Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Just popping in!

Just dropping you all a brief note. I got really sick last month and have had a little minor but uncomfortable surgery. I'm doing well, but I'm not climbing tower staircases or pulling ropes for a bit. I'm definitely on the mend and will be back with you as soon as I'm back in action.

Thanks for your understanding, it should not be too long. My first post back will undoubtedly be on how much I am missing ringing and all my ringing friends!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Time Out!

I am betrayed. The 6, my oldest friend, with whom I took my first baby steps in ringing, clearly doesn't like me.

It feels that way. I can't seem to ever find my stroke with her, she jumps over the balance with the lightest overpull and will not settle for me. First I thought it was just me, but today I rang the 5 successfully for the second time and I have no problem with the tenor, so clearly, this is personal.

Now I know that it is undoubtedly a combination of the draft, the wheel size and the weight of the bell. I know that this bell is not oddstruck like our eight, so there is no intrinsic reason for the disparity in tail and head stroke. But ringing the 6 is like a test of wills, and she is clearly as stubborn as I am.

I have news for you, 6. The 5 likes me just fine. She is right next to you, and I can move her and stand her on tail stroke like it was nothing. The 5 is a nice, cooperative bell. You, dear 6, have an attitude problem. So I'm putting you in time out. I'll just be checking back in a few months to see if you aren't more charitably inclined towards me. I suggest you take this time to think over what I have said. Getting your rope all in a twist won't solve anything. I am willing to give you another chance when you are ready to be a good bell.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Ringing Weekend!

Wow, I think 4 days later I may have rested up enough after this past weekend. And what a weekend it was! The Baldwins and the Penneys came to visit from England, and folks turned up from South Carolina to Birmingham to come and ring at St. Lukes. I met lots of wonderful people and made some significant progress in my ringing.

I volunteered to do refreshments. I thought it would be a good idea, given that I am still too new to be involved in most of the ringing. Between sets of Lincolnshire/Cambridge there was still plenty of time for me to ring, and lots of folks to ring with. Dr. Bill, Rosalie and Dave came down from South Carolina, Ted came over from B'ham, loads of Marietta ringers were there, the visitors from across the pond and our band made like eighty bajillion ringers. I may be missing folks, there were so many people! Our ringing room is pretty big, so standing room only is quite a thing to see. Most of the morning Dr. Bill kept me entertained, then I was called to ring tenor on 8 as on Friday. And that was where I started.

Sneaky Lyn then called two other ringers to take hold and suddenly I was tenoring on 10. 10! And let me tell you, that's a trip. You can't count that fast, so you just have to get in a groove and do your best. The ringing is slower than on 8, but your striking window narrows considerably. I didn't embarrass myself, and I consider that alone quite an accomplishment.

Later in the day after everyone else rang many more touches of Lincolnshire I had the opportunity to learn to move the tenor around. And let me tell you what. Ask me to move a Volkswagen around, will you? Fine. I did it, but not well, and as the weekend progressed and I had more practice at it I got a smidgen better, but I still have lots of work to do to master that. See, the tenor can't just be hauled about. You have to set up the changes ahead of time for them to go well, and although I knew that intellectually, when time came for me to move I totally forgot all that. And it isn't nearly as important for holding up (ringing slower) as it is for cutting in (to ring faster). The more I practiced the better I got at remembering about the set up. Unfortunately that doesn't guarantee that I can do it yet. But remembering to try is half the battle.

I have to say here that the Baldwins and the Penneys were real troopers. Especially Roger Baldwin. This is Roger:
and his lovely wife Kathleen, who has over 1000 handbell peals to her credit and is an amazing coach (and a hoot!). Roger spent lots of time working with me for which I am forever grateful. He conducted lots of the touches and rang and rang and rang all 3 days. With a terrible cold, poor man. That's dedication. It is tough to be away from home (much less in another country) and feel ill. Do not ask me how I know this. Suffice it to say that I was very impressed by the good attitudes both Roger and Kathleen maintained, even through trials. I learned so much from them. Along with Roger, Gerald Penney and his wife Janet were nonstop ringers. Gerald conducted as well, and Janet was unflagging. Janet is really lovely. I really wish we all didn't live so far away. I would like to have more of these folks in my life and in my ringing. I must confess that I am quite taken with the Penneys and the Baldwins, and I really hope I will have the chance to visit them in the future.

Oh, and Roger, you left something here when you returned home. But it's ok, I've got it. Please send man-sized balsam Kleenex, Love, Alma.

