Sonic Sandbox topics I want to think and write about

There are a number of topics I want to write about related to Sonic Sandbox. Some of what I want to write about is about how Sonic Sandbox works. Some pieces will be about the theory behind the exercises/games I use. Some will cover my long terms plans. Some will lament (maybe even whinge) about my struggles in building Sonic Sandbox. Some will describe and reflect on my personal experiences. I’m using this post to provide an outline for topics I want to write about in the future within each of these subject headings. I will return to this post from time to time to update it as I think of new ideas or as I write some of the pieces, so I can add links.

How Sonic Sandbox works

  • The exercises
    • Meditation
    • Making sounds together without judging (toning)
    • Sustained sound with change through copying
    • Laughter “meditation”
    • Moving with our music
    • Sound mirroring
    • Sound infection
    • Name game
    • Drum circle
    • Call and response
    • Sound conversation
    • Life opera
  • Theoretical issues
    • What happens in our brains: the different ways we think
    • Characteristics of the sensate and conscious minds (feeling self and thinking self)
    • How sound creates connection
    • Consequences of connection
    • Authenticity or “speaking” from one’s feeling self
    • Eyes closed or open
    • The role of movement
    • Interaction types: group, dyad, solo
    • Rhythm, harmony, melody
    • How to teach listening
    • How to teach people to support each other
    • How to create safety
    • How the experience can be used in psychological recovery
    • How the experience can be used as a model for relationships in other areas of life
    • Supporting people to be safely transparent in as many aspects of life as possible — eliminating self-destructive shame/reducing the need for secrets/increasing tolerance for variation in human behavior
    • The survival value of cooperation, the need to appear to be someone others can cooperate with, and the consequences of diverging too far from your true self in order to appear to be someone others can cooperate with (homo-cooperability vs hetero-cooperability)
    • How Sonic Sandbox widens the range of hetero-cooperability through example and experience and how to create a wider range of hetero-cooperability in other aspects of life
  • Plans
    • Building a sustainable workshop
    • Expanding workshops to other areas
      • Using the workshop for team building in formal organizations
      • Teaching youngsters alternative ways to relate to each other
      • Giving music therapists additional tools
      • Rituals for community building
      • Aiding community problem solving
      • Personal growth
      • A mechanism useful for changing habits of thought and creating psychological wellness
    • The Sonic Sandbox Institute
    • Integration into life in many kinds of institutions and across cultures
  • Struggles
    • Marketing, oh marketing
    • I HATE Facebook (and don’t get me started about Twitter)
    • Doubting my business skills and my energy and focus
    • Finding allies and helpers
  • My musical experiences
    • Peak moments
    • Reflections on the last workshop (what it was like; what I learned)
    • Sonic Sandbox at conferences
    • The original testing ground Sonic Sandbox “Band” experiences
    • Me and my trumpet
    • Improvisation in the wild (typewriter story)
    • Music, mental dysfunction, and recovery

And…. we’re off!

DSC_7097My first official Sonic Sandbox Workshop is behind me. I rented space. I advertised. Hung up flyers. Got totally frustrated with the idiocy they call Facebook. Used my email lists. Tried to contact everybody I know, and even paid for some Facebook outreach. When they talk about targeted marketing on Facebook, I now know what they mean, because I tried to target my outreach.

We had a great time at the West Philly Suzuki Piano Studio. It’s a wonderful space. My son took some pictures and a video which I hope to post soon. Sometimes, even though I really believe in Sonic Sandbox, I’m amazed at how well it works. I look around at the group, and see the smiles on people’s faces and see how much they are into it and how free they are, and then I check in with myself, and even I’m not worrying about how things are going or whether I need to tweak something here or there, and I start relaxing and letting myself go, just like I created this for. I stop being facilitator; stop feeling like I’m always watchful, and trust the process and let myself go, because it’s working! You can sign up for it here.

I was hoping and predicting that, based on the response to my initial marketing, I’d have five to eight people there, but there were three. That means I still have lots of marketing to do. It’s not my favorite thing because of the struggles managing lists and of course, dealing with Facebook. Can anyone explain how Facebook managed to take over the world with such a non-intuitive, crappy interface? It is the very definition of kludge. You can barely say it works, and yet, it has taken over the world. One can only hope that the competitors in China or India or elsewhere will manage to establish roots in the US and show Facebook how things really should be.

