Defeating Distractions

I find that I have become an incredibly distracted person. Everything is at our fingertips these days and we are led to believe that if we want something we should be able to get it instantly. I want to watch “Forest Gump”, jump on Netflix and watch it instantly. I want to buy a new pair of jeans, jump online and buy a pair. I want to eat pizza, have it ready in 30 minutes or your money back. If we somehow are not able to get what we want as soon (or very soon) after we want it, we are then led to believe that something is wrong or broken either with the system or ourselves. That’s a pretty dark thought but I find myself having these reactions without realizing they are happening. I get frustrated or anxious at times for any number of ridiculous reasons; my browser froze up for 10 seconds, the order I placed online had to be resubmitted, the game I was streaming was slow and the picture was terrible.

I decided to give up any and all “screens” used for entertainment for Lent. Anything that does not have a constructive, direct purpose for being online is gone. No Netflix. No movies on TV. No Carolina basketball games. No news feeds. No Facebook. No YouTube surfing.  No mindless web browsing whose only purpose is to be distracted! Anything that is necessary for my work is still fair game (Gmail, bank accounts, Sibelius, etc.) and any research for a particular project, either around the house or for work is acceptable. It’s only the hours that I could spend distracting myself that I am trying to eliminate. I still probably spend too much time on the computer even without the distractions. But I will say, the last two weeks have been some of the most productive weeks I’ve had in a very long time.

I’ve probably done 20 house projects over the last two weeks. Many of them small things like patching a wall or installing a new thermostat. Many of them are the beginnings of huge undertakings like insulating the attic and crawlspace or installing a French drain system. At first I would find myself sitting around a little bummed that I had assigned this lack-of-screens punishment to myself. I would literally be sitting in my living room staring out of the window wondering what the hell I was going to do. But then I realized, it was the “wondering” that I had been distracting myself from when I would jump on the computer. It was the “how do I make this happen?” that ceased to exist the second Netflix was opened. I didn’t have the “what project can I do today?” anymore because I didn’t have any space for my mind to think. I had forgotten how invaluable it is to have time for your mind to just wander and wonder.

I just read “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert and she talks about creativity and inspiration as living forces that seek out minds that are open and willing to take a chance. The big ideas that we have are like little magical friends that are looking for someone to grab onto them and give them life. If we turn ourselves off or decide we don’t have the time for them, they sadly end up leaving in an effort to find someone else that will give them a voice and presence. The distractions that we are bombarded with everyday are like kryptonite for these little dudes. It saps our energy and gives us less time to nurture our magical inspiration friends so they can grow up and turn into something new and wonderful and they end up leaving. Over the last few weeks, I think word may have gotten out to them that I am working on being a more responsible parent and I’ve been pleased that these days I have a lot of little inspiration buddies to take care of and help grow up into strong, independent, well-formed projects.

Blooming Where You Are


Photo credit: Rhonda Kennedy
Photo credit: Rhonda Kennedy

While in graduate school, I had the pleasure of taking a class entitled “Jazz Historiography” with Dr. Lewis Porter. As part of the final paper for the class we were required to interview at least one notable jazz musician in regards to our chosen topic. After considerable deliberation over a few weeks, I decided to write about two of my favorite things, Jazz and food. Since thinking about food always takes me home to Durham, I decided to interview Nnenna Freelon who also happens to live in my hometown. It was during this interview that she told me about a saying her grandmother told her that she holds very close to her heart. It would have a tremendously positive impact on me and I want to share it with you. The saying goes, “Bloom where you are planted.”

I recall walking down the hallway at C.E. Jordan High School and being approached by the band director, David Robinson, towards whom I have nothing but gratitude and appreciation. I had decided earlier in the day that I couldn’t be a part of the jazz big band because I didn’t think that my schedule would  allow it. It was a bummer and I had been feeling bad about it all day. In a moment that literally changed my life, he found me and told me that I absolutely should be a part of the group and that we would make it work. At the first rehearsal I remember being so excited by the energy coming out of the music and filling our band room. It was raucous. It was sultry. It was great. The seed had been planted. I was falling in love with one of the greatest things to ever be created, Jazz.

The following year, once again, my life was changed. Friends in the band, who continue to be some of the most important people in my life to this day, encouraged me to be a part of the jazz combo program. Soon, I found myself buried in headphones listening to Lee Morgan records. John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Joe Henderson became artists-in-residency in my car stereo, and “Chick Corea” and “Return to Forever” became loaded terms signaling extreme badassness  and excitement between friends and me. I found myself constantly listening and becoming completely absorbed in the music.

As a young jazz musician learning about the history of the music, New York became a sort of Mecca and visions of pilgrimages to this hallowed musical ground began to emerge. But it wasn’t until deciding to attend graduate school at Rutgers that I finally made it to the big city (well, close to it at least).  If I was going to be a jazz musician I had to be in New York, right? Everybody knows that. You want to play jazz, you go to New York and live in a tiny studio apartment with about four other guys, wash your clothes in the sink, eat Ramen noodles for a couple of years, and play with some of the greatest musicians on earth. But how could I leave my family back home in North Carolina? I had already been apart from my girlfriend (now fiancée) for 2 years and the distance between the big apple and the old north state wasn’t getting any shorter. It was a problem with no good solution. It wasn’t until my conversation with Mrs. Freelon that I was introduced to another way of thinking about my path.

I love North Carolina. I love it! Sure it has its problems like a legislature that’s taking us to hell in a hand basket, a power company that’s poisoning the water, and support for teachers on par with a soggy paper towel, not to mention the soul-crushing summer humidity.  But I’ve never had ice cream as good as at Maple View Farms. I’ve never had barbeque as good as at any one of the dozens of restaurants dotting the Triangle. I’ve never seen as many fireflies at dusk as I have on a misty evening in Chapel Hill. I’ve never felt so nostalgic as I have after walking to the car after an old school Durham Bulls game at the DAP. And I’ve never met so many musicians who are full of energy, passion, and love for each other and for the music as I have in North Carolina.

“Bloom where you are planted”. These words echoed in my head as I pondered my life path. It was so encouraging to hear someone who is so successful and full of love assert that it was possible to grow and bloom and flourish to your full potential where you have roots. Living away from home I realized that my heart lives in the south and my roots are deep. New York is an amazing place and I look forward to visiting often and playing as much as possible there but I know that there is so much room to grow here in my hometown. I can bloom and be a part of this wonderful garden planted right here.

Back to the shed…