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small steps

January 16, 2018 , , , , , , , , ,

Watching this video reminded me of something I have been working on all holidays; taking small steps.

In the end, it’s not how much time you have, or how great your project framework or idea. It’s not how foolproof your planning, or how fast you can work.

It’s how determined you are to finish the project. How much you are willing to sit there and work dedicatedly at something that may not feel enlivening, fun, or inspiring all the time, knowing and trusting that there is a rhyme and reason to your work. Knowing that all your little actions and thoughts add up, that you are making progress. Steady, incremental progress. No flashiness, no great neon billboards. Moving a mountain one grain of sand at a time.

Quite frankly, it feels like uninspiring, boring work. But that’s where the patience and determination really kick in. In our world of instant gratification, this is real old-school values and work ethic.

I am working on a large-scale choral commission right now and I have inevitably ended up in the “shit” bellcurve of the whole creative process. I’m trying to resurrect a 16-bar coda that is DOA and couldn’t be resuscitated for all the electrical impulses in the world. But I am stubborn and creatively pig-headed, and I keep slogging away at it, with no result that I am happy with. I’m talking hours of wasted afternoons, hacking away with a blunt knife.

I hate these 16 bars with an unholy passion. And they sit there on my desktop, along with the rest of the epic ruins of my composition, festering.

So I decide to be smarter and kinder to myself, and it. Step back, sharpen my knife, and engage. I take 10 minutes each night to see if I can gently coerce some life back into the final section. I actually sit beside the ruins of my composition and problem-solve. From trying to hammer out a solution, to gently clearing the rubble, brick by brick, note by note, I have clarity. Each afternoon or evening, just 10 minutes. Inevitably what happens is I start getting interested, because it’s a more connective process. I start liking what I am creating and hearing.

After a solid week of 10-minute interventions, I have something which has a framework that resonates of me. That I am happy with. All that stress and worry, when all I needed to do was START and KEEP GOING.

It’s the same with my Chinese New Year cleaning. Each year, we clean our houses from top to bottom to herald in the new year. It’s the clearing of the “old spirits” to allow new luck to flow in, new momentum and life. Anything that hasn’t been cleaned and cleared out allows the previous year’s qi to stagnate, and that part of your life doesn’t grow. So then you get super-superstitious and overly ambitious and want to clear out EVERYTHING immediately. It’s very Marie Kondo, but without the sparking, and definitely without the joy, just the overwhelming enormity of Spray N’ Wipe + paper towels.

I couldn’t face doing even a whole room some days. But I JUST STARTED. One shelf in the pantry, that was 5 minutes. The dust on the skirting of the living room. The wine rack. My clothes. Sort, fold, bundle up the giveaways. All the blankets + pillows. My bookshelves. The bathrooms. The study, the photographs, my choral and piano music. And somehow, quietly, peacefully and miraculously, my whole house is done. I am ready. I am ready to open up my arms and welcome the new year.

It was a curious mixture of flow and determination. There were several days where for both tasks, I really didn’t feel like starting anything, but I did. And when I did, I became involved, engrossed, and quietly interested. There’s a metronomic safety to to what 10 minutes of “just starting” can bring, and you surprise yourself by how much you achieve in those snippets.

It wasn’t muscle work, and it was never full days of intense mental or physical labour.

It was just starting. And continuing. And persisting with quiet determination at a task.

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