The amazing thing is that with four of us, the energy was incredible! We did a kind of debriefing afterwards, because I wanted to know what people thought about both the workshop and my outreach, and the folks there were really helpful. Honestly, I don’t really remember what people said about the workshop itself, but my impression was that it really matters what I say to set up people’s expectations. When I say that we are here to support each other to freely express ourselves, people believe me and actually take that to be true — simply because that’s what we really want to do. Who wants to live constantly worrying about whether what they do is acceptable?

I think some people might fear that if we all just let loose, it’ll be chaos. The thing is, Sonic Sandbox isn’t chaos because of the emphasis on listening and copying. There’s space both to let loose and be all in with your energy, but also to be supportive and create a strong foundation for others to let loose. If we take turns, and share in the responsibility for caring for everyone else, what happens is not chaos. It’s beautiful, but with an authentic energy I haven’t really heard anywhere else.

The feedback I got about marketing was that the thirty-something generation is more of a “drop-in” generation. In uncertain times, it’s hard to make a commitment to ten sessions, knowing that you’ll probably not be able to make it sometimes. As a result, I think I’m going to open my sessions up to drop-ins.

I really want people to come regularly because in my experience, when we work with the same people again and again, and we practice regularly, we get to know each other better (which is mostly the point of these workshops) and we can take more risks and express ourselves ever more deeply. When people take risks, the music gets more and more incredible! When we know each other better, we can start to predict what others are going to do, and that anticipation means we are more in tune with the energy of the moment and everyone latches on to a new direction that the music takes more quickly and more powerfully.

Still, even without knowing each other, the workshop works well. I’ve taken it to several conferences now, including one international conference, and while my groups seem small to me (fifteen people at best), the energy people experience and the high they get from the work/play seems really deep.  I’m almost afraid to have a big group because I don’t know if it could be the  same — I’d have to learn how to break it into smaller groups, I think. But still, that would be a wonderful problem to have.

So I need help. I need help reaching out to more people in Philadelphia. I need help figuring out how to price the workshops in a way that makes it easier for people to participate, but also encourages people to make it a practice. Obviously, if I have people coming regularly, it generates more income for me, but I truly believe that practice is also going to make the impact these workshops have on individuals much stronger.

One suggestion at the confab after the workshop was that I could charge a regular individual workshop price (which is currently $25) and then offer people discounts if they are willing to pay in advance.

In any case, one person signed up for the ten sessions, and one person gave a donation, which covers my space rental for the month. I still have expenses related to marketing and instrument purchases that will take more income to cover. I share this because I want people to know where I’m at, financially. I also have expenses related to the conference attendance. So far, I’ve been able to get funding to cover my attendance at these conferences. I had thought that maybe they pay for presenters, but it turns out that’s not the case, but I feel like breaking even is a decent goal for me at the moment, since I do love this work.

In the works is a letter of inquiry for a grant proposal where this Foundation that is interested in supporting community-building arts work would do a documentary about Sonic Sandbox. If I get that, then people who participate would have a chance to have their participation filmed. I’m sure that for some that would be a great inducement to participate, although others might find that a bit scary. Ideally, I want to be able to find ways to help everyone be comfortable, and I hope I will always be open to suggestions to make the experience better and to meet people’s individual needs. That doesn’t mean I can succeed at all that, but I want to be open to feedback, and I think I will be, as long as it follows the Sonic Sandbox guidelines in terms of being supportive.

That’s a lot more news that I was expecting to impart when I sat down to write this. One more thing on my schedule is the iNAPS conference in Phoenix on October 16-18th. I’ll be doing a workshop there on the 16th, in case anyone will be there, too.

Setback

So here’s one of those things that happens that makes me wonder whether my responses to reality are inappropriate or not. Am I crazy?

They like my workshops, but they tell me I can’t continue unless I get cleared by the FBI.

Cleared by the FBI???

WTF?

I’m trying to volunteer. I’m not getting paid. I’m taking my own time and resources to drive all over the city to help people have fun improvising music, and in order to that I have to get FBI clearance? Get my fingerprints taken and put into that vast black box that our justice system uses to blackball anyone they don’t like for any reason they want?

