Meanness, Cruelty, & Guns Continue

Susan Cooke

To riff briefly on my former post, “Guns, Killing, &  Kindness,” what is it that causes a Fox news host to insult one of the Parkland massacre survivors, and is it the same perverted thinking that causes the shooter to receive armloads of “fan mail” from around the world? What causes police to mow down a man holding a cell phone in his grandma’s back yard? How crazed and cruel has the world become, and what do we all intend to do about it? It still seems clear to me that acceptance of guns everywhere, and killing, maiming, and ridiculing the innocent seems to be making other barbaric behavior seem fine to many, along with help promoting meanness from social media. Again it’s been shown that places where there are more guns experience more violence.

Look at this quote (and please try to read the entire excellent article if you have time–it’s a real eye-opener) from reporter German Lopez, german.lopez@vox.com. Here’s the link:   https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/2/21/17028930/gun-violence-us-statistics-charts

“The US has nearly six times the gun homicide rate of Canada, more than seven times that of Sweden, and nearly 16 times that of Germany, according to United Nations data compiled by the Guardian. (These gun deaths are a big reason America has a much higher overall homicide rate, which includes non-gun deaths, than other developed nations.)”

To end on a positive note, it’s also clear the world is full of good, kind, and caring people. I hope you’ll join me in celebrating those people and condemning these instances in which we see some of the worst of human behavior. We need to publicize and spread more news about the good that many people spend their lives doing, and keep trying to get to a new place where caring about each other is the top priority. But we also need to be smart about our actions, and accept that our country has a severe problem with guns that must be remedied now. Otherwise the deaths will continue.

Be on the Mountain

Susan Cooke

My attempts at meditation have been spotty. I tried it on and off for some time, and even took a class at the Benson Institute in Boston where they try to help people with physical and/or emotional issues by teaching various forms of meditation, a little yoga, and a good deal of cognitive therapy (where they ask things like “Do you really think that person hates you or do you think maybe they were just having a very bad day?” which is certainly helpful to know about.)

It appears most of us can benefit from some of these practices, especially Americans in our chaotic cities, trying as we must to navigate the many days per year that are stressful for so many reasons. This post though is specifically about something I chanced upon while navigating my own super-stress not so long ago. I was fighting a terrible depression that arose from one of the usual suspects–a prolonged traumatic experience. My trauma was caused by a town tyrant bullying my family out of its few remaining funds as we tried to downsize and move from another city to our tiny new house in the new town. I was afraid through the weeks it continued that we’d end up homeless since our funds were draining fast as we tried to pay rent in the first town where we were living temporarily (and where I knew no one, which made me more vulnerable), and pay the mortgage on the very small house we’d built in the new town. My more resilient husband got some support from colleagues at his office, so luckily he got through the crisis in better shape. I won’t go into details here, but we finally in desperation hired a lawyer who within days he stopped the bully. But it was too late for me. A couple of weeks earlier, I fell one day–or my brain did–into a terrifying dark canyon. I could not eat, and could barely talk. This, I learned, was depression caused by extended traumatic stress. I thought I’d been depressed somewhat at times in the past, but I had no idea it could be like this.

I couldn’t physically tolerate the meds–they dried my eyes so severely I got corneal abrasions. We read books on depression and tried what we could to get me back to something like normal. I discovered after beginning to try meditation and finding it upsetting, that some experts believe it’s not always good to meditate when you’re deep in a depression, and better to wait till you’re climbing out a little. I did the other things they recommend: exercise, being out in sunlight, and being with people more (difficult since I didn’t work in an office and all the coffee shops’ music was so loud I couldn’t last in most more than two minutes). So I was more isolated than was healthy, and while I added more exercise in the sunlight because I knew it would help later, it didn’t feel like it was helping for a long time.

When I felt ready I tried CDs of guided meditation, other CDs that are supposed to help you sleep if that’s part of your problem (it was), and CDs of massage music since I knew some of that might be relaxing. Most didn’t help much, and some made me agitated. Finally I stumbled on some music that used combinations of sounds I found soothing–Native American and Asian flutes, some Eastern-sounding delicate cymbals, and crickets! It all seemed to transport me to a new place where there was a little relief. I’d read it’s helpful to have a restful place in our minds to help us feel calmer, especially when we’re upset, but had wrestled with figuring out what that was for me. This music made it easy to visualize such a place, and once I did I realized it was the only place where I could imagine this music being heard.

I didn’t think about the place much, other than when I imagined it during those few minutes on days when I tried to do something like meditation. But weeks later I noticed that sometimes when I couldn’t relax or felt depressed again, that I was telling myself something new:  “Be on the mountain.”  I realized the place the music had conjured up had become part of me. It was on a mountain, a wide mountain ledge in Nepal (why? I’ve never been to Nepal!)  It was spring or summer, twilight but late enough that stars had begun to appear. Below was a small town with cafes and lights, and a small harbor leading to the ocean. Little boats rocked gently in the harbor, moonlight shone on the waves, and there was a gentle, warm breeze. Behind me on the ledge was a beautiful garden filled with fragrant plants and trees, then more mountain above it. The music came from below, and was played every night so that everyone around–in the harbor, the town, and on the mountain, was at peace, with themselves and with everyone else. Next to me were several much-loved animals–my childhood collie, a horse I rode in the Colorado woods for two summers, two cats who adopted me, the fawn and the lamb I held in my arms both on the same day, and the goat with soulful eyes at a rescue zoo in Maine who never left my side for nearly an hour.

When I am on this mountain, I feel calmer on some nights than others, but the miracle is that I feel calm at all. For a constantly whirling mind this is a great gift. I’ve accepted that it’s okay that this isn’t any particular kind of meditation, as far as I know, and I don’t know if it’s helping my brain a lot or a little, but I’m much better off going there fairly often than I am never going at all. I didn’t think it was possible for this to happen to me, that is, I look forward to those few minutes, whether it’s 3 or 20 or more.

I wish everyone could be on this mountain at least occasionally, feel what I feel there, then take it into their stressed out crazy lives and let it change them a little. In my imagination there is no place or need on the mountain for frantic speed, vast wealth, hatred, violence, gun protection, or cruelty. People are terribly considerate, and love and protect animals and each other. They find ways to live in the modern world that don’t cut them off but are the most peaceful possible, so everyone is soothed by nature every day  (without leaf-blowers and with many fewer aircraft overhead, or at least quiet aircraft which I hear is becoming possible!)  Relieving suffering and creating ways to live a peaceful, healthy life are  also priorities on this mountain. No one goes hungry because there are fruit and vegetable farms everywhere. There are no gas-powered machines of any kind–they’re all electric and quiet–so you can hear the wind in the leaves, and if it’s nighttime focus on the beauty of the stars. The lack of fumes means you can smell the jasmine, lilies, and roses in the gardens.

That’s not so impossible, not so very far from where we are if we put some group effort into getting there, is it? The human body isn’t designed to hear loud motors and smell fumes most of every day–it’s just too stressful, even if you think you’re used to it. Nor are our brains immune to the chronic stress caused by seeing or just knowing that others are suffering. We’ll all be happier and healthier if we live where nature without noise is available to us most of the time, and where we know all who suffer are getting help. For example we need to know our city, state, and country are helping the homeless and hungry right now, all day and every day—that wellbeing is a priority for all leaders. In my ideal place there is just no room left for selfish, narcissistic, or non-caring leaders.

I know I sound naive to many, but I can’t help believing these things are possible because we are as close to being there as we are to being in a much worse place. So why not go for the best one? So I wish for us all that soon we’ll have only caring people in power. I wish for you that soon you find your own mountain (or forest or seashore) and spend some time there.

The CD:

World Flute Lullabies, Native American & Asian Flutes for Sleep Therapy, by Lullaby Tribe (“ioda” seems to be the brand.). Not every cut is perfect, but on the whole it’s the best collection for me, and the third one is about 20 minutes long and one of my favorites. That one is good also if you’re looking for one meditation period about that long. I had to buy 2 copies because the first would not play. I took it off my ipod and use a cd player now for it because it took up too much room (80 minutes) but you could pick the cuts that do the most for you (if this turns out to be the right album for you) and just buy those. This group has made some other albums as well.

 

Guns, Killing, & Kindness

Stressed Americans not so Happy

Susan Cooke

Why aren’t we Americans higher on lists of countries in which people are the happiest and healthiest? This is in essence what much of my book is about, but let’s just look at a few things for now.

One problem common to many of us is cascading stress and worry that can begin at any time, but often occurs because we haven’t slept enough. Among other bad things this does to us it usually means we’re late for work which just adds to the stress load. Stress and worry often are the reasons why we couldn’t sleep, so if they’re still bothering us on the way to work, we add even more to our stress load.

Maybe we were worrying because we felt we had to finish something for work that seemed an emergency so we didn’t  go to bed near on time. Or we went to bed but woke up at 2 am worrying about the work or the job itself, or about how to get a less stressful job that might pay less but would at least pay the bills (but what would people say?) or worried about our kid(s), spouse, friend, or a conflict we had with someone. Or we might be in physical pain and the pain keeps us up but we don’t want to take too many painkillers, or we desperately need a vacation or some kind of downtime and how can we possibly get it or afford to go much of anywhere even if we do get it, or how can we get the neighbors to stop using leaf-blowers so much so we can enjoy our own yard more and not be so constantly desperate to get away to someplace quiet, etc.

Once we’ve made it to work we have to hurry to get in gear and produce even though we’re tired from so little sleep. We have to be sure not to snap at someone just because we’re worried and exhausted.  We wish we had a job that didn’t take so much out of us or a boss who believed in a less arduous schedule, but who has time to find one and would our commute be even worse than it is now?

For many of us in our country, this is daily life. It probably is similar in other countries in which people live our lifestyle or try to. Many of these issues feel even worse in our chaotic, loud, crazy cities than they might in more rural areas, though those not in cities go through a lot of this too.

