Tag Archives: writing

Naptime and Growth Spurts

I don’t get a chance to blog as much these days, between mothering a toddler and coaching my clients.  I find that I miss it, though.  So today, as my son naps, I find myself with a precious hour or two.

Time is a hot commodity as a parent.  Whether working out of the home, full time, part time, or stay at home (what a misnomer!), all moms and dads find that there’s a new “normal.”  Yes, we can still carve out time for ourselves, but it’s no easy feat.  It takes compromises, trade-offs, and in many cases, communication with a partner.

For example, my husband often takes our son to the playground before leaving for work, so that I can coach a client without Herbie banging on the door, crying “door, door!”  Parts of daily life such as showers and ample sleep also take communication.  (Honey, remember the time I took a shower without warning you and we found Herbie had climbed onto the dining room table and was going through the mail?)

Point being, when even a shower is not to be taken for granted, there can be a lot of pressure when I find myself with an hour in the middle of the day to spend as I see fit.  I review my options.  I could clean the bathroom (we haven’t hired a house cleaning service, something that I would nonetheless advise ANY new parent to squeeze into a budget).  I could read any of three books that I had optimistically purchased on Amazon.  I could answer overdue emails and texts.

Or I could blog.

We do what we are to feed ourselves.  To remember who we are.  I am a writer who loves psychology and personal growth.  These fields are interwoven for me, personally and professionally.  As an INFJ, I tend to look at the world in terms of where I want to grow.  It’s my idea of fun to jot down goals in each area of my life where I want to focus in the coming week.  I love understanding mental processes, perceptions, and motivations.  This is why I’m a coach.  It’s also a part of parenting that I really love, as well.

So in the context of my new “normal,” I’m okay with a certain degree of clutter in our home.  I’m okay if my exercise is running around the playground and park (believe me, I have the biceps and quads to prove it).  I’m okay if couple time is family time.  There’s a season for everything, and other seasons will circle back around again.  For now, it’s a season of growth:  my growth, my son’s growth, and my clients’ growth.

My son went through three shoe sizes in three months.  I’m ready for new shoes, too.

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Practice Makes Perfect? It Depends.

Bulletproof Musician recently wrote this insightful blog post about how to practice effectively.  Perhaps surprisingly, the most important factor doesn’t turn out to be length of practice time, or making few mistakes to begin with.  Rather, improvement made during practice depends on how mistakes are addressed.

Progress appears to hinge on the proportion of times that a passage is played correctly.  Musicians who stop immediately to understand and correct mistakes, drilling the same passage at a slower tempo until they have mastered it, do best.  Those who plow through without taking time to understand the exact nature of the mistake do not fare as well.

This may sound like a basic insight, and it is indeed straightforward.  It surprises me, though, that practice length and willpower (a limited resource) are relatively unimportant.  Rather, awareness, focus, and corrective action are paramount.  If our brains don’t consciously understand what mistake was made, we’ll continue to repeat it.  Only by slowing down and figuring it out will we correct it.

I am an imperfect student of the organ, which has become my favorite instrument.  I have alternated between taking lessons with a very accomplished organist (and very talented teacher) and studying on my own; currently I do the latter.  When I practice, I have some structures in place to keep me honest, such as tracking length of time and the pieces that I practice in a notebook.

I do repeat difficult passages several times, often playing just the pedals, then adding one hand at a time.  I do slow down the tempo so my brain can process what I’m doing wrong, and correct it.

However, full disclosure:  I don’t do these things consistently.  It can be tempting and way too much fun to zoom through Bach preludes & fugues as though skiing on a black diamond.  If I wipe out, I may have no idea what happened to get me there, and often little desire to be a detective about it.

I don’t want to return to the bunny slopes.  I want to go down a double black diamond again like the big kids, whether or not I’m ready for it.

Playing brings me joy.  When I practice today, it’s first and foremost because I love doing it, not because anyone is demanding that I do it.  Playing well, however, also brings me confidence and satisfaction.  My choice lies in how to preserve the joy and spontaneity of playing for fun, expression and enjoyment, at the same time challenging myself to be rigorous and set the bar high.

