I felt haunted by a monumental sense of failure, of aborted struggle and lost time.

I set out to write an exploration of music and its relation to the science of time. Music itself embodies time, shaping our sense of its passage through patterns of rhythm and harmony, melody and form. We feel that embodiment whenever we witness an orchestra’s collective sway and sigh to the movement of a baton, or measure a long car ride by the playlist of songs we’ve run through; every time we feel moved by music to dance; when we find, as we begin dancing, that we know intuitively how to take the rhythm into our bodies, that we are somehow sure of when and how the next beat will fall. Surely, I thought, there must be a scientific reason behind that innately human sense of embodied time, a way of grounding our musical intuition in physics and biology, if not completely quantifying it. But I also wanted to write about music because it has shaped the time of my own life more than almost anything else. I have played the violin for nearly twenty years, practicing five or six hours a day for most of them, because all I wanted was to become a soloist. When I realized in my early twenties that this never would be—and never had been—a possibility for me, I began to question why I had wasted so much time on music at all. I stopped playing for a while, and though I eventually picked it up again I no longer felt the same fire or ambition. Instead I felt haunted by a monumental sense of failure, of aborted struggle and lost time. Not only had the effort and sacrifice of the past all been for naught, but the future I had planned from that past seemed obliterated, too.

Natalie Hodges, from Prelude in “Uncommon Measure. A Journey Through Music, Performance, and the Science of Time” (Bellevue Literary Press, March 22, 2022)


This, is failure?


NY Times Book Review: The Violinist Natalie Hodges Writes About Her Devotion to Music & 12 Books We Recommend This Week (April 7, 2022)

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

…In the 25 years since I graduated from college, such demands have relentlessly ratcheted up. The quantity and complexity of the mental work expected of successful students and professionals have mounted; we’ve responded by pushing ever harder on that lump of gray matter in our heads.

The result has not been a gratifying bulking up of our neural “muscle.” On the contrary, all the mental effort we’ve mustered over the past year has left many of us feeling depleted and distracted, unequal to the tasks that never stop arriving in our inboxes. When the work we’re putting in doesn’t produce the advertised rewards, we’re inclined to find fault with ourselves. Maybe we’re insufficiently gritty; maybe, we think, we’re just not smart enough. But this interpretation is incorrect. What we’re coming up against are universal limits, constraints on the biological brain that are shared by every human on the planet. Despite the hype, our mental endowment is not boundlessly powerful or endlessly plastic. The brain has firm limits — on its ability to remember, its capacity to pay attention, its facility with abstract and nonintuitive concepts — and the culture we have created for ourselves now regularly exceeds these limits.

The escalating mental demands of the past quarter-century represent the latest stage of a trend that has been picking up speed for more than 100 years. Starting in the early decades of the 20th century, school, work and even the routines of daily life became more cognitively complex: less grounded in the concrete and more bound up in the theoretical and abstract. For a time, humanity was able to with this development, resourcefully finding ways to use the brain better. As their everyday environments grew more intellectually demanding, people responded by upping their cognitive game. Continual engagement with the mental rigors of modern life coincided in many parts of the world with improving nutrition, rising living conditions and reduced exposure to pathogens. These factors produced a century-long climb in average I.Q. scores — a phenomenon known as the Flynn effect, after James Flynn, the political philosopher who identified it.

But this upward trajectory is now leveling off. In recent years, I.Q. scores have stopped rising or have even begun to drop…Some researchers suggest that we have pushed our mental equipment as far as it can go. It may be that “our brains are already working at near-optimal capacity,” write the neuroscientist Peter Reiner and his student Nicholas Fitz in the journal Nature. Efforts to wrest more intelligence from this organ, they add, “bump up against the hard limits of neurobiology.” This collision point — where the urgent imperatives of contemporary life confront the stubbornly intractable limits of the brain — is the place where we live at the moment, and rather unhappily. Our determination to drive the brain ever harder is the source of the agitation we feel as we attempt the impossible each day.

