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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Don’t Write Alone | Catapult

Upcoming Submission and Pitching Opportunities: June 11, 2021

We post submission roundups once a week. Here’s our list of literary magazines and freelance opportunities for June 11, 2021.

Job Opportunities for Writers: June 11, 2021

We post roundups of writing and literary jobs once a week. Here’s our list for June 11, 2021.

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. ❤️

Thoughts From My Office

Happy Friday! It’s National Donut Day, and I just walked 20 blocks (10 each way) to a newly opened local donut shop only to find that they had been out of donuts for hours…

In other news, I’m going to be teaching my Art of Interviewing class tomorrow (via Hugo House and Zoom), and although I’ve taught this class a few times before, it feels extra-relevant this time around because I have two interview-based articles published this week: one that I did for Bankrate featuring Lillian Karabaic of Oh My Dollar! and one that I did for The Freelance Creative in which I got to talk to Paulette Perhach.

So you should probably go read those articles — as well as any/all of my other posts that got published this week:

Bankrate

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Traveling around the world with credit card points

Have you ever wondered what it would take to get enough credit card points for a round-the-world trip? Lillian Karabaic, personal finance expert and founder of Oh My Dollar!, shared with Bankrate how it’s done.

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Don’t Write Alone | Catapult

Job Opportunities for Writers: June 4, 2021

We post roundups of writing and literary jobs once a week. Here’s our list for June 4, 2021.

Upcoming Submission Opportunities: June 4, 2021

We post submission roundups once a week. Here’s our list of literary magazines and freelance opportunities for June 4, 2021.

The Freelance Creative | Contently

How to Change Your Freelance Beat in the Middle of Your Career

When your career has reached a certain point, you may begin wondering whether you can break out of the beat—and the brand—you’ve worked so hard to develop. Luckily, it’s possible to switch up your freelance beat without losing your reputation, pausing your income stream, or making a complete career change.

Thursday As

On Tuesday, I listed a handful of Qs — I don’t have all of the As yet (and don’t expect to have anything close to them for a while), but this quote from Virginia Woolf (via James Clear’s newsletter) seems like a good place to start:

There is one peculiarity which real works of art possess in common. At each fresh reading one notices some change in them, as if the sap of life ran in their leaves, and with skies and plants they had the power to alter their shape and colour from season to season. To write down one’s impressions of Hamlet as one reads it year after year, would be virtually to record one’s own autobiography, for as we know more of life, so Shakespeare comments upon what we know.

As you might remember, my two big Qs for Tues were:

When do you share your art with others, even though doing so could mean accepting that part of it isn’t where it should be yet? Does it make a difference if your creative art is fixed (a book, a painting) vs. created anew each time (a performance)?

Is the experience of reading/viewing/listening to art a process or a product? Is it a process from the audience member’s end and a product from the creator’s end? Can it be a process from the creator’s end, even if the created item is fixed (a book, a painting) vs. created anew each time (a performance)?

After reading that Virginia Woolf quote, it might be reasonable to hypothesize that:

Real works of art are process-based, in the sense that you go through the process of experiencing them every time you interact with them. Real works of art are also process-based in the sense that there is always more to process; if the artist and the audience are both bringing their best to the work, then the possibilities of experiencing something new during each successive interaction are close to infinite.

This means that real art is not complete until every part of it is precisely where it should be. You can share your art before it is complete, and you can use what you learn during that sharing to complete your art — but if you are trying to create the kind of art that remains alive through subsequent interactions, there can’t be any dead spots in it.

Those are the As I needed to give myself today.

How about you? ❤️

Art Says Stop: Exploring Rest and Recovery

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Tara K. Shepersky is a contemplative walker, writer, & photographer based in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Her first book is Tell the Turning, a collection of poetry with pen-and-ink illustrations by Lucy Bellwood, to be published this autumn by Bored Wolves.

This is the latest installment in Tara’s monthly column about the creative practice.

If you connect with Tara’s work, consider supporting her Patreon. You can also write her a letter via The PenPalProject. 

I keep trying to give my recent poems the same title. Rest Awhile* has offered itself three times in the past year, for very different poems. Unadorned Rest showed up three times in the last month. When a title seems to fit all over the place, it is not in fact a title. It’s a message.


A friend told me today I am her patron saint of walking. I love this, and also, I’m feeling distinctly un-saintlike lately. The type of walking that’s earned me this identity is passionate, exploratory, semi-aventurous, regular, and done at some length. I’ve still got the “regular” part down, but currently the rest of it’s out to lunch. Along with my ability to feel, or enjoy, most things.