Now, let me tell you about Sunday. Sunday started with service ringing and quickly progressed to an exercise I initially thought was really strange, but was actually really useful.
Practicing hunting on non-existant handbells. But it works! Fist up to shoulder for sally stroke, lowered for tail stroke. Gerald Penney (standing next to me here) told us how he and some of his school chums used to practice Grandsire and other methods in the school yard long before any of them ever rang a real bell. I just think that's amazing. At my grammar school all we did was jump rope and play kickball. I feel cheated. But now that I know how to do this simple exercise I want to do it a lot. It got me used to interacting with the other ringers properly and understanding the flow of that interaction without having to worry about the bell handling and striking aspects. Which you will soon see is good for me.

So Roger put me on the treble and had me start making places with Sawyer while Lyn and Judith rang 3rd and 4th place bells. When I could do that without being too off, he called us to ring Bastow, which is a little method, but folks, it's a method. I rang a method! Did I mention Bastow is a method? OMGOMGOMGeleventyjillion! Infinity! Aaaaaaaaa............ !!!

In Bastow, all the treble has to do is make places. Sweet! Everyone else does a conga line type maneuver down to the treble and back up, so everytime treble makes places it's with a different bell! And it's a method!

OK, OK, then, then after that, I practiced dodging with Sawyer. Which I was really stinking at, but, hey, not totally falling apart. Still, not too good. Then Roger calls, "Go plain hunt on four"! And he was talking to me! Here we go again, folks, Plain Hunt!!!!! On four!!!!!!!! Aaaaaaaaaa...

It would be good to note about now that this is what I was referring to above when I said that hunting on hands and not actual bells is better. For me.
Because apparently I am all about the hunting out, and not at all about the hunting in. But we all gotta have goals, so it's all good.

So there's the wrap up on the Ringing Weekend, from my perspective. Which is decidedly a limited view, but I thought it was wonderful. Made new friends, made ringing progress, missed our Bill, and our Sam, and Tommy, but all the same I'm giving this one two thumbs up. With charming visitors like these, you don't really want the weekend to end.

Friday, April 17, 2009

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Today we rang for a funeral. Aside from service ringing, this is the first event ringing I have been involved in. I did not toll for the deceased, Bill did, but I ticked off each slow stroke on the whiteboard in the ringing room, helping him keep correct count. It was somber and strange. It was moving. It was every bit what I had expected it would be. Until after, when 8 of us took hold and proceeded to ring a very joyful sounding 20 minutes or so of Grandsire, Bob Triples and assorted call changes. I didn't expect that.

But it makes a certain sense. Toll the years; the deceased has earned that solemn salute. Then, celebrate the life lived. Today, I really feel proud to be a bell ringer.

Just last Sunday we rang a resurrection. Early in the morning, just before dawn with the lights off in the tower we rang the first joyful tones we had rung since before Lent started. It was energizing to be a part of it, and it really brought home to me how important we ringers are. So often as we work on our methods it is almost like we are only in this for ourselves. But as we rang the Easter services in and out I could really tell how the integration of bells with the liturgy really created a special experience for the congregation.

After the funeral ringing we had a bit of practice. Two lovely couples have come to visit from Great Britain, and we will be ringing with them all day tomorrow as well. I am tenoring acceptably on 8 bells, which is a big jump for me. I have previously rung on 5, 6 and not too well on 7, so I wasn't even sure I could count to eight, but apparently it is not out of the question for me. Which is kind of amazing.

I still benefit from Sheila's coaching. Sheila and Mike came over from GB to visit us about a month or so ago, delightful people who, amongst other things, taught me the correct way to pronounce Chiddingly. I was fortunate to make the practice when they were in visiting, and Sheila will always be the angel on my shoulder exhorting me to "nice, long strokes" whenever I start to lose it. She was definitely there this evening helping me get to eight.

And if you want to know, it is "Chidding-lye"

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Tenor Banger

So I am concentrating on tenoring right now. It has been extremely satisfying so far. I have been concentrating on perfecting striking and keeping an even time, and I think I am getting it. The interesting thing that is happening is that when you remove the responsibility of moving a bell and just ring constantly in the same place you really learn all about the stroke and begin to understand exactly where your bell is and what it takes to keep it there.

It would be much easier if I could see my bell as I ring it. But one of the challenges a ringer has is that you don't get to see your instrument, you play it remotely via your rope. So you are functionally blind to your instrument, and (except for ropesight, which I am learning has limited usefulness) I don't miss it a bit. It is like I am developing a dialogue with my bell by learning to understand what the rope is telling me. Each portion of the stroke has its own limitations, and its own advantages, and learning these really helps develop control and striking. I can learn a lot by carefully listening with my ears and with my hands. The most important thing I've learned so far is when to stop overanalyzing a fraction of the stroke and just ring, and when it's time to listen particularly to a problem area. I don't always know how to respond, but I'm starting to have a better idea of what it is telling me.

