Slowing Down.

As I’ve noted before, I’m horribly impatient. I’m impatient with myself. I’m impatient with other people. I’m impatient with the entire learning process. I’m not kind to those who force me to slow down. It’s a habit I’m trying to break, but it’s extremely difficult and forces me to resist a trait that is so much a part of me that letting go of it honestly feels like losing something that makes me, me.

Still, I’m coming to understand that slow progress is still real, measurable, lasting progress. Things learned overnight – like memorized flash cards with names of composers written on them – are gone, if not by next week, at least in six months. I’m great at quick-memorizing things so long as I understand them – remove that context, that thing to wrap my mind around, and I’m actually not great at it. I don’t understand intellectually everything that I need to do in order to make correct vocal sounds, and so I forget, sometimes, what I did the time I sounded my best.  This is what a teacher is for, but sometimes teachers speak in abstracts that my mind isn’t able to hook onto. Sometimes they want to force me to slow down, to focus on something other than my immediate goal – to sound the exact way I want to sound right now! – in order to build something that will last. It’s difficult for me to accept in the moment, but intellectually I can believe it’s the right way.

I’m trying to adopt a similar outlook toward the changes I’m trying to make in other areas of my life. I’ve been trying to make some positive changes in my health and diet, lately, and I’ve been frustrated that I can’t overhaul it all in one go, never looking back. I’m frustrated that positive changes don’t automatically mean weight loss, because, yes, like most women and performers, I’d like to be thinner, and like most stressed-out college students, eating like crap was just easier. But I’ve made deliberate, concerted efforts to change that this semester, and while I know intellectually that it’s good, I’d really like some actual evidence of that in my daily life. At this point I’d settle for more energy, but even that isn’t forthcoming.

I’m trying to be accepting of the fact that positive changes are still worth something even when I can’t see or feel the evidence that they’re making any difference. I have to be patient. I’m perfectly capable of functioning in the absence of instant gratification because I know eventually the long-term rewards will be, well, rewarding.

It doesn’t mean that right now I’m any less cranky about the progress I haven’t made, but I’m trying to trust that next year at this time I’ll be able to look back and see progress in all these areas I’m putting energy toward right now.

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This is hard.

My title sounds like complaining – and make no mistake, I’m great at complaining. It’s one of a thousand defense mechanisms I’ve cultivated: state my objections up front, so that when I inevitably fail, well, I said this was far too difficult for me and totally unfair, besides. (I suppose it’s a step in the right direction that I realize it’s a defense mechanism?)

The thing is, I complain, but I always do what’s expected of me. This hasn’t always been true of me in academic settings; I’m sure I heard the words “failing to live up to her potential” once a week as a child, and we won’t speak of my first trip through college yet. But this time around I’ve been diligent; my assignments are done, and done wellI get myself to every single class unless I’m truly sick or something unavoidable has come up. I practice – okay, maybe not quite as many hours as I should, but frequently and with particular attention to fixing the things I know need work. This is an area where I still have plenty of room for improvement, but when it comes down to it I do the work.

And sometimes it’s not enough.

On days like today, when I’ve just witnessed five of my peers do amazing things in a group vocal course, when I’m struggling with my Aural Skills class that I’ve taken twice now, when I realize that I’m reasonably competent but that’s all – and in a field where “reasonably competent” isn’t going to cut it – I have these moments of deep despair. This is hard, and I’m starting late, and I don’t know what, specifically, I want to do with any of it yet. I just know that I love it too much to quit and I have to keep trying for as long as it takes. And that it’s going to be harder work than I imagined possible.

I’m trying to learn to be okay with that; that having to really work at something doesn’t mean I’m bad at it. This isn’t a message I heard often in my life, because I am naturally good at a number of academic subjects and fairly good at winging my way through anything that doesn’t ask anything physical of me. Music is different; music has a physical component, and even ear-training isn’t something that I can logic my way out of. I wasn’t born knowing how to use my voice as efficiently and beautifully as possible. But I’ve made progress, and I can’t allow myself to believe that difficulty is a sign of weakness.

This is hard; I’m starting to come to terms with letting that be okay.