Java Zen:Thinking Out Loud Tuesday, 2017.07.25
As an afterthought, it seems hardly proper to write of life without once
mentioning happiness; so we shall let the reader answer this question for
himself: who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived
or he who has stayed securely on shore and merely existed?

		Hunter S. Thompson

2005.12.06

Picking Up the Cello at Age 44

GPE - Cello

Since I was about age 10, I though the cello would be the coolest instrument to play. Thirty four years later that hunch is confirmed. I’ve started playing cello and it is cool. Its like giving music a hug. Had my first lesson a little less than 3 months ago. Before that I hadn’t so much as touched a cello. I’m certain Janet and my friend Reed Bernstein (a violin maker) were the only people who ever knew of this secret ambition. Janet and I talked on occasion about finding a cello, but the opportunity never happened.

It’s partly an experiment and partly by design in keeping with this year’s “And now for something completely different.” theme. With my world turned on end and spun out of orbit, the opportunity is there for learning new things. Much of my thinking has returned to that childlike state of wonder where all things are possible and no rules apply. Fear not, I’ve retained my values and sense of what is right and wrong. Its just that many things I cared about no longer matter and space has opened up to be curious about anything that crosses my path. There are many grown-up attitudes that more than ever strike me as tragically sardonic, self imposed and needlessly limiting to the human potential. As adults, we limit ourselves unduly with “supposed to.”

I have played piano for many years and own a beautiful Petrof baby grand. Unlike piano, the cello is demanding a far greater awareness of my entire body while playing. The balance required is surprising and it makes the skill of such masters as Yo Yo Ma and Pablo Casals all the more amazing. All those years of piano and I never learned to read music and play anything I wanted at the keyboard on sight. I’d have to pick through the score and iteratively practice until the entire piece was committed to memory. With cello, I have the opportunity to do that differently. After about 3 months of lessons, diligent practice and efforts to read music while playing, the experience just keeps getting better.

My teacher is excellent. A cellist for the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, she fits my criteria for having attained a level of recognized mastery. She’s good with adults as well, another important criteria. It must be more challenging to teach adults as there are bunches of things which we must unlearn before new lessons and understanding can result.

About a month into my practice (I’ll give myself 10 years and then decide if I have a chance at being any good.) I hit my first plateau and wasn’t sure if it was related to my clumsy technique or the quality of the cello, a high school orchestra quality instrument borrowed from my neighbor while he and his family spend a year in France. My teacher suggested we find out and handed me one of her cellos (as a professional, she has cello stuff about the place like I have computer stuff). WOW! What a difference! Yes my technique had a part, but so did the instrument. She handed me another cello, “Try this one.” DOUBLE WOW! The good news was that my technique wasn’t so far off the mark and I had already begun to outgrow the loaner instrument after one month. The bad news was the first cello I tried was a 50 year old Italian cello worth $25,000. The second cello was a 100 year old Czech instrument worth bunches more. Ouch.

We talked about what it would take to acquire an instrument which would suit my emerging skill for the next couple of years. So I hooked up with a recommended broker and settled on a $5,000 instrument made last year. It sounds wonderful! Included a better bow in the mix as well. I figured to use the money from a small life insurance policy I had on Janet to finance my studies and cello upgrades. Seems like a good use and a way to honor her musical talents.

2005.12.01

From the You-Can-Run-But-You-Cannot-Hide Department

[This post is a little out of sequence as this trip actually happen in mid August, 2005. Reading the previous few posts will give you a sense as to why. It took a little extra time to prepare the graphics and get them on line. – GPE]

