Search This Blog

Monday, May 26, 2014


I apologize for not writing very much recently. An interesting series of events occurred recently. This is the busy season of the year, and I got sucked into the vortex of end-of-school-year activities and recitals and graduations and preparing for all of these events. Then a surprise occurred. While I was feeding my big animals last week, I tripped sideways on some small stones that jetted out of the ground, and the force of my hitting those stones tossed me into the air in a trajectory arc that dumped  me with a thud on my right shoulder. The result is a broken humerus bone and a smashed right shoulder. I have surgery scheduled for tomorrow at 1:45 PM with a shoulder expert doctor. In the meantime, however, it has been interesting to participate in the activities I have listed above with the use of one hand.

I am getting rather good at the use of my left hand alone; I have had practice. If you recall, I recently posted an article about becoming left-handed. In this article I talked about the lessons that I learned on this new skill set journey. If you missed the article the first time, Click here.

I am still able to write, and I anticipate that I may have a little bit more free time to do so in the future after the surgery, but for now it is easier for me to dictate rather than type. I also find that I lack energy right now due to the medications. I can work for a few minutes, then I need a nap.

What this means for the future I will not know until after the surgery. Until then, I am hanging in there. My kiddos gave a nice studio recital yesterday. Many students and parents went out of their way to help me so that things went smoothly. We will see what lessons this latest surprise will reveal to us.

Happy Memorial Day!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Monday Morning Check In: Change the Story

Written by Paula E. Bird, copyright 2014

Last week I had a particularly difficult lesson with one of my young nine-year-old students. Actually, I should say that I had another particularly difficult lesson. The student is troublesome, because for the first year of lessons, her mother and I spent about 98% of our lesson and practice time addressing unproductive behaviors.

On the day after her lesson, I was getting ready for my day and taking a shower. (Don't you find that some of your greatest ideas come while taking a shower?). As I showered, I ran over in my mind the students that I had taught the day before. Amidst many sighs, I thought about the unproductive behavior and then about the kinds of general misbehaviors that I had encountered in the last few lessons. I thought about how I felt during these periods of my student's acting up and acting out and about how her mother responded as well. Then I said to myself aloud, "You'll just have to change her story." And I shrugged and prepared to get out of the shower and get on with my day.

Wait! Something about what I said resonated with me. "Change her story." What was her story? My student's story was the story that I told myself about her every time I thought about her. My student's story was the story that her mother revealed with every interaction she had with her daughter. I do not know about any other stories I could learn about this child, such as from her teachers, classmates, or her father. I suspect there are similar stories in those quarters as mine.

Yes, the child could drive us nuts with her misbehaviors, but take a step back and think about this. She is, after all, a child. We are the grownups. We are the ones who are charged with knowing (or finding out) how to handle these things.

I wanted to change her story because I wanted to change the way that I thought about her. I wanted to change my thinking about her in order to change my feelings and behavior towards her. When I began to think about our teacher-student relationship as they related to basic story lines, I then recalled one lesson when this child and I had joked about making up a story with the child as the center figure. Our working title was, "The Day that Julia Turned into an Alligator." (Fictional Name). I do not recall why we came up with the idea of making the child into an alligator; I suspect it had everything to do with the kind of behavior that the child exhibited that day. I do recall that by turning our thoughts and feelings into a story that we could share together, we built a rather interesting connection between us that day, and I believe that this connection is what the child needs. She loves to give me hugs during her lesson, especially at her most difficult moments. (Maybe we should have made her turn into a Porcupine in the story since she likes to be so prickly).

This story idea gave me an even bigger idea that I would like to share with you. Why not create a story that features the child but not as a child?  The process of creating a story will help to reveal the nature of our thinking about the child. Perhaps once we fully understand our feelings and thoughts about the child will we then be able to effectuate a change in those feelings and thoughts by changing the story.

Here are the basic ingredients to get you started on creating your own story about one of your students. You need a beginning, a middle, and an ending. The story can be three lines long or much more depending on your needs.

Once upon a time, there was a girl/boy named _____. _____ was a _____ (animal, bird, amphibian, flower, insect, dragon, fictional character).

