Monday, April 16, 2012

Half of learning how to play is learning what not to play

Staying focused when the pressure's on

I flourish under a looming deadline -- an attribute (I hesitate to call it a skill, per se) that has served me very, very well as an academic. As I age though, I find I don't particularly like this about myself very much anymore. It's part of what I'm working to adjust with the whole change mumbo-jumbo I've been on about in my last few blogs: planfully and intentionally shifting around the parts of my life over which I have some measure of control so that I don't live in "go" mode. Because frankly, living there as I have for the past 8-9 years will kill me eventually. And I really like living.

Functioning well in "go" has it's utility though, particularly when you work in a field where you must be responsive to the literally on-a-dime evolving needs of multiple constituencies. Reminding myself daily to seek balance in all things, but if I'm honest, I'm working really hard to level up. Is it obvious I haven't yet worked out the boundaries on just exactly how I'm going to do both? ;)

Oblique Strategies

Friends and collaborators Brian Eno (electronica musician) and Peter Schmidt (painter) have worked creatively together for years. Over their long friendship, the two realized that they shared a very similar approach to working through "roadblocks" to productivity. Both "tend[ed] to keep a set of basic working principles on hand which guided them through the kinds of moments of pressure - either working through a heavy painting session or watching the clock tick while you're running up a big buck studio bill. Both Schmidt and Eno realized that the pressures of time tended to steer them away from the ways of thinking they found most productive when the pressure was off. The Strategies were, then, a way to remind themselves of those habits of thinking - to jog the mind." (source + more info)

I've been known to seek out the deck for a kickstart when what I'm working on is creative in some way. And I'm perennially (delightedly!) surprised by how frequently my work in higher education falls under that general banner. Consider checking them out sometime.

half of learning how to play is learning what not to play
and she's learning the spaces she leaves have their own things to say
and she's trying to sing just enough so that the air around her moves
and make music like mercy that gives what it is and has nothing to prove
she crawls out on a limb and begins to build her home
and it's enough just to look around and know she's not alone

- Ani DiFranco "up up up up up up", Title track of the album of the same name (1999)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Be brave, dear one. Be ye changed or be ye undone.

Some roles we choose. Others are ours outside of our own selecting and become something to manage, which includes living with the ramifications if we choose not to engage. And of course, sometimes not engaging or constraining the boundaries is the healthy choice.

Probably too thorny a thing to be thinking about when I'm sleep-deprived. My sleep's a bit disrupted at the moment and this Monday morning I'm up at 3am when I should be resting for the start of another work week.

Kurt Lewin's heuristic for human behavior identifies it as a function of an individual's personhood AND his/her environment.

One role I'm thrilled and enchanted by every day? Pet carer-for. Pet steward? I don't know what term works best, but "pet owner" just isn't it; I don't "own" my pets. It's my privilege to care for, support and share my life with them.

Be brave, dear one
Be ye changed or be ye undone, undone
It's so hard, it's so heavy
To be hungry, to be happy
It's all right, it's so easy just to be
Oh God, what would you do with me?
Oh God, what's my responsibility?
- My Brightest Diamond (aka Shara Worden), "Be Brave" from All Things Will Unwind (2011)

Monday, April 2, 2012

Now I'm ready to start

My new personal anthem, from 3:02 especially. Funny, when this latest Arcade Fire album was released -- and then, IMHO, went on to hold its own as the best of last year -- this track didn't really strike a cord with me. It sure does now.

After some serious reflection, I'm shifting some life stuff around and (re)starting a few new things lately. Perhaps partially motivated by a perfectly glorious transition into spring and all the new life cropping up around me. Spring also means reading poetry for me, a habit I picked up a few years ago from a friend who discovered that the genre of literature he reads tends to shift with the seasons. Yesterday, I revisited an old Mary Oliver favorite and I think it mighta contributed a bit, as well.

I think larger though, I've run the gamut on thinking and considering and weighing and what-if-ing and its simply time to do, move, change. Feels good to have come to this point, but personal transitions have always been a little bit of a stumbling block for me. Helping people come to and navigate change for themselves, I'm your girl; change for myself, less simple. Classic perfectionism. Gotta genetic predisposition for it, which has plausibly been further amplified by reading too much. And having bright friends who have and share all manner of alternative perspectives to be considered.

So the adage goes, "change is a constant." Today, I'm feeling strong and ready.

Listening > Hearing
There's a huge distinction between perceiving sound waves as they interact with the structures of your inner ear and the focused attention, discernment and receptiveness required to really LISTEN. My job requires that I engage in empathic listening about 80% of my day, everyday. In my current role, a fair bit of that happens via email, which is fraught with the peril of being bereft of all the nonverbal communication behind the words and requires a lot of restatement/paraphrasing, checking for understanding and asking of follow up questions. Regardless if the communication is face-to-face or virtual, it takes a lot of energy to do this well and it can be frankly exhausting. I've heard/read compelling arguments that truly great listeners are born not made, but as with any physical training, in time your body does become increasingly more efficient and the act can come to be "second nature" -- something that you can engage in with virtual effortlessness for extended periods, provided you've got the right conditions (rest, energy, support, training, time/release from other obligations, etc). I've been spending time with a colleague who's still working on this stamina for herself, and it's reminding me just how life-changing, even UNIVERSE-changing honing this skill was for me, for others I've known. It absolutely changed my life (positively) and so I find it invigorating to see it happening for someone else.

Regarding listening -- one of my favorite moments from the 1994 Quentin Tarantino film Pulp Fiction:

Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) to Vincent Vega (John Travolta): "In conversation, do you listen or do you wait to talk?"

Vincent: "I have to admit that I wait to talk, but I'm working on listening."

Would that we were all so self-aware and open as Vincent. ;) Peace, puppy kisses and happy spring to all reading these words.

Now I'm ready to start
I would rather be wrong
Than live in the shadows of your song
My mind is open wide
And now I'm ready to start

Now I'm ready to start
My mind is open wide
Now I'm ready to start
Not sure you'll open the door
To step out into the dark
Now I'm ready!

- Arcade Fire "Ready to Start" from The Suburbs (2011)