You would think four months after Janet’s death I’d catch a break. Nope. The Universe has other plans and I’d be a master wizard if I could figure it out. After a mini Odyssey trying to get to Kaua’i (thanks in great measure to United Airlines – I’ll spare you the details.), I rolled up to a neat looking cottage. I found it on the Net and rented it based on photos from a “sister” cottage. This one was new and no photos had been posted to the owner’s web site. Its very beautiful, elegantly decorated and simple in a way that appeals to my Buddhist sensibilities – all except for the absence of an indoor shower. Privacy wasn’t so much the problem as there was a constant breeze up that side of the hill which makes for a chilly shower experience. I had thought to skip the whole cottage route entirely and camp on Anini beach like we had done so many times before but lacked the time to properly prepare. Well, at least I got the campground shower experience. (more…)

2005.08.01

Little Big Man Drops His Body

This is turning into a banner year for transitions here at the Engel homestead. First Janet and now Oscar has jetted on out of here. The little dude has been fighting so hard for so long. He has been seriously sick almost as long as Janet. I think his first serious brush with death was when his liver darn near quit on him close to 8 years ago. Since then it’s been major respiratory problems (kennel cough set this off), an enlarged heart and a murmur, kidney problems and finally three years ago he flipped diabetic. Turns out, true to his stubborn character, he is highly insulin resistant. Rather than needing 3 units of insulin with each meal for a dog his size, Oscar needed 15 units. By the time the vet figured out the proper dose, Oscar was pretty much blind due to cataracts. As with all his ailments, he simply adjusted and moved on. A powerful little package of inspiration in his own right. (more…)

2005.07.25

Janet’s Day of Days

I wanted to write about Janet’s last few days before the memories fade like delicate colors in the sun or the edges of objects in waining daylight. This post has been in draft mode for several months, undergone numerous revisions and will likely be revised again as I remember various points.

During the week Janet was in hospice, she said on three separate occasions “I want to go.” What an incredible forward looking statement. It wasn’t “I want to die.” or “I’m ready to die.” It was “I want to go.” The day before she died, she said “I want to go before they get here.”, referring to the impending visit by some of her family and out-of-town friends.

We had made it as clear as possible last Fall that Janet was facing a battle with the grimmest odds yet. No one we had known, met or read about had survived the predicament Janet was in. A month later, our good friend Linda would die from the very same complications Janet was dealing with. Getting the idea across to family was difficult because Janet had pulled this trigger several times in the past and ended up pulling through. Almost like crying “wolf”, but not quite. My sense was the family wasn’t completely sold on the idea this was going to be a problem. Can’t say I fault them for thinking this. I certainly knew that if anyone was going to fight in face of such odds, it was going to be Janet. And she did. Nonetheless, we made the call to family that if they wanted to see Janet while she was reasonably comfortable and available, now was the time. The family answered the call and each of her brothers, some of their family and her parents made the trip to Denver. (more…)

2004.10.28

Does evil exist?

Came across this story:

Does evil exist?

The university professor challenged his students with this question. Did God create everything that exists? A student bravely replied, “Yes, he did!”

“God created everything? The professor asked.

“Yes sir”, the student replied.

The professor answered, “If God created everything, then God created evil since evil exists, and according to the principal that our works define who we are then God is evil”. The student became quiet before such an answer. The professor was quite pleased with himself and boasted to the students that he had proven once more that the Christian faith was a myth. (more…)

2004.05.07

Two New White Papers Published

I’ve published two new white papers today, “Making Decisions While Facing Major Illness” and “Two Dimensional Information in a Four Dimensional World”. These papers were written for the Cherubim Foundation White Paper Series. They may be downloaded from the Geckopad Solutions website. Go to the Resources > Documents section. Eventually they will also be available from the Cherubim Foundation web site.

2004.05.04

Psycho Shower Scene II

This makes me laugh: What grows on show curtains.

“We were looking for the possibility that there would be pathogenic microbes (bacteria) living on the shower curtain biofilm, and they could be aerosolized and breathed in and cause problems for immune-compromised individuals,” says San Diego State University biology professor Scott Kelley.

