Documenting The Journey Of A Man On A Quest For Mindfulness, Peace, and Joy

Category: Music

On Sabbatical – Week 18: Climbing Aboard the Creative Process Struggle Bus

I’m growing an awareness of how much I covet the morning hours of the day, the time immediately after either a) I’ve dropped the kids off at school, or b) I’ve successfully gotten them out the door for my partner to take them. That first hour of spaciousness in the day feels especially juicy, important, critical. I know it’s when I’m at my freshest, my energy tank at its fullest, that special time of day where I can crank out maximum productivity, creativity, or whatever is calling that day. It is a gift to gain clarity about my body and mind, how it works, its natural rhythm and tendencies. The first hour of space in the day is, usually, when my brain operates at maximum capacity. I’m beginning the practice of planning out my highest priority “thinking tasks” for this time each day, and I cherish the opportunity that I have to delight in this spaciousness. 

One would think that with the freedom of time that comes with removing oneself from the workforce, there would be ample time to pursue several hobbies, tackle all those pesky around-the-house projects, even learn a new language, but as embarrassed as I am about admitting it… it doesn’t feel that way. I don’t feel free. I feel conflicted. Being on a quest of self rediscovery is not a simple, straightforward path. Over the last few months, I have been removing my old behaviors and thought patterns, and giving myself space, space enough to see what surfaces from within. The problem is not that I can’t think of what I want to do; the problem is I have an abundance of ideas. In theory, I have an extra six hours of “free time” without kids every day, but I’ve also essentially stopped buying restaurant food, which means more meal planning, more cooking, and more dishes, which all take time. Plus we have an international move to plan. And there is a decent-sized list of creative projects I’d like to tackle. There is not enough time to master all of these things overnight. Part of the challenge is there is no roadmap I am following; I am a voyager sailing the seas of my inner self with only my concentrated listening to guide me. When you have a job, your weekly structure is more or less dictated for you. While it can feel constricting to not be in absolute control of your time, it is also a challenge to navigate the nebulous abyss of free time. It’s easy to feel like I’m wasting time or that I’m not making the best use of a particular hour because I’m stumbling my way through learning how to use Plug-ins in Garageband, or staring at a blinking cursor in WordPress for ten minutes because I’m hitting a writer’s block. Self doubt creeps in. “Why are you even bothering to write now? Where is this going to get you anyway? Is this really the absolute best thing you could be doing right now to get closer to your vision? What even is your vision?” I’m getting the sense that it will be helpful if I create some sort of weekly structure to prioritize my actions and to align them with my values and vision. And probably figure out that whole vision thing…

As I attempt to learn how to be a creator, I find it particularly challenging to have little structure. No “right way” to go about it. How much structure is a creative person supposed to have? Do I make appointments with myself so that I stay on track with practicing all the things I want to practice? Or do I let it flow and just follow the energy of whatever excites me in that moment? Is there value in “pushing through” a writer’s block (or a songwriter’s block), or do you acknowledge you’ve hit a creative dead end for the time being, get up, and do something else? I think I’d like to have some conversations with my creative friends about this and read more about the creative process (as I go and add Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way to my library queue). 

In other news this week, I did create what some might call my first “song” with my new home studio setup. It’s barely a song, but it has sound, rhythm, and a tiny bit of shape, and you can listen to it on the internet, so I think that clears for my definition of song. You can listen to it here: https://soundcloud.com/kevin-carlow/carlows-first-midi-loop. It was a real treat playing it for my kids. As I loaded it up on our speaker in the family room on an early weekday morning, I watched with delight as my children and partner reacted with genuine, positive interest by shaking their hips and bobbing their heads. The kids wanted to hear it again in the car on the way to school. When the climax of the song hit, when all of the tracks in the early part of the song are layered together and converge (all three of them), my child, with a keen ear for instrumentation and harmony, exclaimed, “Wow Dad, you must’ve been playing some of those instruments with your feet!” How long can I get away with my kids believing I can play drums, bass, and keyboard at the same time before showing them how the sausage gets made? 

