I’m thankful for my family. We’re having a nice Thanksgiving over here. We’ve got some Chex mix in the oven, turkey in the roaster, I just made a cheeseball covered in crumbled bacon, and we watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the National Dog Show.
Ah yes, the dog show.
So, after finding out that my boy is severely allergic to cats, but not dogs, I guess I’m going to have to become a dog person if I ever want to have a furry little critter in my house. As an adult, I eventually realized that I’m a cat person. I don’t love dogs. I used to think I was a dog person. When I was about 10, I begged and begged my parents for a dog. They finally relented and we got a sweet doggie from the animal shelter. He had been hit by a car and had a broken pelvis. I named him Jesse (after Uncle Jesse on Full House), and for weeks and weeks, I sat with him and pet him while he healed. We definitely bonded during that time. He was a nice little dog, and I loved him. So, I loved *my* dog when I had one. I just don’t love dogs generally. Maybe one of these days I could get another dog and fall in love again.
I’ve been neglecting you, dear blog readers. It’s not because I don’t like you, though. It’s just because I spent a whole lot of time doing stuff this weekend. I had a viola lesson (in the OC, which means 5-6 hours of driving, round-trip), took Connor over to a friend’s house, got my hair done, did lots and lots and LOTS of laundry, tried to clean the house a little bit (didn’t help), ran some errands… you know, all those things that pile up.
Maybe the most important/interesting realization/discovery of the weekend was after I bought a new set of strings for the viola. I was expecting more, I have to be honest. I was expecting the new set would give me a fuller, richer sound. It usually does. And this new set… it helped a bit, to be sure, but the sound I was looking for, it wasn’t really there. It wasn’t good enough. My teacher played on it a little bit, and I was able to listen to it from across the room. And the difference between listening to him, playing his viola, and then listening to him playing mine… it made me want to shake my head a little bit. Mine sounded kinda flat and lifeless and boring in comparison. The sound wasn’t “alive”, it wasn’t dancing with overtones, wasn’t the rich, full sound a viola really ought to make.
I am reluctantly forced to admit to myself that we’re getting close now. I’ve been feeling it for a while, but I’ve been trying not to think about it. I took it to the shop to get adjusted, we put a new soundpost in it, I put new strings on it… and it helped, for sure, but the plain and simple fact of the matter is: I’m outgrowing this viola, and I can’t deny it anymore. The day is coming, sooner rather than later, I think—and honestly, after listening to my teacher play on it, and listening to myself playing Brahms today, the day might already have passed—when this viola isn’t going to be able to keep up with me.
This has happened before. I had a different viola at first, a student instrument. It worked out great for a while, and then, slowly but surely, my ability to play outstripped the viola’s ability to provide the sound I needed. I was commanding and demanding things from it that it simply couldn’t give. We’re getting there again. It took a lot longer this time. Mostly because I didn’t really go pro. If I had ever gone into the performance major, gotten into a major symphony, anything like that, it would have happened faster. I’ve delayed it a long time, by staying right at the borderline, just at the fringes of professional ability. But I can feel it. It’s here now. Time to move up.
I can feel it when I play things where I’m trying to draw out this big, rich sound, and I’m putting the full weight of the bow into it, everything I’ve got, and I end up getting scratching with the bow, and these artifacts in the sound, because I’m putting more pressure on it than I should *ever* need to, trying to pull the sound out. I could tell when I played in Colorado this summer. Other people could tell, too. I’d be playing, and they could see there’s nothing in the world wrong with my technique, it *looks* like it should be making the sound I’m looking for, but it’s just not there. I played the prelude from the Bach D-minor suite at an evening performance, and the sound wasn’t able to reach the back of the hall. I even had a random audience member come up to me afterward and say, “You need a better instrument. That one’s not doing you justice.”
Unfortunately, the next step up puts me in a price range that’s more than I paid for my Subaru. That’s kind of how things go, too. “Marry a musician,” they say, “and you’ll have expensive instruments before you ever have a car.” Time to start saving.
