Many times my students will come to me in a lesson with a piece of music they think they are ready to perform.  They get very upset when it falls apart.  “I was able to play it perfectly at home,” they say.


I have the same problem: inaccurate self-assessment in the practice room.  That’s when I pull out my tried and true method for making sure something is going to go well in performance:  The “three times” game.

My band just played a gig at a high-profile room in Atlanta.  I was very excited about the exposure.  But me being me, I also started to freak out a little.


I wanted to look good, both as a band and as an individual.  I wanted people to look at me and like what they saw.  At the same time, I did not want to lose myself in an ego trip.


What is the difference, I wondered, between sharing and showing off?

One of the problems I have arguing with my more conservative friends on issues like the president’s behavior and the reality of climate change is that many of them are very reasonable, intelligent people.  It’s hard for me to close the gap between our viewpoints based on facts alone.  As I’ve had more conversations with them, I’ve been able to understand better where the discrepancy between their intelligence and our viewpoints lie.

I learned a trick about talking to people that I thought helped immensely.  Since I’m not the kind of person who automatically knows where to look when people are talking to me, I began to focus on the bridge of their nose.  I noticed that people seemed immediately to look more comfortable when I did that.


I thought it was because they liked what I was looking at.  It wasn’t as intrusive as looking straight in their eyes, and there wasn’t any risk of looking at the wrong eye.  It turns out, though, there was probably another reason they looked more comfortable.


I frequently ask for constructive criticism on my work.  I routinely ask people to read my writing and listen to my music.  Yet I rarely get responses, and when I do, it may come in one of three forms.


I am a poet and an English Major, and I still found poetry difficult.  After I left college, I really didn’t feel like reading it for about 20 years.  And I never really liked Walt Whitman.

Take Care of the Gold Miner


In my last blog I talked about the difference between the fantastic work you do, and the person you are.  It was put so nicely (but too late for my blog) by a judge in a documentary I saw:  “Someone once told me, ‘You have an important job….you are not an important person.’”  However, while that may be a great way to focus on the work and not your own ego, you are an important person to your friends and family.


Because the other side of this coin is that after you mine “the gold,” you have to take care of yourself. 

One of my biggest worries is that, after finding success, I will become unable to do the thing that made me successful.  I’ve observed this tendency in some of my favorite recording artists who did their best work in their first album.  Luckily I’ve discovered one way of thinking about the situation more clearly.


Imagine you’re a gold-miner who’s just mined a vein of gold.

At 48 I’ve reached (or passed) the age where I know I’m going to die.  No way around it.  Now I have to decide exactly what is the point of my life, given that it’s finite.


I don’t know anything when I’m asleep, and realistically I think death is going to be like that, but with no wake up to put the missing time into context.  That’s hard to fathom.  Neil DeGrass Tyson makes the point that my body will simply become something else, disintegrating to form grass, earth, air, which is quite a nice thought, but it doesn’t really answer some fundamental questions like, “What’s the point of doing anything with my life if I’m just going die and be insensate forever?”

I have a cousin who’s just now setting off into the creative life.  I get the feeling that he’s the kind of person who isn’t going to be put off by anyone or anything.  He’s just got to do it, and that makes me think he’s on the right track.


I can’t really tell him about succeeding at it the way someone like Robert DeNiro has.  My successes have been somewhat more limited.  But if he’s looking for a Robert DeNiro type existence, then there’s something I’d really like to tell him.

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