News, updates, and happenings with the Kragnes family: Phil, our Seeing Eye Dogs, and (me) Rebecca.

Archive for February, 2012

reflections by a glowing fire, holding a glowing heart

The glowing heart isn’t my own heart but the white heart pillow with the word “love” on it written in red. Phil finally received and gave it to me today as my late Valentine’s Day present. We think it came straight from the manufacturer, because the address seemed to be from somewhere in China. It’s as soft as a stuffed animal’s fur and has LED lights in its fabric. When the switch inside the zipper is first on, all light up red, then green, and gradually the seven or eight lights start diversifying into a whole rainbow of colors from yellow gold to pale teal to pink to white. It looks as if either places on the pillow or the lights reflect slightly differently, so the hues come out differently. in some places the deep blue is royal blue, and in others, it’s more like violet almost purple. Some greens are bright Kelly greens. Others are more of a lime green. When the batteries are low, all of the colors turn and stay red.

Phil took a well-deserved day off for President’s day, even though it wasn’t an official holiday. Work is getting very busy on many fronts and for the most part he enjoys that. I will sigh in relief after he sees a doctor on Thursday to lance an infected place on his hand. A doctor at dialysis diagnosed infection as one of his co-workers suspected, but the doctor didn’t have the tools needed to take care of the job. Phil has important meetings during available appointment times today, and I hope and pray this thing doesn’t decide to spread throughout the rest of his body. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t worry, but with his suppressed immune system and how quickly infection can spread, I’m internally holding my breath. I don’t want to have to give up my husband for any of Lent as I had to for pretty much all of it last year.

Speaking of Lent, of course, today’s Ash Wednesday, and I’ll do my best to observe Lent, but I don’t think this year will be about giving anything up. This is because I guess it must be time for my mid-life faith crisis. I’m not having any doubts about God or Jesus. In fact, I’ve been reading the Joshua series by F. Joseph Girzone and some of his other works. The books have touched my heart very deeply. they tackle issues like ecumenism, war and peace, prejudice, and religious authority. I won’t rehash my “in case anyone cares” post, but let’s just say that being politically liberal and Catholic has gotten a lot tougher in the past few weeks. I’ve always known what the official positions are, but then it was a bunch of little old men I didn’t know making decisions without consideration of anyone’s circumstances. In Girzone’s language, they were a bunch of rules put on the people as a burden like those of the religious of Jesus’ time. Now I see posts on the Internet from Catholics who write and sing songs about Satan smiling every time someone has sex using contraception and how bad and sinful it is. Friendships are really being tested over these issues, as it’s become very apparent a few people are disappointed that I can’t tow the party line. We’ve made a conscious choice not to have children and are still very comfortable with our decision. I’ve counseled with a couple priests about the issue and don’t feel guilty. What I feel is rejected, betrayed, misunderstood and very very sad that a church’s rules seem to be more important than its people. For the first time in my life, I’ve had thoughts of walking away. Besides my very compassionate priest, one thing that keeps me there is knowing that because a lot of people who had similar feelings to mine have left, the conservative element has been able to be much more pronounced an beat down on the few of us left. Lent will be about hanging in there instead of walking away as alluring as that looks. I was planning to read a couple books about Jesus written by the Pope when he was Cardinal, but with the precarious position in which I find myself, I don’t know whether that will help or hurt. These and the comments below may provoke some argumentative response. I’ll say the same thing I said to a couple of people on Twitter, if my stances are so evil, go ahead. Get me ex-communicated then! One man responded that he had no stones to cast. I held my tongue, but I wanted to respond that it was because he’d already thrown them.

