Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Where Does An Influence End?

I’m taking guitar classes. Again. This is my third teacher.

When I was fourteen, a male friend, Johnny, tried to teach me to play a song for a talent competition. (This male friend was two years older and he was to die at age twenty in a motor accident. This sort of interrupted my entry into the music industry. This would also happen again further up the road influencing me to think that the music industry was perhaps not what I had signed up for in the pre-birth theory.) There were only four chords to the song that Johnny selected for me for the talent event—C, AM, F, G—and I couldn’t manage it. So I just focused on vocals and at sixteen, I delivered the vocals of a more complicated song with the accompaniment of a whole band. Johnny had a band too but ‘The City Burners’ was not the band contracted to accompany singers in that competition. I was placed runner-up in the statewide singing competition.

Following that competition, there were ample opportunities for me to learn the guitar before I turned thirty. My boyfriends when I was sixteen and nineteen could play the guitar well. I didn’t take to the guitar then as I found the metal strings hurt my fingers too much. Around that time, I purchased a second-hand 12-strings classical guitar hoping that the nylon strings would not hurt my fingers and that I would be able to master the instrument. I found the 12-strings harder to play than the 6-strings so I gave it away to someone who would put the guitar to good use. I did not touch a guitar again until I was 30-ish. 

A housemate who was an accomplished guitarist died in a freak motor accident (TG was thirty-one) and I was left to dispose of his belongings as his older sibling had cancer and didn’t want to bother with them. I gave everything away but kept his seasoned Kapok guitar, songbooks, record player, vinyl records and cassette tapes. Over the next few years, I would listen to TG’s massive collection of music taste—Carlos Santana, Eric Clapton, Beatles, Elton John, AC/DC, and the other popular rock/blues musicians of the 70’s and 80’s. I would teach myself to play TG’s Kapok using the songbooks which had the chords and lyrics to the covers. It was a great way to learn the guitar I thought although it was Eric Clapton and Beatles songs that I was mostly learning. Mama mia! I discovered to my amazement and pleasure that I could actually play and sing some of the covers as long as I had those songbooks to look at. This became a habit and until today, I struggle to play a song by memory; even one of my own.

Around that time, I had my ‘outer space experience’ which I share in my published books and began to write my own songs. A friend who knew the guitar belonged to TG joked that he must be channeling the songs through me. I laughed at the idea at the time but later seriously considered the possibility. I finally dismissed the idea when I found I couldn’t master the guitar despite wanting to very much. If TG was channeling the songs through me, wouldn’t I be a better guitarist since he was an expert? As well, the songs I was writing was not TG’s kind of material. He was Blues/Rock/Reggae. I was developing Folk/Country/Ballads stuff. Still, there is such a thing as energy imprints and energy signatures that dead people leave behind with their beloved properties. Who knows how much of my songwriting was influenced by my dead friend? I then decided to give all of TG’s stuff away including the Kapok and bought myself a new Kapok to see if it would affect my songwriting. I continued to write my songs.

The few years after my ‘outer space experience’ were the most creative years of my life. During that time, I began my three books—Changing Orbits, The Dance of the Chi and Different Realities. I invented a board game and began several card games before getting distracted by life. I also wrote about a hundred songs and poems. I stopped the creative projects when I got involved with dog rescue for the next twenty years. Only now am I revisiting those projects to complete them literally, before I go. Before I Go was the original title for my memoirs, Changing Orbits.

Proper guitar classes began during this intensely creative period. I didn’t know it at the time but I was in a 20-year relationship with my hybrid version of an NPD—NSP. (Narcissistic Personality Disorder—Narcissist/Sociopath/Psychopath.) In my case, he had a Dr. Jekyl/Mr. Hyde personality so it wasn’t all bad and negative. I was able to take some positives from the relationship. Still, it was crazy making and the madness spilled into all areas of my life. Put it this way, my judgment, discernment, plans, decisions, wishes, heart’s desires and personal boundaries would be interfered with. Hindsight is always 20/20 and I see now this relationship was/is karmic and fated. The one thing that got me through those times was the thought “it could be worse.” No matter what I was going through, it could always be worse. I still use this line today. No matter what I experience, it could always be worse. When I wrote the first edition of Changing Orbits, I thought my story was one-of-a-kind. Since then, I discovered the terms Empath/NPD/NSP and realized these conditions are widespread. Only the details are unique.

In spite of all the crazy-making drama, I managed to learn how to basically pluck, strum, and play the scales—Do re mi fa so la di to—in order to aid in tuning the guitar. That was when we had to tune the guitar by ear. Nowadays, I use a digital tuner like most if not all musicians. My then teacher identified my style as similar to the following artists (even though I had not heard most of their material at the time—I was listening to TG’s collection):

  • -        Suzanne Vega
  • -        Joni Mitchell
  • -        Joan Baez
  • -        Joan Armatrading
  • -        Tracy Chapman
  • -        Jim Croce
  • -        James Taylor
  • -        Neil Young
  • -        Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young
  • -        John Denver
  • -        Dave Loggins
  • -        Bob Dylan
  • -        Lee Ritenour

I wasn’t familiar with them except for those in italics. Recently, I used YouTube to catch up with the music of the rest on the list above. Mind you, my teacher didn’t say I could one day play like them, just that my songwriting style was similar.

I was taught basic music notations—semibreve, minims, crochets, quavers, semi-quavers, demi-semi quavers—time values and transpositions with notes. I was also taught what a keynote was and how that was different from a key signature. My notebook from that period tells me I also learned about the Simple Duple, Simple Triple and Simple Quadruple. Not that all this learning serves me today. Today, I cannot remember what I had learned more than twenty years ago. I read that stress destroys brain cells and impairs the memory. Not to mention (but I will, anyway), I am getting old. See this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlVEwIHGlOc&feature=youtu.be

My current teacher is a self-taught performing artist.  The others were formal music teachers. As such, her style of teaching is different from the others. I’ve only taken two classes and this is what was covered:

  • The guitar should be the proper size to fit the body and the guitar has to accommodate the body, not the other way around. (So I was ready and happy to sell my oversized Yamaha in favor of using my second self-purchased Kapok acoustic that is the right fit for me.) 
  • Unless the chair is low, my right knee needs to be pivoted with a footstool or brick to get the guitar to sit comfortably on the thigh.
  • The head moves left to right by pivoting the chin, not the neck.
  • The correct wrist position when holding the chords and when strumming. (I had developed a number of bad habits both as a singer and a guitarist.)
  • Whenever possible, the thumb should bend to mute the E string.
  • She taught me how to play the G chord in a new way which leaves me a bit flustered and clumsy but I’m getting the hang of it.
  • This teacher is of the digital age so, with my smartphone, I was shown how to use the free downloaded metronome instead of my old table metronome.
  • I’m also encouraged to upgrade my digital guitar tuner. I have two but she says they are not good enough to tune the guitar to a professional level.
  • I’m told that if I continue with the weekly guitar classes I should be able to put my songs on YouTube in about three months’ time.

This is an extremely busy phase for me. I don’t know if I can manage the next three months of guitar classes as I have Different Realities to publish, Taiji practice, and my last two rescues to care for. My current teacher sees a pattern and is thinking that I will quit these classes too. Freelance and performing artists teachers are hard to come by and suitable ones are a rarity where I am. I would like to stay the course if I can. However, there is this nagging thought: If this was meant to be, wouldn’t I have mastered the guitar by now? 

This link clues me to the answer. I was not good at Maths in school. "Musician and blogger Roel Hollander notes, “Thelonious Monk once said ‘All musicians are subconsciously mathematicians.’ Musicians like John Coltrane though have been very much aware of the mathematics of music and consciously applied it to his works.”

My current teacher doesn’t think this has anything to do with my lack of musicality. She says she’s “horrible” with maths too and that it all boils down to the determination, right practice and the interest to explore in music. She agrees the diagram in the link looks similar to the "circle of fifth" and that music is quite like maths in many ways especially when it comes to the counts. She says we’re not playing jazz or fusion music so it’s basically elementary maths.

Sooner or later, we all have to face our mortality, don’t we? Reflecting on my own, I asked myself what I wanted my life to be defined by. The process of becoming  Mena Koo, author of The Dance of the Chi, Different Realities and Changing Orbits was/is therapeutic and meaningful for me as I feel these books cover how I put my s*it together and survived all the challenges of being a victim. I did not want my life to be defined by victimhood so I used the knowledge of metaphysics and the power of intention to rewrite my narrative from victim to survivor. I believe my books can make a difference to some who are attracted to read them. However, I’m not sure that Mena Koo, poet/songwriter is that helpful in the scheme of my lessons learned and my legacy. Not to sound pompous with the use of the word “legacy” here, I think we all should think about our legacieswhat energy imprints are we leaving behind?

I mean that in the way that I’ve benefitted from reading certain books but I wouldn’t say my life has been impacted in any major way by a poem or a song. Music can be fun and de-stressing but in retrospect, those twenty-something years that I gave up my creative projects and Taiji for the dogs were the most meaningful in my timeline. Were they the most productive years? No. Were they the most practical things I have done in terms of my personal survival, growth, and evolution? I don’t think so. They were some of the craziest, hardest, suicidal, times in my life. Yet, because they were about the dogs and others; because they were not about what I wanted/needed, made them the standout, special, times. Could I do it all again today? No. I just don’t have it in me anymore.  

If I were to die tomorrow, I would be proudest of those times when I was able to give and not expect anything in return. The joy and fulfillment were in knowing I was making a difference in the lives of those I rescued. In asking myself how I would want my life to be defined I would have to say I want to be remembered for being a kind, thoughtful, compassionate, insightful, sensitive, human. Someone who did her best to play well, the cards that were dealt. Someone who “walked through the fires” as best as anyone could. They say the victims of NPDs/NSPs pick up narcissistic traits in their battle to cope with all the narcissism around them. Hence the world is so messy as wounded people go on to wound others down the line. Those of us who are conscious of this must put a stop to the sickness and begin the healing process. 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Reviews For The Dance Of The Chi

Today, I heard from a reader of The Dance of the Chi.  

“I must confess that I am struggling with the book. This is to say that I am not at a  stage where I am capable of understanding many of these matters. Much you write about is way outside my terms of reference to start with, but also the journal form of the book, by its nature, skips from one deep topic to another, which makes it hard for me to deal with. I really don't want to put other, more able (sic), readers off and I do find much of it fascinating, so no need to publish this. Just saying, that's all.”

I replied:
“Thanks for the feedback. It is what it is. :)
Everyone holds a space in the jigsaw of life. Feedback is feedback.
The Optometrist who happens to be of the Christian faith and who impressed me with his personality and intelligence got a free copy.
The way he looks at me and talks to me after reading the book tells me he thinks I'm crazy.
So ya, I understand it's different strokes for different folks. Hehe.
We only have to connect with our own kind of weird.”

He immediately shot back:
“Having said all that this morning, there's lots which is very clear and really helpful to me. Your section on EFAW, for example and so I'll press on. Thanks for the opportunity!” (sic)

See what I mean?
Feedback is feedback.

It’s fascinating to me how readers decide what to address in their reviews from the over 300 pages in paperback and whatever the Location counts on eBook. I am a slow reader and I find it incredible that someone can read The Dance of the Chi in less than a week. A friend even said she read all of it in two days! I suppose not everyone will read the book in its entirety and some will flip through the pages according to their personal inclinations and interests and then if they leave a review, the review would be based on the parts of the book that were actually read.

I'm on record for saying I'm not for editing the reviews of my book(s) as I find I can take a lot from the comments that are left by readers, be they, friends or strangers. So far four reviews have been published and they are as different as the individuals are different. This has inspired me to blog about the reviews I've received. Until now, no reviewer has shared their thoughts about  ‘My EFAW Theory’ and ‘My Outer Space Experience.’ I'm curious why no one has found those chapters worthy of a mention in their reviews. Still, I am grateful for any review as reviews do help to garner more interest in the book(s). I would like to take the opportunity here to thank the readers of The Dance of the Chi for their thoughtful reviews.