Fortunately, there is an alternative. It entails inducing the brain to play a different role: less workhorse, more orchestra conductor. Instead of doing so much in our heads, we can seek out ways to shift mental work onto the world around us and to supplement our limited neural resources with extraneural ones. These platforms for offloading, these resources for supplementation, are readily available and close at hand…

We, too, extend our minds, but not as well as we could. We do it haphazardly, without much intention or skill — and it’s no wonder this is the case. Our efforts at education and training, as well as management and leadership, are aimed principally at promoting brain-bound thinking. Beginning in elementary school, we are taught to sit still, work quietly, think hard — a model for mental activity that will dominate during the years that follow, through high school and college and into the workplace. The skills we develop and the techniques we are taught are mostly those that involve using our individual, unaided brains: committing information.

The limits of this approach have become painfully evident. The days when we could do it all in our heads are over. Our knowledge is too abundant, our expertise too specialized, our challenges too enormous. The best chance we have to thrive in the extraordinarily complex world we’ve created is to allow that world to assume some of our mental labor. Our brains can’t do it alone.

Annie Murphy Paul, from “How to Think Outside Your Brain (June 11, 2021)

All My Friends

This book is dedicated to the voices in my head, the most remarkable of my friends.

And to my wife, who lives with us.

Fredrik Backman, the opening dedication to his new book titled “Anxious People: A Novel” (Atria Books, September 8, 2020)


Notes:

Running. With Perforated Edges.

6:39:47 a.m. April 10th. The time stamp on photo.

I recall the moment. The end of my run, I’m rounding the last corner before home, breathing heavily.

Morning sun. A light warm hue painting the tips of trees and bushes. Beautiful.

I slip off my glove, the tip of my index finger is moist, trembling, and sticking to the screen. I wipe it dry and slide the menu bar from Pano, Portrait, Video, Slo-Mo, Portrait, and stop on Photo. Pleased, I pause for a moment longer, admiring the view, so glad I was able to catch the moment. 

I walk the rest of the way home, catching my breath.

I’m sitting in the backyard, 30° F, sweat drying, goosebumps form on skin. I shiver. Legs sore, but that good sore after finishing a run.

I open the camera app to check out the photo.

I tap the image, and it pops up. It stutters for a moment, then a series of frames, and it stops. Irritated.

I tap the image again. And there on the top of the image, a “Live” tag.  WTF is that?

I tap the image again. It stutters, pans through a series of frames, and then stutters to silence. Jesus. You can’t even get this right.

I grab the phone and slide my index finger along the menu options, and don’t see a “Live” option. Damn it!

Index finger. Dotted line. Bad outcome. Mind draws up the Moment.

35 years later, like yesterday. My hands trembling. The course of Life would change based on the GMAT test results in that ever so thin envelope. Before I tear it open, the tip of my index finger slides along the perforated edge, my skin tingling as it passes each tiny raised dot.  I don’t recall who was with me at the time: “How’d you do?” I walked away, needing to be alone, needing to be quiet, needing to be still.

I’ve been dragging that anvil around for 35 years.

I turn back to the photo. Love photos. But it’s clear, cameras, are not my thing.

The photo syncs on iCloud to my laptop. (Magic!)

I convert the Live Photo to a still image.  Upload it to the blog post.  And pause.  Didn’t notice my shadow in the photo until now.

I run my finger around the silhouette. There you are DK. 

You caught yourself in the shot.

Your legs look a bit long, but you turned out to be ok.

Sunday Morning

You are the doubter and the doubt,
worshipping a book you can’t read.

The awful quiet in your heart
is not the peace you were promised,

not the trembling hush before a revelation,
not a prelude to an earthquake,

not God’s silence, but his breathlessness.

~ Traci Brimhall, from “Gnostic Fugue,”  from Our Lady of the Ruins

 


Photo: Noell Oszvald.  Post inspired by quote from Mindfulbalance: “In our own lives the voice of God speaks slowly, a syllable at a time. Reaching the peak of years, dispelling some of our intimate illusions and learning how to spell the meaning of life-experiences backwards, some of us discover how the scattered syllables form a single phrase.” ~ Rabbi Joshua Herschel, Between God and Man.

 

Catholic, Non-Catholic. Believe. Don’t Believe. But Watch.

Of course I have sinned….
As a child, I have failed you first by not having the courage to taste of life itself.
Instead, I hid away in books, and then study.
I know now this left me empty and void of the world.

Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict XVI in The Two Popes (Netflix, 2019)


If you’re going to make a movie about what’s holy, it had better be outstanding — and this drama rises to the occasion.” ~ Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call… I’m Up! Ta – Dah!


