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Category Archives: mysandbox

what I re-learned from Franz Schubert
about mental self discipline

Well, I sat down at the piano last night for the first time in a very long time. Despite the numerous compositions I have learned and played and perfected over the years, I tried to recall a piece to play, and drew a complete blank. And it bothered me. It bothered me a lot. There was a time and a place where I could play for stretches of time with my eyes closed — fingers placed with absolute certainty, each note and tone reflecting flawlessly the intended emotion, each subtle variation of intricate notes or pattern in a seemingly repetitive measure perfectly memorized and performed.

I thought back to the last time I sat down to play, and one at a time various pieces started to come back to me…

“Moonlight Sonata” – my hands knew exactly where to place themselves. As I started to play, I remembered how I had worked on refining the muscle-control in my right-hand finger #5 (ie. the “pinky”) so that I could properly emphasize the upper melodic line (controlled by the pinky) separate from the rest of the notes being played by the right hand. I could still play it – a bit clunky, but still there! Then I hit a wrong chord, and that was the end of that – all I could remember without the music.

“Jump” (by Van Halen) – not exactly classical, but definitely a classic. Not particularly difficult chords, but it took a bit of practice initially to simulate the bass and lead guitar and keyboard parts and get the left-hand bass beat and right-hand riff and chord changes together properly.

“Do You Know Where You’re Going To” (by Dianna Ross) – great vocal piece with beautiful accompaniment – I could remember the words but not the music – had to go digging through the sheet-music pile to find it. It goes through several key-changes throughout the piece – can’t play it from memory any more.

the list went on…

Now, while I was digging through my sheet music, I came across a piece that I wanted to learn when I was in my senior year of high-school, but never had a chance to before graduation – Franz Schubert’s “Impromptu #4 in A-flat” [from Four Impromptus, Op. 90]. It is a fairly complicated piece (Grade 9 or 10, I believe, by Royal Conservatory standards), and to be appreciated properly needs to be played at an insanely quick tempo (in order to sound somewhat like an ‘effortless, trickling waterfall’ – I remember my old piano teacher saying something like that). As I looked at the piece of music in my hands, I thought – rather spur of the moment – why not learn it now?

And so it began. I spent about half an hour learning, practicing and repeating the first 4 bars. Right hand – get the notes right, then the fingering, then the speed. Left hand, get the chords right and the timing. Put it together. Repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat. And repeat. I can almost play it properly [just the first 4 bars], but not twice in a row with no mistakes. Not yet. But I will learn this piece of music. It is 13 pages long, with approximately 4 bars to a line and 4-6 lines per page – I estimate that if I were to learn 1 line a day, it would take me 65 days to do a “first pass” on becoming familiar with the entire piece.

So, what does Franz Schubert have to do with my mental self discipline?

Well, it’s not like Franz walked up to me and said “So, Lisa, howz it goin’?”. But beginning to re-learn intricate, difficult piano music, even for a mere half an hour, had some hidden benefits I wasn’t expecting. It reminded me that:

  • working on complex issues in discrete chunks works quite well
  • the details make more sense when you can, and do, imagine the end result
  • there is beauty and empowerment in simplicity as well as complexity
  • the sum of the parts can indeed be greater than the whole
  • my hand and finger muscles appreciate a good workout
  • consistent routine, albeit boring, achieves a desired result
  • my thinking and typing both become faster after playing the piano
  • a mental muscle is just as valid a concept as a physical muscle
  • I think I will continue to learn this piece. Will I learn it in 65 days? I don’t know. Will I practice daily? I don’t know. Will I benefit in other areas of my life by allowing myself to do something I enjoy? I don’t know. What I do know is that half-an-hour a day is 3.5 hrs a week.


    I used to really dislike black-and-white photography. I don’t know why. It was boring. Old fashioned. When your thoughts are traveling a million miles a second, the flash and splash of color provide an anticipated sort of framework for shaping your interpretation. Most of it is deliberately placed to highlight a face, a place, a product, a logo. Even though the message may not be immediately clear, it is crisp and controlled. Precise. Designed to capture and provoke a thought.

