The Musician’s Soul

I’m participating in a faculty seminar with eight other professors, each from different disciplines. We get together every other week and take turns discussing books everyone has selected from their respective disciplines. This Wednesday a music prof is leading the discussion of The Musician’s Soul by James Jordan.

Like a student, I have been procrastinating. That means I just started reading it today, Sunday*. Three days and counting. Even though I’m in the early stages, and I don’t have a musical bone in my body, I’m digging it. Double J is wonderfully out of touch with the times. Instead of privileging standardization, data, and efficiency, he writes of self understanding, spirituality, and soulfulness. He’s more Buddhist than business school.

For a little flavor flav, here he is on self-expression:

“If one believes that music is self-expression, then it should follow that one must have a self to express. Before one is able to conduct and evoke artistry from singers, one must spend a considerable amount of time on oneself, on one’s inside stuff. One must take time to understand and accept who one is. One must learn how to trust oneself at all times. Most musicians, however, involve themselves in a process of self-mutilation. They focus on the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of music instead of the ‘who’. Frustration and anger with self occur, almost unknowingly. The conductor, music educator, or performer must spend a considerable amount of time with him- or herself to make the journey that will deepen understanding of self and of his or her own human spirit. That journey must be non-self-mutilating. At the risk of oversimplifying, one must be able to love oneself first before that love can be shared with an ensemble or an audience through the music. Knowledge and trust of self is necessary for music making to take place. An ability to ‘just be’ is paramount.”

These insights are wonderfully applicable. Substitute any art, like writing, for the making of music. Or almost any vocation imaginable.

My subconscious is just starting to work on a new course I’m teaching next spring for teachers training to be school principals. While I’m reading Jordan I’m substituting school leaders for musicians. “The school leader must spend a considerable amount of time with him- or herself to make the journey that will deepen understanding of self and his or her own human spirit. . . . one must be able to love oneself first before that love can be shared with a faculty, or families, or students through schooling.”

This portion of the larger excerpt deserves further reflection, “One must take time to understand and accept who one is. One must learn how to trust oneself at all times.” Sounds more simple than it is. Most everyone has long-standing negative tapes looping in their heads thanks to mean-spirited teachers, parents, or coaches.

Do you know, accept, and trust yourself? How might your vocation and life change as a result of greater knowledge, acceptance, and trust?

* Had to finish The Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong by David Walsh first.

The Art of Living

The hippy title of my first year writing seminar at Pacific Lutheran University.

I just read my 32 students’ initial essays in which they summarize what they think they know about the theme and then describe their writing process, strengths, and weaknesses.

Most of them hope the class and I will help them figure out what to study and do upon graduating. That’s not terribly realistic, but I suspect they will spend more time thinking and writing about how they want to live their lives during our seminar than throughout kindergarten through twelfth grade combined.

First Born, starting her last year in college, is also thinking with more urgency about what to do for work after graduating. She’s a religion major without any interest in seminary or much in teaching. Everyone tells me she’ll land on her feet and I think they’re right.

The GalPal and I took her out for pizza recently in her Minnesota college town where she spent the summer working full-time in the college’s library. I was happy she got the library gig because given her passion for books, I’ve thought she might end up a librarian. Over pizza she explained that she liked her job, but doesn’t want to be a librarian, because “It’s not creative enough.”

I was impressed with her self understanding. She doesn’t know what jobs to apply for yet, but she has a pretty good feel for what type of work she’d most enjoy—creative work that is sometimes team-based, sometimes solo.

Recently it was reported that 70% of US workers “are not particularly excited” about their jobs or “are actively disengaged” and “roam the halls spreading discontent”. If we use world history as our frame of reference, I’m guessing that number would be well north of 90%. Most of the world’s people most of the time do monotonous work to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves.

So when my students write that they want to enjoy their work and First Born says she wants creative work, they’re planting a distinct, 21st century, privileged stake in the ground. Normally, the concept of “privilege” has negative connections since it’s associated with preferential treatment and a sense of entitlement; however, in the case of my students and First Born, their preference for meaningful work is undeniably positive.

They want to earn enough money “not to have to worry about it all the time,” but beyond that, they want to be like me and 30% of US citizens for whom work is creative, engaging, and meaningful. Every young person should embrace that form of privilege.

How Well Do You Know Yourself?

The wife recently asked me to take the Jung/Myers Briggs personality test available here. Probably wanted to find out what’s wrong with me. It was relatively pain free and the results mostly jived with my sense of self. Take it and tell me what you think of the results.

I’m an INFJ or “Idealist Counselor”. Here are some excerpts from the “Idealist Counselor” description:

Counselors have an exceptionally strong desire to contribute to the welfare of others, and find great personal fulfillment interacting with people, nurturing their personal development, guiding them to realize their human potential. Although they are happy working at jobs (such as writing) that require solitude and close attention, Counselors do quite well with individuals or groups of people, provided that the personal interactions are not superficial, and that they find some quiet, private time every now and then to recharge their batteries. Counselors are both kind and positive in their handling of others; they are great listeners and seem naturally interested in helping people with their personal problems. Not usually visible leaders, Counselors prefer to work intensely with those close to them, especially on a one-to-one basis, quietly exerting their influence behind the scenes.