In July, I had an opportunity to substitute for St. Anthony’s organist and music director in Jersey City  for two weeks.  It was a memorable experience, playing sacred music in support of a full choir.  Playing with the registration to find the right mixture of sounds, choosing interludes, and conducting a cappella motets all come to mind.

What stands out the most for me, though, is that I was able to play Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in G Minor as a postlude.  I wouldn’t have been able to do that six months prior.  It felt like a crown, a gift that I was able to share with others.  I wouldn’t have had that to offer if I’d only zipped down the black diamonds like a speed demon.  Methodically slowing down–having the patience, humility and trust to do so–got me to that point.

A confession–I will still play at times like a black diamond skiier.  But the more I realize I have it in my power to play well, the more I want to get curious enough to slow down and figure out the parts of a piece that are befuddling me.

My coaching practice is called Passion + Persistence for a reason.  Identifying what makes us truly alive and sticking with it (rather than getting derailed) enables us to achieve our life purpose.  In the case of music, I could have also named it Practice + Persistence–which apply to so many areas of life!

One reason that I’m challenged to write my blog as often as I did in the past is that I have many creative outlets (such as music).  I’m grateful to say that I feel fulfilled.  Yet it helps to remind myself that like music, there is no “should” about writing.  I enjoy expressing myself through both music and writing, and using them as mediums for connecting with others.

Music, writing, coaching, and connecting with people make me truly alive.  What lights you up?  I’d love to hear from you.

Warmly, Mary

The Lure of Fantasy: The Sims and Other Dubious Pleasures

When I was younger, I would play Sim City.  You got to build entire cities, with roads, fire stations, waterfront houses.  Sometimes an earthquake would destroy it all.

In my twenties, my brother gave me The Sims for a birthday.  It was thrilling for nostalgia’s sake, plus it added a new dimension.  I developed my virtual people’s job skills, relationships, and home decor.

I played it ardently.  For a short period of time, I recall, I could easily spend most of the weekend tending to my Sims.  I sent them to work, I brought friends to their houses for parties, I clicked a single button to make them read about cooking and presto, they could whip up a 4-course meal.

Would that life’s returns were that immediate.

The game is alluring because at a click of the mouse, my Sims are off and running, accomplishing great feats.  If I want to learn how to cook, improve job skills or build new friendships, it takes time and consistent effort.  The feedback loop isn’t as immediate.  Rewards take time to reap.  I need to take satisfaction in more gradual changes.

Last weekend, my little sister from Big Brothers Big Sisters told me that you can get The Sims on your iphone.  I told her about my experiences with video games, where they can be fun but it’s hard to turn it off after, say, a half-hour.  Yet armed with this knowledge, when I got home that night I downloaded it on my phone.

The allure of fantasy is strong, the “rewards” immediate–but fleeting.  Once I had my Sims garden to earn money and buy a new stereo, what then?  I was given new “challenges,” but how challenging were they?

Playing The Sims is addictive, but the second I stop, I feel empty, not filled up like when I swim or write a blog post.  It’s like crack cocaine.  I need another fix.

Video games are fun–they’re so fun, in fact, that we can’t handle them.  Much like eating Chewy Chips Ahoy, gambling, and other risky behaviors, human beings aren’t cut out to do them in moderation.  We’ve primed for the quick fix, the sugar high.  This is why I very rarely keep Chips Ahoy in the kitchen.  I’d rather have a nice dessert at a restaurant, anyway.

What’s different when I listen to what my body and mind need?  I feel deeper rewards.  Not the high of the sugar rush or adrenaline rush, but a more sustainable “I’m on the path.  I made this happen.”  Whether it’s getting out of the house early in the morning to go for a swim, or accomplishing a difficult project, the payoff is far more satisfying than the addict’s quick fix.

