Some Better Than None

As many of you are aware, I’m a fan of The One You Feed podcast.

I can’t overstate how important the low-key approach to the guests and the topics—be they focused on spirituality, creativity, mental health, productivity—results in practical, down-to-earth applicability. Please do yourself the favor of subscribing.

One of the refrains from the show—and I’m quoting host Eric Zimmer and one of the tenets of his coaching program directly—is that ‘doing something is better than doing nothing.'

I’ve been reflecting on this lesson in regards to my creative work (yeah yeah writing and playing drums you already know because I yammer about it constantly on this blog). Being so busy with work and family life, I have to often shove a novel’s worth of composing time into 10 or 15 minute daily increments. Even when I have those 10 or 15 minutes free, I talk myself out of utilizing them because I’m not sitting at the shoreline with my typewriter knocking out my 2000 words a day like another bad imitation of Ernest Hemingway.

Reality is not meshing with my vision and that results not in my doing at least a little daily writing; it results in me doing none.

So, for me, for you, for all of us: some is better than none. Throw out the vision and the unrealistic standards and do the work with the time that you have available.

To the Worrier Be

One of the shame inducing components of living with anxiety is that you’re likely to assume that others aren’t afflicted or aren’t impacted. That others somehow don’t feel anxious at all and wouldn’t understand what it’s like to live with an anxiety mindset.

I’ve spent many (many) years acknowledging and accepting that anxiety is my constant companion who will sometimes stay quiet in the passenger seat and watch the landscape pass or sometimes shout (or worse whisper) judgmental/negative comments into my ear or, in particular scenarios, will sometimes pull me aside and take over the driving duties.

The years have taught me how to identify the overt manifestations of my anxiety (not that I’m always expert at managing those manifestations), but I’m not nearly as skilled at acknowledging the more subtle signs of build up.

Over the past two weeks, however, I have discovered (I think that is the right word) that when I’m not paying attention, anxiety expressed by others will ignite anxious thoughts and responses within me. Perhaps that’s not so much a discovery as an obvious statement, so to clarify: I’ve recognized on several occasions now when I’m being set off by someone else’s anxious reactions.

At first I reacted with righteousness—I’m not the one generating the anxiety!—but after some reflection (and some actual mindfulness instruction), I now realize that I need to reframe this ‘discovery’ and douse it with empathy.

All of us have and express anxiety—it’s an emotion, right?—but there are many of us who don’t know how to process it so that we don’t pass it around. (In case you’re struggling to find a scenario to test how you react to palpable anxiety, I encourage you to pay attention the next time you’re boarding a plan and the herd crowds the gate...)

Now is the time for me, at least, to pay better attention to—and to help as best I can—those around me who are struggling with their own anxiety companion. Help them without shame and without judgment. That is, after all, what I need from them.

Down All the Days

For reference, last week’s blog post was a quickly cobbled together tribute to a high-school teacher whose actions changed my life. And as is often the case for me, my emotional reactions tend to follow later as the wave-like reverberations slow enough for me to track on them.

I’ve been down since hearing the news of my teacher’s passing more than a week ago now. Waking daily with a heaviness on chest and brain that happens when I experience a non-localized anxiety.

To summarize many, many thoughts on the matter, I’ve been contemplating my own mortality.

Hitting middle age does that I suppose, brings the end (or the generalized whereabouts of where you predict the end to be) into sharper focus.

I recognize the inherent selfishness of the response: I’m taking another person’s death—and another family’s pain—and making it about myself and my family. Recognizing the selfishness hasn’t told me how to dispel it, however.

I acknowledge that I have much work to do in this area.

Lightly Going (Tribute to Mr. Engberg - My High School History Teacher)

Mr. Engberg failed to teach me American History.

This failure was not his fault: In 1987 when I took his junior year-level US History course, I was a mediocre student with a well-established habit of not applying myself. He did his best, and I did not.

Despite my laziness and preoccupation with all things teenager, we navigated the curriculum throughout the school year (with him encouraging me to study more, work harder, and me not really doing either) right up until he convinced me to go on the yearly trip to the Yosemite Institute. Two of my closest friends and most of my classmates were going, so I succumbed to the totality of the pressure and went.

As I’ve gotten older (and I mean a lot older) it’s become progressively more difficult to describe exactly how that one week in the Yosemite Valley impacted me—transformed me—and significantly altered the trajectory of my life.

(Quick aside: I’m not sure about the rest of you, but the trajectory of my life looks less like a straight, ever-elevating line and more like a half-masticated spaghetti noodle thrown against the wall by a crazed yet god-like toddler.)

Anyway, I’ve become jealous, protective, hoarder-y of the few memories I still have of the Yosemite experience, and words fail worse and worse with each attempt to capture why that trip was so important, so vital, so essential. I’m not going to bother.

Expressing gratitude is another matter. I never got to say ‘thank you’ to Mr. Engberg. Not in the way or ways that matter. And the fact that I won’t ever be able to communicate this as an adult and in person to him is a tragic missed opportunity.

Mr. Engberg, I know it’s too late, but here it is:

Thank you for seeing me.

Thank you for hearing me.

Thank you for insisting that I had worth and value and something to contribute to this world.

Thank you for giving me the wonder of trees and mountains and streams.

Thank you for showing me—cliché though it may be—that life has no through-line, no destination, only the switch-back journey and those few precious trail-markers we occasionally find to guide our way.

Thank you for informing me that VWs are as awesome to drive as they are traumatizing to maintain.

Thank you for modeling for me that it is our connection to our friends, to our families, that inspire our actions and our service.

Thank you for being a part of my life.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. 

Mr. Engberg, you did what only the best teachers do: you provided a learning opportunity that finally got through to me. An opportunity that revealed a vast, complicated and beautiful world, and my place within that world.

I am forever grateful to you for this. And with the glaring exception of junior-year American History, I am and will always be your student.

Taking on the Chops: Even the Best Reinvent Their Craft

Procrastinating earlier this week, I watched Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage which is a 2010 documentary about the Canadian rock band Rush (perhaps obviously).

For those few of you who either know me or who read this blog, I’m a drummer (mediocre, most definitely, but I identify as one nonetheless). Every drummer has to deal with the dominance of certain players who shaped the role and pushed the boundaries of what a rock drummer can play.

Neil Peart is one of those drummers whose legacy and whose playing you have to acknowledge. Now, I’m not a chops (technically proficient/precise) drummer by either temperament or practice, so it was never a question of me imitating or emulating Peart. But there are basics that every drummer can learn—should learn—from the masters (and with apologies to the ever-humble Peart, he is a master).

At the top of his game, but following a poor showing at a Buddy Rich tribute concert, Peart reinvented his playing by studying under renowned jazz drummer Freddie Gruber.

What was revelatory was that Gruber didn’t teach—didn’t have to teach—Peart how to play; he focused instead on body movement, feel, and the ‘dance’ of the body when it synchs up with the song and the other players.

That Peart, who could have just kept performing in the same manner as he had been and done just fine for himself, took the risk to challenge his preconceptions and his habits and his playing—his very identity as a player—is an amazing testament to the resiliency of art and to the resiliency of the artist.