How many times did Anne Sullivan have to make the sign for water into Helen Kellers' hand before she connected the "word" with the feeling of the cold liquid rushing over her hand and understood that language was happening? How much longer did it take for her to understand the ramifications of what language is and its usefulness in communication? It is very much like that, feeling the rope go slack at the wrong times and understanding that I have either anticipated a stroke or allowed the bell to fall without controlling my rope. Understanding the potential energy when the bell "floats" between swings, and how that is different from standing the bell on its head at balance and how that will affect timing and striking. Where one is more useful than the other and vice versa. Feeling my rope sign to my hand the answers to the questions of my learners' stroke.

Tenoring also allows me to get a bit zen with it. Finding a rhythm, finding the physical input to maintain it, then repeating the motions over and over; remembering to complete all the steps of rope handling to their fullest. Tail stroke long, long, then snap. Catch the sally, let it rise but not too much, throw it back to the floor and don't forget to let go (or the bell reminds you by tearing it from your grasp) and be ready for the tailstroke. Keeping all the motions complete, smooth, it becomes a form of meditation. Hearing changes called but knowing I won't be affected by them, I let them flow over me and begin to integrate them on a much deeper level than before. If the ringer achieves good form, good striking will happen. Don't try to force it, don't try to control striking, just mind the rope and it comes. Before you know it, I am one with the bell and the striking is good. Then, and only then, I notice that I'm ringing well with the band, but I let that pass by as well refusing the distraction. I'm not looking at ropes, mine or anyone elses - I'm not looking at anything in particular. Through peripheral vision, it is all coming in, but in a gentle wash, rhythmically, like ocean waves against the shore. See? Told you I go all zen.

But that's it, isn't it? If you're going to ring the bell in the same place for 15 minutes straight or for 15 hours, it doesn't matter, does it? It is all joy, even in the lenten tones we play during this season. It is a sonic communication with God; as His agent, to His people, calling them to prayer; with the other ringers, in companionship; with the bells themselves, helping them express themselves, proclaiming with every tone the messages of their inscriptions, the intention of their makers, their memory of those who rang them before you. There is a richness to ringing tenor, a contemplative sort of prayer which could be lost in all the physical effort and mental busyness of method ringing. I won't be satisfied with it forever, but for now I am glad I can experience it.

One of the reasons I write this is because I am, as you know, journaling my thoughts on ringing as I learn, sharing them with my family and with my friends who are interested in ringing. But also because I know that in some towers tenor ringers, people who never ring anything but tenor and that for their entire ringing careers, are sometimes looked down on. They have been referred to as lacking something because they never want to move the bell around or try method ringing. Maybe, though, just maybe, they are tenoring not from a lack of drive, but from a deeper appreciation of tenoring than you may have developed. I don't know. What I do know is what I have found. And because of it, I know that I will always enjoy tenoring and will never see it as onerous or lacking in challenge.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Worrying about all the wrong things......

This post is going to start with knitting. Yes, I know I have a knitting blog and all, but it really belongs here right now. You'll see. I get around to ringing. It works, too. Trust me.

There is this cast on I have been fighting for over a year. It should be really simple, but it has utterly eluded me. For round shawls, you start by making a loop with the yarn in one hand (not even a knot!) and then you loop back and forth with your needle to pick up your stitches for the cast on. Then, you pull your yarn end and the whole thing tightens up to a perfect little circular cast on, no muss no fuss. There are step by step pictures available on the internet and everything. And last summer, when I decided to cast on for my first circular shawl, I fought this fiddly maneuver countless times before giving up and using another, less perfect cast on. I mean, fought, too. Consulting the website, mimicking the needle path for the wraps, making sure the yarn was draping over my hand just so...

So today when I decided to cast on for another shawl that I am really excited about and clicked the link provided on the pattern for the cast on and was directed to the very same website, my feeling of defeat before I even started was intense and even physical - I felt like all my innards dropped a bit. You know, it's what they call that sinking feeling.

Why, then did I see today what all my careful scrutiny of last year did not reveal even through physical experimentation? I was focusing on entirely the wrong thing. I was focusing on the movement of the needle illustrated and not even thinking about what I was trying to accomplish - casting on! Meaning, that once cast on, my stitches should sit on the needle just as they would with any other cast on, facing the same way and ready to knit. So I sat down now with the goal on getting the yarn on the needle in the correct orientation regardless of what machinations the needle would go through, and got it on the first try.

This is usually where people would type "facepalm".

Except that I had a brainwave right then about my ringing (see? I told you we'd get to it!), so no smacking myself in the head.

I have been focusing on almost all the wrong things with my ringing! To be fair to myself and to those good people I ring with who are teaching me, it really is something I had to figure out for myself, and being as new to ringing as I am, I'm hardly late getting around to it.