When I grew up, the cops were being used to suppress opposition. They thought nothing of shooting at young people who were merely protesting a war that seemed to have no purpose and was killing so many of their fellow youngsters. When I was young, the feds were killing students everywhere from Kent State to Philadelphia Mississippi. It was so clear to me that the police thought like bullies and had little compassion.

Have things changed that much since then? How many people have been killed by cops in the last few months just because of the color of their skin? They were totally cooperating but it didn’t matter. They were killed because the cops couldn’t control their own fear.

My first job after college was canvassing for the equal rights amendment. We were trying to engage in political speech, going door to door, asking people for financial support, and the cops were always trying to stop us. They didn’t care about speech. They just wanted to keep strangers from knocking on their neighbors’ door. I never got arrested, but I’ve spent more time than I cared to sitting in police lobbies while they try to sort out whether we have a right to speak or not.

Nowadays, the “justice” department and the security departments have vast advances in technology that they can use to bully and intimidate people into behaving like normal people. Unfortunately, I can’t behave like a normal person even if I wanted to. I’ve got a diagnosis. I’m certifiably different from most people. Supposedly, there’s something wrong with my brain that makes me behave in ways that are against my own best interest, as other people see it. Who knows? Perhaps I am doing that now, writing this.

I’ve been a data librarian. I’ve dealt with large data bases. I know how much one can learn from seemingly innocuous data. Do I want to give away information to vast bureaucracies that engage in group think and are afraid of their own shadows? Do I want to let people have an easier time punishing me and forcing me to conform if they should ever have a desire to do so?

I can’t imagine that they would ever have such a desire. I’m a good person. But then, people have weird ideas about the mentally ill. They want to take away our right to own guns. Personally, I don’t think anyone should have a right to own a gun. I don’t think the cops should carry them around. So many people would still be alive if we didn’t have such easy access to guns. So many people would have had to find another way to kill themselves if we didn’t have such easy access to guns and guns weren’t so easy to use.

I don’t want to make it any easier for cops to make me change the way I live. Even if the chances are very low that this will happen, I don’t want to make it any easier.

Furthermore, I don’t believe that doing background checks actually make us any safer. I think using vast databases to make decisions is the lazy person’s way to evaluate others. So many people get caught up and punished forever for doing silly things. Getting drunk and getting caught urinating in public can get you banned from  working with children, forever. It’s a sex offense that can get you on public lists. That’s just plain stupid.

The best way to evaluate people is to pay attention to them; to work with them; to see how they interact with the people they work for or with or who they serve. Bureaucracy is supposed to make it possible for vast organizations to control the workforce and this is supposed to be more efficient.

It isn’t. It discourages creativity and innovation. I don’t want to get caught up in these kinds of supposedly benign but secretly destructive social mechanisms.

So I don’t want to get my background checked, even though there’s nothing there to worry about. Or maybe something could show up, simply because these systems make a lot of mistakes. How many times have bill collectors harassed me on the phone because my name is so common. Never mind these other David Fords have completely different addresses. They  can’t even be bothered to use the data easily available to them to figure that out. Laziness, venality and bullying seems so much easier than doing a good job, and doing a good job means nothing if you don’t fit inside the regulations that don’t accomplish what they want to accomplish. All they do is allow people to act as if they conform, thus covering their asses, while not actually improving security one whit.

Am I cutting off my nose to spite my face? Is there some kind of fear of success thing going on here? Am I letting this bureaucracy become an excuse to not try, and not take on responsibility?

I don’t know. I can’t tell. Maybe others would make those judgments, and then I could succumb to those judgments and make myself into a horrible person again, and get depressed and all that comes along with that.

All I know is that this really bothers me. It feels so wrong. If I have to do something that feels so wrong just to volunteer, then maybe I’m not really going to be able to help either myself or others this way. So maybe I just need to find some other way to do music with people. Maybe I can’t help in psychiatric rehabilitation facilities. Maybe I have to start my own operation, and try to run classes where people can choose to come to me, instead of being forced into attendance because that’s what they have to do to get their meals and SEPTA passes. I want people to do this work who want to do the work, not because they have to satisfy the unthinking rules of big bureaucracy. Maybe that’s not the place for me.