These feelings must be just the tiniest taste of how people who are gay/lesbian must feel every day. I had a very rough Mass last Saturday night. We were to watch the Bishop’s Annual Catholic Appeal video, and our priest tried to make it more palatable by saying there were a couple of scenes of our church in it. In an ironic twist, the video was set-up for sound, but no picture. the video was quickly turned off, and Father summarized it. Even the first few words of the Bishop validated that his voice was like his policies — rigid and by the book. I’ve interacted and have been comfortable with other Bishops, and though we may not always agree, I could tell they had a warm, congenial side. My impression is that ours does not!All of these issues were heavily on my mind, and even though I had plans after Mass, I almost went home thinking I wasn’t in any shape to go anywhere. With the listening ear and consolation of my canter and priest, I was able to pull myself together for my next event, and I’m glad I did. Earlier this year I learned about community sings which took place at neighborhood centers or parks. An e-mail address was given for blind people to ask for a Braille lyrics booklet. Saturday nights sing was a fund-raiser at a Lutheran church for Minnesota Families United who are campaigning for people to vote no the proposed constitutional amendment on which we will be voting this fall. Marriage in this state would be restricted to between one man and one woman if this amendment passes. People who are proponents of this are calling it the “defense of marriage act”. As my husband so eloquently put it, divorce threatens marriages — not who is allowed to marry. Over a year ago, our diocese sent a DVD telling us why we should vote yes to this amendment. Apparently, a generous gift was given to the diocese only to be used to produce this DVD. If the Catholic Church doesn’t want to marry people of the same gender, they are free to set down that rule, but I have a big problem with trying to legislate this position statewide. I have severe problems with any religious institution telling supposedly free people how they are to vote in a particular instance. I had fun at the sing and we sang everything from the Beatles to songs in an African language. We sang the first half, went downstairs for snacks and volunteer opportunities with the campaign, and then sang the second half. I can’t sign up to make phone calls, because I’m not sure I want to deal with the hatred which could come blasting back at me. Finding help from complete strangers during the event and to walk to the bus in a not-very-good neighborhood was easier than it usually is at my church.

But lest I give the impression that it’s only Catholics who trouble me, that’s not true either. I’ve written on this blog about how vain I find some of the Christian singers who like to look at themselves in the mirror from every conceivable angle. One singer had to show the Twiterrverse photos of her shoes and her gown before the Grammy Awards ceremony! The one part which was cool had nothing to do with how the clothing looked. Her dress was made by women who had been rescued from human trafficking. That’s worth celebrating. After Whitney Houston’s very Christian funeral, one singer had to pontificate on his blog about how foolish he felt celebrities acted thinking that Whitney was Christian or saying they were. One female singer pointed to Philipians 1:18, saying the verse might help. I paraphrase, but the verse basically says who cares about the how and the why as long as faith is being expressed. I really felt she very sweetly but firmly put that blogger back in his place.
Thursday I speak on blindness at a physics class called “nothing”. Of course, my portion is seeing nothing. And what’s physics without a little experiment? One lucky person is going to be blind folded and drop and find a round glass on what I’m told is a marble floor with only the verbal directions of his/her classmates.

Then I come home and lead a discussion on the book I chose for the book club by phone. I pray someone liked it. I couldn’t put it down, but I’ve gotten lots of negative feedback from club members about how much they hated it.

Rebecca Kragnes and Zane (Black Labrador and Seeing Eye Dog)
E-Mail: rebeccak
Twitter: RebeccaKragnes
http://www.rebeccak.com

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Valentine’s Day and other reflections

Wow! so much to write,But it might help to set the scene. I’m in front of a fire in the gas fireplace with a cup of mandarin Orange Spiced tea with lots of sugar just the way I like it. I just put a new scent wax cube called spiced grapefruit in the warmer. Phil’s at dialysis, and although it will be wonderful to see him, I don’t think either one of us is going to be in the mood to stay up all night. I know Phil has a special workshop tomorrow, so he’ll want to be ready for that. If everything goes as I think it will, it will be a quiet but peaceful Valentine’s Day.

I remember this time last year, I was pretty discouraged, because Phil didn’t seem to want to do anything. We learned in a month it was because his kidney was failing. It wasn’t that I was mad at him. I just knew that something was very wrong. He was seeing doctors, and no one could seem to get to the bottom of it, until we had the hospitalization marathon of March and April, 2011.