One thing my research has revealed to me is that it’s much harder to slow this whole process of living at high speed and often near-panic when many people around us are living at the same pace. Yet if we don’t slow down our levels of stress hormones such as cortisol are likely to remain high, making a slew of illnesses more possible for us due to the inflammation caused by stress. (You probably know this already, but inflammation seems to be the source of many of our illnesses.)

I write a great deal about the staggering effects of stress on people, and I find that Americans seem to have a unique brand of stressful lifestyle and approach to life that’s extra tricky and tough to battle. Not that we all willingly choose to live this way. Many of us are simply infused with a work ethic that seems oriented toward acquiring fame or power or at least being near the top of the competition most of the time (in addition to more money, that while up to a certain number of dollars is helpful, may in fact be unnecessary in larger amounts for us to be happy. Yet we’re not necessarily aware, or maybe we forget sometimes, of how trapped in this vortex we can become. We’re too busy just trying to get through it all.

The need for fame or wealth beyond what’s practical or pretty okay may come partly from a completely understandable craving to matter in this world, to be known as someone who walked this earth and made something happen that was good or useful. But there are many ways to be good and useful without shortening our lives from stress in the process. It helps to accept that not every one of us can be high-profile. Certainly most of us can’t be super-wealthy. So if we turn out to be one of the majority who are not going to be famous or wealthy, we can reduce our stress and our constant speeding through life to get wherever we’re trying so hard to go by accepting that and getting on with the business of living a meaningful life that makes us and a few others happy. I absolutely believe this is possible, though it would help us all if we got a little support from government and businesses. They can help by learning about what helps people become happy and healthy, and a big part of what I try to do is show them the research on this. It can help them help us to thrive.

Here are not all, but a few things, most suggested by research, that can help us and help our leaders help us:

Access to nature close to home most days (without industrial noise)–so more quiet local parks and gardens not filled with traffic noise and fumes

Access to safe places to move and exercise outside in bright light, away from traffic & other industrial noise & fumes

Access to many easy places to meet and socialize with those living near us, places such as coffee shops and cafes, ideally including outdoor seating, and ideally away from traffic, near home so we can walk to them

Noise and fume laws that are well enforced, so that wellbeing doesn’t continue to plummet due to bullying by thousands of leaf-blowers and other loud, unhealthy lawn equipment (leaf-blower fumes especially are truly dangerous to our health due to their particulates highly suspected to cause cancer, and leaf-blower noise is extremely bad for mental health, causing misery for millions around the world)

Access to abundant healthy organic plant food for all in even the poorest neighborhoods, through stores, farmers’ markets, and community gardens

Highest quality efficient transportation services so we can get where we need to go without added cascades of stress hormones

Higher minimum wage, and more time off for everyone; Americans are absurdly and dangerously overworked, and many are absurdly and dangerously underpaid. These are both recipes for extreme stress and shortened lives.

Homes for every single person. There are many exciting and innovative ways to do this. It can be done and we must do it. No more homelessness is necessary.  Look at Los Angeles for starters.

Drastic reduction of firearms across the country. The U.S. gun prevalence is absurd, barbaric, cruel, and beneath the dignity of a supposedly advanced country considered (at one time) to lead the world

Good health care for everyone including the homeless (who we’re going to house ASAP, right?)

Tax breaks and other aids and incentives for everyone to have a garden, large or tiny

Education (especially for the President and EPA) and directions for all in taking immediate steps to stop pollution and global warming, using gardens, green roofs, conservation in general, solar panels in more places (with more help in paying for them), more parks, more trees (again more nature also does wonders for our wellbeing, too, but it must be away from industrial noise and fumes to work the most magic, and we need to drastically reduce all such fumes to help global warming anyway)

Kindness and respect for others’ desperate need for quiet and nature. Caring for others’ peace of mind–why they need some quiet–includes such thoughtful acts as not turning on speaker phones or shouting into phones so everyone in the cafe or park must listen to only that person and is forced by them to stop their own conversation, reading, or thinking. In other words not invading each others’ sound space which we do throughout our current society indoors and out to a degree that everyone’s stress hormones must surely be at way above normal levels most of the day. We cannot close our ears the way we close our eyes, and most of us can’t carry around noise-cancelling headphones, nor should we feel forced to wear them just to keep our own stress levels down. Public service announcements would help a lot with this problem since so many people seem unaware of the damage they’re doing to fellow citizens.

I’ll write more on noise later–it’s a huge problem–but it helps to make sure our government leaders know the World Health Organization (WHO) considers loud industrial noise to be so damaging that it calls it a worldwide health emergency.

 

De-Stressing Music you can Work to

Susan Cooke

*My favorite feel-good-while-working music (as opposed to wild-and-crazy-while-working which I know some people prefer!) includes a selection of jazz, classical, and a few surprisingly wonderful European accordion street music albums, and I thought I’d pass a few of them along to you. Today’s list is some samples of classical music only, and can help you both relax and read, write, think, or sweep the kitchen floor. Many are from the Baroque period (about 1600-1750), whose music I often find especially calming yet energizing, and helps me to do whatever needs to be done. Later in another post I’ll list some jazz and a couple of those accordion selections that do the same thing for me, but which I usually listen to later in the day. I’ll try also to list some pieces from my relaxing jazz list.

I’ve added a few notes for some  selections. Also, I cut and pasted the titles into this post from my iTunes list so sometimes it’s a little confusing due to long titles in other languages. You see the title first, as in “Concerto a Due Cori No. 3, HWV 334,” then the movement and length of that piece I selected, as in “Allegro 2:57,” then the group and conductor, followed by composer (Handel in the first one–“HWV” is the short name for the catalogs of Handel’s work). In some cases after that is another umbrella title such as “The Masterworks.” You can find many other performances of these pieces by other groups that are also very good, but these are some of my favorite groups. The speed, acoustical character, and other aspects of the recordings of this music will often vary with the group. Some groups play some Bach pieces much faster than others for example. I prefer not too fast so I can hear all the wonderful moments clearly.

 

CLASSICAL LIST — Mostly from Baroque period, some from Classical period

 

1. The first piece is performed by one of the best Baroque music groups in the world, and one of the best conductors of (and experts on) the composer Handel, Christopher Hogwood. Handel’s Concertos a Due Cori are for strings and two wind groups (due cori is Italian for two choirs, but there’s no singing).

Concerto a Due Cori No. 3, HWV 334: 2a. Allegro 2:57 Academy of Ancient Music & Christopher Hogwood Handel: The Masterworks

2.  A trio sonata is played by three instruments. This is another star Baroque performance group. There are two selections below from HWV (works of Handel) 405:

Trio Sonata for 2 Recorders and Continuo in F, HWV 405: I. Allegro 1:56 Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Denis Vigay, Elisabeth Selin, George Malcolm & Michala Petri Handel: Complete Wind Sonatas

Trio Sonata for 2 Recorders and Continuo in F, HWV 405: III. Allegro 2:37 Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Denis Vigay, Elisabeth Selin, George Malcolm & Michala Petri Handel: Complete Wind Sonatas

3.  The album listed below is full of wonderful music by Vivaldi and I love most of it though I’ve just given you one example from it. Here is yet another great conductor of Baroque music (Sir Neville Marriner), and again the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, as is no. 2. “La Stravaganza” (The Extravagance) is the name Vivaldi gave this group of pieces for mainly solo violin and orchestra.

12 Violin Concertos, Op. 4, “La Stravaganza,” No. 2: I. Allegro 4:24 Alan Loveday, Sir Neville Marriner & Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Vivaldi: “La Stravaganza”

4.  Yet another group of lovely Vivaldi pieces under a different title, with several conductors and same performing group as nos. 2 and 3. “L’estro armonico” is another group of concertos, this time for string instruments. There’s a wonderful short essay on this group of pieces (and some other interesting stuff related to it) at http://www.hoasm.org/VIIIA/VivaldiLEstroArmonico.html

12 Concertos, Op. 3, “L’estro armonico”: Allegro 2:41 Alan Loveday, Sir Neville Marriner, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Carmel Kaine, Christopher Hogwood, Colin Tilney & Robert Spencer Vivaldi: L’estro armonico

5.  I am in love with oboes, and especially the “oboe d’amore,” and listen often to many pieces featuring them. I also love the related instrument, the “English horn.” I’ve listed a few pieces with these instruments for you throughout this list. These wind instruments, in the hands of the right composers and performers, are magical. One of the world’s great oboe players, who plays on several of these albums including the one below, is Albrecht Mayer.

Suite No.11 In D Minor, HWV 437: Sarabande (Arr. For Oboe, Oboe d’amore And English Horn By Andreas Tarkmann) 2:40 Albrecht Mayer, Vocalise

6.  Concerto for Oboe d’amore (From, BWV 209): I. Allegro 6:07 Albrecht Mayer & The English Concert Voices of Bach (Works for Oboe, Choir & Orchestra) Classical

7.  Concerto for Oboe, Strings and Basso Continuo In D Minor, TWV 51:d2: I. Largo 4:05 Albrecht Mayer, Berliner Barock Solisten & Rainer Kussmaul Sinfonia Melodica – Works By Telemann Classical

8. I’m mainly a classical singer but for some time planned a concert career as a violinist. I studied violin for twelve years, and still love to play and to hear it. I very much enjoyed playing Bach and Vivaldi, and there are several Vivaldi pieces featuring the violin on this list as you’ve seen. Vivaldi is such an interesting character, a musician who was ordained as a priest, and due to his red hair was known in his town as The Red Priest. He couldn’t perform masses due to health problems, so he turned to composing and teaching music in an institution that provided training for trades for orphaned boys, and music training for orphaned girls. He was appointed Master of Violin there but composed for all instruments.The most talented of the girls performed in an orchestra so good it became famous worldwide. He wrote most of his great works for these girls, and they must have been extremely well taught by him since much of this beautiful music requires considerable technical skill to play. (Thanks to Biography.com for some of these details.)

