Monthly Archives: October 2015

What’s Your Color?

On the last day of our cruise, we were given colored and numbered luggage tags, along with disembarking places and times. Every detail was covered in our instructions.

Later that evening, after our last dinner and the last entertainment, we were ready to return to our deck and stateroom.  We boarded the elevator and joined two African American couples who were headed “up” with us. We said our hellos and scrunched in together for the ride.  We were friendly though we had never met. The lady nearest me said, “I don’t know where we’re supposed to wait in the morning before we get off the ship.”

I replied, “It depends on what color you are.”  As soon as the words left my mouth, I wished I could retract them and try again.  I meant to say, “It depends on what color your luggage tag is.”  But alas, I left out a couple of words.

After a nano second, the question lady began to laugh.  Then she put her bare arm next to her husband’s for a color check, “I’m lighter than he is,” she  declared. The elevator laughter increased a bit.

I put my freckled arm next to hers.  “Lighter, darker, or spotted,” I said. Now everyone is enjoying the moment.

Just then, the elevator doors opened on our floor.  “I’ve got to go now.  This is my floor.”  We shared another laugh and I was out of there.

The African American couples are probably still telling the story, just like I am.  I imagine them saying to their friends, “You won’t believe what a white woman said to us on the elevator!”  And they will laugh again.  I’m saying to my friends, “Let me tell you what I did — It’s the worst thing I’ve ever said to anyone.  It was a slip of the tongue.”

In that moment of embarrassment and laughter, color comparisons, and misspoken words, we were somehow all the same.  Racial differences had no meaning — not there in that elevator, on the cruise ship, at the end of a vacation week.

Our laughter was the voice of forgiveness.  It spoke my “I’m sorry” to them and to me it said, “It’s o.k., we know you didn’t mean it.”

Words matter.

But so do laughter and forgiveness and elevator moments.

Until next Tuesday . . .

Traveling Light

My fall schedule is dominated by two trips: a week-long cruise to the Caribbean and a two-week trip to Oregon and California to visit family.  Normally my trips are scattered throughout the year, but not this fall.  I keep thinking of things I need to do before I leave, packing suitcases, plane tickets, and car rentals.  I’m adrift in a sea of details.

My plan is always to travel as lightly as possible.  I read someplace that you should pack your suitcase and then remove half the items and leave them home. It’s a scary thought.  All sorts of fears and questions spew forth immediately:

  • what if the weather is hot or cold or not what I planned for?
  • what if I need an outfit for a special occasion?
  • I need shoes for every outfit.
  • I’m afraid I won’t have what I need.
  • What if . . .

A woman on the cruise said she packs nearly everything in her closet.  “That way, I know I’ll have everything I need.” She was serious.  Her husband rolled his eyes. However, I noticed she wore a black dress at dinner every night.

I’ve read of a family of six children who traveled to Europe.  Each person was allowed one backpack and they all survived.  As a matter of fact, the trip was easy because there was no luggage to hassle and everyone carried their own belongings on their back.  An interesting concept.

A few years ago I took a month-long road trip.  I had one small suitcase that contained three pairs of pants, five shirts, a jacket, a vest, sandals, and one pair of shoes.  At every hotel, I only carried in one suitcase — nothing else. No tote bags, no clothes bags.  The evening arrival and the morning departure was simple.  And I never lacked for anything on the trip.

“You can’t take all your luggage on every trip.”  I don’t know who said it and it doesn’t really matter.  We know it to be true — but we take too much anyway.  Always.

I travel light for one reason:  to reduce hassle. The less I take, the less I have to cart around and keep up with.

Traveling light is a simple concept.  Take the necessities — the absolute necessities — and leave the rest home. Yes, it requires thought and planning but it can be done.

Use your effort to plan wisely, rather than to lug your possessions around every day of your vacation.

Until next Tuesday . . .




Conquering Nervousness

After a thirty year hiatus, I returned to piano lessons a few years ago.  I’d had more than fifteen years of lessons earlier in my life, but eventually family and career pushed my piano playing to the perimeter of my life. Though my techniques were rusty, I’d never forgotten how to play.

My biggest problem was nervousness, which showed up at my first lesson and stayed, though uninvited. Like a long-time enemy who stalked me and delighted in the resulting havoc.  Playing that sounded reasonable at home was a disappointment at my lesson — like I’d never practiced.

I hated the feeling.  I’ve always hated the feeling. I wanted the nerves to disappear — forever. I wanted my teacher to hear how well I can really play, but nerves continued to steal my confidence.

I became determined to change my ways, without knowing how to conquer this persistent enemy. I set out to discover the origin on my nervousness.  I read several books on piano performance, hoping to discover how professionals seem to play without the jitters.  I took notes of things that caught my attention and wrote them in my journal.

As I read and wrote, I remembered one of my earliest recitals.  I was probably nine or ten at the time.  On a small stage in the teacher’s studio, with all the parents watching, I began my memorized piece, but got lost someplace in the middle and was unable to continue.  Even today I can feel the embarrassment of that moment.

My present day nervousness stems from that moment. Sixty years have passed, yet I have allowed the incident to affect all of my playing since then. Suddenly I saw the ridiculousness of my lifelong response.

In my journal I noted the causes of my performance anxiety:

  • fear of memory failure
  • fear of not being able to restart
  • fear of embarrassment
  • fear of disappointing myself

As I studied my list I realized I only need to fix the first two items.  Once they are corrected the last two things are not an issue. The problem already felt less overwhelming.

I began to study music memorization.  No one had ever taught me how to memorize so perhaps the experts could show me a better path.  I learned that finger memory is the first thing to fail a performer when stress increases.  I had always hoped my fingers would know how to get me through the piece, but now I knew I was depending on an unreliable method. I began to learn new memorization techniques — the first step of my recovery.

The second step was identifying restart places during the memorization process.  Even if I had a memory slip, I could back up to a familiar place and start again.

The final step was learning to focus.  Focus.  Focus.  Focus.  The second my mind wandered, I made mistakes. My ability to focus is improving with practice.

The process was slow, but I’m happy to report that over the last few years I’ve conquered much of my nervousness.  I celebrated with a recital for friends last April.

Here’s the process in a nutshell:

  1. discover the origin of the problem and own your behavior
  2. understand how the problem impacts your life
  3. seek new ways to approach the situation, learn new methods, study the experts
  4. be willing to change your mindset from “can’t” to “possible”
  5. be patient with yourself
  6. celebrate tiny successes

I still don’t play perfectly in public, but nerves are no longer the culprit.

Change requires the practice of tiny new steps.  Freedom from fear is worth the effort.

Until next Tuesday . . .




Metronomically Speaking

A metronome is an important practice tool, especially for pianists.  As a young pianist I resisted using it, believing I didn’t need it.  However, in recent years, rather than continuing a rather adversarial relationship with my metronome, it has become my nearly constant practice companion.

I’ve been working on Mendelssohn’s Agitation for several months now.  My challenges include (1) erratic tempo, rushing in places and slowing in others, and (2) my overall tempo needs to speed up.  Dr. B suggested I practice at a slower speed, then gradually bump the metronome up a few notches at a time.

In Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 109 the notes and the tempo are just plain tricky.  Sometimes there are two notes to the beat, sometimes three, other times four or six. Dr. B. and I worked for a half hour marking the beats on the music and discussing the counting. “Count out loud when you practice,” he suggested.

His practice suggestions are always helpful and I do what he says as best I can.

At my next lesson, the timing and tempo issues were resolved.  “I’ve nearly worn out my metronome!” I joked with him.  “But when I play without it I’m never sure if I maintain a steady tempo.”

“That’s the reason you should count out loud, as well,” he said.  “You have to feel the beat yourself.”

“Eventually,” I said, “the goal is to play steady without counting out loud, or tapping my foot, or nodding my head.”

“Exactly,” he said.

I’m not there yet. For me, it’s easier if the beat is outside myself, like being directed by a band or orchestra conductor.  All I have to do is keep one eye on their beat and follow along.

To set the pace myself — and keep it steady — is another matter. I’m working to internalize the beat.  I want to feel it in a soul place, someplace beyond my analytical mind and my fingers on the keys.

Thoreau said it another way.

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.  Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.

Listen carefully to the drum beat you hear. Match your your steps, your life, to its rhythm. Stay in sync with who you are.

Until next Tuesday . . .