Though on dialysis, this year is a little different for him. He is not only surviving but living. He started a kettle bell class on Monday nights a couple weeks ago. Kettle bells are a Russian exercise tool where the individual swings and does other movements using them. He’s doing this instead of the lifting Phil did before his amputation. He comes home from that very jazzed. He bought his own set and is doing a thirty to forty-five minute workout in the basement on every other day. His pup Garron gets the down side of it. Phil doesn’t want me or puppies around when he’s working out, because 25, 35, or 45 pounds of kettle bell could injure or kill one of us while in motion. Garron tolerates it better than I thought he would, because Garron still knows where Phil is at least. Even though Phil’s a little sore the next day, I think it’s really improved his mood and attitude.

This year I am the one who is tired. I’ve been fighting this thing for the past week. Usually, a sore throat means automatic bronchitis, and I get it between two and three times a year. My doctor has been nice enough to let me have her info, so I told her immediately when the sore throat started. She got me started on some nasal spray which has kept the coughing at bay. Phil asked me to go in yesterday for a strep test, because the sore throat has persisted. The strep test was negative. The only other symptom is just extreme exhaustion. Walking to the next room and back has been difficult, and finally today I left a message for our cleaning guy that I just needed to reschedule. I went to bed after midnight last night and slept all night. Phil got me up for breakfast, and I went back to bed about seven thirty. I was up again at noon to get Zane out and then right back in bed until five. I fed and got Zane out again. I had just enough energy to take dishes out and put them in the dishwasher and get a shower. Now unless it’s to eat, drink, or get puppies out, I probably won’t move again until bed time which will be early!

Before I move away from Valentine’s day, I want to highlight a post from a blog for which I plan to have a permanent link when I can figure out where it should go and how to do it. I really wish that when I was a single adult, someone had given me the advice Marvelyne Engle gives in her post

its valentines day love it or

.

I’ve noticed in the pre-Valentine’s day commercials, the guys really are under pressure! Jewelry stores stay open later, so the guy can get his valentine the perfect gift. Frankly, very few commercials target women getting there guys something. Maybe it’s because something from the home improvement or hardware store just isn’t very romantic, but it is what they want. We occasionally do something out of the ordinary for Valentine’s Day, and I really don’t expect it. Last week I offered to look at his mail for some reason, and he asked me not to look, because there was a surprise he didn’t want me to see. He’s disappointed, because he ordered it mid-January. There’s been a shipping screw-up, so I won’t see it today. He did just call to tell me he was bringing home a sub from Jimmy John’s for supper. The first year we were married, I asked Phil to pick up a CD I really wanted, because I wasn’t that familiar with how to get to the record store yet. (perhaps it should have stayed that way, and now with music online, it’s so much worse!) The year before on Valentine’s day 1996, he surprised me by proposing to me on Valentine’s day. My friends and professors had it all planned about who would provide transportation to my dorm etc. It’s a memory we’ll always cherish. Then ten years later and six years ago on Tuesday the 14th, 2006, we closed on the house. I was really ambivalent about it, or maybe it’s closer to the truth to say I was kicking and screaming. But we both continue to love where we live. I remember another memorable Valentine’s Day when we went out to eat at an Irish pub/restaurant we both love called the Local.

Like Marvelyne says in her blog post, , I feel such gratitude to have a love every day — not just on Valentine’s Day. Although I was joking earlier about the home improvement and hardware stores, Phil still surprises me with things just because. After my last post about drinking vessels, I wondered if I should have written part two when he said he finally ordered three sets of six mugs of all different colors. At first I was taken aback thinking we probably didn’t need to be spending the money, but then I saw them! They are 15 OZ mugs which means that even a ten OZ drink still leaves room at the top. In combination with Phil’s tremors, our ten OZ mugs were the cause for splashing hot liquid. Apparently, he, too, was getting tired of me consistently breaking the ceramic mugs hung by their mouths on the old mug trees. Each set of mugs came with it’s own tree with six hooks, and the mugs hang from the handles which means more stability. I soon took Phil’s suggestion and divided the mug trees into two colors. On the left are Phil’s and my favorite colors — blue and green respectively. The blue is between a teal and cornflower blue with some gray undertones for a little diffusion — very pretty. The green is a beautiful, bright, shiny mint green. The middle tree has bright yellow and orange mugs. And appropriately just as in politics, on the right are the pink and dark red mugs.

