Making Life Practice my B****


As a musician, much of my life revolves around the idea of practice. Most kids will tell you that practicing sucks. My friends with kids bitch about practice logs they need to (forge) sign and turn in to music teachers fighting for priority with the other hours of assigned homework each night.

I’ve given lots of advice about practice mindset, practice strategy, and practice goal-setting. Practicing music is a joy for me, not a chore. When it comes to music, practice isn’t a bitch, it’s my bitch.

Most people will say that practicing is repeating something over and over again in order to achieve some goal. I don’t like this definition. It reminds me too much of those days locked in my room playing the same phrase over and over again, often worse off at the end than when I started.

Practice is no more than the real world application of theoretical principles. Simply put, stop thinking about how to do it and do it. Practice is not about getting it right. Practice is about getting it wrong, mindfully.

When it comes down to it, is practicing music is any different than practicing anything, be it yoga, healthful eating, or writing? What about being a better listener, or a more patient parent, or putting down the IPhone and taking in the moment? Why don’t I practice life like I practice music?

My yoga teacher talked about practice yesterday, and how it’s a daily commitment–a choice. To grow, we have to embrace the discomfort,and let go of the ego enough to explore. I am too often focused on accomplishing some end state. Wrong goal.

The goal of practice is integrity. The alignment of idea and action.When one achieves alignment, energy travels without interruption . That’s the goal, right? For the words to flow like water, to run without touching ground, to savor every bite of life until your soul is full?

If you want to align something you don’t jam it into place and bingo, you’re done. You have to fuss with it, explore the boundaries, experiment to see how different actions give a different result. You have to practice.

You also have to get some humility.

Sometimes, I’ve worked a difficult passage until I have it down cold, but then blow it when I have to play it outside of my practice room. Is it that my fingers don’t know the shapes, the placement, the correct bow tension to produce a sound? Not really. It’s that I get close to the passage and that little voice says “Hey Heifitz, here comes that passage. Don’t fuck it up.”

Why don’t we accept that our nature is to err, and embrace it? After all, that’s all practice is. Instead of saying “I effed up” I can say “I’m out of alignment.” Not because I can’t deal with screwing up and need some sort of feel-good double-speak. It’s because mistakes aren’t the end of the world. They are the world. It’s because it’s often my fear of failure, or the fear of feeling like a failure that keeps me from practicing in the first place.

I know it sounds all new-agey of me, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Practice takes time. It takes commitment. It takes patience. It takes a sense of humor and more than a little forgiveness. Practice takes love.

So what is it you want to practice?

Ditching the electronic calendar

1-IMG_1077Sunday morning began in the usual way. Turn off the fan. Turn on the lights. Turn on the lightbox. Move the cat. Check email.

Check email.

Where the f*** were my emails?

I rebooted my phone. My Gmail account was still empty, so I ran to my desk to check the account on my laptop. Nothing.

This was a disaster.

Google wasn’t much help. The best they could do was restore the mail from my promotional tab so I could relive every website deal from Thanksgiving until Christmas. All of my business correspondence? Forget it. The holiday best wishes from friends and family? They would have to live in my memory. Anyone who asked me to do something or be somewhere, good luck with that.

Then again, I had an empty mailbox, which felt pretty cool.

How much of what was lost did I really need, and how much was I hanging on to because I could? I knew who I needed to ping to get critical information back. As disasters went, I’d survive.

I had a similar situation last month when my computer died. My advice for today–do not drink near your computer–especially if you gesture a lot when you’re on the phone. That sizzling noise the laptop makes as water seeps into the motherboard is your files saying goodbye.

Luckily I had a backup of my files on the server. Luckily I have a server, thanks to my husband to whom I apologize for rolling my eyes behind his back when he talks about security and recovery because like most people, I assume these inconveniences won’t happen to me.

I had a shit-ton of stuff in my archives; Multiple versions of the novel-that-will-never-see-the-light-of-day, Four year old orchestra press releases, Every iteration of the Dude’s college essays.When I thought about the files I really needed access to, it was a small fraction of what I had in storage. Did I really want my new laptop to inherit all of the clutter and chaos of the last one?

I decided to manage it like moving boxes. I’ll bring a file over to the new computer when and if I needed to. Otherwise, it could stay where it is.

Having the Dude leave the nest has had a similar effect on my life. For eighteen years, his schedule dictated mine. I loved being an at-home mother, but I was definitely in orbit, held by the gravitational pull of the Dude. Now that he’s on his own, the slate is wiped clean.

I have always kept a detailed electronic calendar, a throwback to my consulting days. It’s color coded by type of activity, participants and purpose. That calendar was the extra set of hands that kept me from dropping the ball, but the Dude took the ball with him when he left for school, and my calendar still looks exactly the same.

