I'm not enough of a productivity champion that I can work for 14 hours straight with no breaks at all. Sometimes I"ll find myself pressed up against some extra tricky problem, and even after taking shots at it from various angles, I can't quite push through. In times like those, it helps to take a break for a few minutes, and then try again.
Old habits die hard. I used to be obsessed with getting deals on stuff. I still am a little bit. One of the best resources for deals is Fatwallet.com, which I still check once every three or four months, down from several times a day. The last time I checked, four months ago or so, I saw a violin for $50. Shipped. Including a bow, extra strings, rosin, and a case.
I bought it, thinking that if I loved playing the violin, I could give that one away and buy a good one, and if not, I could give it away and not buy a good one. Either way, fifty bucks to see if I was interested in playing the violin seemed like a good idea. I should also add that I had been reading a lot of Sherlock Holmes, and Sherlock plays the violin when he's thinking. I was probably influenced by that.
It turned out that I loved playing the violin. Not loved as in drop-everything-and-train-for-the-symphony, but taking a few minutes to bang out twinkle twinkle little star was a good way to relax my mind for a minute before getting back to the task at hand. As I worked, I would leave the violin sitting on my bed. Whenever I needed a break, I'd get up and play for a couple minutes.
After a month or two, my sister gave me her old violin, which is a lot better than the $50 one (which, too, sounded surprisingly good) and I decided to take some lessons.
When I learn a new skill, I like to think about how good I actually want to be at it. In a world where you can jack a plug into the back your head like in The Matrix, I'd pick 100% proficiency every time, of course. But we don't live in that world-- time is short.
When I learned how to solve the Rubik's cube (which some people can solve in ~10 seconds or so), I decided that I wanted to be able to solve it in 90 seconds or less consistently. With languages I shoot for being able to talk with someone and get my point across, no matter how many grammatical errors I make. I started learning how to memorize the order of a shuffled deck of cards, and stopped when I could do it in less time than someone's attention span would be for that sort of trick.
For violin, I decided that I just wanted to play one "real" piece poorly. By real piece, I mean something by a famous composer. I know that there are tons of great composers who aren't famous, but I liked the idea of playing something thought of by a genius like Mozart. I only wanted to play it poorly because I like the idea of playing every single day and chipping away at it, getting better and better. If I could just reach that baseline of playing it poorly, surely over a year or so I'd refine my sound and technique.
I went to Craigslist and emailed violin tutors, telling them that I wanted to learn one good song poorly, and that I could take lessons for about a month. One didn't write back. Another one told me that if HE was going to teach me violin, then it was going to be done his way, which was to learn fundamentals and build up to playing a real song. I didn't write him back. The third said, "great, I can help you with that," and became my teacher.
I took four lessons. In the first two, he taught me Musette by Bach, and in the second two he taught me Minuet in G by Mozart (Musette is a real song by my definition, but is too simple to be fun to play for a year, so we did the second song). Along the way, of course, he corrected my bow hold, posture, and a bunch of other things.
Now I love my little breaks from work. I sprint through Musette and then play Minuet in G really poorly. Every time through I'll play at least one passage decently, and it makes me smile. I quit my lessons, and my teacher understood why.
The point of all this isn't to provide a voyeuristic look into my violin playing, but rather to make a point. As long as you have ridiculously high goals for one or two things, it's okay to set really embarassingly low goals for other things. In fact, that helps you stay focused on your big goals.
SETT will be a world class blogging platform. It might take me years and come at the expense of most everything else, but I'll get it there. I have really high expectations of myself as a person, too, to be the best person that I can possibly be. But violin playing? I'll do it and enjoy it, but I'll be terrible at it.
Check out The Real Escape Game in San Francisco. I'll be doing it next week!
After years of butchering a few foreign languages, I've developed a keen ear for them. I can't necessarily understand what people are saying, but if someone is speaking in one of the languages I can get by in, I can hear it across the room.
An older man and a younger Japanese woman were sitting in the corner of Samovar, the tea place I go to every day. And, sure enough, they were speaking Japanese. They seemed like an unlikely couple, so I paid attention and eavesdropped a bit. When the woman excused herself for a minute I dove in for some answers.
"Excuse me... I couldn't help but overhear that you were speaking Japanese. Are you being tutored?"
On Tuesday, May 31, I performed on the cello in public for the very first time. My teacher, the lovely Ms. Ronda Armstrong, orchestrated a charming little recital for her music students in the library of the Stratford Montessori School in Nashville's Donelson area. There were three very young piano students and two adult cello students who performed.
Before the recital started, we did a quick practice in Ms. Armstrongs music room, and I totally bombed on every piece. Thankfully, I've always accepted this as a good omen. I always wind up playing well when this happens. I guess I just needed to get all the nerves calmed down and ironed out.
After the practice, all five of us walked in singe-file line to the library. We sat in the back, and before too long, the show began. On the piano, all the kids that played were just adorable. Jordan Widener played "Donkey" and "It's Halloween". Sam Crow played "Minuet and Trio" and "I've Been Wishing". Later on, Bella Dobson performed "German Folk Song" and "Kangaroo Family". Watching them reminded me of a couple of piano recitals that I did when I was young. I hope all of them continue to perform music in one way or the other. It's just a fun skill to have even if you don't do it professionally.
Then, it was time for the cellists to play. I was on first and played two solo pieces ("Go Tell Aunt Rodie" and "May Song") while Ms. Ronda accompanied me on the piano. Here's a photo. (There's a look of determined Asian concentration on my face.)