I can’t end without saying a word about how affected I have been by the death of Whitney Houston. I’m sure whether it was directly or indirectly, the drugs contributed to her dying so young. She was one of my favorite female singers from the eighties and nineties, and I definitely hear her influence in singers I enjoy today in both Christian and secular music — many of whom I follow on Twitter. There was an immediate outcry of shocked tweets about her death, that of Edda James, and the suicide of Don Cornelius of Soul Train fame. Edda was older/ill, and I had the sense she’d been at peace with her life. I wonder if either Whiteny or Don knew how much they were loved/valued when they were alive. Suicide and drugs are signs of such unhappiness, and it’s very sad to me that the tributes are more prevalent now that they are gone. I wonder if showing more love might have kept them alive to die more peacefully and naturally.

Finally, there is the dad shooting his daughter Hannah’s lap top in a Youtube video called Facebook Parenting for the Troubled Teen. I’ve read so many opinions about this, and my opinion is kind of a mix. First, there’s whether this shooting should have been put out publicly. My answer is no, although I guess many people support it including those who want to give the dad his own TV show. Granted, just like this blog, the facebook post was public information. In my opinion, teenagers will be teenagers, and at least if they’re writing it, it may be better than other ways in which they could rebel. I was lucky enough growing up that I could write whatever I wanted in Braille, and my parents didn’t know it. I was glad I had the outlet of writing to get rid of some of that nastiness from inside of me. I expect Hannah will find other computers to use for her facebook wall writing. But If Hannah’s writing option is taken away, I expect Hannah will find ways to act out in more destructive ways. I hope the parents are ready for the real rollercoaster ride coming. The dad said on the youtube video that it was going to get a lot worse for Hannah, but I think it will probably get a lot worse for the parents too.

Although I don’t agree with some of the psycho-babble about devaluing kids, I do agree that parents’ using a gun or some other means of destroying kids’ property is a power trip and a lack of self control. What are they going to do when there isn’t an object to shoot? Are they going to shoot the kid next? What kind of behavior does this model for the kid? If she doesn’t like something, she can just destroy the object symbolizing it, and it’s perfectly OK. I wonder if she’s even safe in that home. Rebecca Kragnes and Zane (Black Labrador and Seeing Eye Dog)
E-Mail: rebeccak
Twitter: RebeccaKragnes
http://www.rebeccak.com

Using Your Musical Influences to Energize Your Piano Playing!

My mentor David Lanz has told me that amateurs borrow, but professionals steal. Having stolen his title from his blog post, I am officially a professional! Seriously though, David wrote an excellent blog entry called
Using Your Musical Influences to Energize Your Piano Playing!

And of course, I do just about every Sunday night at the Malt Shop. But what about in composing? As probably most of you know, I’ve had this awful composing block for years. I don’t even enjoy playing piano at home, which is sad for many reasons. I have a wonderful instrument, and composing used to bring me such joy. It was almost effortless, and I just sat back and let the music form itself. even though David’s entry is the truth, it has taken my thoughts in very very different directions. most people know that I’ve had ongoing issues with depression, and some of that has had to do with Phil’s precarious health of late. I take medication to keep me from the darkest of it, but I also have gone to therapy just about every week for the last eleven months. Being in therapy isn’t unusual for me, but this has been a very different, more intense kind of therapy. Having a Master’s in Community Counseling myself, I learned how insurance companies work. They like the quick fix therapy comparatively speaking called cognitive behavioral therapy. The theory is basically that if your thoughts and behaviors change, the problems will resolve themselves. And sometimes it works. The psychiatrist who monitors my medication referred me to a therapist right next door to him, and her approach is different and deeper. We’ve concluded that for reasons I won’t express here other than my blindness and related issues, I am a people pleaser in many areas of my life. I always feel like I have to compensate and work ten times harder than the next person, because who I am isn’t good enough, or there’s always something wrong with me. If I don’t contribute in one area, I have to find a way to contribute doubly in others. This heavily contributes to my depression.

