On acting, on roles

I had planned a book review for today, but either it is too long since I read the books I’d love to talk about, either I borrowed them and can not go through my bookmarks to find the excerpts I cherished the most.

So, let today’s post be a reflection on acting and on the roles you can build, or have to fit in, as a human being. I have been fascinated by how the actors of Sherlock have created such rich characters, full of little details and vibrant from emotions, but without identifying themselves in them (you can see how they appear outside of the stage, and even briefly when they pop out of their character’s role on stage. Intriguing). I wondered how it would feel to keep being a given character in real life, and concluded that it would not be possible – as much as a statue or a painting are not as alive as the subject they represent. The way in which these actors carefully build their own characters, line by line, gesture by gesture, is the most artificial way that I can imagine. No one could create his/her image for the public like this, without feeling the varying gap between the character’s personality and his/her own, and suffering from it. There would never be room for truly natural behaviour, as everything would have to be considered by the mind-director before being executed.

Still, I find that the acting process is able to generate extremely valuable insights in one’s own personality. A particular ease or difficulty in acting a line tells much on how one built him/herself during the years; and the stage offers a relatively safe place to test  changements, because it is not you, rather your character who is in the spotlight.

Let me conclude with my love for the backstage – for the basement where the statue stands – for the closeness of actors beyond their characters – for the privilege of knowing how a magic trick (let it be a play, a concert, a dance show, a cooking recipe!) comes to life – for the sweet, subtle pleasure to be among the magicians.

 

Drawing streak – third week

For the third week I kept drawing something every day. Sometimes I waited until very late, but I am proud of not having missed a single day. Here is the mosaic of this week’s sketches:

And here are the links to Flickr pages with all download options:

Day 15Day 16Day 17Day 18Day 19Day 20Day 21

Day 15 represent four horses, one for each language I can speak – see the dedicated post that explains how I came to this picture.

Day 16 is a colour variant of a very nice horse picture I found on Flickr. I used watercolour pencils and a wide brush, so the result is a bit vague.

Day 17 represents a three-legged dog. He usually does everything he needs, so he doesn’t mind that much, but he has one less leg nevertheless.

Day 18 is a common subject of mine, I enjoyed imagining the shadows and lights of this horse.

Day 19 represents ideas and movements that locally aggregate in ordered structures, in an otherwise unordered space. In the end there will be more order than at the beginning, but the process could not be linear.

Day 20 was a simple colour experiment.

Day 21 is a part of an armour. The armour provides shape and strength, it can replace inner bones of the arm inside it. One should remember to take the armour off from time to time, to keep bones and muscles functional.

Now I get ready for the flight back home – I hope to see aurora lights over the Pole!

Refusing to jump – reflections

Picture credit: Tom von Kap-herr, of backhomeinbromont.com

While watching a couple videos from 2012 London Olympics, specifically the ones of the riding part of Pentathlon, I saw several horses refusing jumps, many more than it happens in dedicated jumping competitions. Why so? The horses themselves were experienced jumpers or eventers and the difficulty of the jumps in that competition was reduced. The differences are two: first, the rider is an athlete that only dedicates part of his/her time to horses and riding, and second, he/she meets the horse only around half an hour before the competition.

The result is that the horse and the rider could not have enough time to adapt to each other, and the horse is more often required to mask the rider’s insecurities or mistakes, or even abort a jump if it doesn’t feel it will be able to clear it safely. I can very well imagine that it’s rarely a matter of disobedience, more often a lack of coordination. On the other hand, it was amazing to see how some horses decided how to approach the jumps, independently from the riders’ advice, sometimes carrying the rider along without paying much attention.

Then I noticed how differently the riders reacted when their horses refused to jump a given obstacle. Some of them tried again with a better preparation and balance, others hit the horse, or at least clearly wanted the horse to obey. Not all riders thanked the horse after the end of their run. I find hard not to disapprove the lack of closeness between rider and horse, but at this level of competition there is so much stress and tension that I can understand why that happens.

