Conquering the fear-god

When I have placed fear of making a mistake in the god-chair of my psyche, I play quite a lot worse. This is not a surprising or shocking revelation, of course, but because I’ve been playing so much of late, the difference has struck me anew. When I am terrified, my movements are more stilted. When I am afraid of making my entrances in case I make a mistake, and I am more likely to be late on my entrances. It’s harder to get a good sound, because I am more stiff, more tentative, have less flexibility and therefore less control from a technical standpoint. Of course, then a vicious cycle begins in which I fear making mistakes, and then I play worse, and then I make more mistakes, and then I fear them more, etc ad nauseum.

When I was in my first masters program, upon me playing something out of tune during a lesson I was having just a day or two before my recital, my teacher said, “There’s always something ugly.” Because I have an ego-identification with being ugly, incapable, and irresponsible, this went straight in, burning an acid path into my heart. I accepted it as a part of who I am. And my already extant fear of making intonation mistakes got an upgrade and was elevated to punishing-God status. It is very easy to project those judgements externally, and when I am in an internal place of fear, it’s easy to assume that others are feeling that way about me too. And then, every external input gets run through that filter.

Music and the music world can feel so wildly vulnerable, because when you perform you are out in the open, can’t hide. So this issue of mine gets quite a lot of play sometimes.

But music and the music world can also be incredibly healing. I had the exquisitely wonderful experience this weekend of performing in a concert in which the joy of the music, the performers, and the audience was palpable. The sense of connection was loving and vibrant. To be able to do that, to be in the heart of the glorious sound-ocean that is ensemble playing is an honor and a joy.

Prior to that concert I called my boyfriend and said, “Can I make mistakes and still enjoy myself?” In the conversation that ensued, I was able to kick fear back down to a more appropriate position in my internal landscape. And then, not being consumed with fear, my heart was open for more possibilities, and was able to receive the joy that arose during our performance.

Contrary to what that fear-god claims, self-flagellation does not in fact make me a more responsible human being; just a more unhappy one. And unhappiness is not a virtue.

All of this applies in other areas of life too, of course. It’s hard to muster or execute with grace when tied up in chains of terror of being wrong. I am slowly accepting this lesson in my heart, and allowing it to penetrate my feelings and my actions. There’s nothing wrong with fearing being wrong, or being not good enough, etc, etc. But using that fear to build a cage doesn’t help anyone. So, I am working on engaging with the fear from the point of view of discovering whether it has a useful message for which I can thank it and then dismiss it, or whether its aim is merely to reduce, imprison, and punish. Then, I can expand my point of view, open the window, and invite other input.


Concerts, illness, life balance

Wow, it’s been a while since I wrote a post. The past few weeks have been tremendously busy, culminating in two concerts in two days, and my getting sick two days before the first one. Today, I am sitting in my comfy chair browsing and reading, while Ted has the kids over at friends of ours. He’s going to bring me a scramble for breakfast when they get home. Thanks to Ted!

The concerts went fairly well, but I definitely experienced an impact on my energy level from being as sick as I was. Not my favorite way to perform.

One thing that has increasingly become clear to me is that a frenetic lifestyle is not sustainable in the long term. It’s ok to have bursts of higher levels of activity, but my current approach to those times, to just attempt to push through with all the same expectations of what’s going to happen and what’s going to get done, is not working.

I need to support my musical career, and that means I need to make time for practicing, rehearsals, and performances. I need to engage with my family, and that means I need to make time to spend with my children even when there is a ton of other stuff going on. I need to take care of myself, and that means I need to be able to take time off from my main job, teaching, when necessary so I don’t run myself into the ground. I need to be present when I’m teaching, so I can give my students (and myself) the best pedagogical experience I can facilitate. I need down time, time for handling life’s logistics. I need time to write, something I usually only manage on a weekly basis, if that. (At that rate it’ll take me another 2 or 3 years to get through my first draft.) I would also like to live in a clean and organized house.

I am starting to understand that I can’t maintain ideal levels of activity in all of these categories at all times. (Not that I didn’t know that already, but I kept hoping, anyway.) Each one will rise and fall. I only have so much time. When I’m prepping for a concert, other things will need to slide. But what I can do, instead of just trying to push through, is to work into the plan little essential elements that I don’t want to lose altogether, like a half hour walk with Hazel, or 10 minutes in the morning one day during the week to vacuum one room.