On Sabbatical – Week 17: A New Season Begins

Fall is here, and it feels like a big deal for a few reasons, all of which revolve around the school year. Having my children back at school has never felt like a more important landmark for me. After quitting my job, I decided early in summer that summer was going to be the season of play, of being a kid, of abandoning as many responsibilities as possible and doing my best to see life through my children’s eyes. Now, though, that time is over. There is a concrete change to the structure of our week – from 8am-2pm every day, the kids are away. As fun as this summer was, I am ready for this change. I am looking forward to having this block of six hours every day to move into this next season of sabbatical. I’m feeling very clear and comfortable with this change; I’m not sitting here wishing we had just a few more weeks of summer (like I have in many other years). We did a lot. We lived a full season. If summer was the season of “being a 4 and 6 year old kid,” then my intention for fall is that it will be the season of, say, high school. That age where you start to get a sense of what in the world is interesting to you and what things bore you. The time where you pick a sport or an instrument and you practice it, lots, mostly because you just really enjoy it. That’s the energy I want to tap into this season. I want to allow myself to pick a few activities or hobbies that I enjoy, regardless of their practicality and regardless of my skill level, dedicate myself to the practice of them, and see where it leads. That is the energy I hope to carry through the fall. 

FIRSTS ARE POTENT

After I dropped my kids off for the first day of school, I came home, changed my clothes, and immediately went for a run. The night prior, when I wrote down a list of things I wanted to do with my week, “going for a run” was the very first thing I wrote down. I have found in life that firsts are extremely important and telling. Whenever a question is asked, whether I’m asking myself the question, someone is asking me a question, or I am asking a question of someone else, the very first thing that is said is almost always the most potent, the most important takeaway, regardless of whatever comes after that first thought.

For example, I might ask my foodie friend for a recommendation of a new restaurant I could try out. They might reply, “I really love Bar La Grassa, and also Martina. Ooh, and Spoon and Stable is quite nice.” There’s a reason they said Bar La Grassa first. I don’t care exactly what the reason is (although it’s probably because of their Charred Red Onion with Goat Cheese Bruschetta), I just know there is a reason that one was top of mind, and that’s good enough for me to know that recommendation is the most potent, most juicy, and everything else after that was just filler. Of course, there are exceptions to this principle, when deeper thought on a question does reveal a keener insight that may not have been uncovered at first glance, but for the most part, when I notice myself or others mentioning a list of things, I always pay special attention to the first thing on the list. 

GIVE AND RECEIVE

One day this week I helped my neighbor with a project. He is building a treehouse at the back of his property where the yard meets the woods, which is quite clearly a job more easily done by two than by one. I was happy to help him out as a friendly neighborly gesture without any expectation of a return favor. As we started getting set up for the work, he mentioned to me that he had read my latest blog post. Not only had he read it, but there was something specific in it that he could relate to in his own experience as a parent. (It was in this post where I contemplated about what my child is really trying to say at certain moments, but they don’t always have the mastery of the language or the emotional skills to voice what they really mean.) His mentioning this to me cost him nothing, but I received it as a huge gift. Not only did it feel good that some other human actually was interested in enough in the hodgepodge of words I’d put together to take time out of their day to read what I’d written, but also that something I wrote actually resonated with someone else. Dare I say made even the slightest positive difference in his life? What a great feeling that was!

It made me consider two things:

1) How much does this feeling get amplified for professional authors, teachers, podcasters, or talk givers, when their messages and insights improve the lives of thousands or even millions of people?!

2) Noticing how good this made me feel, I want to carry forward the practice of voicing my admiration, my noticing, my appreciation of others’ thoughts, words, and actions. It costs me very little and the reward for the other is great! 

