Classical Music and Mindfulness

I asked for a violin at age 3. By 5, I could identify different recordings of The Marriage of Figaro (my brother and I each had our own favorite). My grandfather played violin in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, my mother is a cellist, and some of my most cherished memories are of putting on small recitals with them when we all got together. During one of these performances, I made special note to the room of adults not to clap between movements. Even at that young age, I had enthusiastically soaked up on concert etiquette, and I felt it important enough to enforce.

Not just hobby, music is a major force in my life and has profoundly shaped my brain and character. As many families follow a religion, ours was music. The traditions of music from both sides of the stage are integral to who I am and the people and values I identify with. Call me a snob, but I don’t go to your place of worship and disrespect your customs.

applause1

 

There are some incredible moments that transcend this rule. Music is supposed to be emotional and exceptional talent should be recognized. Most musicians and maestros have a problem with applause out of false obligation. I’m not saying you need to be an expert in classical music, but I charge everyone to understand a few points that I think play into some greater issues that I find with the contemporary human condition.

Silence is important.

It’s becoming increasingly rare. Even as I sit here writing in my apartment building’s lounge alone, there is ambient background music. Text messages come in and my attention is diverted. Yes, I consider electronic messages to be a form of noise. There’s something physically uncomfortable about silence. If you’ve ever experienced a Joseph Beuys felt space or sculpture, you know what I’m talking about.

Silence is also difficult to tolerate emotionally. There is a strong pull to fill the space, especially when just moments before it was so full. This is the entryway to my issue with not only applause between movements, but what it represents. I see the silence as a container for the noise. Think about it from another angle. In writing, the form — including the white space — dictates so much of the meaning. I feel this way about music as well.

Also, the silence is an important place to reflect. Music can be an intense and multi-dimensional experience. It’s essential in order to process the emotions and form opinions. All too often, this part gets overlooked. This leads into my next topic.

Not everything is awesome. 

The thing about the silence is that you get to decide what you thought about the music you just heard and recharge for the music that you’re about to hear. Love it, hate it, or completely unsure about it, taking the moment to think and reflect will probably create a deeper and more lasting connection with the experience that will enhance your understanding of yourself, your tastes, and your future experiences. If you jump to applaud because you think you have to, you lose out on this process.

Music isn’t all cerebral. It’s also built to be visceral. If you’re not already clapping at the wrong time without caring whether or not anyone else is because you’re so moved, maybe it’s because it didn’t deserve it. Sit on that for a while. That doesn’t make it bad. There are those surprises that blow you away. There are those moments of climax where you can’t help but burst into applause. It’s also ok if it’s not one of those moments.

Be present.

Yes, it’s pretty cool that you went to a concert. Go ahead and post it on your social media. After that, turn off your phone (!!!!!!!!!!!) and settle into the present moment. I recently went to a concert where a number of phones rang audibly during the first half of the performance. A member of the audience got up during the break and reminded everyone to turn off their phones. That deserved and received a rowdy applause.

Another concert I recently went to included run times for each movement in the program. I prickled at this. Something I love about music is really getting lost in it, devoting my whole self for that span of time. How present are you in the moment when you’re fixating on the end? I consider being present during the noise is as important as reflection is during the silence.

Is it sometimes difficult to dig in and commit to the moment, but you’re already there. You carved out the time, now give it the space. This is a practice that drastically enhances the experience and has been proven to make you happier.


 

Oh, one more word of advice (I’m also a photographer): using flash photography is not only rude to the rest of the audience and disruptive to performers, it’s pointless for you. The flash on your point and shoot or even the one on your DSLR isn’t meant for long range (like, not more than a few feet in front of you). Your image isn’t enhanced and you’re just running down your own battery.

Getting Married Is An Accomplishment

I disagree with Natalie Brooke’s recent piece in the Huffington Post. Beyond the hallucious writing style, I think she embodies exactly what makes most women feel horrible about themselves vis-à-vis romantic relationships, whether they’re in one or not. Let me start from the beginning. Brooke recently got engaged, and it’s clear that her views on marriage and her upcoming wedding is quite conventional in that she states although she does not think getting married is an accomplishment, it “is absolutely a huge event, and it’s so very exciting to find your ‘other half'” (just add a PSL).
What’s more, Brooke gets on her soap box and says that now she’s got the ring — lest she be called embittered — she feels at liberty to speak the gospel that “getting married should never be put in a higher regard than the academic and professional successes that women work hard to attain.” 