I went for a hike the other morning in a favorite landscape. After climbing perhaps a thousand feet (slowly, my main speed these days) — through pine and lupine and springtime grasses starting to go gold, through my new, strange bubble of inertia and indifference — I finally had something like a feeling: a distant, but distinct desire to join my being with the prairie, to rest inside it. 

So I sat down in the middle of the narrow trail. I placed my hands on the hard, cracked soil. I ignored all my training to use this moment: to compose a poem, to compose my body in space, to compose the memory I would take away from “the experience.” 

I went to earth. I sank my hands in the soil. I grounded. There’s a reason we have all of these cliches. 

Skin-time, my aunt calls this, when she’s talking about a baby and their parent. A deeply restful, deeply needful, deeply vulnerable state. 

I rested a long time on that prairie soil. I know it was rest because it had no agenda, and I wasn’t trying to bang one together in a hurry. I felt present, and I felt that as enough.

I know it wasn’t enough rest, though, because getting back up was bleak. A pure act of obeying the training that both serves and stifles me. I had to do it, in the sense that I could not sit on that hillside long enough to effect some kind of recovery, without also encountering the need to eat, find shelter, go back to the money factory so I can pay my rent.

Every so often, we know we need to “take the day off.” We have learned to talk about “disconnecting for the weekend,” and taking the occasional “mental health day.” I’d like to suggest that the day, and even the weekend, is the incorrect unit of measurement to talk about any serious undertaking. 

Like, for example, rest. Like recovery. You can’t grate yourself year after year against personal, national, and planet-level crises — climatic, political, medical, economic — and then “take the day off” and expect to emerge anything like rested. 

This is the message my own art is unsubtly offering right now. My body is offering it too — can we say that the body and the art are separate? — because my intellect has been offering it for years, and I’ve been responding with “yes, you’re right!” and a thoughtful shift or two, and also without actually resting. 

Actually resting would involve… I don’t even know how to answer that invitation. I can just touch the edges of some answers, and they’re radical in ways I’m not ready to fully look upon, let alone embrace. They open up a yawning gulf directly in front of my exhausted feet.

Possibly what I’m lacking is courage to look straight at them. They’re big, and unmapped. But to paraphrase Christina Tran, if I so much as glance at them sideways, I see them staring back at me, straight on. They know: if you want to change your life, you have to change your life.

Ok. So that’s out there. This is a long-term undertaking, and I’m gathering the courage to look into its eyes and befriend it. Meantime, is there any hope for some rest in the day to day? 

This is where I can think usefully in a direction that might be more broadly helpful. What is rest, if it’s more than just “taking the day off?” What does it feel like? Until I can recognize it, I can’t invite more of it into my life, and disinvite more of what actively works against it.

From my own experience, I want to offer two characteristics of rest that are helping me sort out these questions, slowly.

Rest is about focus.

A partial list of things that aren’t restful: going for a walk while also answering email; checking my various text and chat apps on mobile while also working from my laptop; having multiple tabs open in my browser. 

I’m not saying these things are necessarily bad, I’m saying they’re asking my brain to task-switch continually, which prohibits focus. 

Rest is about focus, about presence. Rest is being able to hear myself think. It’s having the mental and temporal space to follow a thought or idea for as long as I want to, and to put that idea down and pick it back up again, usefully, at some leisure. 

It’s not necessarily not-working — the activity itself is perhaps less important to restfulness than how I go about it. Ursula LeGuin puts it like this: “How you play is what you win.”

I can “take a day off” from multi-tasking, or from the internet (which encourages multi-tasking), but the kind of rest I need is the sort that accumulates from living a life that encourages focus most of the time

Every so often, I might take a day or an hour off from that focused being. Maybe there is some really urgent shit going down, and I also need to take a walk. So this time, the mobile comes along. This is fine. 

But this is not how I live. I live in what I’ve previously called The Scatter. I dislike it, and I try to build in as many breaks from it as possible. 

This is the wrong direction of effort: pushing against what rubs me wrong, instead of aligning with what flows cleanly. Or I might imagine it as hauling a very large rock uphill, all the time.

No wonder my results are less than satisfying. Less than restful. 

Rest is anti-consumption and anti-accomplishment.

A way I imagine that I am resting is to read books. The grammar of that sentence shows part of the problem: books. Reading a book — with focus, at leisure — is restful. Reading books — consuming them, perhaps recording their consumption, always thinking about the next one — is not.

Relatedly, I imagine it is restful to sit down with a glass of wine or a plate of snacks, or in front of the TV. Sometimes it is. But half the time, I’ve rushed whatever I was doing before, so I could get to the part of the day where I’m “allowed” to consume alcohol or watch TV. Now that I’m here, I’m not sure what alcohol I want, or what film I want, or if alcohol or a film really is what I want, and I don’t have time to figure any of that out because I’m so damn tired; I need to rest before it’s time to do something else. 

