Roll With the Punches

February 10, 2014

In December, I found out from one of my contracts that they needed to cut my hours in half. I was disappointed and thought that I could talk the new dementia unit recreation coordinator into reconsidering with my Jedi mind trick knowledge of how beneficial music therapy is for clients with dementia, etc.  I called a couple of colleagues for advice, and came up with a plan to meet with the woman in person, after a lot of negative thoughts and anxiety made their way into my brain.

I was sad and nervous and had been rehearsing with myself all morning. No sooner had I walked through the door the day of my meeting, than I ran into an activities employee I know who informed me that they had just hired a new Director of Resident Life (who hadn’t started yet), and that she is also a music therapist.  I asked who it was, and as chance would have it (eh – it’s a small world – who am I kidding…) it was someone I had met at our regional conference last year. I became more relaxed after my conversation with the activities person, and decided to throw my “plan” from earlier out the window. I decided to just talk with the new rec. coordinator about regular things and then explain my situation logistically, philosophically and financially when the subject came up in an organic way. This was a much better approach, and I didn’t feel as much on my guard as I had earlier. It turns out it was a budget issue, more specifically, that our weekly sessions were taking up literally half of the monthly budget, and that they wanted to have a bit more variety on the unit.  I guess sometimes things just don’t work out! I was still somewhat frustrated though, and to add to that frustration, I had been doing a lot of cold calls in order to get my sub more work and I hadn’t heard back from any of them (even after following up) so I was a little defeated in general, especially after so many months of doing really well in that regard.

Over the next couple of days I had some moments of negativity (which is not common) but on Sunday, I just sort of accepted things and thought to myself…”with every closed door, comes an open window.” I decided to be okay with my less than successful month of job-getting, and get back into my regular mindset. Maybe something would come up?

On Monday, I signed in to my LinkedIn account to write a message to the music therapist/Director of Resident Life at the facility that was cutting my hours, just to say hello and tell her that I work with the facility she’s starting work at. When I logged in, I saw her name on the screen and was very confused as to why this person’s name was on my screen when I hadn’t done anything to bring it there, and then I realized that she had written ME a message (that same morning). Her message stated that she was leaving her private practice, and asked if I had any interest in taking on her clients (if they were interested). UM. Yes Please.

I wrote her back and told her the bizarre circumstance under which I signed on to LinkedIn to begin with, and then agreed to take any clients who wanted me. I received e-mails from three of the several contracts, and am therefore now working with an early-childhood music program (not MT, and if you’re familiar with my blog, then you know it’s not my population either), a Day Program near the hospital I work at, which includes adapted piano lessons for one – soon to be two – adult men with special needs, and an assisted living facility within the same company as others I contract with. Through the latter, I have also gotten e-mails from administrators in other facilities under the same umbrella. So basically, stuff is happening.

Also in December, a music therapist I spoke on a panel with last year got in touch with me about an opportunity working in a special needs classroom. I am not taking on much in the way of new work because my schedule is pretty full, so I asked my sub if she might be interested.  She started last week and though there have been some minor kinks to work out, I think it’s going to be a good experience for us all, and she really seems to be enjoying it.

This is such a crazy adventure in self-confidence and acceptance of the things I cannot change. I have to remind myself not to take anything personally, to continue to foster good relationships with everyone I meet, and to never never let anything keep me down for long, because something awesome is waiting around the corner if I just believe it’s there.

Scars and Stitches

January 2, 2013

In October, I got sick.

Things were coming out of my face that had no business ever seeing the light of day.  I lost my voice at the end of one day of work and then had to take a last minute emergency trip to take care of a friend in a different time zone.  It was miserable.  I was hacking and coughing and wheezing and congested and couldn’t breathe, and then my voice never came back.

I waited it out, hoping it was just a lingering case of laryngitis, but after a month and a half, I still couldn’t sing normally and my speaking voice was strained and hoarse. My interns were still leading all of the sessions (which may have actually been a blessing in disguise, because they are doing an amazing job), and I had a looming unsettling feeling of pessimism about the tumor problem in my vocal chords.

About a month ago at one of the facilities where I work, one of the nurses walked by me while I was brooding (and eavesdropping), and I heard several people say, “Heeeey! You’re back?” “How aaaare you?”  It turns out that she got sick this past summer, got laryngitis, and never got better.  And then found out that she had a nodule on her vocal chords that needed to be removed.  And then found out she would need to be on vocal rest for three weeks.

The hypochondriac that I am, I freaked out and was 100% sure that I, too, had a nodule that was going to require surgery and vocal rest, and therefore ruin my career and my life.