THE HUMBLEST OF BEGINNINGS 

When I was younger, I was really into playing music. First piano, then saxophone. I was pretty good. Jazz improvisation came naturally to me. I chose to spend hours in the practice room with a friend, a guitar player, and we would accompany each other (me on tenor sax and him on guitar) playing through jazz standards, fake books, whatever was around the music room in high school. We’d have jam sessions in our other friend’s basement; he was the drummer, of course. After high school, I chose to pursue a practical degree in business, but even still as a Marketing and Entrepreneurship double major, I played in the jazz band at the University of Minnesota my Freshman year. After that, though, I quit. I quit playing music. I was wrapped up in navigating the puzzle of college, of how I could cruise through four years of university with two business degrees as efficiently as possible. Jazz band was a lot of time and only earned me one credit. So I put it aside in pursuit of business. (And parties.)

As my life continued, the distance from the time I’d last played music widened. I still enjoyed listening to music (this was the age when P2P servers like Napster and LimeWire were in their prime!), and I loved going to see live shows (one of my college roommates was the drummer in the band Quietdrive). But I never played. I watched with admiration as my friend, the drummer who hosted our high school jam sessions, continued his pursuit of music, moved to L.A., formed bands, created his own music studio, engineered incredible tracks, and crafted a sustainable life in the music industry. (Shoutout to Sam Brawner, Raquel Rodriguez, and Blue Dream Studios. Watch and listen to them perform one of my favorite songs live in their studio: Mile High.) I sometimes wondered, fantasized what my life would have been like had I, at the crossroads of deciding what to pursue in college, chosen music over business. But as happens with so many of us that practice some art when we’re young, the ideas of practicality, of finances, of the “real world” creep in and overtake the artistic side.

It has been a long-standing idea of mine to record my own music. Not to become the next Jon Batiste, not to go on world tours, just to have a setup at my house where I could mess around with music. A musical playground, if you will. I never made the time to make this happen while I was in the working world.

This week, the time finally came. I transformed idea into reality; I set up the ability to record audio in my house. The configuration is beyond basic, but I at least now have the ability to record a microphone, a keyboard, and a guitar into a computer and start playing around with music and sound. As I fired up GarageBand and started tinkering with my first sounds, I felt so giddy I was cackling to myself, having uncontrollable belly laughs, by myself, in my basement. The “music” I was making was complete unskilled trash, but that didn’t matter. The product didn’t matter. I had built a playground for myself, and it felt so damn good to play. 

The most basic music studio in the history of music studios

INSPIRATION ON A DRIVEWAY

On the weekend, my family went over to my friend’s house for his daughter’s fifth birthday. While the kids were busy zooming around their backyard and basement, I took a moment to step into their front yard, free from kids, with another friend of mine. While we know each other pretty well, we are both better friends with the host of the party. In other words, we are friends through the host. He and I got to chatting about the state of the world and of our lives, and I quickly realized he and I share a lot of the same values and views. We got to talking about hiking and camping, and boom! I was hit with a wave of inspiration to see if we could squeak in a camping trip before the temperatures got too cold. But rather than let this idea slip by, like so many ideas of fun activities can do (because they take a certain amount of planning, organization, and effort), I did not leave that birthday party until we had picked a tentative date that appeared to work on each of our calendars. I don’t know if this plan will hold, but I’m excited at the prospect, and I’m sure glad I took a minute to sneak away from the bounce-house to have an actual adult conversation at this otherwise sugar-induced crazy-fest! 

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

As I woke up my youngest on the first day of school, a full two hours earlier than her body had grown accustomed to waking up in the summer on its own clock, she started to rise and sleepily, and somewhat grouchily, told me, “Daddy, I didn’t want to have any mornings this year.” 

 

Oh! And my kids made their own bruschetta with basil and tomatoes from our garden, as well as strawberries, balsamic vinegar, mozzarella cheese, and sourdough bread, hence the featured image on this week’s post. I absolutely love giving them very small portions of chopped up ingredients and then just sitting back and watching as they create their own meals. 