That’s my case for myself. That’s my case against myself. I really have no idea whether I’m fooling myself or this is just the way I feel. I’m so used to not being able to honor my feelings that this throws me. Should I contort myself to be good and be liked or will that send me back to place that made me depressed?

The irony, is that these organizations are trying to help people with mental issues such as anxiety and depression. I need therapy, too. This work is my therapy. But do I have to submit to their rules, and thus shove myself down again, in order to be allowed to be helpful to others and to myself? Would that even work? Or would it all be counterproductive?

I don’t know. My therapist says “I don’t know” is a part of myself that I use to avoid my feelings. I’m pissed off. Does it matter if my anger is justified or not? I’m angry and that comes from fear that these systems will squash me yet again. I don’t trust these huge bureaucratic systems. The individuals in them are surely well-meaning, but the systems they develop take on a life of their own, and that’s dangerous, particularly to marginalized people like the mentally ill, or people who aren’t white or especially, people who are both.

“Strange how paranoia can link up with reality now and then.”
Philip K. Dick, A Scanner Darkly

“Who’s they?” He wanted to know. “Who, specifically, do you think is trying to murder you?”
“Every one of them,” Yossarian told him.
“Every one of whom?”
“Every one of whom do you think?”
“I haven’t any idea.”
“Then how do you know they aren’t?”
“Because…” Clevinger sputtered, and turned speechless with frustration.
Clevinger really thought he was right, but Yossarian had proof, because strangers he didn’t know shot at him with cannons every time he flew up into the air to drop bombs on them, and it wasn’t funny at all.”
Joseph Heller, Catch-22

“Anyone not paranoid in this world must be crazy. . . . Speaking of paranoia, it’s true that I do not know exactly who my enemies are. But that of course is exactly why I’m paranoid.”
Edward Abbey, Postcards from Ed: Dispatches and Salvos from an American Iconoclast

 

Edit: I went to a meeting of the West Philly Icarus Project tonight and told this story.

The Icarus Project is a support network and education project by and for people who experience the world in ways that are often diagnosed as mental illness. We advance social justice by fostering mutual aid practices that reconnect healing and collective liberation. We transform ourselves through transforming the world around us.

There were fifteen people there and three of them came up to me afterwards to tell me that they had been required to give their fingerprints in order to work in the mental health field. One of them had been fingerprinted seven times. None of them felt that the process was anything other than busy work. They didn’t seem to believe that anyone was safer because of it. I’m not sure they shared my indignation about big brother, but in any case, it was nice to know I’m not the only one who has problems with this.

Maybe it is worth trying to fight this senseless and worthless bit of do-nothing, feel good legislation. In any case, I’m sorry I won’t be able to work with people who could probably really benefit from what I’m doing. Maybe there’s a way around this. If anyone has any ideas, please add a comment.

The Music Workshop Live!

It works!

I’m kind of high right now because the response to the first two workshops I gave was so enthusiastic. I’m so excited right now, that I did a bunch of research and correspondence in the last few hours. I really, really don’t like passive engagement, just interacting with a screen and my imaginary ideas about the people I’m writing to. I’ve done too much of that in my life and it leads me far away from the kind of human connection I really want.

Leaving these workshops, I’m feeling so open, I can talk to anyone. After each one, I had a pretty intense conversation with people on the street! Yesterday, right after I crossed the street from a support center on Germantown Ave, I looked into the eyes of a man, something I would ordinarily never do. He looked so interesting, though, that I felt like I knew him, and weirdly, he thought he knew me, as well. Maybe it’s that we were both feeling open to the world at the time.

He was about my height. Skin the color of light chocolate. A big, almost Muslim beard, but a bit bushier. His brown eyes were intense, and he engaged my gaze directly, but without threat, nor urgency. He was present. He had that aura of a street person, but his clothes were clean, and he didn’t ask for money — not right away, anyway.

“Don’t I know you?” He asked.

“I don’t think so.” It was a strange feeling, feeling like you know someone, but not recalling ever having seen them before.

“Do you drive a red Cadillac,” he asked?

“No. That must be someone else. You’re the second person today who thought he knew me. I just gave a music workshop across the street,” I pointed down the street to the entrance to The Wedge.

“I did an improvisational music workshop,” I said. Then, volunteering, “It’s for people with…” I jabbed my finger towards my head. “I have bipolar disorder.”

