Revisiting the same-but-not-boring
Old stuff, fresh eyes and mindset.
Howdy! Welcome back to Traipsing About, a newsletter about reclaiming creativity and ditching tired personal paradigms.
Today, I’m leading with wisdom that my friend Brandon shared with me.
You do not need to waste your time doing unnecessary and trifling things. You do not have to be rich. You do not need to seek fame or power. What you need is freedom, solidity, peace and joy. You need the time and energy to be able to share these things with others.
― Thích Nhất Hạnh, No Death, No Fear
Let’s get into it! First, a couple drawings.
This week on Reflecting About, Edition #117:
Riding the same trail again
How to evaluate character
Traipsing Tidbits: WWII forgery, water quality check, population visualization
ICYMI: last newsletter I covered the update on my Italian citizenship. (tl;dr it’s moving along!)
It’s not boring just because you’ve done it before
I clearly remember the first time I rode Tyler’s, a popular local bike trail. I walked some rocky uphill ramps, awkwardly landed jumps, and generally hacked my way down it like a noob.
I still had a hell of a fine time.
These days, I’ve ridden Tyler’s dozens of times and know every major feature. I fly down that sucker.
But is Tyler’s more fun, exciting or fulfilling now versus my first time?
In general, is there a way to develop appreciation and deeper comprehension rather than boredom for a repeated experience?
Travel to the same places. Hobbies we’ve done for years. Meals we’ve made for a decade.
Or piano pieces I play.
(YES. Brought it back to piano!)
Navigating the creative gamut
Like a new bike trail, the first time I play a piano piece my brain scrabbles to survive, jamming the notes into my brain. I’m walking rocky sections and taking in turns, one measure and phrase at a time.
Take Schubert’s Serenade, a song I’ve always loved that I started learning in December. In my initial efforts, I pushed through the technical challenges of the piece and could “play” it. Then I tabled it for month, letting the music sink into my synapses. Cue round two, with more nuance and expression…and yet I’m barely getting started.
Bridging that gap between what I CAN do and what I WANT to do is the hardest part. I listen to professional recordings and think, “yup, do that, fingers!” Then I sit down and create some monotone pabulum akin to playing bongo drums with wet laundry. *sigh*
Ok, maybe not that bad, but the gap between my expectations and my abilities is frustrating sometimes. Like some truculent kid, I want to play it like a pro, now now now!
After I turn my pre-frontal cortex back on, I can (usually) reframe things. Because truly, I find this so motivating: I’m going to grow not just with new pieces, but enjoy a deep satisfaction revisiting piano works for the rest of my life. Something fresh to discover, to experience.
And dang it, I AM making progress. Even if I’m roughly 9,000 hours shy of mastery, there’s magic in the journey and daily satisfaction in the learning. I don’t need to be pro to have fun. (Maybe it’s more fun not worrying about earning a living with it?)
Plus, pushing myself on challenging songs pushes me to greater heights on those I already play. It’s the same thing that happens when I ride technical trails on my bike. I may not slip effortlessly through the toughest moves, but that difficulty makes other trails feel even more cruisier in comparison.
As piano, as life
I love how this mindset so easily translates to other endeavors or pastimes. We’re different people when we revisit a city or national park, reread a book, or play an old song. Depth, additional context, a slower pace…it all modifies the experience and likely results in a deeper appreciation.
With all this in mind, I’m continuing to actively push myself to share not-perfect work like my beginner drawings and music recordings. (Sharing my writing on the blog was an early effort in that arena.) It’s tough because I want the work to be better, to make insane progress overnight. Sometimes I shake my head at how hard it is to take what’s in my brain and put it on paper or piano.
Whatever. There’s a reason every book on creativity decries perfectionism and Ira Glass from This American Life talks about “The Gap.” I’ll probably always find blemishes and wish-it-were-different aspects of ANYthing I create.
The good news? It creates constant motivation to keep improving, growing, seeking.
That’s a beautiful thing.
As for Schubert’s Serenade? Maybe it’s not perfect, but I recorded it (Youtube link) and hope it resonates deep in your core the same way it does mine. I’m looking forward to a lifetime of it evolving beneath my fingers.
And if I get frustrated, I can always go rip down Tyler’s on my mountain bike.
Techniques for evaluating character
Ted Gioia’s essay about techniques for evaluating character is full of excellent ideas for getting a sense of who someone really is. Some are age-old (can they listen? how do they treat service workers?), plus a few I’d never heard before:
Forget what they say; look at who they marry (or their longtime partner, or choice to be single). This choice exposes their own innermost longings, expectations, and needs. It tells you what they think of themselves, and what they think they deserve in life (or will settle for).
A CEO with a solid hiring track record who interviews people specifically about the first 20 years of their lives. People’s character and ability to handle challenges are almost entirely formed during the first two decades of their life. It’s an unusual case, he said, for people to change in any substantive way after that point—not impossible, but very rare.
Take a look at someone’s calendar and monthly budget to figure out their priorities. Forget what they say matters to them: how people invest their time and money is immensely revealing at a deep level. (How you get access to their Google Calendar or Mint account is another question…)
Traipsing About Tidbits
This powerful video of the WWII document forger who saved thousands of lives is amazing, as is the shadow art animation in it.
We checked our tap water quality with this free site from Environmental Working Group and found out we have 43x more arsenic than is good. Yes, I just installed a new water filter.
Everyone is talking about China’s upcoming loss of population (from 1.4B today to 800 million by 2100, whaaat!). Well, here’s what the world’s population currently looks like in neato chart form.
If you want to learn a language, speaking with someone is a WAY faster way to learn than Duolingo. I’m still using iTalki for Italian lessons and can’t recommend it enough for affordable virtual lessons with native speakers. (Not an ad, I just love it!)
Quote of the Week
Speaking of sharing work and not worrying about it, I dig this quote from mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell about not caring too much about what people think:
One should as a rule respect public opinion in so far as is necessary to avoid starvation and to keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny, and is likely to interfere with happiness in all kinds of ways.
You’ve reached the end of Traipsing About newsletter #117.
This week’s unsolicited advice: 1. stay out of prison 2. try new things. 3. revisit old things you enjoyed in the past and find their fresh facets.
‘Til next round, ciao. See you in two weeks!
Mozart (and I) appreciate you taking the time to read my newsletters. I always love to hear from you, so hit reply and send me an email if you feel so inclined. I read and respond to every one.
If you enjoy this newsletter, please forward to a friend. And if you’re that friend and want to subscribe, just hit the button below.