Giuliano Carmignola is one of the best performers of Vivaldi violin pieces, and often performs with the Venice Baroque Orchestra, another great group.

Concerto In B Minor for Violin, RV 389: III. Allegro 4:34 Andrea Marcon, Giuliano Carmignola & Venice Baroque Orchestra Vivaldi: Violin Concertos

9. Again from Vivaldi’s “L’estro Armonico,” and featuring four violins

Concerto X In B Minor for Four Violins: Allegro 3:44 Arcangeli Baroque Strings Vivaldi: Six Concertos from L’estro Armonico, Opus 3

10. Part of another concerto for oboe, by Bach. (Oboe is one of the many instruments Bach studied and played.)

Concerto for Oboe in D Minor, BWV 1059: I. Allegro 5:52 Christian Hommel, Cologne Chamber Orchestra, Helmut Müller-Brühl & Lisa Stewart Bach: Concertos for Oboe & Oboe d’amore Classical

11. A concerto for entire string orchestra by the composer Albinoni. He was mainly a singer and violinist but wrote a number of fine oboe works, and some of those are also on this album.

Concerto for Strings in F Major, Op. 9, No. 10: I. Allegro 3:35 Collegium Musicum 90 & Simon Standage Albinoni: Double Oboe Concertos and Concertos for Strings, Vol. 2

12. Below is more Bach, part of a group of pieces for lute.

Suite in E for Lute, BWV 1006a – 1000: I. Praeludium 3:50 Eduardo Fernandez Bach, J.S.: Lute Suites

13. I love the harp, and find it enchanting to listen to as well as calming.

Harp Concerto in C: III. Allegro 3:56 Elizabeth Hainen Harp Concertos

14. Telemann is another famous and prolific Baroque composer. This album features more of Albrecht Mayer and other great soloists.

Triple Concerto in E Major, TWV 53:E1: I. Andante 3:28 Emmanuel Pahud/Berliner Barock Solisten/Wolfram Christ/Albrecht Mayer Telemann Concertos Classical

15. Gabrieli wrote many of these beautiful pieces for groups of brass instruments. He was born in the middle of the 16th century, and was a composer during the time music was moving from the Renaissance style to the Baroque. The Empire Brass is one of the most famous brass ensembles.

Canzon Duo Decimi Toni 3:33 Empire Brass The Glory of Gabrieli (Antiphonal Music for Brass Choirs) Classical

16. A concerto grosso is a piece featuring various solo instruments that alternate with the full orchestra. Many Baroque composers wrote them, and the one below is by Handel, who wrote many great ones. He worked in his native Germany, then Italy, and finally London where he lived for many years and was very much loved and celebrated. He was famous as a landmark opera composer as well.

Concerto grosso in B-Flat Major, Op. 3, No. 1: I. Allegro 2:58 English Chamber Orchestra, Raymond Leppard, Leslie Pearson & John Constable Ultimate Handel Classical

17.  Fasch was a Baroque composer and contemporary of J.S. Bach and Georg Frideric Handel. He’s not as well known as some, but wrote lots of music I was delighted to discover him for myself with the help of our local classical radio station WCRB, here in Boston. He lived from 1688 to 1758 mostly in Germany. The performing group The English Concert and its conductor Trevor Pinnock are both well known and widely respected.

Concerto In D Major FWV L: D. 14: I. Allegro 3:10 The English Concert & Trevor Pinnock Fasch: Concerto and Orchestral Suites Classical

18. Another composer you might not have heard of is William Boyce, an English composer who lived in London during much of the 18th century. Among his best works are church music and a number of symphonies.

Symphony No. 1 In B-Flat: I .Allegro 2:54 English String Orchestra & William Boughton Boyce: The Eight Symphonies

19. The piece below is one movement from a concerto by C.P.E. Bach on an album of his and Mozart’s music. C.P.E. (Carl Philipp Emmanuel) was one of J.S. Bach’s sons, well-taught by his father to follow in Dad’s footsteps. There’s a fascinating essay on the two at  http://www.interlude.hk/front/like-father-like-sonjohann-sebastian-and-carl-philipp-emanuel-bach/

Concerto for 2 Harpsichords, Strings and Horns in F Major, Wq. 46: I. Allegro 9:17 Haydn Sinfonietta Wien, Manfred Huss, Alexei Lubimov & Juri Martynov C. P. E. Bach & Mozart: Double Concerto and Symphonies

20.  “Il Gardellino” is a performance group founded in Belgium. They play a lot of Baroque but also some later music. The Oboe D’amore concerto movement below is by the two 18th-century composers, Carl Heinrich Graun and his brother Johann Gottlieb Graun, again not so well-known to me at least until relatively recently.

Oboe D’amore Concerto In D Major: I. Allegro 6:11 Il Gardellino Graun: Concerti

13. Below is another concerto movement from L’estro armonico by Vivaldi. Iona Brown (1941-2004) was a British conductor and violinist.

12 Concertos, Op. 3, “L’estro armonico”: Allegro assai 3:01 Iona Brown, Sir Neville Marriner, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Carmel Kaine, Roy Gillard, Christopher Hogwood, Colin Tilney & Robert Spencer Vivaldi: L’estro armonico

14. A solo harp piece by Carlos Salzedo, “Quietude,” from an album of harp composers. The harpist is Jennifer Swartz

5 Preludes: No. 1. Quietude 2:49 Jennifer Swartz Grandjany – Hindemith – Lizotte – Salzedo – Tailleferre: Solo Harp Music

15. I love trumpet and oboes together in this movement from an album of a group of composers. I chose the piece because I liked it but cannot find a clear composer name on the album. Kehr and Zickler appear to be two of the performers.

16. More trumpet, this time by Telemann. I’ve found some impressive recordings from this group, Latvian Philharmonic.

Trumpet Concerto In D Major, TWV 51:D7: II. Allegro 2:08 Latvian Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra & Pierre Kremer Orchestral Music (Baroque) – Handel, G.F. – Bach, J.S. – Pachelbel, J. – Corelli, A. – Purcell, H. – Vivaldi, A. (Baroque Orchestral Masterpieces)

17. Trumpet and oboe again, in a movement from a set of albums called The Art of the Baroque Trumpet. This double concerto is by Johann Wilhelm Hertel, (1727-1789), again relatively new to me.

Double Concerto In E Flat Major For Trumpet And Oboe: Allegro 4:55 M./Telemann Handel/Haydn The Art Of The Baroque Trumpet, Volume 4

18. An unlikely but beautiful combination of trumpet and organ, from the album The Italian Trumpet.

Concerto en Ol Mineur Pour Trompette Et Orgue: I. Vivace 1:28 Marc-André Doran & André Henry Italian Trumpet (The)

19. A movement from one of my favorite keyboard players, Murray Perahia (pronounce like pariah), part of one of the many celebrated Bach keyboard concertos.

Keyboard Concerto No. 5 in F Minor, BWV 1056: III. Presto 2:58 Murray Perahia, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Jeanne Dolmetsch & Marguerite Dolmetsch Bach: Keyboard Concertos Nos. 3, 5, 6, 7

19. One movement from one of the many beautiful Mozart piano works, Concerto no. 25. The concertos are accompanied by orchestra. Mozart is from the Classical period, which came after the Baroque,

Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K. 503: III. Allegretto 8:38 Orpheus Chamber Orchestra & Richard Goode Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 25 & No. 9

20. Also from the Classical period, a movement from a symphony by Haydn, who wrote many of them.

Symphony in B-Flat, H. I:68: I. Vivace 4:29 Philharmonia Hungarica & Antal Doráti Haydn: The Complete Symphonies

21.  Most of Bach’s oratorios (such as The Messiah) include an overture. This is the beautiful overture to the Easter Oratorio, and the overture is called a “sinfonia” in this case.

Easter Oratorio “Kommt, Eilet Und Laufet”, BWV 249: I. Sinfonia In D Major 4:51 Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra Vienna & Ferdinand Grossmann Bach: Easter Oratorio & Magnificat

22.  “Tafel” music was “table music,” meant to be heard at feasts and banquets. Telemann labeled some of his collections of compositions “Tafelmusik.” This is a movement from one of them. “Basso continuo” means “continuous bass” and is an accompaniment to the solo instruments made up of a bass line and harmonies, usually played on a keyboard and sometimes also on a lower instrument such as the cello.

Tafelmusik, Part 2: no 4, Trio Sonata for Flute, Oboe and Basso Continuo in E minor, TV 42:e2: I. Affetuoso 3:11 Salzburg Chamber Quartet Telemann: Table Music Suite Part 2, No. 4 – Trio in E Minor

23. Another movement of a piece for Oboe D’amore, by Telemann.

Concerto in A Major for Oboe D’amore: II. 3:14 Sarah Francis & London Harpsichord Ensemble Telemann: Oboe Concertos (Vol. 2)

24. Everything these two violinists play on this Vivaldi album by the Venice Baroque Orchestra is dazzling. I’ve put one movement of one of the Vivaldi pieces for two violins here. The violinists are Viktoria Mullova and again Giuliano Carmignola, listed earlier as the performer of a solo piece by Vivaldi.

Concerto for 2 Violins, Strings and Continuo in G Major, R. 516: I. Allegro Molto 3:41 Viktoria Mullova, Andrea Marcon, Venice Baroque Orchestra & Giuliano Carmignola, Vivaldi: Concertos for Two Violins

25. The Marsalis family of musicians is now legendary, and trumpeter Wynton is one of the finest classical trumpeters in the world. I’ve listed a movement below from a concerto by Johann Friedrich Fasch, including Marsalis along with two oboes and string orchestra.

Concerto In D Major for Trumpet, Two Oboes and Strings: I. Allegro 2:06 Wynton Marsalis & Raymond Leppard Wynton Marsalis Plays Handel, Purcell, Torelli, Fasch, and Molter

 

*These come from my longer curated music lists at my service Sonia Music. I’m giving readers this short list as a gift because I want more people to RELAX and get happier and healthier now!

