After Effects.

So, after listing out a bunch of things I’m interested in learning, I settled on After Effects. That’s what I’m most interested in right now, so that’s what I’m going to work on.

And after watching a bunch of tutorial videos tonight, may I stop for a moment and say: I love Seriously. What a great service. I feel so lucky to have spent some time working there. Everyone I met there is passionate and dedicated and they do an amazing job producing the best software and skills training I’ve ever seen on the web.

Not to sound too much like a commercial, but one member sent us a testimonial that said it was like plugging into the Matrix, and I think that’s about right.

Anyway… After Effects. We’ll see where this goes.

It’s November 2. What do you want to learn today?

If you stop learning, you start dying. A little bit at a time. Not super noticeable at first, but eventually it’ll kill you.

I think I’ve gotten lazy lately. Not, like, super lazy… but kinda lazy. I haven’t been learning very much. Yes, yes, I’m still playing the viola, and I’m still learning, still getting better, so that’s good. But in terms of work projects—learning new techniques and tools and ways to create the work that I have to produce… I haven’t done any of that in a while now. There’s so much going on, that it’s easy to just say, “later”. I’ll learn that later. I’ll try that later. I’ll do that later.

But “later” never really gets here.

Sometimes at work, when someone asks me to do something, and I just start doing it right then, they seem baffled for a minute. I’ve told people before that there are two times I do things, and I can either do it “right now”, or “not at all”. While that’s a little bit exaggerated, it’s really not *that* much of a stretch. How many things do I feel like I’m kind of, sort of, maybe planning to do, possibly in a month, maybe in 6 months, maybe next year?

It’s a lot. And I think it’s time for me to take stock of those things, count them all up, maybe write them on papers, pick the one (or two) that I’m going to do RIGHT NOW, and then rip up all the rest and free myself from the “could’ve would’ve should’ve”. It’s not like I won’t have ideas later, about what I should be, could be, maybe might be wanting to do later. If it’s a good idea, it will come back. But I think tonight I’m going to release myself from the guilt, and get back the focus that comes from having real projects and goals that I’m working on RIGHT NOW.

Hey. Guess what? It’s November.

It’s November now. Suddenly. And I find myself this morning, sitting here at my desk, thinking, “I can’t believe October went by so fast.” Truly, it feels like it just… *poof*! Disappeared. Flung itself headlong right off the edge of a cliff. Vanished, leaving nothing but a puff of pumpkin spice behind.

I love October. It’s probably my favorite month. This year, I remember waking up on the first day of October—it felt like a big breath of fresh air when it finally arrived. When I realized it was October, and I took in that first lungfull of “crisp October morning”, something in my chest just opened right up. In that moment, I felt like somehow, everything would be all right.

So… it’s been a really, *really* great year. I have found myself truly happy, in some ways that I didn’t even know I could *be* happy. But the thing is, often when I’m feeling happiest, that’s the time that I’m most likely to find myself thinking about loss and sadness. When I’m happy, I often think about time passing, about the ending of whatever wonderful experience I’m having. When I’m with my loved ones, I hold them close and I think about the inevitability of death, and I wonder how soon it’s coming for them, for me. I worry about car accidents and cancer and even more mundane things like changing life circumstances that cause friendships to fade. And so, this year, with so much happiness, I’ve also had a lot more thoughts about sadness. It’s been interesting and strange.

But October, with its coolness and its morning sunlight that is somehow bright without being harsh… something about it invites you to put on a fuzzy jacket, snuggle up in a blanket, be cozy and comfortable and warm with the people you love, and for a moment, maybe not worry so much about things like that, and instead just enjoy the sound of the leaves rustling, and the feeling of being snuggled up together on an October day.

I feel like I needed October in order to be ready for November, ready for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays that are coming so soon now. That breath, after summer, and before the winter. I’m glad I got to feel that October air this year.

And with that, Happy November, everyone.


Episode 870: A single ticket, to a singular performance.


Buying single occasionally affords the luxury of a seat that would ordinarily be unavailable when purchasing mere days before the concert. A pair of tickets on the front row? Impossible. But a single ticket… well… a single ticket can linger, passed over by pairs and partners, awaiting purchase by the solitary concertgoer.

It was through a single ticket purchase that I ended up on the front row of an incredible performance tonight. It began with a Mozart oboe quartet. Three musicians in black. One musician, the oboist, in a sapphire blue, floor-length gown. Her blond hair and fair skin offset by the brilliant blue of her dress, she was at once both elegant and powerful. Out of thin air with her breath and fingers, she created one beautiful, soaring line after another. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand after each movement, handling this little necessity with grace and precision. The purity of the music stood out in stark contrast to the mechanics of its creation—that human imperfection that ultimately underlies all great art.

