Tuesday, May 27, 2014

How to Deal With Piano Bench Kickers

I imagine that your first question upon reading the title of this post is: "What is a Piano Bench Kicker?" Then perhaps: "Am I a Piano Bench Kicker?" I can answer the first question. A Piano Bench Kicker is someone who does annoying and/or rude things that interrupt your life. A key characteristic of a Piano Bench Kicker is that he or she should know better. I'm sure all of us have been a Piano Bench Kicker at one point or another. First stop being one... then learn how to deal with them.

Where did this strange term originate? I'll tell you. I took piano lessons all the way through my senior year of high school. As a hard-working slightly perfectionist person who had OCD even as a child, performing well in piano recitals was a HUGE deal, particularly before high school. I practiced every day for months. I wanted to do the best I possibly could, and it probably mattered way more to me than it should have.

Anyway, I remember one particular Christmas recital that was held in this really pretty church. The only unfortunate fact about the setting was the location of the piano. It was just a little too close to the front row. Because a ton of people were there, people even sat on the very front row. The piano keys faced the audience so that the performer's back would be to those in attendance. 

When the recital began, I watched as each pianist approached the bench and played his or her pieces, dazzling the audience. I wanted to do just as well. When it was my turn, I stepped up to the front, trying not to look as nervous as I felt. The whole place was silent, and I waited a moment before I began to play The Hallelujah Chorus, part of Handel's Messiah. Rhythm and emphasis were really important in this particular piece, and when I started out with the right tempo, I was relieved. I played the first few lines without incident.

Then, the unthinkable happened. The entire piano bench began shifting beneath me every few moments for some unknown reason, and it was totally throwing off my rhythm. Panicking, I tried to figure out the source of the interruption. It didn't stop. I wasn't anywhere close to the end of my song. I hadn't messed up yet, but if the bench-jerking didn't stop immediately, I was sure I would.

Then I remembered how close the front row was to the bench and realized someone behind me was repeatedly kicking the piano bench with the force David Beckham applies to his direct kicks from outside the penalty box. It wasn't just a light tap: it was BAD. I could HEAR it. I couldn't stop halfway through the song, but I couldn't go on like this. I did the only thing I could think of: I hastily memorized the next few bars and without stopping, turned around and located the kid who had been kicking my bench. Then I gave him the nastiest glare I could muster. I turned back to the piano without missing a note. Now, mind you, the offending Piano Bench Kicker was about my age, probably 11 or 12, and his parents were right there. (They should have told him to cut it out.) Regardless, my expression was the universal sign for "Stop this idiocy right now or else," so he stopped kicking my bench immediately.

I finished the song without making a mistake. Then I returned to my seat. That is how you deal with Piano Bench Kickers. (I mean, sometimes you will have to tell them to stop, but if a nasty glare will suffice—which is usually the case because people like that know better—go for it.) If you are a Piano Bench Kicker, stop it. If your offspring is one, tell him or her to stop it. If (when) you come across Piano Bench Kickers, don't let them interrupt your groove.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

10 Things my 19th Year of School Taught Me

I realized the other day that if I count preschool, kindergarten, 1st-12th grade, four years of college, and one year of grad school, then I have been in school for NINETEEN consecutive years. That means next year will be my 20th year. It may also be my last school year—or, at least, my last consecutive year—depending on if/when I decide to get a Ph.D. My 19th year of school taught me some really important things. I thought I'd share them with you.

1. Sometimes your car battery will die in a McDonald's parking lot when you're supposed to go to a doctor's appointment. Then, because you don't know where the doctor's office is, you'll have to run there using the GPS as a guide. Then later you'll have to wait 2 hours for AAA to save you. But it's nice when a friend shows up to wait with you. :)

2. Living in an apartment is cool and stuff, but you can't have many pets. So it's a really good idea to get a Betta fish. First of all, they live forever. (Mine has been alive for over seven months.) Second, they don't mind if you name them after a famous communication scholar. (Mine is named Judee K. Burgoon). Third, they can survive a 13-hour road trip inside a water bottle. (Twice.)

3. It's all fun and games until your professor falls out of his chair onto the floor in the middle of class, and you have to try really hard not to laugh.

4. Katie (my sister) is a really fun roommate. If I'm ever sad, she can ALWAYS make me laugh. We can talk about anything. And I can always count on her!