My Sabbatical – Week 4 – Prioritizing Pursuits And Accepting The Truth Of My Actions

A sabbatical is glorious in many ways, and it also has its challenges. With the stripping away of a more rigid daily and weekly structure, with a reduction of commitments and obligations, which grants me additional free time to allocate as I choose, comes a challenge. A challenge of variety, of options, of opportunities, of… open-endedness. There are many endeavors I wish to pursue, and all of them require minutes of the day (although some, such as living more mindfully, can be practiced throughout the day). How to prioritize? I have many goals I want to tackle all at once. I want everything to happen now. I want to be fluent in Spanish. I want to have five songs written and produced. I want five boxes to fill themselves of the stuff we don’t need and donate themselves to places and people that will use them. I want this blog to write itself. There are ten different website updates I want to make to this very site, not to mention the three other websites I want to be building, but each little change takes me ages since everything is a first, and firsts have a steep learning curve. And I know this kind of sounds impossible and “woe is me,” but even though I don’t have a day job right now, even with all those extra hours in the week, it’s still hard to make time for all of these things. Or even half of them! What things make the cut and which get left for later? This is the mental battle of my early sabbatical. 

I’ve noticed, though, that I am making time for certain things. I am preparing (and happily eating) home-cooked food daily. I’ve set up an exercise space in the basement and am getting out on the sand volleyball courts regularly. I am saying “yes” to my kids almost whenever they ask to play with me. Perhaps it turns out that the actions I’m making time for are my top priorities. We are what we do. 

Impromptu scooter ride midday on a weekday, because on sabbatical, Dad says, “Yes!”

One of the goals or tasks I keep writing down on my various lists is the project of purging. I’ve been wanting to purge, purge, purge. Strip things down. Declutter our house. Declutter my mind. But with planning for international travel coming up next week and trying to live slowly and not be too “busy,” I haven’t been making room for big purge projects. However, one thing I have been doing is playing with my kids and being present with them. Maybe that’s a fair trade-off? Maybe that’s what this week of sabbatical is supposed to be about. If I had been on a decluttering spree and grinding away at my laundry list of hobbies, I would have missed the following interaction with my kid.

With a delightfully tactful and simply-stating-an-observation tone, I had commented, loud enough for my kid to hear, on how hard it is to see any portion of the actual wood floor in our playroom. Any parent can relate. The kid stopped, eyed the playroom up and down, and turned their head to me and replied, “Daddy, I think we have too many toys.” Oh, I agree, young one. I agree. And so, without any further prodding or encouragement needed, we purged. Now, it was not the poetic, total toyroom overhaul that it could have been, but together, we picked up stuff and agreed whether it should be shelved or binned. 

And so, by letting go of the perceived need to be self-improving and making progress doing my long list of goals, and simply being a present father with my child, I not only got some decluttering done, but I also had a positive, bonding moment with my child. 

Letting go is getting me where I want to go. 

 

TANGENTIAL PARENTING HACK: If your 4-7 year old kid doesn’t enjoy “picking up” the play room or bedroom, suggest “neating” instead. Our kids all out sprint the other way when we mention picking up a room, but if we neat it, carefully replacing items to their homes ever so delicately and neatly like a member of the royal family might, oh, neating is so much fun! 

 

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF SILENCE

Sunday, June 12, 2022

I messed up earlier today. I intervened when I should have done nothing. Or rather, I spoke instead of silence. Silence is tragically underrated. Silence is where magic happens. A silent lake at night divulges a loon’s call from miles away. Silent, tantric stares with your partner can unlock an unknown depth of intimacy. Silence is where you learn. 

My co-parent and our kids were having a calm, strategic bedtime negotiation around the remaining screen time of the night, and since it was a “Mommy Night” (we trade bedtime nights), I was doing my job, which at that point was to stare out the window and do nothing. Be a fly on the wall. Let what happens, happen. And then, all of a sudden, I wasn’t doing my job. During a pause in the mildly tense but perfectly under control negotiation, I commented that, “this conversation is sure taking a long time,” attempting and failing to imply the logic of, “think of all the minutes of screen time we could have gotten by now had we simply agreed on something and started watching.” I just couldn’t help myself from intervening and trying to help the situation. The thing is, the intent of offering assistance doesn’t make all actions right. And the discomfort I felt in that moment is a me problem. 

