’09 January

I recently returned from a 5 day stay in South Carolina with my niece and nephew. I will be returning in a few days. My sister is traveling a lot right now. I am filling in. I am going to attempt to combine Babies, the Appalachian Trail, a Hungarian psychology professor and the importance of quality practice sessions in one ramble. I will wrap these unlikely littermates into a neat package and leave you to decide what these things have in common.

The Appalachian Trail extends 2,174 miles between Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine. It is a dream of mine to at least ‘section hike’ portions of the AT someday. I am good for about 9 hard miles a day now when I hike. At mile 9 it’s as if the bolts attaching my legs to my hips suddenly tightened up. My joints seize up like a rusting tin man.

Throngs of backpackers start hiking in Georgia every spring with the intention of ‘thruhiking’ the entire 2,174 miles of the AT in one, non-stop, 5 to 7 month period. Only about 25% of them achieve their goal.

I have made several appearances at the Virginia Women’s Music Festival. A woman known on the AT as ‘Mouse’ is a stage hand for this festival. Mouse solo hiked the AT a few years ago averaging 15 to 20 mile days. Mouse claims that after several weeks hiking, Thruhikers hit a rhythm that conditions and numbs them for the rest of the journey. Section hikers go out for a few grueling weeks at a time. Just when they’ve achieved conditioning nirvana it’s time to leave the trail. They never hit their flow.

Hungarian psychology professor, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi is known for the notion of flow. Flow is “an optimal state of mind for athletes, musicians and artists, characterized by clear goals, focused attention, loss of self-consciousness and an altered sense of time” I repeatedly preach the importance of quality practice sessions with focus and intent to my students. If you’re practicing every day and still not achieving your goals, you must review your goals then look at the quality of your practice sessions. If you’re a musician that enjoys a deeper intellectual study of yourself and find yourself in this situation, I suggest googling ‘Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’ and ‘flow’.
I easily hit my flow when practicing my instruments. Hitting my flow as the primary caretaker of my niece and nephew requires much more effort on my part.
Wyatt, two weeks into his forth year, is potty savvy. He never has accidents. I was however concerned when I realized that every time Wyatt washed his hands, which was often; he would begin singing Happy Birthday. He would always sing this twice. He would turn the water on, sing the song once, sing the song a second time, turn the water off and come out of the bathroom with a smile and content look of accomplishment on his little face. I would praise him for doing such a good job all the while thinking we had the start of a serious compulsive disorder on our hands. When Pam called home from California I told her how well we were all doing and chatted for a bit before bringing the subject up. I didn’t want her to worry then spend all of her time away researching early childhood compulsive behavior on her iphone. ‘Oh, and did you know that Wyatt sings happy birthday every time he washes his hands? Apparently her husband Greg had noticed the same thing and had also brought it to her attention. Wyatt’s in preschool. They are required to sing happy birthday twice while washing their hands to ensure proper sanitation.
At 19 months, Chelsea can now move freely on her own, feed herself, torture the cats and move furniture. At the very beginning of her life we learned that she is completely deaf in one ear. She is regularly subjected to a battery of tests. They have yet figured out the cause. I began my relationship with this new child like the caretaker of a delicate and unfortunate runt. In my family of overachieving musicians, a child with partial hearing loss is akin to having a one legged child in a family of long distance runners. Chelsea denies me my penchant for drama and hallmark moments. Chelsea is a tank, a force, a one-baby-army, waving her flag to end toddler oppression. She can hear the sound of cracker boxes being opened, cookies being eaten, bottle tops being twisted and aunts relaxing at 40 yards. Her good ear is bionic. She is already stronger that her older brother and he knows this. She regularly bear hugs him into submission. She is bigger than life and very much her mother’s daughter. She will teach me many things in this lifetime.
Wyatt wakes me up at 5:30 every morning. There’s a TV in my Charleston room. I can buy myself another 30 minutes of sleep by inviting him into my bed and tuning in Noggin. I entertain the children by imitating their favorite cartoon characters. They have become equally adept at the art of imitation. Wyatt’s rooster crow is unprecedented. When he feels it’s time for all adults to be upright and serving him, he uses it.
Chelsea does not enjoy her naps when I’m there. They are insulting to her. I am up at 5:30 AM and asleep by 9 PM with nothing but babies, bottles and bathtubs between.
My sister is a thruhiker. In my sister’s world, I am a section hiker. I will return to South Carolina in a few days for another section hike when my sister once again travels west. By day 4 I will have reached my flow. I will be a highly functioning caretaker. I will assemble bottles, remove diapers, clean bottoms, hug away hurts and feed children while running the store from my computer. This routine will feel as common to me as my fingers on the fretboard. On day 5, I will drive home.
As musicians, some of us are thruhikers and some of us are section hikers. There is no fault in being either. Just acceptance. Ask yourself what you truly want and be happy with your answer. If you are a section hiker, enjoy your time with your instrument. It’s a stress free gift for you to express the joy you feel inside. If you want to be a thruhiker you have to stay on the trail. Train with intent, purpose and joy.
Next month I’ll tell you about backpacking into Deam Wilderness on New Years Eve and spending the night on the ground at 17 degrees. Life is good. Happy 2009.