This Explains a LOT

21 10 2012

By Julia Indigo/@juliaindigo

Tonight I discovered Cal Newport’s blog, Study Hacks, and while more than one post resonated with me, this one hit me in the stomach. It concerns the decision of a world-class chess master, Ken Rogoff, to give up chess and become an economist.

Money quote:

[A]t graduate school he became convinced that dividing his attention meant that both his chess and his economics were suffering. He had to make a decision. [He chose economics.] “Part of my strategy of moving on was to give it up completely. I don’t play chess casually…Not unless it’s incredibly rude to decline playing.”

In other words, if you want to be the best at something, you’re more likely to succeed if you cut off other distracting interests.

As I said, it hit me in the stomach, because I’m a jack of all trades, still trying to make my mark at 55, while remaining unable (unwilling?) to risk doing one thing incredibly well.

Then I read this from Michael Nielsen in the comments to a different post, this one:

On a very closely related note, here’s a great story about the world’s leading string theorist, Ed Witten, as told by a grad school friend of Witten’s (source:http://www.colby.edu/colby.mag/issues/84n3/ivory.html )

“How long will you need to find your truest, most productive niche? This I cannot predict, for, sadly, access to a podium confers no gift of prophecy. But I can say that however long it takes, it will be time well spent. I am reminded of a friend from the early 1970s, Edward Witten. I liked Ed, but felt sorry for him, too, because, for all his potential, he lacked focus. He had been a history major in college, and a linguistics minor. On graduating, though, he concluded that, as rewarding as these fields had been, he was not really cut out to make a living at them. He decided that what he was really meant to do was study economics. And so, he applied to graduate school, and was accepted at the University of Wisconsin. And, after only a semester, he dropped out of the program. Not for him. So, history was out; linguistics, out; economics, out. What to do? This was a time of widespread political activism, and Ed became an aide to Senator George McGovern, then running for the presidency on an anti-war platform. He also wrote articles for political journals like the Nation and the New Republic. After some months, Ed realized that politics was not for him, because, in his words, it demanded qualities he did not have, foremost among them common sense. All right, then: history, linguistics, economics, politics, were all out as career choices. What to do? Ed suddenly realized that he was really suited to study mathematics. So he applied to graduate school, and was accepted at Princeton. I met him midway through his first year there–just after he had dropped out of the mathematics department. He realized, he said, that what he was really meant to do was study physics; he applied to the physics department, and was accepted.
I was happy for him. But I lamented all the false starts he had made, and how his career opportunities appeared to be passing him by. Many years later, in 1987, I was reading the New York Times magazine and saw a full-page picture akin to a mug shot, of a thin man with a large head staring out of thick glasses. It was Ed Witten! I was stunned. What was he doing in the Times magazine? Well, he was being profiled as the Einstein of his age, a pioneer of a revolution in physics called “String Theory.” Colleagues at Harvard and Princeton, who marvelled at his use of bizarre mathematics to solve physics problems, claimed that his ideas, popularly called a “theory of everything,” might at last explain the origins and nature of the cosmos. Ed said modestly of his theories that it was really much easier to solve problems when you analyzed them in at least ten dimensions. Perhaps. Much clearer to me was an observation Ed made that appeared near the end of this article: every one of us has talent; the great challenge in life is finding an outlet to express it. I thought, he has truly earned the right to say that. And I realized that, for all my earlier concerns that he had squandered his time, in fact his entire career path–the ventures in history, linguistics, economics, politics, math, as well as physics–had been rewarding: a time of hard work, self-discovery, and new insight into his potential based on growing experience.”

I look back at some of the stuff that I’ve busied myself with while continuing to work as a musician: astrology, tarot, religious studies, weaving, knitting, acupuncture, herbology, the Spanish and Japanese languages… all the while dealing with chronic depression, anxiety, and undiagnosed sleep apnea. I’ve not mastered any of the above… but I’m pretty good at all of it.

All this life experience is folded into writing – the one form of self-expression that encompasses it all.

Am I back? We’ll see!

Advertisements




July 8 Row80 Update

8 07 2012

By Julia Indigo/@juliaindigo

I cannot believe that the first week of round three is already over. Let’s see how I did with my goals this time.

They fall into four categories:

Business: Completely redo my business website, including adding a wordpress blog.

Nothing. Nada. I haven’t even plotted out what all I need to do for this. Next week!

Creative: Finish HIS ORIGINAL SIN, and get it to beta readers by the end of August.

