Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Elizabeth Moore on Self-Structured Time

"If the world were merely seductive that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day."  -E.B. White

It is hard to plan the day. So many possibilities. How much time should I spend improving my art through practice? And how much should I spend promoting myself as a musician and private teacher? How about on research and study? Looking into graduate programs? My health and well-being? These are questions I ask myself on practically a daily basis. And the answers are not always the same. Similarly to White, I ask myself, how best can I both improve and savor music, my music, teaching, this city? I am grateful that at this stage in my life, I have little doubt as to the "what" in filling my self-structured time for the Kenan Fellowship at LCI. It is in the organization and management of the "what" that is the greatest challenge, and that for me, makes all the difference in balancing "improvement" and "enjoyment" of my music and myself as a developing musician in New York City.

As a violist I am familiar with a significant amount of self-regulated practice time. Hours each day "free", but a commitment to my instrument that results in a very different reality. I knew that my self-structured time for the Kenan Fellowship at LCI would include time dedicated to practice. I also had a fair number of ideas about how the rest of my self-structured time could be used. And as I anticipated, filling the hours of the day has not been a struggle: practice, promoting myself as a private teacher, researching graduate school options, attending concerts, taking up yoga, preparing for and teaching private lessons... many of these activities are already represented in my daily schedule. No, filling the days is not the challenge. Doing all this and not burning myself out is.

I am at a point in my development as a musician where it is necessary for me to divide my energy in multiple directions. As a newcomer to the city I must spend time on networking and promotion that I would otherwise spend on practice and study. It is a juggling act. And like a juggling act, organizing my time effectively takes practice. I have in these first few weeks become acutely aware of what a responsibility it is to be the sole manager of one's own time. Filling hours with worthy pursuits is one thing. Remaining effective and focused is another. If I am not careful, I can end the day feeling completely drained. And ending each day feeling as if you have been hit by the train you were, in reality, riding on is not a desirable, nor, to my mind, necessary, outcome of leading a full and productive life. It is not that these are activities that I do not enjoy. It is simply that there will never be enough hours in the day, and if I am not careful it can feel as if I am waging a losing battle against the clock. I have realized that careful organization of my time each day can guard against this. The simple act of creating a list of attainable goals and tasks for the day ahead reminds me that I am moving forward. It keeps me grounded. And grounded, I am less likely to feel as though I am losing to the clock.

Perhaps the weight that I feel has to do with the fact that even though we each wrote a proposal for our self-structured time and had it approved by our mentor, Melissa and Jose, there is no one looking over our shoulders to make sure we are on task. Is this the "real world" that I have heard referred to? There are no longer classroom walls and graded papers. Our relationships are becoming more subtle than student and teacher, or student and student. There are still deadlines and expectations. And there are no excuses. I am responsible for my own success and for my failures. I have the support of friends, colleagues and mentors, but the rest is up to me.

In conclusion, I would like to be clear that for all of its challenges, managing my self-structured time is an extremely positive experience. It is not completely new or foreign, but it is leading me to examine in new depth what my strengths and weaknesses are. What comes naturally and what I must work hard to achieve. I am extremely grateful that the Kenan Fellowship at LCI is giving me the opportunity to learn from and for myself in this way. Each day I feel a bit more balanced. My feet are more firmly beneath me, and I end each consecutive day more at ease, more comfortable with myself, and what I, alone, can accomplish.

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