 

 

Classic movies for a good mood

Susan Cooke

If you’re stressed, depressed, or anxious, these movies are a joy and might help. I’ll post more here later as I think of them. I bet you’ve never heard of some of them! I list movie first, then main actor(s):

My Man Godfrey—William Powell & Carole Lombard

The Voice of the Turtle—Eleanor Parker & Ronald Reagan

Lucky Partners—Ginger Rogers and Ronald Coleman

Desk Set—Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy

Vivacious Lady—James Stewart & Ginger Rogers

I Love you Again—William Powell & Myrna Loy

Biography of a Bachelor Girl—Ann Harding, Robert Montgomery & Edward Everett Horton

Hands Across the Table—Carole Lombard

Miranda—Glynis Johns

You’ve Got Mail—Meg Ryan & Tom Hanks

The Runaway Bride—Julia Roberts & Richard Gere

My Big Fat Greek Wedding—Nia Vardalos (& edited by my cousin Mia Goldman!)

When Harry met Sally—Meg Ryan & Billy Crystal

Double Wedding—William Powell & Myrna Loy

The Talk of the Town—Cary Grant, Ronald Colman, Jean Arthur

The Shop Around the Corner—James Stewart & Margaret Sullavan

Never Say Goodbye—Errol Flynn & Eleanor Parker

Easy Living—Jean Arthur, Ray Milland, Edward Arnold

The Devil and Miss Jones—Jean Arthur, Robert Cummings, & Charles Coburn

A Foreign Affair—Jean Arthur, Marlene Dietrich, John Lund

The  Doctor Takes a Wife—Ray Milland & Loretta Young

The More the Merrier—Jean Arthur, Charles Coburn, Joel McCrea

Key to the City— Young & Clark Gable

The Ex-Mrs. Bradford—Jean Arthur & William Powell

More than a Secretary—Jean Arthur & George Brent

Mother is a Freshman—Van Johnson & Loretta Young

Come to the Stable—Loretta Young & Celeste Holm

People will Talk—Cary Grant & Jeanne Crain (only partly a comedy but wonderful)

Bullies On the World Stage

Susan Cooke

I’ve been thinking about some of our world “leaders” and how they got so mean. The classic answer, I figured at first, is someone was mean to them when they were kids, but that happened a lot to Winston Churchill and he turned out mostly okay. His dad was fiercely critical at times, and his mom was pretty much hands-off, so there wasn’t much affection (though his mother was verbally supportive). Both parents failed to visit him at school much and were pretty self-involved. Luckily he had a loving nurse, “Womany,” who was in essence mother and father to him, always giving support and affection whenever he was home. As an adult he snapped at his wife a lot, and suffered from chronic depression. The strikes against him emotionally could have made him both a miserable and perhaps tyrannical leader, or no leader at all, but some magical combination of good things must have changed what might have been an awful course for his life to take, altering what is now such an important moment in history. His father’s at least occasional closeness, and his admiration for his father seemed to inspire him periodically, though sadly this was cut short by the syphilis that gradually destroyed his father’s mind and ended his life too early. Thankfully he was also strengthened enough by the love, even if distant, of his adored mother, and the unending unconditional support of Womany even as he grew older–until she died–so that the world gained an inspiring leader rather than a powerful bully.

I’ve known other people with not the greatest childhood experiences who did not turn into bullies, and some who bullied part-time yet could be caring at other times. But what about the people who bully most of or all the time? This of course includes most heads of governments of countries whose unfortunate people we’ve seen suffer a great deal, both in the past and today, and also heads of governments who want to make people in other countries suffer too. You know the names–tyrants and dictators through the ages and those bullying millions right now.

KID BULLIES

On the bullying information site “Ditch the Label” which largely addresses school bullies, it says bullies usually want to gain a feeling of power, purpose and control over you. In their research they found that many bullies were likely to have experienced a stressful or traumatic situation in the past five years before they bullied someone. They say while some people meditate or find other ways to deal with their trauma, some simply don’t know what to do and may bully as a coping mechanism. 66% of the people who told these researchers they’d bullied someone were male.It’s believed this has partly to do with the way boys are raised, not feeling it’s okay to show emotions, while girls are usually encouraged to talk about their feelings.

Their research shows those who are bullied are twice as likely to bully someone else. One in three who bullied told researchers they felt their parents/guardians didn’t have enough time for them. They were more likely from larger families, less likely to live with biological parents, often felt rejected by their parents, or came from violent households with lots of arguments and hostility. They tended to feel relationships with their friends and family were not secure. They were more likely to feel those closest to them weren’t very supportive or loving, and made them do things they were not comfortable doing.1

I was bullied often as a child, but I guess there was enough love and support from various people along the way to prevent me from turning into a complete jerk. For what it’s worth, being bullied is probably partly what made me want to fight on behalf of victims of all sorts. (Still, I don’t recommend the experience.) So this seems an imperfect science–predicting who becomes a bully–but I do think based on my own experience that the people I quote here have a lot of ideas that make sense.

ADULT BULLIES

Psychology Today‘s page on adult bullies tells us one way people bully others is to use title, position, or material leverage to intimidate, threaten, harass, and/or harm. The bully uses his advantage in stature and/or resources (like wealth) to control and dominate the victim. It quotes Edmond Burke: “The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse.” It also mentions verbal abuse as bullying, including threats, shaming, hostile teasing, insults, constant negative judgment and criticism, or racist, sexist, or homophobic language. Quoting Lundy Bancroft, “The scars from mental cruelty can be as deep and long-lasting as wounds or punches but are often not as obvious.”

The site discusses physical, cyber, and “passive-aggressive or covert” bullying. Author Preston Ni describes the latter this way:

This is a less frequently mentioned form of bullying, but in some ways it’s the most insidious. With many bullies, you can see them coming because they are quick to make their intimidating presence known. A passive-aggressive or covert bully, however, behaves appropriately on the surface, but takes you down with subtlety.

Examples of passive-aggressive and covert bullying include negative gossip, negative joking at someone’s expense, sarcasm, condescending eye contact, facial expression or gestures, mimicking to ridicule, deliberately causing embarrassment and insecurity, the invisible treatment, social exclusion, professional isolation, and deliberately sabotaging someone’s well-being, happiness, and success. 2

On another Psychology Today page, Andrea F. Polard, Psy.D, author of the book A Unified Theory of Happiness, reports bullying is widespread and increasing:

Bullying is an aggressive behavior with the aim to intimidate and harm another, repeatedly over time and with a more powerful person or group attacking a less powerful one. While it happens more frequently in countries that promote violence and that are intolerant of inter-individual differences, bullying is everywhere. Even in other species: chimpanzees do it; dogs do it; mice do it. 

We might bully, she says, when we feel threatened by someone who stands out or who seems to have a competitive edge over [our] perceived limited resources. She says anyone different from the group is a potential target. Her quote from Hogan Sherrow of Scientific American is especially apt and I think interesting in our present culture:

Individuals whose behavior challenges, disrupts or are considered unusual are often the targets of aggression, and that aggression continues until those individuals change their behavior…Bullying-like behaviors are used to enhance an individual or coalition’s competitive ability, or to coerce others into changing their behavior to conform to the rest of the community. Bullying-like behaviors provide the individuals who engage in them with advantages over their targets, through enhanced status or access to resources, or both.

If I understand her correctly, Polard is saying some (I would think mostly insecure) people want power of various kinds, either just because they want it or because that power leads to getting resources like money, attention, status from a peer group, or fame. Such people seem to have no qualms about bullying to get those resources.

STOPPING BULLIES

Polard says the victims’ coming forward to say they were bullied isn’t near enough to stop the bullying. You have to understand bullying better, and understand what’s up with the bully and why he/she feels insecure, threatened or disempowered enough to do this. It’s also the responsibility of the community to stop the bully by building powerful coalitions around the victim (I assume she means provide widespread protection of people who tend to be bullied.)

Her next thought seems important to remember: we can’t wait for bullies to become aware of how they need to change. We need to empower the victim now with education about why bullies bully, and help the victim discover his/her own power. Next, victims (and I would think the rest of us too) should let the bully know we know they bully because they’re fearful and insecure or don’t feel they have enough or are good enough. We should demand not only an apology, but that the bullies examine their behavior, get help, and not bully again. She suggests a support group for the victim, and finally a look at the entire society. Is it hostile or unkind, for instance?

I know she is talking largely about kids at school in this instance, but in many ways this applies to adults in the larger world, for example she writes:

All parties ought to look into the contributing factors of an atmosphere of intolerance and aggression. If schools promote competitiveness from an early age on, dividing kids according to their test taking skills, offering special classes, discussing college in elementary school and the “rush to nowhere” in general, we ought not to be surprised that kids start to elbow each other. We need to look at racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and other discriminative behavior and engage in open discussions. Where is the dialogue about uncomfortable truths?

Also helpful are her observations on the contribution of mental illness, which itself is added to by unhealthy trends in our culture:

We need to address the fact that a myriad of people are unhappy and highly medicated, suffering from depression and anxiety, triggered by the great recession, social injustice, glorified aggression in movies and actual warfare, extremely high divorce-rates and dysfunctional families, inertia, anorexic role models and reality TV stars whose one God is money. Happy people are the exception, not the norm and are therefore an easy target for those who are fashionably unhappy. The least we can do is to be mindful about mental health and the lack of thereof. 3

TODAY’S BIG BULLIES

I imagine as you read through these various quotes and ideas about bullies, the behavior of many people comes to mind, people both in your inner circle and in public life. Since I was looking primarily for keys to help us stop political bullying from those in power in the world now, I’ll only comment on them here.

I might in the future look into those bullies’ childhoods and see what I can find, but I think our main problem is what they’re doing right now. I’m not sure we can undo enough childhood damage to change those bullies, although I’ve always thought we should have the best psychotherapists around working for the government to help formulate policies with regard to world bullies. (Those psychotherapists should be selected carefully, using peer review, etc. and no politics!)