Like, you’re gonna be surprised by this finding? Unless you live in a completely stainless steel house with an “autoclave” feature, the microbes will be found. Living like a slob has it’s requisite company, after all. Still, even the most anal retentive bag-o-biology carries around a host of nasty critters – it’s part of life. Personal hygiene is important, but the bugs are part of living on this planet. It’s like cancer, we all get it – maybe even multiple times. Most of the time the cancerous cell is too unstable to survive or our immune system successfully identifies the errant cells and clears the buggers out, wack-a-mole style, before they take hold. But that’s only most of the time.

Then, University of Colorado professor Norman Pace chimes in with…

“We were asking, when you take a shower, who are you taking a shower with? Who are you rubbing into wounds and what are you breathing?”

Setting aside for the moment the creepy feeling I get thinking about a researcher wanting to know who people take showers with and their open wounds, what’s with all the fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD)? Does Dr. Pace have a book in the works? Perhaps a super cleaning solution endorsement?

“That which does not kill me makes me stronger.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

2003.02.14

Farewells and Tributes

Said goodbye to my Grandmother this week, Lucile D. B. Engel. At 95, she finished her work here last Friday morning and set sail for the after-life. I made the drive from Denver to Sioux Falls for the funeral. While I had seen bunches of people die in the various nursing homes I’ve worked in and seen people die in hospitals, TV ER style, surrounded by a tornado of disposable medical supplies and everybody shouting (where’s the peace in that?), this was the first member of my family I’d ever seen where the light had left. And Grandma has a tremendous light. She suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune with legendary grace and humor. (more…)

2002.01.25

Marketing 101 for Medical Students and Researchers

Word Chefs have a long tradition of serving palatable word salads to the masses for as long as there have been words. Governments do it (maimed and murdered civilians are described as “collateral damage”). Corporations do it (people aren’t fired, they’re “downsized”). Caveat Emptor. Riiiiiight. More like Cave Canem. Particularly when this type of spin is applied to all things medical. Centuries of voodoo, witchcraft, hocus-pocus and colossal arrogance have endeavored to pound the idea of “Trust your doctor – ALWAYS, OR ELSE!” into the collective psyche. So such spin carries quite a bit of danger for us average Jane’s and Joe’s.

Case in point. There’s a tornado of recent controversy over the efficacy of mammograms in breast cancer diagnosis. Seven large studies of mammography have been called into question as being “seriously flawed” and according to a New York Times article by Gina Kolata, “An independent panel of experts [the PDQ screening and prevention editorial board] said there is insufficient evidence that mammograms can prevent breast cancer deaths.” Previously, this same group had said “the evidence showed mammograms, starting at age 40, prevented breast cancer deaths.” Emphasis added.1 (more…)

2001.09.12

From The More-Tears-Than-The-Oceans-Can-Hold Department

Does one really have to fret
About enlightenment?
No matter what road I travel,
I’m going home.
– Shinsho
Tear

2000.04.11

An open letter to KUSA TV in Denver and the Board of Directors for the Komen Foundation.

This letter was originally written last fall. My wife’s health over the holidays prevented me from tracking down all the contacts to whom I wished to send this letter. Her health is much improved at the moment. She is off oxygen although her energy level is considerably diminished. I apologize for the delay and hope that my comments may still be of value.

November 22, 1999

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am writing this letter in the hope of initiating a positive change in the way breast cancer survivors are treated during Denver’s Race for the Cure event. I have shared this letter with organizations and people not directly involved with the Komen Foundation’s Race for the Cure in the hope that my experiences will assist them in avoiding some of the unfortunate trends I’ve observed with the Race for the Cure event in Denver. (more…)


All content copyright © 1994 - Gregory Paul Engel, All Rights Reserved. The content or any portion thereof from this web site may not be reproduced in any form whatsoever without the written consent of Gregory Paul Engel. Queries may be sent to greg dot engel at javazen dot com.

Page 3 of 3123

No posts for this category or search criteria.