As a designer, you have a voice in your head. It’s there, constantly, telling you over and over that you’re not good enough, and you’ll never be good enough. Your work is crap. And no matter how much you try to work it and polish it, it’ll always be less than you want it to be. You see every flaw in everything you do. You know this voice. It’s with you always. So when the internal voice tells you your work sucks, you smile at it and say, “I know, but I’m going to keep doing it anyway.”
But when an external voice tells you it sucks, it can be hard to keep going.
On a lighter note: This. From the local bookstore.
Do me a favor and turn this video on in the background before you start reading this post.
This story is about Colorado, but it doesn’t begin in Colorado. It begins in a long gray hallway.
This is the hallway I used to walk down every day last year, when I would go to work in the morning. I’d shuffle my way down the gray hall, beyond the reach of any natural light, and sit myself down in a gray chair, in a little gray corner of a gray office. There were always more projects to work on than I had time to complete. Deadlines were always tight. Pressure was always on.
Somewhere around mid-May, I received an invitation. It was a very special invitation—only issued to a small handful of people. I was invited to go to a tiny town in the mountains of Colorado and play music for two weeks. It would be a small event, just a dozen or so musicians and teachers. Practicing 3-4 hours a day, coaching sessions, lessons, chamber music, fishing, hiking, and reflection. Time to breathe. Time to think. Time to play music and enjoy good food, good wine, good people.
Here’s the thing. The gray office was full of work to be done. Specifically, there was a very big, very important project looming on the horizon, and this trip was going to fall right in the middle of a bunch of big, important deadlines.
“I want to go,” I said. “I just need to see if I can get the time off work.”
I sent an email to my boss, asking for the time off. I didn’t get a reply back right away, so I sent another one. This time, with the line, “This is really important to me.” The reply I got back was something along the lines of… “okaaaaay, but I’m worried about this project…”
I was worried about the project too. I really was. I considered not going on the trip. I thought I might need to stay behind and work on the very important project so we could meet the very important deadlines. But in the end, I decided I would just do whatever I could to make sure it was all worked out before it was time for me to go to Colorado. I booked the flight and tucked away the itinerary, and kept walking into the gray office in the morning, down the gray hallway, working to meet the deadlines, knowing somewhere in the back of my mind it was never going to happen.
I’m going to skip ahead, to the day when I stepped off the plane. Out of the gray office. Into a big, wide world of blue skies and green trees. Open spaces, rocky rivers, mountains so big you have to crane your head to see the top.
At 8,800 feet the air is noticeably thinner. It’s light. Crisp. Dry and crackly and full of energy and potential. And it feels… open. Like, you can just open your lungs and take a big, deep breath of it and there’s still plenty of room for more. Maybe it’s the oxygen deprivation, or maybe it’s because I wasn’t surrounded by rows of gray filing cabinets, but my mind started doing strange and unusual things almost as soon as I stepped off the plane. Soliloquizing, speaking in symbols or slant rhyme, sitting on the side of the street sketching or singing or writing sonnets—I could feel bits of the back of my brain lighting up, and if I had started doing any of those things at any moment, it wouldn’t have seemed out of place.
We stayed at a little lodge called the Cristiana Guesthaus. I had a cozy room with wood paneled walls and a soft, comfy bed, all for myself. I set up a music stand in the corner. Over the next two weeks, I would spend hours in the room, just me and the viola. Sometimes with the window open, the mountain air breezing through the room and the birds singing outside.
The upstairs of the lodge would periodically be reconfigured to accommodate string quartets and quintets as groups of us would read through Mozart or Mendelssohn or Beethoven for a few hours in the afternoons.
I went fly fishing while I was there. I didn’t catch a thing. Maybe I wasn’t meant to fish. Or maybe the fish could tell somehow that I didn’t really want to catch them. All I really wanted to do was just stand there, in the wide open river, and feel the sun on my face and the cold water rushing around my waders. Feel the slippery rocks under my feet and mud on my hands. Feeling. So many feelings, all at the same time. Untangling the fishhook, feeling the tiny slice of the line across my hand. Feel the resistance of the air, feel the hand pull back, feel the line fly out. Feel the river drag it down. Walk with it. Stand. Breathe. Watch the fish jump out of the water a foot away from my line. Smile and feel happy for the fish as it goes back down into the water, happy that it caught the real fly.