_____ had a problem (or a need): {name the problem or need and explain it}

{Write how _____ struggled to solve the problem or fulfill the need or grow stronger to handle the problem better}

Then one day, _____ {describe the culmination of the struggle}

Here is an example of such a story (no names, although I bear an uncanny resemblance to the old, wise teacher).

Once upon a time, there was a very old and wise teacher who loved to open the front door of her little cottage and welcome in the birds and animals of the forest. Then when the birds and animals would come to visit, the gentle teacher would allow them to enter her cottage and talk with her a while. Sometimes they would play games together, and sometimes they would play music together.

One day a very unusual creature came to the teacher's cottage and demanded to be let in. The teacher happily opened the door to welcome the newcomer, but then she was surprised when during the course of the visit the creature changed into a bird and began to flit around the room. At first the teacher ran after the bird and tried to catch it to keep it still in one place, but just as she got close enough to snatch the bird into her hands, the bird changed into a porcupine. The teacher cautiously stepped back away from the porcupine lest she be pricked by any of the animal's quills.

The next time the creature came to visit, the creature turned into an alligator, which carelessly swung its enormous tail from side to side as it walked, knocking over the teacher's lovely delicate treasures on the cottage bookshelf. The teacher hurried over to catch the items that the alligator had knocked over with its tail. Then the creature turned into a lion and raised her gigantic paws to claw the air and hissed loudly at the teacher.

"My Goodness," the teacher said to herself. "It's very difficult to love this creature! It won't let me near it. I can't get close enough to give it a hug." Still, the teacher would open the door and let the creature come into the cottage and visit. The creature took many forms: a braying donkey, a jumping rabbit, a squawking crow, and a screeching monkey. The teacher was kept very busy trying to keep up with all of the different shapes and noises. Sometimes when other animals were visiting at the same time, this new creature would bump into the other animals with its tail or scare away the other animals with its unpleasant noises.

One time the creature was skittering about on quiet feet, appearing like a little dormouse or squirrel. The wise, old teacher had her back turned to pick up her violin and play some songs for her visitors and did not realize that the creature -- who had now become a quiet, little squirrel -- had sneaked up behind her. When the teacher swung her violin up onto her shoulder and turned around to play music, the scroll of her violin smacked the little creature's head with a resounding thump that brought tears to the little creature's enormous black eyes. The teacher felt very sad about having hurt the little creature, but she did not know how to explain the mishap. The little creature spent the rest of that visit along the back fringe of the other animals who were there to visit.

The wise, old teacher was determined that she would show this creature that it could be loved, no matter what kind of animal it became. It took courage and some time to work up enough nerve to do this. One day the teacher was convinced that she would be able to love the creature no matter what it would turn into that day. She hatched a plan and thought about her plan for several days, over and over. She thought of all the ways that she could show her love to the creature, no matter what the creature turned into. She practiced smiling a lot, no matter how she felt, even when she did not feel like smiling very much because she was tired or had a sniffle or had eaten horrid liver snaps in her oatmeal (which was a mistake, since she thought she had put crushed almonds in her porridge but had forgotten to put her glasses on when she cooked her breakfast).

One day the teacher was ready. She smiled to herself all day as she anticipated seeing the creature and putting her plan into action. With each smile that she practiced, the teacher felt stronger. And a curious thing happened, the teacher did get stronger because with every smile she practiced, she grew happier. The teacher found out that it was not her music that was the magic that made the animals and birds of the forest want to visit her. Her smiles made the magic happen, and just as wonderful as magic is, we find out that the magic can grow even stronger merely by the practice of it. The teacher's constant practice of smiling brought her more and more happiness, which made the teacher smile even more.

And that is as far as I will go with the story, as it is my story to finish. Do you see how the story revealed different aspects of the teacher-student relationship? At first, the teacher welcomed visitors. The teacher thought of herself as having something to offer the visitors. This new creature, however, changed the teacher's story by causing the teacher to do things differently, to reflect more about how to be effective, and to figure out how to reach this child in a different way.