Except for the fact that I could be a much more patient listener, that’s accurate to the point of almost creepy. Helps explain why I prefer small dinner get-togethers to large cocktail parties and why I loathe self-promoters. There’s more.

Counselors are scarce, little more than three percent of the population, and can be hard to get to know, since they tend not to share their innermost thoughts or their powerful emotional reactions except with their loved ones. They are highly private people, with an unusually rich, complicated inner life. Friends or colleagues who have known them for years may find sides emerging which come as a surprise. Not that Counselors are flighty or scattered; they value their integrity a great deal, but they have mysterious, intricately woven personalities which sometimes puzzle even them.

Isn’t blogging going against the Counselor grain? Not necessarily. I share thoughts and emotions, but not my innermost thoughts or most powerful emotional reactions. I’ll probably peel more layers off over time, but never get to the core in this format at least.

Counselors tend to work effectively in organizations. They value staff harmony and make every effort to help an organization run smoothly and pleasantly. They understand and use human systems creatively, and are good at consulting and cooperating with others. As employees or employers, Counselors are concerned with people’s feelings and are able to act as a barometer of the feelings within the organization.

That explains in part why I’ve been in a professional funk. My workplace has lacked harmony for quite awhile. Outnumbered by those who think people’s feelings are unimportant, I’ve thrown in the towel on trying to help things run smoothly and pleasantly.

Blessed with vivid imaginations, Counselors are often seen as the most poetical of all the types, and in fact they use a lot of poetic imagery in their everyday language. Their great talent for language-both written and spoken-is usually directed toward communicating with people in a personalized way. Counselors are highly intuitive and can recognize another’s emotions or intentions – good or evil – even before that person is aware of them. Counselors themselves can seldom tell how they came to read others’ feelings so keenly. This extreme sensitivity to others could very well be the basis of the Counselor’s remarkable ability to experience a whole array of psychic phenomena.

Psychic phenomena strikes me as over the top. And do you think they purposely write all the descriptions as positively as possible so that everyone feels better about themselves? And you gotta love the examples of other Counselors—Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jane Goodall. Nice company to keep. I’m a confident writer and speaker, but as clearly demonstrated in Wednesday’s “Fall” post, I’m anything but poetic. And when it comes to others’ feelings, my antenna do seem more finely tuned than most.

For example, I picking up on things right now. You think I’ve been a bit self-absorbed in this post and I’ve gone on too long. Points well taken.

Portland Marathon Wrap Up

Somewhere around mile 14, the Malamute asked, “Why do we do these again?” That was his way of saying, “Starting to feel it.” I was not feeling particularly clever or witty and offered a superficial, forgettable answer. 

Now, seven hours post-race, I’m ready to offer a bit more thoughtful response. I can’t answer for anyone else, but I do them every once in awhile for several reasons including: 1) the mostly mental challenge of trying to run an even pace; 2) the immediacy that comes with testing my physical limits; and 3) the primitiveness and purity of long distance running more generally. 

The Malamute probably would have planted his elbow in my rib cage if I had offered something like that mid-course.

Instead of a segment-by-segment, port-a-pit by port-a-pit recap, I’m going to elaborate on point three.

Before doing that though, here’s a brief race summary.

Excellent weather, overcast, low/mid 50’s, light rain from about mile 9 to the end.

Ran decently. It was nice running the middle half with two good friends. Granted, we weren’t too talkative, but misery loves company. I felt shelled after the long descent between 21 and 22. Legs tightened and the mental battle was on. My finishing time was decent (3:25:35), but I was most proud of gutting out the last four.

Somehow I ignored what one expert friend refers to as the “whimp ass voice” within. The “voice” was coming in loud and clear. “Hey Ron, come on, you’ve run a long ways already. You’re trashed. If you just walk a little, the pain in your legs will subside, and you’ll feel tons better.”

That tape kept repeating. Reminded me of Thursday night when I went to bed with “the surge” and “Maverick” echoing in my ears.

My paced slowed a bit, but somehow I gutted out the last four miles.

Back to the primitiveness and purity of long distance running. Compared to other athletic activities, it’s wonderfully low-tech and it goes back a ways. There are no hieroglyphs with time trial bikes, but there are plenty of people chasing game and trying to set new personal records.

Also, the clock is la ultima in objective assessment. I like to think of myself as a 3:15-20 marathoner, but I’m not. Eighteen months ago I ran a 3:26+. The clock demands that I face the facts, I’m a 3:25-3:26 marathoner. . . or slower if and when I run another.

A digression. That discrepancy, between the way I like to think of myself and the clock’s verdict, parallels a reality in the social world. Our self understanding is a slippery thing. It’s inevitable that what we think of ourselves and what those who interact with us regularly think of us imperfectly overlap. It’s unrealistic to escape our subjectivity and completely eliminate the gap, but I think there’s value in trying to reduce it.

That might be an idea worth exploring in more depth sometime soon.

Thanks to all those who offered such excellent race support including the fam, Mike, the Malamute, Double S, Dave, and Travis.

And thanks for continuing to visit my humble blog. There’s 4.2 million WordPress blogs overall and counting and 110 million overall and counting.  I appreciate your stopping by mine on occasion.

Yours Truly, Double S, and the Malamute

Yours Truly, Double S, and the Malamute