The Struggle to Continue an Instrument in College

I vividly remember the day my piano was delivered. My family had been saving up for a year or two, and after scouring Craigslist and testing out a variety of used pianos, we settled on a beautiful chestnut-colored Yamaha. The moment it was delivered, the upright piano became my most prized possession. I was ecstatic to have my own piano and no longer need to pretend to pedal when using the keyboard. As such, I remember playing the piano for hours on end in the following weeks; however, these days tell a different story.

I live in East Quad, which has practice rooms accessible to students. In fact, this was one of the most exciting parts about touring my new home before the start of school. Yet, using my ten fingers, I could probably count the number of times I’ve actually sat down and played for over an hour. But why?

Before I continue this reflection, I’d like to make note I wasn’t always the best piano student. I started lessons when I was nine yet often feel as though I have nothing to show for it, especially in comparison to the hundreds of extremely dedicated or musically gifted students here at U of M. I’ll admit, when I was younger, there were times I didn’t like the assigned pieces or going to lessons. I frequently faced frustration with myself when I would make mistakes. There were times throughout middle and high school where I practiced only once or twice a week. Yet, somehow I always carved out time for it. Playing the piano was often a stress relief. It was something I enjoyed. Finding a daunting piece and eventually conquering it was one of the greatest feelings in the world. So what changed?

Time management is a huge factor. It can be difficult to juggle work, clubs, and hobbies while maintaining academic success. Additionally, while there are hundreds of organizations that make it easy to find groups of like-minded people or activities you enjoy, it’s just not feasible to do absolutely everything like many of us did in high school. Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely possible to still tackle plenty of extracurriculars. Several of my friends have been able to continue playing their instruments by being in marching band, orchestra, or chamber music. For me, the gist of time management in relation to playing the piano is the lack of setting aside time to specifically play. Amidst homework, tests, and other commitments, I’ve failed to put practicing as a priority.

While time management is an obvious and monumental reason for not playing the piano, I’ve come to realize that self-consciousness has also been an inhibitor in my musical ventures. For some background information, it’s easy to hear sound coming from the practice rooms in East Quad’s basement, whether you’re outside of them or in another practice room. Whenever I hear people around, I can’t help but feel pressure to perform under some sort of expectations I can’t live up to. When I hear another piano player in the practice room next door, sometimes I can’t help but feel inferior and fearful that he/she is judging me for my mistakes or lack of fluidity. It’s difficult to refrain from comparing myself to other talented students that I hear playing. This probably sounds silly, but it’s strangely something that has had an impact on my confidence and willingness to play. It also goes along with the fact that while I’m comfortable speaking, singing, or acting on stage/or other people, playing the piano is another story.

While self-consciousness is something that affects my playing habits, I hope to move past these insecurities and focus on my own progress. After all, if I stop playing because I feel that other people are much better than me, how am I ever going improve? And as far as time management goes, I’d like to go back to viewing practicing as something done for enjoyment or as a stress relief rather than a simple check off an imaginary to-do list. I hope to remember to actively think about setting aside some time to play, even if just once in awhile. Ultimately, I’m extremely grateful to my parents and piano teacher for the opportunity to learn such a skill as how to play the piano, and I don’t intend to let it go to waste.

What’s Your Study Playlist?

There are many components to the perfect study environment. How many people are there?  What is the temperature?  Are you wearing comfortable clothes?  Can you fall asleep in your study position?  Will you be hungry and need to move soon?  And lastly, what type of music do you want?  The answers to all of these questions will differ per person.  Some people like to study in groups and others alone.  It also depends on what a person is studying for on what type of environment they want.  

Most college students listen to something when they study; Whether that’s music, tv or something else.  The music that people listen to differs based on the subject and type of homework that they are doing.  The one thing that most people have in common is that they don’t want to have to sing along to the songs as they are studying because that easily distracts them.  This means that you need a different playlist for studying than for driving, where the whole goal is to perform a concert in your car.  People try to achieve this goal in different ways.  It’s hard to find a balance between music to listen to for fun and music to listen to for studying.  

This is because you don’t want to listen to music that you know and like to dance to when you should be concentrating on calculus.  Some people listen to music in another language so that they are not tempted to sing along and they just listen to it in the background.  Others listen to a different genre of music that they don’t know well so that they can’t be too distracted by it.  Another option is listening to instrumental music.

Once you figure out what type of words you want in your study music, you then have to decide how slow or fast you want the music to be.  Perhaps you want it fast to keep you awake when you are reading a particularly boring textbook, or you want it slow when you are trying to concentrate on a long specific problem.  You also need to choose if the music is relaxing or intense, or upbeat, slow, or somewhere in between.   All of these decisions depend on the type of work you are doing at the time and can also vary depending on your mood.  The seemingly simple task of choosing a playlist to study is actually much more complicated than you initially think.

