Archive for December, 2010

December 31, 2010

On Mediocrity and Excellence

New Year’s Eve is a great time to reflect on existential matters. Such as the brand of champagne we’re going to drink tonight or the most efficient way to attend three parties in one evening.

It’s also a time to look back at what we’ve accomplished during the past year and weep. And try to become better.

What’s weighed heavily on me lately (besides the chocolate on my hips) is the inversely proportional relationship between the number of my interests and the time available to pursue them. Especially in the musical field. I’ve been learning and playing the mbira for two and a half years now and recently started learning how to play the oud. Am I happier as a result? If music is my passion, more music should result in more happy, right? No.

I’ve been consumed with guilt for the past four months because each time I pick up an instrument, I feel bad for not playing the other. It is such a frustrating feeling and the amount of progress I’ve made with each instrument since September is tell-tale sign that the multiplication of my activities inevitably leads to the fragmentation of my skills. It’s not rocket science: to become excellent at something, you have to give it your all.

When I took up the mbira back in 2008, I gave up horse riding. I miss horses a lot but still feel I made the right decision. To be a good rider, you have to keep your mind on riding mode even when you’re nowhere near a horse. Your posture, the way you walk, what you read, your exercise routine, and everything else you do daily is part of the training to become a better rider. All of that changes when you want to become a good musician. Horsemanship is about detail and precision. Mbira playing – to me – is about transcendence and abandon. I ride better when I’m “on” at all times, and play better when I get my mind out of the way.

When I embarked on the oud learning journey, I thought I’d be able to fit this new activity smoothly into my life because it was already consumed by music. I was so wrong. Music instruments are not interchangeable. They require different physical skills (mbira is percussive, oud is stringed), they are windows into different cultures (mbira is Zimbabwean, oud is Middle Eastern) and song patterns are different (mbira is polyrythmic and cyclical, oud follows a bunch of different scales and has more melodic variety). The differences are mind blowing and becoming familiar with them is mind consuming.

Gretchen Rubin, author of the Happiness Project, developed this happiness formula:

To be happier, you have to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.

So my hopes for 2011 are:

  • to recognize I don’t have infinite amounts of time,
  • to accept I can’t become an expert at everything,
  • to continue playing both instruments,
  • to allow myself to favor one over the other,
  • to seek growth, regardless of its speed,
  • to enjoy the music, no matter what.

That seems doable.

December 30, 2010

It Can Wait

Watched AT&T’s 10 minute documentary on texting while driving today; it’s called “It Can Wait”.

Powerful stuff. I lost my best friend to a drunk driver so the act of doing moronic things behind the wheel really hits close to home. Yet, I’m ashamed to say I’ve typed away at my phone multiple times while cruising the freeway. It didn’t feel wrong, I felt in control and felt that I was safe as long as I didn’t take my eyes off the road for too long. Because I’m that good of a driver.

This short movie though really affected me because it showed that texting while driving not only threatened the life of the person doing it (I was OK taking responsibility for my own life), but also endangered the lives of others. One guy hit a cyclist and will never forgive himself for that senseless death he caused.

The movie also shows that the worst thing that could happen to someone texting at the wheel isn’t necessarily dying. A guy survived but his head was so damaged, he lost the ability to perform routine tasks and will be forever dependent on others to do basic things for him.

Finally, the clip shows the last words in the text messages that were sent before the fatal accidents. “Yeah”. “Where u at?” “LOL”. None of them were substantial. None of them were urgent. All of them could have waited.

Other PSAs were done on the same topic. They all used scare techniques to tell people not to text so they don’t die. Here’s a British example; a very shocking, very graphic video.

Did it scare me? Yes. Did it stop me from texting at the wheel? Not really. The ad did not give me a simple reason not to engage in the dangerous behavior. I either got away with it or didn’t. What makes AT&T’s piece so much more compelling and effective is the slogan.  Fear and gory images end a conversation while “It can wait” becomes part of it. Fear is avoidance. “It can wait” is personal responsibility. It’s a response one can use to quiet an urge. It’s a sentence we can tell a friend. It’s an invitation to put things in perspective and decide to be safe. It’s empowering.

We need more of that.

December 30, 2010

Waterproof ad recipe

Few things amuse me more than advertisements that take a spin on current events. Behold the Pakistani ad for feminine hygiene pads below:

I’m surprised ShamWow did not exploit the BP oil spill to sell more of their extra absorbent towels. Oh, wait… there’s a Facebook group for that. One day, I’ll write about how all your original thoughts already exist on the Internet.