Here are a few of the things I learned about nodules while Googling:

NodesThey are benign.  They are polyps, lesions or blisters caused by vocal abuse or misuse.  The nurse I spoke with said that the membrane tears, and the muscles, etc. behind the fold pop out like a hernia.  I can’t find that information anywhere, so I’m not sure if it’s true, but in any case…In order to restore normal voice function, they require surgical removal followed by voice therapy paired with vocal rest.  THEY ARE AVOIDABLE.  Here’s a link in case you want to worry yourself as well!

So…I was inspired by the nurse at work, and went to the doctor (an Otolaryngologist), and found out, after a nightmarish inspection-by-videocamera (microlaryngoscopy) that occurred in my poor gag-prone throat, I found out…that I don’t have a node.  I have been sporadically worried about nodes forever, so I was relieved, to say the least.  However…

What I did find out, is that instead, I have a giant scar on my vocal chords prohibiting me from singing and speaking correctly.  What’s worse, is that it is apparently not new, which means that the five years it took me to recover from the last time I had laryngitis was probably just my vocal chords adapting to their new topography.  That’s only a theory, but it makes sense if that’s the case.

Scar VCWhere did the scar come from, you ask?  Apparently, at some point one of my vocal folds tore (probably from coughing), it almost healed, and then tore again, and then healed into a scar, but the healing process wasn’t quite complete because I probably sang and talked and yelled through it and exacerbated everything.

Now, the fun begins.  I have to see a speech and voice therapist who specializes in voice disorders for singers (and who is a former music therapist!) for 4-6 sessions.  She will assess my current situation through a series of tests and give me exercises to do that will allow my vocal chords to heal (and get back to normalish).  I will also most likely have to adjust several aspects of my speaking and singing voice, and re-learn how to breathe and warm-up. Fun times.

The reason I decided to write about this, is to stress to all of you (my colleagues, students, and friends who sing) to take care of your voice and your vocal chords.  Warm up before leading sessions.  Drink water until your pee is clear. Avoid coffee, sugar, citrus juices and smoking right before sessions.  For the love of Pete, don’t sing through a cold or cough.  Take the day off, rest your voice, and forsake the money you would have made (if you’re self-employed).  It is not worth it to have your instrument stripped of its function just for a day’s pay.  You’ll end up spending far more than that in medical bills and therapy.

Unfortunately, voice disorders having to do with scars or nodules affect adult women between the ages of 20-50 most often.  Look at that!  Music therapists are mostly women who use their voices every day to speak and sing.  Double whammy for MTs.  And even more reason to take my words seriously.

For now, I am dealing with the issue, and will start voice therapy in two weeks, but I can’t tell you how frustrating it is not knowing how long it will be before I can really sing again, or at least sing comfortably.  I can tell you, though, that I’ll be far more careful from now on knowing what I do.  Take my word for it, take care of yourself, and don’t take your voice for granted.

Sweet Emotion

October 2, 2012

I am a crier.  I cry all the time.

I recently cried while watching “The Blind Side,” “Crazy, Stupid Love,” a random “Friends” episode and almost cried when listening to a random movie theme.

Truth be told, I have been meaning to write a post about emotion for quite a while, but the interns started a couple of weeks ago, and things have been a little crazy.

Here we go…

To be in this profession, empathy is key.  We all know that.  We need to be able to make the right decisions about how to handle a situation based on our ability to read someone, and putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes is how we do that. Duh.

There are situations when our own emotions come out at unexpected times, and I think we have to be okay with that, at least for the most part.  One of my interns said to me recently something to the effect of…the more we cry at movies and weddings and Hallmark commercials and anytime anyone else is crying, it reflects how empathetic we are as people.

I agree.  But sometimes we miss the boat.

Last week in the psych unit, we had a group singing session.  I have piles of lyric sheet copies which are laid out on a large table for patients to choose from (I know there’s a better way to do this) and a few tissue boxes.  I encourage patients to choose a song that speaks to them or that they enjoy, and to take the entire pile of copies to hold on to.  Each person shares their choice, and I ask them why they chose that particular song.  Sometimes there’s a deep and meaningful story attached and sometimes they “just like it,” but regardless, we sing the song (sometimes using small percussion instruments, if the person wants us to) and when we are finished, I thank the person for choosing that song and we move on to the next patient’s choice.

Last week during our group singing session, a patient began to cry during “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” which was a song chosen by another patient in the group.  I thought to myself (during the song) that I should process with her when we had finished, but I stopped myself.  I didn’t know this person, and since another patient had chosen the song, I didn’t want to make the other patient feel that her choice wasn’t honored.  We finished the song and I moved onto the next patient’s choice.

Following the session, when we were all processing, the intern I mentioned above posed an extremely good question, wondering why the tearful patient was crying during that song.