I sat under the stars by a campfire and listened to my teacher talk about time and turning points and what it’s all really about. I ate the best meal I’ve ever had, and listened to conversations around the table, about conductors and concerts, music and art and life. Laughing, smiling. I practiced every day and I broke through some walls. Some techniques that had been holding me back, I got on the right track to overcome some hurdles and do some things I had never quite managed to do. With guidance from a master and some time and the summer sky, I reshaped my hand to do things it’s never done before.
After it was over, I visited a friend who lives in Colorado. I hadn’t seen her in many, many years. We hiked to a place called Hanging Lake. Up and up the side of a mountain, through a canyon. It seems like you’ll just keep climbing and climbing. Then up some narrow stairs, with a handrail to keep you from falling hundreds of feet downward. No sign of anything unusual, and then suddenly, there’s a lake. The most brilliant blue-green I’ve ever seen. There’s a chemical reaction that occurs with the water and the rocks to make an absolutely unreal color. Water falling into it from a waterfall above, and orange-gold fish swimming around inside.
There is no photograph that could ever be taken that would do it justice. The experience of it… the feeling of being there, it stubbornly refuses to be captured in two dimensions. My soul was open and alive, and at that moment I felt I might be able to open up my arms and just be lifted up into the sky, be absorbed into the golden light of the universe.
Let’s go back for a moment. Back to the gray corner at the end of the gray hallway in the gray office.
As the day of my flight (and all the big important deadlines) grew closer, things started to smell a little funny at work. I could tell that All Was Not Well. Something was amiss. I won’t go into detail, because it’s not important. But each day things got a little bit weirder. And then, right before it was time for me to go on my trip, everything changed. The boss, who had answered my email and told me I could take the vacation, but don’t forget about the deadlines… was gone. Left the company. The boss’s boss? Also gone. The big, important project? Scrapped. Completely. Half my coworkers laid off. The rest of us left shuffling around, not knowing quite what to do.
If I had decided to stay, to work through those very important two weeks, and make sure that all the very important deadlines for the very important project were covered, I would have watched it all evaporate into nothing right before my eyes. And I would have missed one of the best experiences of my life.
There was a church there, in the tiny town in Colorado, where we had many of our rehearsals, lessons, classes, and some evening performances.
On Sunday, the local pastor invited us to come to the meeting and be a tempest. “A tempest?”
A great tempest.
We rehearsed for a few minutes before heading over to the chapel. We figured out how the cellists could make some great low, echoey wind noises. Some of us could sound like rain. A few good knocks and bangs here and there. And lots and lots of windy, sweeping up and down the strings. We filed into the church and sat in the congregation, a few rows from the front. After the singing and announcements, the sermon started, and we listened for our cue.
Soon, we heard it. “And behold, there arose a great tempest,” he said. And we provided. Softly at first. Slowly. Then louder and faster, until there was, in fact, a great tempest, right there in the middle of the congregation in a tiny town in Colorado.
The pastor had to speak loudly over the tempest, but his voice was strong and clear and the words were perfectly audible—and Jesus rebuked the winds, and the waves, and there was calm, and still. And we were all still. Absolute quiet. And then, in the stillness, the words—Why were you afraid, O ye of little faith?
Never, never be afraid. The great storm that’s swirling all around, the looming deadlines, the Q4 goals, the bullet points that will go on some executive report and prove to everyone how hard you’re working? Won’t matter. Six months later, no one will remember you stayed late every night and neglected your family and friends and your unique talents and the things that make you sacred. So carry the torch. Keep the flame burning. Make time for the things that matter—the things that will keep you human. Carve your name into the clay. Hold onto your paintbrushes and pan flutes and fountain pens as though your life depends on it (because it does) and if anyone or anything ever threatens to come between you, tell them all to go to hell and don’t worry about it, because as soon as you step out of the gray hallway, off the runway and away into the open air…
Special shout out to W, who went to the store last night and brought me Tylenol. And Pepto. And chicken soup (every chicken soup). Being sick isn’t so bad when someone brings you soup. And warms it up for you. And then hands you your phone, which was two whole feet away, but it might as well be a mile because you seriously can’t move your muscles any more than it will take to lift up the spoon and bring it to your mouth, let alone anything crazy like leaning over and reaching.
