Music: Twirling Dance

“Twirling Dance” depicts the following scene:

I saw a young woman dancing outside near a lake, clad in an iridescent blue dress. The environment around me had a distinctive cerulean glow all around, as though I were looking into a celestial realm of sorts. She continued to dance until suddenly transforming into a small bird.

When she transformed, the environment also transformed into a tunnel through space itself. The bird swooped throughout the tunnel, flying in all directions, before transforming back into a young woman. This time, she danced upon the lake itself. When finished, she froze in place and became a statue.

The original art depicting this scene was created by my dear wife.

Music: “Flurries”

I saw snow falling in large, light flakes, blanketing the grass. It was late evening, with the distant sun barely an ember of orange within the deep gray backdrop of sky.

The snowflakes grew into each other upon hitting the ground, as though they were fast-growing yeast or sinew. Each flake carried a story and reflected, as a mirror, the environment surrounding it.

The flakes poured from the sky, which was a nexus  – a wormhole of sorts – between multiple realms or realities. The story carried by each flake was a history, or a tale, or simply a thing of beauty, from its realm. Some of the flakes carried their realm’s entire history. Were the flakes creating a new realm or universe as they fell and melted into one another?

Each flake appeared to be alive, sentient, and conscious.

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How patient can I be with myself today?

Ask the following question out loud: “How patient can I be with myself today?”

Now, ask it again.

Now ask it one more time.

Say it when you wake up every morning, and perhaps also before beginning the day’s work.

Of all the skills that go into learning a new skill, accomplishing a difficult task, or achieving a goal, few are more important than simple patience.

Are you enduring a difficult trial, and do not know when it will be over? “How patient can I be with myself today?”

Are you attempting to learn a complicated piece of music, and it is not working? “How patient can I be with myself today?”

Are you creating a new work, but it is taking longer than anticipated, or the ideas are simply not flowing? “How patient can I be with myself today?”

It is tempting to fall into the trap of, “I must solve this specific problem”, or, “I must force the ideas to come quickly”, only for them not to come or the problem not to be solved (or even for it to be compounded). If the solution to a problem is like a cat, then simply calling it to come to you, or attempting to force it to do so, is unlikely to be effective. The only reliable way to entice a cat to come to you is to bait it with its favorite food…and then wait for it to come to you. (Read more about this idea here.)

This does not mean that a writer should not keep writing in an attempt to break writer’s block. It simply means that constantly writing serves a different purpose than it, perhaps, is thought to. The purpose of freewriting to break a block is not to actually use the material that is freewritten (much of which is likely to be utter rubbish). The purpose of freewriting is to identify the “favorite food” of the cat. The phrase, the concept, the small group of words, the character, the anything, that will entice the creativity to flow again.

This, of course, requires patience. The same patience exercised by an archaeologist who digs in the dirt to find a valuable artifact. The same patience exercised by a poet shaping words to find the perfect verse. The same patience exercised by a violinist who practices a given bow technique over and over and over until the bow glides across the string.

And this is the patience that a composer, a writer, a painter, a choreographer, or any other creative professional, must master. We do not wait patiently. We must write patiently. A composer must sketch melodic fragments…patiently. An illustrator must scribble random lines, shapes, and objects…patiently. Freewriting seems most effective when done quickly…but with an underlying attitude of patience. To the creative person who is stuck, who is frustrated, who feels no inspiration, but who keeps writing anyway, know this: you will find a great idea. You will identify the favored treat. The cat will come to you.

How patient can I be with myself today?

With all of these things, patience is the real game that one must play. The only one against whom I am competing is myself (and no competitor is more fearsome for an artist than himself), and patience quiets this inner competitor. It gives assurance not that a project will be completed by tomorrow, or that a certain skill will be mastered by next week, or that a trial will be over by the end of the month, but it does provide hope through a reminder that these things will be completed…sometime. They will be completed eventually. They will, indeed, be completed.

And when we complete something, we often forget about the effort that it took to complete it. A former student of mine who was a United States Marine said, “After the training is over, it just seems like it was a bad dream.” It did not “scar” him, and he did not appear to agonize over it. It was simply over, and he now possessed the skills that it was intended to teach him. A mountain climber may not remember the pain or endurance required after he reaches the top and beholds the glorious, cloudless sunrise. A child does not remember tripping and falling on his face while learning to walk. He simply knows that he can walk now.

In many things, patience is a key ingredient, and mastery of it is often one of the greatest determinants in success. As students, may we always ask ourselves, “Will I remember this struggle five years from now?” As teachers, may we always strive to remind our students of this simple, critical skill. May we provide ample opportunities for our them to practice it, and may we especially model it for them through our own patience with them. May we remind them that, whatever their current struggles with learning may be, they will not remember most of them five years from now. Let us remind them that struggles are often brief, but that the skills gained from them last a lifetime.

How patient can I be with myself today?

