Nicole Dieker isn’t a magician yet — but she’s working on it.
Start by asking yourself what you ought to wear.
No, seriously — you need to be comfortable, but you also need to look like you, displaying the kind of appearance that you value, and if you’re the kind of person who values displaying that same sort of appearance every day it helps if you can buy the same outfit seven times over.
(In either the same or different colors.)
Eliminating the “what to put on your body” decision, whether you go the full-on uniform route or the “everything in my closet is something I like” route, gives you that much more mental space to devote to the pursuit of excellence.
Plus, it makes getting dressed feel like a decision you are making to support your art.
I’m not saying that every decision should be made in support of your art, or in support of whatever excellence you are currently attempting to pursue (in work, in life, in a relationship), but — well, as soon as I used the word CURATION in yesterday’s post I knew it was the right one.
You are curating the experiences you want, in order to have more of them.
And in order to give your mind as much space as possible to think about what you really want to think about.
Clothes that don’t suit get in the way.
Not enough sleep gets in the way.
Not enough exercise, rest, food, touch, time spent outdoors — whatever it is you need to be your best self, to feel comfortable in the world instead of at odds with it, you need to make sure you have it, as often as you need it, or the lack will keep you from doing your best work.
Too much also gets in the way. Too many clothes in the closet; too much food in the belly; too much time spent dilly-dallying.
It really does start with balance; the foot on the high wire, the plate on the stick, the card placed carefully at the top of the castle.
Can you pursue magic, excellence, artistic merit, etc. etc. etc. without simultaneously pursuing agency, balance, specificity, and discipline in your own life?
Of course you can.
Can you create magic — can you become a magician — without also curating a life that supports the work and the person you are trying to create?
I don’t know. Mastery and self-mastery seem to go hand-in-hand, and to not pursue both feels like a slight.
That’s all very well and good, Nicole, but what are YOU currently doing in your attempt to become a magician?
Right now I have three big things I’m working on:
Making sure that the balanced life is prioritized. Sleep, exercise, outdoors time, rest, etc. etc. etc. are just the beginning. One of my goals right now is to figure out how to indulge in something I particularly like — a cup of coffee, a square of chocolate, a finger of bourbon — while still remaining in control of the experience. To take the pleasure without getting wired or overstuffed or tipsy.
If magic is the ability to manipulate the elements around you, then I want very much to be able to manipulate these kinds of elements — because the only other reasonable route is the abstainer route, and to say no to something that has been crafted with excellence in its own right (these are very high-quality bourbons) because you are afraid you won’t be able to stop before you slip out of equilibrium (which will then in turn make it more difficult to complete tomorrow’s work) feels decidedly un-magical.
Mastering my meta-emotions. L doesn’t know this yet (though he will as soon as I read this to him), but I just bought a tiny ceramic marshmallow to put on my desk. We’ve been talking about how to be mellow, and at first I resisted the concept because I thought that mellow meant losing my edge, but I finally got it this past week, when I realized just how much my meta-emotions were getting in the way of my doing my best work.
Remember: emotions are responses to situations, but meta-emotions are responses to emotions. In my case I’d have an emotional reaction to something which would prompt a physical reaction (speaking more harshly than I wanted to, eating more candy than I wanted to, spending more time doomscrolling than I wanted to) and then I’d agonize and dwell over why I acted that way and how I could have made a better choice, and all of that agony would keep me from doing literally anything else.
Being mellow, in my case, starts with letting those meta-emotions go. Eventually it’ll transition into mastering the reactions themselves (magicians choose action over reaction), but I’m still in the “people make mistakes” stage.
And you can be mellow while maintaining your edge — that is, you can let everything you can’t control swirl around you as you walk calmly towards the excellence you are pursuing.
Which brings me to:
Increasing my ability to focus/learn/memorize. On Thursday I’m going to start digging into the “is all learning necessarily memory work” question, because I’m in no way sure about the answer yet. All I know is that a good half of my piano practice time is still wasted, because I get stuck doing the whole “maybe if I repeat it again, it’ll get better on its own” thing — or, in some cases, the “let’s play this whole thing on autopilot while I think about another open loop in my life that hasn’t been resolved” thing.
I’m also wondering how much of the ability to focus at the piano comes from doing prep/percolation work prior to sitting down at the piano. Basically, I started asking myself why I found it easier to focus on my freelance writing than on my piano practice, and the obvious answer was “because I do a ton of mental prep work before I ever sit down to write.”
So I think I need to start doing that kind of mental prep work before I play, too.
Which might mean setting aside time to break down my piano work into unique assignments (like freelance gigs), understanding the specs of each assignment (what needs to be accomplished before I can turn in the draft, what questions the piece needs to answer, how many keywords need to be included, how many subheds, etc. etc. etc.), and letting all of that churn in my brain until I can sit down at the piano ready to tackle the job.
More on all of this as we continue this journey towards mastery and self-mastery and magicianry, I am sure.
And now you can tell me whether you liked the first half of this blog post or the second half best. ❤️