“I have bipolar disorder, too. I’ve got a lot of problems. I need some help — finding some place to live. Could you help me out?”

Oh the struggle in my head. I dearly wanted this to be one of those cool encounters where you just meet a kind of kindred spirit. Giving him money would make me feel like I was paying him to talk to me. I fished out my wallet, anyway, and gave him a dollar.

“The music helps with the depression and the self-hatred. It’s like a mini-vacation from all the crap that goes on in my head.”

“I play the guitar.”

“Do you know about the center across the street?”

“No.”

They have a lot of services there. They help you get a place to live. They get you medical care. They’ve got a bunch of things for people to do. Like the music thing I’m doing.”

We talked a little bit more, and then said goodbye with a handshake and a little “bro” hug.

Today, the workshop at another location of the support center was a lot more energetic. I tell my story about how this workshop came to be, and then I enter into the first exercise, which is a short meditation designed to ease people’s fear of what others might think of the sounds they make. Even before I asked people to start making sounds, some of the people were. It made me relax, because I knew I wouldn’t have to do much coaxing.

A lot of people were making a low, guttural sound, like an idling motor boat. It felt like it was coming from deep inside, without any filters. There were a few self-conscious laughs here and there, but there were just as many people who were already lost in the sound.

The next exercise generated most of the high. It’s the name game, where we each take a turn singing our names together with a movement. Later on, I recall the movement and I can recall people’s names. Normally, I would forget their names right away — maybe even before they said them.

The person on my right was a staff person. Maybe a ringer, but she was so genuinely enthusiastic about this exercise that she was free in making up her song and movement, as well as improvising later on when we repeated her name. The group developed a rhythm and even the reluctant people were encouraged to step up and after that, everyone was on board. I got back so much energy from their enthusiasm that I’m still buzzing hours later.

Out on the sidewalk after the workshop, I struck up a conversation with one of the people from the workshop. He ended up telling me about how tough his life had been. How dangerous it was; how many people had died; how he’d spent time in jail; in the shoe, and so on.

It was like the music totally opened him up. He started telling me about his brother.

“He was in the hospital with a stroke. When I went to pick him up, I had to carry him to the car. His legs were paralyzed.” He was choking up as he remembered this scene, and as he struggled to hold back his tears, he turned away from me a little. I stood there, letting him be. Remembering my therapist telling me to feel my feelings. You feel them, and they start to dissipate. They’re no longer something you run away from and do all kinds of stuff to keep from feeling them.

“Will you be coming back?” I asked.

He shook his head. “Those people,” he said, pointing back inside, “They don’t get it. They hear what I’m telling you and they’ll use it against me.”

I think he was expecting me to judge him for the things he’d done. I just wanted him to be able to tell his story, and I’m a little bit amazed at how powerful music can be to help people have fun and open up the things they’ve kept hidden, if they feel safe enough to do so. I respect that as a sacred trust. I’m not going to name names or share too many details about what happens. Just enough to give an idea of how powerful this work can be.

I am gaining confidence about it. I’m a bit in awe. I know that people are lonely and isolated and desperately want to be their true selves and share the real stuff with others. I know that because I know how isolated I’ve been. I know where that has led me.

By sharing that with others, and by teaching them a way to create the safety they need, perhaps this can help them heal. At the least, it can help them cope, as it has helped me. I can’t guarantee that anyone will be safe. But I hope that I can teach folks methods to create that safety for themselves. Perhaps they will learn how to build trust with each other.

 

West Philly Porchfest

Thirty years ago, give or take a month, I arrived in West Philly to look for a place to rent. I looked at a place on Windsor avenue, across the street from where I live, now. I had just graduated with a degree in Labor Relations, and I was moving to Philly because my girlfriend was going to Grad school at Penn. I was looking for work with a union.

One of the things that I thought would help in locating a good place to live was to interview people living on the street about what it was like. The person I interviewed is now my next door neighbor, and her husband was working for a union. What more did I need to know about the block?

That decision changed my life forever (not that every decision you make doesn’t change your life in the same way). It led to me finding a cool place to dance, which led to meeting my wife, which led to more dancing, which led to music returning to my life when a car accident made it impossible to dance. Which led to…. And led to…. And so on.

