Warming up on bass today and grooving a little.
Each day in June I’m going to try to do a little morning improv, just something simple to get my creative brain ready for the day. Here’s the first one! Follow my Soundcloud profile for more as I add them.
When I set out this month to put focus on how I and my colleagues balance our careers and our mental and emotional health, I had no idea the myriad places each topic would take me. I’ve covered so many ideas: from talking about how I balance work & life, researching what burnout feels like (and discovering just how badly I had it), and giving myself permission to vacation; to highlighting some of my favorite folks (Rebecca Hass on rest, Leah Pogwizd on owning your animus, and Tully Hall on curiosity); to asking you via Facebook posts how you do self-care, design your perfect schedule, rock it out, and manage stress.
I’ll admit that at the beginning of May I was a little bit of a wreck. I’d made an unforgiving and jam-packed teaching schedule for myself, and April and May were busy with gigs, recording sessions, and rehearsals. I was also navigating the resurgence of a traumatic episode in my past, which often happens around the event’s anniversary. In short, I was more than burnt-out, I was ready to sweep out the fireplace and move out of the building.
At the end of last year I set myself some hefty goals for 2018, and I started out January with my usual nose-to-the-grindstone pace & a to-do list miles long. It might be no surprise to anyone, but I have trouble taking days off. There’s always something I can get done if I have the time. Just sitting down- with no real agenda- is incredibly hard. Now, procrastination- that’s another story. I’m happy to set myself a task and then avoid it at all costs, only to rush the work just at the end of the time I’ve allotted for it.
What I’ve learned this month is that overwork does no one any good. I’m self-employed, and many of the tasks and goals I set for myself do not need to have deadlines or be rushed. No one but me is suffering if I don’t get a certain product out into the world when I said I would. If I let myself get it done as I’m inspired to do it, or even just forgive myself when I miss a day of work on it, it’ll get done, and be even better than I thought.
In June & July, I’m intentionally not setting a theme for the blog. I’ll be writing and checking in, but I’m giving myself permission to go back to freeform posting. I’ve also assigned myself only one big project- the marketing and pricing design of my music clinician business- and put a few others on hold. Less is more, this summer, as I give my tired mind a chance to reconnect with the inspiration music and teaching give me.
What have you learned in May? How will you move forward in new and healthier ways?
Wednesdays this month, I’m aiming to feature the writing of a colleague who’s doing good work helping musicians find ways to balance work, life, and play. Whether they’re finding paths for themselves and sharing their journey, or actively guiding people through the process of gaining a good groundwork, these folks are truly thinking outside the box of our traditional grindstone mentality. The result is careers and people that are happier, more productive in the long run, and ultimately, more successful (and it all depends on how you define ‘success’).
This week I want to feature the insightful writing and mentorship of my Alexander Technique teacher, Tully Hall. Tully is as kind-hearted and wise a person as I have ever met, and we’ve really bonded over our mutual ideas about brass playing, movement, pedagogy, and life.
After many years of being intrigued by Alexander and thinking “I should try that”, last July I finally got a recommendation to contact Tully, and I am so glad I did. I’ve done just about every little bit of bodily self-care you can think of in order to manage chronic back, neck, and shoulder pain: acupuncture, yoga, physical therapy, cupping, massage, flotation tanks… Every one of them was great, and combining them helped a little, but nothing has made quite the difference that AT has, and in as short an amount of time. I stopped fighting my body’s tension spots and started reorganizing how I stood, sat, moved, and flowed through my day. Talking with Tully about intention and external focus of attention has reminded me that the pedagogy I teach doesn’t just have to apply to brass playing. We can move through the world without grasping, without working so hard. We can be open and curious.
Here are some of my favorite posts by Tully on the topic of intention and curiosity, but I highly recommend her entire blog.
Descriptions of Alexander Technique can often include the dreaded p-word (Posture!), which can bring up a maelstrom of ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’ for many of us. But what is posture really? A few weeks ago I listened to ‘On Being’ host Krista Tippett talking with physicist Carlo Rovelli. The episode is titled: All Reality is Interaction. One of his phrases really stuck with me: “the huge wave of happenings which is a human self.” One aspect of that wave is our interaction with gravity. We are made for gravity: we meet its presence with our own wave of anti-gravity. We’re so elegantly designed that we don’t have to exert direct muscular force to do it.
My great niece has this uncluttered freedom that I admire very much. (It’s wonderfully common in the 1.5 year old demographic.) Using my Alexander Technique know-how lets me get some of that freedom for myself:
- I can enter a listening, curious state rather than a “just let me get through this so I can get to the next thing” state.
- If I don’t rush, I don’t tighten.
- I don’t have to hold myself up, I can rest on whatever’s supporting me.
- I can orient my attention outward into the environment surrounding me.
- I can find a state of flow that makes me available to move.
- If I’m holding or moving something, I can ask it, “how would you like to move?”
Have you experimented with Alexander Technique? How has it affected you, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally? Do you find, like I do, that after a lesson you feel like you could take on anything in your day with poise and grace?
As this post goes up, I’m in all likelihood stretched out on a beach or in a hammock (the rainy season is starting in early this year) in Cahuita, Costa Rica.
I’ve been invited to stay with friend and fellow trombonist Gabe and her mom. We’ll take in Cahuita National Park, the Museo de Cacao, and local culture. I am incredibly excited; I’ve only spent a few hours in Costa Rica itself but I have a soft spot for the Caribbean and the Central American countries from my time on cruise ships.
Giving myself permission to buy a plane ticket and take time off from work and potential gigs was incredibly difficult. I knew the minute Gabe invited me that I would go, but I had to give myself all kinds of pep talks to actually make it happen. It’s so hard, as a freelance musician and a self-employed educator, to walk away from work during the regular season. It’s easier over winter holidays, when students are not in school and wanting a break, or in the summer when things are light anyway, but mid-May? C’mon! On top of that, how will my chops feel when I get back? What will I have lost, musically.
The answer? Nothing. Sure, it’ll take a few days to feel normal again, but in reality, I’ll have gained. My skills will not suffer in the long run for a week off. Years ago, I would panic at the idea of not playing for whatever period of time- a few days, a week, a month (ok, but to be real, I probably couldn’t go a month just yet :/). Eventually, I began to realize that time off is truly musically valuable. It gives your brain a chance to recuperate, incorporate old habits, and simmer on new experiences and ideas.
As for teaching and playing, taking a vacation is not going to mean I lose students or gigs. They will still all be there- because everyone understands the value of time away. I recently saw a claim that Americans work more days that medieval peasants. I laughed aloud- and then I sobbed a bit. I don’t even have a 9-to-5 job, but I do work in the ever-growing gig economy, which might grind even harder that the 40 hours a week crowd. We don’t have health insurance provided for us, after all, and our income depends on how hard we hustle.
So, giving myself permission to leave is hard. I’m getting better at it, though. And I give you permission to take a break, too.