I am 99% finished with my synopsis, which I needed to complete in order to organize Steven’s life into three acts. I still don’t know what my opening is, but I have a better idea of that than I did this time last week. I hope to get the synopsis to Ali and Sally for their perusal within 10 days. Hopefully feedback from these amazing writer grrrlfriends will help point me in a positive direction.

I have finally some writing and editing of various scenes in the book. However, I still have some scenes to write, so my first draft is technically not complete at this time.

Creative:  Restart work on my second WIP, last year’s Nanowrimo novel.

Though I have had some idle thoughts about the Umgonnan, this is on hold until I finish my WIP.

Creative:  Get started on my Halloween costume.

Daily life: Finish losing that twenty pounds.

More like “Re-start losing the twenty pounds”. Yeah, I gained back three of the four that I’d lost from June, mostly due to my audition adventures. No worries, I’d fallen off the diet wagon for my food addiction of choice: sweets. I’m now on day three of a quasi-Paleolithic/South Beach-style diet. The sugar/sweets cravings have been horrible, but I know that if I persevere they will lessen, soon.

Daily life: Practice every day.

This is coming along! I’m excited about it, especially Mozart.

Daily life: Continue my Better Life Habits™ from last round (exercising, house cleaning, dog grooming).

Definitely on the right track here. Enough said!

Platform building: Continue blogging three times a week: Row80 update on Sunday, Tuesday Quotes on Tuesday (Duh!), third blogpost later in the week.

I heart blogging. This is not much of a problem for me right now, especially since I have more time in the summer. I have a list of blogposts scheduled, up to August in the case of my Tuesday Quotes series.

One thing on my to-do list is to come up with a blogroll for this blog’s sidebar. I have a handful of must-read blogs in a couple of categories that I want to share with the world.

Platform building: Be on twitter, and comment on at least one blog every day.

Twitter is my nemesis! I’m not enjoying it at all recently, since I haven’t been doing much #wordmongering. I will be getting back to that, especially since I’m almost done with the WIP’s synopsis. I’ll be back to straightforward writing soon. I miss my wordmongering buddies!

Then there’s the blogging community. I have been frustrated by the WordPress reader. I prefer for my subbed blogs to show up in my live.com email feed, and recently when you click ‘follow’ on someone’s WP blog, it sends it to the Reader instead of your email like before. I haven’t found an easy way to get to my subscription lists/options, either.

Platform building: Including platform building for my business.

Nothing happening here. ::rolls eyes:: Next week!

Tomorrow I’m having a face-to-face with the awesome Ginger Calem! She will be the fourth area writer that I’ve connected with in meatspace, and I am so psyched! I met her through Sally Driscoll (her link is above), and we’ve been Facebooking for many weeks. We planned to meet last month, but I had a bit of a detour that kept me busy.

There is noting like sitting down with a cuppa and chatting with another writer. If I thought that writing was fulfilling, the connection with other writers makes writing even more so. Facebooking, blogging, etc is a great way to connect with writers across the globe, but face-to-face is the best. I hope that I’m able to take in some of the area writing conferences in the next couple of years, and look up even more of my internet writer friends.

How was your week? Is your summer going well? Or, for you Southern Hemisphere folks, how’s winter coming along? If you’re interested in what other people are doing for Row80, you can find more Row80 updates here.





Sharp Left Turn on the Road of Life

15 06 2012

By Julia Indigo/@juliaindigo

Just when I thought that I had all my Row80 ducks in a row, life gives me lemons. Oh, wait. ::grins::

Yes, I’m a professional musician – it’s my bread and butter.

 

Since the Recession of 2008 it has been thin sliced white bread with margarine – many symphonies have undergone difficulties during this time. Our orchestra declared bankruptcy in 2003 before returning in 2004, so the lean times have been with us even longer.

In the meantime I’ve done myriad things to keep body and soul together, but I recently learned of an opportunity to audition for another orchestra: the Piccolo Chair.

The chances of me winning this audition are slim, even though I’m quite talented. First: it’s been years since I’ve taken an audition, and auditioning is an art unto itself. The more you take, the better you get at it (hopefully, that is). Second: According to the conventional wisdom, auditioning is a young person’s game. I’m fifty-four. That in itself makes it very unlikely that I would be hired, even if I was the ‘best’ player that day. Third: It’s in two weeks, and I just pulled out the excerpts and started to practice on Monday. You read that right. On Monday.