I keep wanting to ensure that I have two hours to practice every day, that I have an hour to write every day, that I have time for email and house cleaning, for mail and bill paying, for relaxing, for doing the dishes, for cleaning the cat box and feeding the cats, etc., etc., etc..

I can certainly set up systems and circumstances which will be more or less conducive to that level of regularity, but I have to accept that there are no guarantees that what I plan or wish to happen will happen. Disruption is often the name of the game.

Ted and I set up a task schedule so we’d get x and y done during the week. I think we’re going to have to mostly throw it out, and take some time on the weekends to clean and organize, to catch up. Our weeknights are extremely short, and we need to relax, not to spend that hour and a half after the kids are down cleaning, etc.

And I want to come to a level of peaceful acceptance of the level of chaos in our house, because if I allow it to stress me out to the degree it does, the house doesn’t get any cleaner but I feel worse.

And eventually, I think I may have to back down to only 2 nights a week of teaching, because I am not sure that the balance between family and practicing and teaching and household can sustain more, long-term. But we shall see.

Teaching cello, acupuncture, teaching vs learning

One of the fun things about having students who get more advanced is working on more advanced repertoire with them. One of my high school students brought in the second Borodin String Quartet this evening. Not wanting to spend her whole lesson fingering it for her, I made a copy (of course, my crappy-a$$ printer ate hers, so I gave her the copy and kept the munched one – I really have to get a better printer!) to finger this week. She’ll finger hers and we’ll compare notes at her next lesson so we can talk about the whys and wherefores of the art of fingering. I love the Borodin, so having a chance to play it and think about it, and work even a bit on the melodies is making me happy. Thus, I am taking a break to write this post and then am going to go downstairs to do the second movement tonight. I am fortunate not to have any of the repertoire for my next two concerts yet, or else I’d be feeling a conflict of interest. That will start on Thursday, so I can spend tonight and tomorrow working on the Borodin and my own string quartet music (Schubert this week) before I have to moderate and diversify my practice session content.

I had an acupuncture session today. We’re going to work on evening out my cycle, which has become erratic. Also, in the parlance of that world, she thinks I have a blood deficiency, need to eat more green veggies and some red meat twice a week. On the other hand, my sleep and the arm that was giving me trouble have both improved dramatically in a few weeks time, both of which are wonderful developments.

I have been continuing to think about my new developing mantra: “Not everything needs to be fixed.” I allowed it to seep into my mind and heart at the beginning of my first lesson this evening, with the result that I felt more patience, allowed more time for my student (who’s a kid) to process and take responsibility for his own actions. I was more relaxed, and I think was therefore more able to be centered and to teach better. I want to continue to make space for that in my spirit as I teach and parent. Of course, it will immediately be tested as the universe throws challenges and counter-examples my way (as always seems to happen), but that’s ok. I don’t have to fix that either.

There is a difference between a learning moment and a teachable one. The latter is not always organic, but instead arises from habit and the need to control.

I say often, sometimes with gratitude and sometimes with irritation, sometimes softly and sometimes laced with snark, “Thank you, universe, for this opportunity to learn.” I say it even more often now that I have children. But I am glad to be learning, even if it sometimes feels like such a terribly enormous stretch.

Gardening, parenting, teaching, bedtime, emailing friend in jail

This morning I spent a while weeding while the kids played in the dirt and water. Hazel really wanted to weed with me, but the plants I’m pulling up have long, fragile roots, and they’re taking over the garden, and I wasn’t in the mood to teach and weed with her while also looking after the twins. I asked her if she would like to weed with me at our next Mommy-Hazel day, however, and she said yes. At that point I’ll have a few more neurons freed up and be in a place where I can enjoy that activity more.

I used some of the training we’ve received in our parenting class to come back from being mad this morning about missing caps and markers. After I’d cooled down, I got a piece of paper and wrote the problem at the top of it. Then I asked Hazel if she’d like to help me come up with some solutions. And she did. In fact, the first thing suggested was the idea I’d had while in the shower, and that is, if adults aren’t in the same room while the kids are coloring, we pick out one marker each for them to use until an adult is back in the room. I’m excited to try our solutions (also including having a basket for caps while the kids are coloring, and another basket for pens), and even more excited that I was able to calm down, do some repair, and then do something productive with Hazel. Score!

