Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Twenty-Year Itch

Ten days ago, I shared with you an article about how we must sometimes neglect the here and now in order to tend to our more heady goals, the things we need to pursue in order to really be the people we think we are—our "future selves," as the article called it.

Well, here at Casa del Soul, Future Self had an important gig on January 14, performing at the Boston Celtic Music Fest. (Oh look, tonight!) So, she ignored writing for a while and instead focused on learning the tunes she had to learn on saxophone. As you can imagine, Future Self is determined to become the best musician she can be. Furthermore, since November, her friends Saxophone and Flute have declared that they wish to be poised and ready to answer the call should they ever be asked to play a birthday party, peaceful protest, or taco fiesta.

Future Self first appeared to Present Self in a yoga rapture in 1997 or so, and pronounced her trinity: music, writing, health. It seemed like a good idea to Present Self's twenty-something brain, and they were married that very day. On New Year's Day twenty years later, Present Self had a sit down with Future Self to renew their vows. The intervening 20 years have given P. S. many occasions to rethink. Present Self has begun to recognize that she really only has time to do one of the above, not all of the above at the same time, especially when she has people to love to love in her life.

She's not giving up, but sometimes Present Self thinks about breaking up with Future Self.

Future Self is very demanding.


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

To Hell with "Be Here Now." Be Your Future Self.

If you happen to have big goals but don't feel you have the time to meet them right now, there are a couple recent articles that are worth checking out. These articles, together, dash the old "Be Here Now" motto to pieces, and with deep apologies to my dearest dearest hippie loves, I think I'm going with this for a while:

...You need to spend time on the future even when there are more important things to do in the present and even when there is no immediately apparent return to your efforts. In other words — and this is the hard part — if you want to be productive, you need to spend time doing things that feel ridiculously unproductive. Read more here. 

The second article that is worth reading is from the New York Times, which recently reported on a study that examined the brains of "superagers"—people who have remained active and engaged into old age. They asked the question: Which activities, if any, will increase your chances of remaining mentally sharp into old age? And their best answer: Work hard at something. 

The researchers point out a distinct challenge: hard work makes you feel bad in the moment, and as many people age, they achieve "happiness" by choosing not to engage in challenging or difficult activities. In short, they step back, check out. But, according to the research, superagers "excel at pushing past the temporary unpleasantness of intense effort." (Read more here.)

So the lesson: Keep trying. Don't give up. The quality of your life depends on it.

Monday, January 2, 2017

How Life Intervenes

New Year's Morning started out just the way I liked. A cup of coffee, a bit of writing, 45 minutes of practicing and learning a few new flute tunes. The flute was behaving perfectly, for once, so I kept playing for a while, and worked on tunes I hadn't played in years. Eventually I wandered upstairs out of the practice room pondering my simple resolutions, the goodness of having a quiet morning, and anticipating the potluck planned for later that day with musician friends from way down Cape. In the kitchen, I whistled softly inside as I poured ingredients for an Irish soda bread into a big stainless steel bowl. The house was silent, except for the whoosh of occasional passing cars outside.

Peacefully bouyant, I texted my friend, "Fresh start!"

She texted back, "Hey! I hear you're playing at church today!"

As in, scheduled to play the New Year's Day offertory and anthem in like 15 minutes. And the entire family asleep upstairs. And me in my pajamas. And the dry ingredients unstirred before me and flour all over the counter. New Year's reverie broken. The instant clamping of the solar plexus. The warm expansive energy pulling out of all of my extremities and compressing into a thin firey column that shot straight from my chest out of the top of my head. 

And that's when I was reminded: This year will likely be a lot like all the other years. And that's ok.


Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year from Casa del Soul

My, my, it takes a ton of time and energy to decorate for Christmas, to overshop (I think I have a... um... problem), and send out 100 holiday cards. And make a CD. And work. And clean. Well, actually, not clean. Very demanding. (I'd tell you more about that last bit, but a friend says I write too much about cleaning. Note: The last time she had a two year old was about 30 years ago.)

So now it's New Year's Day at 7:25 am, and in honor of the "you must keep trying even when you fail" thing, I return to you as your little writer friend who has not managed to write every day for 10 minutes like she said she would... but today I'm all bright eyed, bushy tailed, and (GASP!!!) not hungover.

We had a wonderful, peaceful family New Year's Eve—the first time ever it was "just us," Soul Fry reminded me. We did have one invite (Lord, they get less and less numerous every year) but we decided to stay home and be our little family of four. There had been some foiled plans earlier in the week; on Christmas morning, Soul Fry and her bestie had made some chatty plans to spend New Year's Eve together with a sleepover. Two days later, we learned that this friend got a different offer or had forgotten the plan. And, or; not sure. At any rate, my heart broke for our girl.*

The ball drop at Casa del Soul. 
We set plans in motion for a New Year's Eve at home. Soul Fry's party animal nature went into high gear. She quickly sketched out a design for our own ball drop, and she and Dad disappeared into the basement for a little light carpentry. Then the glue gun came out and many glass beads were glued. Then, she said she'd make us dinner, all by herself. Which she did. Which was absolutely delicious. And we pulled out our "Just Dance 2017" Wii game and did the Whip and the Nay-Nay. And we watched Dick Clark and made fun of everyone and complained loudly about the lack of clothing and the excessive gyration in the female dancers who were dancing behind the male singers. We wondered where the female lead talent was. Oh wait! There she is! Mariah Carey. Um... never mind. And we got balloons and let them off at midnight. Our resolutions went up with those balloons, written on scraps of colored paper.

The prevailing theme was:  Spend more time as a family. I think we're off to a great start.