I forget sometimes…I forget that crying is an individual’s situational outpouring of emotion or pain or joy, and that in a psychiatric unit, it might be something worth asking that person about.  So many people cry when music is present (especially in those forums) that I forget how new it is to my interns, and how much better I should be about making sure I process those feelings with patients.  Not only that, but spending the time at least asking the person if they want to talk about how they’re feeling, which I have done in the past, but didn’t that day.  I forget that not everyone is attention seeking, like a patient who was in the unit several weeks ago.  I forget that crying can be significant, even if it’s an every day occurrence in my life because of sitcoms and pictures of cute animals and human interest stories that turned into movies.

After I responded to my intern’s question, I went out to the milieu and, sitting down next to the crying patient, asked her if she was okay.  She responded with “Yeah, I’m fine – that song always makes me cry – I have it on CD…but I’m okay.”  I thanked her for coming to the session and told her I hoped that she would come to the drumming group on Monday if she was still there (she did).

I thought about my lack of good judgement in that moment all weekend and realized that I got lost in the structure of my session and forgot the important parts.  Having tissues on the table is not enough.  Surely, some people just want to be alone with their tears and are crying for no reason in particular, but what if someone was crying about something very specific?  What if someone was crying for the first time in years?  What if someone was crying for attention? Or out of frustration? Or anger? Or despair?  The significance of any of those may not ever matter.  We don’t have to pry if we think the person may need that solitary safe space to cry in, but we should at least ask.

Everything seems new-ish again with my interns asking simple but poignant questions, and I feel so happy that I’m able to share my knowledge with them, even if I make mistakes sometimes.

I’m so happy, I could cry 🙂

(But I won’t because I met my quota today during an old episode of “How I Met Your Mother”)

There is a super catchy pop song that has been running circles in my brain for the past two months.  I’ll give you one guess…

You guessed it.

So I watched all of the different iterations, learned the words to the first verse and the chorus, figured it out (functionally) on the guitar, and it’s still stuck in my head.  Every time someone says, “that’s crazy!” or something of the like, I start singing or humming the song.  I always thought that if you overplayed something, or learned the words, the song would become unstuck from your head (clearly not the case here) which got me thinking…

What happens in our brains to produce a tune in our heads?  What keeps the tune there?

I have a client who sings the same phrase over and over again, sometimes regardless of other music being played, and always regardless of anything else going on.  A staff member at this facility told me that this client, B. has not stopped singing this phrase for three months.  Holy Moses.  Why is this happening?  It’s not an identifiable song, and she has advanced dementia.  For some reason, this phrase just keeps going on and on like a broken record.  Hi-| Ho-Oh-Hi | Ho-Oh-Hi | Ho… in 3/4 starting with the first “Ho” as the down beat.  The melody is simple and not rhythmically consistent. We have all come to the conclusion that she is not singing “Hi-Ho” from Snow White, but it may have started as that song once upon a time.

I had another client, years ago, who would always hum “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” despite it usually not being Christmastime.  That was her go-to song for some reason, and I always wondered why that was the one that popped into her mind when so much else was gone.

Anyway, I was wondering why songs get stuck in our heads, and a whole lot of very obvious information cropped up when I Googled.

I would try to recreate the information I read, but I think it’s easier for us all if I just link to an article that seems valid.

One of the worst parts of this phenomenon, is that sometimes a song gets stuck in our heads that we don’t even like!  Occasionally, for me, this becomes a sign that I secretly do like the song, and eventually I have to make my peace with that (the song “Stronger” by Britney Spears – early 2000’s – comes to mind).  Another frustrating part is when you want to hum the melody to a song – take, for example, Gotye’s “Somebody that I Used To Know” – but the melody is unpredictable at times and hard to remember.  Then, you’re singing this song that you don’t really know, but can’t get out of your head.  AHHHHHHH!!!

Anyway, all of this got me thinking about something further.  I wonder if we get more annoyed that a song is in our heads if we are simultaneously worried about annoying others with our constant melodies.  I sing all day, so having an “earworm” is a regular part of my day (many of you are probably dealing with this as well), and I’m not usually annoyed that its there unless someone else is around.  Ahh, projection.

My conclusion is that we can’t fight the earworm, and if you can’t beat ’em…

Taxman

April 9, 2012

**I have made some adjustments and corrections to this post based on some helpful feedback.**

I don’t know where I have been lately, but I can only guess it was a place so remarkable that I could only write one blog post in the past month.  Any guesses?  No?  Okay, I was lying before.  I do know where I was.  I was actually just busy and preoccupied.

This time of year, there’s a lot going on.  The weather has started getting nicer, so instead of blogging on Saturday mornings, I’ve been trying to get some exercise out in nature.  I’ve been doing all sorts of busy-work, like getting pictures framed and starting seeds for the garden and finally thinking about the Ides of April…the date we all dread…the day when we feel like the government reached into our pockets and stole our money and our dignity and our hope for the future…

TAX DAY [insert loud minor chords being played on Dracula’s organ].

Ok.  Now for something a little less dramatic.

I’ve been self-employed now for a while, and even when I was still dabbling in “employment” here and there, taxes were not my favorite thing, as you can imagine.