My father-in-law gave me an engagement calendar as a Christmas gift. When I opened it, I thought, “how quaint,” but I’m starting to reconsider.

The beginning of a new year serves as a reboot for me, a time to consider what to take from one year into the next. if how I live my day is how I live my life, how does my electronic calendar measure up? Like my email account and my computer files, maybe my schedule could do with a little electronic obliteration.

The booklet that my father-in-law gave me is beautiful, but not complex. It shows a week at a time, without demarcations for hours and minutes. It doesn’t call itself a calendar, or a planner, but an engagement book. Perhaps the term isn’t one of pretentiousness, but one of intention. An engagement can be a commitment, but engagement is also a state of being. This calendar requires a pen, and writing, and some consideration. I have these 24 hours. What will they mean?

Of course, I have appointments to keep, for which I’ll maintain my Gmail calendar, but focusing on life at the granular level is like bad musical theater, where time becomes no more than filler between songs.  Instead of focusing on what I need to do each day, I can decide what I want each day to be.

So I’ll add my engagement book to my morning routine, right after moving the cat. My email can wait, assuming there’s anything there.

 

 

Who’s that girl?

11908585_10206959825821690_7943426081004690238_oJane added 12 photos of you. To add these to your timeline, go to Timeline Review.

Uhm. What?

I’d visited Jane recently, but I couldn’t remember posing for any photos while I was there. It was also my 50-somethingth birthday. My guess was that the photos had to be old. Just how old? Anything stretching back to very was possible.

Jane is a golden friend. She’s been in my heart for a long time, so she has access to the really good stuff. By good, I mean stuff the Dude would find amusing payback for my writing about him for the last ten years.

My high school experience was one of duality. I don’t remember I time when I felt so loved and so unloved at the same time. It all depends on the frame of reference. Thinking about those years can bring forth a cringe and a smile at the same time, sort of like watching The Office, only I’m a smarter Michael Scott.

Jane is firmly planted on the side of the angels, so I poured a glass of wine and plunged into Facebook. There they were, a parade of smiling faces ranging from the age of six to  twenty-six.

Damn, I had a lot of hair. It was the 80’s after all. It was still dark back then. Like my father, I went gray quite young. I’ve been dyeing it so long I’d forgotten the original color. I’m smaller than I remember, too–almost compact. At the time, I felt so inescapably large, like I couldn’t get out of my own way, let alone anyone else’s.

What struck me most, however, is that the Jeannine in the pictures is so happy, so at ease. Nothing like the girl that narrates my flashbacks. I couldn’t look away.What made the difference?

I was seeing myself through someone else’s lens.

Memory theory says that we don’t actually remember events. Our brains rewrite the memory each time it’s accessed, so it’s layered with whatever new information we’ve painted over it, like looking into a mirror of a mirror of a mirror. What we remember is the last time we remembered the event. The truest memory is one that we’ve never retrieved before. I didn’t take these photos, so they had no prior imprint.

We tend to fixate on all of the negative baggage–the idiotic stuff we did–rather than the millions of moments that truly make up the bulk of our very good lives. We play them over and over again, adding more footnotes each time. The versions of ourselves that we remember can often get trapped in a box made by those who knew and loved us least.

Those pictures were the greatest gift. Who knows what those rewritten memories may bring?

So I posted the photos to my own Facebook timeline, even if it screams to the world that I am not a natural blonde. My posture is better, and I will never, ever part my hair down the middle again, but I will try to remember what I tell the Dude all of the time–we are neither as awful or awesome as we remember we are. If you want the truth, ask a friend for an old picture. It might surprise you. It surprised me. Who’s that girl. She’s me.

Hey Donald Trump, do you kiss your daughter with that mouth?


Mr. X was in his fifties. I was in my early twenties. He had been with the company for all of his career. I was fresh out of college.

He was a gnat in a short-sleeved dress shirt. He questioned my analytical methods and argued my findings. He tattled to management with my mistakes and afterwards, scolded me like an disapproving father.

The company hired troops of newly minted graduates every year, knowing that most would get flushed out of the system by the hours and the workload or would get recruited by other companies in bigger, more interesting cities. He didn’t treat any of the other newbies the way he treated me.

My boss told me to ignore it.

I did my best, but dang, he made my quills twitch.

One day he demanded information that hadn’t been approved for release, and I refused. That’s when he crossed the final line.

“I’ve been in this business since before you were born, little girl.” He gave the last two words extra emphasis, as if the rest was just filler.

Little girl? Is that what this had been about all of this time?

I’d like to say I responded in a professional manner, but I went full porcupine.

“And I’ll be in it after you’re dead, so tell me, who wins?”

Neither of us told our management about our exchange.