I recently wrote this blog post about Flannery O’Connor and the power of habit.  O’Connor wrote every morning from 9:00 to noon.  We are the habits we develop.  At a certain point, they become not so much a matter of willpower, as second nature.  Our commitments and persistence make this happen.

How can I solidify this knowledge, make it concrete?  There are a few phrases that come to mind:

1. Smart feet:  put myself where I need to be, and the rest will follow. Convincing myself to get started is always the hardest part!  Once I’m there (whether at the pool or on my website), I know what to do.

2. Focus on what’s in front of me:  I can’t solve something that’s three steps down the road.  I can only take the next right action, and see what its consequences are.

3. Keep my word to myself:  I do this by putting my commitments to myself in Google Calendar.  To keep the same examples, even if it’s swimming and blogging, if I don’t do them I make myself delete them from the calendar, and I hate doing that.  I’d rather show myself that I’m trustworthy by keeping my word, just as I keep it to others.

I’m not quite ready to delete the game from my phone, but maybe I can mention it to my coach.  She would probably ask, “What if you just deleted it?”  In the meantime, I’m cooking a veggie frittata, blogging, and can’t wait to go swim.

How will you keep your word to yourself today?  What are you committed to?  How wil you honor those commitments?

I’d love to hear what you think.  Please leave a comment or send me an email!

Warmly,

Mary

The Power of Passion + Habit: What Can Flannery O’Connor Teach Us?

I love to write, but if I get out of the habit of writing regularly, I continue to put it off.  It’s like going to the gym, it feels wonderful once I’m in the swing of it, sweating through an elliptical session or a zumba class.  Doing it energizes me–getting there is the hard part!

Pain lies in procrastination, not in taking action.  Devising a plan and taking action are empowering.  Whether I want to stay fit, keep my coaching blog up-to-date, or (dare I say it) finally organize my file cabinets, there are concrete steps I can take to reach my goals. Taking these steps honors my commitments.  I’m showing that I keep my word to myself, and that my goals matter.

How do I go about making this happen?  Mindful scheduling and rewarding my efforts.  Often the reward lies in the doing itself.  Three paragraphs into a new blog post, I already feel rewarded and am asking myself why I waited a week or two to blog again.  It feels great to get on a roll.  I also get a reward when I post my blog to social media and see your likes, shares and comments.  Similarly, when I make it to the pool and swim laps for 25 minutes, the relaxation, renewed strength, and mental clarity I gain are my rewards.

How does a schedule serve my higher purpose?  Isn’t a schedule tediously boring, constrictive?

Flannery-OConnorOn the contrary, most successful people rely on a schedule in one or more areas of their lives.  Flannery O’Connor, whose home I visited earlier this month in Milledgeville, Georgia, wrote every morning (after attending daily Mass in town) from 9 AM to noon on a typewriter in her bedroom.  Her room was in the front of the house, near the front porch and yard, where her dozens of peacocks, ducks and geese would roam. Watching her beloved birds fueled her creative fires.  If she hadn’t carved out those three daily hours, though, when and how would she have accomplished her writing?

Rituals and habits make an enormous diference in what we accomplish.  My weekday rituals–after having breakfast, looking out at the park and playing with the cat–include practicing the organ, and swimming or going to the gym.  I’m most alert in the morning, so that’s when I practice the organ, which takes more concentration than anything else I do these days.  When I exercise, it gives me more energy for the afternoon.  I put both of these in my daily calendar, as a reminder not to get sidetracked.  If it’s around 9:30, then it’s time to grab my goggles, swimming cap, organ shoes, music, and get out of the house.

What happens when I get off track?  I am constantly recalibrating my life, like a finely tuned Swiss watch.  Hopefully, one of our goals temporarily slides because another goal has taken precedence.  Our priorities naturally ebb and flow.  We can’t say yes to everything all of the time.  However, we can achieve a sense of balance among what matters the most to us.

What if that’s not the reason we got off track–what if we are simply scared or stuck and watching Netflix for five hours a day?  We can take that as a sign that some kind of action is needed.  One strategy is to write down where we are today, where we want to be, and one step we can take this week to move towards that goal.  Then put it on the calendar.

