is! Sometimes it’s just showing up at the lesson, while I’d rather be sleeping on the couch) and then suggests what to build on top of it, letting me learn new skills one step at a time. Others focus on what I can’t do, and urge me to improve moved by guilt, by the obligation to make the best use of my potential. He is currently one of the very few voices in my surroundings that underlines my strengths, in an honest way that I am quick to believe (while some encouragements are too far-fetched to be credible, even if they are totally well-meant), and that concretely motivates me. We don’t talk about that explicitely, but he surely sees how our time together transforms my mood and lets me grow as musician, and I’m sure we both find reward in our common enthusiasm.

Find the difference #5: what you say vs. how you say it

I have been thinking about what has made discussions among me and others become heated, and most of the time it was not what people said, but how. Here are the two sentences I wish to compare:

  • You are not allowed to say that!

vs.

  • You are not allowed to say that this way! which could mean: You can say that, but the way you said it hurts me!

It makes me think a lot of parents and children. How many times I hear: “Don’t cry!” or “Don’t complain!” and I guess that it’s because seeing the suffering of others make us uncomfortable, at the point that we could prefer to silence it completely. There is a great article about this dynamic on happinessishereblog.com, and a shorter post on The Badger’s Smial. But what happens when we try to silence the cries, and worse, when we succeed? The suffering person feels even worse: oppressed, unable to both deal with the issue and to get support. I (among many) noticed that children get increasingly upset when they feel that their message doesn’t get through, and with an immense sadness, that some children (and adults) stop communicating and are therefore considered “good” – just because they are quiet.

I find that if I were a parent, I would promise to listen to all messages my children send me, eventually suggesting to express them a way that makes it easier for me and other people to help, but in no way editing the original content.

A similar censoring reaction happens often also when people get aggressive during a discussion: it seems easier to stop fighting if the other party stops pushing its idea forward, while it could be that it’s a matter of how the idea is expressed, and if the atmosphere calls more for white/black outcomes, rather than mutual understanding. I am trying to practice this form of de-escalation with my friends: I notice how the most vibrant advocates of a given idea calm down when they understand that I am OK with them owning their idea, and I am focusing on the way it is expressed. I think it takes a lot of pressure away, because there are endless possibilities to improve the formulation of a message. It could make me look undecided, when compared with people who get heated when they feel that others don’t agree with them; but I don’t feel comfortable being so assertive. It is actually a reason I left OSGeo Board a few years ago, because I felt that I could not fight for my/our ideas, but it was expected from my role. Now I would come back to OSGeo with a new  awareness, that I can contribute, move things forward in this equally firm, but more understanding way.

I prefer to say “I love you” only after I have specified what it means in detail

These days I have been thinking about what it means for me to say “I love you”. I realised I have said it very seldom, even to the people I loved – I found it very difficult to say. Until recently, I vaguely thought that such a sentence should not be said lightly, so I always went for alternative formulations:

Source: imgur

With the passing of time, I have been able to articulate my thoughts in more detail, and I realised yesterday that “I love you” would be too compact, too vague, and could imply things that I don’t mean, but that the other person automatically includes in the idea of love. Therefore I would rather say:

  • I love your attention towards me
  • I love your joy when you receive a present, when you get good news
  • I love your respect for yourself and for others
  • I love that you don’t compare me to a standard, so I feel free to act natural all the time
  • I love how your presence calms me
  • I love how little we have to talk in order to understand each other
  • I love how we respect our silences and how they are meaningful to us
  • I love how consent is fundamental for the both of us
  • I love that we don’t feel obliged to walk up the relationship escalator
  • etc …

… while I would not automatically mean:

  • I want to live our lives together
  • you are my only love, you will always be
  • you are perfect
  • I want to build a family with you
  • etc …

There is an Italian song (Patrizia, by Eugenio Finardi – lyrics here) that is indeed a list like this one. It has been one of my very favourites since I first heard it, and now I am happy to have realised why.

My point is that I want to make clear what are the reasons of my attraction/love for the other person, instead of just saying that I (will always) love them, no matter how much they will change, and implying plans for the future that I already have removed from my list. So my current decision is to say “I love you” only after having specified what it means, therefore making it a safe summary. I really wish that it will keep misunderstandings away, especially in such a delicate and emotional matter.

 

On playing at concerts, part 3

Yesterday we had our yearly concert:

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It was my first concert after my year away, and it felt great. The two last rehearsals had been for me a bit borderline for concentration – there were both things that ran very well, and practicing more was boring, but also things that didn’t work well, and there was clearly no time to fix them. So overall I was in a right balance of relaxed and focused when I walked on the stage for the concert. It was also interesting to see how the calm of the musicians calmed down Mariano, the conductor.

I enjoyed playing with my fellow musicians so much! We are such a closely-knit group that we support each other, know who has difficult parts, and cheer the soloists as much as the audience, if not more. I didn’t feel like performing yesterday, the fun of being together was stronger than the stage fright. I took this picture at the soundcheck (sorry for the bad quality) – I love how some are concentrated, some relaxed while waiting for their cue, and in the middle Thorsten smiles. This picture sums us up so well 🙂

orchestra-thorsten

Book recommendation: “La montagne magique” by Thomas Mann

An absolute classic, about which I am a bit intimidated to write. But I am moved by how close I felt to the people and events related in the book. I read it in French and I found the language and form very pleasant, elegantly aged. I wonder how it feels to read it in the original version, and in the many translations.

