Someone once told me he never promised me a rose garden, quoting the Joanne Greenberg book. He also advised me to be committed every day to keep going, no matter how bad things get (his exact words were more colorful, which I would repeat if I were talking to you on the phone, in person, or not writing on such a public forum). Words possess power. A kind word or maybe some salient sage life instructions, like these from a trusted advisor, might resonate in our minds a lifetime, as do the harsh remarks from bullies or an offhand remark from a generally well meaning teacher or friend as well. It is difficult to be vigilant all the time, to avoid the occasional careless comment which might strike down a fragile ego. We are all guilty of occasionally being inconsiderate or unkind, usually when we are experiencing a painful hurt or feeling internal turbulence within ourselves. With those in our immediate circle we can recognize our transgression and apologize, but, if the comment is overheard by a passerby, the damage is irrevocable. Someone I knew once shouted an inappropriately critical remark at a music school window where a soprano was rehearsing. He felt remorse for his comment which cannot be undone. As a singer and pianist, I know rehearsal sounds do not always meet the aesthetic that the repetitive, deliberate practice aims to attain as the final product. And we all feel fragile when rehearsing or performing as we participate in a very personal exposure, especially in voice.
In this essay I publicly apologize for any hurtful comments I might have made in passing or otherwise; they were unintentional, I promise. I try to be kind and supportive always, but I am human and with that life sentence carries the flaws and imperfections of my affliction.
I have always been mired in existential doubt and confusion. It makes making decisions a little tricky because I place so much gravity on even the simplest of choices, such as what on my agenda to tackle first. I completed two contradictory essays on whether it is better to live a life scripted by a disciplined routine or whether to follow a life of passionate determination, sloughing the Spartan robes of rules and discipline intended for soldiers rather than scientists or artists. The question is, do we rule the rules we construct for ourselves or do the rules rule us? In each essay I presented arguments, one to be guided by goals and measured work, the other to be ruled by passion, working in tempestuous energetic bursts. Due to variations in my mood which often leave me feeling depleted and unmotivated, I have worked most of my life via cramming intensely followed by restless days of trying, yet failing, to be productive. I have a hunch that if I committed to a routine despite the moody pitfalls in my daily constitution, my emotional stability would improve, and I would feel more productive. Also, I came to the conclusion recently that our identities are comprised of our actions and words. I have felt a little lost recently as I have spent my time doing physics for the last decades of my life and do little of it now, though it shapes my perspective, my world, and how I think. But I can sculpt a new identity by the fruitful investment of my time in my writing and music, and yes, in some research. It is bizarre. I have written extensively my entire life, for example performing to the entire third grade a play I wrote about three sentient squabbling cats and writing a novella at age 17 in addition to writing almost daily in short stories, poems, longer works such as my novel, and diaries as soon as I could write. Yet writing never formed part of my identity. I did it because I had to. Like breathing. Not because it was a choice. Do you consider breathing part of your identity? What do you do without a choice?
It is strange what we consciously consider as our identity. If we possess a disability or illness, that likely makes up part of who we are. But we don’t often include possessing sight or the parts of us that are healthy and normal as constituents of our identity. I likely think our identity is a complex collection of our actions, mirrored opinions of others, and our own perception, which may or may not reflect reality. In effect, our own self image and imagined identities might contain some fantasy and fiction.
I never promised you a rose garden. Your struggles, whatever they may be, are yours and part of your life and who you are. As my advisor prescribed, stay committed to surviving your struggles. You can’t control many of the harmonies which compose your life, but think about the actions which you can control which might backreact (that is a physics term for when some object influences its background) and add more desirable melodies. We are the authors of our lives. Sometimes we might choose to alter our courses. Sometimes an event in life will alter our courses for us. We take our previous histories with us as we write our new chapters and forge new layers to our identities. Act kindly and gently, for everyone you meet is suffering her own challenges.
I have read some advice by writers who say you should write every day, even when you are not inspired. It is the same as your job. You don’t do your job just when you feel like it but are disciplined to do it every day. I learned this from a quote from a video interviewing the ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov. He worked at his art every day, even saying to himself, that you like this job repeatedly. In the interview he stressed the value of a routine, doing your work even when you have a cold or don’t feel like it. This principle applies to scientific or mathematical research as well as music. There is a reason why there are so many sayings about practice. “Practice makes perfect.” “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.” To take care of yourself, you brush your teeth every day, sleep, eat and hopefully exercise. You perform these activities whether or not you feel like it to nourish your body and mind. I think a lot of learning the art of living is about learning how to take care of yourself and others, about how to nourish mentally. I am learning from my interviews with writers for Wellesley Underground that writing, like any job, is hard too. I never promised you a rose garden.
My goal is to try, for a change, to live with less spontaneity and chaos. To try it with commitment for a week and see what progress I can make on my new novels and music preparation, which would backreact to feeling less like an impostor in these worlds. To use the Ten Minute Rule. Despite my impassioned essay espousing a lifestyle imbued with passionate pursuits dictated by internal propulsion and an inner flame, I have concluded that a daily regimen is likely to get the job done, such as music exam preparation and completing more novels, so long as flexibility is made available for some passionate obsessive sidetracks into a final push, reading or writing poetry, daydreaming, looking at the clouds and nature, and wondering.
I will try this new regimen. I have already tried it for three successful days. I wish you committed actions to cope with your struggles and send you all my compassion in your challenges and writing your stories. And expand your universe. You likely possess beautiful aspects of your identity which you have not explored by your actions.
How will you write your story for the next week?