Tuesday Tunes: Shy Girls, “Second Heartbeat”

Do you like your music smooth? Like, Michael McDonald spreading butter on toast wearing velvet lounge pants smooth? Then you should be listening to Shy Girls.

Shy Girls is Dan Vidmar from Portland Oregon, with various musicians as support. Stereogum describes it as “the exact midpoint between How To Dress Well and the Weeknd”. I’d describe it as slick, soothing, sexy, and of course……smooth.

How did I first find Shy Girls? Dan and I actually went to school together, kindergarten through high school. I remember participating in our high school charity dance marathon my senior year and watching his band play. At that time they were called Lemonsoul, and they played southern rock. Everyone was having a great time, and people were even crowdsurfing in the gym. I watched them and thought, “This is star quality. I’m going to be able to say I saw these guys before they were famous.”

Dan went on to change genres and create Shy Girls, along with another Lemonsoul member Ingmar Carlson. And tomorrow I’m seeing Dan in his SOLD OUT show at the Bowery Ballroom. How thrilling!

Shy Girls’ EP Tmeshare and full album 4WZ are available on all the formats you’d expect: iTunes, Amazon, CD, etc. etc. Let me know if you get Michael McDonald to sing any of it to you. While wearing velvet pajamas.

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Everybody Dies

Working directly with patients in health care, in its most distilled form, is being a sentinel against death. Stand in the threshold, ward off Death as long as you can, make a patient’s time in the house of life as easy as possible until Death finally swoops through the door past you. As it does for us all, including one of my patients this week.

This guy—I’ll call him Diego*—crossed my path last summer. He was sent to our case coordination/social services department for a number of reasons. He had a long history of diabetes and heart disease. He lived in government-sponsored housing and didn’t understand the letters he got from Section 8. He had been hospitalized in a psychiatric department several years ago for crippling anxiety and threats of harm, but was calmer now with medication.

We worked together often, chipping away at his problems as much as possible. Sometimes I felt pleased with myself that I could make a difference, like explaining those Section 8 letters and derailing another panic attack. His A1C was dropping and he was happy with this progress (and the praise we lavished upon him for it). But years of poverty and stress can’t be undone by a cute girl telling you Buen trabajo, me alegro mucho que se cuide tanto. He was still sick.

He was sick enough to be sent to the emergency room during a recent specialist appointment, after a doc noticed some worrisome lab results and wanted him to be admitted for monitoring. The admission stretched on. He had stents put in his heart. I stopped by his room many times, although he was often doped up on meds and not really aware that I was there. I talked with his family and did discharge planning with the medical team. He was on the path to going home with visiting nurses and at-home physical therapy. He was set to get better.

Until I checked the RN notes after a couple of days of radio silence and saw that he went to the ICU for cardiac arrest. I called the nurse. “Poor prognosis,” she said matter-of-factly. “He’s on a vent and we’re talking with the family.”

I had other patients to attend to for the rest of the day. I knocked on my coworker’s door and asked for a prayer. “Just pray that he holds on tomorrow so we can say goodbye, okay? That’s all I want.” My colleague, a devout Baptist, folded my hands in hers and started to say, God our Father, we ask for your healing presence for this man, that you bring him into your kingdom when he is ready. Comfort him and his family during this time, and give them strength. We know it is not our time, but your time that orders our lives…

I went to the ward at 9 o’clock sharp the next morning. “Diego…” the nurse said. “He expired yesterday.”

Expired is always a little jarring. Like we’re cartons of milk.

“What time?” I asked.

She checked her record book. “4:12 PM.”

It was while we were praying.

You enter health care, you sign up to be on the death watch. Fact. We do our work on a scale, of course. I don’t know the adrenaline surges and crashes that ER docs or interventional cardiologists experience. I don’t have the deep wellsprings of compassion that hospice nurses need.

But mortality and decline are in my face every single day. Just a couple weeks ago, we had a department meeting on how to cope with patient death. Many of us shared our stories, and a few more experienced coworkers confided in me that they couldn’t because they were just exhausted by summoning up those memories, of loss after loss after loss.

So I find myself on shaky emotional ground right now. It is not death itself that bothers me. It’s 100% inevitable, so better get used to it (unless you’re Voldemort, who clearly had some issues getting used to the idea).

What I’m having a hard time with is striking the balance between acknowledgement of a natural process that I fully signed up to witness to….and acknowledgement of my feelings of grief and fear in the midst of it. I must keep working and tend to my other patients. I must allow myself to be sad to lose the company of a guy whose presence I generally enjoyed.

It’s walking the line between “I accept this” and “I accept this, with grief.”

Working in a supportive environment helps. After I found out, I told another coworker who had known him for years. Together, we went to our boss’ office and had time to utilize the Kleenex box and talk about how we felt. She told me some funny stories about Diego from before I met him. My boss shared her experiences of patients dying in the ICU. We made space for the sadness before getting back to everyday life.

