But I have bad dreams…

I am journaling this because my oncologist suggested it  might help.  I don’t like taking drugs ( unless they are recreational ) so I don’t want to try the alternatives he and I discussed.

It is now 2015 and this year, so far, is no better than last year.  In January I was diagnosed with a malignant pleomorphic sarcoma – aka cancerous tumour in the leg. It is fast-growing, but still small. It is being treated with radiation therapy with surgery to follow and the long-term prognosis is good. That is what the left side of my brain has understood of the process.

The right side of my brain is harder to convince of anything. It is distrustful of authority, of change, of technology. It understands things differently.  My right side has been giving me dreams. Some nights, one. Other nights, several. They are all about death, and some are also about being buried alive. Last night I had the worst dream I have ever had, and I can’t shake it. It has made me teary and anxious all day long.  When I tried to explain it to my doctor, I could not. The adult in me understands what is happening and is fine. But the baby in me won’t stop crying…….

In the dream I had cancer and I had a doctor who knew a probable cure. I did not live in a wealthy western culture, but in a primitive, shamanic one. So my doctor ( ie shaman) had a cure that I didn’t really understand. It required a child to help out. I agreed to the cure therapy.

The cure worked rather like that old Mouse Trap game. First a ball rolls down a channel and that triggers a lever, etc, until at last a mouse is caught in a cage.

But in this dream, in the last step, my cancer was removed, and the child was thrown into a pit. The pit was like a narrow steel shaft deep in the ground.  In the “real” world, I live in a mining town so it is not hard to imagine where my subconscious came up with that image. I did not know, in the dream, that this was how the child was to be used in the cure, and I was horrified when I saw the child thrown into the pit.  I screamed at the shaman to pull the child out, that it didn’t matter what happened to me, I was an old lady, but the child should not be hurt.

On the shaman’s face was the same look I see on my doctor’s face when I ask him questions about my prognosis – about whether I will lose much muscle in my leg, about how soon I will walk again, etc. That look that says that you are too stupid to know what you are asking , and you have no idea what you are in for, and  what you are asking is probably impossible. He and his helpers said they would try to get the child out of the shaft, but I knew they would not be able to and the child would die all alone down there of heat or water loss, or starvation, or go mad. And I would be cured.

Of course, the dream was so horrifying, I woke up.  And yes, I know  it was just a dream.  But all day long, as I go through the treatment in my Canadian health care system, I keep wondering, is there a child being hurt somewhere in the world, in order to cure me, to keep me alive past my best before date?

Here’s That Rainy Day

Time for Coffee
Time for Coffee
Here’s That Rainy Day is one of my all time favourite jazz songs. Not so much for the lyrics, but for the deliciously luscious chord progressions. The sheet music version I have (in a Jazz Fake Book) is all 9ths and 7ths, majors and minors, liberally sprinkled with ♭5ths and ♭9ths, and an occasional augmented this or that. There is only one major chord in the whole song. I have been practicing it for weeks on the guitar to get it to sound lyrical instead of like an death rattle. Today was the first day I could play all the chords clearly at a tempo approaching an even, normal song tempo. So it was time for a real celebration, which for me usually means coffee and cookies. John even picked me some flowers (from our garden) to commemorate the day. (Which cup do you think is mine and which is John’s – the melmac or the Wedgewood?)

I have been working on a whole slew of jazz songs, and for me this week has brought a few modest advances. In music, some people notice improvements every day as they practice. But I have always been a fits and starts sort of learner. I do my technical practice day after day, not noticing any differences, and then suddenly one day I will find that a song that was impossible is now merely hard, and one that was hard is comfortable, and I can focus on expression, tempo, quality of sound, etc instead of merely being just able to try to make a chord sound. So this week, seemingly suddenly, several songs started to sound like they are in my repertoire, and several others like they might be sometime this year. Very exciting and worthy of celebration.



I have been working on the guitar the last few weeks, trying to learn some jazz songs so I can play and sing with my brother later this summer when I visit him. It has been hard work getting the fingers to move and stretch on the fret board again, and learning the chords. Since my guitar experience has been playing mostly country songs, I knew the majors and minors and major sevenths, but that was about it. Learning all the minor sevenths with their augmenteds and diminisheds, and the sixths and ninths, not to mention an occasional 11th and 13th, has been quite a challenge.

And then figuring out, slowly and painfully because I am pretty dumb about music theory, that a lot of these chords are the same – i.e. a key’s major sixth is the same as the relative key’s minor seventh – C6 is Amin7 – and so on.

Today I was practicing Getting to Know You. First the country version, all majors and sevenths, with an occasional minor tossed in for fun. Then the jazz version with all the lovely chord flavours. Now I find I cannot play a country song straight any more. I want to add these new and interesting chords whenever I get the chance. The more nuanced sound is much juicier. Some of the chord transitions moving from one major chord to another are so lovely, they make my tummy twist. For example, the version I have of For Sentimental Reasons has a lovely chord transition moving from C to F using C7, then C9♯5, and then the F. I really like ♯5ths, so I like this transition. (Of course it occurs in other keys in other songs as well.) The photo above is of me learning how to make an E7♯5.

From Diminished to Augmented

guitar and dog
Keagan likes the guitar, but not the camera flash

I have started playing guitar again, on a little steel string acoustic guitar my son bought in Vietnam while he was traveling, and left with me after his last visit home. Small enough to cart around with him on a motorbike. It’s a great size for me and I am enjoying playing it, especially now that I am getting some callouses on my fingers and playing doesn’t hurt so much.

I am an old lady rather than a teenager, so I tend to different music. And of course, now that I am more patient, and more pattern oriented, I notice better how the hand positions just move around the fret board, so that F#dim7 is also Gdim7 and Aflatdim7 , but each on a different fret. I really should have noticed this better when I was younger, but I was more into singing music rather than playing, and every new chord I had to learn felt like torture. Now I notice the pattern and think – Oh, it’s my old friend Bflatmajor, but on a different fret!

Lately I am working on a lot of old jazz standards. And these old songs are whack when it comes to chords and chord progressions. I had to learn to play 16 new chords to play Autumn Leaves and that seems to be pretty normal. My big bugaboo is Eflat. It just seems to twist my hand up funny to play it and I can’t move quickly in or out of it yet. I have a lot of switching between Eflat and Aflat in lots of songs, and it’s very slow. The whole song just stops for a few seconds while I get my fingers rearranged. But I’ll get there.

I love the chord names – F#dim7, or C#min7flat5, or GAug, and so forth. This week I am getting a big kick out of the sound of augmented chords. My friend Sharon, over coffee, commented that getting back to playing music was shifting me from a diminished chord to an augmented one – she meant that I was getting more upbeat and cheerful after the gloomy winter we had both survived.

I think there is truth in that for anyone making music, whatever chords they are learning to play. Making music, however badly, lifts you out of gloom. There is the glorious sublime feeling when the chords work, and the tons of giggling when you produce the exact wrong chord (often the exact right chord on the wrong fret), and both of these chase gloom away.

That being said, I am getting off this computer and back to the guitar to play High Hopes – no augmenteds in the arrangement I have, but several dim7s, including F#dim7.