Lucky Enough to Forget

Now that I have started to come down from last week’s excitement, I realized something important.  I forgot that I have a chronic illness.  That’s huge and amazing at the same time.  First off, how awesome is it that I have managed to arrange my lifestyle to accommodate enough time for self-care that my symptoms are minimal enough not to have a negative impact most of the time?  I see friends of mine with similar chronic conditions talk about how many spoons they have left and thank my lucky stars that I usually have enough spoons to get through each day with a few in reserve.  Spoon Theory

Sure, I have my bad days, but my illness is largely in remission.  In fact, I’m not even medicating for it right now.  But I’m never going to be cured, and it could turn ugly and kill me without a lot of warning.  So I wake up every morning and say to myself “today is not the day” and move on with my life.  Because my life is unbelievably good and I love it.

It wasn’t that long ago really that I had to worry about covering up the fact that my hair was falling out, or having to walk with a cane, or couldn’t write my name because the tremors were so bad.  Ok, some days I hurt, or my vision goes all wonky, I’m short of breath, and I can’t think or talk straight.  I admit it.  Some days just suck, but it has been much, much worse.

So I was taken a bit by surprise how tremendously awful I felt during this camp.  My emotions were all over the map.  I shook, my heart rate wouldn’t slow, my eyes were red, not just from crying, but from swelling of the muscles around them.  In short, I didn’t do what I needed to do to keep from being a broken mess.  Oddly enough, I didn’t make the connection to my disease until today when I was sitting at work wondering why I still felt so darn terrible.  Duh!  You’re sick, stupid.

I forgot.

It’s sort of a blessing, really.  While it was miserable at the time, I am so lucky that I am in a position that I can forget something that is such a big part of my life.  Still, forgetting was dumb and I shouldn’t make that mistake again.  There really aren’t enough spoons for that anymore.

Second Fiddle

First off, day three of string camp was great.  I don’t know exactly what happened, but a switch must have flipped overnight because it was fine.  Nothing changed about my playing other than the fact that I had more familiarity with the music.  Maybe that was it.  Having slept on it, my mind probably assimilated everything and I could finally move forward.

That has been my modus operandi since I started playing.
1. Get assigned a piece and go over the hard parts slowly.2. Go home and analyze the piece – break into smaller, more manageable chunks, and try to perfect by the next lesson.
3. Have lesson – figure out with the teacher what needs more work.
4. Rinse & repeat.

Now here is what I haven’t been doing:
1. Drilling scales, arpeggios, and etudes.
2. Practicing with a metronome.
3. Playing anything for fun (i.e. sight reading practice)
4. Reviewing old pieces.
5. Focusing on dynamics and time signatures.

Basically, I have been getting by because I work hard at just what I need to do to get through a lesson.  That doesn’t work if I want to reach my goal of being able to play with others.  I know what I need to do now.  The trick will be to rise to my own expectations.

The thing is, I really do not want to quit and I’m mucho embarrassed by how emotional I was those first two days.  So what if I couldn’t play, right?  There were things I could do to make the situation easier.  I could have practiced the violin II part more before the camp.  I could have planned my time more wisely.  Knowing I get anxious, I could have gotten a script for Xanax (possibly-not sure on that one).  Perhaps I could have asked to move to the back of the section where I wouldn’t have felt so exposed.  I know I said I don’t have time to play fun stuff and that’s true.  But why is that true?  How can I plan my time better to make sure I feel like a success and not a failure?  So time management also needs to play a part in the equation.

We did perform at the end of camp.  The general track group played the orchestral number.  I still don’t like the piece, but I understand the educational significance for it.  Was it perfect?  Not even slightly.  Was I the only one who messed up?  Not remotely.  On day three I was able to expand my tunnel vision to something that was more attuned to the group as a whole rather than my flaws as the sole object of my attention.

The camp also focused on small chamber groups that also performed at the end of the camp.  There were several very talented people in mine, and everyone else was a more confident player than I am.  In our small group, we had an interesting situation in that there was one very self-assured player who frequently pushed the tempo and volume because he wanted to be a star.  And we had another self-assured and extremely competent player who was more interested in the group’s ability to play well as a whole.  The result was the one show-off player looked exactly like what he was, and the rest of us put on, not a flawless, but a credible performance despite him, thanks to the rock-steady support of the other fellow.  I learned that I really want the group to perform well as a whole rather than be a super star.  I don’t mind being second fiddle.  Now I just have to do the work that will let me be a good one.

Time to Stop the Madness

Come May, I will have been playing the violin for 4 years.  One of the biggest obstacles of beginning this instrument as an adult is finding other people to play with.  Unlike piano, string instruments are really more fun when played in a group.  Sure, there is plenty of solo music.  And many people are content to play in their living rooms for the simple joy of it.  But the fact of the matter is, for me – playing in a group is what I long to do.