In ringing with others I had become so focused on starting well that I had completely disregarded why we ring rounds to start. Not that poor starting is excusable, but before we were to the second pass of rounds I would start in beating up on myself if I wasn't perfect. Not that everyone else didn't need several more rounds of rounds (how do you say that?) to get their timing straight, but I was all tunnel vision when it came to ringing.

I was also coming down with a bad case of method madness. In my new found ability to move places with my bell, I lived in happy anticipation of Plain Hunt, after which I would learn to treble for treble bob methods and then Kent and Oxford would be mine, all mine! (insert maniacal laughter here) Then Stedman, and then who knows?

Focusing on methods when I still can't reliably tenor may have been a tad foolish on my part, but close proximity to more experienced ringers who are able to focus more on methods and less on basic technique has undoubtedly influenced me a bit. But I was at once putting pressure on myself even as I was enjoying the mental challenge, and I didn't really need that right now. I had already realized that I need lots more practice with basic ringing, and the relief I felt at letting method madness go for now really told me it was the right thing to do.

Last Thursday at practice I found myself feeling a little blue that I seemed to have hit a plateau. That night we had 4 visitors to the tower, and while answering a question for one of them I realized that what I was telling her was at complete odds with my feelings of stagnation. It was then I realized that there are no plateaus, just times for different kinds of learning. Some are so internal that I don't recognize them as learning, yet they still build on my base of experience and therefore qualify as learning, leaving me with no other alternative than to accept it. Which is hard. We are taught about plateaus in life, whether in dieting, where you get to a weight you just can't seem to get past, or in exercise, where your body seems to have adapted to an activity level and no longer responds to it positively. There are many other expressions of plateau we accept without question in our lives, and we usually have negative associations with them. Like the term "in a rut" or when you're "going nowhere" in a job or a relationship. We are taught that once you hit a plateau the only thing for it is to get out of it and the usual remedy is to change your relationship with the activity (or person) until you get a better result. The one thing we never think to do is embrace the plateau. Maybe, though, there are no plateaus at all, just a challenge to accept those moments and try to percieve what different types of progress we are making.

The thing about discovering you've been worrying about all the wrong things is that it begins a process of elimination of unprofitable activity. I now have that many fewer things to carry into the tower with me, freeing space up in my mind and body for new information. I must remind myself that there is still plenty of time in my ringing career to worry about all that other stuff, and when I finally get to those issues again I may be more prepared to deal with them in a positive and fruitful way. I just need to relax and reconnect with my inner sponge and soak up as much as I can for where I am now.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Unopposed flexors

I have had real trouble with tendonitis since I started ringing. I haven't spoken of it here, mostly because I would have just been whining about it, but now that I have real information I figured I'd share it.

About the time I began handling the sally I started having a tough time with sore knuckles in my right hand. By the time I began raising and lowering it had progressed to real pain. The kind that woke me up several times a night with my hand so stiff I had to use my other hand to bend my fingers into a closed fist and open and close my hand until it loosened up enough that I could sleep again. Until it woke me up again. And again.

I had mentioned it to my primary care doc during my last physical, and explained the movements of bellringing and how and when the pain would hit. He did not seem concerned, and said my hands were just adjusting to the new activity. I kept ringing, and worked myself up into such a state that I decided to stop ringing until the pain stopped. At that point, both hands were hurting, my sleep was seriously disrupted, and I was having problems all day long. So I went two weeks without ringing, and since my hands were getting better I decided to ring a little at our last Thursday night practice. Everything was going ok until I overpulled a tail stroke and tried to correct on the next handstroke, and BAM!. Lyn watched me ring and tried to help me identify where I was going wrong, but I was so worried about feeling pain, my ringing was really crap. By Sunday morning my right hand was killing me and my husband was getting aggravated with me because I was insisting I could go to the tower and not ring (and we both knew that was complete bullshit), so I grudgingly called out, but I have been really worried that I ultimately would have to give up ringing.

So this morning when I had to get some bloodwork drawn, I took advantage of the situation and readdressed the problem with my doctor and I think we have it licked. This, and the way I handle it, is not the culprit:
And while the pain is in my knuckles, it is because of the flexor tendons constantly working to grasp,

while the extensors are not getting any workout from the activity of bellringing.

So therein lies the problem and the solution. The beauty of it is that I don't have to stop ringing! And being an official word from my doc, even the hub can't object! (Which he only does out of a loving concern, so I don't really mind) What I DO have to do is stretch those flexors and contract the extensors right after ringing, everytime I ring. Because unopposed flexors are a bad thing.

Good. Now I can stop talking about it and just ring. I just figured I'd put it out there for anyone else who might come across this problem in their tower. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go work out my extensors so I can ring like a maniac again!