Necessary Roses

Way back when I was a piano student, I had to participate in the annual ritual of the recital. I hated it. HATED IT, and a lack of performance ability is why I eventually abandoned the career in music that was already supporting me.

But I did learn a lot from the whole recital ordeal, besides the fact that I am not cut out to be a performer (for reasons I am only now beginning to understand). My piano teacher was an inspired instructor, and one of her tenets was that to really learn a piece of repertoire, you had to master it, then put it away, then come back around later and master it again. I would learn my recital pieces in the fall, then forget about them over the winter, and pick them up again in spring.

I once asked Cathy Maxwell, who has written many a fine book, what one lesson she had to keep learning over and over as a writer. Her answer would have resonated with my piano teacher. She said something like: If the story isn’t coming, if I’ve tried all my usual tricks to get through a knothole, then I need to shut off the computer and walk away.

As a writer, I am rationally convinced of the creative necessity for frolics, holidays, and intermissions. The well goes dry if all I do is stare at the screen.

But society generally frowns on intermissions. We no longer have even two-minute commercial breaks, we instead binge entire seasons of streamed content. Our version of the Sabbath is usually a highly structured, busy day even if it’s a religiously observant day. Endless scrolling is the default design. Year round school (because less re-teaching, I know). Prep years instead of gap years. We are lucky to get a whole two weeks paid vacation after working without interruption for an entire year, and it’s not necessarily vacation–it’s “personal time,” meaning too bad if you use it all up being sick or caring for sick loved ones.

And yet, for some inexplicable reason, entrepreneurship across the whole US marketplace has been trending downward for fifty years. Now why is that?

Growing up, I heard, “Proboscis ad carborundum!” And if it wasn’t nose-to-the-grindstone, it was another of my dad’s famous aphorisms, “You gotta gnaw it to death.”  And yet, the guy who pounded that into my head took almost daily long walks in nature when he was at his most productive, largely because my mom made him walk with her. He went on every possible sabbatical, he nipped off on weeks-long scientific “expeditions” that I suspect bore a resemblance to party boat excursions on a yacht with a lab on board.

Dad’s words venerated unrelenting effort, his deeds were about the absolute necessity of building in a seventh inning stretch–and a third inning stretch, and maybe a fifth inning stretch too.

How do you know you need an intermission? How do you build in the frolics and detours? What is your ideal break from the routine? Are you getting enough of them? To three commenters, I’ll send ARCs of Miss Dignified (no later than mid-December).


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

15 comments on “Necessary Roses

  1. Your piano teacher was wise–we call learning a piece, then putting it away for a bit “letting it marinate.” Most of the time, when you come back to that piece, you have an insight you didn’t have before. Whether you realize it or not, the “marinating” allows you contemplate without being conscious you are doing so.

    My Mom would tell us with fresh eyes and rested bones, anything is possible. I learned during a college algebra class, I needed to study algebra in 2 parts–during the afternoon, then immediately when I woke up the next morning. Somehow, the concepts “stuck” better in my brain if I studied that way. In fact, I didn’t always “get it” when I studied in the afternoon but by the next morning, I did!

    I often come back to things that are difficult in my life, for whatever reason. And stepping away has benefits!

  2. I agree completely with Teenie Marie. Fresh eyes, clear head. Studying in the afternoon then come back to it in the morning with a clear head works best for me. I’m no good at sabbaticals in the way they should be. I do really well with head clearing breaks a day at a time, or even a few hours at a time. Honestly, I grab a good book and dive in when I need to clear my head. It works every time.

  3. My ideal break is to get outside. Preferably with some physical exertion built in. And nope, not getting enough of that, although I’m doing better at getting breaks now as compared to earlier in the year.
    And I know I need it when I start getting snappish. Or if I’m not sleeping well.

  4. When I was eleven and in my last year of primary school and just been given the results of my exams that would result in which school I would finish my education.A pass meant grammar school,fail meant secondary modern.I failed and was very disappointed with myself.My teacher spoke to me and wrote on my result form. “” if you don’t succeed at first try and try again”.My dad read what she had written and said” “good words”but Brenda the art to all of this is”to learn “” when to stop flogging a dead horse”!!!.I used both in my growing and beyond years.Mixed outcomes but more passes than failures.Timing and knowing ones self feature in all of it.We must have respite and fun we can’t be a robot tuned into everything and winning everything.The teacher gave me inspiration,my father wanted me to consider reality in a situation.A balance of sorts.So I survived and achieved and lost but came out knowing I have and am doing the best I can with what I have.Laughter and Smiles helps.

  5. When I was on active duty, I used all my allocated time off to recharge
    Since retirement, I haven’t had an overwhelming news to recharge so I just read on my tablet each day

  6. I’m way overdue for some adult play when the highlights of my month are my two dawn raids for groceries. Audiobooks filled in for my usual reading when the eye docs tweaked meds on my year long endurance run to deal with issues that surfaced. But I’m having to make do with YouTube & a walking treadmill for my fun since the constant doctors appointments keep me in isolation.

  7. Reading is my hobby. I really don’t have time for much else while I am working full time.

    I just read the excerpt from Miss Dignified, and smiled about the kittens. I have ten kittens. The smallest baby climbs my back and perches on my shoulder. While they are a lot of work, they are just so loveable. We also have adult cats, including 3 geriatrics, and 3 dogs. They and my human family members and a full-time job keep me busy.

    To keep from burning out, I don’t try to keep a perfect house. I go to work and do that job, make sure that everyone is fed at home, including the people, and that we have an acceptable level of cleanliness (boy has that level dropped a lot). My husband is picking up a lot of the slack. My frequent reading breaks keep me happy.

  8. My father’s comment was that my piano recitals were his lessons in humility.

    The breaks have to be in my head. The pandemic has shown me this much, that free time isn’t necessarily a break.

  9. I had this past week off as vacation.
    I got a lot of chores done, went to a dog show, took Greg to class and took time for myself.
    I found I was getting frustrated- at work and at home.
    Ongoing issue at work going round and round, house never 100% clean and feeling overwhelmed.
    I took several dog walks on the beach, got organized for the holidays and rewatched the Crown.
    Feeling overwhelmed is my trigger and usually a walk or a book resets me.

    Have a great week!

  10. I knew I was at my limit when I couldn’t think straight, When I am “in my zone” things just flow and generally work out well. By the time I couldn’t function I was past too far, had to call in sick, make counseling appointments… I will tell you that the your mom was right though, I recovered the best if I could go walking in nature, or better yet, stay there for at least a week!

    Now I am retired and trying to get my bearings, good heavens it is just as big a challenge as working. I do suspect that the antidote might be the same! – Good call Grace’s mom!

  11. I have a couple of books that are my turn everything else off and recharge books. That has been invaluable to me during quarantine when it is rare to be actually alone in the house. Also walks have saved my sanity. Even if it is only 15 minutes, it is a reliable brain resetter and double points if I can be in nature. Now that winter is upon us, walks are not as meandering and exploratory, but even more essential to not feel stir crazy.

  12. When I need a break from a project or just boring routine life, my favorite way to recharge is by cooking. I put loud music on my iPod, tie my hair back, scrub my hands, pull out cutting boards, pots and knives, and start cooking, while I dance with abandon around my kitchen! Cooking is the activity that brings me the most joy, even more so when I am cooking for friends. Now that lockdown has eased (we are all vaccinated and boostered), we have been having a monthly party with small group of friends (about 10 to 12). We are still careful to keep an air purifier or a ceiling fan gently circulating the air, but it’s just so lovely to share food and laughter with people again!

    For a while I had a subscription to one of those veggie delivery services, and delivery day was always an adventure. I never knew what I was going to receive, so it was like a culinary puzzle that I could look forward to solving every couple of weeks. Unfortunately, the subscription model changed and they delivered way more than the two of us could possibly eat. When the freezer began to fill up with veggies to eat “later” (and “later” there were even more veggies delivered!), I had to cancel the service. That routine of having an enforced day of creative cooking every couple of weeks is missed!

    Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Stay safe. Stay well!

  13. My ideal break from routine would be looking at nature.
    When I’m not paying attention to what I’m doing is when I know I need an intermission… so, I get up and putter. 🙂

  14. I have been dealing with chronic anemia. My hemoglobin so low for so long I may need an infusion. Life has changed. I decided recently to block “shoulds” from my life no matter who states them. Most come from society, the next quantity from loved ones. This means I take whatever breaks I need, for however long I need the no matter what I “should” be doing. What has resulted has been a life lived in the now which was just a cliche to me before now. I do what’s best for me right now. Take the time when you need it, because it doesn’t accumulate to use at a later date. BTW, your books have been a life saver, especially The Duke’s Disaster which I’ve read 16 times now.

  15. We, as passionate readers, are greedy, glutinous, hedonists. We try to savor a good story, but invariably take huge mouthfuls, and devour it(Nom—Nom -Nom! )
    Once we discover an author who gives us everything we want in a novel, that’s it! So please, take your time. Live your life. We’ll wait