Monday 29 July 2013

Stuck Notes by Helen Yee

For weeks I have been working on getting my new music-making system set up. I have logged countless hours of frustration, trial and error. With each little victory followed by more questions and possibilities, there are ever more moving parts to puzzle over. If I can get this thingmajiggy to talk to that program, then why won't it work anymore when I start up this other application? Technical problems feel frustrating when they stand in the way of creating. I know that figuring out the technology should not "technically" be an obstacle to creating. Well, at least my inner wise self knows that. Nonetheless, days went by without new musical snippets being produced, without picking up my violin (my most basic creative tool), without setting pencil to paper – all in the name of trying to build this new system that would be my "key to creative freedom." Hours were spent searching obscure corners of the internet, trying to make sense of unfamiliar jargon and abbreviations. I was in a dusty tower, poring through tall heaps of manuscripts when I only knew twenty words in this weird language. In short I felt stuck. I didn't want to create without getting this sorted out, but I was getting unhappy with myself for not creating. A vortex of unhappy.

I am happy to report that I've escaped the lonely tower, and can return to the creative playground. Sunshine, rainbows, angels singing, I have emerged from the "stuck storm." What did I learn in the process?
  1. Persistence pays, but you need a strong "why" to keep you going
    when it gets rough. I was motivated by my desire to make music in a new
    way, and I have a date to give a house concert. The latter is the one which really mattered most to me.
  2. You are not alone and the internet proves that. Thank goodness, over and over again, I found a trail of people with the same questions. Sometimes, I found some golden nuggets to help fill in another piece of the puzzle. I can't imagine trying to do this without computers, search engines and user forums.
  3. Take notes. Writing down what I've tried and what happened helped me feel more objective and organized about what could have been hours of failure. Plus, I could more objectively understand what worked and what didn't, and I could jot down what I wanted to try out later. It helped me feel more empowered and productive to have lab notes when my experiments were failing right and left.
  4. Breaks are important. I didn't take enough breaks during this challenge, and I suspect I would have been happier had I danced or knitted more. My back and shoulders are aching, so it's time to listen to my body-mind and walk away from the computer. 
Have you had an experience like this? What do you find most helpful when you're stuck? I'll check back later, after I've had a dance break.

Helen Yee is an improvising violinist, multi-instrumentalist and composer. Currently violinist for the eclectic string trio, Trio Tritticali she also performs on yangqin with Music From China. She considers the practice of improvisation in all its forms a profound teacher in art and in life.

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