I thought that I wasn’t going to take it, mostly because getting ready for an audition is bloody awful. I absolutely HATE the preparation for an audition: the same X number of orchestral excerpts that I’ve practiced off and on for over thirty years – and they still aren’t perfected (that’s how tricky they are). Not to mention the same solo concerto. (Here’s an AWESOME performance of the one I’m working on. That guy makes me want to cry. He’s amazing.) I have places to go, people to see, A NOVEL TO WRITE… but I found a way (via my Parental Units’ ™ Reward Points) to take the audition for free. How can I not do it? I have no excuse for not practicing – right now my time is my own.

Generally speaking, people will prepare for an audition like this for two-three months. My audition time is June 25th during the 10 am hour. Needless to say, I’m excited. Can I do this? More importantly, can I do this DIFFERENTLY than I’ve ever prepared for an audition before? In the past I ended up tied in knots, and even though I mostly made it to the final round, I didn’t win. I’ve been in the finals/runner up more times than I can remember, for great orchestras: Philly, Boston, Cincy, Dallas, Los Angeles. Orchestras where people make in the six figures.

But this isn’t a six-figure orchestra. That’s fine: it’s still twice what I make here.

The upshot? Row80 goals are out the window. I need my hands for the piccolo this week, and next. I’ll be back for the July 2 opening of Round 3: Row80, the 2012 Edition.





Row80 update 6/3/12: I’ve been bad!

3 06 2012

Sort of, that is. Last Sunday I simply couldn’t bring myself to write an update for row80. I had company, so I gave myself permission to skip a week.

To recap the last two weeks: two weekends of amazing concerts, one with our usual guy, the other with the amazing Cristian Maselaru, who stepped in at the last minute for Alondra de la Parra. I would make a comment on the orchestra’s reaction to the substitution, but let’s just say that we can’t wait to see Cristian again.

As far as creative goals, they are blossoming. Here’s my word count.

TOTAL FOR THE WEEK: 5/13-5/19: 6611 

TOTAL FOR THE WEEK: 5/20-5/26: 933

TOTAL FOR THE WEEK: 5/27-6/2: 3416 

Again, it’s obvious when I had company. Late last week I started working on my synopsis, so much of the 34k words was on that. In writing the synopsis I’ve inadvertently done a large amount of plotting and macro editing – I don’t know how many words/scenes I’ve ditched in the meantime, but I’m sure that the WIP’s 116k has been trimmed significantly. I’m aiming for 85k total (and yes, I pulled that total out of my behind), and I’m 90% settled on a title: HIS ORIGINAL SIN. The macro editing has resulted in more shaping of the complete manuscript, with inserted ‘Soliloquies’ in the voice of a couple of important characters. It’s turning into an opera, with the Intermezzi and Entr’actes. Oh! Maybe I should stick with the opera meme and call them ‘Arias’. Hmmm…

My other creative work is at a standstill: no knitting, no mask-making, no practicing. That last bit will change this week. More on that another time.

In the Better Life Habits category, I’ve averaged 112-115 minutes of walking per week. That’s not enough, but given that it’s already summer in South Texas (and bloody HOT), I’m more-or-less satisfied with this. I’m looking into other exercise programs for the summer, after encountering a retired female neighbor who has abs of steel. Me?

Abs of flab. Ahem.

As far as generic household habits, they are coming along much better. Sort of. Actually, it varies from day to day.

Social Media = FAIL.

I missed last week’s check in, I didn’t write a third blogpost (though I have a backlog of Tuesday quotes posts, so I’m keeping up with that.) Between the end of the symphony season, my guest, and the dog being sick (she’s better), I let blogging slide. I did have a last-minute meetup with Ali Dent last week, so my 1x/month get together with writer friends happened, even though we thought it wouldn’t. Yes! And there are plans for more meetups in June, stay tuned for that. My plan is to finish the synopsis and get it to my writing partners for their critique, then finish the first draft – I have a few more scenes to write. Then comes printing out the WIP, and doing a major edit/re-write. My goal? Have it ready for beta readers in August.





A Dancing Star

29 05 2012

 

I say to you, on must have chaos in oneself in order to give birth to a dancing star.  – Friedrich Nietsche

A well-known quote by a well-known writer. Whatever you may think of Nietsche, his life is the perfect illustration of his quote.

And who among us doesn’t feel that we have chaos within ourselves? Perhaps there is someone somewhere who can’t identify with that sense. I certainly do. I remember when I found this quote the first time. I had been in therapy for a while, digging deep into my own internal chaos. The combination of depression, anxiety, repression, and codependency felt bottomless at the time – though, of course, it wasn’t. I thought that I was broken. I wasn’t. I was discovering my own humanity.