I didn’t manage to eat lunch today, and after teaching four students in a row I was ravening by dinner time. It is amazing how easy it is, with kids, to accidentally skip meals. Focusing and communicating with others, however, is definitely impacted by lack of sleep and/or lack of food. The lessons after dinner were easier than those before. All went well, though. I was in the mood to work on intonation today, and my students all put in a lot of work. I appreciated their willingness and their focus.

Tonight the twins didn’t fall asleep nursing, but came off and wanted more books. It was time for songs and bedtime at that point, and I was a bit worried it would take ages. Joanna went down pretty easily, though, and Emily didn’t take too long, just having to be replaced in her bed a couple of times. I am feeling cautiously optimistic that we might be moving to a better place regarding bedtime. That is good. In a few weeks it will all have to happen earlier, with the advent of kindergarten.

After we got them down I came downstairs and finally figured out how to email my friend in jail. The system had misfiled him, and therefore not given me the option. That has been fixed, so I sent off my first message tonight. As weirdly fun and nostalgic as it has been to send him letters through the regular mail, I have to admit that I appreciate the speed of electronic mail. Hopefully he’ll receive it in the next day or two. There’s still the logistics and procedures of prison, after all.

And now, time to wind down and attempt to go to sleep.

Cat escape, clothes sorting, cello student learning, coming home

Jasmine got out last night, and I was quite scared I was going to lose her as she scooted further and further away from me. I did manage to pick her up when she went to explore the neighbor’s porch. I had to keep a very tight hold of her ruff while carrying her back, because she emphatically did not want to be brought back inside. So last night Ted and I bought a couple of GPS tracker units for the cats. As the twins get older and more capable, the chances that the cats will be accidentally let out increase exponentially. The two days we spent wondering whether Satchmo was alive or dead the time he wandered away were extremely trying. Hearing Hazel calling for him, over and over, in her sad little person voice broke my heart. Hence the trackers. They aren’t a magic bullet: they won’t prevent the cats from getting lost or hurt if they get outside (or if we decide to start letting them outside). But they will give us a much greater chance of finding them if they don’t come home, and of helping them if they’re in trouble.


Today we tackled piles of clothing which have been hanging around in one form or another (Ted and I have for years been adept at migrating and modifying our piles, less so at actually disposing of them or stowing them in their proper accommodations) for weeks, months, or years. We have a small “closet” in our knee wall which has been a place where it’s all too easy to just shove stuff, given its inconvenience in terms of shape and height (or lack thereof). It is now the repository of organized and easy-to-access children’s clothes of sizes into which they will grow, as well as our spare blankets and pillows. There is not an unwanted or never-gonna-happen clothing item in sight. And, as a further side benefit, both Ted and I found clothes in our piles that were too small, but which fit us now that we’ve been on a (mostly) Paleo diet for a while, and so without going to the store we have broadened our options.

Our kitchen art corner is now complete, with the kids’ white board and chalk board mounted on the wall. And on top of everything else, Ted leveled the stove! Keeping things evenly browned/sautéed/fried/cooked on the stove top will now be duck soup, so to speak.


One of my students has, this year, experienced and apprehended the clear contrast between what happens when he practices and what happens when he doesn’t. He’s seen the evidence in his personal life of the difference between talent and effort. Last week, at my suggestion, he put a note on his computer reminding him to practice right after he comes home. He’d made significant strides in the consistency of his practicing already, but this last week the result was staggeringly obvious in today’s lesson. His pleasure and pride in his accomplishment warms my heart. And his playing has developed to the point that his musicality is coming through, and I can easily make an emotional connection to what he’s presenting. His mom has noticed too. This is a moment to appreciate and acknowledge, to mark the positive for everyone involved. It makes me happy.

