Days 10-14: Commitment. Expectation. Ritual.

Some weeks will overbalance. In those times you learn what will slip between the cracks.

This past week I learned that if I decide I’m clearing out all kitchen and bathroom cabinets in one go, writing probably won’t happen after work. Those trade-offs can be worth it, though. My kitchen cabinets are pretty fantastic and that lightens the mental load just enough that other work goes better. Hopefully. It’s early days yet.

Writing usually takes me longer than I would like to admit. It is usually a few hours, during which I am doing other work and periodically return to add more thoughts, then I edit. It’s rarely a one-shot thing unless I’ve got a pot of coffee next to me. I may even think of a topic I want to explore days or weeks in advance and leave it in drafts, and return to it when the time is right.

As it goes for writing, so it goes for music. It takes me a painfully long time to make music by my (and others’) standards. I need to remember that I am barely past two weeks of this challenge, and that there were 30 days planned in my first sprint. Beating myself up about it is using energy that I can probably use elsewhere.

Over and over in my head the chant is “just do a little.” That’s all it is, because that starting point is the hurdle. Faulkner put it best in As I Lay Dying: 

“I notice how it takes a lazy man, a man that hates moving, to get set on moving once he does get started off, the same as when he was set on staying still, like it aint the moving he hates so much as the starting and the stopping. And like he would be kind of proud of whatever come up to make the moving or the setting still look hard. He set there on the wagon hunched up, blinking, listening to us tell about how quick the bridge went and how high the water was, and I be durn if he didn’t act like he was proud of it, like he had made the river rise himself.”

I know that this challenge probably wouldn’t phase a lot of people, but it does for me. So I sympathise with Anse. Even getting on every day is a bit nerve wracking, but it’s down to one simple thing: expectations.

I am being unfair in that I am expecting more than I originally set, yet again. I’m expecting not only to improve my knowledge of a program, but to actively and successfully compose while using it, and arrange what I have made. It’s a lot to try for, given my skill level so far (minimal).

So with that in mind, I’m trying to put less pressure on the elements of this project that are less central to the finished product, which is completed, released music. Blogs are fantastic and I do very much want to document what I’ve learned and the choices I make. Ultimately, however, I got into this challenge to learn how to make better music. Maybe the consistent writing should be deferred to a writing project. I’m going to keep doing them as often as I can, but maybe an every day commitment is a bit much, for now.

Part of the issue is that I’m not especially sticking to a theme with this blog. Sometimes I go too technical, sometimes I write fluffy musings on the approach to a challenge in general. It’s that uncertainty that can make it difficult to pitch this appropriately.

In a sense, when learning something new, you have to treat yourself like a client. You both have goals and you’re in this together. Putting unreasonable expectations on either is a waste of time and resources. It’s a partnership to get to where you want to be. Over-burdening yourself with expectation at the start is setting yourself up for failure. I tried to ensure that I wasn’t getting ahead of myself at the beginning of this project, and yet here I am. Got to build and iterate, rather than run through the following thought process:

Alright, got to open this up. Wait, I should make coffee first. Am I planning to do any vocal recording? In that case I should make coffee and some voice-clearing tea. Wait, shoot, where’s my coffee cup? Damnit, I should get this done first. Oh hang on, what time is it? Should I go over rehearsing concert pieces while I’m still within noise making hours? Is that a noise in my building? Are they doing construction? Damnit. OK. Where’s the cable? Oh shoot, kettle. Wait, when did I last eat? Where is my notebook with the vocal exercises? Should I check around for other options? What was I working on last time?

So, shutting all that up is pretty important. Obviously it impacts my progress, if I feel that if I don’t have certain elements in place, I can’t do something as simple as opening up a goddamn computer program. During that worry time I could have simply opened up the program and tinkered around with other stuff. It’s familiarising myself enough with the process that these thoughts have clear answers. Answering those worries each time gets exhausting.

It partially comes down to the need to establish ritual. We all have our rituals that we have before we do certain things. Whether it’s something as simple as styling, a certain breakfast or coffee, little things that help your routine, get you out the door or doing the thing where you feel like yourself, as you want to be. They can help you, or can strangle your process.

Rituals are important, of course. But establishing ritual should not come at the expense of the actual work. Especially if you don’t have a working process yet. Then ritual is putting needless hurdles in front of something. To add to that, not being able to complete your ritual shouldn’t impede the work itself. You have to get to work without coffee? You couldn’t shower? Your hair has so much dry shampoo you’re worried you look like this?

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For a lot of things we don’t currently rely on to pay our rent, it’s easy to let those hurdles turn us away. Because they seem more important. For work, we get over ourselves because we have to, because it’s urgent. I want to talk about what is urgent vs what is important in the future, but any work you choose to do is important. Those hurdles can be defeated with the same attitude.

Don’t let ritual strangle your process, even if you are struggling. Some weeks will be difficult and you just have to hold on and trust the work. The struggle stretches time out so it feels like forever, but it really isn’t. Keep note of the actual units of time you are spending. (Again. Two weeks.)

The weeks of struggle are worth it. I have to remember that.

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