The art of doing one thing at a time
Last weekend we went to an afternoon concert given by the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra. They were playing Mahler’s 5th and a piano concerto by Haydn. I was vaguely familiar with the Mahler though I knew and recognised only the adagietto. I hadn’t a clue about the Haydn but we went because it was over the road from our temporary apartment and because we’d move out in less than a week and because we could. It was only ten quid each too, so a real bargain.
Unsure of how I’d cope with such a long concert of unfamiliar music I took along my notebook and pen.
During the first movement I found myself compelled to write down what the music made me see. I saw an army of soldiers on horseback, muskets loaded, led by a drummer, charging into battle. When the movement reached a close, I immediately regretted what I had done. By taking notes I had not really experienced the music. I had neither listened properly, nor taken the time to study the musicians, how their chests, bodies, limbs and bows moved with the music.
So, for the next movement I decided to close my eyes. Ouch! That’s a dramatic movement too and I found it way too loud. So, I did an experiment. I wondered if by opening my eyes I’d lower the impact of the sound. It worked! But the moment I started watching the orchestra and listening, I lost the experience, the essence of simply listening to the music. I found a solution, and stared with soft focus eyes at my skirt and thus could really hear the music.
By the adagietto I was ready to try and listen with eyes closed again. I knew it would not deafen me and, as the bit I knew, I’d really enjoy it. Oh boy, did I enjoy it, feeling the vibrations and noticing how they moved in my body. It was sublime, reaching those places in my heart that only fine music, beautifully played, can reach. Ian thought I’d fallen asleep! This was by far the most delicious way to enjoy an adagio.
Of course, as soon as the concert was over I opened my notebook to record my findings. Can’t help myself, you see.
I’d realised that our senses are generally divided up between those in use and that indeed, if I closed my eyes, my hearing became more acute. I was like a gleeful child with my discovery.
The next day, I saw I’d missed Eva László-Herbert’s interview on Lost in Transition, led by Dr Paulette Bethel. Eva is a friend of mine and a wordsmith to the core. I listened to the repeat show that was still online and was blown away with her words and at times was moved to tears by her erudition and eloquence. I reached for a pen to write down some of her wisdom and immediately lost the gist of the next sentence. Her best three words were these: ‘paper is patient’. Genius.
Eva is a simultaneous interpreter and I have no clue how she can listen to what is being said while expressing what was just said in another language, but I digress. I may be a woman and supposedly able to multitask but I simply can’t listen and write at the same time. Nor can I listen and read as I went on to discover.
After 45 minutes of Eva’s one-hour talk I noticed an App button was jumping up and down from the dock on my computer. I felt compelled to take a look – and immediately lost the thread of her conversation.
When I consider how many evenings I allow myself to pick up any Facebook messages or Whatsapps while I am watching a film, or how youngsters are constantly messaging their friends when at the dinner table, I realise there is no way we can be engaged in reality while we are engaged in something else.
Which is why I hereby vow not to take a notebook with me when I do something that really inspires me, like go for a walk in nature or listen to an author being interviewed. I know for sure, now, that by writing and listening or writing and experiencing at the same time I will lessen the experience of being in the moment and that my writing will suffer as a result.
I am a habitual note taker, so I am not quite sure how I will cope and if I will remember the important bits later. But somehow, I think that anything I do remember later, like the best line from a play or a great piece one of my students wrote, was worth remembering. So then, I will write it down.
I challenge you, as I challenge myself, to stop writing and stop using social media for a moment and really start to experience the inspiration that comes your way.
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