When I walked into the kids’ room tonight, I was greeted by a chorus of “Mommy! Mommy!” from Hazel and Emily simultaneously. Joanna grabbed a book and waved it at me with a smile lighting her face. I love my darlings, and my darlings love me. I am grateful.

good rehearsals, packed day, teaching and patience

We ran through the Beethoven tonight, and it wasn’t as challenging to get through, in terms of energy level, than I had feared it might be. We know it very well now, and I enjoyed playing the piece as a whole work.

This afternoon the modern group rehearsed, and we got through the most challenging parts of Ire quite well, too. I have some heavy, loud pizzicatos in the other piece, and am on the verge of getting a blister, but have to practice that passage more tomorrow morning. I shall have to be judicious about it, so it’s not too painful during the concert.

I had absolutely no transition between the intense afternoon rehearsal and the teaching that was sandwiched between it and the evening rehearsal. I did not handle that segue very well: going from rehearsing a piece that’s at a very high professional level and demands an extraordinary amount of focus to teaching a beginning student requires a serious perspective switch, and I didn’t do such a great job with that. I was overly critical in the first lesson immediately following the rehearsal. I apologized at the end, but really hate to have done anything as a teacher that requires an apology. I know that it’s human to make mistakes, but there is a judgment-addicted part of me that can only accept mistakes if they’re a) impossible to have predicted, b) not that important, and c) consequence-free. That part of me is a wuss, essentially, and has a hard time handling the realities of life.

I have similar challenges when I go straight from teaching cello lessons to helping Hazel practice. I think I might need to give myself a few meditative moments before helping Hazel, because it is surprisingly difficult for me to be graceful in that situation, too. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I have more of a struggle being patient than I do with my students. So that too, is a work in progress.

Just those glimpses into the difficulties of teaching one’s own child shows me that home-schooling my kids would be A Very Bad Idea (not that such a thing is in the plans).

I had a friend in college who once told me that he wasn’t sure whether I was the most open-minded judgmental person he’d ever known, or the most judgmental open-minded person. He said this with love, and I know what he means. I think I am pretty open, but I also have a heavy dose of judgment which is primarily self-directed, but which splashes outwards sometimes too. This does remind me of two of my mom’s favorite sayings, which are that there are 10,000 ways, and that it is important to be able to hold the opposites. I think that’s so important. Life doesn’t line up neatly like a Hallmark card. There are conflicts, internal and external, and achieving a good life doesn’t mean avoiding them. I am better at tolerating dissonance than I was when I was younger, and am grateful for that. I need that ability as a parent.

Cello lessons, evening activities

This morning I had three lessons to teach. The last of them went over by almost 45 minutes, and we were all tired by the end. But we got some good and necessary work in, so it was worth it. That was followed by practicing piano with Hazel, during which I only partially managed to switch gears sufficiently from cello-teacher mode to practicing-piano-with-my-own-little-kid mode. We got through it, but I had to get up and walk around a few times to keep my cool and to pull back energetically from expecting too much of her. That was followed pretty soon thereafter by a piano lesson (for Hazel). During her nap our babysitter played with the twins, and I got a bunch of necessary administrative work done. That was followed by three more lessons. Today feels like it’s been full.

Last night I decided that we have to start employing a new set of questions at night. That is, to ask ourselves what we’re contemplating, and then subject those activities to the following test: is it necessary, is it a would-be-good-to-have, or is it want? Tonight there’s another growing pile of laundry on our laundry table, but since we have the next two days off, that pile has been transformed from a necessary task to a would-be-good-to-have, and I have jettisoned it from our list. We can do it tomorrow. In the meantime, I am tired and want to relax.

Hazel and I did a super quick cleanup of the living room before we took them upstairs for bed. I accomplished this by helping her, and making it a race to see who could get more Lego’s in the box. Adding fun makes everything faster (for kids, anyway). I have to keep reminding myself of that fact.

So, the household clutter has been reduced to a dull roar, and now I’m sitting in the living room across from Ted, who is per usual wearing the monitor as he surfs. I’m doing more administrative work (this time for my business), and writing my blog. But soon we’re going to share some sweet potato puffs, and then I want to go upstairs and read. A book. In fact, a YA book (relevant to what I’m supposedly doing, which is to learn how to write fiction by reading and writing it.) I might also play a few Scrabble games while nibbling on the puffs, but I’m leaving the computer down here.