I have been intending to do my spring cleaning – for many years! I have stashed possessions in boxes and bags and put them in closets out of sight. It is so much easier to talk about cleaning out closets and getting rid of clutter than actually doing it. Practicing is also like that! Just put if off!!
This year proved to be different. When I was in the bank a week ago, I saw a sign that said a truck that could shred papers would be parked at the bank this past weekend. I got pumped. I felt motivated. If I worked on cleaning out some clutter each day, I could have my house straight and neat in a week.
Determined, I began with my study. Frankly, in approaching the challenge I had made for myself, I did not know where or how to start as I surveyed my life-in-cardboard boxes before me. My desk, my closet, my drawers, my shelves, my bookcases, my files – all filled to the brim with my life’s work.
At first, I thought I would just be unsentimental and throw out reams of papers and documents – after all, I reasoned, if I had not read or used something in a long time why should I keep it? That rationale lasted only a few minutes. As I started to unload some of my past history, I started to see documents and programs and rough drafts and infinite revisions that had defined my career change from music to psychology – and subsequently blended the two areas. Early letters (and replies) with people who became mentors, dissertation chairs, friends and confidants came to my attention – like rediscovering precious recordings.
I stopped to read them and reminisce and remember about those moments and people as yesterday. I had saved virtually everything. I found my earliest presentations and papers and handouts on stage fright. I could visualize the first talks I gave, the trips I took, and the proposals I wrote to offer classes at schools on the topic. I re experienced the evolution of my thinking and saw my research and clinical interests deepen. I found flyers from my first book “Melodies of the Mind” that had been sent to me by my publisher. Did I still really need all 100 of them? I also have numerous posters of “Managing Stage Fright”. My life in clutter! How could I throw out anything and let a shredder permanently disembowel my existence?
So I decided not to throw out everything but to reorganize my life-on-paper – more neatly and more carefully while deciding to discard duplicates and items that truly were not relevant or legible. In doing this, I spent hours of rereading and emotionally reexperiencing my past. It was cathartic.
Yesterday arrived and it was the day to take my life to the shredder truck at the bank. Despite being far from finished with the task I had set out for myself, I had to stop – pause – and deliver the bags of memories that I felt I could allow to be gobbled up forever. As I unloaded the trunk of my car and handed over my bags to the man who was in charge, I felt a lump well up in my throat. I said good bye to my papers and drove off.
Why am I writing about this topic in my blog that ostensibly is supposed to be about stage fright? I had several ideas brewing that could have turned into blogs. While I still am processing this question myself, I wanted to share a message that perhaps will help you feel less anxious – so you will not clutter your mind with fears about performing. Obviously, by procrastinating for years, my job had become bigger and more complex. Similarly, if you put off practicing you do not make the process of learning music easier…….or feel as secure as possible on stage. In fact, procrastination is an avoidance tactic that seldom works -especially in the long run. Don’t put your feelings in boxes – deal with them as they arise (with your teacher and/or a therapist) and do not clutter your mind with anxiety. It is more difficult to deal with years of unattended stress.
Paradoxically, I think another motivation for writing about my “spring cleaning” is to suggest that you stop practicing for a short time – a day, a couple of days – and take stock of your life. Think about WHY you are doing what you are doing. Are you finding pleasure in your hard work? Do you find purpose in playing and studying music? Are you cleaning out some cobwebs in your mind that put greater perspective on what it means to you to make music and to share it with others through performance? Can you see your past as a satisfying process? If so, then you too are cleaning your mental musical closets and appreciating what has been and continues to be important for you. Hopefully you realize it is the process and accumulation of experiences and memories that you take on stage with you. Look at the big picture and enjoy what you are doing in the present.
I have neither finished cleaning my closets nor of making more memories through my work. But the time capsule I just revisited made me appreciate how far I have come – and how much further I wish to go.