Upon conversation with my partner and further reflection, many of my missteps in life stem from an underlying tendency toward perfectionism. A sense of editing and revision to live every moment with maximum efficiency, maximum rightness. Why is that instinct there, to always be improving, always be optimizing, maximizing, even if it doesn’t matter? I have a few ideas, and I’m also jotting it down as a future journal prompt for further unpacking. 

Ultimately, I need to trust my partner to live their own parenting journey. And I need to trust my children to have their own journey. From every stumble, at least I can always learn. 

 

REFLECTION FROM A HAMMOCK: BEING OUTDOORS IS BLISS

Sunday, June 12, 2022 continued…

I had been on such a high to come out in the gazebo tonight and write. I got what felt like a huge breakthrough earlier tonight by taking “one teaspoon more” as I embarked on nighttime cleanup duty, which started out with picking up the front yard while it was still light out. 

When it’s a Mommy Night for bedtime, it’s a Daddy Night for cleanup. I ventured out to pick up the day’s toys, chairs, and miscellanea. I left the camping hammock suspended between our two Eastern White Pines for last. It was a gorgeous Minnesota summer night, and the sun was just about to set over the neighbor’s house to the west. But I had cleanup chores to do and a long list of personal hobbies to pursue after that, so I briskly unclipped the hammock from its straps and had it half packed into its stuff-sack when I froze. I looked up and the pink and orange setting sun and thought to myself, “What the heck are you doing right now? You love sunsets and this weather is lush.” And so rather than charge ahead on my task list, I slowed down, reattached the hammock, and sank in to a reflective meditation by sunset. And laying there, ever so gently rocking back and forth, gazing up at the canopy overhead and the drifting clouds above, I had the following epiphany. 

You can sum up one of my truest pleasures in life in two words: being outdoors.

These are phrases transcribed from the 4:22 Voice Memo I captured on my phone while in that hammock meditation: 

  • “I find myself realizing that being outdoors does bring me joy. It’s as simple as those two words. Being outdoors. … Every time. Every time I’m connecting with nature, it brings this overwhelming sense of peace, where I feel like I can actually… touch my soul, feel my soul.”
  • “It feels… indulgent. Like I’m somehow not deserving of just sitting outside and enjoying the sunset, like I should be doing other, more productive, things. For my family. For myself. But… this is nourishing myself. Just, chillin’ horizontally, on a hammock, with my weight suspended, with a gorgeous sunset, underneath a forest canopy, is… one of the best things there is in life! And I just need to remember that in my day to day. When I’m outdoors, my bucket is getting full.”
  •  (Tangential commentary on the benefits of hammocks): “There’s something about the way a hammock works on your body… because you’re horizontal, because your hips are relieved of any pressure, the opposite of when you’re sitting… because you have this anti-gravity posture, it feels like you’re… cheating, like you’ve found the loophole of physics to allow your body to relax. It’s like the same tranquility of floating in water, but without all the work of paddling and holding your breath, not to mention the needing-to-find-a-spot-to-swim bit.”

I can’t get over how cool it is to be experiencing the recurring theme that slowing down and doing less results in more clarity, more joy, and, paradoxically, more progress

 

MUSIC IS MY MUSE

Sunday, June 12, 2022 concluded…

Eventually, the sun did set, and duty called. It was time to put away the dishes away, so I headed inside and popped in my AirPods. I’m washing, listening to this “Wondewall” remix on SoundCloud, and I’m dancing, quite well I might say, and it’s hitting me, that dancing may be a “tier two” passion of mine. If I’m being honest, I’m no Michael Jackson, but I do have rhythm. I started playing piano at 6 and played until middle/high school, where I transitioned to saxophone. I also played drums in the church youth band. I played a few small-town gigs in a jazz combo. I went on to play in Jazz Band at the University of Minnesota. I’m constantly tapping out percussive beats and improvising goofy song lyrics with my kids. And yeah, when it’s dishes time, I drop in the AirPods and get my dance on. Is there any better way to get the dishes done than to dance with them?

