On driving cars

White on white

Along with the changements that I notice in my approach to music, movement, personal relations, I am awaiting a changement in my reluctance to drive a car.

I obtained my driving license in Italy over 10 years ago and never driven afterwards, except when I lived in South Africa and there was no other mean of transportation available for me in the savanna. Getting back to drive was a fight against myself, where necessity silenced most of my fears. I still haven’t taken the wheel since my return to Europe, and feel scared, uneasy, ultimately angry with myself about that.

Learning to drive was in retrospective a constant tension with my instructor, who pushed me to try things first, and me asking for an explanation before asking the car to make any movement. I can say that I have learned to drive appropriately and safely enough, but I haven’t really internalised any of the routines, and for sure I don’t feel I could teach anyone to drive – because I can’t explain how it works.

My biggest curiosity was (and still is) to know how to get the car to move with the minimum strain possible (most visibly when switching gears, but also while turning and braking). I haven’t got/found any sufficient explanation yet, and I found the perfect coordination of movements between me and the car only twice, briefly, the space of a well-rounded turn. These moments are very vividly impressed in my mind. And curiously, they look very much like the few moments in which I felt completely at ease while playing: confidently riding the imaginary musical wave, enjoying the wind, looking with enthusiastic anticipation to the next wave – in short, in control of the situation.

This reminds me so much on how I learned to play drums: by doing, by example, by practicing and finding myself where the balance was. My analytical side of the brain always longed for expert advice, and I never bothered/dared to go on the path alone. I could get better by practice, but I never trusted practice without a clear objective. It would be like learning multiplication tables by throwing random numbers, without bothering to grasp the logic.

My gut feeling is that my parallel paths with music and horses will build up my overall confidence and improve the accuracy of my movements. I find the work on body perception especially promising. If I am scared of getting a car to move, it’s also because I have an unclear perception on how big it is, where its edges are; that could be a consequence of my incomplete body map. When I felt one with my car, I had a complete picture in my mind; I could know and control balance and movements with sufficient automatisation so that my mind could focus on the environment and the direction of movement.

I would like to practice driving the same way as I am re-learning drumming: focus on the movement, no real-life tests (no city drives; no concerts), enjoy the feedback, know what to improve. The logical step would be to take a car for a drive in the countryside, or a safe drive course (I have very high interest in such courses! I feel I would understand so much of what I need to know). Let’s see when that will happen…

 

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On movement and mind

Last Friday I attended two lessons, one at a local riding school, the other as usual at my orchestra’s rehearsal theatre.

The first lesson was my first Feldenkrais and riding lesson, with Martina Schumacher and one of her horses, Lozano. The lesson focused on the mind’s image of the body. According to usage and perceived importance, each limb and part of the body have a more or less detailed image in our mind. That is not inherently bad, but if the consequence is the uneven usage of force, or unbalance, then it makes sense to examine how the body is mapped in our mind, notice which parts could deserve more attention, and what can be done to to reach a better balance and self-awareness.

Martina guided Lozano around the arena with me in the saddle, while she guided my focus on the perception of various parts of my body, my balance, my overall feeling. Martina could not see me, as she was leading the horse; but could know if I experienced tension by noticing how Lozano increased his pace. There was a quiet and fluid understanding between the three of us, on different channels: me and Martina only speaking, Martina and Lozano by their long-time osmosis, me and Lozano by our movements. I was amazed at how Lozano decoded the smallest changements in my posture and tension, and manifested them clearly by walking faster or by relaxing his gait and body. That mirroring is hard to find among humans and other animals, as far as I know, so I am grateful that this horse gave me such clear feedback.

At the end of the lesson, Martina brought Lozano in the centre of the arena and we shortly talked about how I felt during the ride. In the meanwhile, Lozano bent his neck and touched my left foot with his nose. Maybe he wanted to draw my attention to my left side?

I dismounted and talked a bit more with Martina. I am amazed at the fact that I didn’t feel the need to address my unbalance and unevenness until, well, today. How did I survive for thirty years, doing apparently quite well? Our body is amazingly resilient.

