(Okay, it’s not one weird trick so much as it’s a multi-part framework, but if you expect a clickbait title to be truthful, hello sweet summer child, maybe the internet is not the place for you.)
So I spent most of 2020 feeling really crappy on the practicing front (and also, on all the fronts, ICYMI we are in a whole-ass pandemic). I had bursts of forced productivity where I bullied myself into expending all my energy pounding away at music like everything was fine, followed by long stretches of burnout where I felt hopeless and uncreative and all my discipline evaporated like it had gotten dusted in the Thanos snap. My pre-pandemic practicing routine was pretty rigorous and at the start of 2021, I found myself wondering how I was going to work my way back up to that, particularly as my relationship to practicing felt overly burdened with guilt and self-loathing after many months of false starts and forced busywork.
For the past few months I’ve been working my way back into a healthy practicing routine, and making minute but definite progress, and it all is happening only because I gave myself new rules and expectations that would have horrified my pre-pandemic self and honestly may horrify you too. But they’ve been instrumental (ha) in getting me to move forward and trust myself and actually feel good about sitting down at the piano, so I’m going to share what’s worked for me. (I have already written about and been interviewed about the crappiness of maintaining a practice routine during the pandemic with no live performances to work for, so that’s all I’ll say here because this post is not about that.)
Some disclaimers before we get started: the tips and methods I detail here are what I consider “harm reduction” guidelines for practicing; they are not practice/productivity hacks, they are not how I normally operate to achieve professional-level work, and I do not endorse or recommend this with kids—this is solely an account of the framework that has helped me to drag myself forward while in the recovery stage of dealing with a protracted crisis.
Although I am, at this point, really dragging, unable to get back to any emails in a reasonable amount of time, and needing to lie down multiple times a day, I am gritting my teeth and making myself write this post, because it is February 2021 and if I don’t get around to this now, I never will.
2020 was a real [obscene hand gesture] of a year—I won’t bore you with details because, well, it communally sucked for everyone, didn’t it? If you’re interested, I wrote a whole piece over on Substack that is my best attempt at describing the suspended state of despair I think we were all in, and specifically describes the futility of making music in that state.
If you missed it, I also put together a blog post in August summarizing the things I had managed to accomplish; for the highlights of what else I was able to do after that, kindly see the press page on my website.
My reading goal in 2020 was to read more new books than I had the year before; since I finished 64 new books in 2019, my goal for 2020 was 65. I ended up blowing past that number in August, and by the end of December had finished a nice round 100. I have no idea what my reading goal is for this year, if any, since a goal of 100+ gets you into the realm of reading for the sake of reading, which goes against everything I stand for, so for now I’m just 🤷🏻♀️ about my reading goal for this year.
Before I get into my list, several observations I took away from a year of reading:
Here is a gift guide, because I felt like writing one. Did anyone ask for this? No. Do I have enough clout to justify the effort? Also no. Here it is anyway.
(If you are one of my friends or family, and you are close enough to me that it is likely I will be giving you presents in December, STOP READING!!!)
There are no affiliate links in this, because despite the weird emails I get asking me to promote stuff, I’m not an influencer. There are also no Amazon links here—that’s right, this is an AMAZON-FREE GIFT GUIDE. (Of course, most of the stuff here can be bought on Amazon, but I strongly urge you to buy from small businesses—local if possible—or at the very least, direct from the companies themselves.)
Every single item on this list is a thing I have bought or used myself, that I seriously love, and can wholeheartedly recommend. Again, there is zero monetary incentive for me to post this stuff. There isn’t a super strong theme here, although I kind of noticed that everything fits in the category of “stuff that makes life at home more enjoyable,” because travel is a distant memory at this point.