This exercise alone is usually enough to get us off the couch.  When we identify what’s important to us, and name the first small step, it becomes more manageable and concrete.

What’s on your list of goals for today?  What change do you want to make in your routine to make that happen?

I coach people who want to make some sort of a change in their lives.  I offer free sample sessions so you can see what it would be like to work together.  I invite you to contact me to schedule your sample coaching session.

Wishing you great success!

Appalachian Morning and the Power of Narrative

I’ve come to Appalachia, at the intersection of southwestern North Carolina and north Georgia, where some of my family has its roots. As I write this, I’m sitting on the porch with my husband and parents, enjoying a view of Georgia’s highest mountain, Brasstown Bald (pictured), and hearing hundreds of birds calling.

My great-grandmother, whom we call Granny, raised my grandmother and her four siblings in this area. My great-grandfather died of pneumonia while crossing the mountains in wintertime to buy wares for his store, and Granny made do by raising chickens for eggs, which she sold in town, and growing vegetables. She did the wash in the stream behind their house.

For weeks, I haven’t been inspired to do much writing, but here, it comes easily. Lots of writers and artists come to this area to tap their muse. Tonight we’ll hear a bluegrass band play at the John. C. Campbell Folk School, which has a long tradition of attracting and showcasing talent.

It occurs to me that one can consciously choose a life of creativity and connection. I’ve never gone on an organized writer’s retreat, but I see the value. Whenever I’m in a beautiful place, I’m more inspired to create. I have just enough remove from my everyday life, and the help of mountains and birds, to elevate my thoughts.

Some of my thoughts are still pretty ordinary, like wondering how often the owners of our rental house prune back the trees in order to keep a clear view of the mountains. Others are along the lines of what it was like for my earliest ancestors who lived here; which generation, if any, may have encountered Cherokee; and whether our roots and cultural identities have more to do with where our families are from, or the places we visit, come to love, and the stories we’re told.

My family is from North Carolina, Indiana, and Virginia. Generations back, they’re from Germany, Ireland, and the British Isles. I also have one line from Portugal and a little bit of French.

Which of these places and people are most deeply a part of me? Is it determined by the stories I’ve been told? Of my great-grandmother’s great-grandmother standing on the Irish shore, waving goodbye to her daughter who was sailing to America, knowing she would never see her again?

I haven’t heard similar stories of my German ancestors, and perhaps that’s why I always tended to feel more Irish than anything else. So I need to try to envision what life may have been like for my family who once lived in countries like Germany–even if I don’t have the aid of oral history to help awaken my imagination.

Subjective experience isn’t everything, but it counts for a lot. Where we go, physically, imaginatively, and emotionally, builds the narrative of who we are and how we’re connected. The stories we tell ourselves and each other matter deeply.

Today, I’m grateful to be immersed in the majesty of the Appalachian mountains, which embody both natural and spiritual beauty. They also hold the lived history of my ancestors.

And where are my family and I now? In the living room, looking out on the mountains and the Nantahalia Forest, telling stories.

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Introducing Writer and Tristyle Coach…

Today I’m happy to introduce you to writer and blogger Elizabeth C. McCourt of the blog Triathlon Obsession.

Elizabeth C. McCourt is currently developing her coaching practice TriStyle Coaching – ‘a body, mind spirit approach to finding your best self.’ She stated the CTI program in January, 2014. She holds a BS in Finance from the University of Maryland, a JD from Loyola University in New Orleans, and a MFA in Creative Writing from SUNY Stony Brook where she studied under Frank McCourt, Melissa Bank, Billy Collins, Roger Rosenblatt and many others. A headhunter for financial services for the past 14 years, she is featured on the cover of On Wall Street Magazine’s February, 2014 issue.

She’s been published in Proteus, The Southampton Review and most recently in the East Hampton Star (“The Audition,” A Memoir from the January 16th, 2014 issue). She’s also written a novel Red Beans & Murder and is currently at work on her non-fiction book on TriStyle, the basis of her coaching and philosophy. She’s also been a triathlete for the past 10 years and is sponsored by Trisports.com. She and her husband also own Michael George Events, a high end event and catering staffing company in the Hamptons and NYC.

