On Mozart, Memory, Confidence, and Dreams

Nicole Dieker isn’t sure “original” is the right word to use at the end of this blog post, but she can’t think of a better one.

Yesterday morning, I recorded the Mozart Piano Sonata No. 12 in F major, K. 332 in full, so here you go:

Here’s what you might notice, if you watched the whole thing:

It’s obvious that I have the technical capacity to play this sonata. For better or worse, it is learned.

The next step is to work on the mental capacity. If you paid attention to the kinds of mistakes I was making during the piece, you might have noticed that they were either memory glitches, which can be warded off with continued practice, or confidence glitches, which can’t.

What do I mean by “confidence glitches?” Basically, anything my brain does that actively gets in the way of my performing with confidence. For example:

  • Awww, that didn’t come out the way you wanted it to, now you aren’t going to get a perfect performance! LET’S THINK ABOUT THAT INSTEAD OF EVERYTHING YOU’RE PLAYING RIGHT NOW
  • Wow, you played that really well the first time, here it comes again, bet you’re going to mess it up! OH LOOK, YOU DID
  • Here comes the ending, better not mess up the ending, you always play something wrong right at the end! GUESS WHAT YOU JUST DID IT AGAIN

There is only one thing I’ve figured out that actively works against confidence glitches, and that’s playing as if I were pulling the music out of my dreams. Yes, I am 100% borrowing that phrase from Maggie Stiefvater’s novels, the idea was all hers, and the way I am choosing to interpret it as I play the piano is essentially “This is a piece of music that I am creating, from its point of origin, that will now exist in the world for the first time. I will imagine every detail, exactly as I want it to sound, exactly as I want it to connect with the audience, before I manifest it. Anything could happen, but as long as I stay focused on each individual detail in turn, each new, original choice will come out exactly the way I mean it to.”

So, because I was extremely dissatisfied with yesterday’s recording, this morning I recorded the second movement of Mozart K332 as if I were pulling it out of my dreams.

Here’s what you might notice about this performance:

There are no memory lapses.

There are no confidence glitches.

There are three clunkers; that is, three moments in which my fingers don’t land precisely where I intend them to, but the reason behind each error isn’t memory or confidence or lack of knowledge or unsolved-problemry. It’s more like having your fingers slip on a doorknob, and no, I don’t know how to solve for clunkers yet. (Probably more practice and more performances.)

My interpretation might be a bit indulgent. This performance balances focus and feelings, which is probably a good thing, but you know at least one person is going to sit there and think “Well, Mozart never would have played it like that…”

To which, I mean, we don’t really know how Mozart would have played it.

Also, I just finished that Charles Rosen essay (in Piano Notes) in which he argues for the merits of original interpretation over historical recreation.

But sure, anyone who lingers on a note because they like it, or because they’re deep within their dreamspace and haven’t fully manifested the next musical phrase yet, is going to be called indulgent.

I’m not sure why.

(Probably something to discuss with L this evening.)

Now you can tell me which of the recordings you liked best, and how you deal with confidence glitches or memory lapses or clunkers, and whether or not you think Mozart would have played it any of the ways in which I am currently playing Mozart. ❤️

How I Received $200 to Fund My Garden Project (From Reading a Poem on Instagram Live)

MaKayla Lorick is a black freelance writer with tons to say about black identity & resilience, motherhood, writing, and apparently gardening.

I first created an Instagram profile in ninth grade where I would post 2-3 selfies with my furry caterpillar-like eyebrows a day. In high school, social media gratification did not exist at the forefront of my adolescent mind, and my reach (or followers) didn’t have the global context that it does today. For me, it was just about showing my face and using the tool without the sophistication of algorithms, explore pages, and reels.

I really began consistently writing and posting videos of myself reciting poems on YouTube once I started work with Goldie Patrick, a phenomenal writer, playwright, director, and actor located in the Washington, D.C. area. Goldie mentored (and continues to mentor) me alongside a small group of black girls from D.C. based out of her non-profit, FRESHH (Females Representing Every Side of Hip-Hop) which partnered with the Kennedy Center in D.C. from 2013-2020. We affectionately call her Sister Goldie as she taught us with a fierceness of civic engagement and cultural awareness through hip-hop theatre. 