That made me think about  leaders in general. I witnessed a wide range of reactions when their team is not willing to go on, or would prefer to avoid an obstacle. If there is pressure of various origins, there is probably no time to understand why the team is not complying. Still, I would suggest to check how crucial is the goal in question, if it is worth to push the people through at any cost, or not. If it is not, cancel the jump yourself, don’t let the team struggle. I have been myself in the position of not having the possibility to refuse to jump and I have very few other memories of such an acute mental pain. Seeing the refusal coming is a big help. Learn to see worried faces, well before anyone talks to you, that would likely be too late anyway to abort the jump. Praise the team afterwards, especially if it has costed much in terms of stress and energy. And for next jump, improve the approach and the balance.

 

 

 

Book recommendation: “L’arte del camminare” from Luca Gianotti

Last week, during my trip to Trento, I visited a small library specialised in travel literature, guides, maps and apparel: la Viaggeria. Every time I enter it I come out with at least two books. The shopkeepers manage to keep this store lively, rich, surprising and homely, and have always a good suggestion – or sometimes they read you a few paragraphs of a book they recently discovered, so that you invariably find a book that opens you a new universe.

This time I examined with more detail the section about travelling by foot, and picked up “L’arte del camminare” written by Luca Gianotti:

I read it at once, fascinated by the simplicity of his prose, that made me readily believe I could prepare my baggage and start a journey on foot with new enthusiasm, new eyes. No matter where it starts, where it would end, the walk is a world in itself. I hope there will be translations soon, so that this concise and poetic guide will reach more readers/walkers around the world.

Proud to be a Fjord – drawing explained

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Yesterday I drew a horse portrait based on this picture of a Fjord stallion. I omitted a lot of details and used only a black pen, but am quite happy with the result.

The first step of my drawing was the outline of shapes with a pencil. I printed the picture and used a window as a light table, so that I got all proportions right. It is a very effective shortcut, but it made me omit the initial observation phase. That’s probably why I could not be so accurate with the drawing itself.

Then I moved to the desk and started the outline of the bigger shades using a broad hatching. I overlaid hatches until I got the appropriate darkness of each area.

I would end with “That’s it!” – there are indeed very few secrets in preparing a drawing like this one. It took approximately half an hour. If you have further questions do use the comment form below.

Happy doodling everyone! 🙂

On objectives and life goals

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Quarter Horse – painted by Maike Josupeit (source: Flickr)

I’ve been thinking a lot about what is my main interest, my main passion, since I was a child. As I have been interested in many things, I could hardly choose one and make it my main occupation. This made me start many things, meet many different environments and groups of people, which I find enriching. Lately, I read a book about how to make this approach productive and enjoyable, instead of seeing it as an “I don’t know yet what I want to do when I grow up” attitude.

I thought more about this approach and yesterday I found out that my current strong interest is the perfectioning of small things. Single movements, finding the right word in a sentence, the right little jump at the end of a staircase, the shoulder twist when putting on a coat. Music practice is of course on the list – my drum practice especially. All these small gestures can be brought to perfection by using only the minimum amount of energy and movement, weeding out all the rest. This is not new and not original, it is common to many disciplines; it happens to be my priority now.

This was not possible in many of the jobs I took, and that made me so uncomfortable and miserable, at the point that I was barely able to stay rational when I tried to explain what was wrong with them. Now that I put it into words, I know what I have to look for in my job search, and I am able to explain it simply, without begging for understanding. If this perfectionment is not a priority for the employer, I will hardly be a good employee in their eyes. I know I can not be too picky, but I will try to stay away from obvious misalignments of opinion.

I am not sure how much time I will keep working on this perfectionment of small things. Maybe one day I will notice that this won’t be my main drive anymore; then, I’ll be ready to go on and focus on a new objective. For now I am overly glad to have found a couple people with this same focus, and I hope to work with them as long as we like and need it.

 

On leadership mindset

Love Bite -- by Chad Hanson

Lately I collected many hints on how a good leader should be: at my kindergarten, at riding lessons and by music rehearsals. At the same time I thought about how it takes to be a good team member.

