Monthly Archives: March 2015

Genetic Seriosity

Yes, I’ve made up another word:  seriosity.

Years ago, Charlie, my writing partner, gave me permission to make up words.  So I take such literary liberties frequently.

I’ve often been told I have a serious look — a look  sometimes misinterpreted as being mad or angry or disturbed about something.

Actually, I don’t generally think about the expression on my face.  My face is just what it is.  I don’t know how to put on a different expression just to make others feel more comfortable.

“The Look” as my friends and family call it, has been with me for years.  It started when I was a young teacher, barely older than my students.  “The Look” became a way of asserting my authority in a classroom of hormonal high schools students.  That’s the best explanation I have.

However, my children have the same look.  They can use their most serious look to tell a totally believable falsehood — and no one is the wiser.  It’s a great trait for playing practical jokes.

With straight-faced demeanor my son recently told his wife, “We have to talk.”  Dreaded words from any spouse.  Her mind immediately reviewed recent events and prepared for a difficult, even painful, discussion.

He continued.  “I haven’t been able to get the buffalo wings mac and cheese at The Cheezy Mac off my mind. Can we go there for dinner?”

A nano-second later they shared a good laugh.

Years ago I was being interviewed to become an executive dining room manager.  I hadn’t been on an interview in years so this was a huge deal for me.  After I met the long-time kitchen staff, Ray, the chef, said to Margaret, the salad maker, “Gol, Margaret, that’s the meanest looking woman I’ve ever met!”

I was hired and Ray and Margaret and I worked well together.  But every once in a while, Ray would say, “Jean, you’ve got that look again.”  And I would know I was looking very serious — because I was thinking about things.

At his retirement Ray told the story of our first meeting.  “I went and checked on my retirement that day.  I knew I couldn’t work for her.  But we’ve been just fine, just fine.”

Sometimes when I meet someone for the first time, I say, “Don’t worry I’m not as mean as I look.” I want to put them at ease because I’ve heard too many tales of how people interpret my look.

My daughter, a college professor, has the same look, and can often use it to her advantage when working with her students.

Then were was the time my daughter-in-law and I were at the Flying Biscuit Cafe in Atlanta.  It was mid-afternoon, we weren’t hungry, but we wanted to check out this unique restaurant.  In the middle of a conversation the manager told me I needed to lighten up, to be happier.  Without a moment’s hesitation, my daughter-in-law said, “That is her happy face!”  I’m not sure what it means when a relative has to explain me to total strangers, but this has become an oft-told story.

My kids and I are introverts, ponderers, and aren’t known for our emoting.  We feel and experience things deeply, but our emotions are not often visible to others.

We have a condition known as “genetic seriosity.” It’s not fatal or even life-threatening, though it’s often misunderstood.

We haven’t sought a cure.  We’re content the way we are.

Until next Tuesday . . .




We dread failure.  In fact, we usually go to great lengths to avoid it.  We over-prepare.  We obsess over the details.  We avoid activities and ventures altogether. We keep our passions private.

Today I am suggesting a different way to view failure.  Failure is normal.  Everyone, whether they admit it or not, has failures.  Even some of the most successful people have more failures than successes. In fact, it’s the failures that lead to their successes.

The most important thing about failure is what we learn from it.

After my disappointing piano lesson a few weeks ago I spent the next two days figuring out what went wrong.  First of all, my fingers where shaky that day — though I wasn’t nervous.  I’ve known finger-shaking nervousness for years, but this was different.  So what was the cause on this particular day?  In hindsight I remembered I’d had a cup of fast food coffee as I drove to my lesson. It must have had more caffeine than my home brew.  Learning:  Don’t drink that coffee prior to piano playing.

Secondly, I started my music too fast and it got away from me, making it nearly impossible to play difficult passages.  Learning:  In a performance situation, start my music a little slower; don’t let the pressure of the moment speed up the music.

After two days, I was back at the piano, working even harder. No more wallowing in this disaster, beating myself up for poor performance, or calling myself a failure.

I’m thinking I need a new mantra when things go bad.

Failure creates learning.

Once I identify what I’ve learned from a failure, I regain the power and courage to move forward.

To you I say: Embrace your failures and discover your learnings.  Then take another step.

Show up.  Do more work.

Until next Tuesday . . .



The other day a friend asked, “Why do you still take piano lessons? What else is there to learn after all these years?

“There’s always more to learn,” I replied, “like phrasing, voicing, technical details.  I learn new stuff at every lesson.”

I believe there’s always more to learn — in any field — more than you ever need or want to know. But when I’m driven to know and experience more, I seek out a teacher or mentor who can lead the process.

But recently I’ve been pondering a deeper question:

Why don’t I learn new music on my own, without the direction of a teacher?

Surely after twenty-five years of lessons I know enough to explore new music on my own.  But I don’t. Of course, I play through random pieces from time to time, but I don’t “learn” them, like I do when I’m taking lessons.

Perhaps I lack the discipline to learn music well without a teacher. Perhaps I lack the self-confidence. Perhaps I lack the courage.

What I really lack is the permission — the voice that says, “You’re good to go. You know everything necessary to learn on your own.  That’s what your years of lessons have taught you.”

“But I’m afraid I won’t do it right,” I say to myself, though I have to acknowledge this is the only area of my life where I haven’t stepped out on my own, with confidence and courage.

This week I named the Fears:

  • Not Doing It Right
  • Being Sloppy In My Playing
  • Settling for Mediocre

Now that they are named and identified, our relationship is legitimized and public.  The Fears are no longer controlling my actions from some dark corner of my psyche. I am the one who has restricted my own musical adventures by giving power to the Fears.

“In spite of you I’m moving ahead,” I say to the Fears.  “No longer will I allow you to hold me back.”

As of today I’m granting myself permission — permission that’s been lacking for years — to learn music on my own.

Acknowledgment and ownership are the beginnings of change.

So this week I will:

  • choose a new piece of music to learn
  • listen to an online performance of the piece
  • practice the piece daily, just as I practice lesson music
  • apply my lesson learnings to this new piece

How about you?

What permission are you waiting for?

What fears need to be brought to the light so you can move on?

Until next Tuesday. . .

New Vision

This week marks the one-year anniversary of this blog.  I’ve written and you’ve read and commented.  Thank you for the connection we’ve shared.

What I hadn’t counted on at this milestone was new vision.

For the first time in my life I can now see without glasses and contact lenses.  After cataract removal and lens implants my vision is nearly perfect — and improving every day. My world is brighter and sharper and clearer than it has ever been. Amazing! Absolutely amazing!

So I’ve been pondering this new vision…

  • Sometimes we get new vision because we get new glasses — we see better than before.
  • Sometimes we get new vision because we’ve been inspired by a mentor or teacher or book or leader.
  • Sometimes we get new vision when we take a class or acquire a new skill.

New vision, however it comes to us, means we see the world differently.  Previously unknown possibilities prod and expand our awareness.  Our brains entertain new thoughts. Our attention is sparked by wonder and insight. Creative juices overflow our banks.  Energy exudes from our pores and enlivens our spirit.

What about your vision?

  • Has it improved lately?
  • What is now clear for you that once was fuzzy?
  • What enlightens your path?
  • What creative impulses are emerging from the convoluted recesses of your brain?

Take a look around.  What you see may surprise you.

Until next Tuesday…




Choosing Words

As you know by now, I’m a ponderer.  I think about things that catch my attention and pique my curiosity. Sometimes these ponderings disturb my sleep.  Sometimes they end up in my blog.  Sometimes they’re merely a subject for discussion with a fellow ponderer.

My best friend occasionally prefaces her comments by saying, “Jean, you don’t need to ponder this.”  And so I don’t, usually.

My son is also a writer and ponderer.  During a recent phone conversation we talked about pondering — and mulling — and stewing.  “It’s what we do,” he said.

“Mulling and stewing are actually culinary terms,” I said.  “That sheds a whole new light on the process.”

And so began a lovely hour of shared ponderings.

Later that week I researched the words of our conversation.  I was curious about what I would learn. Perhaps my findings will be of interest to you as well.

Some related words are cerebral:  ponder, meditate, contemplate, think, consider, brood, cogitate, reflect, dwell, muse, study, cerebrate, visualize, imagine, study, weigh, dwell.

Some are bovine:  ruminate, chaw, chew.

Some suggest a decision or opinion will be forthcoming: rationalize, reckon, surmise, ideate, conjecture, evaluate, speculate, debate, reason.

Some of these words imply negativity, some suggest a long process, some use logic, some get caught up in themselves, some are the beginning, some are a means to an end. And some don’t go any place at all. But all are related to pondering, though each has a unique meaning.

We’re not all writers, but we’re all communicators. Therefore our words matter.

Choose them carefully.

Until next Tuesday…