She writes the blog www.triathlonobsession.wordpress.com and tweets at @ecmccourt or you can reach her by email at rizabiz@aol.com.

 

Finding a Peaceful Oasis (or Two)

Last Saturday, my husband and I found an oasis that was new to us.  We drove to the NJ Audubon Society for a hike through the woods along the Passaic River, listening to birdsong.  We spotted a few birds (swallows being the only ones I could confidently identify).  Their music was as resonant as the sighting of them was elusive.  Sometimes I did spot one fluttering, diving or weaving through the treetops, but only a glimpse.

A couple of years ago, we spent a long weekend in Cape May during peak fall migratory season.  Two Audubon guides pointed out egrets, kestrels, and merlins.  They trained us to call out the birds’ location by the hour of the clock, to first look with just our eyes, then to lift our binoculars.

Our leaders may not have been impressed with our bird identification (or lack thereof) if they’d joined our hike on Saturday, but they would have been pleased at how happy we were simply being there, appreciating nature.  It was such a pretty spot: bushes with little white flowers, a plant that looked almost like honeysuckle, so many chipmunks, an occasional bumblebee, and tall, majestic trees that seemed to emanate wisdom.

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On Sunday, we created an oasis in our backyard.  We have had grapevines growing over a pergola, but they rested on low beams.  By raising them onto higher stilts, we created a space under which you can walk or sit, as I’m doing now, while sparrows eagerly hop around exploring the grass.

Why do we need nature to fill us up and restore our wholeness?  Perhaps some of us feel its need more acutely than others, but I would argue that it’s a basic human need.  Even if urbanites fill it by a walk through the park on their way home from work, or by having houseplants or an aquarium, none of us can live happily without nature’s balm.

People and nature are deeply interconnected.  We rely on it for physical, as well as spiritual, sustenance.  Physically, people feel healthier when they eat more whole foods and fewer processed foods.  We live in a natural world, no matter how many steel towers are built to live and work inside.

Spiritually and emotionally, there is something soothing about listening to birds singing, hearing the flapping of wings and watching their trajectory in flight.  It is energizing to walk through the woods, curious about where the path will lead, deciding which twists and turns to explore.  It is meditative to sit by a river, studying the water as it rushes over rocks.

Nature has both stillness and movement.  It exists in the present, yet is always growing and changing.  No tree or river is the same today as it was yesterday, yet they retain their essence.

What an inspiring model for me, as I consider who I am becoming.  I am a writer, coach, musician, wife, nature lover, and play many other important roles, too.  How can I move ever closer to who I am?

Who are you becoming?  What will help take you there?  I would love to hear from you.

Warmly,

Mary

Harnessing the Creative Process

Creativity is such an important resource for both our professional and personal lives.  Whether you work at a large corporation or are an entrepreneur, whether you are a marketer or a musician–all of the above which have applied to me–creativity allows us to think in new ways, unearth novel solutions, and construct the world we live in.

Think of a seven-year-old with a Lego set.  From our earliest days, we are primed to create.  It transforms work into something that is both playful and productive.

So how does creativity happen?  Where does it begin, and how can we follow it to completion, rather than giving up?

This recent piece on the HSP Health Blog explores the creative process in concrete, tangible ways.  The key steps are:

  1. Determine what you want to create:  a new system for working as a team?  A piece of music, writing or art?  Visualize the results to build resonance and commitment.
  2. Identify where you are today.  If you want to publish a novel but have never written more than a page, that’s good information.
  3. Focus on the next steps to take that will bridge the gap between where you are and where you’re going.

Step 3 is critical juncture and is often where people throw in the towel.  However, rather than grow discouraged, focus on Step 1 again to recommit to your purpose.  Then return to Step 3, breaking down what needs to be done into mini-goals.