I think that getting married is an accomplishment. 

You win the game of life. The way I see it, I was going to succeed on my own, even if I died alone. What marriage means to me is that I get to build the world the way I want it to be by furthering my genes, propagating my values, and propelling them into the future long after I’m gone. I think that’s a hugely important responsibility that one should be proud of and that others should revere.

More importantly for this argument, getting married doesn’t have to not be an accomplishment. Even in the face of any academic or professional triumphs. The fact of the matter is, I’d like to say that there’s a lot more to me than either a ring or a brain. I’ve got both. Deal with it. I’m proud of each and I’m not going to apologize for any of it. I’m certainly not going to put anyone down for it. 

This is where Brooke really gets me. She’s made it clear that she finally “has it all” and considers getting engaged as an anointing of power and insight to dole out advice. “The built-in vapidity, the vagueness with which ‘having it all’ specifies everything and therefore nothing,” (Szalai, 2015, The New York Times) leaves just enough room for everyone to hate themselves, no matter what they actually have or where they actually stand. 

To me, getting married is a serious project, not a piece of jewelry and bragging rights. I treated my engagement like I do when I consult for early-stage startups and our wedding as our launch party. I continue to run my household accordingly with budgets, goal setting, and follow-up discussions. This might sound joyless to someone who mindlessly goes into a marriage and blithely believes it’s what they deserve, but I think that’s the most dangerous place to be and the reason why there are so many divorces. The notion that we’re just supposed to be happy, that life is meant to be fun, can be very disappointing and at least, much less rewarding. 

In defense of the CDC

Last week, the CDC published a report on alcohol-exposed pregnancies. Also posted were some handy infographics outlining the many and varied risks of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) to help make the science more relatable and easier to read. The CDC voiced reasonable concerns about FASDs, spelled out the very real consequences they bear on individual children and the country, and posed thoughtful recommendations to prevent them. Along with these facts, they also took the opportunity to outline a few health risks driven by excessive drinking for all females, not just pregnant ones.

God help the CDC for talking about the female body. They were immediately slammed for their “unnecessarily restrictive” (Slate) outlook on alcohol consumption throughout pregnancy. Many reported that the CDC was actively advising any sexually active, fertile women to abstain from alcohol if they were not on birth control or using any form of contraception (JezebelElle, BuzzFeed). The notion that even the women who were not trying to get pregnant were at risk seemed to be unacceptable (no matter that approximately half the pregnancies in the United States are unplanned).

Wait. Stop for a second before taking to social media. Let’s go inch by inch. The basis of the report was to study alcohol-exposed pregnancies. Beyond the stork, we know that the recipe for a pregnancy requires a fertile female, a fertile male, and unprotected sex. If you’ve made it past 6th grade health class, you also know that the fetus grows inside the female body. Therefore, we are limiting our discussion to the female body. Remember that part about the report studying alcohol-exposed pregnancies? The CDC rationally and responsibly included all fertile women who drink in the study, because science doesn’t give a shit if you have feelings. If you can get pregnant and you drink, you are at risk.

Most of the responses were defensive, at best. Ruth Graham for Slate tried to tangle the CDC in its own words, referencing a 2012 report stating that “older and more educated women were significantly likelier to drink during pregnancy than younger, less-educated women are.” Oh, was that Dr. Graham? Right, didn’t think so. Unfortunately, this just proves that no matter how “smart” you are, you are still wrong.

Other pieces rang with righteous outrage and incredulity, as the internet is so good at doing. Most of this anger was generated around the CDC’s choice to include some additional information outlining the potential risks of excessive drinking for any woman, pregnant or not. Within the context of the larger discussion and, moreover, the reevaluation of our national outlook on drinking during pregnancy, I thought it compelling, if not central, material to include. It certainly wasn’t the most important information on the graphic, yet it dominated the conversations on the topic.

