I’m not sure how most musicians do it. Nine-to-fivers have weekends, extended weekends, holidays, and leave time, when they can have vacations. Whether or not they choose to actually stop fussing, stressing, working, and nancing about, is their choice; the breaks are built into their schedule, or at least offered as an opportunity. Musicians have weird rehearsal times, work the weekends (performances) and holidays (performances. rehearsals. whathaveyou), teach during moments when they are not rehearsing or performing, and are supposed to be practicing during all the rest of the moments. Basically, if you are a musician, any vacation is time when you are supposed to be practicing. Or, at least, this is what I taught myself to believe during childhood. It became a kind of assumption that quickly led me to the reality that life is a long series of gigs, lessons, and things I should have practiced more, without respite. Have you blown your brains out yet? Yeah. Anyway.
I didn’t get to the ‘I NEED A FUCKING BREAK’ mode until a few years ago. I knew I needed one; was burnt out and miserable and unfocused. I was so acutely aware of my need for a break that I even made time to just sit and do nothing in the attempt to achieve one. But I couldn’t get rid of the guilt. (I’m half Korean. And was raised Jewish. Go figure.) I spent every minute of emptiness worrying about my future, the auditions that were too close, about how I wasn’t improving, the students that would probably quit, fixating on tiny aspects of my life that ratcheted my tension and apprehension to degrees unworthy of a shower, much less a schedule.
This year (season) was different. I don’t know how I knew it was different, but I knew. I felt it in my music, in my general output as teacher, and as an orchestral musician. I would have a shitty day at work, come home, think about all the things I needed to be doing as a teacher, and then, the next day, I would go and do them. As opposed to trying to do them and feeling removed from my own effort the entire time. I would practice a passage or a technique, and it was still there the next time I tried it. I would learn an orchestra piece, and proceed to actually rock that shit both in rehearsal and concert. I was different this year. I was present.
By the time we’d scheduled our trip to California, I already knew I would not be taking my violin on the trip. It was a five-day VACATION. It was a trip with No Obligations. And, for the first time in my entire life, I was able to let go of my worries and goals with a sense of security and eagerness. I wanted to go on vacation because, finally, that was not just what I needed, but what I wanted, too.
Being present is a slippery thing. With enough effort and healthy repetition, it becomes easy in practice sessions, less elusive in performances. Big picture awareness is a kind of oxymoron that makes preparation and foresight completely useless and utterly necessary at the same time. The only way for me to ever have a true vacation is to walk that line all the time. Otherwise, I’ll get to my time off, and shit it away by not having the mental stamina to be there for it.
Our trip to the Russian River Valley (uhm, if you haven’t already been, schedule that shit in black sharpie, cuz fabulous wineries everywhere and fucking cheap ass 16 year Lagavulin at Cali Costcos GO AND DO IT) involved many things that would have made it awesome even if I’d not been in a vacay place: natural water, hot tub, alcohol, amazing food, no schedule…. there wasn’t much in the way of losing. This trip involved family, of the ‘chosen’ genre. Which is, maybe, a whole other post; these guys were chosen by my folks and my childhood and have rocked my entire existence in ways I haven’t even begun to comprehend. When we all shuffled off to do the married/grown-up/jobs thing, I worried we’d part ways: we didn’t, and fuckall if we aren’t awesomer for it. (I’ve had wine. I’m hoping no one can tell from the writing quality, but wine also makes me blab. So, oh well. Hi.) I love this group hard and complete; I know it because every year, it is more present, more consistent, and a large part of what makes me remember why I make music, teach, take care of my health, and generally strive not to devolve into a cynical, pus-riddled, caricature of a human.
Anyway, I had my first real vacation this year. So now I get why folks buy yachts and go to crazy luxury places that serve you addled unicorn thyroid gland on sautéed tanuki balls after a three-hour massage under the well trained feet of local Hanuman Langurs. Experiencing an authentic vacation is a rare and elusive thing. Maybe for everyone. And, I think, it is crucial to our ability to cope. It’s no wonder so many of us trot off to odd corners, trailing thick wads of cash behind us, to try and capture that experience. I can only hope that when I get to that remote wedge of space, riddled with extravagance and fortune, I have spent enough time being much as I am now: here. And only here.