Music, Marley and Me

(c) 2016 Klaus Polkowski

Julian Marley and me, African Music Festival (c) 2016 Klaus Polkowski

The greatest adventure of this summer was blogging for the Zelt-Musik-Festival (ZMF). Writing 27 consecutive Blogstage posts through the month of July, I attempted for the first time to blog in German. I didn’t really think anyone would read it. Much to my surprise, they did!

Hanging around the backstage area became a natural part of my routine as I searched for stories behind the scenes of Freiburg’s most popular music festival. A security guard’s story followed that of a popular music artist. It didn’t matter who the subject was. The goal was to highlight the very important part every participant plays in making the long-running festival the most amazing part of Freiburg’s summer landscape. In partnership with my love Klaus Polkowski, we danced in the magic of music, culture and encounters. He with his camera. Me with my pen.

The spirit swept us into August where the African Music Festival audibly took us to far away places. It was there that I asked Julian Marley, son of the great Reggae artist Bob Marley, what color his music would be if it had a hue at all.

“It would be transparent. Or rather, every color in the rainbow,” he said. It includes everything. Because music is everything. One world. One color. One love.

At ZMF the world-famous clarinetist Giora Feidman said the color of his music depends on the time of day. A rose reflects a different hue in the morning than in the late afternoon. So it is with his music.

And Mischa Maisky, a most benevolent Albert Einstein-looking world-class cellist, told me his color would be blue. Because he likes the color and it can be both sad like the blues or happy like the sky. It too depends on the mood and the melody.

What I learned this summer is how truly connected we are. No matter our passport or our taste in music, we all feel love and sadness the exact same way. Our world is much smaller than we realize. Each individual carries a thread to the next one and while we might sometimes feel abandoned and alone on this great planet, we are never, ever truly alone because we carry that connection with us no matter where we are. The ever-gyrating pulse of our being strings each of us together.

We are one. Yes, we are.

Capturing those Fifty Bits

The slant of morning light tells me fall will be awakening soon. The dusting of leaves on the city sidewalks layer over the summer’s heat. A gust of wind sweeps them skyward as a crow calls over the sun-scorched meadow.

It has been a fun-filled summer and although it is not over yet, I can feel the urge to brace myself for the darkness that will come.

It always does.

Perhaps it is the wisdom of my years that has settled in, but I have started taking things for granted less and appreciating the moment more. A soft afternoon with my life partner’s aging mother. Laughter in the kitchen with my teenaged children. Drawing boundaries. Saying no here. Saying yes there. Capturing the essence of life in the here and now so that when darkness descends, I will have the rich memories of days filled with light and delight.

Living off the racetrack makes paying attention easier. As a result, I have experienced the most marvelous things. Throughout my wanderings this summer, I stumbled upon a delightful book whose American author, Bob Nease, happens to live on a vineyard in Italy. With my commitment to Slow, I would have preferred a week-long interview at said vineyard, to which he invited me. Given other commitments, we opted for an email exchange instead.

He kindly sent me — upon my request — his latest book, The Power of Fifty Bits: The New Science of Turning Good Intentions into Positive Results. It is based on a simple premise: the human brain processes millions of bits of information at every moment, but only fifty of those bits seep into our awareness. In fact, he claims, our brains are wired for inattention and inertia. With our limited ability to pay attention, we may harbor good intentions but because we are most often on autopilot, we don’t act upon them.

Anyone who signs up for a year-long gym membership come January 1 knows what I’m talking about. We want to live better lives. Then we do what we always do with little effort to really change things. That is, unless you have a pain point so strong, you simply have to take action. Or the other option seems more appealing.

Trained as a medical professional with a large dose of engineering who worked for years at Express Scripts, Bob has designed ways to out trick our wiring to make the better option the more convenient one – or at least the more obvious choice based on our ever-slacking attention span. He offers all kinds of engineery-type arguments, most of which are extremely amusing. I found myself trying really hard to pay attention to his logical thinking. Sometimes I failed because although his writing is clear and very well thought out, I was more aware of not being aware than of comprehending what he was saying. I may have to gather my fifty bits and give the book another read because I do think what he has to say is extremely important. I have managed to make it palatable to a handful of friends. The book itself came up in conversation so much that I found myself quoting from it nearly every day.

Therein lies the lesson. We cannot cruise through life without mindfulness. It’s a richer one when we pay attention -or at least try to. And even if we don’t always understand what is happening, what others are saying or what we ourselves are doing, there are ways to improve our thinking and actions. And to cherish the moment. Right here. Right now. With every bit available to us.