Sometimes by putting things into a story format we will discover the hidden underpinnings of the relationship. By allowing our minds to create a story format that contains the ingredients of our problem, we might instead discover that the problem is not what we first thought it was. Instead we may find ourselves digging deeper into the story-behind-the-story until we find that we have created our own solution and found our own satisfying "happily ever after."

Why not give this technique a try? You will find it is easy to get started.
Once upon a time . . .

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Unsent Letter

I was working on a series of journaling exercises this week, and one technique was to write an unsent letter to a child. I do not have children of my own, and my sister's daughter is no longer a child. So I wrote a letter to an unknown student, whom I expect to meet next year. This is the letter that I would send that student, and I thought I would share it with you.

Dear student that I will meet next season at the studio:

I know that we have just met and that you are quite young. Your life is so far ahead of you, that you cannot even glimpse the pieces of it. You look down the road ahead of you, and your eyes are not strong enough to even see as far as the horizon. My eyes, however, are much older and stronger. I can see all the way up to the horizon, maybe even beyond, because I have walked all the way to your horizon and even farther -- way farther -- as far as my own horizon. I'll be going back there again today, and I might have a chance to see even farther beyond. Because I have seen much of the landscape that you are likely to come across on your own life walk, let me give you some advice -- the kind of advice that I wish someone had taken the time to tell me when I was your age. My advice will help you to stay on this path and avoid those ragged edges along the shoulders of the road -- the places on the path that will slow you down, pull you off course, and put nails in your way that hurt you.

There will be people in your life who say things that may crush you inside. These people are not bad people, they just say things that are unthoughtful. The words sometimes come out of their mouths without much thought or concern. Perhaps they are tired, hungry, cranky, busy, or distracted by something that seems more important than you and whatever you have asked from them. Because you are so young, it will be difficult for you to understand this. Because you are still able to live in the here and now in the undeniable present moment, you will accept these thoughtless moments as deserving of importance. They are not. When someone tells you something, please accept the truth of it carefully, but better still, learn how to be your own guide and counsellor. Learn for yourself how to evaluate the state of things and the world, your desires and interests, and your love and passions. Learn how to be your own judge of whether you hit the mark, because only you will be able to know deep inside whether you are coming close to following the path that you have chosen to walk. Only you can see inside your head and heart to know whether you are fulfilling your dream. Let you be the one who decides whether you are successful.

There are many successful people today who were not successful for a long time. Although they knew that they were doing the right thing and doing their best work, they were not receiving the praise, encouragement, or acceptance that they thought their work deserved. I am sure that they felt just terrible, disappointed, and perhaps discouraged and lost. I know that I felt that way myself. But something inside them spoke up and demanded that they keep on walking and doing anyway, because their work was worthwhile and good, maybe even visionary. Perhaps the others around them were not ready to receive and therefore could not recognize.

This decision to keep going is a very hard thing to do, so start now working on your ability to do it. You are about to start your music lessons, and you will learn how to work through tricky things from the very first lesson you have with your teacher. Embrace this lesson and learn how to apply it to everything else in your life. As you work on this most important life skill -- the ability to persevere -- let the music that you create give you the cushion that you need to rest your problems, your sorrows, your struggles, your fears, and your joy. Let your music help you to connect with others and more importantly with yourself. Let your music be your vehicle to carry you through the many parts of your life journey. Let your music be your answer to anyone who tells you that you cannot do something or that you fall short of the mark. Let your music be a constant reminder that you have it in you to do the impossible, to believe the incredible, and to endure the unbearable. Learn to listen to the words in your heart first so that your mind will be reassured.

Then, and only then, after you know for yourself what is the truth for you, only then open the door to admit the opinions, thoughts, and words of others. Because now you will have the truthful answer in your heart with which to measure all else. If other's words and pictures do not match those that your heart knows to be true, do not admit them into yourself. Let them bounce off your heart's outer walls and skitter away like confetti into the air. When you do receive truth from another, let it add to the spark inside of you. Embrace it. Let it warm your heart, and cushion your joy.

You will have a long and wonderful journey filled with beauty and knowledge and joy.