Our own President is a bully in more ways than I can get into here, but I’ll mention one that applies to several comments of Preston Ni on covert or passive-aggressive bullying mentioned earlier: “…deliberately causing embarrassment and insecurity…professional isolation, and deliberately sabotaging someone’s well-being, happiness, and success.” Trump just did the above to ex-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe by firing him a few hours before his pension began. Even if it’s found that McCabe broke the law he could have been given his pension for now. This was classic, mean bullying. We need to act on Polard’s direction to build a coalition of safety around McCabe, support him in his efforts to obtain justice, and call out the bully Trump for what he is as well as let him know he’s showing his fear, insecurity, and the fact that underneath his shows of bravura he doesn’t think he’s good enough. He needs to know we’re onto him and how he’s using power and money to belittle and harm someone (and the someone’s family). Trump’s behavior in general is also reflected in part of another statement mentioned earlier, on using verbal abuse to bully. Methods include “threats, shaming, hostile teasing, insults, constant negative judgment and criticism, or racist, sexist, or homophobic language.” My experience of him has been he uses many of these methods constantly.

As for Putin, we need to let him know even more certainly than we have already that we’re onto him, that he’s using resources and the power he used bullying to get, to then bully millions by threatening their very existence. Kim Jong Un doesn’t have as much money from what I understand, but his nukes and the friends (I think some of them are also bullies) who give him money for nukes and for whatever other brutal stuff he’s cooking up are all clearly a threat to us and seem happy in that role. (I’d like to see an entire book on what makes people happy to be monsters. And what does it take to go from bully to monster? It seems hard to know where to draw the insanity line.)  I’m not sure but I think Kim is more transparent about what’s bothering him than is Putin, though Kim may not mean to be. We all know he feels unsafe, so I say do what we can to make him feel safer, but let him know the world can see he’s feeling insecure. On second thought he might be too unstable to withstand that. (It really is time to consult the world’s therapists.) Maybe we should just let him know we think he’s acting dishonorably, in case there’s an ounce of him that cares about that.

I’m afraid Putin would be unaffected by our calling him dishonorable. He seems both a covert and overt bully, with his constant denials that he’s done anything wrong while he continues to threaten and frighten people. I guess Polard would say we need to build up our own methods of protection against both these bullies, but maybe we should also remind them that if they did even only partially destroy us it would in the end give them a very expensive clean-up job to do. Our country wouldn’t be worth near as much to them in the terrible disarray, death, and destruction a nuclear (or severe cyber or wide chemical) attack would leave. We might mention that most history books and countries would vilify them forever if they did enough such nasty stuff to us or to other countries. They’re already down for some pretty negative pages in those history books now of course. It’s worth mentioning, since we don’t have lots of alternatives left to use to defend ourselves from all of their many methods of causing death and chaos, other than harming yet more innocent people in an un-winnable war. If they do contemplate lots of expensive further destruction, I’d like to remind them that we could all (including them) put that money to great use helping each other’s countries become wonderful rather than scary places. So I refer them to a new idea on the off-chance they ever read this: They should look at my posts on making and living in a kinder world. Better yet, they should just start doing it. Bullies, put your energy and money into something that will really make you famous–doing good.

At some point we have to hope today’s big bullies can stop thinking about their own amassing of power for a few minutes to remember they won’t live forever and may leave behind terrible reputations as hateful, useless humans who had the power to contribute wonderful gifts to the world but chose instead to use power to harm. The mess they make will be an embarrassment to their memories and for their families down through the generations for eons to come, that is, if they haven’t wrecked or blown up the whole planet before then.

Kind Acts that Reduce Stress

Susan Cooke

We don’t often think about these things, but if we all practice them, daily life, especially in cities, will feel so much less stressful, and will actually be healthier. The most benefit comes from all people practicing these kindnesses, not just a few people. But if you’re the first, that’s still a good start. We can help if we:

1. Use as few loud pieces of machinery as possible, both indoors (when windows are open) and outdoors

2. Use electric or battery-powered outdoor equipment–the quietest we can afford–to not only lower noise levels but also stop adding to pollution. Gas-powered leaf-blowers especially are now known to emit particulates highly suspected of causing cancer, endangering anyone (or any animals) who breathe near them, and adding them to soil and groundwater

3. Try not to slam car doors (or house doors), especially at night. Kids, moms, and many other people must sleep in the daytime too so quieter door-closing all the time is helpful.

4. Play music at home softly when windows are open, especially in the city where homes are so close. In an apartment that doesn’t have soundproof walls the same thing applies–we invade others’ rest space or their own sound space when we blast music. Of course they ideally will do the same for us.

5. Play music in the car softly if parked and waiting for someone, on residential streets, or even at a stoplight. Other people want to hear their own music or at least not to be assaulted by our music which they might not like, or they might have a headache, etc. Again we invade their space if we blast the car radio. We all need to help each other with noise issues, because we can’t close our ears the way we close our eyes.

6.  If we own or manage a business we can help many people by playing music more softly than is currently common. Unless a place is known to be a loud nightclub, many customers don’t want to be blasted with loud music. Many who want coffee or a meal or to shop don’t want to be hit over the head with a sound system, especially if they don’t even like the music (and businesses can’t possibly know which music everyone likes). Some people do enjoy loud music in a store or restaurant, but it’s likely they’d suffer less without it than those who can’t take the loud sound suffer when they can’t get it turned down. It’s especially stressful when they want very much to be in a place such as a cafe because they live alone and want to be around people for awhile even if they’re reading or writing at their own table (more people are now living alone). If they have to stay in some places awhile such as a doctor’s office it ‘s tough too, especially since some now even have TV which drives a lot of people nuts since they get plenty of that at home already. People sensitive to loud sound often tell me they’re afraid to ask that it be turned down since they’re often ridiculed or scowled at. They say they just don’t return to those places (so the places lose what might have become a longtime customer). But they miss going to many places they used to love now, all because of loud music, and in many cities this is making people lonelier and more isolated. This is happening in the UK in many pubs as well.

Often the “upbeat mood” managers want from loud music is made by customers on their own, no music required. Some managers are told by marketers that loud and fast music brings in more money, but how can they know for sure since people whose nervous systems can’t take it (an estimated 20% of the population) can never come in? Sometimes it’s staff that wants the music loud, but even if the customer isn’t always right anymore, you’d think she could have a say once in a while. (However, I understand that staff often find the music too loud too. Waiters in two different places told me the boss would fire them if they ever asked again that volume be lowered for a customer!) I read one article that said marketers tell owners we chew faster when the music is fast. Maybe so, but I say to both restaurant owners and marketers, the notion of secretly trying to make us chew faster for more profit is just…Ew, creepy.

Some people try to use headphones to block loud music, but that’s isolating too if you like to go to a coffee shop to be around people. This new cause of even more isolation contributes to depression and isn’t good for building the sense of community that’s so healthy for humans. So loud sound systems are contributing not only to more stress and early hearing loss (especially in employees), but also more isolation and depression.

7.  We might think more about outdoor grilling if we do it often. A lot of people do, adding a large volume of pollutants to the air, contributing to global warming, and making it hard for nearby neighbors with asthma, lung or heart disease or smoke allergy to be outside in their own space. We can try to find cleaner ways of grilling or at least do some of it without smoke, indoors or out, so on a lovely day neighbors too can be in their own yards (or on their own decks or balconies) without suffering. We can ask neighbors if smoke bothers them–they’ll appreciate it and be kinder to us about other matters later. The best part of an outdoor party is the people gathering to meet and eat, isn’t it? (You probably know this already but grilled foods contribute to cancer, and meat today is quite unhealthy too due to toxins, even in pasture-raised and organic meat.)

8. We can think more about our fireplaces. We might consider some other way of heating that’s cleaner and smokeless. Sadly, it’s now known wood-burning fireplaces are really bad for us (see https://www.wsj.com/articles/one-fire-please-hold-the-soot-1449170833), and people with asthma won’t be able to visit for long even if they too love the idea of a fireplace. They’ll start coughing and their eyes may begin to sting, Many people won’t be able to take walks in neighborhoods where most houses use fireplaces (I only have mild asthma but can begin coughing within seconds of walking by a couple of houses burning wood, even though I love the smell!) You’ll again help decrease global warming if you use a different method, You might try to substitute for some of the lost coziness by simmering apples, orange peels, cloves, cinnamon, etc. on the stove, and there are other good fireplace choices, some on the site of the link I just placed above.

9. Driving kindness:  we help others a great deal if we use signals, pass politely, don’t drive on others’ bumpers (and start out earlier so we don’t have to speed), don’t run red lights just because we can get away with it (my friend was killed by such a driver), are kind to cyclists and pedestrians and expect them to make mistakes and unexpected moves at times, and remember that many drivers are new–we all have to start sometime!–and they can’t handle our unexpected or un-signaled moves, or our talking on the phone and not paying attention.. Pushing lost or new drivers will just frighten them and make an accident more likely. It’s good to assume most people on the road aren’t paying enough attention. When driving where people live we can be extra careful not to speed, especially up and down hills and in bigger vehicles since this is very noisy and stresses people and pets–especially at night. Finally, it’s better if we can control our outrage when something stupid or rude happens. Rage tends to make most people feel worse afterwards and will probably raise their blood pressure!

10. When cycling or walking we have to remember drivers can’t stop on a dime just because we dashed into the middle of the street unexpectedly. It’s best to use lights and reflective clothing, signal when we can, and try to get one of those new helmets with turn signals you control from the handlebars. (When I drive I often see cyclists and pedestrians dressed in muted colors at dawn or earlier, with no lights, and it’s nearly impossible to see them until I’m so close it’s hard to stop in time.) Also, ditto the last two lines of no. 9.