Goldie made us believe we were beautiful and gave us an African diasporic history of which to be proud. She would introduce us to different members of her tribe, and we would call them “Mama” so and so or “Baba” so and so in a delicate way that forged us together as family. This piece is important because it is the foundation of my writing, but also, it gave me an important cayenne-pepper-like kick a few weeks ago that brought me here. 

Luisa Igloria, the poet laureate of Virginia, reached out at the beginning of 2021 through Facebook Messenger and asked me to submit a poem as part of an April series hosted by Slover Library in Norfolk, Virginia. She informed me that a couple of my professors from my alma mater, Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia recommended me to participate in a collective of Virginia writers for National Poetry Month. I screenshotted the Facebook message immediately and posted it on my story on Instagram. A friend from college who works for the L.A. Times responded: “You still write? Would you be interested in submitting here?” I responded, shyly, “I’d love to” — while thinking, “Once I submit, they’ll know I’m a fraud!” 

I almost had not responded to Luisa had it not been for my friends on social media encouraging me — “What is there to lose?” they would ask. “You BETTER submit” others would demand. “Don’t be afraid” they would affirm. A little voice I had turned off in 2020 crept back in with a mix of fear and a little courage — “There’s no better day to start sharing your writing than now!” at the beginning of the pandemic had felt like a slap in the face to my stalled artistry. But suddenly, that call-to-action seemed a tad less insidious and a bit more hopeful.

I submitted, fell asleep, and the next day Luisa emailed me back letting me know she would be using my poem “morningglory” in the project. Once that project became live, I instantly shared across my social media receiving several DMs. A lot were from people I had known congratulating this new step in my journey. came from Goldie, who wrote that she would be reading on Instagram Live that Sunday in partnership with the Kennedy Center and wanted me to read a poem. I did not hesitate this time, I just said yes.

I got on Instagram Live that day having not gotten dolled up. My four-year-old daughter was being a bit clingy that morning, so it was difficult to get ready and at a certain point, I knew it was just about poetry — not looks! I satisfied myself with tying my hair in a headscarf, because I knew my audience would not mind as much as I did. I listened to Goldie read in a captivating cadence, a familiar sound from my youth. When the time came for me to join her on Instagram Live, she asked me what I needed right before I read. I answered: community. She responded, “Aṣẹ.” 

I let them know that I would be starting something new, that this poem was fresh out of my heart and part of a series designed to help me reconfigure my untended Section-8 patio through a frame of writing. After reading she asked me to leave my CashApp handle in the comments. I did and received $200 USD immediately. I was floored, humbled by their willingness to invest in me and completely encouraged that they saw something in me that was beautiful.

I took the money straight to Lowe’s and began hammering out my vision, buying heavy bags of marble rock, soil, flowers, seeds, and pots. I continue to post videos on my Instagram documenting my process, to let folks in just a little. Since beginning the project, I have grown into a habit of writing which I think is a nod to the process of gardening itself. You cannot just pick up a shovel one day and decide “Hey I want to do a garden,” plant a bunch of flowers or produce, and leave them unattended for weeks. Creating this space became about nurturing my craft, my garden of poetry daily. It has resulted in a lot of trash, but also unending beauty. 

I implore you all to use a tip or two of mine today in your practice and to ultimately understand the value of your work. Bryan Stevenson, a widely acclaimed public interest lawyer, spoke at Howard University’s graduation the other day and said something that moved my spirit: “It won’t be your grades that measure your capacity to change the world, nor will it be your income. It will not be the job that you have post-grad, not even the ideas in your head. Ultimately it will be the conviction in your heart that measures your capacity to change the world.” When I feel overwhelmed, one saying I do not mind hearing my partner repeat over and over to me is “Start where you are.” 

Tips for Curating a Social Media Village:

Find your community, your village, your space. Engage with them continuously. You have something to contribute, find a place that welcomes your voice and challenges your creativity. For me, it was about reconnecting with Goldie and her tribe, which also became mine. They had seen my growth from a young age and were invested in my journey, even my stumbling. Search hashtags that you believe in, like #womenempowerment or #blackgirlmagic. Follow folks, reply to their journeys. I’ve done Live sessions with friends, workshops where I post content that came from the session. Whatever you do, stay connected in your own way.