Passions vs. The Real World

It’s that time of the semester.

If you are currently in college, you know what I mean. Today in class one of my professors spoke openly with us, telling us that professors hated this time of year. After months of snow and winter and general gloominess, the effects are starting to show in students. They raise their hands less often, they feel more lethargic, and he described it as just a general atmosphere that all professors dread.

As for me, I can definitely feel it. It’s not only the lack of warmth and sunshine (that we seem to finally be getting here in Michigan), but just the everything-ness of this time of the semester. It’s not just having to do schoolwork, it’s having to do schoolwork, and find time for meetings, and friends, and jobs, and summer plans, and family, and – for some of us – graduation. It’s a list that goes on and on.

Last night I read through a short story I wrote this semester for the Hopwood Awards. I didn’t write a blog post about this, but it’s the first time I’ve been brave enough to submit anything I’ve written. I decided screw it, I’m a senior, it’s now or never, and wrote a 20+ page short story in the span of about three days, which, if you are a writer, know how incredibly short that is. I even got up at 9 a.m. to finish it up before the deadline, shocking my roommates who typically don’t see me up and awake before 11, sometimes even noon.

But I was thinking about how much joy that gave me, even in the midst of the crazy semester around me. I banged out a 20+ paper because it was something I’m passionate about. Writing, for me, has always been something I’m passionate about. And at the moment, I’m working on a research paper for a class..and yet I’m not. I can’t work on it, because I have so many other thousands of millions of things to do.

Inspiration and creativity are some of the most elusive characteristics of writing. A lot of advice I’ve been given in college surrounding my writing is to keep doing it, even when inspiration doesn’t hit.

But I never seem to have trouble with inspiration – it’s always the time. I get so frustrated that I have other things I could be doing besides working on a short story or writing Part 2 of the blog post about albums (I promise, it’s coming). And then this frustration gets worse whenever I realize that I have to do things I don’t want to in order to do the things I love, like write and read and watch TV (and think critically about watching TV).

But sometimes, life doesn’t work that way. I don’t like it, but it’s the truth.

This message is brought to you by a stressed college student who knows she shouldn’t be stressed but is anyways.*
*never stop writing, even when you’re stressed

Musings of a College Student Home for the Holidays

To all of my friends and family, have you ever noticed how the people we are together are so different from the people we are when we’re apart? Life feels so unusual and yet so the same whenever I leave school and go back home, or leave home and go back to school. I know coming back to the people I know and love and care about is great, but sometimes I wonder how I can be a different person at home from the person I am at school, but both people can still be me. It’s not that I’m any less happy at one place or the other; I’m just different. Being at school makes me want to write and read and hang out with friends in trendy coffee shops while we plan our escape to Alaska. Being at home makes me want to paint and explore and lay around in bed with my dog and the small cluster of high school friends who I can still call mine while we plan our escape to Alaska.

Hey, on a side note, does anyone want to go to Alaska? No reason just wondering.

Okay, back to my profound musings on the strange internal and external changes that come about when you change the people you’re with and the location you’re with them. I’ve been thinking about all of these things, and I know I can’t be the only one. Do you ever get lonely surrounded by friends because you realize those aren’t the friends you’re used to being with? It’s not a sad kind of lonely, just an outsider kind of lonely. Sometimes that happens to me after a long break like this. I come back to school and I’m bouncing with joy to see everyone, but it’s just slightly off. I used to think it was just a product of the changing scenery, but now I think it’s a product of the changing scenery and getting older.

Getting older is what people say when they’ve gotten older, which is kind of funny. When we were younger we’d hear about people getting older all the time, but it didn’t really mean anything. They’d tell us we’d have the best times ahead of us, our whole futures, until one day those best times, those futures, would become pasts, memories, photographs in dusty frames. That thought used to make me sad, but not anymore. You see, you don’t have to be so happy you could do somersaults all the time. Everyone gets sad sometimes and I think it’s good to acknowledge that, especially when you’re stuck in the newfound-college-break-boredom of our parents’ houses. We can take this time for break to recuperate, spend time with our home friends and family, but in the end, we’re still going back. And after that, we’ll be going someplace else. And that’s all a part of life. And we’re all so lucky to have these opportunities to become different people when we go different places, but to always remain ourselves.

So because I know how very special it is to have people who help me be all the different forms of me, I want to say a few things.

