Tuesday, October 19, 2010

On calluses

Ah, calluses! You build them up, you bite them off, then build them up all over again.

Of course, I'm talking about the calluses on your fingers. It's probably unsanitary to bite off the calluses on your feet, and gross too. Calluses, as you probably know, are a thickened area of skin that has become hard due to irritation or pressure or repetitive use. For example, some people get calluses on their middle fingers from writing too much - I remember those from grade school essay/exam periods! Most people get calluses on their feet: the body's attempt to prevent the formation of blisters. Athletes get calluses too - whether it's from the monkey bars in the park, rock climbing, or rowing, to name but a few.

Everyone grows calluses at some point in their life. Sometimes, you're proud of them - like when it doesn't hurt to lace up your skates anymore. Sometimes, you'd rather not have them at all - like when they're painful or turn into corns. But usually, calluses are good for you.

I've developed a set of calluses on my fingers that I'm particularly proud of. They come from playing the guitar, an exercise that I keep trying to get into but often tend to neglect when "life" happens. I'm happy to say that since living in Kingston and arguably taking on more tasks, chores and responsibilities than ever before - at least in my personal life - I have been able to find more time for guitar playing.

I have been working on my chords, on musical sequences (or as I like to call them "switching fast"), as well as on picking. The latter needs a whole lot more work. The rest is progressing nicely. Recently, I figured out that I was playing the G chord wrong. I was hitting all the right spots but found it hard to "switch" from a G to a Bm, for example. It wasn't that my finger placement was wrong, per se. It's just that in some (many) cases, there was a more optimal placement option. My version works best for G-C-D songs, and playing with simple chords that are located on the first few frets. Throw in a chord that needs to be barred, like something in the F family, and I had a hard time making the switch in time.

Still, the fact that after all these years of attempting to get better at the guitar I've finally reached this level of understanding of my playing habits makes me ecstatic. It's going to take a lot of practice to break the habit, but at least I know what I need to work on. This means that I am not only finding the time to take care of myself outside of work (and by work, I mean school work, volunteer work, household work and paid work), but also that I'm finding the time to disconnect from technology and all that it encompasses (aka the pressures of deadlines, to-do lists, and social media) and reconnecting with my artistic side, and therefore, with myself.

It's interesting how once you open the door for music or any other form of art, you see poetry all around you. Life becomes lighter and more enjoyable, and high pressure situations are no longer do-or-die. Being one with my guitar, even if it's just for one hour a week, has sprouted some hope in me. Not the kind of hope that you get from seeing everyday life as beautiful - that I get all the time. Well, most of the time.

I'm talking about the hope that comes from knowing that in that moment, when you're fully immersed in the music, even if you're focusing on playing the chord just right and remembering the right lyrics and executing it all properly... for that one moment, there is nothing that matters other than you.

Just you. There is no outside pressure, no one tugging at your shirtsleeve (not even your subconscious!) and most importantly, there is a sense of peace and acceptance that this moment is as it is and cannot be changed or controlled or extended. It is, then it was, and it never will be again... and that's not a bad thing.

I think that it's important to find the trigger for this kind of appreciation of life and the space-time continuum. (Yes, I had to make this post somewhat geeky!) When I first started approaching yoga as a combination of physical activity and mind relaxation, I would get this same sort of feeling in the middle of a particularly stretchy sequence of cat & dog (or cat & cow, if that's how you like to call it.) But after time, that disappeared.

I am delighted to have once again found a trigger for this special moment and would like to speculate that it seems to require an enlightenment of more than one function - whether it's the mind/body duality or the music/learning combination. It needs to have both a work and relaxation aspect in order to be powerful. I'm sure some of you are thinking of sex right about now, but I would encourage everyone to find their own trigger aside from sex, which, clearly, does not always leave one with the hassle-free mind we're seeking, or the world would be even more overpopulated than it already is. Find something that calms you and brings you to your sense of oneness. Embrace the moment and harvest the rewards you will get from investing time and effort into that activity, whatever it may be.

And on that note, I'm off to restore some balance into this day by playing some guitar. Burn, calluses, burn!

Friday, October 01, 2010

On life as a grad student

So far, life as a grad student has been pretty good. I've gotten into a home routine that's been keeping my tummy full and my apartment pretty clean, and I'm finally over a series of sickness: allergies, ear infection, cold. It was a pretty depressing time, but at least it allowed me to get used to my environment and understand the resources I have at my disposal... Like which TV channels I get!

In terms of school itself, there's been a lot more reading than I expected. Of course, I did expect a fair amount of work, but for some reason, I thought it might be a bit more assignment-based, kind of like in undergrad programmes. The reading isn't too bad, mostly because the texts are new to me and interesting. Well, most of them. Every week, there's at least one super long, boring, overly-jargoned, hard-to-read text. And by super long, I mean at least 26 pages of photocopied left and right book pages.

Thankfully, I think I've nailed down a reading technique that works for me. First off, I work best on my couch, at home. Not at my desk or in a coffee shop, but on the couch. Go figure!! Working at the office at school is also okay, but only when I need a change of scenery. It doesn't work well on a regular basis, not because it's too loud, but because it's too quiet!

Also, I've discovered that reading off a .pdf works best, unless I'm reading directly from a book. With the .pdf, I can highlight and mark up the text without ruining it, and it's easy to refer to it later on, during class. For the class in which I have to read books, I've been using different-coloured sticky markers to save pages with important discourses on the various topics I'm tracking, and that seems to be working fairly well too. At the end of the book, reading or chapter, if it's an essay collection, I always try to write a few notes on my impressions, questions and the important lines of thinking in the text.

Overall, I think I'm doing a pretty good job at staying on top of things. My next objective is to start incorporating more physical activity in my routine, once my (new) physio clears me for some more active movements. Unfortunately, my plan to bike around town hasn't worked out so well, mostly because the main streets I need to take are pretty bumpy and therefore jarring for my knee, which then causes pain. Still, I'm hoping that I'll be able to build up my strength again so that maybe, by the winter, I'll be able to take part in some cool snow sports again.

And on that note... Time to get back to award applications and readings!