In the past I had my strong opinions on some topics and would not accept any other, even from people who expected me to conform. I used to fight back, first with explicit force, then more softly but still very firmly. I was not especially good at leading because I was not so good at presenting my ideas and getting feedback from others, on any level. I was sometimes a difficult musician in my orchestra: the more I was pushed to play in a way I didn’t like, the more unmanageable I became.

Since then I understood many signs, or maybe, I got older and I don’t cling that desperately to my opinions anymore. It was an interesting lesson with the horse I ride: I have to communicate clearly and show a calm, focused mind, in order to be accepted as leader by an animal that is many times bigger, heavier, faster than me. I can occasionally bluff and play calm, even if I am not, as it is usually a safe thing to do – opposed to be scared by default, scare the horse and create an actual dangerous situation.

It is almost the same with children. They have marked personalities and clear ideas on what they want, but also rely on adults for guidance and exploration of the unknown world. When I feel that I am teaching something new to them, I am like a mountain guide, walking in front, showing where I put my feet, leaving the freedom to walk in another path when I consider it safe too; I check often with them to see if the way is manageable for them, if they are tired, happy, scared,curious. I learned in these last months how to pay attention to small signs that help me understand how another person feels, even if his/her words say otherwise. It happened too often that people answered “No thanks, how nice of you that you offer help, but I don’t need it now” and I saw on their faces that they needed that help so badly. Then it’s another diplomatic game to play, how to help them without patronisation.

And on this fine tuning, I exercise my leadership skills and my team member skills, usually by trial and error in real world situations. Sometimes I manage to make my tests with people who have much to teach me on this field: it is a real enjoyment to know that I can practice with the confidence that I am in a playpen, in a sandbox where I don’t have to worry that I could hurt somebody in order to learn my lessons.

On obedience, on teaching

I was very inspired by K’s blog post about teaching and understanding other living beings (people and animals that people find similar enough to them to be able to establish communication).

I should quote the whole post; except a few references to her own life, all her words could have been written by me as well. I am astonished at how our minds wander in the same landscapes, along several years now; I find her thoughts written almost at the same time when they surface in my mind.

I wish to append another line of thought to her reflections. Now that I am fine with not judging, with a gentler way of helping others find their way, when should I do that? I am very often confronted with clashes of ideas between me and my current pupil(s). One clever “trick” is to offer an apparent choice. For example I a young child to walk in my same direction, and he shows that he wants to go another way. Then I can offer the choice to go in hand with me or walk alone – in both cases, in the direction I have chosen.

This solution avoids conflict and still gives the child the possibility to make a choice. Still, not the one he initially wanted, the choice of direction. I am sometimes myself (yet) too unsure myself, and I am not able to drop the child’s idea in favour of mine. Maybe is a matter of experience and time, but I don’t want to become a guide that is too sure of his own ideas, and drops others’ ideas by default. I wish to keep doubt about my judgments for a little longer.

Of course it very much depends on how crucial are these choices. If I am reasonably sure that the child is leading a happy and fulfilled life, and at one moment of the day just wishes to play a little longer, sleep some more, scream and sing aloud, I don’t feel too guilty if I limit his liberty for a moment with my decision (the more, when there is a small life lesson attached). But I want to keep an eye always open for the cases when a disobedience is a sign of something deeper, that requires attention and not simply correction.

There is something of that kind also in my orchestra, where the conductor has (always had?) the ability to let us comment on a piece and tell him how we want it to sound like. This doesn’t diminish the respect we have for his opinion, quite the contrary.

Reflections

On playing at concerts, part 2

 @ Bergamo, 83. Adunata Alpina

Last riding lesson was interesting, once more, as a mirror and sandbox for how I feel when playing music. In a former post I wrote about how I came to enjoy concerts less and less, and now I feel I made one small step in a direction I like.

Martina was letting me focus on my posture while Lozano walked slowly in the arena. I am getting better at following Lozano’s movements and interfere as less as possible with his rhythm. Martina and me discussed about how to sit comfortably at the trot. She explained to me that the horse has a marked bouncing movement of the back, that the rider should not block with his/her own body tension. In other words, if the rider sits with contracted legs and torso, the horse’s movement will make him/her bounce and fall over, and if not, will prevent the horse from moving correctly (the horse would then slow down or stop, as it interprets that stiffness as a request to slow down). This is fairly obvious for anyone who rode a horse at trot, or was astride any animal or vehicle which moved with a lot of energy.

