Monthly Archives: December 2015

Beethoven’s Birthday

December 16 was Beethoven’s 245th birthday.  Sirius Radio’s Symphony Hall celebrated with a full day of his music.

Why do I care about Beethoven’s birthday?  Because I’ve spent years with him, decades even, learning his music.  Even today I will spend at least an hour with him.

He was a prolific composer. In my own moments of heightened creativity, I cannot imagine how he composed such quantity, quality, and variety of music. And by the time he was my age, he’d been dead for 13 years.  And his most admired pieces were composed in the last 15 years of his life, after he’d gone deaf.

I’ll never be a pianist or composer or genius like Beethoven.  I’ll never be a writer like Marcus Zuzak or Cormac McCarthy or Maya Angelou. But that’s not the point.

The point is that people like these show me it’s humanly possible to create excellent books and inspired compositions. You probably have your own list of admired people.

I don’t have to be like Beethoven and Zuzak but I can allow their work to inspire me, to help me know myself better, and to show me that the effort, the process, is worthwhile. They keep on keeping on.  They persist in spite of set backs and hard times.

It’s often tempting to compare ourselves to the creative geniuses of the universe, and say to ourselves, “Next to them, my work is nothing.  Why even bother?”

I’ve said the same words in reference to my mentors and teachers and my slow learning.

However, we can make a different choice.  We can decide to learn as much as we can from the masters.  We can read about their lives, learn what made or makes them tick, and explore their sources of inspiration.  The purpose is not to replicate, but rather to know their lives, and in the process better understand ourselves.

What makes you tick?  What gets your creative juices flowing?  What inspires you to become more than you’ve been?  What drives you to write better, to improve your music playing, or to expand your learnings and experiences?

Rather than compare my piano playing to Beethoven’s artistry, I compare my practice today to an earlier time when the piece looked too difficult, so difficult in fact I refused to begin for several days.  I’ve studied the musical notes and nuances, and I’ve practiced individual measures until the notes flowed in sequence. I’ve learned the value of controlled playing to bring life to the music, perhaps close to Beethoven’s intentions.

Rather than compare my writing to Zuzak’s lyricality, I study his writing, trying to learn how he puts words together. I copy his sentences, then create my own using his rhythms and cadences.  I practice writing metaphors, making connections between items and images.  While his style is not mine, his writing has increased my awareness of careful word choices.

Infinite talent and creativity exist in the world. The abundance that some people possess does not detract from what is available to each of us. Your job, and my job, is to continue creating, continue exploring, and continue using our sources of inspiration.   And continue putting our butts in our chairs to do our work.

Then, without apology, allowing the world to experience our creation.

Until next Tuesday . . .





Words, words, words?

We had a moment last week, Charlie and I. At our biweekly work session we were brainstorming titles for her current writing project. Yet to be determined is whether it will become a short story, a novella, a novel, or something else altogether. She began the work some time ago but there will be a restart soon — very, very soon. A title will frame her project and make it easier to proceed.

We sat across the table from each other: Charlie made notes in her journal, I typed words into my online Thesaurus and chased the rabbits. We found some words she liked. We arranged words — and rearranged words — but nothing was exactly right.

What about “eclipse? Does it have any possibilities?” I asked, scanning the word list on my screen. She didn’t respond, but she was pondering the possibility. Finally she wrote it down. “It means things come together. They line up.”

We sat quietly for a few minutes, our creativities working separately.

“The journey you’re writing about could be eclipatic!!” I announced.

“That’s not even a word,” she said, half laughing.

“It is now. I just made it up.” She looked at me like I’d been imbibing strong drink, instead of what looked like Diet Pepsi in my glass.

Her tongue tripped over the pronunciation.  “You can’t even spell that word,” she retorted.

“Yes I can:  e-c-l-i-p-a-t-i-c.” She jotted the letters on her page as I named them.  Her next pronunciation attempt was no better than the first.  By now I could say the word easily — like I’d always known it.

“It’s an adjective, I think. But, you know, your could journey eclipatically . . .”

“What’s wrong with you?” She shook her head like she didn’t even recognize me.

“You gave me permission to make up words a long time ago.  Remember? You gave me a binder that says ‘Jean’s Notebook of Made Up Words.’ So don’t complain.  It’s all your fault!”

We laughed at the absurdity of our conversation, and remembered it’s not the first time we’d talked like this.

Later in the parking lot — after our goodbyes, after our hugs — my mind was creating even more words: eclipatologist, eclipatology, eclipad, ecliparty, eclipersona . . .

Perhaps those Webster people could use a brain like mine.

Until next Tuesday . . .



How are you looking?

I know we’re supposed to save all improvement projects for the new year.  No reason to add more stuff to the holidays.  All of us already overbooked, overstressed, and overwhelmed.

But stick with me for a few minutes.