This quote gave me the hope that someday I would birth that dancing star. And looking back, it seems that I have… or am… or will. Which reminds me of the notion that time is what keeps things from happening all at once. Wait, what?!

[Backspace. I don’t want to go there right now! I don’t have the time to delve into Quantum Mechanics, the Arrow of Time, and everything else that goes into that thought!]

Where was I? Oh yeah.

Do you want to be famous? I have. Or I do. Hard to say, but fame has always been part of my fantasy world. Because if you’re famous, then you must matter, right? Yeah, I know, that doesn’t follow. But to Younger Julia it does, and she wants to matter more than anything. So the quote also hooks me that way. “I have Chaos in me! I’m a-gonna be a Dancin’ STAR!” (said with my best fake-Texan accent.)

Truth be told, we all have within us the potential to be that Dancing Star. Some people will never meet that potential, whether through fear, degrading life circumstance, or other inhibiting factors. Perhaps that Dancing Star is simply the Spark of the Divine within.

What do you think? Do we all have that potential? Do you want to be famous, a well-known Dancing Star? Does this quote appeal to you, or make you shudder? Let me know in the comments!

(Picture of datura bud from here.)





In which I Write: Row80 Update

20 05 2012

By Julia Indigo/@juliaindigo

 

What. A. Week. Work was absolutely insane this week. We had about 20% more services (that’s orchestra-speak for a rehearsal or a concert), and we’re not done yet – there is a concert this afternoon. At Saturday morning’s rehearsal I experienced something new: sore shoulders from so much playing. It’s not unusual for me to feel pain when playing, it’s a legacy of decades of work as a musician. But most often the pain is in my hands or arms. I suppose this is a good thing, since I’m using my hands so much more for writing… though I need to figure out what to do about getting the Dragon on one of my computers to save my hands.

I was under a tremendous amount of pressure at work on Tuesday, and on Wednesday my writing productivity took off like a rocket. Being a geek, I set up a spreadsheet to keep track of my daily/weekly word count and minutes of exercise back in the last week of January 2012. Given my various health issues, I had a huge slump in Feb/Mar/Apr, which I tried to not beat myself up about. My best week was the first one in which I was keeping records: I wrote 5934 words the last week of Jan, and I never came close to approaching that word count again. Then, last week: BOOM. 6611 words, between the WIP and blogging, and that during a very busy week!

Yesterday I took the day off, or rather, I had to take the day off. Between the morning rehearsal and evening concert I took a nap – because I woke up at 5 am and couldn’t go back to sleep for worrying. That’s really unusual for me, but I got my mojo back by evening. I now have big plans for June. More on that some other time.

As far as my other Row80 goals, it was a mixed bag. My Better Life Habits were both better and worse – I allowed myself to slack off with the kitchen just a bit, and the bathroom is still a science experiment, but I’m shutting off lights and closing cabinets, making the bed, and brushing the dog. I walked almost every day, and spent quality time with the dog.

 

Crafty stuff is off the map, somewhere in “Here Be Dragons” territory – IOW, no time or inclination to do anything with that. I haven’t been practicing that much, either, but with all the writing I’ve been doing I count the Creativity part of my goals as successful.

 

My Social Media goals are coming along really well. I’m closing in on 800 followers on Twitter, and have been #wordmongering with other writer tweeps several times. Not only that, but Ali and Sally and I managed to schedule a get together for tomorrow! We are all so busy that we thought that we might have to skip May, and I’m so glad that we found the time to meet! I also started a new blog series: Tuesday quotes, and have a couple of those in the pipeline, in addition to a third weekly TBD blogpost, and my Sunday Row80 check in.

On the personal side, my Mom and Dad did really well with their respective medical procedures last week. Dad had to have another two stents put in, and Mom’s cancer turned out to be Stage I, and the path report said that the margins were good, so all she needs is a bit of radiation therapy after her (second) lumpectomy. I’m so lucky to still have them!

One other thing: here is an interview with Barry Douglas, done by one or our classical music station’s announcers, John Clare. I thought you might like to hear what he had to say about our concert, our orchestra, and what he’s working on.





Inventing Characters

18 05 2012

By Julia Indigo/@juliaindigo

 

Exhibit A: Barry Douglas.

