Anniversary of a Renaissance

This poem originally appeared in AZ India Times here.

Prologue written for AZ India Times
Rebecca Danos is very honoured that AZ India Times asked her to write a poem for its second anniversary edition.  Two years ago she read the The Bhagavad-Gita, which greatly impacted her, reflected in her forthcoming novel The Opera Hypothesis.  In this poem, “Anniversary of a Renaissance,”  she strives to express the rebirth she felt when reading the sacred text and honour the Eastern principles she learned while also honouring a Western background.  The Western notions include the glitter/gold Shakespeare reference and Plato’s Cave from The Republic. Ideals of of duty/detachment of the fruits of one’s labour she learned from the Gita.  In some of her imagery she strives to blend Eastern and Western heritage.  In Greek mythology there is a chariot, the sun which Apollo guides across the sky, and in the Gita Krishna is a charioteer.  Another instance is that the constellations have both Greek and Indian names (and other names from other cultures) for the same stars.  The point she aims to make is that we are all children of Earth, and we can all inherit our shared ancestors’ ideals, learning, and heritage, and we can all learn from the diverse facets and people who contribute to our identity.  And so within all of us East can meet West regardless of our origins or destination.

Anniversary of a Renaissance
saber cemented in gray
– a mind –
a windowless world
too attached
to the glitter that is not gold
interred by seeking fruits
that sour into acrid rot
a mind that quests for rebirth

in Plato’s womb i huddled
chasing shadows
that traipsed
across my eyelids
leaden with slumber
before i beheld flames
radiant in cherry reds
and honeyed yellows
lustrous light
that guided me out.

Out i awakened
to an Eastern sunrise
whose fuchsia beams
clothed my mind
with truths
to honour my calling
for this heartbeat’s length
and to detach from my labours’ fruits

the instruction
to obey my duty
baptizes me again
as i summon memories
from its first ignition
two years ago

as i sat absorbed – reading —
those two years past
the sun-chariot traveled West
as Earth rotated East
veils of rose hues anointed the heavens
constellations painted the opal dome
in pointillist inspiration
both for East and West

stars and sky-sketches
different in name only
spiritual inheritances
we may all embrace
as Earth-children
to unhinge our hearts
with love and shared ideals
that bejewel our journey together

Footnote: The lowercase first person pronoun ‘i’ instead of ‘I’ is the author’s artistic choice to minimize the importance and presence of the author compared to the words she chose to capitalize.

 

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Meditations from Manitoba Opera’s Madama Butterfly

There is nothing like attending a live musical performance. You can sit at home and listen to the music over and over for years, yet do you really hear it? Last night I think I heard Puccini’s Madama Butterfly for the first time. Sitting in a theatre, your concentration is entirely on the music, on the performance, stirring and touching you, stimulating a meditation on how the performance connects to you and your life.

The story of Madama Butterfly is simple. Military officer Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton marries Japanese geisha Butterfly with the preconceived plan of deserting her once he tires of the marriage. And he does. He dissolves his marriage without ceremony or even her notification. He leaves Japan with her under the impression he will return. She patiently awaits his return, and, when he does three years later, it’s with a new wife in tow and the intent of removing their child to the US. Pinkerton betrays his faithful wife. The Manitoba Opera, as well as the singer David Pomeroy who portrayed Pinkerton, encouraged us to boo him after our ovation for his dramatically compelling performance.

The composer, Puccini, weaves the American national anthem into his score to accompany Pinkterton’s appearances. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard the Star-Spangled Banner, though it accompanied my childhood attending (and even singing in a choir at) sports events in Philadelphia. Although my personal anthem is more aligned with Bruce Springsteen, the melody played in this context moved me. Pinkerton followed the stereotype of the American taking what he wants without regard to others. A parallel occurs in the role of the US president in the film Love Actually (played by Billy Bob Thornton) opposite the British Prime Minister played by Hugh Grant. We must strive to evade the fate of becoming this stereotype by being faithful and kind to our family and friends, upholding principles, being generous, and not stereotyping others based on their origins.

Too often I find myself just trying to get through another day while searching for the elusive purpose and meaning to this existence I share with others on earth. Often I get cranky, I’ll admit, as I saw on a recent blog post I made, since I work and have worked very hard in my life without any or much compensation. Maybe this is in part how I conform to the stereotype of the culture I was born to. I do feel immensely grateful for everything I have, and I mean everything, including being able to walk and to type right now and for any moment not in some kind of severe discomfort. But perhaps there is still a selfishness to my attitude. Even in just wanting to feel satisfied there is meaning to existence. Because, as I learned from the Gita, it’s not about what we want to do with our life. It’s about pursuing our duty. And not enjoying the fruits of our labour. There is honour in serving our duty. I admit I don’t entirely know the full breadth and depth of my duty, but I have a sense of it. And in serving our duty we have honour.

Madama Butterfly, sung by Hiromi Omura, was a woman of honour. Omura portrayed Butterfly with grace, honesty, authenticity, and honour. Her aria, Un bel di vedremo, was powerful. I saw in Omura’s Butterfly more puissance and strength than fragility, yet it suited the character’s sense of honour. I briefly discussed the opera with a Japanese woman this morning who, like me, also enjoyed Manitoba Opera’s production, this her inaugural experience as a member of an opera audience. I can only hope that in my novels where I portray characters of backgrounds different from my own, with the intent of honouring these cultures I so admire, my readers will respond positively to my treatment, like this woman did to the Manitoba Opera’s portrayal of her culture. I struggle greatly with concerns of accidental cultural appropriation, as opposed to cultural appreciation, so I do my homework, consult with others, and ask their permission. Yet do I succeed in my goal?

With every breath we might aim to follow our duty and to live a life of authenticity and honour. To give to others rather than to follow the stereotype of greed that might plague us from our origins. I remember a piano teacher telling me that music is about giving. Every time we sit at the piano to practice we must give to the music and to the piano, even if no one is listening. I’m learning that music is part of my duty, even if others are more talented than I am or more skilled. Because through the practice of music we develop both as practitioners, as audience members, and as people. It’s the local Winnipeg arts organizations like the Manitoba Opera that give so much to us; they give us high calibre music, an experience, a spectacle even, and a moment of reflection about our place in our communities and the world.

 

 

Rejection and Relationships

I wrote the following as an email to one of my closest friends who has been going through a break-up, and on reflection, I’d like to share it with you, my dear readers in the blogosphere, as well. I decided to retain most of the email in its original form, though I changed my friend’s name to Sophie, the protagonist of my first novel and my third and current novel. I did edit some of the letter for privacy as well.

This letter is for you who might have experienced rejection from family, friends, or a romantic partner. It is for you who feel alone or who might not feel as though you experience all the types of relationships you yearn for in life.

Dearest Sophie,

I have spent a lifetime trying to find substitute family-figures. I am so grateful for Andrew, for he was the first person to unconditionally love me and has been there for me for the long haul, but I feel sad when I see others with a close loving family and friends. We’ve moved around every few years, so it’s been hard to make lasting friends and to have a real community. I remember in a previous email I mentioned it gets me down a lot. And then you email me and fill my world with light and love! I’m introverted, so I typically only have one good friend with whom I hang out a lot at a time. And I’m intense with my friendships as well, which might turn people off.

In this new year, I’m coming to some revelations about people and relationships which I’d like to share with you. Although I understand your situation is more severe than mine, as yours was a romantic attachment and my relationship issues are with family/friends, I think these thoughts might help.

1. In Buddhism they say that everything changes (see recent blog entry on change). We can look with loving eyes at the relationships of the past, but realize we and the other people have moved on and evolved and no longer belong in each other’s lives. It’s okay to be sad (I think of the memories in the movie Inside Out turning from joy to sadness) and nostalgic, but we must live in the present and put the past behind us. These people are part of who we are but also a part of our past, they don’t belong in our present except in how they changed and touched us.

2. We must accept rejection, no matter how much it hurts, and treasure those who truly appreciate and accept us for ourselves in all our messy imperfections and flaws. We only really need one or two people in our lives who accept us to feel we share meaningful human connections. Not everyone gets the ideal family, romantic attachments, and friendships maybe in a lifetime, but if you can have one or two people from one or two of these groups, that’s enough. We need to focus on the people we do have in our lives and not the people we don’t have. The ones who reject us might have poor judgement and don’t deserve our love (platonic, familial, or romantic). We can be sad but need to accept the truth that there will always be people we like more than they like us. But there are some people who reciprocate our affection (like you!), and we should concentrate on connecting with these people. Some people don’t have any meaningful relationships, and we need to be grateful for what we have and focus on our gratitude rather than focusing on what we don’t have.

3. I think forgiveness comes in somewhere. We need to forgive ourselves for desiring the company of those who reject us, and we need to forgive the other people for rejecting us.

4. It’s good to exercise or do something to distract oneself from being lonely sometimes. And to get an Alicia Keys Girl on Fire attitude. The best way to fight feeling badly, the best revenge, is success (I learned this from the Hugh Grant movie, Music & Lyrics). In becoming who we are meant to become. In doing great things.

5. And finally, in seeing the sadness wrought by rejection (which I’ve had from family and friends), we learn to appreciate the people who unconditionally love us (people like you and Andrew and some others for me). Maybe we need the sadness to appreciate the joy? Like we need night time to appreciate the day? And even in night there is a sky full of stars…I don’t know what this means, but maybe it’s my way of saying there is a silver lining.

Much love and light and gratitude to have you in my life,

Becca

On Florence Foster Jenkins, Our Voices, Others’ Voices, and Mirrors

When you look in the mirror, what do you see? What do others see? This is at the crux of the new film, Florence Foster Jenkins, which led to the following speculations. When I look in the mirror, I see some wrinkles here, some pockets of fat there, an ill-sculpted wordy poem, some characters in my newest novel that I find increasingly compelling and whom I love, and someone who struggles so hard to live a worthy life.

This weekend the plan was to write on my second novel and engage in practicing more music. I am happy to convey that my second novel is progressing and that I have also been more committed to my vocal and piano practice, though still not as much as is necessary for adequate progress. Writing this, I reflect on how far I’ve come compared to when I was struggling to practice at all (some sort of a mental block that I hear is not uncommon; as an aside, if you struggle to practice too, what helps me overcome this hurdle is not to plan on lengthy practice sessions but aim for twenty minutes here and there). I awoke this morning in need of inspiration, so I ventured to see the new Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant movie, Florence Foster Jenkins. The movie is billed to be about the worst opera singer in the world, which is how the critics might have judged her, but there is a hidden depth that emerges throughout the poignant story which inspires and delights.

Florence Foster Jenkins was a wealthy socialite from whom the hardships and bullies of life have not ground out the spirit or self-belief. I wonder if bullies are kinder to the wealthy, and of course she could never have realized her dream toward the film’s finale had she not been exceedingly rich and privileged. Yet, she had been willing to forgo her wealth for pursuit of her musical passions, which is testament to her true character, and was very generous as a patron to music and supported musical ventures and even her own accompanist. She is portrayed as a complex character in the film, both powerful and strong-willed, yet fragile and in need of protection. And she did not live a charmed life free from suffering of various kinds or compromise, even in her closest relationships. Yes, she might be perceived as egotistical, but I see her instead as a dreamer, as someone who lived life to the fullest that she could, as someone who found meaning in life through pure fun and an appreciation of music.