5. Sometimes you enter a contest to win Casting Crowns concert tickets and somehow know you're going to win. Then you win and go to the concert.

6. Grad school research proposals are surprisingly similar to science fair. If you went to high school with me or ever did science fair, you'll know what I'm talking about. Background research paper, question, hypothesis, experiment, results, etc.? Yeah, that's kind of like introduction, literature review, methods, results, conclusion. Just when I thought I was done with science fair, I, like, wasn't. Life is weird that way.

7. "Grown-ups" don't know what they're doing, either. Although older people can advise you because they've been where you've been, they're still experiencing stages of life for the first time, too. Everyone feels inadequate sometimes, and a lot of people really are just making it up as they go along. It's easier if you're a Christian, though, because you can search for God's purpose in your life rather than just feeling lost all the time.

8. A 25-minute commute is a great opportunity to pray or learn every single song on the radio.

9. It is pretty easy to read two to three hundred pages in a week. Reading the equivalent of a novel every seven days seemed crazy at first, but now those 20-page reading assignments I got in undergrad just seem ridiculous. I think I learned to read faster. I also think about 12.7% of my brain is comprised of information about scholarly communication articles now.

10. Post-grad can be really cool. Just because I'm done with college doesn't mean I have to be boring. I mean, my boss laughs at my stupid jokes. Road trips are still the bomb-diggity. Sometimes I stay up until 4 a.m. Sometimes I eat ice cream for dinner. And tax returns are awesome. That, too.

Bring it on, 20th year of school!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Cyclical vs. Sustainable: How to Feel/Be More Accomplished

Have you ever noticed that you sometimes work all day and still feel like you didn't actually accomplish anything? Maybe you've tried making lists and checking things off. Maybe you've organized your day by splitting time into segments to work on various tasks. All of those strategies can work very well, but let me add another idea that you may not have considered. I think there are two kinds of work: cyclical and sustainable. At first glance, it will look like I've split it into "short-term" work and "long-term" work, but it's more basic than that. And these aren't two completely separate categories; it's a scale. Some tasks will fall in between the two categories.

1. Cyclical.

Cyclical tasks are ones that no matter how many times you complete them, you're going to have to do the same tasks—or other tasks very like them—again and again and again. They are often immediate, which means they must be done—and done often—to maintain your life.  For example, washing the dishes, taking a shower, driving to work, paying bills, making dinner, and brushing your teeth. In some ways, doing work activities like teaching or writing or scheduling appointments or making phone calls or anything else you have to do for your job can also be cyclical tasks—if you approach them the same way every time or don't learn from them.

Essentially, cyclical tasks help you stay afloat. They maintain your house, your health, your job, etc. They help you stay where you are. If you like where you are, it is probably okay to do a greater number of cyclical tasks. But remember: if you're not going forward, you're going backward.

Just because it is immediate does not mean it's what is most important. I'm not suggesting you stop brushing your teeth. I'm just saying you will probably never think back to that time you were brushing your teeth on November 6th, 2008, and think about all the plaque you prevented.

2. Sustainable.
A sustainable task is one that involves working toward something greater than what you have now. For example, learning to speak Spanish. Some of the activities you'd have to do to learn a language would seem cyclical, but the final product is sustainable. See the difference?

Sustainability can also mean doing it right the first time like your mother said. Building the shed won't be a cyclical activity if you build it well enough that the roof doesn't cave in when it snows. This category is pretty broad, and in a moment you'll see why I said some activities could fall between the two categories. Examples of sustainable tasks might be: building a fence, making a friend, learning a new skill, applying for a new job, writing a book, teaching a kid to be kind to others, giving a gift, etc.

(Notice how I included "writing a book?" I love that even though I have to get up and go to work every morning no matter what I did today, I can open my computer, and the chapter I wrote yesterday will still be there. Sustainability.)

What's my point? That sustainable activities are always better than cyclical activities? No. I'm saying that if you do mostly cyclical activities, you won't move forward. But if you do all sustainable activities, you'll probably sink. I'm suggesting a balance between the two. Also, if you recognize that cyclical activities strung together can often lead to something more sustainable, you're halfway there. Next time you feel like you didn't accomplish anything (or you're planning tomorrow's schedule), think about what you can do to include both cyclical and sustainable activities into your life.