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Posts by Laura Ritchie

Remembering Mark

(2 min read, 4 minute listen. Trigger warning – death mention)

Sometimes I wake up in the night. Someone recently asked me if I get enough sleep. I said yes. I lied. I think I burn bright – sometimes like a candle, sometimes a star, sometimes a wildfire, and then when I’m consumed I sleep hard. And when you’re in that creative flow of ideas, who wants to turn out the light?

Last night at some ungodly hour – before the dawn, but it looked like the dawn as the full moon was out – I was thinking and there were sounds and words in my head, and there was something about that moon that triggered a memory – and when the morning did come I went searching for an old recording. I’ve never shared it. There are lots of things I’ve never shared, and that’s interesting because I’m writing about perceptions – worries, fears, our minds – and how things get in our way and stop us doing things sometimes. They stop the #YesICan. So I am sharing this. It’s a shame it comes some 11 years after the guy in the video with me passed. (damn you, Mark)

People don’t really leave us though, do they?

Mark and I would record stuff – for hours. We spent hours. Sometimes there would be no talking at all, just playing and then maybe a frantic scribble of a fragment on paper, and, well some more playing. A friend of his from London recorded this as part of some educational project I think – I don’t even know his name. This video was one of the last things Mark gave to me – this and a copy of a piece called Ave Verum that we did and redid, and he finally finished early in 2009. I lost that CD, and I still look for it in the hopes that I’ll find it one day.

I was his string orchestra for years. I never really knew where the stuff I did ended up – he did something for National Geographic about mongooses and there was a film score and various music tracks. We both burned like candles and went for hours. Listening, playing, – just one more line – maybe I could be a violin this time, or use another bow, or different vibrato to sound like more people? Yep, why not? (just after 2 mins here you can hear all the cellos. -the violin-cellos too. I’m the strings.)

 

I don’t know why today I thought of you so strongly, Mark, but really – damn you for leaving. You taught me an awful lot and got me to do a lot of musical letting go and just being. I think you knew that. I’m sure you did. I’m telling the world on your behalf anyway. Those were good days, or nights rather, and I don’t think I slept enough then either.

There are so many wonderful people who come into our lives and leave footprints. It is good to remember them when they are gone, but I’m reminded more so than ever to celebrate them now.

 

A little quieter

Yesterday marked the end of one of my taught classes. I had online face to face meetings with a dozen masters students, to supplement their written work. I haven’t actually had conversations with so many people on one day in – well months. After that day of meetings and typing was done, I was exhausted, and I thought.

I miss them, now, and I anticipate missing them in the weeks to come.

After teaching ends there is normally a lull. A quiet descends. ‘It’ doesn’t end  – there is an avalanche of marking, reading individual essays and providing useful comments, which consumes my time, but the seeing people ends.

In these past few months, by necessity, there has been less and less seeing of people. Read more

I, Mother

I am reminded it is American Mother’s Day. (I always forget, as here in the UK it is months earlier, and the origins of the holiday are about allowing the workers to return to their ‘mother’ parish, not about celebrating ‘mommy’) Still, it has become an expected cultural landmark in the US of A, and many they will enjoy this holiday; please feel celebrated. Read more

Conversation time: Your thoughts?

In life I want to…. [insert your goal/dream here]

was exactly how I started the hour-long online session that was the first of UCLA’s ‘Conversations with TEDx Speakers‘ series. You may ask- Laura, did you do a TEDx talk? Did I miss that?? well, not yet you didn’t. It *was* scheduled for 30 May, and then COVID-19 happened. You probably have things that were put on hold too?  … hold that thought (whatever it is you’re thinking)…

See, my [insert your goal here] thought might have been my TEDx talk. I have lots of goals – imagine like when sunlight shines through a solitaire cut crystal and there are suddenly rainbows everywhere – yep, that’s how I am with dreams and goals. Giving the TEDx talk was definitely a big rainbow of mine. I had the airplane ticket on hold, accommodation planned, the talk drafted (with several versions of improvements), and I even knew what I was going to wear – and yes, each bit of clothing had a story – not that anyone would know that, but I had thought it through. Yes, life changed. No, my goals have not gone away.

What about your goals now?

These are strange times, and figuring them out takes thought and action from each of us. I do not mean ‘go get ’em’ action, but mental processing to understand the situation, how you fit in it, what it means, where now, and what on earth comes next? These things impact us all.

Let’s keep the conversation going.

I want to talk; I want to think; and I want to engage. In times of isolation, more than ever we need to conscientiously reach out.

Let’s start with the online conversation UCLA hosted, and then let’s go from there:

UCLA Conversations with TEDx Speakers: Dr. Laura Ritchie from Visual Arts on Vimeo.