Decide: Is it about distinguishing or telling your story in the best way you can? My focus was not so much on being different or influencing others, but on reigniting my creativity and sharing my willingness to learn. When I began my project, I was honest and told the folks after reading my poem, “Look this is only the beginning. I’m saving up to transform this place so it will be little by little.” In an age of social media where much is fabricated, it is exciting to be vulnerable and launch yourself into ownership of your story. Even mundane details are poetic, trust me!

Be realistic and have fun on social media. If you become overwhelmed by the idea of consistently engaging your followers, own how you would like to engage. Some people have the capacity to post every day, others biweekly, yours may be once a month. Whatever it is — be realistic and have fun! Never forget, art begets art!

Drop your CashApp. You never know who may be watching. $MaKaylaLorick 

Defining Excellence

Nicole Dieker is well aware that she does not actually define the word “excellence” anywhere in this blog post.

I’ve been asking people, as we get back into socializing again, what excellence means to them.

I’d be curious what it means to you, if you want to leave your answer in the comments.

(For the record, none of the people I’ve asked yet have given anything close to a similar response. This surprised me. Should it have?)

For me, right now, excellence means three things:

Working towards what you know (or believe) is right. The obvious example would be something like the repeated thirds in the left hand of the fifth movement of Stravinsky’s Les Cinq Doigts; when I first learned the piece in high school, I took the movement too quickly because it was “easier” to play the thirds when you played them just a bit too fast. When you actually play at Stravinsky’s indicated tempo, you have to work at matching the articulation from third to third to third. You can cheat when you play faster; just bounce your hand like you’re dribbling a basketball or something and the thirds will fly by so fast that no one will notice if the articulations weren’t even.

But that’s not what ol’ Strav wanted (or at least not what he wrote on the page).

And leaving the work of “getting it right” undone is like telling yourself “I’m giving up the possibility of excellence.”

Which brings me to:

Not leaving possibility on the table. This must be why everybody I’ve talked to so far has a different definition of excellence — because the phrase “not leaving possibility on the table” not only includes a cliché, but also has very little to do with the accepted concept of “being excellent at something.”

Except for me, right now, that’s like the whole deal.

I’m not excellent yet. I’m not a magician yet. But the idea that I could be — that I might solve the problem of those thirds, that I might spend an entire day acting instead of reacting, that I might actually become my best self — and that’s where it gets tricky, because “best self,” like “excellence,” is a moving target, but what I mean to say is this:

Why couldn’t I be an excellent pianist?

Why couldn’t I be an excellent partner?

Why couldn’t I be an excellent writer?

Why couldn’t I be an excellent teacher?

Why couldn’t I be an excellent friend, daughter, aunt, community member, and all the rest of it?

Why would I say, just shy of turning 40, that I’m giving up on any of those possibilities?

Which brings me to:

Extending the practice of excellence towards as many areas of your life as possible. There’s the question — and L and I are currently discussing this question — of whether pursuing excellence in one area of your life naturally limits the possibility of pursuing excellence somewhere else.

I’ve written before about the idea that your choices limit your choices, and I’m pretty sure that trying to be an excellent pianist and an excellent painter and an excellent cook at the same time — and yet I’m not sure about that, when I really think about it.

Not just because polymathery is a thing, but also because excellence is a practice, and learning how to practice excellence in one aspect of your life makes it easier to practice excellence in other areas of your life.

Right? I mean, I know that you only have so many hours to put towards the piano or the canvas or the novel or the marathon training or the partnership or the family or the job.

But it seems like excellence includes balance. Like it would be impossible to be truly excellent without also being able to balance that excellence among all of your priorities.

And yes, I know you’re going to shout “NABOKOV MADE HIS WIFE LICK HIS STAMPS” or whatever it is that proves that supposedly excellent people can be less-than-excellent at many aspects of their lives, or that excellence requires you to prioritize and sometimes that means de-prioritizing the people closest to you.

I reject that idea, on the concept that you’re automatically eliminating the possibility of a better option.

The kind of life, for example, where you choose your people, choose the maths at which you want to poly, be specific about who and what and why — and then put your growing (and compounding) practice of excellence towards everything you choose, while reserving a more general kindness, conscientiousness, thoughtfulness, active-not-reactiveness to put towards everything you might not have chosen.

I mean, that’s what I’d like to do with my life.