I’m so glad I was able to just lie in bed with a blanket wrapped around me and not worry about anything, because I really felt awful. Most days, if you’re a parent, being sick means doing everything you normally do, just feeling horrible while you’re doing it. Such a luxury to let someone else take care of things and just lie there.
But we’re done with that now. So let’s move on and talk about something else. Like Bond. James Bond. I went to see Skyfall the other day. “What?” You may be thinking. “You went to see a Bond film?” Yes. Yes I did. See, we had this “team-building” activity at work. Which is this thing where you leave the office, and you go somewhere that’s not the office, and do something non-officey with the people you’re normally in the office with. This is apparently a thing that people do. I, personally, haven’t ever seen it before but I’m told it’s a thing.
“We’re going to lunch at Olio in Santa Barbara on Friday,” they said. “And then we’re going to go see the Bond film.”
Okie dokie. Not going to argue. Pizza and a movie? Sounds great. And so Friday came, and off we went. Lunch was amazing. Truly. I love a pizza that’s topped with greens. Something so delightfully unexpected about it, even after I’ve seen it done and I’ve eaten it before. Every time a pizza comes out and it’s covered in arugula or something, I just smile. This particular arugula-topped pizza was superb.
After lunch, it was time for the cinema.
“I like to have a little more room, so I’m going to scoot over,” said the man who had been sitting on the row before we all started to file in, and he moved down a couple of chairs. After a minute or so, he looked up and down our row again and said, “You know, I’ve never seen a guy bring six ladies to a Bond movie before.” Sure enough, only one of the men from our department had arrived so far. The rest of us were women. Everybody laughed. It seemed appropriate.
But how loud do you laugh? This is the part where it gets sort of weird. Because what happens when you’re in a non-officey environment with the people you’re normally in the office with is that your social self runs into your work self, and you’re not sure which one is supposed to be talking. Kind of like when you’re on the phone with someone and you both start talking at once, and then you say, “You go ahead.” “No, you go ahead. You were about to say something.”
You’re in a movie theater. With your coworkers. And someone has just made a joke that highlights the sexism that is sort of historically associated with the Bond franchise, and there you are. Do you laugh? Yeah. You do. Because it was funny. But it’s also sort of awkward, because your work self is still there inside your head, pointing out to you that “Hey, these are some seriously intelligent, capable, hardcore people. In real life, we’re sort of the opposite of a Bond film here.”
Maybe someday, my social self and my work self will get to be the same person. I hope that they’ll actually both be replaced someday by a different person entirely—an authentic self. I’d like to have just the one me that I take with me everywhere, and then that person would know how loud to laugh at jokes. Probably just depend on how funny they are.
But anyway, that’s enough talk about work and self and socializing. Because there’s something else that’s very important and we need to leave enough room to talk about it and that is: Daniel Craig’s eyes. Holy smokes. I think that guy could stop a train using nothing but those piercing blue eyes.
I actually enjoyed the film quite a bit. Daniel Craig has this lovely roughness around the edges. His face is lined and creased in all the right places and you get this sense that here is a person who has lived through more than you would ever see in a dozen lifetimes. He sets his jaw, and you just know that he’s got what it takes to get the job done, no matter what that job is… BUT… you also get an impression that even though he’s a hardened killing machine, somewhere deep inside, down at the bottom of the two deep wells that are those shockingly blue eyes, there’s something incredibly tender there. The film plays this out a bit. I won’t go into details or spoilers, but I will say, it’s worth seeing. I’d see it again, if only to stare into those beautiful eyes a few more times.