The interesting part of the explanation came when considering other approaches to the trot. One could try to anticipate the horse’s movement, with the goal to make the same displacements. This is very tricky, because the horse rarely makes perfectly timed strides, and without stirrups it is especially difficult to create your own movement. Another idea is to follow the horse’s movement, with a relaxed body, with the legs alongside the horses’s flanks (not so relaxed that they bounce, but as much relaxed as possible). I tried it and I really felt my body’s movements lagging behind the horse’s, the horse almost shifting away from underneath me at each step; only gravity and friction were keeping me astride. (I had my hands on the handles of the vaulting surcingle for safety, not for actively holding myself on the horse.) Martina noticed my change in posture and we talked about it in detail. I managed to better understand how the rider follows the movement of the horse, while still being able to guide the horse – but with cues and intention, not with his/her own movements.

I brought to her a comparison with music, and drumming in particular. A very similar explanation has been given by Mark Kelso for Drumeo, in a longer lesson about playing with the metronome. He shows how to play exactly with the metronome, slightly ahead or slightly behind it (laying back):

The point Mark makes is that you should be aware of these three ways of playing, and you should be able to consciously switch between them. After this lesson, I could not tie myself to an exercise that does not help me strengthening my awareness, in any field. I had recognised the moments when I could play music “laying back”, but could not always recreate the conditions, or decide how to play with other musicians. That disappointed me very much, it made me feel powerless and clueless. Now that I got a rational explanation, that I can test at will, I am not fighting so eagerly anymore for perfect harmony at rehearsals or concerts – I know it is a fragile mixture and that it’s not necessarily my own fault if it does not happen.

I further talked with Martina about Feldenkrais riding practice in relation to competitive riding, and Feldenkrais-like music practice and meta-exercises in relation to concerts. We agreed that when the show is on, deep feelings are not so important anymore; they have been the focus of practice, and on stage rules another set of values. Of course people notice when there are flow and deep connections on stage; but it is usually not as important as other rules.

Finally I am OK with doing a half-hearted concert – or better, I know why I am not there with my full swing; instead of raging and biting, or worse, abandon the stage, I have seen a path that will take me to a higher awareness and the accompanying technical ability.

I am thankful to my guides, who picked up the way I learn, give me food for thought and appropriate learning supports; they are confident I can go forward on my own legs, they smile when I conquer a new height.

Savory muffins

Today I prepared cheese and onion muffins for a small party:

Savory muffins

The recipe comes from the Just Bento Cookbook written by Makiko Itoh, who put together a great selection of ideas for bento boxes and picnics. I report here the variation of her recipe “Edamame and Cheese Muffins”.

Ingredients for 12 muffins:

  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup milk (160 ml) – I used soy milk
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (60 ml)
  • 2 cups flour (250 g) – I mixed white flour with chickpea and all-grain flours
  • baking powder (1 tablespoon or the quantity suggested on the package)
  • salt
  • extra ingredients: 2 spring onions, sliced and sautéed; Parmesan cheese; marjoram

Preheat the oven at 180°C.

Beat the eggs in a small bowl until foamy. Add milk and oil, and mix well.

Add flour, baking powder and salt in small amounts. If the batter becomes too thick, add some more milk. Incorporate the sautéed onions and grated Parmesan cheese, and spices at will. I went for marjoram but you can pick parsley, basil, thyme, oregano, nutmeg, sweet paprica, or combinations of them 🙂

Fill the (optionally non-stick) muffin cups up to half their capacity with batter. Bake for 20-25 mins, or until the crust is golden and crispy, and the centre is well cooked (suggestion: pick a test muffin with a toothpick -it is cooked when the toothpick comes out dry. Another test requires to gently tap a muffin with a wooden spoon – it is cooked when the sound is hollow).

In the meanwhile, spring is finally come in Berlin as well, and cherry trees stand clad with flowers – beautiful even at night:

Cherry blossoms at night