I’m disappointed that so many women took the “it’s my body and I’ll do with it what I want” bait. Actually, if you’re bringing your pregnancy to term, it’s not just going to be your body. Apparently it’s not even just your problem, as it cost the United States $5.5 billion (2010) on issues related to drinking while pregnant.

I also noticed many of the women writing about this over the past few days have used their own experience as testimony for how normal drinking while pregnant is, attempting to prove just how wrong the CDC is on this issue. How I Met Your Mother ran a whole episode (The Stinson Missile Crisis) on the acceptance of consuming processed foods and alcohol during pregnancy. So everyone thought it was a certain way for a while. It even worked out for the majority of the women who felt the most threatened.

All of this can be true, and yet CDC can publish new information that pushes up against the previously accepted norm. It’s hard to believe that among so many well-educated, accomplished women, most of them are so outraged by being told by an accepted authority armed with hard facts, to not necessarily even change their own behaviors, but to try to change their minds.

 

Past Lives Abroad: An Expat in Paris (6eme)

Someone recently asked me, “Do you miss it, like, everyday?” My answer — to almost everyone’s surprise — is, “No.” I don’t even miss it most days. When I recollect the miracles from that chapter of my life, the memories are mostly spangled by my friendships or my own internal victories, and I get to keep those with me wherever I go.

People, especially Americans, have this overly romanticized idea of Paris. Yes, occasionally there are days spent kissing lovers along cherry blossomed side streets. Sometimes there are bicycle rides with a baguette in your basket, wheeling toward a picnic in the park.

These are not the things I miss about Paris.

I’m surprised by the associations that stir up my senses and point my attention à Paris. Sitting at my table in New York’s Upper East Side, staring out at a completely different cityscape than my view three years ago in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, it is the sound of the rain and the certain shade of grey cast over the city that takes me back in time.

For most of the time outside of tourist season, Paris is fairly wet and dark. And, if it’s not wet, that’s because it’s too cold to be. London always gets the bad weather rap, but Paris is much the same. I learned that the rain does not stop the people of Paris from getting out and staying chic. Here’s a list of my most favorite rainy day neighborhood spots:

1) Le Comptoir du Relais9, carrefour de l’Odéon, 75006. I have never seen this place empty. I usually try to squeeze in on a rainy day, and will even sit outside (perfect for people watching). They will give you a blanket for your lap if it’s cold, pictured below. For lunch service, Le Comptoir does traditional brasserie to a tee. I still have dreams of sipping savory beef broth with delicate tapioca pearls. Maybe it’s due to some divinity in the dining, but the neighbors I literally brushed shoulders with sitting at Le Comptoir, were friendly and forgiving, shattering the stereotype of the French.

lecomptoir

2) Coffee Parisiene4, rue Princesse, 75006. I hardly even eat burgers at home in the States, but I’d still get the occasional comfort food craving. It’s styled like a traditional American diner and features placemats picturing the presidents of the United States. Perhaps not the best place to go when you’ve only got a few, precious moments in Paris, but it’s a nice reminder of home for expats.

burger-coffeeparisien

3) Ralph’s173, Boulevard Saint-Germain, 75006. There’s a restaurant in the Ralph Lauren Saint-Germain flagship store. It’s gorgeous. Housed in a 17th-century townhouse, it’s the ultimate canteen of comfort for the expat in Paris. I’ve been known to order one too many coffees just to stay seated in the garden patio.

ralphs paris 3

I enjoyed being an expat. The French are not what most people think, they just don’t sugar coat it for you. Fortunately, I was born under some audacious angel and will speak with almost anyone to learn the language. I found in my butcher an incredible teacher. He helped me out with a smile the first day, as I carefully read off my list. Each time I’d go to him, we’d go through out motions, but he’d throw in a conversational curve ball, pushing me to learn the language.

Even though I prefer New York, Paris changed me.


Wait! For obvious reasons, DO NOT leave Saint-Germain without eating at L’Atelier de Jöel Robuchon5, rue de Montalembert, 75007.