For several years, maybe even since I started playing, I have wanted to play music with others.  I found a local adult string ensemble.  It’s fun, and I enjoy it, but I have to work hard to hold up my end of the score.  I had heard of an adult chamber music camp and thought it would really help me with learning some of the skills I need to level up.  I’m at that camp now.

There are several tracks one can take at the camp.  There’s a beginner track for people who have been playing less than three years and/or don’t read music well.  There’s a performance track for experienced players with 12 or more years of experience, and there’s a general track for everyone else.  Well, I don’t belong in the beginner group so I picked the general track.  However, this venue is too small to have a performance track, so everyone who is not “basic” is in the same group.

We were given some music ahead of camp to learn with the instruction – learn what works best for you and you’ll probably be playing that part at camp.  No problem.  In my world, the better players play second violin because the inside voice is more difficult to play well.  So I learned the first violin part because – hello melody,  duh.

When I got to camp it turned out they assigned me to the second violins.  Great, I don’t know that part.  Oh well, I’ll be fine.  I’ll just read it, right?  Except the group doesn’t play it through slowly first in the way that I’m accustomed to.  Nope, they have all been playing since they were children, and they go lickety-split through the piece.  And it has been that way the entire time I have been here.

Half the time I have been here, my violin has been sitting in my lap because I simply can not sight read at speed.  I have had three panic attacks- once having to leave right  in the middle of a session.  And I have spent a large portion of time crying in my hotel room.  Today I had a private violin lesson and the teacher suggested I just not play anymore.  “If you’re not having fun” he said, “then it’s time to stop.”

I think he’s right.  This hasn’t been fun for more than a year.  I work hard.  I’m not getting anywhere, and I don’t have time to deviate from the program to play “fun stuff”.  Every mistake is the MOST IMPORTANT THING.  I just cant let them go, which leaves me no time to enjoy just playing.

The better you play, the more enjoyable it is to play both solo, and in a group.  There is no timeline in the world that can tell you when you will be “good enough” to be happy with your playing.  Each person develops at their own rate and in their own time.  However, some people might be given plenty of tools to make that happen, and they will still atrophy at some point.  I suppose one can find ways to move on once that occurs.  But at what point do you throw in the towel and decide it’s not worth it any longer?  After all, it’s a huge investment in time, money, and equipment.

I have been asking myself that question for over a year now. Maybe this was the world’s way of telling me to stop playing.  I think about quitting every day.  It’s probably just time to stop the madness and throw in the towel.


Garden Prep Time

We had so many responsibilities in town this week that we had to skip an event, which sucks.  But the advantage of staying near home is getting a lot done.  A couple of weeks ago, my friend Natalie and I went to the hardware store to buy some seed starter.  The hardware store is a dangerous place for me (and her too, it turns out!).  We bought so many seeds!  I also got yard weed & feed and some black plastic to kill off existing vegetation where I want to put a border along the back fence.

12662685_10208599242197530_3365714783705255403_nSaturday was beautiful and nearly 70 degrees.  I tried to put the weed & feed on the lawn, but my drop spreader is broken.  Fail.

So for my next trick, I rolled out a 10×25 foot stretch of black plastic, cut it in thirds lengthwise, and used yard staples to pin it to the ground along the back fence.  It’s about 45 feet too short, but it ends behind the shed which sort of looks as if we planned it.

After that, I cleaned out the near square foot garden bed.  It’s all ready to receive plants as soon as they can go in the ground outside. We probably have 7 weeks before it’s safe around here to do that.  Even though I let that bed go at the end of the year, cleaning out was just tedious, not hard.  I started on the other square foot garden bed, but gave up half-way through.  When I put that one in, I didn’t do as good a job digging out all the grass beforehand. It wasn’t so bad the first year, but last year I overwintered onions and didn’t bother to plant anything else.  And then it got ignored.

I did dig out some of the weeds after the onions were lifted, but by then the grass had found it’s way in and I gave up.  The same thing happened yesterday.  After about 40 minutes of pulling grass, I threw in the towel.  Perhaps we will have more warm days before planting time and some more weeding can get done.

Today I did some extra house cleaning because some friends were bringing by an antique screen that I bought. It looks marvelous, by the way!  I also started some peas, swiss chard, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, and peas so they will be ready to go into the salad garden when it is warm enough.  We are also going to plant carrots, beets and radishes, but we’ll direct-sow those later, along with more peas.  The boys want watermelon, and I have lots of flowers too.  We’ll find places for it all.  And Moe promised to put two 4x4s up for me so I can plant grapes too.  Fingers crossed that I don’t kill them.