When we moved into this house after we married, 48th Street was the edge of the gentrified area. Now, I have no idea how far it extends, but it’s a lot further out. 50th? 52nd? When we moved in, it was a pretty quiet area that focused on each block, in terms of most community activities.

In those days, the neighborhood was not only seen as edgy, but also not very cool. It might still be edgy in a different kind of way, but now, as my daughter said on returning from college last week, “The neighborhood is a lot cooler now than it was when I left.”

This was even before Porchfest. How cool are we now?

The band that eventually became Sonic Sandbox started a little over a year ago, when I started jamming with a few friends. When we started, the others weren’t sure what they wanted to do, but I had an idea about how we could improvise together, which is what I wanted to do because playing music that other people know makes me feel judged, and feeling judged makes me not want to play.

I don’t want to be compared to anyone, because I’m convinced I won’t compare well, and I’ve used that feeling to hurt myself a lot in the past. Instead, I wanted to get together to improvise because when you improvise, nobody can tell you that you didn’t do it the way it was supposed to be.

I had a few musical games in mind that we could use to start us improvising, and we started using them to jam together. We tried doing other people’s songs once or twice, but we kept going back to the improvisation, especially as the others came to understand the process better.

Playing at Porchfest was perfect for us, because they just wanted people to make music. They didn’t care about your experience. No one was getting paid. We were all on our own to make things go. But is was a community thing. Strength in numbers. The intangible feeling of support you get knowing that everyone knows this is happening and a lot of other people are out there playing or listening. It’s such a West Philly thing for me.

One of the things I like to do sometimes when we improvise, is to sing a story that I make up as I go along. I just picture some events from my life in my head, and do a musical play by play as the internal movie plays in my imagination. I sang the story that I am now writing.

In the end, I started talking about what I find so cool about West Philly. Porchfest is a perfect example of that kind of thing. It’s all about people not judging each other. It’s about setting up community, connecting to others and not judging. Not criticizing. There’s an awful lot of creativity in this community, and that’s no accident. Creative people locate here because it’s a safe place to play, to express ourselves and to live the way we want to without others judging us. I’m not saying there are no limits, but the limits are a lot more flexible here than in many other communities. West Philly is an oasis for many people who get stigmatized and judged for being who they are in a lot of other places.

I told myself that playing on our porch was just like any other time we get together to jam. We’re just playing, and we’re doing it so we can get out of our minds and into that place where we become part of something larger than ourselves. It doesn’t matter if others like it or don’t. We’re doing it for fun.

Of course, having support does make a difference. So when an audience started filling the chairs I had put out, it gave us a lift. It’s nice to be able to play for others as well as ourselves, and we knew people were there by choice. They could get up and leave any time they wanted, but they could also stay, and stay they did.

I think we were all grateful for the people who listened to us having fun playing together. They were fellow players in the sonic sandbox, and some of them even joined us. We take inspiration from any place we can, and once we started like a pack of dogs, because my neighbor’s dog was barking. Listen hear:  It may have started in an unusual way, but what it turned into had a lot of energy, and that’s true for most of what we do.

I think it helps to understand our process when you listen to us. It’s not just about pretty sounds. It’s about accepting sounds. When we accept the sounds we hear, no matter how we might judge them if we were in judgement mode, we can take them to places we’d never go otherwise. That means we have to ask an audience to give us a chance. Don’t give up in the first couple of minutes. It might take us a while, but we will find some place cool, musically speaking, to go. It’s just that we have to wander around in trackless spaces for a while before we can agree on what path to follow. I have fond hopes that people will enjoy listening to us wander, and then be amazed at the incredible scenery we find when we agree on a trail to follow.

Whether or not people listen to us that way, we can still have fun wandering around together and creating a path through the places we’re exploring. We can do that, and we can lead others in doing that through our workshops, and others can watch and listen to us doing that in our performances. What’s important is that we do it. It’s a spiritual practice for us, and as long as we do it, we’re better off, and if we can share it with others, either as participants or as audience, there’s a chance that others will be better off, too. That’s my hope.

Last Act for Poetry Night at W/nw/n

We were the final act at the W/nw/n coffee bar tonight. This is the second month in a row. The people there are really nice (Hail Miguel, Tony, Rosie and Unity)! They’ve been really supportive of us.

