January 17-22 debrief

All things considered, it’s been a great week; somehow mustering the courage and will to record Day 1-4 of #100daysofpractice, including Day 4’s substantial instructional but highly rewarding work, making progress with the Shostakovich, and moving things along with the Mozart.

Physically, it’s been a really rough week. My right wrist has been inflamed and seriously bothering me this entire week. Since the booster shot on Monday, it’s been flaring up non-stop. Even the anti-inflammatory medication I’m taking nightly isn’t really taking the edge off the pain. I’m going to take the biologic injection early this week in an attempt to quell the fiery sting of the inflammation gnawing away at the right side of my wrist.

I cannot negate how much this affects me mentally either. There will be moments of relief and I think ‘oh hey, it’s getting better’, but nope. It’s back. And there’s very little I can do apart from running that doesn’t engage the hands and the wrists.

There’s so much I’m anxious over. But primarily, the Feb festivals deadline is encroaching. The rejections from the Cliburn and the Santander competition were like brutal slaps on my face. I still don’t know whether the Takamatsu competition is going ahead or not. I spoke of uncertainty last time, but there’s a lot that’s gnawing away at me right now. It’s hard to find peace. And I think that’s why I’ve got to write it all down. Typing is currently less painful than writing, but I think typing really helps me so I will hopefully continue this endeavour.

I found some other competitions that have an age limit of over 30 – that instilled some hope. I also have to consider switching gears. I know I deep down want that first prize or want that big win, and most of all, I want so bad to play with orchestras. But I ought not to negate emailing and sending a more modern press kit to small orchestras either. An agent would probably be doing something like that for me normally but without an agent, I have to do that for myself.

There’s so much on my mind that it’s sometimes very hard to focus. There’s content – I want to be and stay consistent with it. And with content, that can grow so much – from weekly podcasts, skits, challenges and fun videos, to educational videos and an exploration into music production, songwriting, and composition. It’s seriously endless. How do all the successful people do it???!!?

Then there’s the music side of it. I believe I ought to have recordings done each year. This could range from EPs to full recordings. And I’ll have to probably produce these on my own. Which hall will I use? Who knows. Will I hire an engineer? Who knows. But I have to start somewhere. This will definitely help my plea to play with orchestras and be engaged with concert venues.

And then of course, there’s the business side of things. I originally thought that I could perhaps do all this AND have a job on the side. Something not too demanding, in the industry where I can meet people, and yet, engaging enough for me to learn something. As much as I would like to do this, I realise that I cannot max myself out. How will I stay afloat with a job AND content AND my own practice and music recordings AND teach AND do performances?

Unless you haven’t realised, it’s a LOT to do. And because of my propensity to say yes to a lot of social engagements (it’s very hard to say no to a close friend’s 30th – nor do I think it’s healthy to be completely isolated), I am left to fend for myself with time, with energy, and with consistency.

I CANNOT begin to express how much I’m going to miss having my Kawai piano when I’m gone. I wish I could take it with me. I really need an instrument that I can trust and I can express myself and this ticks the box. I love the space I get to work in, from my bookshelf to my sometimes cluttered but dependable desk.

There’s also issues with family that I’m chipping away at as well. My wrist is bothering me even now when all I’m doing is typing. Sigh*

Ok. I’m done ranting. I should take a shower, get ready for bed, do my injections, and try again tomorrow. On a brighter note, I discovered the immense joy of play once more. During the birthday party today at Heritage park, a friend brought some wooden paddles and small squash-like balls, and we just played with that for some time and it was SO fun. We also threw a NERF rocket thing around and that was fun. I really missed that. And I hope I have the chance to keep playing and challenging myself physically whilst still having fun.

OH. Another win of the week. 4km run in the rain, 3x up that mighty hill. Mantras that helped? ‘Not done yet’, and the fact that I have to ‘EARN it’. Looking forward to the next run.

On Uncertainty

Part of surviving the last 2 years has been navigating the ever-changing waters of uncertainty, and it’s very much like trying to stay afloat on a surfboard whilst out in the open seas. I received news today that I was not admitted into the Van Cliburn Piano Competition screening auditions today, and although I had a sneaking suspicion that would be so, I was really hoping for some good news. A few days prior, there was news from the Takamatsu International Piano Competition (which I fortunately did get admitted into), that they would be considering postponing the competition in light of the situation in Japan.

With my departure from Sydney encroaching but never quite set in stone, it’s like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel yet the disc of light remains the same pale glow no matter how long you’ve been in the tunnel. How am I supposed to know how to plan out my future?

