The other day I made the mistake — well, it was two mistakes, really.

The first mistake was technical: a finger-striking issue in one of the Hanon exercises I was using as my piano-practice warm-up.

The second mistake was critical: Don’t go back and fix that. You don’t have the time. It isn’t important. You have to get on to your REAL MUSIC.

Then I realized — everything I do at the piano is real. It exists, I affect it, and it affects what comes next.

I went back and began digging into the issue that was preventing my fourth finger (it’s always the fourth finger) from cleanly and consistently striking the B flat (it’s always a B flat).

It took me fifteen minutes to learn how to play the passage smoothly.

Did taking those fifteen minutes to work out a problem in a finger exercise hurt my progress on the Mozart? Of course not. The whole point of finger exercises is to help you build the kinds of skills that you can apply to technical challenges in your performance repertoire — but the more important point is that committing to solve this problem helped me build the kind of discipline that I can apply to other kinds of problems.

Of course, some of these lessons take a few learn-throughs before they stick.

A day or so later I was measuring out rice for the Instant Pot. Usually I’m fairly precise about that kind of thing, but this time there wasn’t enough rice for a perfect two-cup measurement — so I poured in my first cup, dumped the rest of the rice directly from the bag into the pot, and added an amount of water that “felt right.”

Because I didn’t really know how much rice was in there, and because I hadn’t taken the time to find out, and because I had to get on to the REAL COOKING.

You already know where this story is going. The rice is just as real as the entrée. It exists, I affect it, and since I did not have the discipline to commit to solving this problem — that is, to measure out the rice exactly and then add a proportionate amount of water — it affected our dinner.

(We still ate the rice, but it was mushy instead of fluffy. Unspecific, if you don’t mind my belaboring the metaphor.)

Everything is real.

Does that mean that everything requires discipline?

L and I are still debating that one. We’re leaning towards yes, but since even something as simple as pouring rice into a cup and saying “yep, that’s three-quarters” takes just a smidge of extra time, committing to making the disciplined choice in every instance might require you to be very judicious about what you choose to do.

We also know that even if one commits to solving every problem in front of them, you still have to, like, triage things. Our plants need new pots and it’s well past time to clean the gunk out of the dishwasher filter, except it might not really be past time since it doesn’t appear to be affecting our dishes yet, I just feel like cleaning the dishwasher filter is something that ought to be done quarterly (and lord help us, the internet says to do it once a month), and — well, you get the idea.

This, by the way, is less about the plants and the dishwasher than it is about a larger-scale problem, which is that we don’t have time built into our schedule to handle one-off (or once-a-quarter-off) tasks. The recurring stuff, like laundry and vacuuming, is on lock because it’s already a part of our routine.

And — wait a minute — now that I’ve identified what the problem actually is, I might be able to muster up the discipline to solve it.

(I really should rename this the Problem-Solving Series. Here I was thinking that I was going to be writing about discipline and specificity, and it seems clear that these posts are heading in a different direction…)

I’m going to continue this tomorrow, because there is one huge caveat to the Everything Is Real discussion — which means that if you want to know what it is, you’ll have to come back and keep reading.

Until then, um… go solve that one problem you’ve been ignoring because you’ve been telling yourself it isn’t part of your Real Work.

See you soon. ❤️

5 thoughts on “Everything Is Real

  1. Everything is real, but is everything worth the labor to perfect it? And that probably varies by individual.

    I’ve been the type of perfectionist that means if I can’t do it perfect I can’t do it at all and so I do nothing and it’s becoming clear that I have to eat something, even if the rice is mushy.

    I’ve also struggled with painting, which I really enjoy because if it doesn’t come out as “art” is it even worth doing? I’ve realized it’s ok to do a paint by numbers and it’s ok to do it poorly because the process is enjoyable.

    It’s ok to let go of perfection to move on to higher priority or even just more enjoyable tasks.

    And on the other hand, I’m more likely to clean out the dishwasher filter because it’s a one and done for a while task, where I am not good at vacuuming or dishes because they seemingly never end. It’s funny how a routine works for some, and is an utter impossibility for others. <3

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