What about you? ❤️

Mon-Dids

I don’t know if you enjoy reading my to-do lists as much as I enjoy writing them, but “publicly announcing what I want to prioritize” is becoming an essential part of planning and structuring my week — so here’s everything that was on my to-do list from last week, with notes on what actually got DONE:

  • Freelance work (obvs): DONE
  • Memorize the last movement of Stravinsky’s Les Cinq Doigts (I did that this morning, will need to confirm that it is memorized tomorrow [and reconfirm that it’s still memorized the day after that]): DONE
  • Record/post Les Cinq Doigts in full: DONE
  • Record/post Mozart K332 in full: NOT YET DONE, HOPING TO DO THIS WEEK
  • Continue La Valse detailed section work with L: DONE
  • Continue La Valse metronome work with L: DONE
  • Visit YMCA to see if I want to join up (I loved the Cedar Rapids YMCA; now it’s time to see if I can love another one just as much): DONE, ALTHOUGH I ENDED UP JOINING A DIFFERENT GYM INSTEAD
  • Book spa day (we aren’t planning on taking a vacation until the very end of August, so I’m all “okay, am booking spa day for upcoming weekend, mani/pedi, float pool, hot stone massage, facial, everything that fits in my budget and can be completed in six hours”): DONE/IN PROGRESS (I booked and completed a float session)
  • Continue chess study (at least one lesson per day and two games per week): DONE, SORT OF (I did four lessons over seven days, no games)
  • Continue Gödel, Escher, Bach study (I’ve been reading a few pages every day, which is about all I can handle at once): DONE
  • Try to fit music composition back into my schedule (ummmmmmmm but I want to): DONE, THANK GOODNESS (I was worried that this one would get bumped)
  • Write two lengthier blog posts this week since I should have time (and last week’s posts were pretty short): DONE

This week I’ve got freelance work, a new developmental editing project, getting that Mozart K332 recorded, continuing GEB, chess, and music composition, continuing to hit the gym for Stronglifts 5×5, and…

I hope…

at the very end of the week…

if I successfully get the entire Mozart sonata performance-ready…

(and record it)…

I can finally…

start devoting the majority of my piano practice time to…

La Valse

and…

the Ricercar a 6. ❤️

Thoughts From My Office

I told you I wanted to record the entire Stravinsky Les Cinq Doigts this week, so here it is:

There’s one obvious clunker in it, which is interesting because I don’t know how to solve for “whoops, I think my finger slipped, I’ve never played that note there before.”

Like, I know how to address the two not-so-obvious memory errors in the piece (neither of which you should notice unless you know Les Cinq Doigts really, really well). In both cases, my brain fired up a slightly different section of the piece than the one I was actually playing, and I got a few notes in and thought “WRONG SECTION!” and switched out of it. Easy enough to rework/repractice/correct.

But I don’t know how to deal with clunkers. I wonder if L has any ideas. ❤️


Here’s where I got published this week!

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Upcoming Submission and Pitching Opportunities: June 11, 2021

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On Music, Memory, and Stamina

Nicole Dieker is writing this before she records the Mozart, and has no idea yet how it’s going to turn out.

I don’t know if you’ve gotten to read RW’s comment on the different types of memorization, but 1) you should and 2) here’s an excerpt:

In a martial art I used to do, first I learnt the shape of the kata, and then the detail of the kata and then the feeling behind the kata. And maybe one and two are memorisation, but then how does that explain the gap between knowing what I should be able to do, and being able to make my body move in the way that I wanted? The feeling behind the kata is something more intuitive, and related to understanding (memorising?) the application of the kata, but not quite the same.

I recently started reading Charles Rosen’s Piano Notes, and he describes a similar process — first you do the “where do fingers go” work, then you solve the technical problems, and then you begin to turn the piece into music.

That last part is intuitive, though it is also based on skill; knowing how a specific gesture translates to the audience, for example, both in terms of “how it changes the shape of the musical phrase” and “how your body language contributes to the musical experience.”

So.

I mean, yes.

But.

The trouble I’m having right now, especially with my 30-minute Mozart sonata, is sustaining the music-making through the entire piece of music.