The piece also specifically explores creativity’s benefits for highly sensitive people.  It proposes that HSP’s often experience less agency when working with others, since they are outnumbered.  In contrast, by tapping into creativity, they can better control their agenda.  Using their natural creativity, allows HSP’s to be more influential.

Much like the seven-year-old with the Lego set, seeing our dreams come into reality is satisfying.  It offers a sense of purpose and completion.  Creativity is about more than having an idea.  It is about making something new in the world–taking something that is within us, following the thread of our vision, and bringing it out into the world so others can also experience it.

When I coach clients on creativity, we explore all three of the above steps to identify a purpose or goal, articulate the current reality, and brainstorm ways to bridge the gap.

If a goal has enough resonance, the work that needs to be done will be clearer.  Focusing on just one small step at a time builds momentum.

Are you working on a creative project?  Have a vision or goal but seem to get stuck before the finish line?  Email me now at marywcrow@gmail.com to schedule a creativity coaching call.  I offer a free session to see if we would be a good match for each other.

Wishing you great creative success!

-Mary

Reaching for the Stars

I have always been an amateur psychology buff.  In college, I had a class in perceptual psychology,  but mostly I have dabbled in it on my own.  It is part of what led me to coaching.  I am endlessly curious about how our minds work, how we see the world and interpret what we see–what information we gather, and what meaning we assign to that information.

Over the years I have taken a few personality surveys.  I have also encouraged my loved ones to take them, with varying responses.  They aren’t for everyone, and that’s OK.  Personally, I find it fascinating to reflect on what drives and motivates us, what makes us flourish.

I find Myers-Briggs (MBTI) to be revealing and mostly on-point.  Like any paradigm, it has its limitations, but most of its insights resonate with me.  I took the MBTI twice, several years apart.  Interestingly, while my overall type hadn’t changed, my Intuition (I) and Judgment (J) factors had both mellowed considerably–allowing more room for their counterparts, Sensing (S) and Perceiving (P).  I believe we have innate preferences, but through our experiences and choices in how to see and engage with the world, we change.

Another survey I like is the VIA Character Strengths Survey, which measures 25 character strengths and lists them in relative proportion.  My top strength was “Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence,” followed by “Gratitude,” “Love,” and “Perspective.”  For me, this test is revelatory because it points to what I need to flourish–where I thrive and what saves me, as it were.  My top strengths remind me that to be happy, and fully myself, I need to seek opportunities to enjoy beauty, to love and be loved, and to practice gratitude.

How do I do this?  For example, taking my top strength, I look for oases of beauty in the drought of what could otherwise be a sterile week:

  • On a lunch break, I find refuge in a park around the corner with a waterfall and yellow hyacinths in bloom.  It truly restores me.
  • I make time to play the piano, organ, and sing.  Even on a busy weeknight, if fills me up and I leave feeling like myself again.
  • I listen to and watch others who are more talented than I am.  It inspires me and makes me feel alive.

Looking at our less-developed strengths is also a good learning opportunity.  One of my “less developed” strengths is “Bravery.”  The creators of the VIA survey write: “Identify an area in which you generally shy away from confrontations.  Practice the phrases, the tones, and the mannerisms that will enable you to effectively confront the situation next time.”

My first reaction to reading that was, “Are you kidding?”  Identifying confrontations is about the last thing I want to do.  My mind isn’t naturally wired for it.  Nonetheless, our minds are pliable–we can actually forge new neural pathways by changing our thoughts and habits.

And thus, we change and grow.

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Coaching asks for openness to seeing ourselves as we are today, seeing ourselves at our most magnificent core, and dedicating ourselves to moving bravely toward our truest self.  It can be a little scary.  At my Fulfillment class at CTI, one of the leaders drew this picture of our comfort zone, with stars outside of it, illustrating that to reach for the stars, we have to step outside our comfort zone.

So, if we’re uncomfortable, we’re doing something right.  Yet we don’t have to be constantly uncomfortable.  We’re allowed to take a step or two forward and stay there–or dance up and down the steps we’re familiar with–till we’ve gathered the resolve to take another step.  We get to be at choice.