Normally, we meet on Tuesday night to play together, but this week, it got moved to Wednesday. Then we realized it was the last Wednesday of the month, and wondered if we should try to play at W/nw/n again. I texted Miguel and we kinda sorta made an arrangement, in an improvisational way. Making it up as we go along. Not that it’s always so easy for me to sit back and enjoy the ride without being certain where we’ll end up. But I’m learning.

I picked up Bob and Kurt, and then it occurred to me that we might be spending a lot of time listening to poetry when we could be playing together, so we decided to go over and check out the scene and if we had to wait until the end of the evening, we might just bag it and go back to Bob’s to play.

There were three stools at the end of the bar closest to the place where the poets stand. So we sat there, to see what was happening. Miguel was just announcing the first poet.

At first I was feeling annoyed about listening to the poetry, but as the poets started doing their thing, I got drawn in, and after a while, I was happy to listen, although I was still itching to play. At the break, we went to get our instruments. Kurt must have spoken to Miguel, because when I came back in, he told me we would be doing the same thing as we did last month.

I sat down and did a bit of drumming with Unity. They have a lot of percussion instruments to play — djembes, congas, some really neat vibraphony sounding things. Those vibraphones created some really nice spaces for the poetry. Not all the poets wanted musical accompaniment. But it was a nice vibe when they did. I found myself keeping beat very quietly on my Djembe. It was really interested how all the poets read with a very regular rhythm, no matter how many syllables they had to speak. Sometimes, I felt like I knew their rhythm even before they started. I’d love to play with poets more, and get into the musical aspect of poetry.

There were traditional poetry styles as well as more energetic hiphop and poetry slam styles. Some of the poets just made it up on the spot, and that went pretty well. Impressive. Some of them had poetry handles, like Number X, who I believe was the one who claimed to be bipolar. Hail fellow bippie!

I started thinking about how it would go. Last time we had to fiddle around setting up after the last poet, and the audience started talking, and we didn’t really interact with us the way I had imagined. I felt like we were background music and I had been hoping we could get a closer listen.

I decided I would use the Kalimba and sing about us while Bob and Kurt were getting set up. I tried not to think too much about what I would say. I just reminded myself that I’ve been writing a lot about us for this website, so I could use some of those ideas. Maybe tell a bit of our story. Maybe sing about how to listen.

So I started singing in my own way. Telling our story, using the kalimba. I started right after Miguel introduced us instead of waiting. I was almost weird how comfortable I felt. Last month, I felt so hot and I sweated an awful lot. This time, I was much more relaxed. No sweat. Literally.

I got a few laughs, but most importantly, I kept their attention. They weren’t drifting off to their own conversations. There were even some guys who were nodding their heads and making eye contact with me and smiling, which really helped. At one point, I looked back to see if Kurt and Bob were ready, but they were still setting up, so I said something about that, which got another laugh.

Then I got the idea of doing a music game with them. I decided to do toning, so I explained what toning is in my song, and got them all to do it. Twice. The second time, Kurt joined in on the guitar, and it turned into our jam. Perfect! I love how ideas can come to you in the moment, and you don’t even have to think twice. You just implement them, and it works.

I stopped singing, and picked up my horn, and came in as if there was a head to the song, and we were off. It was a lot of fun, and I can’t believe how comfortable I felt. I was dancing and playing. I invited people to move, but either they didn’t hear me, or they didn’t really want to. I didn’t push it. Maybe next time.

It’s all about acceptance. Me accepting myself. We all practice accepting ourselves in the Sonic Sandbox and then we practice accepting others. I was teaching the crowd our ethos. How to love the one true sound they make, and people got it, and we were all together for a few moments.

We asked Tony about having a night of our own, and he seems into it, now. So we got to figure that out, and then get our people to come. I’ve got the website now. And a template for flyers. Just gotta print them up and maybe make up some cards. Maybe print out a few CDs and try to sell them, although I really want to do it online. Just get a paypal payment and give them the link.

It’s been really healing. Kurt and Bob are really enjoying it. I am, too. It’s all about practicing acceptance and stopping all that second guessing and worrying about how I come across. It’s great to play for others. It’s one of those off-road trips you might have on vacation when you turn off the highway and stop driving with the GPS. Who knows where you’ll end up, but you see a lot of stuff you’d never see otherwise. That’s what happens in the Sonic Sandbox. I just gotta let myself play and I’ll have fun. It’s a choice I can make. Just keep myself from thinking all those obsessive, ruminative thoughts, and focusing on the play.