It takes a lot of effort to play something, not only in the technical sense but also in the “feeling behind the kata” sense — you might remember that a while ago I wrote a blog post about the idea that you have to practice playing, and that’s what I keep trying to do with Mozart K332 and that’s what I keep not completely doing.

I’ll start out playing — that is, I’ll start out trying to make music, create an experience for the listener, draw a line from Mozart to me to you, make sure you hear every note as it is played, manipulate each element until it becomes magical, etc. etc. etc..

Then, without even realizing it, I’ll drop out. My hands will keep going, because the music is technically memorized (emphasis on technically), but I’ll have started thinking about something other than the experience I’m trying to create.

In some cases, I won’t be thinking about anything at all; the old “I just drove home without noticing or remembering any part of the drive” thing.

And the thing is that THE AUDIENCE CAN TELL.

I know, because they’ve told me.

So I’m working on stamina right now — and since I like to show my work, here is the second movement of Mozart K332:

A few notes (pun always, always intended):

  • Yes, that skirt is vintage.
  • I picked this movement to record because it was the shortest, and because I was hoping that I would successfully be able to sustain my music-making focus for the entire piece.
  • I did the full-body recording (as opposed to my usual method of recording in which I put my phone directly on the piano) to see if there was any difference in my posture, gestures, etc. between moments of strong focus and moments of weaker/absent focus.
  • There does not appear to be any significant physical difference between my strongest and weakest focus moments. In fact, there were only about four seconds in which I considered myself “unfocused,” and I dare you to find them.
  • That said, the performance seems to lean more towards focus maintenance than it does towards play. I’m having a very intense time, as you can probably tell.
  • I do think I was successful at “playing the music as if I wanted to create an experience.” I was about to say that I thought I was successful at actually creating that experience but you’ll have to tell me if that’s true (since the only thing that’s real between two people, including performers and audience members, is what they create together)
  • There are two technical errors, which you can probably find without my daring you to, and I know exactly why I made both of them. Each time, I was focusing on something besides “playing the ornament as cleanly as possible,” and since those two problems aren’t fully solved yet, my brain wasn’t able to provide the Level 2 Memorization required to execute the ornaments accurately.

That said, I’m very happy with what today’s performance is — and very interested to see where I could take this sonata over the next month or so, as I continue to work memorization, problem-solving, specificity, focus, experience-making, and play. ❤️

How Teaching Dance Got Me Out of My Creative Slump

Jeana Jorgensen is a folklorist, writer, educator, and dancer — and now, a dance teacher.

I’ve been a belly dancer for over 20 years, and while the pandemic changed how I dance — I mostly teach classes on Zoom now, and perform virtually rather than at hookah bars and art shows — I wasn’t expecting to find inspiration in teaching online. I viewed Zoom as a burdensome necessity, not something to get excited about… yet that all changed just a few months ago.

In the belly dance world, we are having a number of conversations about cultural appropriation, how best to respect the source cultures our dance comes from, and so on. These are necessary but challenging conversations. However, between those and the burnout from my day job as a college lecturer, I was feeling my creativity wane in recent months. I would teach my college classes during the daytime, lecturing to a room filled with half my students while the other half Zoomed in due to social distancing restrictions, and then I’d teach dance on Zoom at night. I cooked most of my own meals and fit in exercise where I could. But my inspiration to practice dance on my own, rather than scrape by with the bare minimum needed to still be a good dance teacher, seemed to evaporate.

I was surviving, not thriving, and my art was suffering for it.

Then I got a wild idea.

I’d spent a chunk of summer 2020 taking online classes from a dance studio in Poland, where they study and teach the same type of belly dance I do: FatChance BellyDance (FCBD) Style, which is geared towards group improvisation, so we could theoretically dance together and sync up even if we don’t speak the same language. My teachers at the Siren Project had brought in flamenco props like fan and manton (silk shawl) to liven up the dance style, and, eager for novelty while in pandemic lockdown, I’d enrolled in a bunch of their classes. Because our shared dance style provided a basic template for the existing moves to have props layered onto them, I was able to pick up the stylization pretty quickly. The new props challenged and stimulated me, and gave me ideas for solo pieces to perform in virtual shows in the fall.

When 2021 rolled around, I was still just fiddling with these dance props in soloist mode. Burnout was creeping in. My dance students kept complimenting the solos I put on Instagram and YouTube, and finally it occurred to me: why not teach flamenco fan (the prop that I’m strongest with) to my dance students?

