A lesson


Yesterday I had business phone calls for most of the morning, and a business meeting in the afternoon. I guess fall is here, in spirit, if not on the calendar; I’m reentering my normal work life.

This is hard to do. I spent all of July tucked away in a rural spot in England (between Dent and Sedbergh in the Yorkshire Dales), part way up a hill overlooking a valley, surrounded by sheep. I’d get up at 8:15, compose till 1 or 2 PM, then lunch, then pleasure for the rest of the day. Not everyone, I guess, would start their vacation by getting up early, still jetlagged, to write music, but for me it was paradise, a chance to spend as much time as I liked on something I don’t get enough time for in the rest of the year.

Add to this a very balanced and peaceful life — long walks (two miles into Dent to buy The Independent and The Guardian on many afternoons); very little TV (the end of the World Cup, the end of Wimbledon, the news, and that’s about it); lots of reading; peaceful home-cooked dinners. Much amusement from the dim, stubborn sheep.

So by the end of the month I felt calm and focused. I loved the music I’d written. (More on that later.) And, even better, I felt that I’d sorted out what really matters to me. My work year is full of distractions. I do so many things–teaching (in two places, last winter), consulting, public appearances, work with orchestras, this blog, my online book, endless discussions about the future of classical music, endless amounts of e-mail (including quite a lot from people I haven’t known before, and whom I’m more than happy to hear from).

It can all be pretty wonderful. As I said to my wife last night (after spending the morning talking on the phone about a composing commission, and having a high-level meeting in the afternoon about a possible TV show) I really do have an interesting life. But there’s too much of it, and too often I end up feeling like I’m spinning in circles, not quite sure what to work on next.

July calmed all that. And now my job is to bring the calm forward into the fall; to keep the focus, to tame the clutter by prioritizing, figuring out when tasks ought to be done, and leaving free time for the things that matter most. Not exactly a remarkable plan; any busy professional has the same challenge, and is likely to meet it in the same way. All that’s different, for me right now, is that I had a month in which balance came naturally. What I gained, in the end, is not a navigation plan for dealing with the year to come, but–so much more important, in the end–an almost tangible taste of how life feels when I’m living it right. To find my way in the months ahead, I just need to find that taste again, in every way I can. If I lose it, something’s gone wrong. And if I can hold it close, even in the midst of clutter…

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