Since this conversation aired, the research project I mentioned has been drafted and submitted as  a paper for peer review. Honestly I can say that even since then life has changed. There is no ‘new normal’. Nope. There is every day. Every morning a new day unfolds and sometimes there are great days where, like the best of times, rainbows of thoughts shoot out with every breath as the day dawns, and other days where well, breakfast is cookies because I can’t really face another Wheatabix or bit of stale toast, and I know there’s no grocery shopping scheduled for almost a whole week yet.

Adapting to a genuinely new situation is not something many people are actually prepared for.

(why would they be?) When you do figure it out a bit, then even on the days when it’s cookies for breakfast because they were there and you didn’t think you could face anything that took effort, you can find a way to look at them and think – damn! I got *cookies* for breakfast! 🙂 You can find a rainbow in the smallest, simplest of things.

Although the earth has been shaken, and on very practical levels we need to be sensible and direct attention to solving the problem of infection and disease, I look forward to new ways of being, doing, and seeing that are indeed not normal.

  • Have you developed strategies for being or doing that are different to before?

I believe in ideas (yours and mine) and I believe they are worth sharing.

  • What came out of the conversation above for you?

  • Are there topics you would like discussed?

Join in. I don’t think this is over, and there’s a long way to go to understand and navigate what has become a pivotal moment in all our lives. I invite you to take the time to comment, say what you think, and be part of the conversation.

Laura

 

Connecting online: A shifting reality

I’ve been thinking and watching and experiencing as time unfolds, and the different processes and interactions in my life adapt to the new reality of physical separation.

‘Online’ has unquestionably become more and more a part of life.

 

Are interaction and engagement the same online?

Is it *just* that there’s a screen between us?

No. Yes. Well no, but, maybe

– it’s complicated.

Actually it is different.

Everything is different. It is a different mode of being, and unlike what we’re used to, there are different parameters being applied not only to working/playing/talking online, but to life itself and this impacts how we engage.

For example, several months ago when I chose to type something online to someone, I knew I could also go see them. It didn’t matter if they lived a continent away, the possibility existed that I could go see them (maybe not right away, but in a month or a year I could) – and that put a different sort of expectation of that mode of communication in the array of possibilities. Of course I could go see someone, that’s what people do. Physical presence was primary, even if it was a distant possibility or might not happen frequently.

Not now. That possibility as we knew it has been removed and this impacts our conception and approach to engagement. What was a supplement is now primary and we have not necessarily recognised or acknowledged, what has been removed, and certainly haven’t replaced it.

I experienced this in working with my orchestra,

who are a dedicated group of adults all eager to learn, make, and experience music together.

Over the past few weeks the orchestra has met online a couple of times, in one of these group meetings with lots of little tiles on the screen. I did warn them that we can’t all play at the same time online… but they wanted to. Nobody wanted to mute their microphones, and what resulted was like a pixelated sort of aural indigestion mixed with a touch of sea sickness. Don’t get me wrong, it was a joyous rehearsal, but definitely not anything like the traditional in-person experience. The publicly available video conferencing tools are optimised for speech not music, and in conversation, generally one person talks at a time. When everyone talks at once the software can’t cope, and when a bari sax, violin, bassoon, and oboe (amongst a dozen other instrumentalists) all compete to be heard it definitely has a hard time deciding which participant should be prioritised.  There is no real chance of amalgamating the sounds at once, and in terms of hearing what’s going on, there was also the delay factor – that is what gives it a touch of sea sickness.

Where does this leave us? Does this mean rehearsing online is a failure or has no purpose?

Not at all.

It is DIFFERENT.

After the second rehearsal, I found myself really using every ounce of my teaching knowledge to understand the experience of all those online – the learner/rehearsal participant and me as the leader/teacher. Now I know the person in the fancy shoes (I’m avoiding saying ‘standing at the front’) in a teaching setting should not be a “leader” (yes read that with a cliche definition of ‘leader’ with all the stereotypical baggage that goes with it) but there is a WHOLE lot of unspoken perception and awareness that goes will skillful facilitation of a group to enable each person to both come to the experience and give of themselves during the experience in a way that feels free and acknowledges their individual value. That sort of leadership is needed. Maybe it should be called ‘thinkership’ or something. (answers in the post please)

I was, and am, thinking –

what is missing? what do we want? what do we need?

How are we impacted by what has been taken away and how can we recognise this and then (possibly) heal those gaps and move forward?

Can we move forward without recognising this?

I don’t think so really. We may tread water, but not move forward. Ultimately there are cracks in our reality and without seeing them, it is difficult to be able to look at what we do have – technologically as well as at our physical disposal (wherever we are) – and then figure out how to use these things.

One important thing is not to attempt a direct substitution. It goes wrong with the best algorithms… lemons become lemon cleanser or this absolute cracker from a few years ago:

 

sweet toy, but the family might be hungry…

One thing does not equal the other, even when it sounds the same.