I got excited. They got excited. And then I got to work: in January I filmed a number of instructional videos and put them up on YouTube, unlisted, for my dedicated students to view. We organized some Zoom practices outside of our normal “class” times. I found myself motivated to polish up the movements and ensure that I understood them well enough to teach them, which meant more time fiddling around in practice mode. I had to film myself and see myself on video repeatedly to make this work, which also spurred me to make sure my form was excellent.

After a few months of this, a performance opportunity came our way: a show specifically devoted to dancing with props, open to any global practitioner of FCBD Style. Some of us would have to enroll in an online workshop in order for the group to be eligible to perform, but we were planning to do so anyway (all of the workshops were dedicated to baskets, another fun prop that we often dance with). I conferred with my troupe and my student troupe, and we decided to apply to perform. Both groups were admitted to the show, and that gave us extra drive to continue to learn and practice virtually, with a handful of masked in-person practices thrown in.

We realized fairly quickly that dancing even familiar moves with a wooden flamenco fan in one hand presents plenty of challenges: you have to make sure the fan is aligned against your forearm in many movements which takes body awareness, and you have to make sure the fan isn’t tilted too far to one side or another, to ensure that the audience (even if imaginary, even if virtual) can see the full shape of the fan. If, like us, you dance in long full skirts, then any time you bring the fan to hip level you have to make sure you’re not mashing it into the folds of your skirts. When learning to flick the fan open or closed, you have to learn not to accidentally fling it (we have all been guilty of this error at one point or another). Still, even our mistakes made us smile and laugh, and continue to bond with one another and study hard.

Given that I’d been feeling burned out teaching online for most of the last year, I hadn’t been expecting creative inspiration to come my way in the form of yet more teaching online. But I’d been lucky enough to figure out what sparked my motivation: getting to apply something I’d learned to a new situation and teaching it to a group of people that I absolutely love dancing with. And we are, to my knowledge, the only group of dancers in the U.S. studying this style so we can perform it live and improvised, rather than being forced to stick to solo work or rigid choreographies.

Not everybody is in the position to study with artists halfway around the world and then teach the material you’ve learned to a group of dedicated students that you may or may not have already cultivated, I get it. I think this idea could be reframed in a number of ways, such as offering to lead a session of your artist’s or writer’s group to implement a new technique that you’ve learned, or volunteering to run a short class for a local youth group. Simply going out of your way to learn something new, and learn it well enough that you could transmit it to an audience that it’s well-suited for in terms of technique/skill level, would hit the novelty and challenge aspects of creativity that can be hard to come by right now (not to mention community, which is an essential ingredient in my experience of the arts as well).

I was grateful to find a trick that would get me dancing beyond the couple hours per week that I was already committed to teaching dance on Zoom; for a few months, it felt as though my flamenco fan was in my hands for half my waking hours. I’ve come out of the experience a better dancer, as well as an artist with a couple more tricks in my creative toolkit to keep me engaged when feeling despondent.

Jeana’s students happily gave permission to be used in the header photo. Here’s a video of the dancers in action:

What-It-Is-Ism

Nicole Dieker would like to note that this post still counts for Tuesday.

The thing about what-it-is-ism is that it effectively eliminates “should.”

“I should do this.” Maybe, but it only becomes real if you actually do it.

“I should have done this.” Maybe, but the only thing that really happened is what you actually did.

“I should have known.” Maybe, but for whatever reason, you didn’t.

“We should be…” Maybe, but you already know from my previous blog posts that the only thing that is real between two people is what they create together. Relationships are as subject to what-it-is-ism as literally everything else that is.

Which is to say, literally everything.


“Wait, Nicole,” I can hear you thinking, “what if two people disagree on what something is?”

If two people cannot agree on what something is, then their disagreement is what is. The reality of the disagreement takes precedence, at least in terms of the reality of the relationship between the people who disagree, and I can hear you start to think “but what if I believe that the earth is round and somebody else believes the earth is flat, you cannot tell me that the disagreement is more real than the actual shape of the earth,” to which I will say “the disagreement is as real as the earth itself, in whatever shape it may be taking at the moment, and may be temporarily more important simply because it’s the thought that is occupying both of your thoughts.”