*Important note: A few days later, Soul Fry got invited to the same gathering and sleepover, but by that time, plans were in place for a family night, and she chose us. Hooray! We won!






Thursday, December 15, 2016

10 Tips for the Annual Bake-Off, by Suzy Crocker

Today is the annual bake-off for all the teachers and staff at the school where I teach. I'm new. So, like, I figured I'd show a bit of team spirit since I skipped the mannequin challenge. The rules were: Select a celebrity chef. Find a recipe. Bake enough for 52 people, and we'll have a grand old time eating everything on Thursday, December 16.

So: Some tips to keep in mind for next year:

Today's colossal fail from the new music teacher.
  1. Sometimes it is better NOT to start baking at 3:37 a.m. the night before the bake-off with a recipe you've never tried before.
  2. Sometimes, it is best to try the recipe first, period.
  3. Recipes made to be cooked by chefs are sometimes best left to chefs. Pre-toast the walnuts? Pulverize the oatmeal?
  4. When the recipe says, "Place dough balls 3 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet," it does actually mean 3".
  5. When the recipe says, "Bake at 325F," do consider NOT baking at something close to 350, even if your oven is from 1961 and all temperatures are approximate anyway.
  6. Ideally, do not cool cookie sheets on back deck to speed the cooling process, especially when it's windy.
  7. When the art teacher says, "Oh yeah, the bakeoff. I never do that," heed her words more carefully. Be less cynical of cynical people. Sometimes they are right.
  8. When asked to make enough for 52 people, consider baking something that only requires one oven insertion, not something that gets divided and baked in 12-piece increments.
  9. Consider the role of "taster," rather than "baker."
  10. Duncan Hines is a fabulous chef. 



Monday, December 5, 2016

Cleanliness is Next to Godliness, or Possibly Insanity

Dear Friend:

Since I last wrote to you, many things worth writing about have occurred. Musical events that brought us to tears. Insights on practice and performance. Parenting revelations. Brief moments of spiritual enlightenment. Family joy. Horrible self-realizations and the tiny little triumphs over self-doubt that occur like, oh, every five minutes. None, however, have inspired me to write to you like the realization I had today.

With a big concert behind us, no immediate freelance deadlines, little worry about this week's music lesson plans, and one sleeping toddler, I looked around my house and decided that I'd fill my two precious hours alone by cleaning the kitchen. Five minutes in, I experienced an a-ha! moment. I realized why the house is always more messy than I'd like.

I. Freaking. Hate. Cleaning.

You who can afford a house cleaner, I do envy you.

And you who cannot afford a house cleaner but who have found ways to achieve both personal and spiritual satisfaction from transforming chaos into order, I respect you immensely. (I do not understand you, but I think we're still friends, right?)

As for the rest of you who live in clutter and mess, and kind of hate it but can't seem to get around to cleaning on a regular basis, this blog is for you. I want you to know you're not alone.

Are you out there? Gawd, I hope so. If not, I'm going to be REALLY embarrassed.



Thursday, December 1, 2016

"Parenting," and Other First World Problems

My friend Ellen Lubin-Sherman* wrote to me after yesterday's blog with some helpful advice. (She also advised me not to listen to advice.) She said:

About being a good mother...are you present?  That's all that matters." 

Being present may not be so simple, but the advice is. And here's the thing:
"In Yemen's war, trapped families ask: Which child should we save?" Presence, like the concept of "parenting," is a first-world problem. Given Yemen, and Aleppo, and also the kids in my school who get free lunch and donated clothing, whose parents are in jail, who have suffered trauma in one way or another, I'd say that we can probably all stop worrying and start having fun by accepting the chaos and unpredictability of parenthood. It's not a science. If you do "this," you won't necessarily get "that." So, just keep doing this, be sure there is love, and then hope for the best.

Still, there's no harm in trying to be a little more present, so I tried today. Present, as in aware of what the hell you are doing. It started with my morning practice session. It's a struggle for me, as I get back into practicing, to start slow. To start with playing long tones: deep inhalations, followed by the longest exhaled note I can muster. If we believe all those centuries of Buddhist knowledge, we don't doubt that deep breathing and slow exhales are yogically valuable. However, as a wind player, it's also physically valuable. As you exhale, you become aware of all the places you hold tension in your body. You attend to your posture. You focus on what it feels like to make a good sound. You develop the muscles in your face and in your core that support a strong, steady tone. You focus on your body, and you drop your shoulders, straighten your back, release your neck. Your body has to be relaxed to make beautiful music. God. That's hard.

With Irish music, we have very notey tunes. Like bebop, these fast runs are unbelievably satisfying to tear through for goal-oriented maniacs like me. It's really freaking fun to fly through the notes in solid rhythmic time... especially when you can... but sometimes the quality of sound suffers. Or the groove becomes shallow. Lower notes don't speak fully, and triplets get a little automated. Your body remembers the tune through muscle memory and your brain actually has no frigging idea what notes you just played, in what order, and why.

So, despite a good start, this is the reason that my practice session ended with a failure of presence. After a nice half hour of playing through the tunes for our Christmas concert on Sunday, I couldn't help myself. I started blasting through a tune to finish up my practice session, because it FEELS GOOD. The sprint to end the run, it is a satisfying catharsis. Today, I didn't think about it; I just started doing it. Partway through the tune, I realized that though my body was executing the tune correctly, I actually had no idea what tune I was playing. I had to think for a moment. Man in the Bog. Of course.

Nope, I wasn't entirely present. Oh well. But somewhere in there was a solid intention, and that is what keeps the boat afloat.

*Hat tip to Ellen, as the one who dubbed Marie Kondo as a sadist. Who talks to socks?