For those of you who haven’t yet started your self-employment, or who are procrastinators just now getting around to thinking about taxes, like me, this post is for you.

Some things to know:

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There is a separate and larger “self-employment” tax for us lucky ones.  Yay!  Solution: deduct as many things as possible.  The loses will be taken from your Gross Income and lower your taxable income by as many dollars as you have spent on your business or your professional life.

Pretty much anything you buy that has to do with your work-life is deductible on your taxes.  Instruments, uniforms, gasoline, cost of service to your car, plane tickets and hotel accommodations to conferences, conference fees, AMTA member dues, CBMT courses and dues, cost of food at business meetings, a new computer or phone (or tablet) that you use for work, home office costs, and pretty much anything else you can think of that has to do with you getting to work and doing your job well.  I have not written down all of the things I deduct, but hopefully that gives you a good start.  This does not mean that these things are free.  As I said before, the amount you spend is deducted from your income so that you are only taxed on the money you actually brought home.  Just thought I’d throw that out there so you don’t all go to the next conference and spend all your money on sound massage chairs with reckless abandon.

Since this is more complicated when you have eight 1099-MISC forms instead of one 1040, use something like TurboTax (I’m not getting paid to advertise them) which will prompt you and let you adjust each item in each section as many times as you want.  You send in your taxes online and pay any additional taxes with a credit card.  It costs about $100.00 for the small business version (which you want if you are self-employed) and in my opinion, it’s well worth it to be completely in control of what you’re going to owe (because you’ll probably owe something – welcome to self-employment).  I have been convinced to look into getting a CPA to do my taxes.  They can sometimes catch deductions that you would have missed, but given the fact that most new professionals aren’t going to shell out $700.00 for tax preparation, TurboTax is a great alternative.  It prompts you and asks any questions you would be asked by a CPA, and they give you detailed examples of acceptable deductible items. Everyone has different preferences and priorities, and I have found TurboTax to be extremely helpful in the past.  Online filing and in-person tax prep costs are also deductible on the following year’s filing, so it’s mainly about having the money up front for tax prep if you want to hire a person to do your taxes for you.

Quarterly taxes:  If you don’t pay these, you could get a fine and that’s no fun.  There are small business forms online that allow you to calculate how much you will have to pay in taxes to your state government and the federal government, and the IRS separates that number by four.  You pay in April, June and September, and then the January of the following tax year, and it significantly decreases the chance that you will owe $4,000 to the government on April 15th of that year (In case it wasn’t clear, that statement comes from personal experience, unfortunately). This can be done online, at https://www.pay1040.com/ among other websites, and you can get more information on the subject at http://www.irs.gov/.  Each state is different, so contact your state’s treasury department for more information on estimated state taxes.

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This post is meant as a basic self-employment tax guide for beginners.  I am sure there is more to know about this subject, so in the meantime, if you have any additional information or suggestions for my readers, feel free to comment below.

In conclusion, the tax deadline this year is actually April 17th, since Washington D.C. has a holiday (Emancipation Day) on Monday the 16th.  I sure wish I could be emancipated from taxes.

Just this year, government?  Pleeeeeease?

When I was in college, I worked at FAO Schwarz in Boston for two years before it closed.  I loved that job.  I was going to school full time and working [more than] part-time, but it didn’t feel like work because, well, it was a toy store.  I made wonderful friends there, so when I wasn’t working with them, I was hanging out with them, so even though I was working A LOT, I loved it, and it was fun.

Some FAO friends, post-FAO.

After FAO closed, I worked at a bar in the Back Bay full-time on top ofmy full-time status as a student.  I also hosted karaoke from 10 PM-2 AM two nights a week at two other bars.  I went to class all day, worked all evening until sometimes 2 or 3 AM, and somehow made it to class the next day.  I must have been tired, but since I was 22 or 23, I must not have noticed (?).  I was a fabulous waitress and all the running around and time management challenges created such momentum that I barely even noticed I was working.  However, I almost never had a day off, and it made a huge impact on my quality of life not being able to call in sick (I was ALWAYS sick in college) without somebody being there to cover my shift.

 

Internship was when I learned how difficult my “real” job was going to be.  I worked from 8 or 9 AM to sometimes 7 or 8 PM, and I was EXHAUSTED.  I loved it, and I was taking grown-up responsibility for myself and my decisions for the first time ever.  Maybe all that non-stop work at the bar helped prepare me for long days, but it certainly didn’t prepare me for the emotional and mental strain this work tends to cause.

As I’ve said in past posts, I started with one hour of MT work.  That was nice.  Not financially sustainable, but nice.  That lasted for a little over a month before I began piling on loads and loads of work, which was not mentally or emotionally sustainable for me, especially when I would have every other Saturday off.  That was my only time off for about seven months before I came up for air and let go of some stuff.