Photo: Bird is a Stilt. Stilt is a common name for several species of birds in the family Recurvirostridae, which also includes those known as avocets. They are found in brackish or saline wetlands in warm or hot climates. They have extremely long legs, hence the group name, and long thin bills (via Your Eyes Blaze Out)

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

This is the time to be slow…
Try, as best you can, not to let
The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.

Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.

~ John O’Donohue, in “To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings


Notes: Poem via MindfulBalance. Photo: “I am curious” by Olafur Eliasson (via thisisnthappiness)

T.G.I.F.: Current Threat Level


Threat Update @threat_update Monitoring trends and crunching key metrics to evaluate existential risk. Powered by science. Patents applied for.

Walking Cross Town. In the Big Apple.

Second train of the morning.

Arrive at Grand Central Station.

Traders, Bankers, Morning Hawks gather at the exit.

Car door slides open and the throng spills out.

I pick up the pace. Heart’s pumping. I’m passing Suits. And accelerating.

I Pass Harvard.

I Pass Yale.

I Pass MIT.

I Pass Lori’s Princeton.

I Pass Stanford.

I Pass Prep School boys from Choate, Exeter. Deerfield Academy.

I’m in front now, shoes tapping on the marble floors, Exit 500 feet ahead.

Boy from a 1 room, 3-grade public classroom in Ootischenia. Graduate of Northern Michigan University.

I step through the double doors to exit Grand Central onto Madison.

20° F wind gust roars down 47th street, eyes flood with water.

New York City! The Big Apple. You made it!

Cold bites, tears flow, and flow. And flow.

Cross walk sign turns.

I’m alone.

In front now.

Not done yet.

Not far enough ahead.

Not yet.


Photo: The city never sleeps, Atelier Olschinsky (via this isn’t happiness)

A Mind Divided

She’s a fellow blogger. She struggles with some ferocious demons. Here’s her story. I urge you to listen to the finish.

“A Reflection: Flickers in the Dark…How do you make a life out of ash? How do you move from the whole of the doily into the thread? For me, it started with flickers of light in my darkness…”

Moved…


Source: Sandy’s Blog @ A Mind Divided: “Flickers in the Dark” Reflection

 

Walking Cross Town. And Doubt Farming.

Take 7.

Yep, 7th attempt to produce something, Anything, Something, Anything, that’s worthy.

I’m walking across Manhattan on 47th street and the weight bears down. Tuesday morning after a long weekend. Shoes feel heavy. Shoulders slouched. A Sherpa hauling a full load.

It’s 9 days and counting. I’ve run out of puppy pictures. I’ve finished Will Schwalbe’s Books for a Living and I’m finished with my quotidian shares of his wisdom.

So, I conduct an autopsy of the prior six attempts on partially completed blog posts:

  • Take 1: How I gained 10 lbs in 30 days and still feel good about me.
    • (23% complete. Tired topic.)
  • Take 2: How I, an introvert, primed a large group of employees at a networking event.
    • (83% complete, and Quit. Too anxious to finish, too anxious to share.)
  • Take 3: Favorite songs on 7 on 70’s on Sirius. The angelic voice of Karen Carpenter with Top of the World (’72)…I’m on the top of the world looking down on creation – – followed by Meatloaf with Paradise by the Dashboard (’77)…Though it’s cold and lonely in the deep dark nightI can see paradise by the dashboard lightAin’t no doubt about it…We were doubly blessed…Ain’t no doubt about it…
    • (17% complete. Despite a continuing irresistible urge to lip sync “Ain’t no doubt about it…we were doubly blessed…Tired theme. Deleted.)

[Read more…]

Count down…

funny-psychology-doubt.jpg


Source: Peteski

It’s just doubt, that’s the biggest thing.

You’ve been doing stand-up since the late ‘80s. Do you remember your worst night?

Oh, there are so many of them. In the beginning, there are endless amounts of worst nights. But there was one, after “Everybody Loves Raymond” had been on for a year, out at the University of Florida’s Gator Growl. It’s in the stadium, like, 30,000 people, Dave Chappelle, Larry the Cable Guy and me. Five minutes in, I heard a woman yell out, “You better start getting funny.”

