The Close of a Month Long Challenge

Today is the last day of the challenge I started off with on July first. The original challenge was posted by a friend of mine from graduate school, Noelle De Jesus, and consisted of 750 words of fiction per day for the entire month of July. I haven’t been writing fiction or poetry for some time, but have been blogging since November of last year on a fairly regular basis employing the five paragraph essay form or a modification thereof that I’ve been teaching all of these years, so I accepted the challenge shooting for 750 to 1,000 words per day. Honestly, it has been quite a while since I have attempted a challenge such as this and I started out with some trepidation, after all it was to be a total of 31 essays in 31 days with no days off regardless of what was going on.

I tried to keep my focus tied to my musical interests, because I figured that by the end of 31 days between my earlier blog posts and the July blog posts I would have sufficient essay material to combine into a short book of essays about music, being a performing musician, and giving advice based upon my experiences over the past 20 to 30 years of my 44 years as a musician. For the most part I stuck to the topic, straying for perhaps three essays, including this one. This actually made it more difficult, because I had to remain conscious of what I had written about previously in my earlier blog posts as well as during the earlier part of the month of July. I made a very concerted effort to not repeat myself, nor repeating topics, unless it was a strong variation on a subject that I hadn’t fully explored in an earlier essay.

In some ways I’ve felt like this was an act of desperation, and somehow a life line that had been extended to me by a friend who lives thousands of miles from me. It was a chance to prove to myself that I can complete a month long project that required active participation every day, no matter how I felt, or how worried I was about what my doctor was going to say next about stress tests, or my extra heart beats, or how long it was taking to get simple answers to why my test results weren’t being forwarded to my physician, or when my next job was going to start, or how much longer my current run with a band was going to last. It required that I focused, for at least an hour to two hours a day on something else, clearing my head from all of the immediate mental and emotional distractions my ADD brain latches onto and producing concrete results for 31 days straight.

I really wasn’t certain that I would succeed but one of the things that helped was that I let my friends know that I was attempting this and each day posted my results on Facebook in order to have public accountability. Also, after I managed seven straight days with seven essays to show for it, one per day, I simply focused on the next week’s block, and then the next. Before I started I did know I was highly capable of producing essays on a somewhat regular basis, but I’d never even thought of one per day. I had found that between my ADD and the recurring bouts of Depression, it doesn’t take much to pull me off track and I sincerely believed that I was heading into another hefty bout with the latter. But somehow, after two weeks I became quite determined that I was going to succeed this time and no matter what I was going to work in those essays every day, regardless of the circumstances or environment that I found myself in. And so I did.

The first three weeks were pretty straightforward because I could establish and maintain a routine of hitting it in the morning, either writing at the dining room table or while in my chair of doom in the living room. I call it that because in the past when I sat in it, I tend to become inert. Now I know that it can be a place where I can actually get work done. This last week has been more of a challenge because we’ve been vacationing close to 1,000 miles from home in the Black Hills of South Dakota, which we drove over two days split into an 8 hour and just short of 10 hour driving periods. I wrote in the car on my computer while we were flying along I-90 and since then on hotel beds propped up with pillows and my lap as a desktop. So here I am on the last day of the challenge and closing my last essay of the month on the 31st of July at 9:30am Mountain Time, with the knowledge that I can complete a month long project, and that I do have the discipline to do so. Thank you, Noelle, for being the catalyst and thank you to the rest of my friends on social media for putting up with my postings on my journey.

Some Notes on My Absence from the Blogosphere

It has been awhile since I’ve posted so I figured you all were owed at least an update. I had been intending to do this earlier, but my focus has been a bit on the split side. A friend of mine from graduate school many years ago, took to Facebook and issued a writing challenge of producing about 750 words a day of fiction for all of July, each day and everyday. I accepted her challenge, but in a modified form of one essay per day of 750 or more words for the month of July. I haven’t been posting these to the blog and am hoarding them towards possibly producing a book length manuscript, which I’ve wanted to do for quite some time. This counts toward my daily production requirement, but I don’t want my blog to go stale while I’m slaving away on the project. I’ve had some other issues lately that have distracted me from my cd project, which is still on the burner, just not the front one at the moment. At a recent doctor’s appointment I received some information which shook up my world a bit, and has called for some life-style changes that need to be addressed immediately, and not put off as something I can afford to deal with at a later date, so I’m making those changes, some of which are impacting the amount of time I have free to pursue various other things. However, the trade off is that making the changes does much to ensure that I can continue doing the things I want to into the foreseeable future.

It’s easy to forget that we need to view our lives holistically, and I’m just as guilty as the next guy when it comes to tending to focus on what matters in the moment and maybe into next week. For instance, for quite awhile I’ve been running on the basis that if I have a choice in how I spend my time, exercise was about the last thing I’d consider, ceding to practicing, reading, recreational eating, and everything but hauling myself to the gym on a regular basis, despite knowing better. My eating habits weren’t so hot either. I love fried food, cheeseburgers, ribs, chips, you name it, and I’ve got quite a sweet tooth on top of that. I’m kind of addicted to it as well. On the positive side, I don’t smoke. I quit that over twenty years ago, but when I did I was a heavy smoker, smoking three packs a day. I rarely drink alcohol, largely because it interacts with my medications negatively, and because I’ve seen first hand the mess it has the potential to create in people’s lives. I never was into recreational drug use, thankfully; I’ve seen the fallout from that as well.

Currently I am on a diet to do what most people do who diet, lose weight, and in the past month since my check up I’ve dropped just short of 10 pounds (258 down to 249; I’m 5’9” on a good day). I’ve also cut out most of the fatty foods that have been staples in my diet, have starting focusing more on vegetables and fruit and have stopped snacking on things that do harm, including a massive sugar reduction. I’m also exercising regularly through biking several times a week and walking my dog, George, a mile to a mile and a half every afternoon. I can feel the difference already in terms of having more energy and less knee pain. I just had my follow up appointment to check in on how the blood pressure med is working, and my doc was pleased with the changes I’ve made. I’m still waiting on the results of my stress test, but as my doc said, if there had been a major issue they wouldn’t have let me leave the hospital.

I’m 52 and not done with my life. I want to be able to still be actively performing, writing and enjoying life in 30 years if not longer, so that means I have to take a different approach to living my life on a day to day basis, and deal with it holistically, not cherry-picking and living entirely in the moment. I’m already seeing that the moments that I’m living in are improving thanks to the changes I’ve already made and for this I’m thankful. If I continue with this, as I intend to, I can only foresee the quality of my entire life improving radically. It’s also giving me a more solid appreciation of each moment I have, and the importance of maximizing the value of those moments to be productive, affirming, forward looking and more goal oriented. It also reminds me that I am more than one thing. I am a father, a husband, a musician, a writer, a teacher, a pet owner, a concerned citizen, and a plethora of other roles that all tie together in what constitutes being me; all of which bring their own hosts of responsibilities, joys and setbacks with them.

So, if I have been remiss with my blog posts regarding things musical, advice given and anecdotes shared, I apologize. I am working on living and promoting continuing to do so healthily and holistically, which in the end can only improve things professionally as well. One of the things about being a long term creative person and musician is that you’ve got to live a full life and fill it with as much of the positive as possible. It is your individual responsibility to do so. Pain and suffering end up being a part of that as well, but you’ve got to do your part to do what it takes to limit that and not bring it upon yourself. Some subscribe to the concept that pain and suffering are required in order to accomplish great things creatively, but honestly, I think that’s a huge crock of romantic bullshit. Living is what is required, and living a full and complete life can only make your art, whatever it is, better.