In an alternate universe, I might have learned a lot from him. But every time he opened his mouth, all I heard was little girl.

When I left the company he said that “he’d miss sparring with me.” I told him I would not miss sparring with him one bit.

I know he didn’t behave that way because he was a man. He behaved that way because he was a misogynist. Mr. X only saw me through the filter of gender. My greatest teacher and mentor was a man. He wasn’t always easy on me either, but when he looked at me he only saw my potential. And he never called me little girl.

So when Donald Trump talks, all I hear is blah blah blah, ugly, pig, loser, disgusting, slob, dog, He has no problem telling a woman she’d be a pretty picture on her knees or referring to her as a piece of ass. He attacked the credibility of a newscaster because she asked him to account for his own words, and then retweeted comments calling her a bimbo and even worse, unbecoming.

Afterwards he said “it’s fun; it’s kidding,” then denied it altogether. (USA Today’s Fact Check says otherwise.)

He clearly respects his daughter, Ivanka. She’s heavily involved in running his company. How would he react if someone intimated she could dust off the old kneepads? Would he find it “fun”?

She insists that he “cherishes and adores women.”

He might want to start with a little respect first.

Don’t let Angry be the New Black


A few weeks ago I went to Trader Joe’s to pick up some avocados. I don’t usually shop at Trader Joe’s. Their parking lot was clearly designed by the owner of the local body shop looking to generate new business, but the store was on the way to another appointment so I thought I’d brave it.

I grabbed my avocados and stood in line. The woman in front of the register had two carts of groceries and the most adorable little girl, with whom I played peek-a-boo while awaiting my turn. Just as the cashier was about to ring up my purchase, a woman lined up behind the register pronounced, “I AM NEXT IN LINE. THIS WOMAN CUT IN FRONT OF ME.”

I was confused. “I only saw one shopper in line when I got here.”

The other woman, full of righteous indignation, replied, “I DON’T CARE HOW MANY ITEMS YOU HAVE. YOU CAN’T JUST CUT IN FRONT OF PEOPLE. YOU MUST GO CHECK OUT SOMEWHERE ELSE.” She sent me off with a pointy finger. The cashier said nothing. I took my avocados a few lines away and made sure she’d left the store before I made my way to the car.

It was my fault. I lined up on the wrong side of the register. It’s backwards from what I’m used to. But I had been standing there with my bag of avocados for at least five minutes playing toddler games. Was it impossible to say to me, “Excuse me, but I’m next in line?” I would have apologized and taken my rightful place. Instead, the woman created her own narrative that because I had one item, I felt entitled to take a spot ahead of everyone else. By the look on her face, admonishing me was the highlight of her day.

I’m just grateful no one videotaped the interaction to post on the internet. Social media shaming is the new planking. Everyone is doing it, but it doesn’t really have a point.

When the heck did everyone get so angry? It’s like we’re all stomping around, elbows out, looking for a reason to let our frustration flag fly. Just this week, the parent of one of the Dude’s little campers went off on a kid he thought had picked on his son. Instead of talking to the counselors, he went Charlie Sheen on a seven-year-old.

With so much ire in the atmosphere is it any wonder that every day we hear about another incomprehensible, random act of violence. We say something has to change, and then we forget until it happens again. There’s nothing we can do, right?

Or is there?

I get it. Life is stressful and complicated, but I believe we reap what we sow. Maybe the woman at Trader Joe’s had a good a story to tell when she got home, but what if she cut me some slack and forgave me over a two minute transaction? What if she pointed out my queuing faux pas then graciously offered to let me go ahead?

The planet is getting too hot under the collar. So starting this week, I’m going on a Self-righteous Anger Free diet. I know it won’t be easy, but it’s good for me, and for the environment too. It reduces my use of fertilizer and conserves energy. We are so careful about what we put in our bodies these days–Sugar Free, Fat Free, GMO Free, Gluten Free. We should be just as careful about how we feed our souls.

If you care to join me, Self-Righteous Anger Free products can be found wherever you shop, and for once, cost much less than their counterparts. You might even find them at Trader Joe’s. Just be careful in the parking lot.

Wherever you go, there you are

493343628_98052395a0_zBeing a mother has occupied the last eighteen years of my life. While parenting is an exercise in entropy, it still provides a certain infrastructure. The daily schedule of getting the Dude to school, discussing his fantasy teams, and fighting over his crappy eating habits creates a living clock. It’s easy to find meaning and purpose. I am a parent. I take care of my child. If that’s all I do in a day, I can consider it a success.

The Dude leaves for college next month, and we both will have the world spread out in front of us with no real plan. While I’m excited, there’s a not-so-small element of “oh shit” mixed in. I have no roadmap to guide me. I can’t plug a destination into my GPS, because I’m not sure where I’m headed.

