Saturday, September 22, 2018

The Four Lives We Live


It seems like at any given moment, we’re living one of four lives. One is all the preparation needed to live one’s life, one is the living itself, one if the reflection on and documentation of life and one is sharing the stories of our lives with others. This is much on my mind as the ratio between the four has changed on my time off from school. Before a part of my evening was spend preparing to teach, the bulk of my day was spent actually teaching and a part of the afternoon was documenting in my green planning book and maybe a short sharing at dinner with my wife, who now retired, is only nominally interested. Now I’m heavy on the documentation part with the hope to share it later (in the form of a published book or a podcast) with a larger audience. And the preparation is not the lesson plan, but the chapter and also, the arrangement for the workshops I’m still teaching.

Do you find this interesting to consider? I’m sure others have framed things this way, but can’t say that I’ve ever heard it. Here’s a bit more about each of the four:

Prepare: Simply to wake up in the morning means we need to do some level of planning. What should I eat for breakfast? And if I’m out of coffee, better put it on the list and make a plan to go shopping. Who will take the kids to soccer? Who will pick them up? And when will I buy the tickets to go visit Aunt Harriet a plane flight away? We live each day with one foot in the future and that requires some level of preparation.

In any work or craft or art form, there is much preparation needed. Practicing piano, dreaming the inspired music class ahead of time, imagining what you will need to bring your idea to life. The best art is created first in the imagination, long before the finger touches the key or the brush touches the canvas. Before the performance, the class, the art show, you live the experience first in the world of dream. The same is true of science as well, the great breakthroughs coming first in dream before doing the math or conducting the experiment.

And then there’s the practical details that must be arranged—shop for what’s needed (or make it yourself), get materials ready, prepare the workspace. Many people envy my life of traveling to wonderful places doing wonderful work with wonderful people, but what they don’t see is all the work of finding flights, making hotel arrangements, sometimes arranging subs, packing, transport to the airport, never mind preparing the workshop and getting the notes ready at the end. It’s a lot of work and I’m not complaining, but just saying out loud that the actual joyful teaching requires a lot of preparation that is less romantic and delightful. It’s all the iceberg that lives below the surface that no one ever sees, but is essential.

Act: This is the real deal itself. After all the preparations for the class, now you’re teaching it. After all the practicing with the band, now you’re performing. After all the getting ready for vacation, now you’re on vacation. After all the training for the marathon, now you’re running it. After all the flirting at the bar, now you’re off kissing at the party. You get the idea. This is the visible tip of the iceberg that brings you pleasure and shows the world what you love.

Reflect/ Document: Now the show is over, the race has been run, the class has been taught, the vacation is done. But you’re not! Now comes the basking in the after-glow, the critiques and regrets, the satisfaction and the disappointment. We re-live the event in our imagination and are grateful for what went well or regretful of what could have been better.

And then the documentation!! We live the trip to the Taj Mahal and took the photos to prove we were there, to remember it in the years to come and share it with whoever we can convince to take a look. Now we have to organize the photos, put them in the equivalent of the slide show in the carousel or photo album behind the glossy plastic.

This is also the stage of bookkeeping, accounting, filing things away. We dreamed the book, wrote it and published it and now we have to account for the sales. Taught the workshop and then file that outline away of what we did so the next time we teach in Barcelona, we have a record that saves the embarrassment of giving the exact same workshop 2, 5 or 10 years later.

Let me say the obvious. With our camera with us 24/7, no film to buy or wait for development, the sheer amount of documentation the average person has to deal with is Mt. Everest compared to the ant hills of previous generations. That is a huge factor in changing the ratio.

Share: We are social creatures and though we know that we’re an insignificant speck in an apparently uncaring universe, (and more and more so as world population increases—hard to be a significant individual competing with 7 BILLION other people), we’re programmed to share our lives with others as if they mattered to others and our news is of interest. That used to be the conversation at dinner table, the chat with a friend over coffee, the letter written to distant friends and family, the photo album spread out on our knees when people are over for a visit. Now of course there’s e-mail and Facebook and Instagrams and selfies and videos and the thousand and one ways to share on the i-Phone, Facebook,  Instagram, e-mails, what-have-you. (Oh, and blogposts!)

And then the deeper and wider technologies of published books, recordings, paintings, etc. all of which then require a whole other level of preparation and documentation and (these days) mastering of new technologies. In my current job of writing a book, my whole life of teaching and writing has been the preparation, the actual writing the act, the editing the reflection, the lining up of all the teams for publishing—cover design, artwork, editor, copy editor, layout person, printer, distributor, advertiser and more is the sharing part.

I taught two five-year old classes yesterday at school, did elementary and preschool singing, taught kids and their parents today at SF Jazz and that was a welcome change from all the preparation, documentation, reflection, sharing I’m working on sitting five hours a day a the computer. Back to actual three-dimensional living! No punch line here except for us all to note the ratio between the four and hope that the actual acting and living and being is at the center of it all and accounts for the lion’s share of our time. Another danger of our technology is the temptation to spend three hours documenting a 40 minutes class, fussing with all the possibilities of fonts, images, splashy effects and so on.

Okay, I gotta get out of this chair and go live a little. Bye!

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