To the students still finishing up the semester, I wish you good luck and happy post-exam frolicking. I’m sure you’ll kill it.

To my professors this semester, thank you. It really and truly was an excellent term and that’s largely because of you.

To my school friends, whether I met you in Ann Arbor, Oxford, or Chamonix, thank you. That other humongous part of having an excellent term was all due to you. You make going to school fun and educational for wholly different reasons than the ones I attribute to my professors.

To my home friends, thank you. You always make coming home rewarding and strange, but fun all the same. I know I can always count on you to visit me in Ann Arbor when I really need you, or to at least send a hilarious gif to pick my spirits up.

To my family, you’re weird and fantastic and you should know that I love you for making me weird and fantastic, too.

To everyone else reading, maybe one day we’ll meet and you can help me become a different me, too. If not, you’ve helped someone else become different forms of themselves, and I know they are grateful to have known you.

10 Reasons why Fitzgerald (not the president) Knows

So I read “The Great Gatsby” in 10th grade. I was 15, living in suburbia and confused about the major topics in the novel–racism and eugenics, gangster/mob culture, and perceiving reality (alcohol).
I loved it then. And I love it now. Rereading the book for my Visual Cultures of the Modern Novel class has been such a treat. I now get things that are going on in the novel that weren’t talked about in my high school class (everything is homoerotic). And I feel that Fitzgerald, in describing the 20’s, describes college and he KNOWS my interactions with the world.
1. Friday, Friday, Gotta Get Down on Friday:

Daisy: “I always watch for the longest day in the year and then miss it” (16). Friday should be the longest day of the week–a day I don’t have class, a day where I wake up and cope from watching Scandal with a workout, a day where I don’t leave my apartment until 9pm. But all of a sudden I wake up in a haze with the sun attacking my eyes and it’s Saturday. Boo hiss. Friday over.
2. Everyone’s stupid and everything hurts:

Tom: “He’s so dumb he doesn’t know he’s alive” (30). Tom gets few things besides racism, classism, sexism, ableism, and ageism. But the other thing he knows is that most people I interact with don’t know that they’re alive. “Woah, I’m white–what does that mean? I have privilege?” My response: “oh, another one of you non-alive folks.” Or those people who ask me if I’m dressed up in costume on Halloween (today!) and I’m in regular clothes (peacock earrings, harem pants, tie-dye shirt, neon coat, stilettos).  These non-alive people are worse than zombies and at least Tom (and I) call them out.
3. We’re all gonna die:

Myrtle:  “You can’t live forever, you can’t live forever” (40). She gets this whole mortal thing (and this being-unto-death thing). As the first(?) character to die, she gets the #yolo life. While I will hopefully live more than once, more than 5 is a bit much–Myrtle understands. I refuse to JUST #yolo, but I’m ok with dying after one too many.
4 . To be a freshman is to thirsty:

Nick: “I was one of the few guests who had actually been invited” (45). Everyone at Gatsby’s party just shows up. WHAT. Its like all those nasty freshman that appear out of nowhere, all wearing AP Government shirts or their greek life paraphernalia, that drink the whole keg and then flirt with literally everyone. It’s the best when you’re at a small house party and the freshman flock to show up, finding 15 people discussing cultural appropriation and some good speakers. Come at me, freshman!
5. I’m going to leave this gem hear:

Owl Eyes:  “I’ve been drunk for about a week now, and I thought it might sober me up to sit in a library” (50).
6. And this:

“‘Anyhow he gives large parties,’ said Jordan, changing the subject with an urban distaste for the concrete. ‘And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy’” (54).

Young Lady: “‘[R]each me a rose, honey, and pour me a last drop into that there crystal glass’” (65).
8. Everyone is reckless:

Gatsby: “‘I tried very hard to die but I seemed to bear an enchanted life’” (70). Sometimes you are out until 5am, sometimes you are awake in the library until 5am with marker smudges all over your face, sometimes you drink 2 pots of coffee a day, sometimes you sleep 12 hours to cope, sometimes you eat only hummus, sometimes you j-walk like life isn’t real and its raining and you jump into a bush to avoid a car (unlike Myrtle). Everyone is so intense but if the world likes us, we live to see tomorrow.
9. People troll and derail pretty much everything.

Narrator: “The automatic quality of Gatsby’s answer set us all back at least another minute” (92).
10. Aesthetics are real. Everything is Campy.

Daisy: “‘They’re such beautiful shirts,’ she sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds. ‘It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such–such beautiful shirts before” (98).
The Great Gatsby might infuriate you. It might inspire you. It might make you nostalgic or make you happy that this century is not a teenager. But, either way, it gets some things. Gets them well.