It is true her self-image was a distorted illusion. Though I found her vocal instrument, her voice, to possess strong qualities, because of her difficulty in tuning, consistency, phrasing, and modulation, the effect was extremely comedic to hear. I also know, from personal experience from myself and listening to others in recitals, how difficult it is to sound tolerable while singing, especially in the early stages of training or if you have not found a teacher who connects with you and understands you and your instrument. I truly could empathize with her, though in some of my early recitals as a vocal student, I was all too conscious of my vocal blunders and difficulties and felt my “music” a dishonor to Mozart and the very art. I remember staring into the audience and seeing the blank expressions on everyone’s faces, feeling horrified and very out of character during the aria. Of course, the anxiety I felt about performing and singing, and even singing in my apartment where I might be overheard, which I rarely did, contributed to the tension that dominated my performances as my hands and face made rhythmic involuntary movements throughout the pieces. It is interesting that my perception of the performances are far worse than when I see their recording on DVD, though I can also discern improvement over the years. In part, my lack of belief in myself contributes substantially to my vocal difficulties, whereas in the film, Jenkins was deluded about her abilities, fed by the praise her husband bought for her. It is true, she had the fortune of being able to purchase her dreams and the misfortune of buying others’ deceitful praise that instilled her with false belief in her abilities. Had her circle of companions been truthful and truly supportive, could she perhaps have worked toward correcting her vocal problems? Truth and honesty form the basis of any relationship, an extremely valuable commodity, and in the film’s portrayal of her life, Jenkins’s life was rife with false praise and false belief, which I think did her a great disservice. She gave everything of herself to others, her passion and her wealth, and they took advantage of her generosity by deluding her. Or was it their way of giving back, to make her feel good, to fulfill her dreams? The film is complex. I know for myself I value truth and integrity above feeling good, and I believe with the truth can lead us on paths that will ultimately lead us to positive experiences anyway.

Death loomed constantly over her life, yet she did not let it deter her ambition. She lived a life of courage. Love. Friendship. Dreams. Loyalty. She aged gracefully. And shouldn’t we all have a little fun before we perish? She also worked hard, practicing daily with her coach and pianist. Isn’t this too, something we should value? I believe the movie portrayed Florence Foster Jenkins as one possessing a great talent, a great talent for life. And I found it an inspiration not to give up and to work hard for my dreams and to achieve a little fun as well, as she did. And though I value loyalty in my relationships, I hope to nurture the type of loyalty that elicits the truth about myself from those close to me, instead of deception. It is only with the truth that we can push ourselves to conquer our challenges, be aware of our deficiencies, and work to become someone we can accept and maybe even learn to like or love and to be our best versions of ourselves. So we can be the best to our loved ones and to our chosen paths.

Wealth is not as valuable as society deems it, leading to people failing us in important ways. This is one lesson from the film. Another is that the voices inside our heads might not echo our voice as perceived by others. We might not be the best judges of ourselves, our opinions forged on complex histories and messages from our childhoods. I think it’s important to seek those trusted, yet loyal, friends and mentors who will help us see our truths and to look inside and try to discover the truths about ourselves as well. It is important to cultivate a talent for life, a generosity for others, and perhaps some measured generosity for our own foibles and faults, and to cultivate our dreams and to work toward them. Indeed, the film, Florence Foster Jenkins, served as an inspiration for reflections.

Dreams, Recent Physics Discoveries, and Freedom

We All Have Dreams. The beginning of each We all have dreams video produced by the Manitoba Opera begins with a quote by Anaïs Nin. I’ve been receiving links to these videos for the last few weeks and have been following them with great interest, as I am a self-professed dreamer. If you search for quotes by Anïas Nin, there are a number on the topic of dreams. That they are necessary, which is the one included in the Manitoba Opera videos. That they might lead you to to a new life, love, or country. Actually, you can become as lost in the words of Anïas Nin as you can in your dreams, an opera, a novel, or the Manitoba Opera’s videos. The dreams in the videos vary, if I recall, ranging from one young woman wanting to become a babysitter to another to become independent and work in an office to one to sing. I ask my friends what their dreams are and sometimes forget my own. One day recently I even searched on the Internet, “how to find a dream” which produced many results.

On my way along Portage Avenue this week, I stopped by the mall to play the Portage Place Piano, a public piano which almost continuously makes music. It is one of my favorite places in Winnipeg actually, listening to and playing the painted instrument. I realized as I played it, our dreams are too often end positions instead of states along the continuum. We dream of finishing that degree or getting that job position. Why not make a dream each day, work to fulfill it, and then make a new dream the next day? My dream for that day was simply to play a little music.