My office/desk at my first "real" job.

For the past few years, when I have only been contracting, I have had steady work, but my schedule has been bizarre and choppy, so there were some days where I was working for two hours in the morning, and then I wouldn’t have anything else the rest of the day.  I would sleep in one or two days a week and then work all afternoon those days.  Then of course there were Sundays…

(Cut to this week)

This past week was the first week of my “full” (new) schedule.

Is this what I’ve been missing all these years -slash- is this what work is really like?

BORING ALERT: Monday was jam-packed with work and driving.  I had a morning group, a working lunch in one of my hospital cafeterias and then proceeded to have three back to back groups in three different locations.  Tuesday was packed with work and driving.  I had a morning group, a working lunch at Panera Bread on my way out to Metro West and had two back to back groups far away from one another.  Wednesday I had a working breakfast, went to the bank to close my BofA business checking account had a group 45 minutes away, and immediately had my meeting in a different location with my new contract – my shortest day.  Thursday, I had two back to back student sessions, each followed by supervision/feedback time, grabbed a Dunkin’s egg white turkey sausage flatbread sandwich on my way to Metro West and ate in the car.  I had my afternoon group immediately followed by a drive down the road for another student session and supervision time.  Friday I had a morning group, took my dog for a 40 minute walk during lunch, ate a quick lunch, had a session followed by A WHOLE HOUR TO watch TV BREATHE, and then another session.

Does this look like your schedule?  Is your schedule worse?  If it does/is, then I am sorry I ever complained about being tired from work before this week, and that I’m complaining now.  I came home on Thursday on the verge of tears because I was so tired.  I am not used to this. There is very little time to do the other things that need to get done, like walking my dog, exercise, eating healthy meals, cooking creative meals (something I don’t have to do, but gives me enjoyment), and alone time. 

The good news, is that I CAN adjust my schedule a little bit and find ways to use my time so that I don’t come home and decide that brussels sprouts and a few chicken meatballs is what I’m making for dinner, and then cry because of a Swiffer commercial on TV (that didn’t happen, but it probably would have…).  I CAN (don’t want to, but can) wake up earlier to take a run or walk the dog before work.  I CAN (and did) ask my boyfriend to help me prepare dinner on the really busy days (he likes to cook, but I do it better and prefer to be in charge meals). If I don’t have time to make a lunch for the road, I CAN make healthy choices at the hospital cafeteria (salad with various legumes, veggies, 4 oz of chicken, and a splash of olive oil = approx. $5 & 300 calories), Panera Bread (Bowl of Low-Fat Chicken Noodle Soup with a whole grain chunk of baguette = approx. $5 & 260 calories) and Dunkin’ Donuts (egg white, turkey sausage, and cheese flatbread sandwich = approx. $3.50 & 270 calories). YES I CAN.  When does alone time happen?  On Friday for one hour in the middle of the day.  That will have to do until May.

Why May, you ask?  Well, you see, what’s keeping me hopeful, it that this is not a permanent schedule. My students will have their last session with me the second week of May and Berklee doesn’t start the next site/clinical semester until October.  The well-elder organization I work for began it’s spring “semester” of my music program this week and goes until the middle of June before a 2.5 month break.  These two contracts take up all of Tuesdays and Thursdays, but they are the only things on those days, so I have a reduced schedule from May 15th to October, and completely free Tuesdays & Thursdays from June 15th until September.  I thought about filling in those days with summer work (summer camps, etc.) but now that I’ve started this schedule, I think that by the time those free days come, I’m going to need them.  Like whoa.  So I’m keeping them open for a couple of professional projects that need some TLC.  For which I can sit on the couch with my laptop and my phone until the cows come home in the fall.

When I’ll do this all over again.

Hopefully with a lot less kvetching.

Never on Sunday

February 12, 2012

I wrote about my new schedule in a previous post, and while this may not be helpful in a very practical way for anyone reading, I thought I’d give everyone whose schedule is unideal for them, a little dose of hope and insight.

When I began working as a music therapist in the summer of 2006, I began with one hour of work.  It was on Sunday.  I gradually filled in my schedule over time with various regular part-time work, and per-diem contract hours – three of which also managed to snake their way into my Sunday schedule.  There were some weeks at the beginning where I would work for 13 days in a row before having a day off, and I took so many Sundays off for family gatherings, weekend trips, holidays and weddings, that I could almost see actual dollar bills flying out the window.  It was not working for me.  I have some friends who work on weekends, and that seems to work for some of them, but I have learned, as part of a mission to be more balanced, that having one day off a week is not healthy for me, and because of the amount of events that are scheduled on weekends, is is not good for my wallet either.  For those of you who are self-employed with a comfortable hourly rate, picture the paycheck from 4 hours of work.  Multiply that by 12 or 13 (or more) and subtract that from your yearly income.  OUCH!!  And that’s just from Sundays.