….note to self: take pictures next time. They might help give more flavor to this blog! Yeah. Just a note. Don’t beat yourself up for not thinking about it before. Just do it next time. Remember, we’re just playing. As long as we’re playing, it won’t become a job. And there won’t be any judgment.

How I will use this Blog

From time to time, I will post my thoughts about playing in the Sonic Sandbox. The charter membership is made up of three or four of us. We all met in the “recovery rooms,” which is jargon for the rooms where people meet at twelve step meetings. Because we met that way, we may or may not actually know each other’s names. The key to twelve step recovery is anonymity. Most of us only feel safe enough to talk about what is really going on inside when we have some measure of protection about our deepest shames becoming public knowledge.

For that reason, I only know the first names of the people I play with in the Sonic Sandbox. I will also not be able to provide any more details about what kind of twelve step group it is, nor what troubles we are dealing with that brought us together. I hope that won’t matter. What is important is that playing in the Sonic Sandbox has become a part of our recoveries. It is a coping technique that helps us learn to change our habits from ones that are destructive to both us and the people we love to ones that, we hope, will be a lot healthier.

The idea of making music together, I believe, was first discussed by Bob and Kurt. Bob plays electric violin and Kurt plays electric guitar. Bob also told me that Kurt was a singer. When I heard they were going to do some music together, I decided that I wanted to crash that party. I wanted to play with other people, because I had stopped playing for over a year, as a punishment to myself for harming people I loved. This was an opportunity to get together in a way that wouldn’t contribute to my problems. In the past, music had opened the door for me to get into trouble.

I knew I needed music because of what it does to my brain. I helps me access my sense of connection to others. As such, it directly counteracts the feeling of loneliness and isolation I was living in. It gave me respite from despair and hopelessness. It provided a few moments of relief from what felt like a black hole in the pit of my stomach, that was slowing down light as well as weighing me down. My life, for a time, felt slow and miserable and impossible — except for those moments when I was connected to others, primarily through music.

Then, I decided I was such a bad person, that I didn’t even deserve any relief at all. I stopped playing music. I stopped dancing. I stopped socializing. I stopped talking to friends and family members. I stopped working. I stopped using the phone. I simply couldn’t.

Finding people I felt safe to be with and to make music with was a miracle for me. It started at my house. Kurt and Bob and Ralph started coming over on Tuesday evenings to play together. Not all of them every single time. Sometimes it was only two of us.

I used my background in improvisational music to come up with games that would help us develop a practice. At first, we didn’t know what we wanted to do. We thought about writing music or songs. We thought about being a rock band. We’re still open to any ideas that anyone wants to bring to our practice, but mostly we started playing together using these improvisational games I either borrowed from others I have learned from, or that I made up myself.

I started recording our sessions, and then listening to the recordings, and after a while, I started thinking that maybe we had something that other people would enjoy. Maybe we were developing a process that could help others gain the benefits we were gaining. Maybe we could play for others and with others in more public situations.

To date, we’ve played for others in a formal way three times. We’ve given the workshop once in a formal setting (a twelve step group retreat). We enjoyed ourselves on each occasion, and we also got some positive feedback, which felt good. The workshop went over very well, and our last performance generated an amazing amount of energy. It got a group to get up out of their audience roles, and some played music with us, while others danced. It was a regular party!

I am beginning to see a future for this play for us. We can do the workshop at parties, or for people interested in learning how to make music together (no experience required). The workshop is also good for people in recovery, both from addictions and from mental illnesses. It provides a coping technique that gives people relief from the pain these things can bring.

Performing also brings people together, both as audience members and participants. It provides another way to connect with others, and, I hope, it helps to break down judgmental barriers that often come between us. It is great fun for us to be the spark plugs that generate the energy of connection within groups of people we do not yet know.

So, from time to time, I will post my descriptions and reactions to these events — our practices and our outreach to others. This may primarily be my thoughts, but I hope that other members of Sonic Sandbox will also want to post their thoughts, too. Until next time… I hope we can play in the sonic sandbox together one day soon.