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I remember the impact with the first pages of the book. Even more than with Barkskins, I started at my standard reading speed (a reading trot!), but, as soon as Hans Castorp arrives at the sanatorium, the rhythm of the narration slows down so abruptly that I felt like falling in a metre of soft snow. I was stuck for a couple paragraphs, then found out how to wade forward by reading much slower, paying attention to every word, stopping sometimes to think about a line.

It has been a deeply fascinating read. I felt a lot of affinity with Hans Castorp’s thoughts and discussions about the world and the meaning of life, and I suppose this is because I am, like him, currently sitting away from the world’s continuous, sometimes frenetic, activities. I sympathise with his unheroic stance, his trembling look up to the higher truths that stand white and tall like sublime but also dangerous mountain peaks. This novel is an incredibly detailed soul journey. I hope that my heartfelt review will encourage you to give a look at this book 🙂 – and as usual, let me know your impressions in the comments!

Playing drums: notes and movement

Last weekend we worked with our drum teacher on movement while playing the snare drum. Today I thought about the connection between notes and movement, and which one influences the other, in which music styles and in my practice.

Drumline
Drumline – source: marchingbands.wikia.com

I remember having paid attention to movement in itself only in my first year of drum lessons, because I started focusing on technical challenges in reading notes, learning new rhythms and learning to play various percussions. I stopped noticing when I was getting tired and cramped, when the movement was not calibrated well and therefore the notes came out of rhythm. My response was to try harder – cramping even more – and finally give up.

During Saturday’s lesson I understood that if a set of notes is not sounding right, or even is not properly timed, it is very likely that the movements are not correct. I thought about pieces that are written with the movement in mind, from which the notes come out – for example marching band music, especially the more spectacular pieces. I have in mind my beloved Downfall of Paris. Look at Tormod’s hands and arms first, then listen to the music:

This video shows the symetry of movements and is for me a feast for the eyes:

And look at the bass drum players’ movements, especially at the beginning:

The movement has a big influence on the sound itself, because the speed of the stick hitting the drum decides how it will rebound – a light stroke will muffle the note, a faster/stronger stroke will make the stick rebound and produce a cleaner note. The skill of a drummer is being able to guess the movements just by reading the notes, and practice so much that the movement does not need to be adjusted with conscious decisions (a bit like when driving cars). This is made easier in marching music, because the building blocks are not single notes, but basic patterns (the rudiments) that are learned until they become “movement units”.

I feel that I understood something big, that allows me to make progress by spotting myself what I can improve. As with horse riding, I will in any case benefit from “an eye on the ground” and will keep asking for expert advice, but I know I can do a fair amount of work on my own.

 

Music weekend with my orchestra

Last weekend my orchestra had organised a three-day musical retreat, in order to practice before our main concert. We had a great time, that I enjoyed even more as I have recently started playing again, after a long musical break. I realised how much I missed my fellow musicians, the positive energy I get from our being together.

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Still nature with trombone (accidental composition)

The orchestra was divided in three groups: wind instruments (flutes, clarinets, saxophones, oboe, bassoon), brass (trumpets, horns, trombones, tubas) and percussions, each under the lead of a teacher. The percussion section was definitely the smaller and consisted of me, the first drummer and the teacher. We first looked through all the notes (we had notes for 5+ percussionists in some pieces, and had to select which ones to play), then we practiced the most difficult spots. I practiced on the castanets, that are very conveniently mounted on a wooden base, and are therefore way easier to play – there is even a knob to calibrate the opening of the shells:

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We solved our doubts on the notes in the first half of the day and dedicated the second half to posture and movement while playing the drums. It was a precious moment. We rarely have the time to take care of our posture, because we are busy following the notes; but this work is even more important, because it allows us to play for longer bouts without strain or even injuries. The exercises are on a musical sense extremely simple (for example slow quarter notes) just because the attention is elsewhere, needs to be elsewhere: on the wrists, arms, back, seat; on the speed and the similarity between the hands. It is a sort of yoga for drummers. You can read more on this topic on John Lamb’s blog.

After the practice in separate sections we had two sessions of rehearsals all together. The sound was way better than in our previous runs, thanks to the accurate work on each difficult spot! I am confident that we will have a great concert, because we have passed the point where we only read notes, and are now able to add expression to our parts.

On Saturday evening the conductor was ready to thank everyone and close the session, when the trombones asked to practice one spot once more, and the conductor was so surprised. I later thought about it, and why is it such a rare event. Maybe it is because conductors are used to whip the orchestra forward, as if the orchestra itself would otherwise not play. Therefore, at the end of the repetition the orchestra usually ends up more tired than expected. In this case, working separately allowed a better feedback between the musicians and the teacher, and probably a more appropriate workload; thanks to that, we were not as tired as usual, and wanted to continue playing. If I were the conductor, I would take it as a sign that I have allowed the orchestra to work in an efficient way, and moreover, that it is manifesting its own will to improve. I would find it wonderful, and I would do my best to replicate the conditions that lead to it.

I’m so looking forward for our Sundays concert! I feel so different from when I wrote about concerts, and am so glad I am feeling overall much better.