In preparing for the competition, I’ve set up a regiment of self-discipline and deliberate rest (more on that later after I’ve figured out myself a bit more), but now that days, weeks, and months seem to come and go like the crashing of waves – constant, uncontrollable, and unceasingly relentless, everything is feeling out of my grasp. Is this normal? Is it normal to feel like my career, my future, and my hopes and dreams to be seemingly out of my control?

And to be honest, I still don’t exactly know what it is that I will do. I’m 30 and I really have not figured it out. Part of it has to do with fear, insecurity, a lack of discipline, and distractions.

Let me give you an example. I have yet to pluck up the courage to post on instagram – the 100days of practice challenge. It’s not that bloody hard but I still haven’t gotten down to doing it.

Another example – and this is the one that’ll take some courage: approaching orchestras around NSW and beyond with my recordings, my CV, my bio, and asking to play with them.

What is it going to fucking take for me to slot out the time to actually get these things done?

Another example: PODCASTS. I’ve been rambling on and on about them, sharing the dream with the likes of dear friends, and I have still yet to get it done.

A wise friend once asked me: am I disappointed with myself? Honestly, no. I am not disappointed with what I have achieved so far but – and a REALLY huge ‘but’ is that, I KNOW I can do so much more. I know I am capable of so much more, and the desire, the hope, the intrinsic hunger to prove myself, to share things of beauty, goodness, and truth with the world, and the thirst to explore, delve, suffer, grind, and refine myself from a lump of Asian Australian coal to something remotely shiny – it’s there.

What will it take?

I keep trying to adopt disciplines, activities, and regiments. I keep trying to learn from the greats (reading this book called Rest by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang), but the hours continue passing me by.

Writing helps – that much I know for sure. And I’m going to go back to practice now. But an image came to mind just now and I’ll try to illustrate it so that it becomes more highly defined.

The inevitable waves of uncertainty will continue to rock the boat (or board) that I’m on. Any pioneer must tread the waters of uncertainty, at times gasping for air, in any adventure. To expect any sort of adventure without uncertainty is to live much too comfortably. I must ride out these waves of uncertainty remembering that:

1. I don’t need to prove myself to anybody.
2. I must keep on keeping on.
3. Show up and do the bloody work.
4. I must find the time to look back on how far I’ve come and plan the journey ahead. Writing helps. Maybe that’s the discipline I must continue to adopt.

And to you, Witt – HBD. May waves of good fortune drift you gently but surely to the shores of fulfilment and peace.

60 seconds to remind you to go outside

A walk in Darvall Park

yes, we’re still in lockdown but I’ve discovered that within my 10km radius of allowed venturing, I have a LOT of parks around me that I have yet to explore. And so, I took my camera out and filmed some snippets to try and remind you and also myself, that although the monotony of lockdown can be suffocating, notwithstanding the uncertainty of my own future and outcomes of plans, nature is ever changing, ever different, and gives us a glimpse that there is hope and light at the end of the tunnel.

What It Takes (Reminder for Self)

What does it say about my long term vision and the manifestation of it, if I am incapable of saying ‘no’ to short term escapes and pleasures?

What does it say about how clearly my long term goals – a fruitful podcast, music school business, performing career, motivational speaker, writer, notable investor, holiness – are articulated and festering in my mind, if I do not have the motivation to stop scrolling on Instagram, or to go to sleep and wake up punctually?

Jordan Peterson, when talking about porn, alcohol, and other addictions, that the reason people are still addicted is because there is no clear, crystallised, and loftier purpose, vision, mission, and drive for something beyond the immediate pleasures? We give up on our future selves when we submit to our old habits – habits and pleasures we KNOW do not and will not truly satisfy and fulfil us.

So, what’s the cure?

Write down, read, and visualise one’s goals, purpose, and mission in life everyday. Be accountable to yourself through your own word. If you set your eyes on heavenly and mountainous tasks, your hunger and craving for the broken, temporal, and fickle treats of this world will diminish.

I will never get back the hours I’ve spent mindlessly scrolling on Instagram. Pursuing, seeking, and suckling on the parched teat of a medium that holds no tangible nourishment, I’ve been there so much it will no doubt dismay my future self.

And that’s the thing too. Every moment I work hard, do what is right, pursue meaningful relationships, practice deliberately, pounce on what is uncomfortable and difficult, relentlessly fight for perfection and holiness, is a moment not wasted on my future self.

That future self does not magically find itself successful, holy, accomplished, righteous, knowledgeable, wise, and influential. It’s built on these moments: these minute-to-minute micro decisions that accumulate over time to build a life worthy of having lived.

Giving your best everyday

I wanted to share this from James Clear’s Friday emails:

“Improvement is a battle that must be fought anew each day.

