Busy, apparently.

Oof, school kicked my butt this past week. A six-page paper plus a 15-minute PowerPoint presentation plus mandatory discussion all due the same day. And that’s just in one of my two classes.

I was out of town visiting family for most of the last week, which is always good for stepping away and reevaluating how you’re doing life. At times I found myself worrying about “wasted potential”—wondering if I could be doing something amazing if I just hadn’t watched so much TV as a kid, or had eaten a better diet growing up, or just tried harder. Such thinking isn’t terribly productive, though, and eventually I decided to stop worrying and think about what I want to do with the days ahead. Being out and about tore me away from the Internet for long stretches of time, which I realize has made me a generally happier person. I read too much news anyway, and news is overwhelmingly negative and largely about things outside my control. Spending less time with TV and video games was good for me, too. I can’t see myself ever saying “I’m sure glad I spent my entire summer consuming content in front of a screen.”

Now that I have a bit more breathing room before my next big assignment is due (well, kind of; there’s a 10-page paper due next Wednesday) I’m going to make sure I take time this week to pick up and delve into the stuff I want to be doing. (And call that accordion repair guy, for reals!)

A side note: On the trip to visit my relatives I took a couple of paperbacks for airplane reading: Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens and Eva Ibbotson’s The Secret of Platform 13,* and while I enjoyed both (or at least the first half, in the case of the 432-page Good Omens, which I haven’t yet finished), I’m still partial to middle-grade fantasy. I have to constantly quell the fear that this affinity is a sign of stunted development (more wasted potential!), but that doesn’t stop me from visiting that section of the public library every time I’m there. Also, I’ll read anything by Eva Ibbotson. She might be my favorite author ever. Island of the Aunts made me cry.

Here’s some relevant Neil Gaiman from a 2013 Guardian column that accurately reflects everything I believe about libraries and children’s literature:

And while we’re on the subject, I’d like to say a few words about escapism. I hear the term bandied about as if it’s a bad thing. As if “escapist” fiction is a cheap opiate used by the muddled and the foolish and the deluded, and the only fiction that is worthy, for adults or for children, is mimetic fiction, mirroring the worst of the world the reader finds herself in.

If you were trapped in an impossible situation, in an unpleasant place, with people who meant you ill, and someone offered you a temporary escape, why wouldn’t you take it? And escapist fiction is just that: fiction that opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with (and books are real places, make no mistake about that); and more importantly, during your escape, books can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, give you weapons, give you armour: real things you can take back into your prison. Skills and knowledge and tools you can use to escape for real.

As JRR Tolkien reminded us, the only people who inveigh against escape are jailers.

*It’s about a pure-hearted boy raised by horrible stepparents whose destiny lies in the magical place accessible only through a secret portal in King’s Cross station. If that sounds familiar, note that The Secret of Platform 13 was published in 1994 and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published in 1997. When asked about the striking similarities, Eva Ibbotson reportedly said that she’d like to shake J. K. Rowling’s hand, and added, “I think we all borrow from each other as writers.”

Summer “vacation.”

For me the first day or two of summer vacation has always brought a mild sense of panic. There’s a bunch of stuff I should be doing and even more that I could be doing. I only have ten weeks left, aaagggghh!

And then I get frustrated and fatigued at the giant cloud of vague options. And then I get reflective. Is productivity per se really my goal? And that just makes me panic more. And that’s why my summers that lack external structure tend to be supremely unproductive.

I should also mention that I am in graduate school (online) and I double down on classes in the summer in hopes of graduating in a reasonable amount of time. I’ve also got quite a few family commitments this week, so I’ll be focusing on those and schoolwork first.

Although: extended version of Kass’s theme! It sounds so gooood! I need to call the accordion repair guy ASAP.

Excuses, excuses.

The other day I was talking to my friend and expressed some mild frustration with myself. I don’t tend to dive right into things; I circle them from several hundred feet above and pretend I’ll make it down there eventually. The problem is that I tend to actually just keep myself in the same holding pattern for ages.

I’ve been meaning to join a ukulele group; I’ve been meaning to send my accordion in for repair; I’ve been meaning to sign up for a SCBWI critique group in my area. I’ve made baby steps in these directions, but have found convenient reasons to hold back (namely that the music store didn’t call me back; the accordion repair specialist’s workshop was inaccessible at them time due to remodeling; and I missed the most recent regional critique café meeting so I’m waiting around for the next one… which will be in several months). I do like to wallow in complacency, don’t I?

Summer is right around the corner, and I work in public education. That means I have ten weeks of unpaid vacation. I need to make some phone calls and figure out what I’m doing with it.

Onward.

My West African percussion class continues, and I’m having a lot of fun with it. We have a performance of sorts for a local event coming up in a couple of weeks so there are rehearsals in addition to regular class (which has turned into rehearsal time, as well). The things we’re rehearsing are a good bit more difficult than what we’d been doing in previous sessions, and I’m enjoying the challenge.

I also got in some good time for Draft 3 revisions on that novel I wrote. I’ve bought tickets to see friends in the Midwest this summer, including the friend that gave me all those helpful notes on Draft 2, so my new goal is to finish Draft 3 by the time I depart.

On the ukulele front, I’ve gotten pretty good at the first (and last) part of “Giant Woman” from Steven Universe, but I should probably expand my chord repertoire a bit more than F, Cmaj7, G7, and E7. Or at least learn that middle part.

Breathing wildly.

My friends are amazing. They stood outside a Toys ‘R’ Us at 8:00am in the cold the other week on the day it was rumored there’d be a fresh supply of Nintendo Switches and picked one up for me (I had other engagements at the time). After paying them back and picking up a copy of its most prominent game I proceeded to spend an embarrassing amount of time last week in its world. I don’t think I can add anything to the praise it’s gotten. It’s a fantastic game and I’m really enjoying it.

Problem is, I can easily sink three or four hours into it without even noticing. And that means less time for all those “terrifying creative endeavors” I keep saying I want to pursue.

I voluntarily took Thursday, Friday, and Saturday away from it, mostly because it was Holy Week and I wanted to focus my attention on that. But after spending another four hours playing it today, I realize how valuable taking time away from it is. Saturday I got in practice time for both ukulele and harp, which I rarely have the attention span to do. A little regular self-denial would do me good, I think.

I’ve been neglecting writing, though. I intend to make time for that this week, as well.

After two weeks of spare time.

I think I did well these past two weeks. I didn’t spend any egregious amounts of time on the Internet, though I did watch more TV than I probably should have. But on the whole, I made time to do things like:

  • write the solid beginnings of a song
  • practice ukulele (a lot; that thing is addictive!)
  • write the beginning of a short story
  • work on Draft 3 of my untitled novel

I also cooked a lot. I guess I never thought of that as a creative endeavor, but as my good friend pointed out, it kind of is. It’s a particularly satisfying one, too: not only do you get to see the results; you also get to eat them!

I can’t say I “look forward” to starting work again tomorrow, but I think a bit of imposed structure will be good for me. You can’t binge too much when you have a full-time job. Plus, I find I do some of my best work when working it in around other commitments. Not sure why.

Changing it up.

From today I have two weeks off from work, which I’ve already expressed my ambivalence about. The Internet has proven to be just as much of black hole as it ever has been since I got off work yesterday afternoon.

Beating myself up over this is an even bigger waste of time than Imgur, though. Time for a new plan. First is adding Imgur to my LeechBlock list of sites that get blocked after 5 minutes (along with Twitter, Tumblr, and several others).

This coming week I’m going to voluntarily disconnect from the Internet for solid blocks of time and just do the stuff I want to do. Be messy and make mistakes. Stop window-shopping for instruments and hiding behind more pointless Internet research about the publishing industry. I want to write and make music. I have the tools to do those two things at least. I’ma start with those; then we can see about expanding on them.

Frustrations.

Missed my self-imposed deadline for a post again. Maybe I’ll make the week start on Monday. I was sick for a couple days and had to miss work, which has gotten somewhat intense.

No harp practice to speak of, though I picked at my novel a little bit. Annoyed at myself but determined not to wallow. I have two weeks off from work starting next week, but having large swaths of free time is always a minefield for me. Too many choices leads to agonizing indecision leads to dumb YouTube tangents and other numbing activities.

Still no Switch, probably for the best. I’ve sworn off actively looking for stuff about it on the Internet; this should curb the distraction somewhat. Trying to hold out till the holidays, or at least summer.

Practice.

Realized this morning when I woke up that I’d missed my self-imposed deadline (Saturday) for a weekly post. I could pretend that I’m giving up self-imposed stress for Lent or that the calendar week ends on Sunday, but the truth is that I simply forgot. Last week was not fantastic for me—Murphy’s law in full effect plus lots of stressful commitments all running together. I barely got in any harp practice time, let alone writing. Though I did stumble upon this useful TED-Ed video, “How to practice effectively… for just about anything”:

The “wham line” of the video for me is probably this:

“Effective practice is consistent, intensely focused, and targets content or weaknesses that lie at the edge of one’s current abilities.”

When I practice harp, or piano, or any other instrument, I more or less sit down and pluck  (or plunk) out whatever I feel like. I guess there’s value to improvisation and playing by ear, and it’s how I discover new things. But I’m not reinforcing important basic skills. I know at least my finger independence is pretty underdeveloped, not helped by the fact that my fingers and brain seem to have some odd quirks that limit my coordination. (The most annoying and visible one is that if I make a motion with one hand, I unconsciously make the same motion with my other hand, just weaker. Oddly I haven’t tried Googling this until just now–turns out it has a name: congenital mirror movement disorder.) I’m sure I’m unintentionally cementing bad habits in my brain, too.

Additionally, I feel I would do well to remember these four tips from the video:

  1. Focus on the task at hand. Minimize distractions.
  2. Start out slowly, or in slow motion.
  3. Use frequent repetitions with allotted breaks.
  4. Practice in your brain, in vivid detail.

New goal: to get through Volume 1 of the self-teaching book I have (Pamela Bruner’s Play the Harp Beautifully!) by the beginning of summer.