    Recently though, I have been trying to slow down my thought process. Every once in a while, things seem to get too busy. Too chaotic. I lose focus. So I doodle. Usually in pencil. I like the way the graphite seems to absorb itself into the paper with each stroke of the pencil tip. Firmer pressure for a darker crisper line – a finger-tip smudge to add some depth and dimension. When I look back at my creations later, they seem to give back to me the same emotion I was feeling at the time. It’s almost like a tiny bit of myself got absorbed into the paper along with the graphite shadows. I’ve started to see this same depth and dimension in certain black-and-white images.

    I never could figure out why they called it “black-and-white”. It’s not. It’s “Shades of Grey”. Without the blaring distraction of glossy color, the photographs seem to offer up the most subtle hint of emotion. Some stronger than others. Crisp contrast blends into subtle silky textures. Instead of boldly declaring it’s message, it whispers. Rather than constructing a thought for you, it invites you to explore the thought it is trying to portray. It’s almost sensual. But you have to slow yourself down enough to hear it. Feel it. Sometimes it is as subtle as a warm breath.

    How to Successfully Fail at Portal
    sometimes you have to interpret the message yourself

    HINT: watch it with your eyes closed

    My Palm IIIe still works fine.
    Love the stylus and “Graffiti” – bought it and still use it for that reason.

    I’m tactile. I enjoy the sensation of using written hand-motion [as opposed to keyboard-entry] to enter a “todo-list item”, be it on a piece of paper or an intelligent touch-screen. I find that I use my left and right hands almost equally to pick up my Palm, tap to the list I want, and create a “written” item or note.

    The rational side of my brain is telling me that one of these days either the laptop or the PDA will cease to function – so I’d better upgrade soon. The other rational side of my brain is saying “why upgrade just for the sake of upgrading”.

    Read More »

    really – like “tim o’reilly” wants to hear me babble about fractals in the middle of
    Thinking About Wendell Berry’s “In Distrust of Movements”.

    what was i thinking?

    oh yeah – i was thinking that Wendell Berry’s writings reminded me that while our processing and data-mining capabilities keep growing exponentially, the socio-economic issues we seem to love to model don’t seem to change much.

    i was also thinking about fractals… and that we need to recycle our ideas as well as our garbage… and that we live in a virtual world every bit as much as we live in a physical world…
    Read More »

    How often do mistakes spark creativity?

    Did you ever play that game where one person starts by whispering a phrase into someone’s ear, and the phrase is passed by whispering it from one person to the next – and it is very funny to see how the phrase gets distorted by the time it reaches the last person in line?

    Well, I just had a similar visual experience. I was browsing online at, and I read a headline out of the corner of my eye. It said…

    “Satellites unearthed in ancient Egyptian ruins”

    If course, it didn’t REALLY say that. It said “Satellites unearthing ancient Egyptian ruins”. But for a split second, my mind raced through a myriad of images and thoughts [some could have made a good prequel to AVP – others a sinister conspiracy theory].

    The fact-checker part of my brain forced my eyeballs to re-read the headline. I was mistaken in what I had thought I read. And less than 3 seconds later I was back to what I was doing. If I was an author or a script-writer I would have been scribbling notes to myself. I’m not, so I didn’t [there are lots of things I DO scribble on napkins, though].

    Was it a “spark of creativity”?

    if you want to go down that path …
    … it was … a new, sensual thought experience …

    Read More »

    my first post

    with special thanks to Mr WordPress

    [LJL: “Hello world!” indeed ]
    i like my first little default message – prepared and posted for me by Mr WordPress. for starters, “Hello world!” signifies success, and is very often a starting point for something greater. it is also, quite appropriately, a greeting to a world of which i am now a part. yes. Hello world!

    [LJL] note to self: one reason i am leaving the original welcome comments is that i think it is a very good example of a self-documenting initialization process