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.

 

 

Haiku Resolutions

In 2015
No more procrastination
Starting on Monday

I hereby resolve
To spend less time on Facebook
Than my teenage son

I’ll be more patient
Before I tell you you’re wrong
I will count to three

And from here on out
I will not drink my red wine
Straight from the bottle

I solemnly swear
I’m done binge watching Scandal
The third season sucked

Before I shower
I vow to take a brisk walk
To the coffee pot

I found my hand weights
I will put them to good use
As my new doorstop

My New Year’s diet?
I will not eat any carbs
Before 6 a.m.

I’ll no longer curse
Or keep my voice soft enough
So my son won’t hear

No need to worry
I won’t write stuff about you
Unless I’m pissed off

But I’ll keep writing
If I can make someone laugh
Even if it’s me

Fearlessness and Freeing the Anvil

fly

When I was a child, I was sure that I knew how to fly. I flew in my dreams all of the time. It was so effortless, so vivid, it had to be real. It was like swimming through air–as if I was so buoyant I couldn’t stay tethered by gravity. Something simple kept me bound to the earth. Once I figured it out, I’d undo the knot and head for the skies. If I could fly, surely I could do almost anything.

The almost got me. I learned about power and politics and started to see the limits of possibility. I learned time wasn’t infinite and that I could be lost and broken. I learned how to fear.

Every so often, I’d still dream of flying. When I’d wake up, I’d feel like I was missing a limb; some essential part of me had been replaced by an anvil that had “I can’t do that” etched in its side. I ached for weightlessness.

I have friends that choose a theme for the year, like hopeful, or gratitude or present. I suppose it’s like setting an intention after meditation. If you set a course for where you want to go, you’re more likely to get there. As I’ve said before, I’m a goal junkie. So I’ve chosen a theme for this year.

Fearlessness.

Embarking on any career in the shadow of turning 50 isn’t easy. Embarking on a writing career is lunacy. Doing both at once is a swan dive off a steep cliff. To write is to open up your soul every day, lay it out on a table and call the world over and ask for their opinion. Writing isn’t the only vocation with that property, but for me, writing exposes my vulnerabilities more than consulting or research did.

Yet, I feel more at peace.

I could be sensible. I’m an experienced business professional. I have connections, a solid resume, a history to draw from. Being sensible is the last thing I want. I’m tired of dragging that anvil around everywhere I go.  I will have the audacity to be fearless.

Eating a box of chocolates is my usual way to tell the world “screw you, I’ll do what I want.”  We all have a personal box of chocolates, that self-defeating, self-limiting thing we do to try to convince the world we aren’t afraid of what it was throwing our way. Instead, I vow to un-learn the lessons that hold me down, to remove the anvil of can’t and fly.

It’s a big sky out there. Join me.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by Ken Bosma © 2008 Creative Commons

A Conversation with my Fitbit

fitbitCongratulations! You have taken 5426 steps today. That’s 54% of your goal!

Awesome, and it’s only my first day.

But it’s 5:00. Shouldn’t you be walking or something?

I forgot  to put you on this morning. Cut me some slack.

That’s what they all say. Get moving.

I went to the grocery store without you. Don’t you think I walked a few steps doing that?

Says you. Do you have any corroborating witnesses to attest to the number of steps you took?

Never mind.

That’s what I thought.

I also ran with my husband. Two miles, as I recall.

That’s already included, which, by the way, means you really need to get walking.

It was really cold out. Did I mention that, Fitbit? I went running when it was really cold out.

Cry me a river. But please walk while you’re doing it. I don’t want to have the same talk with you an hour from now.

What about housework? I climbed the stairs 22 times in the last three hours. That’s laundry, cleaning, and poor planning. Doesn’t that get some type of multiplier? I also spent an hour ironing my husband’s shirts.

Did you walk in place while ironing?

Blink. Blink.

You aren’t helping yourself here.

 

Listen here, Fitbit. I’m a writer, so I’m writing. That’s what writers do. It sort of a sedentary job.

Hemingway was a writer, and he got up from his desk for a shot of  something at least once every hour or so. He also ran with bulls.

Only once a year. The running with the bulls part, that is. I run three days a week. I also drink three days a week. It’s healthier that way.

Look, I’m the Fitbit, not the Bentbit, and did I mention, you’ve taken 5426 steps today. That’s 54% of your goal! That’s an “F” by the way. The programmers make me put the exclamation point in.

Man, that’s harsh. You knew that would get to me, didn’t you.

Listen sunshine, if you can’t walk and talk at the same time, shut up.

Fine.

Congratulations! You’ve climbed one set of stairs today! That’s the equivalent of the world’s tallest cornstalk.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by Pete Markham © 2012 Creative Commons