But back to the piano, because this is technically about the piano.

Which is to say that — as I said (or wrote) yesterday — there are times when you think “I should be better at this section than I am,” or “I should be further along with my memorization than I am,” and what-it-is-ism eliminates those shoulds, leaving you with the work you’ve actually done and the music you’ve actually memorized.

And yes, it is hard to look at the work you’ve put into something and the results you are currently getting and ask yourself why it seems like you aren’t getting the results you’d hoped to get. It’s easier to get frustrated, to say “I should be better at this,” because guessing takes more effort than knowing and it’s going to take some guessing before you can figure out where the input/output discrepancy is.

All you know right now is that you want an output that you don’t yet have — and that it isn’t a matter of not doing the work, because you’re showing up at the piano every day.

It might be a matter of not doing the right work, or not doing the kind of work that leads to the results you want, or not doing the kind of work that fully solves a problem.

It might also be that the work you’re doing is right, but you simply haven’t done enough of it yet.


L argues that what-it-is-ism eliminates not only “should” but also “ego.”

I’m not sure that he and I agree on what ego is yet (which is fair, since there are, like, ten different definitions) but I understand what he means.

If you accept what-it-is-ism, then you also accept who you are. Not who you wish you could be, or who you should be, or whomever it is you feel like you are owed to be.

You can change what is, within what is possible to be changed, and you can change who you are, within what is possible to be changed.

But taking a moment to sit with who you are, exactly as you are, and accept that, well — it’s worth taking, because I just did it.

And tomorrow you can go back to all of that problem-solving and whatnot, if you want to.


I want to write more about what-it-is-ism, but I also want to write more about memorization and learning and playing the piano as if I were pulling the music out of my dreams (thanks, Maggie Stiefvater) and writing a piece of music that I did in fact carry with me out of a dream and everything else that I’m thinking about at various points during the day.

These include the points at which I think “I should be writing more, these blog posts should be longer/better/less reliant on section breaks as a substitute for well-crafted transitions/etc.”

But what-it-is-ism says “this is what you have written today.”

And that’s what’s real. ❤️

Mon-Dos

It’s Monday, you know what TO DO:

  • Freelance work (obvs)
  • Memorize the last movement of Stravinsky’s Les Cinq Doigts (I did that this morning, will need to confirm that it is memorized tomorrow [and reconfirm that it’s still memorized the day after that])
  • Record/post Les Cinq Doigts in full
  • Record/post Mozart K332 in full
  • Continue La Valse detailed section work with L
  • Continue La Valse metronome work with L
  • Visit YMCA to see if I want to join up (I loved the Cedar Rapids YMCA; now it’s time to see if I can love another one just as much)
  • Book spa day (we aren’t planning on taking a vacation until the very end of August, so I’m all “okay, am booking spa day for upcoming weekend, mani/pedi, float pool, hot stone massage, facial, everything that fits in my budget and can be completed in six hours”)
  • Continue chess study (at least one lesson per day and two games per week)
  • Continue Gödel, Escher, Bach study (I’ve been reading a few pages every day, which is about all I can handle at once)
  • Try to fit music composition back into my schedule (ummmmmmmm but I want to)
  • Write two lengthier blog posts this week since I should have time (and last week’s posts were pretty short)

To give you a bit of context for what I hope to write about this week, here’s where I currently am with the third movement of Mozart K332:

If you don’t want to listen to the whole thing, the tl;dw is “much better than the last recording, although there are a few memory lapses and the ending is still the weakest part.”

But the real point of my sharing this with you is to start a conversation about what L and I have dubbed “what-it-is-ism” (or possibly whatitisism) — our shorthand version of saying “what it is is what is real” (or, conversely, “what is real is what it is.”)

In terms of piano practice, “what-it-is-ism” often means “what it is is a direct reflection of the work you’ve put in up to this point.” Like, sometimes I’ll say “I should be better at this section by now,” and L will say “That’s ego. Why do you think you should be better at something than you are? Remember what-it-is-ism.”

And then I’ll say “It’s not ego, it’s me saying that I keep trying to solve this problem and it keeps not getting solved, and I can’t figure out why the work I’m putting in isn’t getting the output I’m hoping for…”

That might be a good place to start tomorrow. ❤️