11. We can think more about phone kindness:  most people don’t want to hear others’ private but loud (even shouted) conversations either in person or on the phone, and lately there’s a lot of shouting going on for some reason. In my city, coffee shops often become personal private offices in a lot of customers’ minds, where they carry on loud business calls right next to some poor Joe who just wants to read a little in peace before going to work. People want to enjoy the space where they’ve gone for coffee, reading or writing some or talking quietly to their own friend. If some other person is shouting, the first person can’t do any of those things. Recently I’ve experienced a number of people shouting on phones while sitting by themselves next to me in a coffee shop, and somehow it’s even more disturbing than when they shout at a live person sitting with them when there is one (which is pretty unpleasant too compared to if they just talk to that person in a reasonable voice, and why are they shouting?)

It’s kind also not to talk loud on porches or in our yards if we can be heard by neighbors trying to enjoy their own porch or yard. They just want some of that quiet time outside we all need. One of our neighbors used to sit on his balcony and shout long business.  calls, and another did the same on his screened porch. They both did it often so when I was in my garden trying to have some calming time I felt like I was in the middle of an angry business conference, and the one on the porch was all the way across the street–now that’s shouting! (Again I ask, why do they do that?) When it’s that loud in the garden I can’t relax so I just have to retreat back inside. The garden gets no attention and I don’t get the dose of nature I crave. After enough days like that I get depressed. (But the the loud neighbor does get to enjoy seeing my garden. That’s fine–I love when others enjoy it–but there won’t be much to see for long if I can’t get out there and work.)

If we don’t protect each other from such disturbances we’ll all have to drive long distances to the country just to find even one hour of calm, if we’re to stay sane, and most of us could do with some calm in nature every day. I can’t manage that drive to the country often enough. That’s why I grew the garden! If we want others to grow gardens–great for their health and for our city’s air quality–we have to help them by not making it miserable to be outside.

We can also help others find badly-needed calm by not making a park bench our personal office either, so others can enjoy the park and the sound of birds or the whisper of leaves in the trees.

12. We’re kind when we decide we won’t ever leave butts, trash, gum, receipts, plastic bags, or dog poop in other people’s yards or sidewalks, or put the poop in their trash cans, forcing them to do constant clean-up. About the dog poop, they often don’t know it’s there in the trash, so after a while the bag degrades, the poop dries out, stinks, and sticks like cement to the bottom of the trash can. Then it’s a huge clean-up job. (So would whoever is dropping it in our trash can please cut it out?)

13. Before throwing a party it’s really nice if we talk to neighbors, tell them we’ll try to keep the noise down, and ask them to let us know if it’s disturbing them. They will LOVE this. Even if it gets a little too noisy they’ll feel they have some control–which we’ve given them–and they know we won’t be angry if they ask us to turn down the volume. So they’ll probably put up with more noise than otherwise just because we’ve given them some control. And hopefully they’ll do the same for us.

14. If we do end up having to sometimes hire loud yard work or construction teams at our homes, we can apologize  ahead of time to neighbors, tell them we hate all that noise too (so they know that for when they have to make noise and will then take care of us), tell them we’ll ask workers to be as quick and quiet as possible, and tell them to tell us if they’re going nuts so we can try to time things a little better depending on their sleep/work schedule. Or we can ask ahead when they need it the quietest and tell them we’ll at least try to keep it quieter then. We can tell them we’ll instruct workers not to play loud radios outside or with windows open. If we make such efforts, showing we care, neighbors will likely do the same thing for us or help us in other ways that are equally kind.

15. Write to me about other ways you’ve discovered to be kind or in which you need more kindness and consideration so we can all learn more.

Guns, Killing, & and Kindness

Susan Cooke

While an abundance of research tells us stress in cities is so severe that it’s making many of us quite ill, I’ve been encouraged to see how some countries have decreased some of these stresses. They’re using such methods as adding more of the green space we all desperately need, limiting the increasing toxic chemicals showing up in much of the world’s food and other products, and limiting industrial noise and fumes known to contribute to mental and physical illness.1  Here in the US we need to adopt some of these solutions more widely if we’re to climb up from our low rating on lists of happiest countries. We’re now a paltry #14 on one list, and on another we’ve fallen to 19th.2  While some of these stress solutions and those for other stresses I write about can be challenging, most are manageable with some public education and shared effort between private citizens and business and government leaders.

I’ve been thinking for some time however that it isn’t just this kind of stress that’s affecting us. People are telling me they’re dismayed by what seems increasingly ruder, inconsiderate, or just mean behavior in their daily lives. They encounter it while driving, or around town, or from reading and hearing hateful rhetoric in the news and online. When you add this to the usual city chaos from noise, traffic, construction, and so on, it feels almost like living in a war zone, but without the comforting closeness that wartime sometimes causes as people come together to support each other against an enemy. The enemy is right here, and it seems as if it will remain as long as we do or say inconsiderate, cruel, or hateful things.There seems to be a growing lack of regard for one another at a time when feelings of shared and supportive community where we live–something researchers say we must have for good mental health–are in short supply. Whether or not we’re all aware of all these stresses, it looks like they’re affecting us seriously, raising our blood pressures, causing other stress-related illnesses, making us feel anxious or depressed, or all these and more. In fact chronic stress from multiple sources is thought by many researchers to be shortening our lives, especially in cities which tend to be even more chaotic than rural areas.

THREE HARMFUL PRACTICES

I study solutions for many different stresses affecting our health in and out of cities, but for now I want to consider just three specific practices you might not think of as major contributors to our stressful environment. I believe they do affect us deeply, and that we must examine them carefully if we want to become a happier healthier country. Though they often lie under our radar and we’d mostly rather not look at them, we need to now because they contribute to unnecessary violence, cruelty, and suffering that go on here daily. I’m convinced they make us feel too comfortable with that suffering, and that continuing them belies our notion that we’re a civilized people.

I think it’s good to accept that we humans are fallible so we can keep it in mind in making all our decisions (more on this in another post). Our imperfectness is one reason that even when we know stopping a harmful practice would help us, we often find ways not to stop it if it’s inconvenient enough or takes us far enough out of our comfort zones. Most of us don’t mean to be cruel, but if we fail to try to stop suffering that we cause, we are cruel. As a result we make our culture less kind, and our country a darker place. To change this we’ll need to slow our current desperate rush through life long enough to look deeply into ourselves and ask whether we really need what these practices give us. (The practices also exist in other countries, and I hope they will ask the same question.) The practices and the misery they cause reach into our culture like ripples from stones thrown in a pond. They settle into our lives until it seems normal and okay that they’re there. But it isn’t okay.

The practices are:

1)  Widespread gun ownership

2)  Hunting

3)  Animal agriculture (raising and killing animals for food and products)

Millions of people already live life happily without them, which shows that the suffering they cause isn’t necessary and serves no purpose that benefits humanity. Before I get to the practices let’s first take a short detour:

AN ANTHROPOLOGIST’S VIEW OF KIND & UNKIND SOCIETIES

Anthropologist Ruth Benedict observed two kinds of cultures–she called them “synergistic” and “surly and nasty.” I like to call them “kind” and “unkind.”  In synergistic cultures, behaviors that benefit the whole society are rewarded, and those that harm it are forbidden. The people respect compassion and generosity, and wealth is circulated throughout the community. If your vegetable patch is overflowing, you just naturally give a lot of food away, and you don’t get (or need) social brownie points for being well off. Kids are taught early to share. These societies tend to be peaceful, healthy, and respectful of women, children, and the elderly. Individuals are happy, secure, and trusting.

Surly and nasty societies hold wealth in high esteem and reward behavior that benefits individuals at the expense of the group. The people tend to be paranoid, mean-spirited, warlike, and abusive to women, children, and the elderly. Individuals see others as threats or competitors, think only of their own interests, and often are self-aggrandizing, insecure, suspicious, and hostile, Wealth is in the hands of only a few.3  Now let’s get to the first of the three practices.

GUN OWNERSHIP, THE NRA, & DESTROYING LIVES

How would Ruth Benedict label us? For years we’ve seen repeated mass killings aided by a constant proliferation of guns whose increasing sales line the pockets of gun sellers who then enrich the NRA, a group of what seem to be rather tyrannical, self-interested people. One political commentator recently went so far as to say the Republican party is actually controlled by the NRA. There’s seems something very wrong about that if it’s indeed true. In any case the NRA appears to use its gun sale money to maintain and promote even more gun sales through encouraging more gun use. It fights ferociously to discourage gun limits, and supports political candidates who will support…the NRA. Members are devoted to the idea of millions of us carrying the guns that take massive numbers of human lives and traumatize forever massive numbers of families of those who lost their lives. The group and its supporters are also widely devoted to the loathsome “sport” of hunting, which, no matter what else you say about it, takes life away from millions of beautiful wild animals. How many animals? I’ve seen numbers from 100 million to 200 million a year in the US, not including the millions more for which kill figures are not maintained by state wildlife agencies. Even non-hunters are forced to be exposed to all this slaughter when they go to wildlife refuges and national forests. PETA reports that 40% of hunters slaughter and maim millions of animals on public land every year.

The NRA could not exist in a “synergistic” (kind) society. It’s made itself a poster group for surly and nasty behavior and rhetoric. How else can you describe the ignoring of desperate pleas of friends and families of Florida massacre victims to reduce guns in this country? Or Georgia’s lieutenant governor’s crippling Delta airlines which like a number of companies practiced kindness by distancing itself from the NRA after the massacre? While many factors were at work in the Florida killings, the NRA and its supporters do seem quite comfortable with their own contribution to regular killings by gunfire via the easy gun availability they rabidly promote. They seem proud of their self-perceived patriotism and goodness, professing that the right to own guns is “granted by God.”  Their CEO’s shouted speech after the shootings can only be described as astonishingly cruel. Besides keeping guns available and killing astounding numbers of animals, some NRA leaders increasingly display an almost swashbuckling cruel manner. It may be contributing more than we realize to the atmosphere that’s making many people feel the country has become a meaner, more hate-filled place.