Anyway, after five and a half years of Sundays, last weekend marked the first in an endless series of Sundays where I will no. longer. have. to. work. I woke up late, ate a leisurely breakfast, took a five mile run, took my dog for a thirty minute walk, painted a picture, paid some bills, blogged, and then my boyfriend and I had a friend over to watch the Superbowl.  It was everything I thought it would be.  Almost.

The thing that I didn’t expect, was that I wouldn’t know how to utilize all my newfound free time!  After my run, walk and subsequent shower, I had no idea what to do with myself for the three hours until the big game (which I really couldn’t care less about) and it made me tense.  I asked my bf what I should do, and his suggestion was for me to paint (I used to do this all the time).  I haven’t painted in so long that I forgot it was a option!  Painting, making homemade cards, writing, composing, coloring and drawing were things that I only had one day to do, and usually that day would be taken up with hours of hiking in the woods with the dog, trips to the grocery store, cleaning the apartment and making meals.  I enjoyed those days, don’t get me wrong, but I definitely forgot about all the OTHER stuff I used to enjoy, that I really haven’t had any time for over the past five and a half years.

I realize that this is a wonderful adjustment to have to make, but it’s still an adjustment, no matter how ecstatic I am to be experiencing it.  I expect that adjustments are a constant part of our lives, and that the better we deal with them, the happier we’ll probably be.

In one of my facilities, I work with well elders.  Some of them have a zest for life and have come to accept their disabilities or hardships as inevitable while still carrying on an optimistic and realistic existence.  Others remain in the past, however, pining for their younger days, and having quite a hard time with the realities of aging.  This may be a repetition from a previous blog post, and I’ve been told that I should “wait ’til you’re MY age,” to go jumping into an attitude of invincibility toward the frustrations of aging,  but I like to think that my positive outlook and my awareness of what will eventually happen to me will prepare me for the less pleasant adjustments I’ll need to make later in life.

Now back to the good adjustments, and my second Sunday off…

Taking Care of Business

December 7, 2011

Ah…the holidays.

It seems like this time of year is here before we know it, and then it’s gone with a poof.  I have been running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to get everything done.  Between all of my contracts, students, shopping, decorating, parties, walking the dog and the shorter days, not to mention a little seasonal depression thrown in, it’s a little overwhelming to try to get everything done.

Something I’ve been able to realize is this:  If I don’t do something right away, it gets put off, and then turns into a list of twenty things that need to get done later on.

Ways that I’ve been able to make it through the holiday season [in the past] without wanting to hide under the covers all day are these:

1. Online Shopping

2. Taking holidays off

3. Exercising (even if it’s just walking the dog)

4. Saying no to things I don’t have time for

5. Watching “Love Actually” at least twice

6. Learning new songs

Unfortunately, since there’s so much to do (including a growing list of Words With Friends games to catch up on daily) blogging has taken a back seat lately, but I’m intent upon not letting my blog wither and wane.  I could use a little encouragement, though, friendly readers…

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What do you do to stay sane during the holidays?

 

Georgia on My Mind

November 30, 2011

Foreword: Before I go on to rant and rave, I must apologize to all my faithful readers (some of whom will appreciate this post more than others) for being MIA from blogland for the past two weeks.  There really isn’t an excuse other than, “getting back into the swing of things after being away was harder and more overwhelming than I thought it would be.”  So I’m sorry.  And I’m back.

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Welcome to Atlanta, where the playaz play.

For starters, I thought about using the song “Welcome to Atlanta” by Jermaine Dupris as my blog post title, but upon looking up the lyrics, decided against it.  Good call.

Last weekend I was in a place where no one asked me what music therapy means – where drums, maracas, guitars and everything in between seemed to be everywhere and not looked at by passers-by with questioning eyes – the AMTA annual conference.

Since I became board certified and joined AMTA (the American Music Therapy Association) five years ago, I have gone to four national and four regional conferences.  Conferences are energizing, motivating and often a good time to catch up with MT friends who live far away.  This year, the conference was held in Atlanta, and I must say, even though I wasn’t able to go to the Coca-Cola museum [insert animated sad-face emoticon here], it was a great time.

Here are some things I learned and re-learned:

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Reunions are important.

Not only are reunions enjoyable for many reasons, but they are also great networking opportunities.  My internship from years ago has a reunion every year at the conference, and I always get new ideas, meet new people and make new professional connections.  Regarding the fun of reunions – one particularly enjoyable part of reunions (for me) is seeing all of my past students who are all entering or leaving their internships (a little shout out, past students – great to see you in GA).

Sessions led by non-MTs are a toss-up.