Anything you miss about those early days?

There was something gratifying about going up onstage in front of a room full of total strangers. They’ve never seen you in their life, and they’re kind of like, who is this guy? And then you win that crowd over. That will never happen again, only because somebody in the audience has seen me. Seinfeld said, they give you the first 10 minutes if you’re well known. But you still gotta be funny.

When you first started taking on dramatic roles, what was your biggest worry?

You wonder, are you any good? It’s just doubt, that’s the biggest thing. The desire is there. But then I also want to be a pro golfer, and that’s never gonna happen.

You still have worries like that?

Oh yeah. No matter how successful you are. I hear that from other comedians all the time. You’re just waiting for the funny police to come and arrest you as an impostor.

~ Robert Ito, excerpts from his interview with Ray Romano in “Ray Romano Still Fears the ‘Funny Police’” (NY Times, June 30, 2017)


Photo of Ray Romano: Aces Comedy

It’s been a long day

Rich: I want to talk about this idea that is super important, the stories that we tell ourselves, about ourselves, and how we get caught up in these narratives that don’t serve you. Where do these stories come from and how we can decouple that narrative and begin the process of telling ourselves a new story.

Sharon: If you have a prevalent, frequent critical voice, your inner critic, sometimes what’s good is giving it a persona, give it a name. Give it a wardrobe. I have named my inner critic Lucy after the character in the Peanuts comic strip…I see this cartoon where Lucy is in the first frame talking to Charlie Brown and she says: “You know Charlie Brown, the problem with you is that you are you.” And then in the second frame poor Charlie Brown says: “Well, what in the world  can I do about that?”  Then in the third and final frame Lucy says: “I don’t pretend to give advice, I merely point out the problem.”

And I would keep coming back to the line: “The problem with you is that you are you.” Because that Lucy voice had been so dominant in my early life, I really credit my meditation training for basically having a different relationship to Lucy. Instead of on the one hand believing her completely, you are right Lucy, you are always right. Where on the other hand hating her, and fearing her and being shamed and all that.  I realized that I had two ways of approaching her. One was, Hi Lucy, I see you and the other was to Chill out Lucy.

Rich: Packed into that is the idea of becoming the Observer as opposed to identifying with that voice as being part and parcel of who you are, like wrapping it up in your identity.

Sharon: Very soon after I saw the cartoon, something great happened for me and my first thought was: “This is never going to happen again.”

Rich: It’s the negative bias. We’re hard wired, we’re predisposed to identify these negative things that occur to us and then choose to string these together and create this story of who we are, how we got here and what’s going to happen to us in the future.

Sharon: …we are conditioned usually towards negativity – – – you are thinking about your day, evaluating yourself on how well did I do today.  It’s not uncommon to only think about the mistakes and what you didn’t do that well, and where you didn’t show up that well, and it takes intentionality to say anything else happened today. It’s not hypocrisy. It’s not denying that there were issues. But it’s not all that happened.   To get to a truer, bigger picture, we have to actually move our attention consciously towards the good. Anything good happened today? Anything good within me? And that kind of elasticity reflects the ability of attention and part of the meditative process. But it begins with seeing the story…

Rich: I think about the story I tell myself, about myself. But also the story I tell about the other people that I encounter throughout my day, and that story is generally reflective of my own state of mind and how I feel about myself. If I feel good about myself, I’m probably going to tell a more flattering version…But when you really analyze it, you realize over the course of your life, billions of things have happened to you. Billions! And we extract out these 10 things that happen over the course of our life and we identify with them so deeply, so thoroughly that they infect and invade how we see ourselves and every decision we make. How we interact with other people. What words that come out of our mouth…Its amazing how pervasive it is. Its so cemented that the idea of even looking at that or being critical of the veracity of that, let alone reframing it, is something that I think that most people don’t even begin to engage in.

Sharon: That’s true. Absolutely true.  Which is why I think seeing the story is the first and most critical step because a lot of people don’t even believe that…we don’t realize how impacted we are by all those views, our Lucy coming at us…

~ Rich Roll, Interview with Meditation Master Sharon Salzberg on Real Love & The Art of Mindful Connection (Podcast, June 25, 2017)

 


Related Posts: It’s been a long day

 

It’s been a long day

I just keep taking the next step knowing there’s no call for standing in the crowd and recounting my failures, there’s no retribution that demands I shrug off the notice of the works of my hands. There’s no need to deny or lessen the good by stepping back into my wanderings to tell of the bad. There’s grace in the ordinary life I live that just needs to live, knowing it’s all miracle, all of this beautiful stuff every morning. All the days long.

