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Posts Tagged ‘singing’

Authenticity is invaluable. Originality is non-existent.
Paul Arden

To honor 10/10/10, I created my five-year-plan i.e. the Time Capsule. I started writing my Time Capsule by writing my name and the date five years from now in the middle of a blank sheet of paper. I’m totally a mind map kind of person, so the format was a no-brainer. I didn’t really want to focus on practicalities at all, so I started with a basic question – what do I want to fill my days with in five years? The answer consisted of four key verbs that became the nodes of my mind map and a series of four posts.

The first node, I Teach, was the topic of yesterday’s post. The next node that blossomed on the paper was the green one.

I Create.

At the moment, the biggest creation I’m brewing is my MA thesis. Despite all the drama, trauma and self-work associated with it – or maybe because of them – I really want to do some amount of research after graduating, too. There’s a certain appeal to processing volumes upon volumes of information and data, slicing it, sieving it, and distilling it into a bottle of This Is What I Found Out.

In my thesis process, I’m knee-deep in analysis. I can’t see the bigger picture yet, but some shapes and flavors are starting to emerge. The creative process is bubbling within me and within the data, and the scent of something not-quite-finished-but-on-its-way is almost tangible. It’s frustrating, it’s hard work – it’s a prime example of the boulder (the video contains the kind of vocabulary teenagers invariably learn first in whatever foreign language they choose to take up) that has to be pushed up the hill.

But it’s fabulous. It’s a chance to actually create new ways of thinking so others don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Furthermore, it’s learning in the most profound way you could imagine. And after learning whatever there is to learn in the data, you have to write a research report to communicate your new knowledge to the scientific community. Awesome.

Creating through research is also intimately linked to teaching. First, by learning through my research I will become better at my chosen profession, assuming I keep researching the teaching situation. Second, the process of planning what to teach and how is very much a creative one. And finally, if I manage to get a position as a postgraduate student at the university, my job description will most probably include lecturing and teaching, too.

Besides research and teaching, I’d love to be able to create on the fields of music and drama. For the most part, I’m drawn to improvisation. Over the years, I’ve become more or less addicted to the carpe diem effect that comes joining an improvisation, whether dramatic or musical. There is something about a good impro that heals the soul. I wouldn’t mind performing, either, but I’d be surprised if I ended up earning my keep as a professional musician or actress. Happily surprised, mind you. 🙂

One more important channel of creativity is my writing and especially the blog. I’m so happy I’ve managed to recreate a relationship with the blog, since there was a long period (at least in Internet time) of blocks and not feeling like writing anything much at all. The blog allows me to process things out loud and come up with new ways of thinking, much like research – but without as much bibliography or analytical rigidity. 🙂 It is a space for me to spitball, as it were, about phenomena that I find fascinating.

(Some of the areas in this node will hopefully become Contribution ones. While doodling my Time Capsule, I was acutely aware of the fact that all the passion in the world won’t pay the mortgage on its own. Since making “I Earn Money” a node in itself was not an option, I drew a yellow bubble between the I Create and I Help nodes. The yellow bubble represents the money people are willing to pay in exchange for the value my contribution creates in their life.)

Why teach? Why create? There’s a strong undercurrent of wanting to help others. Quite naturally, the following node was I Help. More on that in a few days.

Thank you for tuning in! And, as always, keep catching your own insightings!

Love,

Sari

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He who knows that enough is enough will always have enough.
Lao-Tzu.

When I was little, and had only learned a bit of English, I wrote a story. In English. I don’t remember what it was about,but I remember writing a sentence “She cried and cried until she had cried anaff enuf e n o u g h.” I tried and tried my best, and eventually had to go and ask my sister how the word was spelled. I found the story a few years ago, and as I read it, I could still remember the frustration I felt trying to get it right.

Coincidentally, it wasn’t the last time I had problems with enough.

Last Christmas, we got a total of eight chocolate boxes as presents. I love chocolate. In early January, I also became intimately reacquainted with the “eurgh” feeling you get after eating a bit too much chocolate a bit too fast. Somewhere in between removing the plastic wrap and not wanting to see another piece of chocolate that week was, again, the “enough chocolate” zone.

Every year, I promise myself I won’t drown myself in duties and activities. Every November and every April I notice I’ve wound myself too tight and bitten off more than I can comfortably chew. Somewhere in between I’ve passed the “enough duties” zone.

This spring, I’ve been doing my teacher training, and as a part of that I’ve had to teach sample lessons. The procedure is that first the trainee and the instructor go through the general topics and contents of the entire stretch of sample lessons. Then the trainee writes a lesson plan proposal, and the instructor gives comments. Based on those comments, the trainee revises the lesson plan and submits it to the instructor before the actual lesson.

Since a trainee only teaches between three to five lessons per group, and a maximum of two groups at a time, there’s theoretically plenty of time to write and revise the plans. If, however, the trainee has little or no experience in teaching that specific topic (which is often the case), writing one plan can take two hours, especially when you need to explicate your goals, timing, and different stages of instruction for each activity.

There is a point where little else can be done to improve the plan. That is the “good enough” stage. Knowing when to stop planning and move on is, I think, at the heart of becoming a teacher who won’t burn herself out three years into the profession.

The difficulty with good enough

For me, the only areas of life where I can honestly trust my judgment of “good enough” are those where I’m honestly pretty skilled. I can evaluate whether a situation requires my all-out effort – if I take an example from my singing context, this would be a situation where we’re recording the vocals for an album.

If it doesn’t require my one hundred per cent commitment and effort – like singing with a friend at a karaoke bar or at a relaxed band practice – I can go with “good enough” and focus more on the social situation or just having fun with the song.

If it was this simple with every area of my life, I would never have problems with “enough”. However, if I’m still learning something, like teaching grammar or organising a theater-in-education workshop, I don’t have the good-enough-meter calibrated properly. I need to put extra effort into consciously evaluating whether or not my actions meet the basic quality criteria.

In the learning stage, the best performance I can possibly muster might reach the general “good enough” standard – if I get lucky. However, the perfectionist in me doesn’t understand I’m in the learning stage, and only sees the shortcomings compared to the perfect standard. Even though I’m way beyond my personal “good enough” stage (and past the point where I could possibly improve it on my own), the little perfectionist urges me to work more, because we’re not quite there yet.

When this happens with about seven different activities – a few different school and work projects, social life, student organization duties, et cetera – it’s no wonder I’m pushed way past my enough zone into the zone of coping and survival. No more energy to spend on having fun or getting creative.

In terms of flow, this is the situation you get when the challenge of the situation exceeds your skills. Instead of a flow experience, you encounter anxiety and stress.

“I’m still learning”

It’s super difficult to admit to yourself that you’re incomplete. It’s even more difficult to admit it to others. Still, it’s the only way (that I know of) to avoid the perfectionist’s trap of being pushed off your enough zone in every single area of your life.

I’ve tried to remind myself of it by repeating “I’m still learning” to myself in stressful, way-past-enough-zone situations, and somehow it seems to help. It gets my focus off the fact that I’m not perfect, and onto the fact that I can calibrate my own “good enough” to my skill level. If I’m doing the best I can with the resources I’ve got, then it’s good enough – be it a lesson plan, a translation, a theater workshop, or something else.

And the fact that I’m still learning doesn’t mean my “good enough” won’t be someone else’s “fabulous”. That is the ultimate goal, isn’t it? To have such a high performance standard in your field of expertise that your “good enough” will knock the socks off everyone? Even when you’re ridiculously skilled, there’s still room for learning.

Enough for now. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by, and if any thoughts came up, I’d love it if you shared them in the comments. Until next time – keep catching your own insightings!

Love,

Sari

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To live is to choose. But to choose well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there.
Kofi Annan

This little insighting was heavily inspired by Barry Schwartz’ TED talk on The Paradox of Choice. I watched it a few months back, and although it did strike a chord, I didn’t really think I’d be coming back to it.

And then our bassist left the band. Which meant that the rest of us had to face the task of finding another bassist.

The Courtship

In a way, finding a new member for a band is like going back on the dating scene after a long-term relationship. You have to get yourself noticed, first of all. Then you have to weed out the promising candidates from all the ones whose phone numbers you’ve received. And then you have to go on a date.

When a new band member is concerned, there are a few subtle differences to the whole dating scene. First, it’s not just my opinion about the person that matters, it’s the consensus.

Second, the date  (or as you might call them in a non-relationship terminology, audition) will have to include songs that are typical to the style of music we play. In a sense it’s similar to a date in that we’re trying to portray ourselves the way we really are. However, there is a definite imbalance in terms of power in the sense that the existing band members already know the songs, and the newcomer does need to prove him- or herself by being able to play those songs. Granted, there was an element of proving ourselves to the newcomer as well, which slightly balances the scales.

Third, we’re mainly looking for someone we can really get creative with. Being an all-round nice guy or gal just doesn’t cut it, unless they’re skilled enough as well. And then there’s the whole group dynamics jungle that I won’t even start to analyse. Suffice to say it’s important to take into account the type of people we are and the type of person the bassist is.

Finding out all this takes time in any relationship. The tricky thing is that you can’t really keep dating several bassists at the same time, not even casually. So after the first dates, it was time for a decision.

The Darn Choice Thing

The problem was – and as I write this, still is – that we ended up with two very different but very promising candidates. The basics are in check: they’re both skilled and nice to hang out with, judging by the brief time we spent with each. They are different, though.

Different strengths, different styles, different musical aspirations. We could go with either and probably get a good thing going, both musically and socially.

This is where the paradox of choice comes up.

No matter which one we choose, we’ll end up regretting losing the other possibility. You’d think having a choice here would make us happier, but it only makes us a bit more miserable in the end.

Had we only had one of them over for an audition, we would’ve been beside ourselves with joy and couldn’t have believed our luck. Now, though…

Also, the fact that we have two amazing choices makes us wonder if there’s still someone else out there that’s even better. It’s difficult to commit to one choice when the options are seemingly endless.

I’m currently having this same dilemma with my wedding gown. I have one already – a simple, white, trainless, beautiful gown. It matches my Mom’s veil from the 1970s (that I’ve been planning to wear down the aisle since I was twelve). Now, though, I’m itching to go and try on other dresses – just to see if they’re better. That darn choice thing again.

I’m pretty sure I won’t be any happier after I’ve tried on a dozen other dresses, even if I find one that’s perfect. Because then I’d have to give up this one, and with it the wonderful story that it was The First And Only Dress I Tried On.

I’m sure this enormous freedom of choice has something to do with the way people impose restrictions on themselves. About food, about the people they date. You have to have some limitations to the choices, otherwise you get paralyzed. I know I do.

If I have the whole day for myself to do whatever I want, I get nothing done. If I have a choice between two things – doing the laundry or reading for an exam – it’s easier. If the exam is tomorrow and I haven’t read a single page, the choice is easy, and there’s no room (or time) for me to get anxious about what to do.

Or, you know, “I don’t date men/women who are shorter/taller/smarter/dumber than me, blondes/brunettes/redheads/baldies/musicians/jocks/nerds/party girls, who have glasses/a speech impediment/weird hobbies/no siblings/too many siblings/no social life/too much social life…” Pick your favorites or add your own. 🙂

I once dated a guy who was awesome, except for the fact that we had completely different communication styles. Had we lived in a smaller town, we’d probably have gotten married, made a dozen kids and lived semi-happily ever after. There was too much choice in that single respect for the both of us, though, and we went our separate ways.

Or food. Ever since my fiancé and I started buying organic, local, or Fair Trade whenever we could, our shopping trips have become shorter and shorter. If the tomatoes have traveled more miles by plane than I have this year, we’re not getting them, even if they are the only tomatoes in the store. Far from being a sacrifice, these kinds of restrictions actually free up some of our brain capacity – instead of spending energy on making tiny decisions like these, we’re free to think about something else while grocery shopping.

On the big decisions, though, there’s still the whole choose one, lose the other -conundrum. I’m sure, though, that we’ll find the “right” solution for our bassist dilemma eventually. I’ll keep you posted.

Thanks for choosing to stop by – keep catching your own insightings!

Love,

Sari

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Words, like eyeglasses, blur everything that they do not make clear
Joseph Joubert

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Today is my Mom’s 60th birthday. Congratulations, mom! Since she isn’t a real spotlight stealer, she and my Dad traveled away for a few days to celebrate the occasion. Tomorrow, when they come back, I’m planning on baking her a birthday cake and having them over for coffee after I pick them up from the airport.

In addition, my fiancé’s mom (who is a friend of my mom’s as well) had an idea of a birthday present for her from the both of us, and it will be waiting on the kitchen table when they get home. I like setting up surprises. 🙂 I know she won’t be reading this, since she doesn’t really read English, but I’m paranoid enough not to spill the beans about the present itself in case she finds out about it before she should.

The Jargonator is running on empty

I finally finished writing the assignment on Language and Identity. Deadline today, before midnight. Despite the fact that I actually had something to say about the articles and my research plan, most of the text ended up being rehashed jargon. On the other hand, I sort of had to rehash the material so the teacher knows I read it.

I do realise it’s my own fault that I didn’t start reading for the portfolio early enough. It’s too bad, though, that I left it until the last minute, since I could’ve really had something unique to say had I not been deathly tired with caffeine jitters. I’m pretty sure I’ll get a pass, though, since I finished each required task and hunted out the technicalities I was supposed to. It’s the discussion and conclusions that were more on the weak side in the portfolio.

This is sad. Having the luxury of great teaching and resources to learn and help create new scientific knowledge, and then… resorting to rehashing technicalities because, well, it’s enough. True, it’s not my Master’s Thesis field and I probably won’t pursue that kind of research further, but somehow I still feel that there’s more to me than what I created.

This is obviously an issue between my perfectionistic and passionate persona on the one hand, the one that wants me to become a researcher in everything, and my realistic persona on the other, the one that knows I can’t spread myself too thin or I’ll break.

The passionate perfectionist is fantastically interested in pretty much everything, but doesn’t have the stamina to read through hundreds and hundreds of pages to actually know about it all. The realist tries to remind me that I can become world class anything as long as I give up everything else, and that I really don’t want to give up everything else.

Breakups between grownups

Our band’s bassist quit. No drama, and he had good justifications to make his choice. This was two days ago. And as is customary when social units break up, the rest of us had a crisis meeting – complete with coffee and chocolate.

It seems that somehow the solemnity of the situation helped us all talk about the band in a much more direct tone than before. We had to decide if the rest of us wanted to keep going. We had to talk about the reasons our bassist had given for leaving, and the ways we could minimise those circumstances. It was one of those Cleansing Conversations.

It’s funny that you’d have to tiptoe around some topics with people you see almost every week. Then again, during my sister’s last few weeks, all of us tiptoed around the fact that she would not get better, ever. The day she passed was the first time we were able to talk about her death directly.

It seems crisis mode opens up communication for two reasons. One, in most cases the worst that can happen has already happened, or is so imminent that it has to be considered. It’s impossible to undo by not talking about it. Two, crisis mode creates a new kind of dynamic where something new has to be done since the old way either didn’t work or is no  longer available.

So if you happen to be or know a good bassist looking for a band in the Helsinki, Finland region, pop me a comment and we’ll see what happens. And until next time – keep catching your own insightings!

Love,

Sari

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Your emotions affect every cell in your body. Mind and body, mental and physical, are intertwined.
Tutko, Thomas

I’ve always been a head person more than a body person. I haven’t really enjoyed sports, or been really happy with my body, or generally paid much attention to what goes on below my neck. Most of my existence has been about my head – thoughts, brains, emotions, verbal communication.

You can imagine, then, that noticing connections between the mind and the body has been like walking in uncharted territory with beautiful scenery that might or might not have potholes in the ground and vicious gremlins lurking behind the trees. In other words, fascinating but spooky.

The most interesting connection has been that of emotional resistance and tension on the one hand and physical resistance and tension on the other. In some way, it feels as if my mind is storing away emotions that I don’t have the capacity to handle – and using my muscles as the storage unit.

Noticing the tension

As I mentioned, I’ve up until lately been a very cerebral person, so the fact that my body aches here and there has been a nuisance, but nothing serious.

When I first started doing yoga, though, I noticed that some of the poses were ridiculously difficult for me. I never was a human rubber band anyway, but it did strike me as strange that it was that hard.

Looking into the “effects of the poses”, or the issues they would supposedly help with, I noticed a correlation in certain topics and poses. (“Effects” in quotes since I was still pretty sceptical about that stuff.)

Most of the time, though, I only notice that my body is tense and aching and that I should do something about it. Or I’ll be going through an emotional insighting and notice my body start relaxing.

Incidentally, I have a wonderful auditive barometer for this. I have a wonky back that has a tendency to snap. Nothing serious, I’m told, it’s just that my joints are genetically loose and the little spinous processes get out of sync. Whenever my back muscles relax, the spinous processes snap back into place.

So whenever I’m e.g. reading something touching, or pouring my heart out in my diary or blog, my back starts snapping. Funny, really.

Releasing the tension

The latest experience, though, came pretty unexpectedly. It was sort of a combination of noticing and releasing, except that I wasn’t really processing anything, and I didn’t even notice I was that tense.

We were doing a voice class in my drama studies last weekend, and the task was to hold a note while your pair listened for resonances. As I was holding the note, the teacher came up in front of me and put her hands right below my collarbone to give a bit of resistance.

First, I started giggling. Then, I started crying. I excused myself and went over to sit by the wall to calm down. I must have cried for five minutes, and I still don’t know what it was exactly I was crying about.

Later, I noticed that my pecs were much less tense, which was not surprising. I also noticed that my lower jaw muscles were sore. More specifically, the muscles that I use to fake a smile.

*ding* Insighting.

Something, somewhere, had been stored in the “Don’t worry, I’ll be all right” smile muscles and the “Keeping up the appearances by straightening my posture” pectoral muscles. Somehow, the resonance of my own voice and the attention from the teacher had released it. I still can’t verbalise what it was – hence the somethings and the somehows.

Working on the tension

If you asked me how to get the tensions out, I’d give you two bits of advice.

1. Go holistic

For me, the easiest way to spot the tension is to do something holistic with my body. I’m such an amateur at yoga, but it is one activity that gently helps me become aware of the places that need special attention.

Another way that helps me observe and soften my muscles is improvised dancing. I put on some soft music (classical, instrumental, movie music, whatever inspires me at the moment) and let my body move to it.

I’m no dance instructor, and I’m sure everyone has their own movement language, but some things that inspire me to move include
– imagining I’m painting the air with my palms, feet, knees, shoulders, back…
– having a point on my hand, foot, forehead… that guides the movement of the entire body
– imagining there’s a tiny person on my head, hand, shoulder… that wants to have a sightseeing ride of the room

Here, I think the most important part is to really listen to your body. If you’re feeling pain, chances are you’re pushing it. And pushing against tension, both emotional and physical, often results in more tension. I’ll now give the floor to Wormy on the topic since I couldn’t explain it better if I tried for a week.

If you’re really into verbalising, you might want to journal about the things that pop up after your yoga or dance session. One or two sessions will most likely not result in huge breakthroughs, at least not on a conscious level. Journaling will help you keep track of the themes and issues that come up, and you can look for patterns in your notes.

2. Breathe into it

As far as I understand, muscles tense up when there’s not enough oxygen to go around. Hence, focusing your breathing to that spot, either by movement or by other means, should help.

Yoga, again, is a wonderful way to target breathing into muscles. If you keep your breathing conscious, slow impro dancing might help target the muscles, too.

Singing and humming are also good ways to focus breathing into a specific spot, especially if you can get a helping hand – your own or a friend’s – to gently press on the tense part. You can even only sing one note with one vowel – aaaaaaa, ooooooo – and feel it resonate within your body.

You can try finding spots the voice resonates in and spots it doesn’t. The blank, non-resonating places are likely the tense ones – i.e. the ones you want to try breathing into.

If you have any other mind-body-tension-release ideas or experiences, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

And until we meet again – keep catching your own insightings!

Love,

Sari

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Everything happens to everybody sooner or later if there is time enough.
George Bernard Shaw

Every single insighting doesn’t really stretch itself to an essay. Nevertheless, they still want to be heard, or else they’ll keep mulling around inside my head like an insomniac in a sleeping bag.

1. Mental images make me a better singer.

I’m a fairly decent singer to begin with. I’ve been singing in my band, F.A.R.O, for about seven years now, and we practice about once a week or so. In yesterday’s band practice I had two little *ding!*s that both had to do with mental images and the power of my imagination.

First, my singing gets stronger if I imagine I’m singing from my heels. This has nothing to do with my actual heels and everything to do with the feeling of “channeling” the sound through my body up to my throat and mouth, thereby activating my supporting core muscles. The mental image also takes my mind off the actual singing, which is a purely positive thing once the song is familiar. Too much conscious effort just makes my singing sound contrived.

The other mental image insighting came when we were ad libbing a new song riff. As the singer, I have two things to mind when ad libbing: the melody and the lyrics. Mostly I just doo be doo happily along, but that leaves my conscious mind free to latch on to my melodies. “You’ve done that bit in at least a dozen songs already!”, “You’re totally ripping that off from the hit song on the radio!”, “Don’t even try to hit that high note, you’ll never reach it!”…

Yesterday, though, as I was listening to the riff and feeling the mood, a mental image came up in my mind’s eye. Rather than ignore it or let it float by, I started singing about the image, and about all the associations that came up with it. The rhymes weren’t necessarily Shakespearean, but – again – it took my conscious effort off the singing and onto the verbal content.

This has probably a lot to do with the fact that I’m a total amateur. I’ve never had any formal training and I’m really slow at reading music. When I ignore my mental censor, reminding me I don’t really know this stuff, my unconscious knowledge of music gets activated. Whoah.

2. Today’s Duh moment insighting

When making just one cup of coffee, it’s best to not start experimenting whether the milk in the oldest carton is still fresh enough.

Chances are it’ll look fine when you mix just a little coffee with just a little milk, and then when you pour in the whole cup the milk curdles.

Which would mean you’d have to throw out the coffee and set the coffee pot again. Just saying, you know, hypothetically.

3. The mysteries of driving in morning traffic

Contrary to a belief popular in Finland, the traffic does not, in fact, go any faster if you drive bumper to bumber with the car in front of you. Furthermore, any money you might save due to the aerodynamic benefit and the reduced gas cost will some day go toward fixing the fender when the traffic stops and you hit the breaks too late.

I’d like to dedicate this insighting to the driver of the Mercedes van that drove behind me and blinded my rearview mirror. Fortunately I didn’t get into a fender bender, so I can be less offended and irritated and more amused by all this. And grateful for not having to drive to work and back every day.

4. This thing about biting off more than you can chew

I’ve been gushing about my Master’s Thesis topic insighting for a few weeks now. I’m not yet writing my thesis, or doing actual research for it, but I’m still eagerly planning my research questions and methods and sampling strategies. The broad topic is using drama in EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teaching, and I need to narrow it down somewhat.

I thought I’d done a pretty good job narrowing it down already. Then, at lunch with a fellow student doing his thesis, I started to explain my plans for the research.

This brilliant Master’s Thesis topic? Turns out it’s a brilliant Dissertation topic. Time to keep narrowing it down. And down. And down. How much more specialised do you want me to be? (Suddenly, I hear Naomi’s voice in my head, talking about specializing your services.) Auugh. More thought work. More drilling down into the details of the details. Auugh.

On the other hand, now I’ve got my Dissertation topic all figured out, if I ever get that far. 🙂

Wishing you a lovely day, keep catching your insightings!

Love,

Sari

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