Space is too often a luxury, though. Did you see that photo that went viral last month, of the ER doc crouched in a parking lot after the death of a teenaged patient? This article by Dr. Pamela Wible on KevinMD reflects on why it struck such a chord with the public. Doctors are not allowed to cry or feel grief, she argues, often to the detriment of their own health and well-being. The public, expecting doctor as automaton, was shocked to witness a moment of raw pain.

Listen, some medical professionals are cold and analytical by nature. But some create emotional distance as a way to cope when they are expected (as one Reddit commenter pointed out) to go from, “What do you mean, little Johnny’s not going to make it?” to “We’ve been trying to get ice chips for Grandma for TEN MINUTES and nobody listened to us, you’re a terrible doctor, we’re reporting you to the Department of Health!”

I was lucky that my more demanding patients left me alone for the rest of that day. The grief was compounded by two facts. One, this was the first patient death I had dealt with in a long time. Two, this week is the one-year anniversary of my mother’s mother entering hospice and dying. I barely said goodbye to her because she was so incoherent by the time she decided to “go upstairs.”

Diego was pretty incoherent the last time I saw him, too. Luckily, he was aware enough to wake up, smile, hold my hand, and say, “Carolina.”

One hopes that he greeted Death just as sweetly.

*Identifying details have been changed to protect patient privacy.

They say it’s your birthday (doo doo de doo)

Sunday was my birthday and it was a lovely day! For the first time in a few years, I didn’t have external woes on my mind. (2012-14 featured, respectively, my boyfriend’s kidney stones, a terrorist manhunt, and my grandmother dying. Who said life was orderly?)

I went to church and we were graced with the presence of former soloist and friend, Bertilla. Our anthem, “Jesus Will,” was a ton of fun and you can see the Spirit moving us all in this video. By the 5:10 mark, the whole congregation was on its feet!

That’s me towards the back. Thanks to Mark for taking video.

Afterwards, I hit the bar and spent the afternoon drinking with my sister and a few friends.

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In the midst of all those birthday shots, my man’s mom called and asked what he was up to. When he told her it was my birthday, she invited us out to dinner. I sobered up and we had a terrific dinner at Burger and Barrel.

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Even my coworkers surprised me the next day with tiramisu and more off-key renditions of “Happy Birthday.” I couldn’t stop laughing because I was COMPLETELY oblivious to their whispers and plotting (apparently, the candle broke!).

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I feel enormously grateful to all the people in my life who made it such a fun weekend (or week, if you count Lord of the Rings as the beginning of birthday festivities. Wheee!). I’m young enough to realize I’ve got a lot of life and wisdom to gain still……but old enough to recognize that this is my only shot at it. Soon my twenties will be over, and that’s a decade I’ll never get back. (Would I WANT to get it back, though? There’s a lot of quarter-life angst that I’ll be happy to never revisit, thankyouverymuch.)

Here’s to the next year– may it be filled with growth and pleasure for all of us!

LORD OF THE RINGS IN CONCERT!

BEST BIRTHDAY PRESENT EVER: I very strongly suggested to my boyfriend last September that he get me tickets to the Lord of the Rings Symphony, occurring the week before my birthday. He (thank God) appreciates directness in gift-giving and rewarded me with a multi-day nerdgasm:

Fellowship of the Ring…

The Two Towers…..

and Return of the King…..

With the soundtrack being performed LIVE by a symphony orchestra and chorus!

And a signed program by Howard Shore!

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The LOTR trilogy are far and away my favorite movies. They came out while I was a high schooler and my friends and I were more or less obsessed. I had a shrine to the LOTR cast hung up in my locker. Pretty sure I had a crush on 75% of that cast, either the actors or the characters themselves. (Okay, sorry Gimli….not you.) There was fanfic and midnight showings and fervid adolescent emoting.

And of course, for years before and after this I played cello in the orchestra. I still sing in a choir. So the instant I heard about this…..I was approximately this excited:

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After anxiously waiting for months, the extravaganza was finally under way. FOTR on Wednesday, TT on Thursday, and ROTK on Friday. All with the 21st Century Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, flown all the way from Switzerland to perform at the Lincoln Center. This was the first time that the entire trilogy had been performed in the United States.

God help me, how do I even begin to describe how amazing this was?! Here is but a taste of the greatness:

Except this was my vantage point every night. Fourth row!

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I’mma try to break it down:

The movies: they never fail to be mindblowing. But this time, the movies took a backseat to the music. Someone else said it was like the score became another character of the films. Yes! What I lost in ability to be visually immersed in the movie, I gained in being able to watch the musicians work their magic.

The musicians: They were exceedingly talented. That much should be obvious.

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It had to have been exhausting to perform for three hours over several consecutive nights, but dammit if they didn’t look like they were having a good time doing it. I loved watching the double bassists go to town on the marches and battle scenes. And at every turn there were new sonic textures I picked up from the live orchestra that I barely noticed in the film soundtrack. Not many people pop in a LOTR DVD and think to themselves, “Wow, listen to that French horn line!”