With all this in mind, I came back home for a while and prepared my gear for my drum lesson. Not surprisingly, I am taking drum lessons (again, after ten years) with a special focus on movements and body awareness, not on technical achievements anymore (even if the distinction is fuzzy, for instruments such as drums where movement is key). I take fun and pride in mastering simple exercises that require special attention to a movement, a set of movements, coordination, control; playing loud or softly, playing exactly what I have in mind, in terms of timing and sound. I have the privilege to have a terrific teacher, who spots all little bends, tensions, hesitations; honest, gentle and helpful as a doctor.

I felt that that day I had one single long lesson, and I am eager to make progress further along these two converging paths.

Thought #3 on music practice

Let me share another small thought on my journey at the drumset.

Preparing drum rudiments infographic

I am following Drumeo’s blog with avid interest and am very glad to Jared and its team for the free lessons from so many different drummers. Today I picked a one-hour long lesson on a topic I was not especially interested in, but as my habit, I watched it anyway (with the same spirit that I taste new food and read books – how I can decide beforehand that they are not interesting?). I noticed myself moving the focus on the content of the lesson to the way the drummer-lecturer talked, played, answered questions. I had a great hour watching that man totally at ease, shining with calm happiness.

After that lesson I played a bit on my exercise pad, not very much, but I have been more focused on my movements than other days, especially while playing a special metronome exercise that lets the metronome play for two bars, then keeps it silent for two bars, then play again. The difficulty is to keep the time when the metronome is silent, and land on the first beat of the metronome when it starts again. I noticed that if I took care of keeping the amplitude of movements regular, I was also able to meet accurately the metronome when it came back. That was the key. There is little contribution from any mental skill, just a round movement, that I calibrate when the metronome ticks. Of course the difficulty of the exercise can pose a challenge, therefore practice on the movement is required. But yes! What a change of perspective. I wasn’t often told that the movement generates the time/speed of a piece – or maybe I wasn’t able to understand, at that time.

So my focus now is to get that fluency in my movements. It derives that other things are less important. Playing at concerts, for example. There will be more about that on a future post.

 

On time visualisation

Last year I experimented a bit with visualisation of time, both past and future. I was not really happy with agendas: one page per day doesn’t give enough overview, one week per page misses the monthly overview, one month per page doesn’t allow to zoom over my occasionally very busy days. I don’t find electronic formats and programs especially useful either. Now my present setup is: online calendar with all appointments and monthly view, and a simple paper notebook where I use a page a day with all the things I plan to do that day. I also have a blackboard with colour chalks where I write down what I want to do that is not yet allocated in time, or I didn’t manage to do that day. I have cyclical checks of what is to be done in next weeks/months and fill my brain RAM accordingly.

(Do have a look at Pretty Pretty Planners, from Calvin Was Right. I find them so cute!)

Still, this setup misses an overview of the whole year. Therefore, two years ago we used the Berlin transportation yearly calendar: an A3 sheet, with one line per month and one yellow dot per day. We hanged it in our kitchen and marked each passing day with a cross.

For 2015 I wanted to have more content for each passed day, so I bought a plain A3 light cardboard sheet, completely black. I then replicated previous year’s layout and created a table, with a cell for each day and a row for each month. Every day I had fun drawing the most relevant event of they day, or simply the day number. It ended up as a very colourful picture of the whole year.

As last year I made a lot of changements in my life, I felt the need to see where I was and where I was going, with the broadest perspective possible: so I made a A3 calendar of my whole life. The inspiration came from Tim Urban of Wait but Why.

I don’t post pictures here as it would be too easy to grab content out of it; but the overall feeling I got when I filled it with my school milestones, the countries I lived in, the big events, the big decisions, and see where on that piece of paper was my today, was the same feeling you get when you see Earth from space. It looks meaningful, gracious, finite. And you see the space around it. There is no such perception when you struggle on its surface | with everyday battles. From space you don’t see the dust, the details, the disasters (except the very big ones), the anxiety of all life forms. I highly recommend to do a similar calendar, especially if you have already several years to fill, and take time in observing it, as if it was someone else’s life. I have come back to my everyday chores with much more perspective – and therefore serenity.