Once, in my twenties, playing at a coffeehouse in front of my friends, I took care of my nervousness by reassuring them at the beginning that it was okay for them to talk during my performance.  When they talked so much they didn’t hear me, I very much regretted my choice!  I had mistakenly created an interaction where I was seen as a very amateur player, not worth listening to. 


I wasn’t an amateur player.  But once I told the audience I was, there was little I could do to change it.  First impressions aren’t correct…they’re just enduring.




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How do you feel about uncertainty?  Today I caught the end of an interview with George Saunders, the author of the acclaimed book Lincoln at the Bardo.  He said something that struck me right across my forehead.

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One of the more challenging quotes I ever ran across is “You are not defeated when you lose. You are defeated when you quit.” (Paolo Coelho)  That always struck me as a painful truth: that defeat would be something I would choose rather than something that happens to me.  But I have a better reason to stick with something than avoidance of defeat.


It doesn’t matter how good you are at something when you arrive, what matters is how good you are when you leave. 

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If you are a classical musician, then you are probably at least familiar with the way we represent music on the page.  Our notation system looks like Greek to nonmusicians, and the truth is, it’s just as confusing to musicians who can play well, but can’t read music.  That’s because it’s fairly stupid.

I was always under the impression that if you’re “feeling it” when you write or perform, your audience is bound to pick up on your vibe.  I was convinced that you should always trust your own impressions when creating or performing.  I have to refine that idea after this weekend.


I was listening to a chorus conductor who had chosen a musical setting of an ancient Persian poet, Rumi.  When he read the poem to us before the performance, I was moved nearly to tears.  Yet when he performed the music with the chorus, I was not moved at all.


Image source: - Backwards Edition Dude Perfect


You might find it strange, it but I have a habit of reading a calculus textbook before bed.  Rather than do the problems to understand math, I read math to understand the problems.  One of my barriers to understanding recently vanished when I discovered how proofs are written.


I realized that these proofs, often quite magical in their design, might have been written backwards. 


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I’ve observed that, unless they are mentally ill, people tend to be fairly consistent in their beliefs and actions.  They may appear to be believing nonsense and acting irrationally.  In reality they are acting consistently with their world image, which may be radically different from mine.


Not only are people consistent, but they tend to want to be around people who reliably share their perspective.  They often don’t care if your personality, or even your race or religion, is different from theirs, as long as you share their worldview.  They want your choices to be predictable.


This is useful information for me as a creative person because It helps me understand how to write better books. 

I’m currently reading Lord of the Rings to my youngest son.  I continue to be amazed by Tolkein’s completely convincing account of an entirely fictional world.  And yet, as I read the book, I wonder how it’s really of any value.


What’s the purpose of something like that, a convincing fiction?  Why not read a real history instead?  Aren’t fictions just a diversion at best, a lie at worst?


Image Source:  Odyssey


Right now the country has been effectively divided.  Whether or not we agree with one another on any number of issues, folks towards the right or the left are barely able to converse.  We have been split by those trying to remain in power because a divided population, while hurtful to us, is useful to them.


What does music have to teach us about how to overcome this kind of dreadful situation? 


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I share my classroom with the teacher who works with kids that have not been cooperating and who need an opportunity to get themselves together.  The other day he brought in a child who was really angry and sad.  The child would not listen to any adult trying to talk to him about calming down.

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