The conductor: Ludwig Wicki conducts with astonishing precision and verve. Sitting so far to the side of the stage, I could see few musicians clearly but was able to watch him well. I’ve never been so delighted by a conductor! I learned later that he has a monitor on his stand, which gives him a flashing light signal to indicate score pickups and tempo. Like a drummer’s click track, in a way. Ingenious!

The soloists: Fantastic! In a twist of fate, the soprano Kaitlyn Lusk lived in my hometown growing up. I remember hearing her sing at assemblies as a teen. Granted, she had already recorded an album then and was Kind of a Big Deal, but how fun to see that she’s now internationally famous! The Brooklyn Children’s Chorus also performed, and those boy sopranos KILLED IT.

The audience: An integral part of the experience! I got over my bewilderment at people applauding the soloists relatively quickly (bewildered not because they weren’t amazing, mind you, but because orchestral performances rarely have applause after solos or between movements). As the trilogy progressed, the audience grew more and more responsive, both to the music and the movies. People laughed at the jokes (“PO-TA-TOES!”), and at the unintentionally funny memes (“One does not simply…walk into Mordor”). There was enthusiastic applause for Kaitlyn singing elven music, the concertmaster performing the Rohan theme (GUH MY HEARTSTRINGS), and Legolas’ ridiculous battle tricks. And the house went berserk when Eowyn ripped off her helmet and declared, “I am no man!”

(Let us pause for a moment of recognition for the principal violist. He had a solo during ROTK and nobody applauded. Violists never get any love, man.)

I was hoping to make friends with my seatmates. I figured everyone that close to the stage would have also gotten the deluxe package and been there all three nights. But alas, the crew changed with each performance. A family with two young boys sat next to me during Two Towers (and adorably, they covered their eyes and grumbled during every kissing scene). Lacking small talk and avoiding the astoundingly long bathroom and bar lines, I wandered to the front row during intermission and started checking out the stage setup. That’s when I met these dudes:

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{Thanks to the LOTR 2015 Instagram for this photo!}

“Wow, I just have to say…your shirts are fantastic,” I said, by way of introduction. The guys were instantly sociable and we started gushing about how stupendous the experience had been so far. Emilio and Anthony had roadtripped to NYC from Toronto to see the performances. While I’ve only once watched the entire trilogy in a single day, they do it together every year. (Extended editions.) Then we started talking to a guy who was celebrating his birthday that night….his girlfriend told him they were going to the opera, then surprised him with the Two Towers tickets instead! “Best birthday ever, although I feel ridiculous wearing a suit,” he said. Then after the show, we went out for drinks at the hotel bar with some of the orchestra members, and I got in a long and involved discussion of fandoms with a musician (LOTR! Harry Potter! Game of Thrones!) I had finally found my tribe!

Howard Shore: The man is a genius. Perhaps for a future birthday gift I’ll request Doug Adam’s comprehensive guide to the score, “The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films.” The details in my program of Shore’s thoughtfulness and expertise in composing a half day’s worth of music were fascinating and impressive. For example, he designed each race’s theme with their characteristics in mind (e.g., the mountain-dwelling dwarves are written with lots of percussion– and a strictly male chorus, hearkening to Gimli’s line, “It’s true you don’t see many Dwarf-women. And in fact, they are so alike in voice and appearance, that they are often mistaken for Dwarf-men…”)

I didn’t get a chance to meet him, but my fellow members of the Rohirrim fanclub took this photo of us inhabiting the same physical space on Friday after ROTK:

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The aftermath: I met the orchestra manager later that night at the bar. More drunk on emotion than the beer, I clutched his arm and begged, “You have to come back to the US! YOU HAVE TO!” One can only hope that this was a cash cow for all involved, given seven sold-out shows and secondary-market tickets going for several hundred dollars. But as the manager then reminded me, it isn’t cheap to travel and house 180+ musicians, either….

Who’s to say whether my impassioned pleas or the cold hard cash will have an effect. I sincerely hope so…..even though I’ve decided that I would absolutely travel to see the trilogy live again. I felt bereft for days after it was over. Like when you escape a cold and weary winter for a tropical beach vacation, and return to gray slushpiles and the smell of wet wool and misery. That feeling.

But….why? Why the hell did I love it so much, even more than I expected to? Because the 21st Century Orchestra & Chorus are fine musicians? Because epic quests appeal to us on a deep cultural level? Because Aragorn is still really hot?

Because my life is content, but perhaps in a Shire-like way. I live within a circumscribed emotional plain. Life is good….far from the margins. And in this space, sometimes music or film simply seizes you. Sometimes, an artistic experience comes along and reacquaints you with the vast and wild landscapes of the heart.

My buddy Larry innocuously asked me on Sunday how my week was. After listening to me crow for several minutes about WOW Lord of the Rings and how AMAZING and INCREDIBLE and MINDBLOWING and COLOSSALLY AWESOME it was, he looked at me and said, “I don’t think I’ve ever been as passionate as you are about Lord of the Rings….ever. About anything. In my whole life.”

I grinned and shuffled my feet. “Sorry?”

“Nah,” he said. “You’re crazy, but I love that about you.”

Farewell, fellowship. Until next time….may it be fewer than 111 years.

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