Saturday, September 26, 2009

In Recovery

I am in recovery this week. I don't mean I'm sick, though that is also the case, with a cold that Zoe brought home from nowhere I can determine. I mean, where does a nine week old baby go that her parents don't? It's a mystery to me, but she definitely was the originator of this bug that Steve and I are both fighting. But this is not my point.

The time immediately following an audition, or recital, or any other big project is always a recovery period for me. I find it impossible to work - in my own practice room - with the intensity I'm accustomed to. It doesn't matter whether I won or lost, or how I felt about my performance - I think it's just a reaction to finally being DONE with a big project. I've worked and worked with an end in sight, and once that end is passed I can coast on my previous practicing a little. Cease to be so critical of myself. Let myself enjoy the new plateau for a few days or a week.

In 2003 I prepared for a competition in Tokyo. I raised the money for my pianist and myself to travel to Japan, and memorized all of the difficult music, and gave three preparatory recitals, and generally worked my tail off for a good 6 months leading up to that trip. I remained focused throughout the competition. After we returned home, I found myself unable to practice or even care about the oboe at all for months. Honestly, I was very bothered by this - had I hit my peak? Was I through? Was there really no more passion in me for the instrument I had devoted my life to? Of course there was. It was just a long recovery period.

The older I get, the more I become aware of these cycles in my life. I can observe them in my oboe playing, my running, my personal relationships, etc. Toward the end of my pregnancy, for instance, I just put the oboe down for several weeks. Didn't care about it one bit. I spent my time waiting for Zoe to come, and thinking and planning and nesting and cooking. Every now and then I would think about the instrument, idly, and only my past experience of recovery periods allowed me to trust that my passion for it would return. I wasn't going to be stuck forever in this amazing, internal, maternal place.

On my way up, I get increasingly intense about my preparation, and increasingly hypercritical of my own playing. It seems as though I am hearing myself from a judge's perspective all the time, and never cease to strive for perfection. This sounds grim, but is actually pretty fun. I can practice for hours, remaining interested and engaged the whole time, and really can tell when even infinitesimal improvements happen, and I will sacrifice other things in my life to come up with the practice time. Once the event is passed, though, I can enjoy the ease and ability that I have worked so hard to achieve. I am loving playing in the orchestra again, with my friends and colleagues, and I don't need to spend every spare moment on the oboe to make the music flow when it has to.

I just watered my plants today, for maybe the second time since Zoe was born. Something had to give in my schedule before this audition and I am sorry that it was the health of the living green beings that share our home, but there it is. This week I went out shopping for delicious fresh ingredients and I've cooked almost every night. Today I made a delicious black bean chili, and taught a nice laid-back lesson, and snuggled and played with my gorgeous daughter, and I must say, I'm loving my recovery period. I practiced, too, but just a couple of the licks in my concert music this week. I'll get plenty of playing this afternoon and evening without killing myself now. And I love my life. I have learned to relax into my recovery period - the intensity will come back. It always does.

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