In two presentations I attended, it was suggested that music has an effect on our brains.  (!!!!!insert sarcasm here!!!!!) This is true.  This is also the most obvious fact, ever, to music therapists, and really doesn’t need to be reiterated at a music therapy conference, to people who learned that in the first semester of college. I was also informed that the way to find work in mental health facilities is to volunteer at different places for a half-hour or an hour per week.  (!!!!!insert palpable silence and blank stares here!!!!!) We make music therapy our careers.  This is not only a thing we love to do and are passionate about, but it’s also our job.  We have to make money doing it, or we can’t pay our bills.  Not to say that there’s anything wrong with volunteering in the more general sense of the word, but since half of the country thinks music therapists are uneducated volunteers, it would probably be beneficial to our field if we got paid for what we did.  That all being said, doing a promotional session or in-service at a facility certainly doesn’t hurt, but that’s purely for marketing and not meant to be the final solution. There was also a session where I felt that I was being sold a product,  instead of being taught about real-life applications, and in the hour that I remained in the meeting room I not only didn’t hear or see the product used, but I felt like I was being preached at about music therapy and its significance in health care.   We are music therapists, and we were being told how important music therapy is.  Talk about preaching to the choir…

7:30 AM is too early [for me] to be learning.

If you have been to MT conferences, you know that getting sleep while still going to sessions and enjoying all of the later-night festivities is very difficult.  There is music happening literally until 2 AM some nights, and there are parties, reunions, concerts, performances and open-mic/cabaret events to invest energy in.  7:30 AM is too early, in that regard, but the issue with starting sessions later every morning (there aren’t 7:30 sessions every day), is that the conference is only a few days long, and because it’s expensive to attend, I want to squeeze as much learning in as possible.  Getting enough sleep never happened at conference this year, and I realize that it’s okay because… Note to self: conference isn’t a vacation or a time for rest.  It is fun, but it is not a relaxing or restful time.

Location, location, location (does matter).

In the past six years, four out of the six national conferences were held in the mid-west. They were all in great cities, don’t get me wrong, and I still learned a ton and managed to have a great time with my friends I never see in two of those mid-western hubs.  I know that the mid-west is in the middle of the country, and that conference location bids are a factor, but it just doesn’t seem right that the scale has been tipped in that region’s favor, even considering the prices of certain locations. And…next year, the conference is an hour west of Chicago.  Mmmkay.  On a happier note, last night I had the pleasure of experiencing Pittypat’s Porch (a great southern restaurant based on a character in Gone With the Wind) which was an appropriate way to end a nice weekend in a fun city.

Keynote speeches are usually worthwhile.

Kenneth Bruscia – a guiding presence in the field of music therapy and the author of books that we all read in college, was our keynote speaker this year (that introduction was just for you non-MTs).  Not only was he funny at all the right times, but the content of what he was saying was valuable and also easy to grasp.  What I learned from Kenneth Bruscia, is that thinking of music therapy sessions in only one way is dangerous and counter-productive.  We all have to be more flexible in our expectations of how sessions are supposed to go, or our clients won’t benefit.  There was more to his speech, but that’s a little teaser for ya.

Lifetime Achievement takes a while.

I am blessed and fortunate enough to have been mentored and taught by two amazing women who have also won lifetime achievement awards from AMTA (one of whom won the distinction at this conference!).  When I think of all both of them have accomplished, I am humbled, and I realize that that kind of recognition only happens after years of really hard work, motivation and passion.  Regardless of a Lifetime Achievement Award,  I hope that in 30 years, I am able to look back with no regrets and be proud of myself for all that I’ve accomplished.  Someday…

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This conference also taught me several different clinical methods and interventions regarding the populations I work with, and brought me some insight about the end of life and it’s profundity (as I realize some of my more recent posts have been somewhat dreary) as well as some new ideas and a much needed kick in the tuchas regarding my contracting business and a project I’m working on (If I told you, I’d have to kill you).  Even if I don’t go every year, conference is always exactly what I need when I do go, and it usually happens during a time that I need it the most.
Thanks, Hotlanta AMTA conference, for being exactly what I needed.  I learned a lot.
Oh, and P.S.  Ben Folds was at the conference.  Yup – we’re just that cool.

Jaded

November 14, 2011

Hello.  We haven’t met.  I’m Jaded.

Unfortunately, when you work in a specialized field and deal with so many diagnoses, ethics, symptoms, clinical interventions and realizations, it’s difficult to suspend disbelief in instances when your education knows better.

I finished the book Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult, about fifteen minutes ago.  In short, the book is about the struggles of three individuals, told from each of their perspectives, regarding spirituality, gay marriage, divorce and a custody battle over frozen embryos.  It “stars” Zoe, a 40 year-old Rhode Island-based music therapist.  For this book, Jodi Picoult did loads of research on many subjects including music therapy (Berklee shout-out!) and for the most part, it was accurate and interesting, but I have a small bone to pick.

As a freelance, contracting music therapist (like Zoe) I completely understand the fractured work days, the ethics issues and the instability this type of employment can sometimes necessitate.  Howevah…I know many, many music therapists, and most do not work with seven different populations over the course of a work week.  Having done my required 1040-hour post-coursework internship in a place where I feel like I worked with almost every population, I came out of that experience knowing what I wanted to focus on the most.  Most of my MT friends and colleagues work with one or two populations which leads me to believe that the “average” freelance music therapist has a couple of preferred populations and sticks with them for the most part.

Zoe isn’t an “average” music therapist though… She works in burn units, NICUs, in Pediatric Oncology, in general medical settings with all ages, in nursing homes, with autistic kids, with suicidal teenagers, and also played music at the time of death for at least one family.  Something about this screams: “I’m trying to force as much about music therapy as I possible can in the space of nearly 500 pages!”

I think part of what threw me off is that Jodi Picoult did some of her research in Boston, and I was aware of her work with area music therapists while it was happening.  I know almost all of the music therapists named in her “Acknowledgments” and I also know that one of them is THE music therapist at Shriner’s Hospital (which specifically deals with burn victims).  Another two of them work with kids with autism, and four were my professors when I was at Berklee.  I know too much!

I’m sure someone reading about music therapy for the first time has no idea that this is the case, but I do, and it was very discouraging and distracting.  I actually had a really hard time getting through the first chapter (I put it down and picked it back up probably six times before continuing to read) because it seemed like Picoult was trying too hard to explain MT to the general public. Don’t get me wrong, we need all the help we can get, as most people think we’re volunteers, and either don’t know what music therapy is, or think it’s a new age-y crock, despite decades of research and almost 70 years of music therapy as a legitimate field with a requisite of at least a Bachelor’s Degree to practice.  BUT it still seemed forced.  And then I realized this jaded thinking is a pattern with me.

The Notebook.  Eh.  Everyone I was friends with when that movie came out though it was amazing and cried throughout the whole thing.  In the beginning, I focused probably too much on the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease the main character received.  At the time, I was still in school and had just learned about AD in depth.  In 2004, there was not a thing could be done about finding out if someone ACTUALLY had AD until after they passed away, and that very definitive diagnosis bothered me.  Also, the likelihood of a person with advanced Alzheimer’s (who gets so confused and agitated that she needs regular PRNs) all of a sudden being able to remember and discuss whole parts about her life because someone reads her a story is absurd.  I believed that even then, and now I’ve been working with folks with an AD diagnosis for years.  The absurdity is all the more obvious now.

A few years ago, a co-worker whose mother-in-law had advanced AD, recommended a film to me about Alzheimer’s.  At the time, I still had hope about art documenting real life in an accurate and realistic way.  Away From Her is a movie about a woman who develops early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease.  I thought I was going to love it, but I couldn’t even get through the first hour.  It’s been a few years since I tried watching it, so I won’t go into detail for fear that it will be inaccurate, but I remember being embarrassed for everyone involved in the movie.  It was actually nominated for several Academy Awards, including the main character for Best Actress.  Clearly the “Academy” was not aware of many things.  The woman, very quickly goes from getting lost while cross-country skiing by herself, to deciding that she needs to go into a nursing home to ease the caregiver burden on her husband (let’s face it, people, the financial burden of going into long-term care is huge and that’s usually the last resort).  Within 30 days, she strikes up a relationship with a non-verbal man who is also married.  I won’t go elaborate on the plot, but it was not good.  I think it may have been good for someone who didn’t spend 40 hours a week with 60+ people in varying stages of Alzheimer’s, but I did, and everything about the movie was disappointing.  I have realized after seeing several movies featuring characters with dementia that really no one does a very good job of acting like they have AD, and it’s super-duper obvious to me because I see it every day.

See?  I told you.  Jaded.  These are supposed to be beautiful films about beautiful relationships. I couldn’t stand them, and I thought the actors were questionable.  Unfortunately, not every small budget indie film can get Meryl Streep, Leonardo DiCaprio or Kevin Spacey to play a compromised individual, and they’re probably some of the few who would do it well.

There is hope, though.  I did, for the most part, enjoy Sing You Home after the first couple of chapters.  I watched The Music Never Stopped without picking it apart (I was most impressed by the hard-core 1980’s art direction choices) and I read Still Alice, a book about a woman with EOAD, from start to finish and enjoyed it!!  And recommended it to others!!  And thought it was extremely well done!!

There is hope.  But there is also the possibility that people are realizing that they need to do a better job.  That they need to do their research.  That just because a character has dementia does not mean that three weeks into the diagnosis she will be outside sweeping the lawn or putting her purse in the freezer.  That real life cant always be copied well.  That not all of the information a writer gets about a topic needs to be squeezed in.  AND…That for goodness’ sake, not every book needs to be turned into a movie.

If only someone making those choices would read this.