We’re just having our lecture online. Um, no. not just.

I was struck by the orchestra’s last rehearsal – because they are all so open, honest, and forthright. We all TALKED on the session, and afterwards, discussing what was good, what was missing, and I am the first to admit that I do not have a solution.

Good things came out of those online sessions:

  • We saw everyone. oh that was nice to see others!
  • People’s names went with face and instruments at the same time. -sometimes in a big group that gets lost, and it brought people together
  • It was good to interact with me – I conducted with extra life-sized gestures.
  • They heard themselves individually- at home you hear your own part.

It was a different focus with a different outcome and it was definitely a different experience.

We have to have the opportunity to think in new ways. This is a challenge and I don’t really have answers yet, but at least with the orchestra, we are carving a new path – together. In the meantime we are still meeting, but the focus has shifted. It’s not the same, and these new directions are both challenging and exciting,

and yes, I’m learning too.

Featured image CC BY-SA-NC by Arts Electronica

Cathedral Sunrise

Got it!

Today was the day the sun rose directly behind the Cathedral. This happens twice a year and I do like being here for these moments. Two days ago I took a picture as it was nearly there.

I went outside, stood barefoot (bit cold, but nice to feel the ground beneath my feet) and watched with reverence as the sun rose. You can see the Cathedral, and yes, it is a picture of the sunrise.

you need to look beyond the horizon to see it

 

 

Pivotal Moments & Goals

Over the past month the Earth has handed us a pivotal moment. Two months ago each of us could say: ‘I had plans to…’, whether that be an everyday activity or a career aspiration. We are interested in whether the global events of the past two months have impacted your attitude toward your planned goals.

This is the opening paragraph of my current research study. I invite you to consider completing the questionnaire.

I am very much hoping to gain insight about the perspective of people across the world from all walks of life.

The questionnaire has gained Ethical Approval from the University of Chichester, and is 100% anonymous. The first page gives all the details & information for you to give informed consent before completing it (no names, just a tick box). There are four main questions, asking you to think about your goal then and now. Overall it should take 5-10 minutes of your time.

Here is the link to the questionnaire: https://chichpscyh.eu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_9uHU1JblxmpAhOl

Thank you!

Laura

There’s a mouse in the house

Oh crap. Not again. I thought of titling this ‘unwanted visitors’ but at this time of crisis in the world, I did not want to allow for misinterpretation. We DO have visitors and they (the people) are most welcome and wanted. However, I feel very differently about the rodents I found this morning IN MY KITCHEN.

For anyone who knows me, or anyone who read my post yesterday, you probably know that I live opposite a magnificent field. In fact this morning looked like we are one day away from the magic sunrise just behind the Cathedral. This was my view from 6:42 – 6:44 today:

It is pretty awesome.

I admit that when I run out the front door (rainbows shooting out of my early-bird eyes) I *sometimes* absentmindedly forget to shut the door – yes, even when it’s cold out.

In our household people wake up early, and the smell of coffee, breakfast, and the billows of warm air must be appealing to (for lack of a less desirable word) rodents. -and I’m learning that rodents can be smart. They seem to figure out patterns and use them to their advantage- Like, for example THE DOOR IS OPEN AND THERE’S A WARM PLACE WITH FREE FOOD.

Oh fork. Forking hall.

Now we have mice. Not even mouse. Mice, and big ones.

I went into high hear and built a ‘defense’ by the side of the fridge of whatever we had – wheatabix box, plastic bags, found the spare yoga mat fit in the gap well, but when I turned away to get something else to build that wall higher, they still get through.

This was really not what I asked for today. I really don’t like little (or big) scuttly things (8 legged ones are worse than 4, but when you can actually see them look back at you the number of legs stops mattering).

I did get brave and open the fridge, but there was one INSIDE just looking at me. ! I heard they get everywhere, but really !!

The last straw, and the one that relegated me back to my bedroom with the door closed, under two duvets (yep, that’s where I’m typing) was what I found when I went to put the clothes in the dryer. (our dryer is in the kitchen – it’s a UK thing). Holy unmerciful mice, this was the rodent king, looking at me smugly like he just belonged there. <– See what I did just there – that thing was so big I gave IT a person pronoun.

Do not like. 🙁

I hope I’m safe in bed for now. My big children will save me. They can deal with the mice – I’m not sure they will fit in the humane trap (the mice) and beside, they ate all the peanut butter (the children).

Let’s hope the rest of the month is better.

Mouse peeping out on top of my fridge defense

Mouse IN the fridge.

Giant mouse in the dryer

 

 

On Time

I woke up this morning and my first thought was, well it feels good to sleep until 8am. (it was 6:15) I lay there for a while and when I leapt out of bed and opened the curtain, I was greeted with this magnificent sight.

