I’ve been struck, unfortuitously, with a bout of insomnia tonight, which I have been fortunate not to have had in quite some time. Before moving to NYC and plunged headfirst into a whirlwind of frenetic work and survival, I used to get insomnia a fair amount. I tended to utilize such times for writing. Which may be one reason, come to think of it, why I no longer write as frequently as I once did as a West Coast whippersnapper. During college, I wrote sometimes multiple short pieces a day. Now, many moons later, it’s more like once a month.
While I can’t really help that my cognitive and emotional space is spent on other also fairly important things, like teaching kids, I do miss delving into this personal creative space, just as I miss other creative or emotional outlets I used to devote some time to, such as playing my hand drums or hiking/running up the sides of mountains. And I know that every day that I no longer do these things, I am slowly losing the chops that I once had.
I’m reading Malcolm Gladwell‘s Outliers at the moment, and his argument about success as attributable mainly to extensive practice, as opposed to talent, made a lot of sense to me. I remember my cross country coach in high school (a terrible math teacher, but an excellent running coach) telling us that after two days of rest we would begin losing a certain percentage of our fitness. And I remember reading an interview with John McLaughlin–one of my favorite musicians and world renowned for his lightning fast licks on the guitar–in which he stated that he could tell that he was losing his skills after only two days without practice.
While at a conference recently in Seattle, during a roundtable discussion with other educators about “hybrid” roles for teachers, one teacher who was currently in that role (1/2 time in the classroom, 1/2 time doing policy related work) commented on how during time spent away from the classroom, such as the 2 days we had spent at this conference, he felt his connection to classroom practice slipping away.
I don’t know if 2 days is some magic number, but the big idea here is that without nearly daily practice in something, we begin to lose the skills and capabilities (one could even call it a type of ‘muscle memory‘) we had worked so hard to build. Furthermore, I’m reflecting on the notion that mastery is not some peak that one reaches and plants a flag in and retains from there on out for the rest of one’s life. Mastery has to be built through a lot of hard work and practice (Gladwell says roughly 10,000 hours), and then sustained.
Though I do think that there are certain tracks and pathways that, once formed, can be more easily re-awakened, even if they haven’t been practiced in a while. For example, I’ve been running for many years, but l’ll go through sometimes long periods where I don’t run at all, for reasons such as work, the season, or travel. But when I do begin running again, after a short period of initial soreness, it’s pretty easy for me to ease back into it to the point where I was before. Of course, I ain’t a “master” runner. I don’t run races or anything. But my point is that if you’ve invested a fair amount of time in something in the past, if you begin doing it again, after a short re-learning period, you’re back on track fairly quickly based on where you left off.
All of this is essentially to say that I’m realizing that I have to get much more disciplined about investing more time back into activities and practices that are important to me to develop and maintain, such as writing as an avenue of self-exploration, reflection, connection to a larger community, and expansion of thoughts and feelings.
So here is an action plan, which I am hesitant to lay out as I hate promising things that I don’t follow up on, and I also doubt that anyone really cares about my personal goals, but I feel like it’s better to lay out concrete, explicit goals if this is really important to me:
- I will write by hand in my journal 2 nights a week before going to bed (writing by hand forces me to produce a substantially different style of thought and writing, since I’m mainly accustomed to writing on a keyboard)
- I will publish 1 blog post a week
- I will play my hand drums once a week
- I will hike at least twice a year
There it is. Now I’ve got to do the much harder work of holding myself to it.