Monthly Archives: June 2014

Learning for the First Time

Every other Wednesday I trek to campus for my piano lesson.  Although Dr. B. wants right notes, right rhythm, right dynamics, and right technique — all at the same time — he is patient and kind as I work through my pieces.   He offers suggestions and techniques to make difficult passages easier.  In response I often explain why I play too soft, why my sfortzandos are timid, why my tempo wanders, why my memorization fails, or why I use certain fingers rather than others.  He listens politely, though his assessment doesn’t change. The truth is some of my techniques are awkward and I lack attention to the composer’s nuances.

After last week’s session I pondered our lesson dialogue.  I quickly realized the techniques I learned beginning at age 8 with Miss Smith and continued through a myriad of teachers in high school and college and adulthood really didn’t matter.  Yes, learnings accumulate over many decades but what really matters is how I play today. My old learnings were obvious to Dr. B; my explanations were my excuses — explanations I hoped would soften the truth.

Here’s the challenge. Can I be present at my lesson, as if learning for the first time?  Can I resist explaining how and why I have always done things? Can I embrace his suggestions even though it will require relearning on my part?

What do you do when offered new techniques or new methods or new ideas?  Do you explain how you’ve always done things or are you willing to set your habits aside and try the new?

Until next Tuesday….



Letting Go

“Let go of fear.  Let go of clinging.  Let go of cowering in the corner.”

These words caught my attention while I was ridding my home of stuff – stuff that has migrated from home to home for years.  One box has survived nearly a half century.

I’ve been holding onto my accumulations, lest I forget people and places and occasions.  What if I forget my mother when her tissue-wrapped wedding dress no longer fills the top shelf? What if my life-changing summer in India is erased when the silks and saris and brass no longer crowd my drawers? What if a life-that-once-was ceases to exist when the silver serving pieces and the Christmas dishes are sold to strangers?

Holding on is definitely easier than letting go. But clinging means the load gets heavier and heavier as the years progress.

This week I have one guiding principle as I work my way through the garage and closets and under-the-bed hiding places: any item without a place in this house has to go.  No matter it’s earlier importance.  No matter the memories it carries. No matter that only when I open its packing paper, do I even remember.

I am refusing to cling to things simply because I have had them a long time, because they were once important and useful, because they are pretty, or because I remember what I paid for them.

I remind myself that the wedding dress is not my mother, Christmas is not the dishes or the silver, and India is not the silks.  They are just my stuff. They are not my life.

I am choosing to live lighter.

Until next Tuesday….

Creativity or Productivity

Sometimes we confuse creativity and productivity.  However these processes are quite different.

After more than twenty years in the commercial food business, I understand productivity:  cranking out as many identical pies or cakes or cookies or muffins with the least amount of labor in the shortest amount of time. My home baking is often governed by these same standards of efficiency.  I never bake less than six dozen cookies, and often bake several different batches on the same afternoon. I see no reason to gather ingredients, dirty equipment, and heat up the oven for only two dozen cookies. Two dozen, six dozen, twelve dozen — the effort is the same for me.  I have a recipe I love.  I can bake cookies all day.  The last are identical to the first.

We often do the same with other ventures: writing a novel in a month, running 5 miles every day, gardening on a grand scale.  Quantity is the driving factor.  More is always better. We focus on production records and deadlines.

Creativity is a different matter, requiring space and time and pondering and wondering and experimenting.

Creativity transforms what we know and have experienced into something new.   Everyone can have tubes of paint, a handful of brushes, and a waiting blankness. But when you mix the hues, you choose the brush or your fingers or a twig or sponge, and you apply paint to paper, you breathe color and texture where none existed before.  The result is always more than the sum of its parts. Your breath, your imagination is unique.

As writers, Charlie (my writing partner) and I know all the same words but we assemble them in vastly different ways.  We carry our stories and images  in our souls, often for years, letting them lie fallow, gifting them will germination time and a ripening season, and letting the spring come when it may.  Charlie’s  voice emerges slowly and sometimes sporadically, forming a story only she knows.  Emotion and color and image choose her words.  My words, though plainer and less lyrical than hers, arise from the same place of creativity —  a place of great space and patience and trust — like the potter’s wheel where clay is shaped and molded and restarted and reshaped before it is ready to be fired.

Times of creativity are often described as being in the zone, experiencing heightened awareness of sights and sounds and emotions and tastes, intense focus, and losing all sense of time — the opposite of production time when I listen to music or talk on the phone or watch TV to escape boredom with the work in front of me.

Creativity is digging deep, playing in the mud, and nurturing the seeds to life.

Until next Tuesday…




Live with Urgency

At the end of last week’s post I recounted my experience with Maya Angelou several years ago.  The day after I posted, Maya Angelou died.


All of her words have been said.

I had long imagined I would send her my poem — the one I wrote when her words were fresh, pulsing with passion. Just last week I was trying to locate her address because I felt driven to share my words and tell her how she mattered to me.  But I left town for a few days, leaving my words sitting on my desk, waiting until I had more time.  I returned home late one afternoon and spent the remaining hours restoring order to my life.  She died early the very next morning.

Now it’s too late.

On the morning of 9/11 I was deeply concerned about the unknowing last words exchanged in families.  Who would have thought those would be their last words — ever…

During that very long day, I experienced a sense of urgency like never before — unlike my never-ending task list or my insanely busy schedule.  The urgency was deep — soul deep.  The driving power of my list and schedule gave way to presence with children and friends and parents.  Priorities were rearranged to reflect the urgency I felt — the urgency that says “stay current in your relationships as if this is your last word exchange.”

Show up.  Be present.

Until next Tuesday…