Music: Lonely Waltz

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Lonely Waltz is a brief and simple waltz. The classically-oriented listener may notice the influence of (and a blatant tribute to) Maurice Ravel, an early 20th-century French composer (one of my favorites).

Music: “Buried Hopes”

Buried Hopes was written for a short video, in which a person remembers her childhood dream to play the piano and wishes to bring the joy of music to her own children. The original composition used in the video ends with a “question mark” chord to segue into a contented jazz tune for the second half; I have altered the ending of the standalone piece to sound more “final”. In this form, the piece depicts a person who has had a lifelong dream of playing the piano, but now wonders if it is too late to learn. (Let me reassure anyone who wonders this: it is never too late.)

Listen to this piece directly on SoundCloud

Music: Pathfinder

I saw a person sitting in the air, high enough to see the curvature of the planet they were above. The person manipulated images that floated in front of them, which depicted various scenes from the planet. This person evidenced an intense curiosity, as if seeking something very specific within the images. Not finding it, they eventually dismissed the images as the planet receded from view. What was this person looking for, and will they find it?

Listen to this piece directly on SoundCloud

Music: Dragonfly Dreams

For this composition, I saw a mystical dragonfly glowing an iridescent blue, flitting about a field on a sunny day. Suddenly, the day turns to night, and the dragonfly finds itself in a dark, mysterious forest with dangers lurking everywhere, and where even the laws of gravity do not apply. As it is about to be eaten by quickly-growing, carnivorous vines, daylight abruptly returns as before.

Shortly thereafter, the scene shifts again. The dragonfly now glides above the clouds, as though it is being carried along by currents in the air. It leaves wakes of bright color as it dances, and begins a bold nosedive. Suddenly, the environment twists into the forest from before, and the dragonfly again finds itself in danger. As the darkness nearly swallows it, the peaceful daytime and the vast field suddenly return. The dragonfly resumes its flight as though nothing has happened. Perhaps it simply had a series of waking dreams?

Listen to the piano version directly on SoundCloud

Listen to the orchestral version directly on SoundCloud

To My Third-Grade Teacher: Thank You

To my third-grade teacher: thank you. I don’t know where you are, or if you’re even still teaching. Whatever you’re doing, I hope you are very happy and have many joyful years ahead of you.

I was a quirky kid. I am now a quirky adult. I didn’t often pay attention in class, I hated doing homework, I didn’t always do well on tests, and I wasn’t very social. (In fact, I was downright awkward.) My mind traveled paths that no one else would have even made sense out of, and this is probably because they didn’t make sense.

Everyone else solved their math problems. I drew rocketships. At recess, everyone wanted to play kickball (which I did sometimes), skip rope, or just plain run around. My friends and I imagined we were space explorers on a distant planet, fighting off vicious, monstrous space aliens bent on our destruction. Everyone else was interested in sports. I was interested in robots, monsters, and anything having to do with space. Everyone else listened to you as you spoke to them of the real world. I listened to my muses speak to me of my own universe.

I was a terrible student. You really put up with a lot. And yet, you never discouraged me. You never judged me. You even called me creative. Somehow, I even passed your class.

One day, you gave me a book of science-fiction stories to take home. I read them all. And then, I read them again. And again. And again. I devoured them like a meal that constantly regenerated. I thanked you over and over while everyone else was silently reading their books. Each time, you politely said, “You’re welcome. I’m glad you like them.” My classmates probably thought it was odd (and it definitely was). To others, this book was strange. To me, it was an inexhaustible treasure-trove of pure imagination.

It inspired me. I wrote some of my own stories. And then I wrote some more. And more. And more. Over the years, I created an entire universe inside of my head, complete with characters, backstory, epic events, heroes, villains, ancient technologies, war, peace, joy, sorrow, and redemption. This continues even to this very day. You didn’t just give me a book of fun stories to read. You gave me a spark. You lit a fire. It has burned every waking second since then, and I hope it never goes out.

I’m not sure what you saw in me. I’ve heard stories of teachers telling students to “come back to the real world,” “pay attention,” “get out of your bubble,” “come out of your shell,” “stop entertaining these silly fantasies of yours,” or any other of innumerable ways to silence a world that they simply did not understand (I’m not sure I understand it myself). I don’t know where you got your nearly bottomless patience. I don’t know why you put up with me for as long as you did. Truthfully, I’m curious about why.

But whyever you did it, the result was extraordinary. You didn’t merely teach me or entertain me. You inspired me. I have become a musician, and brought joy to people through my music as well. I now consider it my fundamental language, and I use it to inspire others. And every time I see a student who is like me, I remember you. I remember the patience you showed. I remember how inspiring it was to read those stories. I remember your encouragement to me, and I try to pass that along to my own students. I teach them music that they enjoy, and I see the same light in their eyes that I remember in my own when I discovered I could express my inner world.

So, to my third-grade teacher: thank you. I hope to see you again one day, but even if I don’t, I hope you know the gift you have given me. I hope that you know the joy you have brought. And I hope that you, too, have found a way to express your inner world.