Rest here has become another item on the to-do list, and consumption has become a shorthand way to check that item off. It’s a false flag, brought to us by an economy and social order that encourages us to think of ourselves primarily as consumers. To rest, I need to stop falling for it. 

I also like to assume I am resting as long as I am doing one thing at a time. But mostly that one thing is checking something off the to-do list. Answering my emails: one thing. Applying for a residency: one thing. Proofreading the typeset manuscipt of my forthcoming book: one thing. But none of these things are restful. They’re too focused on getting something done.

And they’re too focused on a schedule: getting something done within X minutes, hours, or days. An activity is most restful when it takes the time it takes.


Recently, my family started setting aside an evening a week to build a fire, pour adult beverages, and take turns reading three different translations of Beowulf out loud. This may or may not be your personal idea of a great evening, but here’s something it objectively is: high-quality rest. 

It’s focused. Nobody checks their texts; nobody cooks dinner while also trying to listen. We are not trying to fill time until the next appointment in front of a screen somewhere. 

It’s anti-consumption. We got the books through our library holds system. (Which took the time it took.) Alcoholic beverages (ok, yes, we picked mead) are an adjunct pleasure, not a goal.

And it’s anti-accomplishment. The object isn’t to write an essay comparing the translations, or do a podcast about them, or even to finish. It’s literally just for fun. 

Using this activity as a model is starting to teach me how to think about rest more regularly, what to look for when I go searching for it.

You know what else is restful? Creative practice. But only if what you’re doing is basically play. 

Making art is focus-work, and it’s the opposite of consumption. But for most of us, it’s also goal-based, and for some of us, it brings questions of consumption (are you making a book, for example?) into the spotlight on the other side of the stage. 

We love doing it, though. It can be hard to separate our work from our play, and maybe for some of us, the dream has been that we should not need to.

I’d like to argue that we do. Especially right now. As epidemiologists keep reminding us, the pandemic isn’t over just because folks are getting vaccinated. And as mental health experts keep reminding us, the social and emotional trauma is likely to be years in the unfolding. 

So we need rest — we always have, but now we need it like we need to take Tylenol and lie down when our head is splitting. We need to figure out what rest is for us, and how to live it much, much more often than most of us do. 

A friend was telling me yesterday about the question she’s learning to ask herself, to manage some pretty intense external circumstances: what do I need right now? As in: this moment, not existentially. She answers this in various ways: a nap; a glass of water; to call a friend instead of texting; to spend the day researching, looking forward to some undemanding tv tonight.

I like this question for so many reasons. It’s easy, at least in the asking. It forces a person to take their own self seriously. It opens the door to healing right now. It’s kind and humane, and also it takes no shit. I’m starting to ask it too, and so much of the time, my answer is something focused, something fully-present, something that’s not about consuming or accomplishing. 

This, I think, is why even my poetry — sometimes a restful activity, and sometimes not, depending on how I’m pursuing or inviting it — is sending me regular reminders about the pre-eminent importance of shifting my life into a restful gear. 

My word for the year is Listen. I am trying.

Maybe my word — for the season? — is actually Rest. 


*The reference my brain is going for here is from the Book of Mark, 6:31: “Come away by yourselves to a desert place and rest awhile.” Desert here means deserted, not necessarily dry or cactusy.

Tuesday Qs

It’s Tuesday — and, since despite the four-day workweek (for some people) I still have six freelance assignments to complete by Friday, we’re keeping today’s blog post relatively short.

Here are a few of the Qs in my queue:

When do you say I’m ready to share this with people, even if it means also saying I accept that I’m giving up the possibility of these trills being as even as they could be?

With music, at least, you have the option of saying I’m ready to start sharing this with people, with the understanding that a hundred performances from now these trills will be even more even.

What about with writing? I’m ready to share this with people, even though I accept that I’m giving up the possibility of that one paragraph communicating precisely what I want it to?

Or visual art? I’m ready to share this, even though I accept that the perspective is still a little skewed…

Back to music again: IS A MUSICAL EXPERIENCE (between a performer and an audience) A PROCESS OR A PRODUCT?

Okay okay okay, might as well ask the same question another way: IS A STORYTELLING EXPERIENCE (between an author and a reader) A PROCESS OR A PRODUCT?

And fine, here we go: IS THE EXPERIENCE OF VIEWING ART A PROCESS OR A PRODUCT?

I also had two question-comments on Facebook in response to my post about learning and memory; the first from my mom and the second from my grandpa:

Mom: Do we memorize the alphabet and numbers? Do we memorize our name? (My response, btw, was “…yes?”)

Grandpa: We memorize by repetition, we learn by experience.

Consider this your cue to discuss. ❤️