  1. Who is Barry Douglas, this guy from Northern Ireland with two first names? (He was our guest soloist/conductor two weeks ago. Please take the time to check out his website here.)
  2. And what does he have to do with inventing characters? (See below!)

Guest artists are a bit of a crap shoot. We musicians often suggest conductors and soloists to management – many of us play in other orchestras during the summer, and if someone makes a strong artistic impression, whether as a conductor or guest soloist, we are likely to bring them up to management. But it’s not our call who gets hired. That is a management priority, in consultation with the Music Director or Artistic Advisor. This is true all over the orchestral world. We staff musicians come to work, and deal with whatever management has cooked up for us. Sometimes it’s life-changing, other times… not.

Barry Douglas at the Piano

Barry Douglas at the Festival des Nuits Romantiques du Lac du Bourget à Aix-les-Bains – 2011

In the case of Douglas, we thought he was terrific. He’s the yin to our Music Director’s yang: his low-key rehearsal style was a breath of fresh air, as our Music Director is all sweaty intensity in rehearsal. Douglas was unfailingly polite, while our guy ripped a section of the orchestra a new one just this past Tuesday. Our Music Director can get carried away in performance, leaving us stranded, but Douglas kept his head. That’s one thing that I wish more conductors realized – we need them to remain somewhat apart from the emotion of the music, so they can be there for us, to help us when things go sideways, which they do from time to time. And things are more likely to come apart when the conductor doesn’t stay present, because that’s when they make mistakes. But I digress…

I listened to the concerto both nights, with Douglas conducting from the piano, and was mesmerized by the performance. At the piano, Douglas’ Mozart interpretation was unapologetically Romantic, and he drew a brilliant, yet silky sound from the Symphony’s grand piano (which usually sounds like heck). I was moved by the performance, and I liked how the orchestra sounded under his direction… if you can call it that. Far from the usual ‘conductor as metronomic time-keeper’, at times it was as though he was doing Tai Chi, hurling bolts of energy at the orchestra. I loved it! You never knew what was coming next, and that kept you on your toes. No sleeping through this Haydn symphony! It was straight-up collaboration – chamber music – rather than someone standing up in front of the orchestra, waving his/her arms around to impress the rubes in the box seats. (And yes, that definitely happens!)

If you checked out his website above, you know that he was the second non-Russian to win the Gold Medal in the Tchaikovsky competition outright, in 1986 – Van Cliburn was the first, in 1956. I bet you recognize Van Cliburn’s name, dont’cha? And I bet you’d recognize Douglas’ name, if he was an American. Such is the spin machine in the US – all you have to do is watch the coverage of the Olympics. If there’s not an American within medaling range, you don’t get to see the sport. But I digress (once again).

Barry Douglas and Van Cliburn before the judging of the 2011 Tchaikovsky contest. Douglas was on the jury.

As I sat in the hall, listening to the concerto, a thought occurred to me. Here’s this man: friendly, approachable, not an ounce of attitude or ego, Tchaikovsky contest winner, amazing musician, damned good-looking… and even though I have over thirty years in the music business, I’d not heard of him. He’s been living his life, traveling all over the world, playing concerts for decades, while I have made music here in Texas, and our lives intersected the first week of May, 2012.

Besides wondering how many other fascinating people are out there just waiting to be discovered, it occurred to me that when we writers encounter interesting people we may put them on the page, drawing forth details from our imagination a story at a time. We look for inspiration everywhere, and when we find it, we chew on it, toss it in a boiling pot or a quiet pond, and see what it becomes. I could easily conjure Douglas’ doppelganger if I had need for a concert pianist in a story/poem/novel. Take the talent, the looks, even some of the history (make sure that the character you invent is significantly different from the person in real life!) then go for broke: add in a couple of quirky habits, or a wandering eye, or a history of DUI. Bingo – I have the beginnings of a tale I can tell. That’s what we writers do – we invent remarkable people, give them problems, and stand back to see what they do on the page, how they react. Once I learned of a real life college professor, a scientist, a tall man, who had endured tragedy in his life. That was all I needed to come up with the seed that became Steven Canelli, the protagonist in my current work in progress. In the end, they are so different that no one would ever connect Canelli with that other man, the one who’s story grabbed my attention and didn’t let go. Even if that man were to read my book, he would have no inkling that his life inspired the tale.

What larger than life people have you been privileged to meet? What about them surprised you? Have you been inspired to riff on someone’s famous (or not so famous) persona, to flesh out a work in progress? Let me know in the comments!








%d bloggers like this: