The Show Must Go On!

The world will keep spinning with or without you so you might as well jump onboard.

This little phrase popped up in my head this morning as I was getting ready for the day. My work load is growing and growing, and I’m finding my days packed to the brim with little compromises being made on just about everything. I want to bring my “A” game to all I do, so it bothers me to leave projects only partially finished, to be completed over time; to be prepared just enough to perform a piece sufficiently in class; to explore an idea and scribble down some thoughts without diving deeper; to run as many miles as time will allow; to get okay sleep opposed to great sleep; to apply a bit of mascara to feel at least semi-presentable before rushing out the door.

What I’ve found–once I get over the agony of not being perfect–is that none of this is necessarily a bad thing. That phrase “something is better than nothing” doesn’t quite capture how even just doing a little bit is a thousand times better–not merely just a tad better–than nothing at all. I’m recognizing the extraordinary value of even having five or ten minutes to do something, whether that means unpacking a single box (despite having many more to go), or quickly reading through an art song before performing it in class (only to be given a stack of new pieces to learn after that). It can make the difference between completing a task over time or not, and it makes a world of difference in being prepared or not. These don’t require some kind of extraordinary feat, just consistency over time and a little bit of intention. If my apartment is a disaster and if I totally bomb a piece in front of my peers, the world will keep spinning and the sun will keep rising in the morning. But I do have a say in how things turn out, and it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing situation. If I had the super power to freeze time or make the days longer I would, but I can’t, so we just do what we can with the time we’re allotted. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. How do you hike the Appalachian Trail? One step at a time. How do you learn an insane amount of music in a short amount of time? Well, you just pick and choose the notes that matter the most. :)

On a similar note, it always makes me a little sad to think about how for all the infinite things out there the world has to offer, we will only ultimately get to experience a smidgen of them. The more I learn, the more I aware I become of how little I know, and it just makes me hungry for more. In one of his recent “Not a Blog” posts, George R.R. Martin lamented, “There are hundreds of authors whose books I keep meaning to read, without ever quite getting to them. My unread shelves hold more books than I could possibly read if I lived to be a hundred and did nothing between now and then but read, all day, every day.”

How does one cope with that? Are you the kind of person that will hurry through the museum to make sure you see every single thing, or will you pause and linger at the works that you’re particularly taken with? I’m sure it all comes down to finding some kind of balance. I became enamored with long distance trails and fastest known times and explored those things deeply over the last few years. I would call that a nice, long pause and linger, and something I’ll keep coming back to. But I also wonder what is down the hall or on the next floor?

In school I’m learning more pieces than I can count on my fingers and toes for my fellowship as a collaborative pianist. The sheer amount of repertoire is daunting and stressful, but as I was walking home from the commuter rail one evening, humming an opera aria to the beat of my footsteps, I realized, “Wow, this actually fun. I’m having fun.” The constant input/output and swirling chaos that is musical performance is actually kind of addicting.

On the other end of the spectrum, for my studio class I’m learning César Franck’s Piano and Violin Sonata. The opening line is simple, but deceivingly difficult to play well. It should be played softly and voiced beautifully. My teacher and I spent five or ten minutes just focusing on the best hand movement and pedaling for the very first chord. Then together, we went through and dissected every measure of the piece. The other day I spent at least an hour studying a single page of music and had to tear myself away from the piano to move onto the next thing. I sometimes get frustrated that my fingers don’t do what my brain wants, and my teacher reminded me that it will just take time and practice. I won’t be able to learn and play this piece brilliantly in a day- it just needs time.

To go with the theme of not having quite enough time to complete a thought lately, I will leave that right there. Things to ruminate on… until next week!


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Who is Mercury?

Liz Derstine, trail name “Mercury”, is a distance runner, endurance hiker, writer, and musician residing in Boston, MA. She holds fastest known times for women on the Appalachian Trail (supported, northbound), Long Trail (self-supported), and Pinhoti Trail (self-supported).

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