January Notes

I have felt really uncreative lately, but I figured I should spend a few moments to catch you all up.  I did finally knit the toe on that sock, and I have worn them a few times.  I have knitted most of the Christmas gift, but I need to go back and finish it.  Somehow, once Christmas passed and it wasn’t completed, I didn’t have the heart to go on.  But I refuse to have this gift just sit here and make me feel guilty about not presenting it.  A gift that I wanted to give to another friend was stolen off the porch and now I need to come up with a replacement.  Here we are, half-way through January, and I’m still worried about Christmas.

The 40 bulbs I ordered went into the ground early in December.  Hopefully they are making roots and getting ready to bloom in the spring.  I am eager to see how they look where they were planted.  I wanted to add some hyacinth, grape hyacinth, gladiolus, and crocus to the beds, but now I need to wait until I can see where the new plants come up since I didn’t mark where they are exactly.  I have a vague idea, but I don’t want to chance it.

We got new music for ensemble last week.  It seems easier than the last session.  I feel like I let the group down with my playing.  Sometimes I wonder if it’s all worth it.  The music always seems easy to play at home, but then I muck it all up when it’s time to rehearse or go to a lesson.

I have new music in lessons too.  In fact, it’s not even from the Suzuki repertoire, which is nice.  We have been noodling around with the same concerto for forever.  I was assigned something out of Barbara Barber’s Solos book recently, which has been going OK, but I never thought I would get to the point where I would get t o do anything else.  I’m such a slow learner.  As much as I love having my children play their own instruments, making time to help them with their lessons has really taken a bite out of mine.  I feel like I’m hanging on in Limbo – just maintaining and not improving.

My teacher can tell I’m stagnating, I think.  He suggested a few camps so I will be attending a chamber-music camp in March and a Scottish fiddle camp in July.  It’s a terrifying idea, but the trips are paid for and there’s no backing out now.  I even have my vacation days from work approved.  So, I’m going, and if I make a rotten spectacle of myself it will only be my own fault.

Well, I’m off to help my son practice his viola.  He’s playing for jurors in the spring festival.  He’s terrified, but I know he will do well.

And the Beat Goes on (despite me)

Saturday was my third performance with the string ensemble I play with.  Nobody died.  In fact, except for four consecutive measures in one piece where everyone kind of faltered, it was pretty good.  Of course we had ringers in both the cello and violin sections, so that helped.

I don’t feel terrible about the performance, and I don’t feel great about it.  We could have done better, but we have certainly done far worse.  The two things that stuck out for me was when my stand partner, two rehearsals out from the performance, suggested I not try to play all the notes in a fast 32nd note section (because I was really bombing on it); and when the lady to my right suggested I sit in the end seat because she thought I was good.  I think it was because she felt too exposed on the end though, so I’m not sure how I feel about it.

So I sort of received one compliment and one piece of advice aimed at making sure I don’t screw up the section.  All I know, is I have a long way to go.  I need to spend some serious time with the metronome.

My family came to see me, along with a coworker and her husband, and my sister, who brought me flowers.  It was nice of them to take the time out to come.  Plus, flowers – yay!

Yarn, Food & Dirt

I still haven’t knitted the toe on that sock.  It’s not as if I haven’t had time, but I just can’t seem to find it in me to sit down and just get it over with.  Perhaps I should give myself a deadline – especially since I want to use that set of needles to work on a Christmas present for someone.  I can’t believe I’m still planning to knit a gift and I haven’t even bought the yarn yet.  Clearly, nobody has ever accused me of being sane.

Now that our family has kind of gotten back into the swing of planning dinners ahead of time, we are eating much better.  One trip to the store every week is better for our time management, our stress levels, and our budget as well.  Since that has been so successful, I think I might start carrying lunch to work too.  As much as I enjoy leaving the office to get lunch, it is really expensive.  Plus, I’ve gained back half the weight I lost this winter.  I need to be more disciplined if I want to get back into those cute new clothes.

The garden needs to be cleaned out and reset for next year’s crop.  This year’s crop was pretty much a dud.  We got a couple of cucumbers and some tomatoes; but we couldn’t eat the tomatoes before worms got to them so it was a waste.  Maybe I won’t bother to plant any next year.  I might just plant all annuals so I can enjoy the garden again instead of fighting off the pests.

We have brought in many of the plants for the winter.  (That reminds me, they need to be watered.)  I ordered 40 daffodil and tulip bulbs so that we can enjoy some spring color.  I’d like to hire someone to put the big landscape beds in for me because I know that I just don’t have time to do it.  The plan was to get that done this summer but I had no luck finding anyone to help.