I don’t have a snazzy dazzy phone that has an e-calendar — actually mine has one but adding items is too labor intensive without a full texting keyboard. My computer has a calendar function as well, but I prefer a hard copy I can carry around and look at any time I wish.

Old habits die hard.

Last January I purchased a new calendar.  Specs were (1) it had to fit in my purse or pocket and (2) it had to show a month at a time.  I found one that met the requirements for less than $10.00 and it’s good for two years.

However, it’s not working very well for me, particularly as the year progresses.

I posted a view of my purse calendar as the header for this post.  As you can see, it is crammed full, things are crossed off, and the squares are obviously too small.  Often things run into other squares and it takes a cryptographer to unscramble the scratchings.  Items are in the wrong order on any given day.  Crossed out things still occupy precious calendar space.

And it appears there is no time available beyond the scheduled activities.  No wonder I was feeling frantic and pushed and overscheduled.

In an effort to gain control of my life, I used an old template and created a weekly calendar that now sits on my desk. cropped-DSC00370.jpg

The beauty of this new paper calendar is that I can now see where the unscheduled time resides.  I have way more free time that I even imagined was possible in the middle of December.  I have significant space every single day.

The schedule  on both calendars is exactly the same.  The view is different.

If you’re struggling with your schedule, or progress with your work, or your lack of creativity, or establishing a new habit, or time with your spouse or kids — check your view.

Consider changing your perspective.

It just might make a difference.

Until next Tuesday . . .


Where are you looking?



I saw the sign in an antique store while I was on vacation.  I read it quickly, then backed up and read it again.  I jotted the words in my notebook lest I forget such profoundness.

I remember teaching my kids to drive.  At the beginning their head and the steering wheel always turned together — and the car swerved in the direction of their vision.  Eventually they learned to keep the wheel straight even though they moved their eyes or their head to check the surrounding situation.

Where we look is critical.

During the holidays our vision gets jerked around — a lot.  Every magazine and commercial holds the secret to a perfect Christmas.  We see stunning photos of dining tables and Christmas trees and outdoor decorations and food and holiday clothes and gifts.  The bombardment insists we do more than we’ve ever done before.  And at the same time we want to keep the customs of other years.  Even if we forgo some traditions it’s nearly impossible to make changes without being overwhelmed with new expectations.

What’s your vision for your holiday?

You can’t have it like its always been.  People are missing, situations have changed, perfection is impossible,  and time and energy are limited.

I would change the sign to say



Your heart knows you have a life of abundance.  You have more than you need. Perhaps family is scattered or missing, but you are alive and breathing and have options for including someone in your holiday.  Don’t wait for others to include you.  You can be the inclusive one.

Forget the perfect decorations and fabulous food — they’re all  for show, a show not required by our hearts. All we really want is warmth and nourishment and to know that we matter in this universe.  A peanut butter sandwich shared with a friend is way more special that an exquisite spread served to a crowd by an exhausted host.

Cherish the time. Turn your vision to this moment — not to what used to be or to some myth forced into us by the media.

Celebrate this moment.  Let your heart lead the way.

Until next Tuesday . . .


Missing Practice

“If I don’t practice one day, I know it; two days, the critics know it; three days, the public knows it.” So said Jascha Heifetz, a world-renowned violinist of the twentieth century.

We often think that artists who have reached the pinnacle of their career no longer need to practice. I’m learning that is not true.  If daily practice is necessary for someone like Heifetz, it must be even more critical for us regular folks who want to improve our skills.

After a break from our craft, we can’t expect to make up for lost practice in a frantic flurry of activity before a lesson or show or speech. Rushing to accomplish doesn’t replace slow and steady work.

Relationships work the same way.  We can’t make up for lost time with our children with a guilt-induced whirlwind of activity when we’ve been too busy to hang out with them or too distracted to enjoy them. While the annual Christmas card exchange with friends keeps our addresses current, it doesn’t replace visits over coffee or phone calls or emails to regularly stay in touch.

With my own piano practice, I work hard prior to vacation time, and as soon as I return, to make up for lost practice time.  While this effort is not wasted, I can tell it’s not the same as daily practice. Regular routines improve our work.

Austin Kleon says, “Problems of output are problems of input.”  If your work or your relationships aren’t progressing as you would like, check your input into the process.  Are you present?  Are you practicing?  Are you learning?  Are you applying what you’ve learned? If the old habits or behaviors aren’t working, are you willing to try something new? Have you asked for help or insight from another?

My writing partner, Charlie, was struggling with her fiction writing.  She just couldn’t get into the creative groove to get her stories on paper.  In her concern, she looked at what she had been reading in recent months.  To her surprise, her usual reading menu of fiction had been replaced by a diet of non-fiction, how-to books while she remodeled her house.  While this information was critical to her project, it had eliminated the creative fiction that feeds and nurtures her own writing.  A change of input gradually changed her output.

Pat attention to your inputs.  They make all the difference.

Until next Tuesday . . .