CTI led us in a visioning exercise to develop a life purpose, phrased as “I am the ___ that ___.”  I was initially drawn to the image of a lighthouse, that illuminates others’ strengths.  Later, I was drawn to the vision of a lake where I canoed in rural Quebec, out of which came this working life purpose statement: “I am the deep lake that holds beauty within and around it.”

What does it mean and what is its impact?  I can honestly say that I don’t completely know, but that it centers and directs my life journey.  There is something compelling about the beauty of nature, art, music and writing that inhabits me–even simply the appreciation thereof.  What does it mean to hold beauty?  I hold it in my eye, ear, mind, and heart.  How will it impact others?  That story is still unfolding.

What are your top strengths and values, that when engaging in them, you feel the most like yourself?  Who are you at your deepest, most magnificent core?

I’d love to offer a sample phone call to explore your values and what you most want.  What matters?  What are you drawn to?  Call or email me to set up a session to move toward the stars.

A 35-Point “ZAG”: Scrabble and Singing

On Sunday, I sang at our local church where I volunteer as a soprano.  I love singing there because of the beautiful and often challenging music.  The five of us in the choir loft that morning sang “Forty Days and Forty Nights” and three other English-language Lenten hymns in four-part harmony.  During Communion, we sang chant with psalm verses in Latin.

By the end of Mass, I felt filled with breath, music, and gratitude.  We stopped in the parish hall for a light breakfast, where a few older women in the parish chastised us:  “good voices, but the Latin’s got to go.”  Was this what I’d signed up for?  Their remarks stung and I felt unappreciated for what I had offered, until I remembered that a gift benefits the giver, no matter the reaction of the recipient.  Then I was freed of an expectation of a wholly positive response.

Sometimes as a musician, whether it’s singing or playing the organ, I long for appreciation.  In a musical performance, I am offering a gift to the listeners, and hope it will be well received.  However, its value is determined by creativity and self-expression, rather than the reaction of the listeners.

I will probably continue to volunteer my singing, whether the reception be effusive, lukewarm, or nonexistent.  It’s something in which I have some measure of talent.  I’m not a bad singer–sometimes I even think I’m pretty good.  You won’t be hearing me at the Met anytime soon, but I sing better than I could two years ago, before taking lessons.  (I had thought I was an alto until my voice teacher proved otherwise, and now I can sing a high A-flat, like in “Missa Choralis” by the little-known Refice that we’ll sing tonight.)

I sing primarily for two reasons, which are intimately linked:  self-expression, and the joy of giving.  The pleasure a recipient takes in a gift has value, but it doesn’t determine the value of a gift.

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On Sunday night, I was playing Scrabble with my husband’s cousins, who were in town for a few days.  It was a close game.  My first play was “ZAG” with a triple-letter score on the “Z,” for 35 points.  I had an early lead, but none of my subsequent plays lived up to the glory of the first. 

As we neared the end, all four of us had around 100 points, give or take.  We all had strange combinations of letters in our remaining titles.  I had three E’s and two O’s.  My cousin-in-law had a J but nowhere to play it, as I discovered later.  He was considering skipping his turn because he felt that anything he could play would be too low-scoring.  I suggested that scoring any amount of points would be a good thing.

Not every play will be 35 points, not every musical offering will be loved by everyone, and not every blog post will go viral.  It’s okay to risk failing, rather than become paralyzed and prevent future successes, as well as failures.  Success comes in different forms at different times.  As a former yoga teacher of mine, Molly, used to say, “No effort along the path is lost.”

I don’t know what my current or next project will teach me.  If I think I know, it’s my ego talking.  If I think I know what the results will be, it’s really my ego talking.  I don’t have to let fear of not being perfect–or not being appreciated by everyone at all times–stand in the way of doing a good-enough job.

I finished the Scrabble game with all three E’s still on my rack.  My cousin-in-law finished with his “J” unplayed.  And it was OK.  It was good.