Have you ever had a mental block of any sort? I’ve been having some with music for longer than I’d like to admit. I understood how I fell into the well, I just didn’t know how to evade its depths. But when I remembered the elegance of some of the dreams in the videos, I realized how complicated we make everything. As I was telling my music teacher this week, there is a principle, often applied in physics, called Occam’s Razor which illustrates that the simplest solution is usually the correct one. As she said, a straight path is usually the best way to get somewhere. A sun-centered solar system makes more sense than Ptolemy’s epicycles needed to explain the planets’ orbits of an Earth-centered one.

The recent few years have precipitated the consummation of a number of dreams in physics including the discovery of the Higgs boson, a particle predicted by the theoretical model of particle physics called the Standard Model, and gravitational waves, the ripples of space-time predicted Einstein’s equations in General Relativity by Albert Einstein in 1915. I will always remember where I was when each of these revolutionary discoveries was announced. I awoke in the middle of the night on July 4, 2012 to hear the LHC CERN talks (and am sad I missed the second talk, but after the gold-standard detection was indicated on a graph, I returned to sleep, as it had been a difficult day prior). On February 11, 2016, I caught just part of Kip Thorne of LIGO’s press talk, and my eyes sculpted tears. Kip Thorne and gravitational waves have lived in my thoughts since I was a child watching The Astronomers. And stay alert, there are rumors of an imminent non-Standard Model LHC result. Will extra dimensions be discovered? It is one of my dreams to have verification of an elegant theory of everything (TOE) called string theory, a model necessitating ten dimensions instead of just the four which we all love and know.

We all have dreams. After watching the videos by the Manitoba Opera, I envisioned a dream of today. All I wanted was to play the piano. Unlike Rielle in Melinda Friesen’s Enslavement, I do possess the gift of time and a beautiful piano to play. How that book, again, expands my appreciation of freedom, and how precious each is, from being able to express ourselves to being able to make a number of choices regarding how to spend the time we have at our disposal, to being able to dream. And today I did play my piano. Following my New Year’s resolution, I did not prescribe a certain length of time to this practice. I just wanted to do some. However, once I changed inertial frames from not playing to playing, I found it hard to stop, and only did once muscular pain impeded me. Once you have made one step, the next is easier to take, so afterwards I sang some Handel. And, as I found in my voice lesson this week, singing releases muscular tension and is more effective at relieving pain than medication. A side effect of the singing is that a current of joy flowed through me. While my piano practice was analogous to meticulous problem solving, enjoyable in its own way, the singing literally released not only my voice but my mind from constraints. Singing is a conscious practice of letting go, more puissant in its efficacy than any meditation technique I’ve used. It is freeing. And, as I discovered this week as I walked about town and took buses, singing exercises in my head, breathing properly, being aware of my posture, shaping my mouth in various vowels, and relaxing my muscles, it is a way of life as well.

Do you have a mental block? Do you work on a project which might outlive you (as Einstein’s prediction of gravitational waves did)? Have you constructed a complex, circuitous road map for your life which is hard even for you to follow? My suggestion is to look at right now. What is a dream you can conceive that you can accomplish now. It might be the first rung on a ladder to a great scientific result. It might be the first measure of a piece of music. It might be to buy the ingredients to cook a good meal or to pick out a recipe. It might just be to sit down and play or to sing or to write. It might be to start to learn a skill that could potentially lead to a desired job. Just pick one dream for now which is doable today. And once you have finished that one, select another as a follow-up. And you might find that though you may or may not reach an end state that was on your original map, you will have launched off the starting point and be on a path.

Review: Ethan Hawke’s Rules for a Knight

We are all travelers on this journey through life. On the way, we encounter others, in our personal experience as well as indirectly in the arts and sciences, who inspire us. According to Buddhist master, Thich Nhat Hanh, the old adage that the only constant is change resonates with the clarity of Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell from hundreds of years ago. Although we mistakenly cling to constancy and attachments, it is liberating to realize that our growth and evolution depend on perpetual reinvention.