Your next workout doesn’t care how strong your last one was.

Your next essay doesn’t care how popular your last one was.

Your next investment doesn’t care how smart your last one was.

Your best effort, again.”

I relate to this because although knowledge and mastery of a piece can develop away from the instrument, ultimately, the wrestling, the refining, and the craftsmanship is consistent work.

Sometimes, I’m working out and I ask myself – why is it still so painful? And that’s wrong. It’ll always be painful because I’m pushing myself. There are easy workouts, just as there are easy pieces of music and less deliberate practice. But it ought to be painful because I’m giving my ‘best effort’ everyday.

I LOVE IT. I hope this inspires you.

photos by the amazing Stuart Lowe

Mental Warm-Up

Warming up at the campfire  watching the sunset

Getting started is not easy, especially if it’s something monumental (in your head or in reality). In spite of all my efforts to try and psyche myself into action, I’ve always found myself procrastinating more.

So here are some things I’m trying to overcome this hurdle to my hurdle.

1. Situate yourself in the environment of work. Sit in the chair where you’ll be doing the work. Then, instead of scrolling on Instagram or Tiktok, open up a notepad and read a non-fiction book, ideally something inspiring like a business book. I’ve been getting into Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Thing About Hard Things.

2. As you read or meditate in your seat, jot down any ideas or tasks that come to mind. Our brain instinctively knows what we need to do and it’s constantly working within our subconscious to come up with ideas for the task at hand. BUT our mind is also fearful, full of doubts, and worries.

3. At some point, you’ll want to do things related to the task at hand; writing a simple email, researching something small, and a little bit at a time, we warm up to the idea of this task. Mentally, we’re riled up to tackle the task at hand.

So whenever something is too big to face, don’t forget to warm up. It takes some time to get into the zone. As with piano, our fingers are not instantaneously prepared to tackle difficult études or concerti without warming up. But after some preparation, it’s game on.

Why I love opera

Every musical phrase starts with a breath. And with that breath, we paint the poetry of life’s joys and sorrows. Inevitably, some phrases reach a climax, a cadence. In that moment, just before the release, we hold our breath, in awe of how powerfully these words, these cries, these vibrations in the air, can pierce into the shell of our masked human-ness.

It strikes, it pierces, and then it evaporates. Comforting, enfolding, and surrounding us with warmth and strength of feeling as we exhale, foreshadowing and reminding us of the phrases within our very own existence.

Buffer time

I feel incredibly creative and motivated when I have buffer time. Buffer time includes train or bus rides where I have no choice but to sit and wait. Or when I was in quarantine. The parameters of buffer time include an unexpected or expected large X amount of time where they’re physically and logistically in limbo.

It allows for reading, listening to podcasts, reflecting and thinking, blogging, creating social media posts.

What buffer time, when used wisely – having a window seat helps immensely with creativity and joy – allows for the brain to feed. Often, our brains are geared towards output and processing, in the case of work and practice. Or the brain is involved in managing movement and mediating between the conflicts of pain prevention and pain absorption (as in the case of workouts). Or it’s forming language and articulating ideas, balancing various emotions and intuitive senses as one holds a conversation.

It’s not often the brain is left simply to eat in peace. The ever changing visual stimuli of being on a vehicle is unimportant and rudimentary. The brain feeds lightly on what is entering the brain through the speakers – yet it knows that it does not have to engage fully in response. Sometimes ideas can be observed in various perspectives like a glass prism. Other times, it can feed, sit back, soak in the sun, and chill out.

Surprisingly, this is when the brain is able to come up with pretty excellent ideas. It’s the force of not having to try too hard that allows for soft whispers of revelations in the breeze.

Thus, the crazy idea for today isn’t to give your brain any particular demand. Give it that train, bus, or plane ride (if possible), or even a leisurely walk. Sit by a window and watch people walk by. Being momentarily and intentionally unproductive can lead to some pretty interesting things!

How to breathe better

Breathing deeper and exhaling slowly activates the diaphragm, which sends messages to the vagus nerve to turn on the parasympathetic nervous system. Once your body believes it’s in a more parasympathetic state (even if your mind is still trying to manage the stress), you’ll be calmer, more relaxed, and able to lower your heart rate.

This is vital for performance anxiety. Or any anxiety in general.

Inhale through your nose with your diaphragm (or your abdominal muscles), and gradually exhale. The more you’re able to train this diaphragm (a muscle that is essentially the lid on top of a cylindrical support for your spine, your posture will improve, your breath will be your anchor during times of stress, and your quality of life will improve.

Try it. Do the unusual.