When I think about it too intently, I feel lost. I worry about where life will lead, and anxiety rushes to the surface. Will I ever finish my book? Where will the next story come from? Is this a career or a toe-dip in the land of wish fulfillment? How long can I justify calling myself a writer without some tangible sign of success?

I don’t know. Not a comfortable situation for someone who likes to have all of the answers. While hurtling into the future, I can’t catch the words or the notes. The best I can do is make a mad grab and hope I come up with something profound. Usually it’s a really bad limerick.

If I can manage to stand still, however, even for a minute, I can place a big red star on the map and write “You Are Here.” Sometimes, “here” is the best I can manage. Maybe, “here” is all that really matters. After all, “there” is merely a collection of interconnected “here’s”, right?

When I was twenty, I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I was thirty. When I was thirty, I knew what I wanted to be at forty. Each decision led me one step closer to that end. Ironically, when I got where I intended to be, I didn’t want it anymore. Somewhere along the way I had changed, but I was so focused on the destination, I hadn’t noticed. If I’d seen a map of my life, a big red star telling me where I was, where I truly was, I might have been saved a lot of trouble and pain.

So as I walk into unmapped territory, my goal is to be dedicated to here. To now. Because this is where the words grow, and the music unfurls. I will stand still long enough for them to find me, and stay quiet enough to listen.

So if you need to find me, you know where to look.

Photograph : Mt. St. Helen’s park entrance by Stephan Adrej Shambora © 2007 via Creative Commons/Flickr

Abominable Behavior

Boston-YetiAbout ten years ago, when I was living in Boston, a major snowstorm hit the city while I was traveling on business.

As fate would have it, parking at Logan was limited, so I had to park on the roof. That’s right. The roof. The part of the building without more building above it.

I was totally screwed. Not only would my car be covered with eight inches of snow, I would be boxed in by whatever the plow left behind my car while clearing the roof for everyone else. In the time I was gone, surely it would have half-melted and re-solidified into a natural barricade which would require a jack hammer to get through.

Come to think of it, I wasn’t entirely sure exactly which row I’d parked in. It’s not like the roof has a lot of identifying characteristics, and I sort of counted on having the identifying characteristics of my car to rely on, unless, of course, it was the only one still covered with snow. Then it would be easy to spot.

I had a snow brush in the car, but what I really needed was a shovel, or a pick axe. Maybe I’d be better off taking a cab home, and then going back the next day with a jack hammer.

And that’s when my husband called.

“So you and the dude are going to drive over and dig me out before I get home, right?”

The dude was six. At seventeen, he still is useless during a snowstorm. If only he shoveled snow as effectively as he manages to shovel everything else.

“Hahahaha. Right.” My husband is such a romantic soul.

When I finally arrived in Boston it was late–well past midnight–and I made my way to the roof of the parking ramp. As expected, the rooftop was a sea of white under bright lights, each car an indistinguishable white blob next to another white blob.

All except for one. Mine. Completely cleared and shoveled out of the mess. All I had to do was back up and I could head home.

I called my husband. “I was joking, but really, thank you. That was amazing. You really didn’t have to dig out my car.”

I basked in the feeling of overwhelming love. It was so good to be home.

“Good, because I didn’t.”

I’ve always wondered who shoveled out my car. My husband’s theory is that someone spent an hour digging out a car only to figure out it wasn’t theirs. Their silver Sienna was one more row over. Their worst night ever had become my coup.

But as of today, I know the truth. It was the Boston Yeti.

Boston has been hammered with snow the last few weeks, and the Yeti has roamed empty streets late at night, played in the snow, and even hailed a cab. Folks all across town have tweeted their sightings using #BostonYeti2015. Last week, he began digging out cars, and he didn’t even put a lawn chair with a box of cat litter on top of it to call dibs on the space for later. I told my family that my mystery was solved.

A lot of really shitty stuff is happening in the world right now, like we’re engaged in a sick one-upsmanship to establish who can be the most horrific of all.  Ironic, isn’t it? Someone in a an abominable snowman suit is representing the best of human spirit, while others engage in abominable behavior while pretending to be human.

The Yeti says he’s just lending a claw, but I’d like to think he’s starting a movement. What would the world be like if we were all Yeti, just doing what needed to be done, without fanfare or attribution, just to make the world a little better for one person on one day by doing one simple (or not so simple) thing.

Is today’s Yeti also my Yeti? I don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter. It’s been over ten years since my personal Yeti rescued my car from burial by snowdrift at Logan, and just thinking about it renews my belief in magic. We could use a little magic, don’t you think? Maybe we could all be someone’s Yeti.

Go do it. Be abominable. Be a Yeti.

Photograph from Mashable