Problem-Solving Series Thoughts and Feelings

Dancing Through the Day

Nicole Dieker will award 10 Art History Points to anyone who can successfully identify the sculpture in the header photo.

I didn’t actually skip Tuesday’s blog post.

I mean, I am technically writing a blog post on a Tuesday.

It’s just too late in the evening to publish it today.

Here’s what’s been going on:

I’ve been spending the past — I was going to say past week, but it’s really been most of March — trying to figure out what my circadian and creative rhythms actually are.

In part because I want to know when it makes sense to eat and write and play and rest and practice.

In part because I want to figure out how to fit everything I want to do, and everything L and I want to do together, into a single day.

In part because L and I have started seriously digging into La Valse, and the time for that has to come out of somewhere. (All of the water in Archimedes’ tub has gotten displaced, as it were — but at least we know that what we’re working on is gold.)

But also — but most importantly? because I want to start thinking and acting like a peak performer.

(As in Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise.)

This is actually something I’ve been thinking about for a while. Every morning, when I start filling out my Daily Spreadsheet, I ask myself the question I borrowed from James Clear: What do I want?

On September 9, 2020 the first day I added that question to my spreadsheet, coincidentally enough I wrote “to train myself like an athlete.”

I think what I really meant was to take care of myself in a way that allows me to do my best work.

Which really means to take care of myself in a way that allows me to be my best self.


The nap stays.

The coffee can stay because it’s too good to set aside, but only half a cup.

The wine stays sharing wine with L is one of my favorite things but only half a glass (which is all you’re really supposed to pour in the first place, something something aeration and noses and legs).

If freelance work gets frontloaded to the very beginning of the day, it goes not only faster but better. My writing is considerably stronger at 10 a.m. than it is at 2 p.m., which means I shouldn’t waste a pre-lunch word on anything that isn’t a paying gig or an absolutely essential email.

I also shouldn’t waste a second of my piano practice time on anything that isn’t direct problem-solving, using the methods that L and I have discussed and that are known to work. (More on this later.)

I need time spent without the influence of other minds, as Cal Newport puts it, but I also need to bring other people’s thoughts into my life. Mostly through books (fiction and non-fiction) and in-person conversations. Otherwise, as it turns out, I get overwhelmingly self-absorbed.

If the food thing, the sleep thing, and the exercise thing are all balanced, I’m not only a better writer and musician, but also a better person. The goal of self-care, after all, is less indulgence than it is equilibrium.

And maintaining this equilibrium isn’t just for my own sake. I want myself to be the most important thing so it can also, simultaneously and paradoxically, become the least important thing.

So that my life becomes play, instead of work.

And that I am able to play, and be present, with everyone and everything around me.


L and I were talking, the other day, about the similarities between what I am trying to do with my life and what we are both trying to do at the piano. It really comes down to the process of going from guessing to knowing, in both cases; understanding, for example, that a good meal for me is roughly 1 cup carbs (fruit, homemade bread), 1/2 cup protein, 1 cup vegetables, and 1/4 cup fats (cheese, nuts, chocolate).

Veer too far over or under those amounts and I don’t have the energy I need to be present. I start thinking about myself and my discomfort (too hungry, too full) instead of everything else I could be paying attention to.

Now I’m trying to get to the point where I know when to write and when to work and when to rest and when to connect. The same kind of energy balance, only with activity instead of food.

Like any learning process, there’s a lot of work that has to be done until you understand what’s going on so well that you can start playing. To dance through the day, as I said to L earlier this evening, instead of keeping one eye on the clock.

This is actually what we were trying to do at the end of last year, if you’ve been following the blog for a while.

This time, we may be more successful.


I should write, sometime, about learning to dance with L.

As creative collaborators who spend nearly every evening discussing how to improve our writing, our music, our freelancing, and our teaching; as pianists playing La Valse; and as partners who are building a home together — both for ourselves and to share with the people we love.

The thing about dancing is that it goes so much better when you know the steps.

The other thing about dancing is that you can’t really learn the steps unless you learn them together.

So when I say I want to take care of myself in a way that allows me to be my best self, I’m also saying we should take care of us in a way that allows us to be our best selves — and our best us.

And it took us a hot minute (as the kids say) to figure out that we’re much better at playing La Valse together in the afternoons than we are in the evenings — and we’re much better at curling up in our respective chairs and writing our respective insights into pedagogy and discipline and specificity at the end of the day, when we’ve already learned what we need to write down.

Which is why I’m writing this on Tuesday and giving it to you on Thursday.

And, by the time you read this, I’ll have already written what’s coming next. ❤️

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