Brandenburg #5 was played by seven musicians. Six with black shoes, one with brown. Five pairs of black shoes had wide, flat soles. One pair of black shoes had pointy ends. The shoes had their own conversations throughout the music. Sometimes they were quiet and still. Sometimes one shoe would move with a nervous energy, half tapping with the beat. The brown shoes lifted up onto the toes throughout the piece, the heels rising up off the floor in parallel with the musical line. At the end, all the shoes lined up together, a job well done. The audience applauded.

After intermission, a Brahms piano quintet. Specifically, the Brahms piano quintet in F Minor, Op. 34. This is a piece that’s special to me. I played the fourth movement as a young (but still older than everybody else) musician during the Sacramento Youth Symphony’s summer chamber music camp. It was an incredible experience, and one that I still remember. I believe the violinist in my group was about 10 years old, and the cellist was maybe 11. As a 17-year-old I remember feeling like I stuck out a little bit, being so much older than the others… but they were wonderful musicians. And we played together brilliantly. That experience, that odd little group of kids who came together to play some of the most incredible music on earth, that was special. And to hear it tonight, played by my professor, felt like a kind of a “return”. A return to something, somewhere near the center… this part of me that was there when I was 17 and is still there now. After all this time, after all these years. A gift to be shared and strengthened, a light in the dark night and a compass that calls me home… I felt it tonight. I carry it with me always. I have carried it and I carry it still. It will be with me when I drift off to sleep tonight, and it will be there when I wake. Because it’s part of me.

“Don’t take this the wrong way…”

I’m working on a piece right now that I just love. It’s the Romance by Max Bruch. It’s an enchanting piece—a warm, romantic, dynamic viola rises up over a rich orchestral backdrop for about ten minutes of awesome. It brings everything that’s great about the viola right to the surface. The sensuality, the richness and depth and sensitivity. In a way, I’ve been preparing for this ten minutes for about 25 years. In a more immediate way, I’ve been preparing the piece for about 5 or 6 weeks now, and it has quickly become one of my absolute favorites.

Those of you who know me well (all three of you who are reading this), will know that I’ve been working with a master viola teacher—truly, a master—for the past three years. (See this post.) As much as I enjoy writing, I honestly don’t have words to express what it means to me that this man was willing to take me on as a student, to believe in me, to push me past what I thought were my limits, until I’m playing music that I never in a hundred, hundred years would have believed I could play. Incredible. What an amazing thing it has been and continues to be. This week, after playing the first page, he stopped me, smiled, and said these words:

“Don’t take this the wrong way… but you sound like a damned viola player.”

I can’t think of any other comment that I’ve ever received that has meant as much to me as that one. After all these years, after the meandering, wandering, winding path I’ve taken to find my way back to this instrument that I started playing when I was 10 years old… hearing those words made me want to sit on the floor and cry, in a good way. For years, deep down inside me, there has been this dark terror—a terrible fear that I won’t make it. That I will never be a “real” musician, that I had my chance and I missed it, and I might as well quit now before I embarrass myself. I’ve been with my teacher for three years now, and the dark places in the back of my mind are still terrified that I won’t be able to make any more progress, or that I’ll be too slow, or too weak, and that one day he won’t want to teach me anymore… that thought is crushing. For the most part, I’m able to shut out those voices in my head, and practice anyway, and get on with the work. But the fear is real—and letting go of fear is hard. Those words, “you sound like a damned viola player”, unlocked something inside me. It felt like I was able to let the light in for a minute, to allow the idea that maybe, just maybe, I really can do this. And all those voices in my head are wrong.

Making great music, great art of any kind, is hard. You put so much of yourself into it, and then you kneel and bow your head, and hold your arms out and offer your art to the world. Sometimes, the world is cruel. Comments and criticism can cut deep, and it can be hard to keep going. Good criticism is vital to making great art, but it takes patience, kindness, and a keen mind to offer the kind of commentary that can actually make someone’s art better instead of tearing it down. It’s Thanksgiving this week. And this Sunday evening, I’m feeling thankful that for three years now, not only have I had a voice telling me the kinds of things I need to hear in order to make great music, but that voice has also been telling me that my music is worth making. I’m almost starting to believe it. And that is worth more to me than I can say. Honestly.