Every year as the earth tilts on its axis and the seasons change,  I watch the sunrise slowly (sometimes quickly) swing from left to right and back again. When on the left, we get more daylight, the sun rises high in the sky, and when on the right (South-Eastern sunrise) we have more darkness in the winter. In a few days the sun will rise right over the Cathedral. I wonder if the clouds will oblige and I’ll catch it. A few years ago I nearly caught it:

These past few weeks time has melted and stretched all at once. Some days last a month and others never progress past breakfast. I mentioned to a friend someone had said the week now has three days: yesterday, today, and tomorrow. I get that, but still time has its schedule. I’m reminded of the sunrise and the changing patterns of the seasons. The baby leaves are just about to burst out of so many trees. I love that, and am so fortunate that where I live there are several types of baby leaves that come out over the course of a few weeks. Spring is not just a few days, like a high-powered microwave thaw setting that links winter to summer. We gently melt into spring – a full, calm, refreshing shavasana accompanied by the most glorious of birdsong.

In this time where we stop moving as we did, and the earth keeps moving as it always has, I wonder if and how we shift our awareness- of time, of task, of people.

I’ve taken the time to look up. I always liked looking up – my pink ipad is engraved with:

Always Look Up

as the sky adores the sun

Looking up, and out is a way to find a different kind of mobility, and even though it seems the shape of time has changed, it’s still there just as it was. I’m reminded of my husband telling me stories of the stars: When Procyon rises before the dawn, it’s time to plant the crops (because it means the Nile will flood soon).

Different time.

Sun time. Star time. Bird time.

We can find our time, it’s not lost and neither are we.

Let the music play!

Home bound does not mean life stops.  But the past week has been challenging and we’ve seen the emotional effects and the physical constraints of suddenly living in close quarters with a house full.

ps I LOVE my family and the extra time from not commuting is bliss, but we tend to do either noisy or physical things and in an open plan big room… I’ll leave you to imagine dance routines, cello lessons, Mario Kart, essay writing, computer programming, and we haven’t even gotten to the art instillations yet. (and yes, I am serious)

One of my beloved weekly activities (in normal times) is leading ECCO, the Encore! Chichester Community Orchestra which is an absolutely lovely, gregarious, inspiring group of adult amateur musicians. There are a regular group of 35-40 who come together to play all sorts of music, and we welcome everybody. The most inspiring thing is how everyone comes together – musically and as a cross-section of the community.

When we disbanded rehearsals, a decision I took on Friday 13th, there was a definite sense of loss. We have a phone group and there was a sudden influx of messages saying ‘thank you for taking this difficult decision, but also I am so sad that we have to do this.’ As the days progressed it became very clear there were going to be no physical rehearsals any time soon.

It was when my friend Duane (who has done super cool things for and with me in the past like this and this) posted this video on Instagram.

 

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A beautiful song by Queen Liliuokalani “Ku’u Pua I Paokalani”

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He is always doing fantastic things, and I wrote to him to ask if perhaps my orchestra could play it… He came back to me with the best message:

Interesting history of the song. The song was written when the queen was imprisoned under house arrest for 8 months after the fall of the monarchy at the turn of the century. They tried to isolate her but she was allowed to receive flowers from her garden picked by an 11 year old boy, who secretly wrapped them in newspapers so she could at least hear about what was going on in Hawaii. The lyrics talk about the beautiful flowers

He also said that indeed he had the parts, and he would not only send the parts, but sent a video on how to improvise a percussion part. (you can see that video HERE) Duane is a very gifted musician and teacher, and he demonstrated on a case, really clearly exactly how to make the sounds and what rhythm to use. He also gave specific bar numbers with reference to the score so our percussionist could follow.

I wrote to the orchestra with the proposed project… we are going to make a virtual piece! I’d edit the sound and make a video and it will even be shared as a conference presentation at the #OER20 online conference (was going to be in London, but life has changed for us all).

Then these two videos arrived…

You know, some people say there are barriers to so many things in life, including technology. I say poppycock. (that’s a suitably silly thing to say, isn’t it?) Actually generally I say YES I CAN – well, I might not say anything, but my smile will say that to you, and chances are you will find a way. I must admit I never expected this from our trombone player, Mark:

and Dorothy has definitely risen to the challenge of creating a Hawaiian Ipu for her role as percussionist.

I’ve learned that being physically apart does not mean ‘isolated’. This will be joyful, and already it has generated well needed smiles and laughter. We will create our virtual performance and record it by April 1. Watch this space! If you’d like to be an honorary ECCO (encore! Chichester Community Orchestra) member, you are welcome to join in with the project HERE.

In the meantime, in whatever way you can, please – let the music play on!

(featured image by violscraper CC BY-NC)