At the finale of Ethan Hawke’s seemingly unassuming, though exquisitely bound and illustrated by Ryan Hawke, Rules for a Knight, the narrator’s grandfather contemplates his death and realizes that he has died on previous occasions as he passed through the different stages of life. The experience of reading these meditations that serve as a guide for a well-lived life impacted me profoundly, causing me, too, an experience of death and rebirth, perhaps, as an individual ever so slightly more enlightened.

The principles that guide the knight in his journey are comprehensive, from generosity to courage, from solitude to friendship, from love to death, from gratitude to forgiveness. The complete list of topics covered is nicely summarized at the conclusion of the book. While reading the book, I didn’t notice any omissions, except perhaps that of acceptance, detachment, and compassion, though these ideals weave throughout the book despite not possessing their own chapters. During the process of reading the book, I found myself referring back to prior sections to remind myself of the wisdom contained in its eloquent revelations.

I’ve tried to incorporate these principles into my mode of living previously and have exposed myself my entire life to the Western and Eastern philosophies on which the rubric for life in Rules for a Knight is based. However, somehow this book reached me, was able to penetrate my armor, in a way that previous readings had failed. I do not fully understand why this particular treatment of ancient philosophies was so transformative, though I suspect in part its success is through its simplicity and organization in addition to its clear and compelling expression. Each chapter explicates one of the principles, such as forgiveness or gratitude, followed by a short parable illustrating the way this theme can be incorporated into one’s experience. Perhaps one reason why this book could resonate so well with me is that its author grew up in the same era as I did, as a contemporary.

I had previously read the importance of the two principles, forgiveness and gratitude, but had difficulty embracing them. I have been fortunate to have lived my adult life in the companionship of love, and though I certainly did not take it for granted, I would often dwell on life’s obstacles and challenges, what my life lacked, and my own imperfections instead of forgiving myself for the life sentence of being human. I also did not fully live a life embodying gratitude for the beautiful and poignant aspects of humanity. I could not feel true and pure gratitude and comprehension for love and the redeeming qualities in life until I learned to recognize forgiveness for myself and those who have wronged me. The power of forgiveness and gratitude cannot be understated, and they can lead to you different dimensions of being.

The last section of the book is The Ballad of the Forty-Four Pointed Red Deer. I am not sure I interpreted this ballad correctly, but as a vegetarian who has striven to promote harmony with the planet since my early youth, I would like to think of it as a secular prayer for peace for our treatment of animals and the environment which gifts us our home.

I can barely recall a time when the movie, Dead Poets Society, which launched Ethan Hawke as a household name, did not influence me. Art influences us and comforts us, and Dead Poets Society certainly served as a companion for me during my lonely youth, particularly Hawke’s character Todd Anderson. It was, in part, quite ironically, the romanticism of this film which drew me to my alma mater, Wellesley College, a New England women’s college. However, Wellesley, though possessing a similar physical beauty to that of Welton’s, is a sacred environs to promote, rather than squash, individual, intellectual, and artistic freedoms. At Wellesley, I remember being influenced by other Ethan Hawke films during rare moments not studying physics, such as Reality Bites and Before Sunrise. In a sense, all these films embody a philosophical bent which urge the viewer to think beyond the paradigm she might have grown up with. The guidebook, Rules for a Knight, follows a similar vein. I wonder, how could the characters from these films could have benefited from the book and where would they be today (though, of course, we have a glimpse of this every nine years for the Before Sunrise series)?

Did Todd Anderson ever forgive his parents or Neil Perry’s father? Did he ever find someone to love? Did he ever learn to love himself? Did he ever experience enduring and caring friendships? Could he forgive himself for his own existence? Could he feel gratitude today for having encountered Neil and yet also accept and forgive his suicide? As he grows through middle-age, can he do so with grace, as outlined in Rules for a Knight? Can he accept his own births and deaths and also his final surcease of existence? Will he resolve his internal struggles?

I hope we all can.

Why will you get up tomorrow?

Why do you wake up each morning? What drives you to climb out of bed every day? The answer will vary depending on your socio-economic background, country of residence, physical and mental state, and everything else I have forgotten. I’ve been asking myself these questions for decades. Usually I feel driven to complete some project, dream chaser that I am. Sometimes I am driven by some motivation just to survive or other times in the past I just didn’t get out of bed. However, eventually some drive, not necessarily related to caffeine, will kick in. Caffeine, however, is a huge motivator to get out of bed!

At some point at an early age I felt motivated to make a contribution to science. I recorded that I aspired to be a “quantum mechanic” or an astrophysicist when I was about ten years old. This dream motivated me for decades, inspiring me to do the whole spiel of a BA in astrophysics from Wellesley College, MS in string theory at UCLA, and PhD in theoretical cosmology at McGill University. I wrote papers along the way and paved the way to consummate all my dreams when the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics nominated me as a National Fellow. The next logical step would be to gain teaching experience and land a tenure track faculty position.

But dreams have a funny way about them. Achieving them doesn’t necessarily lead to peace or happiness nor does the strife of the process of pursuing them. I tried postdocing for two and a half years and contract teaching last semester for two courses in preparation for fulfilling my lifelong dream of becoming a professor.

Honestly, I didn’t think I would survive.

Let’s talk about the teaching. Five hours of lecturing a week doesn’t sound overwhelming until you factor in the 80 pages of hand-written and typed presentation material that needed preparation each week. Performing administrative duties, meeting with students, writing and solving two weekly homework problem sets, writing and grading exams, compiling grades, making course web page updates and posting material, and answering emails all compounded to consume my waking hours.

Plus I forgot I suffer from performance anxiety and teaching new lectures in front of an audience of nearly 50 students three times a week for just one of my courses was a bit of a challenge. I wouldn’t say it was as bad as free falling into a Dante book, but it was a source of consternation. Before my first day of teaching I watched inspiring movies about teachers who made a difference in the lives of their students. The one time I tried to deliver an inspiring speech to my students to fight like warriors (a phrase a friend of mine coined ironically to describe his pursuit of a faculty position) to make their dreams come true and learn math, I sounded more like a certain cartoon mouse trying to inspire an army rather than Alexander the Great or a Tolkien hero.

So I went to my GP who prescribed some things including two hours of piano practice a day and Scriabin. Naturally, with nearly ten plus hours of course work to do a day, I neglected the piano.  On the other hand, the Scriabin did help a modicum.

I learned a lot in the process. There is probably some topological description of how lifelong dreams can turn inside out and upside down, even just temporarily, which for me happened in these last three odd post-student years. And now I am reevaluating my purpose and place, insignificant though it is, in the universe. I still feel the urge to contribute to science and to teach, but in a less frenetic way.

I believe at Harvard researchers are studying happiness, but it doesn’t take much scientific examination to see that passing my Grade 5 voice exam with honors despite some unique challenges and the process of singing and playing piano are an offering of mental peace to me. Whatever I do professionally, I need to follow my doctor’s orders and incorporate making music into my daily life.

I am a dream chaser. The next goal for me is to master my Grade 8 piano and Grade 7 voice practical and the theory exams while keeping my passion for theoretical physics and mathematics alive. My next dream also includes sculpting with words, documenting my experiences, and creating new journeys in my mind through language. Maybe someday I will be able to rally an army of students to fall in love with mathematics and physics as much as I have fallen in love with them, but for the time being I hope to make new memories of new dreams of the musical and literary variety. In the rambling scribbles of this blog, I hope to analyze dreams, the preparation needed to complete music exams, and make side-trips along the way through the corridors of thoughts and through cosmic and mathematical harmonies. So that answers the question of what will get me out of bed tomorrow (plus a giant latte in my UCLA mug).

Why will you get up tomorrow?