If I am the one writing the review, I would not like to be told what to write or to be told to write something that the author would approve of. I believe we have to be fair to both the author and the potential buyer. Imagine writing to help the author at the expense of the reader? That would not be a good thing IMO. I take the reviews as they come. One of these days, if I should get an unpleasant and negative review, I shall have to take from that as well. Experiences are meant to be what they are. Alan Watts, the philosopher, said: Wanting a positive experience is a negative experience. Accepting a negative experience is a positive experience. Unless the reviews are left by haters and trolls up to no good, I can't complain about the reviews I have. They are all meant to be helpful and they are, each in their own way. I am grateful that my readers take the time to leave a review.

When I read books, I tend to put myself in the mind of the authors. I try to feel whatever they are feeling and experience whatever they are experiencing. When I can’t wrap my mind around the mind of the author is when I can’t read a book.  So it’s fair game if someone can’t read my book(s). I find that people who purchase a book are more likely to read as much of the book as possible as they don’t wish to waste their money. Purchasers are also more likely to be able to appreciate the contents as they know what kinds of books they want to invest in. This is the reason I don’t care to give my books away for free. I need to target my audience and the best way to do that, it seems to me, is for them to actually buy the book.

As my book reviews go, most reviews have the effect of making me reflect on the readers’ reading experience. Each reviewer is likely to say something that would make me sit up with alertness and attention. It doesn’t go unnoticed by me that the reviewers are, in effect, complimenting how I managed to "put my sh*t together (tao-gether)" in order to publish the books. It occurred to me that because everyone has problems and obstacles in life, the people who succeed at their creative projects are the ones who could manage to get it together despite or in spite the obstacles along their path. That's just what the books were/are—getting my act together. That’s the reason Zig Ziglar said: What you get by achieving your goals is not nearly as important as what you become by achieving your goals.

The last twenty-one years (three Uranus cycles) for me was "do or die" time. The next seven years will be more or less the same. The next seven years of challenges and stress can be the best of times and the worst of times. My projects are how I create meaning/purpose/direction for my life and how I channel my energy, intent, and angst. We need to stay in the higher vibrations and my projects aid me to do that in a big way.

I’ve covered what the writing and publishing process do to add to the quality of my being. I’ve covered what the reviews do for me. Another huge bonus of being in this industry is the friendships and interactions with fellow writers and editors who cross my path. It's a treat to be exchanging with fellow writers who appreciate the need to be clear in the expression of complex and abstract ideas. It is a pleasure to exchange and interact with people who as a result of being who they are, force me to uplevel and improve my game. There is so much to learn and I learn something new every day.

A reviewer called my attention to my arms. He wondered about the significance of my arms. When playing Taiji, my arms in an extended posture would be the physical expression of me in the moment of an expanded mode of being. This is then followed by a contracted physical expression of me in the moment of a contracted mode of being. The "expanded mode" is the one that allows me to reach out to others and make the connections. The contracted mode is when I need my solitude.  Some teachers in the energy arts say (each in their own way), the arms are the physical expression of energy flow and vibrations that is expressed by the spirit via the body. I imagine the arms are also the body part with the most concentration of "intent." We express a lot of intent with our arms. I can't imagine what it's like for the Thalidomide babies who have to live their whole lives without arms. And what of those who lose their arms at some point in their lives? They would have to develop "alternate arms" of expressing energy flow and patterns.

It's no surprise that writers tend to be the ones to write the better reviews because they have the analytical discipline, training, and their way with words, to begin with. Even when writers are not impressed with what they are reading, they can still dig deep to leave a kind and/or encouraging word for the author. I reiterate reviews reveal as much about the reviewers as they do the books they review. 

When indie authors publish, we have no idea who would be drawn to read our work. Whether the book is a free reading or a purchased reading, the writer and reader would have to be connected on some level or else, of the millions of authors (and even more books) out there, why would anyone read one author and not another?

It's all good. Again, I thank my readers for taking the time to read me and I'm grateful for the friendships and mostly positive reviews.