What does this have to do with musical roots? Everything! David Lanz and other pianists and new age artists are definitely some of my influences, but I’ve always known they weren’t the whole picture. For anyone who follows me on twitter, you know I follow a lot of different kinds of musicians. I love Christian contemporary, gospel, and
R&B music. But it probably doesn’t show as much in my compositions, because I’ve been afraid to let it. I’m so scared of alienating my audience by any reference to these kinds of music, and it’s heart breaking. My therapist has theorized that my psyche has shut down the music until I can figure out how to get around the barriers of my low self worth and my motivation to please others first in my music before pleasing myself. It is a resounding theme through a lot of my life, and in many areas, I can put my needs aside and let others come first. But because the music is a part of me, I can’t do that without it becoming totally obvious and lackluster. That doesn’t please anyone. There’s always a certain amount of tension between being fulfilled as an artist and that customer service stuff, but right now, the wrestling match has shut down the whole operation. Even on the periphery of music, I think about the customers verses myself. People aren’t buying CD’s anymore. I made a pledge to try to only get digital files to keep the piles from getting anymore out of control. Everyone is moving that direction with IDevices and other MP3 players. So even if somehow I put together a decent album, do I go to the considerable expense of getting physical CD’s? I’m not selling in any stores besides CD Baby, so I’m just not sure. If I don’t create a physical CD, what kind of package do I create in terms of digital booklets etc.? Again, people buy the digital music. Is a digital booklet important? Is there a way to sell something physical other than CD’s with the digital files on it which would be lower cost? So I continue to be frozen in terms of composition until I figure out how to free myself.

I’m also dealing with another quandary having to do with music and worth. People often ask me if I teach piano lessons, and I generally say I don’t with one exception. If someone has the talent to work up a piece, and they want my help enhancing it, I charge $20 an hour to work with them. This is for people I don’t know. If someone I knew who considered me a friend asked me to do this in the name of friendship as has happened, I have no problem giving him/her ideas over the phone about how to make it better. This is the thing David has done for me, and from there I took the ball and ran with it. That wasn’t enough for this person, so I have committed to helping at the person’s house once. If I was making more money than I am, I might consider doing something like this on an ongoing basis for a friend. David certainly gave me his time and attention, and I really believe in passing it on,. the problems I see coming are several fold. First, this person is talented in certain genres but claims not to be able to play others. I am to help with a project for which this person is being asked to play an uncomfortable genre, and it’s probably a fair bet this person is going to get paid. If we go beyond the commitment of this first session, do I ask for money? Where does friendship end and professional capacity begin?

am I able to teach this person how to play something from square 1? My proviso about giving lessons has always been that the “pupils” have to have the talent to work up the song they want to learn, and I’ll help them find ways of enhancing it. To learn note for note, as in a classical piece, sometimes the hands have to be separated and put back together to get the whole picture. For jazz, break-down and analysis of chords and slowing down melody during the learning process can be helpful if they race by too fast to catch them by ear. Aside from classical and some jazz which can be highly intricate, I believe anyone who has an ear for one genre can pick up others fairly easily within reason. One instrument can’t replicate the full sound of an album full of instruments or the specific sound of voices and other instruments. One friend told me that making up for that is where imagination comes, and I think that’s accurate. This person is saying he/she “can’t” play this genre, so I’m guessing no work-up or preparation will have been done before my visit. What am I worth, and how much do I do in the name of friendship? is my teaching it for them really going to in the long run? Or will I be getting another phone call asking in the name of friendship to teach more songs in this genre? Am I really going to have the patience for this? Aside from methodologies for more teaching/learning classical and jazz, I don’t know if this can really be taught without some innate talent to begin. It’s difficult for me to understand how one genre can be learned but another is completely impossible to start.

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