~ Lisa Tindal, from “The Essence of Days

(By one of our very own WordPress bloggers at the handle: Quiet Confidence)

 


Notes:

 

Indulging in Easy

rest-relax-chill

I relish those spontaneous times when I decide to stroll with my wife and dog through the park near our home in Amsterdam. Or when I take time to read a novel for fun. Or when I stop for a lovely glass of wine along an outdoor cafe along the canal because it seems like the thing to do. How about just taking time to take time?

Ah, the infinite moments to enjoy, presented to us on the conveyor belt of our existence….

There are times when making no sense makes sense. Just being, hanging out, following the whim, the momentary inclination. How long can you indulge yourself, though, purely, without hesitation, doubt, or a troubled thought about what it should be troubled about…?

Stop! Do something else. Do nothing. Try it. Anything. It’s not about our doing.

~ David Allen, from Indulging in Easy


Note: Photo via Mennyfox55

Flaubert and Socks.

socks-color

My deplorable mania for analysis exhausts me. I doubt everything, even my doubt.”

It started with these words, Gustave Flaubert’s words in his letter to Louise Colet. And spiraled from there. A middle aged man crippled with analysis, dragging his lame foot behind him as he trudges ahead.

I run the math. 10 years in this house. 365 days a year. Deduct 500 days for vacation, travel, walking the floors au naturel. Round it. We’re talking 3000 discrete events.  3000 discrete events.

And as I sit pecking this post out, I couldn’t tell you if the drawer handle is circular or square, platinum color or brass, a smooth or a rough finish.

But for 3000 events, mostly mornings, with a few afternoon and evenings sprinkled in, I open the drawer, peer in, and stare at my socks. The first big decision of the day.

Color? Must match the pants. And because socks are put on first (Why? Just because) the decision is momentous – the first domino tripping the shirt, suit, tie and shoe selection. Like an algorithmic equation forced on a poet, I’m paralyzed by the complexity. A lab rat for Barry Schwartz’s Paradox of Choice.
[Read more…]

A demanding mistress

You work and you work and you work and you work and you work, and you are determined to wrestle this thing to the ground, making art… But your vision is not yet formed, your work does not yet bear that distinctive mark, your unique hand, your DNA… In your despair, you toss and you turn, crying yourself to sleep night after night after night, endlessly doubting, endlessly doubting your ability and sometimes feeling like a motherless child. I have been there — I know. Searching high and low for your own voice, for your own expressive utterance, you lead yourself down paths that dissipate… Confused and fuzzy, you begin to imagine that all the forces of the world are conspiring against you…

And yet, and still, the pursuit — that driving thing called art — hounds you, and you don’t know any rest. And, determined to make a way out of no way every day, you rise up and you hit it, own it, go into your studio… Art is a demanding mistress.

~ Carrie Mae Weems, 2016 School of Visual Arts Commencement Speech


Sources: Photo – Gund Gallery. Quote: Brainpickings

Aspiring to be a (fill in the blank here)…

struggle-artist-sketch

You aspire to be a writer, a photographer, a painter, an actor, a journalist – an anything.  You need to take a few moments to read this excerpt and then continue on to the full post.

“I read those words, and had a sticky, squirmy reaction; I felt the way I do when I stand back and witness the horror of someone else’s undoing. It’s a tight kink in the stomach; a hard walnut in the throat. We’ve all been there, haven’t we: we’ve seen the speaker who loses the words. The young actor who blanks out on stage. The musician who forgets the chords. The writer — the food writer; science writer; academic; novelist; it doesn’t matter — blocked by fear. We wince. Who are they to even try, some whisper as we watch them tumble from their place. When it comes our time, we become that person, naked on the stage: doubtful, panicky, assured by the nagging, the poison, the gossipy gremlin chatter over our shoulders, promising that we too, will most certainly, most definitely, fail…”

Read entire post here: Elissa Altman @ Poor Man’s Feast.


Notes:

 

%d bloggers like this: