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.

Impulse buys.

“Ukulele” was not originally on my How I Will Go Bankrupt list. I thought it would be too similar to guitar, which I did try some years back when a used one made its way into my hands but ultimately gave up. I was used to instruments that had a keyboard or at least a somewhat chromatic or diatonic layout that I could play around with and improvise on—and necked instruments seemed inscrutable. I never learned anything past C major, G major, and F major. Also pressing down on the steel strings nigh shredded the fingertips on my left hand.

Yet this weekend certain circumstances came together—namely, that (1) my tax refund is coming soon, (2) I’ve been watching a lot of Steven Universe lately, and (3) I found myself at local music stores staffed by friendly people who showed me that the ukulele is not as intimidating as I’d feared.

Now I own a little soprano ukulele, and I’m kind of in love with it. As an acquaintance of mine who plays told me once, “you can’t not be happy while playing the ukulele.” It’s true.

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 pluckĀ  (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.

Seeking community.

This week I had the chance to go to a rock and gem show with a dear geologist friend, and half the enjoyment was watching her getting excited and talking about all the rocks on display. She met several folks with the same interests and made a few new friends in the few hours we were there. Her passion is gemology and jewelry making (I own a few of her pieces, gifts from various holidays past) and she has a real talent and good artistic eye.

There is tremendous value in community, as I was reminded watching my friend today. It’s soul-enriching to meet people who love the same things you do and want to share in the joy of them. I suppose that should be on my goal list this year—to find communities for my own interests. SCBWI meetups, local music groups and classes… it’s all a bit scary for a shy person like me. But I think complacent isolation makes the fear and self-doubt ghosts seem bigger, and limits my growth.

Also: got my (fixed) harp back! No excuses for not practicing now.

Lessons from Florence Foster Jenkins.

“People may say I can’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t sing.”

Watched the movie Florence Foster Jenkins starring Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant this week. More tragic than comedic than I was expecting, given that my familiarity with the real Florence Foster Jenkins was through YouTube uploads of her recordings, but that perhaps made it a better film than I was expecting.

I find confident artists of questionable quality fascinating, perhaps because I can only dream of having so much confidence in my endeavors. There is something admirable in their perseverance.

Pursuing these things for the love of them—that’s what I’m trying to do. Not to be the very best (like no one ever was), not fueled by comparison to others. Florence Foster Jenkins clearly loved what she did, and though her singing is hard not to crack a smile at, isn’t her dedication and sincerity what ultimately draws us in?

Adventures in un-ickying.

Tried un-ickying my goals this week and ended up writing a list of musical instruments I want to eventually learn how to play, ranging from the tin whistle to the $2,000 Array mbira (seen in this video). Retitled the list “How I Will Go Bankrupt.”

My harp’s still in the shop. They say they’ll need to contact the manufacturer and get parts, which means I’ll probably be harpless for a while yet. I should focus on my other, functional instruments.

On the writing side of things, I finally compiled and sent my responses to my friend who critiqued my second draft. Now I need to start looking toward Draft #3, which I’m determined will not take four-and-a-half years like last time.

Taming monkeys and un-ickying items.

Some months ago while looking up completely unrelated things for work, I came upon Tim Urban’s popular blog post Why Procrastinators Procrastinate and its follow-up How to Beat Procrastination. It’s resonated with a lot of people, and with good reason. He might as well have been describing my entire life.

I’ve been finding myself in a familiar rut these past few weeks. It’s the kind of rut where I love taking in other’ creations and reading about the art of creating, but create very little myself. Receiving those revision notes from my friend on my novel draft gave me enough fuel to power through some preliminary revisions and put some vague notes on how to proceed in the margins, but with no real objective in sight I set the whole thing aside and nearly forgot about it.

To put it in Tim Urban’s terms, my goals have gotten icky.

When I finished that second draft in December I had a specific goal and a specific due date, and I think that’s how the thing even got finished at all. This coming week I’m going to work on un-ickying my goals and finding the starting point to achieving them.