It’s good to acknowledge your strengths. I believe there is huge benefit to leaning into one’s strengths. And as vulnerable as I feel writing this, that I will come across as arrogant, I believe that it’s OK to be proud of my skills and that there is power in naming things, and so I will name that I have a skill of shared rhythm with my kids. Shared rhythm is one of the many concepts I’ve learned from Kristyn, and I believe that it’s an area that I often excel in, and I’m connecting just now that it may be in part because I’m a naturally rhythmic person. Shared rhythm is not necessarily percussive, of course; having a back and forth conversation or going for a walk together are also shared rhythm. But in the literal sense, I can feel things click with the young ones. For example, when my kids ask me to do “Run-Unders” with them, they are referring to me dribbling an extra large yoga ball, in our basement, as high as I can without ricocheting back off the ceiling, in a consistent, steady beat, so they can time out a sprint underneath without getting tagged by the ball. It’s wicked fun, and in the game we share the rhythm of the bouncing ball. (Of course, the huge yoga ball does eventually crash into them, but only when they choose the rhythm of silliness and stopping mid-sprint to let it crash into them, at which point I let go of the old game and pivot to align with the rhythm of silliness.) 

Then it was time to do the dishes for real, not just dance to a remix of Oasis’ crowd-pleasing masterpiece from the 90’s, and I switched over to Spotify. Spotify is one of the few apps I happily pay for every month. It’s a rare subscription bill I look at and am 100% at peace with paying. I absolutely love having the world’s music at my fingertips. Of its many delightful features, Spotify’s algorithm customizes a set of six “Daily Mix” playlists tailored to your listening habits and grouped by an overall “feel,” with “Daily Mix 1” typically being more of your frequently played, go-to songs, with Daily Mix 6 being the collection of the 10 random songs of that one obscure genre you secretly like and rarely, but every so often, listen to. I hadn’t used this feature in a while, and today, Spotify curated the most serendipitously customized “Daily Mix 1” to not only my specific, eclectic taste in music, but did so in a series of 8 or 9 songs in a row that perfectly fit the mold of the mood I wanted to be in. First with a couple blood pumping, foot-stomping jams like “LIGHT” by Parcels and Jungle’s “Smile,” then into a more relaxed, but still toe-tappin bass line of Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up – Pt. 1”, and then slower still with a brand new release from Jacob Collier featuring Lizzy McAlpine and John Mayer, “Never Gonna Be Alone”… and as I’m writing this about music, it is really hitting me that music, rhythm, dance… these also are things that make my soul shine through.

Being outdoors, music, good food, family… what more does a man need?

And yet, even as I’m dancing away, synchronizing my dish scrubs and rinses with the beat of some of my favorite tunes by my favorite artists, allowing the rhythms and melodies to take over my body, in my own house… I’m noticing that it’s hard to truly, truly let go, to truly be the wacky, shirtless dish dancer that my soul wants to be. I think up more outrageous dance moves than I actually allow my body to do, even when no one is watching. It’s like there is this deeply rooted fear of judgment of others, fear of doing things someone might judge me for doing, fear of doing something other than what society expects me to do. 

Above all else, I need to allow me to be myself.

 

FINAL THOUGHT 

Writing is hard. I’ve had different pieces of this post written for a while. Procrastination gets the best of me. Steven Pressfield’s “Resistance” is real. It’s easy to find excuses to do anything but simply opening up a blank page and starting to write. Self-judgment. Perfectionism. Resistance takes many forms, and they all get in the way of doing the work. I suppose I am grateful to have made the first step, which is acknowledging their presence and typing this paragraph anyway.

OK, enough yammering, onward to Week 5 – a week in Costa Rica!

 

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