If the NRA does control the Republican party, how much might it (and the party) have to do with other cruel and hostile public statements coming from some members of the party, such as from the President, and from a recent candidate in Pennsylvania concerning things he proclaimed that Democrats hate, including God? This is surely the rhetoric of surliness, and if it continues to be considered acceptable will only get deeper under the skin of our culture. Such rhetoric pulls us apart, providing fewer chances to form those health-giving social bonds with one another we all need. Wouldn’t it be better to be kinder in our attitudes and public statements, so we can come together as a country?  Any group–and there are many now–that does or says cruel or nasty things on the public stage makes this nearly impossible. I sense from the NRA that it wants things to remain as they are now: violent, scary, and terribly sad for much of the country. This is certainly an anti-kindness, anti-community, and selfish attitude. Of course leaders of some countries seem drawn to the same ends, but that’s another reason I hope our country will become a model for kindness.

Keeping in mind that surly and nasty societies support individuals at the expense of the group, the NRA, an individual, smaller (but powerful) group, wants widespread guns at the expense of a much bigger group (all Americans who don’t want to live surrounded by guns). It doesn’t matter to the NRA that keeping guns available reduces the chances of a long life for all those future massacre victims, and chances for today’s suffering families to recover from their loss and probable lifelong trauma. Imagine how it feels to think their loved ones died in vain as guns continue to proliferate, when what they desperately need for recovery is to see is major gun-reducing legislation. NRA’s lack of empathy is stunning, and the cowardly hesitation to act on such legislation in most of Congress is even more stunning. Even worse, many other hateful groups can get guns easily thanks to the NRA, and use them to bully, spread more hate, and kill and maim even more people. This simply cannot work in a kind society. We must choose whether we want to be that society, and act on that choice, or choose the status quo by doing nothing.

GUNS AID SUICIDE

As people become more upset, many become more anxious and depressed. If they’re upset enough at any one moment and have a gun, they’re likely to use it on themselves. According to a 2017 Medpage report, suicides in the US are increasing, and now occur at a rate 125% higher than several decades ago at which time they’d begun to decline. There are also 90 attempted suicides for every completed one, and it’s notable that many of these suicides occur in adolescents.4  Here and now I’m begging members of groups sowing hate and violence or pushing gun availability to help the current generation and ones that follow. Help them have long, happy lives, and have better chances to avoid depression, suicide, and being murdered, by reconsidering your thinking and your messages. Help us become the kindest country on earth. It doesn’t hurt to try thinking a different way, and to remember kindness rarely harms and almost always helps. I believe it can transform us.

HUNTING

Hunting is one of the best ways to keep guns widespread in America. It adds to the suffering of living beings  by terrorizing and traumatizing animals, often separating forever animal mothers and babies or entire animal families. It’s hardly ever needed anymore to feed people in this country, and as you’ll see, animal food of any kind including seafood is now pretty unhealthy for us for several reasons including that much of it is contaminated with toxins such as dioxin, DDT, and other chemicals. Our industries have added these toxins to our air, water, and soil, they’re then stored in animal tissues, and end up in our own.

Besides acknowledging the physical suffering of animals, let’s no longer kid ourselves about their emotional pain. Research shows increasing evidence of animal consciousness, emotion, and intelligence. I’ll get into this more deeply in another post, but it’s clear animals can suffer great physical pain, mourn loss of loved ones, and in some cases go nearly insane with grief. We’re just beginning to learn how intelligent and sensitive they are.

Let’s stop excusing hunting as a good ol’ American sport. Yes it’s a long-practiced, age-old tradition. So are human trafficking and torture. Yes some families love annual hunting holidays, but you can vacation in nature, camp, hike, see beautiful woods, lakes, and animals (breathing ones), all without causing anguish and death. Yes some animal populations grow too large and annoy some people, but rather than hunt them let’s give them back some territory to live in, and they won’t encroach near as much. The extra green space will help to cool the planet. Yes heritage breeds should be preserved, but they don’t have to be killed and eaten. Yes hunting is practiced in other cultures, but most modern ones no longer need to do it in order to eat or dress, and no matter where it’s done, it’s cruel. So let’s lead in stopping it because it adds more guns and more acceptance of unnecessary suffering of both humans and animals. The more guns out there for hunting, the more often people can and do easily grab one to kill other people or themselves.

I heard a news commentator say NRA members often show people photos on their phones of their “latest kill.” I don’t know how widespread this is, but clearly they must not believe animals feel either mental or physical pain, or worse, they do believe it but just don’t care. You have to teach that kind of attitude toward killing and causing suffering, and if you teach it to kids, as hunters apparently often do, then you raise yet more people who don’t mind causing death and suffering. How can such an approach to life not affect our culture? Another way it adds to suffering is that people who think killing animals isn’t cruel don’t care if their killing upsets people who think it is, and many who think it is suffer chronic mental anguish due to seeing evidence of so much of it. Just walking by the grocery store meat department upsets many animal lovers, who can become so depressed that entire web sites have been established to help them deal with these constant reminders of animal suffering.

When we accept that millions of animals are slaughtered each year in our country not just by hunters but also by industries using animal products, and see that hunters are proud of killing animals, it takes us far from making our culture kinder. I believe this is true of all cultures in love with hunting, and all who raise and slaughter animals for food, clothing, or other products..

ANIMAL AGRICULTURE

The misery caused by the animal farming industry is something most people would rather not think about, but it clearly adds the weight of more cruelty to our consciousness and to the cultural atmosphere. Mostly brutal and these days truly unnecessary, animal agriculture systems cause the suffering and killing of millions of animals around the clock, with many of them condemned to utterly tragic lives from birth to death. Many are separated from their mothers at birth despite desperate protests of both mother and baby. Many of those babies are slaughtered not long afterwards, or suffer first in terrible confinement and are then slaughtered. Slaughter is terrifying and painful despite so-called humane techniques, partly because it’s often rushed and done badly (producing more meat faster yields more profit) but also because there doesn’t seem to be any method that reliably prevents suffering.5

Animals are killed for food, clothing, and furnishings that all can be provided in other ways. Numbers I’ve found so far for animals killed every year for their fur alone are over 1 billion rabbits and 50 million other animals. We of course are not the only country participating in this suffering.

EAT PLANTS, FEED THE HUNGRY, & LIVE LONG

There are multiple reasons to convert animal farming operations to plant farms. Plant farming can feed the world much more efficiently and in a way that promotes much better health than animal farming. Stopping animal farming would dramatically decrease both pollution and global warming. We would live longer, healthier lives because plants are naturally high in critical health-promoting, disease-fighting micronutrients, while animal foods have many fewer micronutrients. It’s now known that most animal foods are causing early onset of many serious illnesses due to industrial toxins and to connections between animal fat and heart disease, and between animal foods and cancer (the cancer connection is especially strong with dairy foods). Eating animal foods also keeps most of us from eating enough of the plants that are the major contributors to good health.

There are legions of books and articles full of healthy plant-based recipes that taste as good or better than any animal food, and  many high quality substitutes for animal hides, furs, and other animal ingredients used for products. Toyota, Lexus, and Tesla offer leather substitutes in their car interiors, and PETA and many other sites list retailers that sell vegan leather clothing and cruelty-free (no animal testing), animal-free cosmetics and household products. For more on plant food being the healthiest for humans read The China Study or just read summaries of the study, and any book by Joel Fuhrman, MD (Eat to Live is a great one to start with), or articles on his website such as a recent one on flame-retardant chemicals in almost all foods made from animals (including organic and pasture-raised), and in human breast milk as a result of eating those foods.6  For those who feel they can’t live without animal food, there are wonderful plant-based animal-like foods being created every year. An easy sub for cream for example is cashew nuts blended with a liquid. (Pets too can eat well without eating other animals, though some may need a supplement or two added. For an introduction to feeding such a diet go to https://www.peta.org/living/animal-companions/vegetarian-cats-dogs/.  Much supermarket pet food is full of toxins such as dying or diseased dead animals, and the same hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides in much meat sold to humans.)

You can see why increasing numbers of people now believe farming and eating plants rather than animals is a no-brainer. People are switching fast, with plant-based diets in the US increasing by 600% over three years.7  It might take a week or two to begin adapting to an all-plant diet, and most people love how they look and feel–thinner and healthier quickly–especially if they avoid most oil and stick to healthy fats like nuts and avocados (more on this in another post). Cookbooks that help include Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s The Thirty-Day Vegan Challenge, Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet, Angela Liddon’s Oh She Glows Cookbook, and Kathy Patalski’s Healthy, Happy Vegan Kitchen, all of which are good for beginners, and many more I’ll post later. For those whose business is creating food or other products made from animals and who fear loss of profits or of their business, it may be that profits will be higher due to more people now looking for vegan products and attracted to vegan retail stores, restaurants, bakeries, shoe stores, and grocery items.

KILLING ISN’T HEALTHY FOR THE KILLER EITHER

A final reason to stop animal farming is that no one should have to work in a slaughterhouse. How could the bloody and violent work of executing animals–even fish–not damage the human psyche? My father worked in a slaughterhouse briefly when he was a young man desperate for a job, and never got over it. I know many people who find fishing cruel. Research shows that slaughterhouse workers often become violent, abusive, or suffer from post-traumatic stress in their personal lives.8  My father did not become violent, but was traumatized and depressed by the cruelty and the horrific things he saw.

Because many of those workers do become abusive it confirms that if you can (or are forced to) get past the suffering and violence of killing, it’s easier to accept more suffering and violence later, even if part of you is rebelling against it. In some cases you may be so horrified that you react violently later, as sometimes happens to traumatized soldiers. I realize most slaughterhouse workers must only take those jobs because they’re desperate for work like my dad was, but I think it’s wrong to employ humans in mass murder of any kind. It would be a great kindness to train them in another field and liberate them, along with the animals, from such a terrible life.

