Start again in the month of May

Here is a thing that ought not to be news: Playing music makes me happy.

Bonus non-news: Man, I really like this Arcade Fire song:

In other news, I’m reading a book about procrastinating right now. It’s a long book (kind of a cruel joke, procrastination-writer-people, if you ask me), and it’s about all sorts of things, really. Not just about putting things off, but more generally about why we do things & why we don’t do things. And how to change the way we think.

It’s good. Oh, and it’s called Procrastination, if you want to get after it yourself.

Procrastination Book

How do these two ideas relate, music & the P-word? I was pondering the question of why we (people, and especially procrastinating people) sometimes invest so much effort in not doing what we really want to do.

Maybe we’re afraid to fail.
Maybe we’re afraid to succeed.
Maybe we’re stuck in an old routine.
Maybe we don’t want to upset somebody.
Maybe we’re afraid of making a final choice.

When I finally do sit down at my piano, the maybes and fears dissolve. And there’s just music. (And a river runs through it…) That sounds so foo-foo, I’m rolling my eyes at my own self. But. There is some magic to it. Good habits feel good.

Good habits also breed good habits. Playing music almost always makes me feel like writing. Writing jokes makes me start to notice more things that are funny. Exercising one creative impulse can jiggle the door handles in other parts of my brain that have locked up from neglect.

Good habits also reinforce themselves. I’m surprised to find how easily I pick up where I left off. My fingers will remember a song I haven’t played in months. Or years. I can play by heart (and, occasionally at parties, upside down and backwards) my second grade recital piece, which is — that’s right — something I learned over 20 years ago.

(It looks something like this. And I usually wear all-black. Weird.)


How does that work?

I can still play this song today because it’s one song I knew by heart that I never stopped practicing. I play it because I know it by heart, and I know it by heart because I played it… This discovery isn’t profound, but still it’s making little M.C. Escher loops in my brain.

It’s fun to know something so completely that you can turn it into an obnoxious party trick.

The learning and practicing part isn’t always fun. It’s full of failures and frustrations and fits and starts. But that’s the time to not quit. That’s the time you’re storing up nuts so your brain has something to do when winter comes. You’re making habits that will be easy to come back to. So 20 years later, you can be delighted to find you still have skills, such as they are.

(Holy shit wow.)

Doing a little sprucing up around the homestead. Spring cleaning and all. I even sorted through my bookshelf (it’s true) and made a little give-away pile (remain calm).

Flipping through one, I found a pencil-scribbled note from 04/23/12 on the back page. Almost a year ago. I’d just gotten back from a trip to Memphis. A really great weekend with friends and family. A wedding I’d been looking forward to for…years.

So it’s only natural I was experiencing the “post-birthday party” letdown feelings. But I see something beyond the general gloominess that follows a fun vacation. I see restlessness here that I’m glad to report has settled. I think. For now.

Perfect not-cold sweater weather outside. Sun setting. Everything green. I try to look at my surroundings with fresh eyes. What if this were my vacation spot? My refuge or escape? I’d think it was beautiful. Breeze. Birds. Sunshine. Trees. Peace.

How can I bring vacation-me home and let her roam around my everyday life? She’s so hopeful and happy. So eager and open to good. Creative and relaxed. Energized. Her eyes want to notice things. Her eyes want things. Her body craves movement. Her mind needs food. She sees possibility. People like her and think she’s fine.

Post-birthday-party-me clearly saw vacation-me as the type of person she wanted to be. “Her eyes want things.” I underlined that word…and I think I know why. When I’m feeling stuck, I can lose my ability to want things. Drive, desire, chutzpah — what have you. But there are moments when I can get it back: in a new place, with an old friend, at a movie or in a book. Hell, sometimes a particularly good snack can transport me to a better place. You never know.

Book scribbles

Later that night, Ben Rattray (founder of was on the Daily Show, and I scribbled some more notes in the back of that same book. (Nice pre-loaded blog post fodder, last-year-me!)

“Putting your efforts and life’s work into making the change you need in yourself.” (paraphrase)

(Holy shit wow.)

Ben Rattray — 1st attempt FAILED.

These scribbles are a little more cryptic. But, thanks to the internet, I found a clip of the episode. And here’s what he actually said.

The paraphrased scribble was from Jon Stewart, actually, and I got pretty close: “Incredible story. Putting your efforts and your life’s work behind the change you wanted to make in your own being.”

In other words, hey lackluster SJ, you know this hopeful & happy, creative & energized person exists. But you’re having trouble tracking her down. In the meantime, what can you do to make your world a more hopeful, happy, creative, energized place? Do those things. She’ll come back. 

The idea sounds absurdly simplistic when I spell it out like that, and I’m also not sure I’m completely articulating my point…it’s bouncing around in my brain, but I can’t quite reel it in.

If you have six minutes to spare, watch Rattray’s full interview. If not, just take his final words:

The power that people have to make a difference right now, with social media, is far greater than ever before. and if you identify an issue you care passionately about […] you have a greater chance of success than you can possibly imagine.

(Holy shit wow.)