These common reactions to killing make it hard for me to understand what would make most hunters continue to hunt. Why aren’t they affected by what seems a natural human revulsion for bloodshed and cruelty? Why doesn’t it affect owners of animal food and product businesses? How do you conclude you have the right (from God again?) to cause so much suffering and death? Why are there still so many people willing to participate in massive cruelty? Despite a brief respite a few years ago, and with so many substitutes available, it’s heartbreaking to see so much fur, down, and leather in use now. We must be messing up the minds and lives of lots of the poor workers who must labor in these businesses. Who wouldn’t be traumatized after even one day of slaughtering hundreds of bunnies? Do we realize what we’re supporting when we buy calf-skin shoes, kid gloves, or purses or make-up brushes made out of ponies?

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

I believe our letting animal agriculture continue, along with hunting and easy availability of guns, are among the main reasons we remain far from being what I know we could be: a kinder, less violent, happier, and mentally healthier society. If we don’t change, I see us heading further down our current path of increasing rudeness, self-centeredness (which makes empathy less likely), and acceptance of causing suffering. We also have much work to do in stopping other forms of misery such as that of refugees, people in our crueler prisons, our hungry and homeless, and others. We’re a largely-rich country, we see the suffering, and yet and we continue to drag our feet. I believe once we increase our attempts to help, it will become easier to do it more often. We have the brain-power, innovators, visionaries, and plenty of money that could address major issues causing suffering. It just doesn’t seem convenient now (or any time) to start changing, or those who have the money needed might not care enough about helping the downtrodden (even though helping would likely make them feel pretty good). Rather than living in a place of tragedy of our own making, wouldn’t it be better to help create a place where all people and animals are cared for and respected as part of the community of living beings on earth? Life anywhere can be difficult at times, but I believe we traumatize ourselves further by living in an atmosphere in which unnecessary misery is widespread.

Some people may think kind and peaceful means being weak. I hope they see it takes courage and fortitude to pay attention to, study, and work to solve these problems that cause suffering. Besides the other good such changes can do, they can help slow the rising tide of depression and suicide. We can save lives by helping to prevent the tailspin people go into when they feel trapped in a cruel, uncaring world. How is that not strength? And for those who think removing guns is weak, I say life without guns would do wonders to calm some of the chaos, helping us to feel safer as people now do in Japan, where it’s hard to get a gun and where in one year (2014) the death rate from gunshot was 6. In the U.S. that year it was 33, 599.9

I ask gun users worried about self-defense to consider using alarms and other methods to protect their homes and families. These methods are quite sophisticated now. Of course we need to make schools more secure, focus hard on mental health, catch problems early, and have counselors widely available at schools, prisons, hospitals, and maybe even many businesses. We need to assure that police, doctors, and others learn how to handle mental health emergencies. One way to do that and to learn yourself is to study MHFA–Mental Health First Aid–a relatively new method and teaching organization already training people all over the country (just google Mental Health First Aid.) Our mental health would of course be better in general if we didn’t have to witness repeated massacres and so many other cruelties in our culture.

But these changes aren’t enough to decrease the current epidemic of death by gunfire as dramatically as would banning all guns. I’m amazed there’s so much talk of banning only guns that kill more people faster, and allowing all others. It seems to me a lot of Americans have an unhealthy obsession with guns. I no longer think it has that much to do with the second amendment. I don’t know where it comes from, but can only say again many people around the world have lived and do live happily without guns.

It’s time for one country to lead the world in peaceful, caring behavior. Why shouldn’t it be us? We can do this, but it will take guts–do we have enough? Why not evolve, become deliberately kinder, let go of guns, stop bullying, hunting, torturing, maiming, and slaughtering. See how it feels to live more gently. It’s got to feel good to show traumatized families we respect their lives and terrible losses, and to deliver all animals from anguished suffering caused by hunters and animal farming. If we can get on this road to living with kindness we can demonstrate to others around the world what a kind society looks like, how strong it can be, and how it can help give us, them, and all our children something they desperately need–hope for a peaceful future in which we all care for all living things and for each other.

 

Footnotes:

1  Drew, MacFarlane, Oiamo, Mullaly, Stefanova, & Campbell, How Lloud is too Loud?, Toronto Public Health, April 2017, https://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2017/hl/bgrd/backgroundfile-104525.pdf and other sites on industrial noise and health

2  Rankin, Jennifer, “Happiness is on the wane in the US, UN Global Report finds,” https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/20/norway-ousts-denmark-as-worlds-happiest-country-un-report

3  This information on Ruth Benedict’s observations comes from the book A Language Older than Words, by Derrick Jensen, which I learned about in another book, Healthy at 100, by John Robbins.

4. https://www.medpagetoday.com/blogs/kevinmd/64557

5.  See this page for many articles on animal slaughter, most of which offer little hope of a reliably non-scary, non-painful death:

https://www.google.com/search?q=Can+animal+slaughter+ever+not+be+painful%3F&oq=Can+animal+slaughter+ever+not+be+painful%3F&aqs=chrome..69i57.15730j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8I’ll

6.  Fuhrman, Joel, MD, Drfuhrman.com, The Health Inspector,”  Living Nutritarian E-Magazine, https://www.drfismuhrman.com/learn/eat-to-live-blog/33/introducing-living-nutritarian-a-magazine-for-members

7.  Chiorando, Maria, “Veganism Skyrockets by 600% in America to 6% of  Population,” https://www.plantbasednews.org/post/veganism-skyrockets-by-600-in-america-over-3-years-to-6-of-population

8. Go to this link for an entire pageful of articles and studies on links between working in slaughterhouses and becoming violent or depressed:

https://www.google.com/search q=do+slaughterhouse+workers+become+violent+in+personal+life%3F&oq=do+&aqs=chrome.0.69i59j69i60l2j69i57j69i60l2.2578j0j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

9.  Low, Harry, BBC World Service, News Magazine, “How Japan has Almost  Eradicated Gun Crime,” 1/06/2017, http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-38365729

 

Welcome to TheSereneCity.com

Susan Cooke

Cities worldwide are mostly growing larger, and as they grow, many become more stressful to live in, so stressful that they’re making people ill, and according to some research even shortening their lives. I began observing a while back that American cities have their own particular brand of stress, influenced by key aspects of American culture such as living at high speed with little downtime, too little nature and too much industrial noise in our daily lives, and so much connection to screens and devices we can barely catch a breath or think our own thoughts. I began writing the book Stress in the American City in hopes of helping others in American cities (and in cities elsewhere that share our problems) to make city life less stressful, healthier, and happier. I do this by studying research on the major city stresses and also studying other cities and countries that have successfully handled any of these stresses.

Currently I spend much of my time trying to finish the book, yet I do want to start the conversation online as well. Just now I may not be able to write or respond here as much as I’d like to in the near future, but comments will be much appreciated in any case and I’ll do my best to respond when possible. I’m especially interested in what stresses you the most in your own city, and any solutions you’ve seen or heard about that other cities might try. That way we can all learn together and hopefully help our own cities become healthier, happier places.

Finally I want to mention that my comments may seem at times naive to some people. I think it’s necessary to find hope where you can, and I sometimes need to write about some upsetting things people are tired of thinking about (I don’t blame them!) I try to add a positive spin so we don’t all get too depressed about these things, and in fact I  believe that in many cases there are good solutions available to us if we all work hard on it together on them. We’ll need to do that as private citizens, business owners, and government leaders. Some readers have told me they feel more hopeful after seeing some of my comments. Others have said of my perhaps over idealistic notions, “someone does need to say these things,” and have asked me to continue. Whatever your reaction, I hope you can get something worthwhile here–some useful information and some hope–and not think too unkindly of my optimism even if it does at times seem unrealistic. I couldn’t continue if down deep I didn’t believe solutions were possible.

A VERY BRIEF BIOGRAPHY

I was born in New York City, raised in Houston, Texas, and now live in the Boston area.

BLOG BACKGROUND

I research and write about stress in cities, especially American cities, and about hunger, homelessness, and changing from a cruel to a kinder culture. I’ve worked on and off (to support my singing habit, mentioned below) as a radio and print news reporter, anchor, writer, and editor on a variety of subjects, often with an emphasis on medicine and mental and physical health. Sometimes I’ll write about current events here, but I’ll also offer some ways we can reduce stress in our cities or wherever you may live. (See my list of anti-depressant movies, for example, or the list of music that helps you work but is calming at the same time.)  At other times I might just tell a story about something I think readers will enjoy. The blog will tell me over time where it’s leading.

ARTE LYRICA

In addition to having written about one thing or another for most of my life, I’ve also lived much of my life primarily as a classical singer (opera, musicals, some jazz)and founder, artistic director, and singer with the concert and opera performing group Arte Lyrica (currently on hiatus). We produce intimate narrated song concerts, usually with two to four singers, piano, and sometimes other instruments, and a narration I research and write on the history of the composers, poets, and the times and places in which the songs were written, resulting in such concert titles as “An Evening in Paris,”  “A Salon in London,” or “Songs of Love and War.”

We’re best known for song concerts, plus the U.S.East Coast premiere of Handel’s great opera Rodelinda, edition by myself and conductor/keyboard master Michael Beattie. We also produced Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas and the wonderful comic opera Bon Appetit! featuring Julia Child baking a chocolate cake on TV, by American composer Lee Hoiby (who adored her and her programs). To avoid name confusion in case the reader attended any of our concerts, Rodelinda was produced when we were called Cambridge Lieder & Opera Society, and for a while we shortened that to Cambridge Opera. When operas mostly became unaffordable and we focused more on concerts with narration only, we switched to the name Arte Lyrica.

My husband Victor Preston serves as CEO in charge of all things business for Arte Lyrica, also scenery making, lighting, sound engineering, recording, singer-wrangling, website development and maintenance, co-PR director, co-program designer, and encourager in chief. He is also a software developer and created this blog using WordPress.