Cancel Out the Noise

January 31, 2017

Simple Living

Art by Gordon Roqué

I recently bought a new pair of headphones.  Not the in-ear cell phone variety, mind you, but those seemingly clunky-looking over-the-ear kinds of headphones that look more like leathery earmuffs. (I love the pair I bought after lots of research and getting a good deal on them. Clarity and base-response are particularly impressive.) So now, I look like one of those dorks who walk around with large headphones wrapped around my head. In addition to using them for listening to music, playing on my keyboard in private, and online viewing, I got them for one other specific reason:

Noise-cancellation.

Whether it is a song or podcast, it really is better to isolate the specific sounds you desire. This makes for a much more pleasurable listening experience, but I love noise cancellation for one other purpose:

Silence.

Yes, silence. As a college student, I have come to find out that libraries on college campuses, or any other location on campuses for that matter, do not tend to be quiet. When I want to study and need to deeply concentrate, I unplug my headphones from any device and put them on. It looks like I am listening to something, but I am actually trying to distill my thoughts into a private bottle of silence.

I have been doing a lot of this kind of stuff lately, the practice of cancelling out those things that are distracting and create unnecessary sensory baggage. For example, I have recently put myself on a facebook diet. It is not that I hate facebook. On the contrary, I use it to check in on friends who live far away from me and to promote my shows and posts from this blog. It’s fairly useful as a way to share my creative work.  Otherwise, the blistering negativity on my facebook feed has been a real downer lately, and there is too much stuff on there that tends to be mindless and unimportant.

My facebook diet has consisted of two main actions. Primarily, I have removed the app (and its accompanying “messenger” app) from my cell phone. Secondly, I only check my account once every day for a maximum of a half hour on my laptop.  This is enough time to respond to any messages I may have received and to make sure loved ones are alive and well.

With these dietary restrictions, I have cancelled out a little bit more noise from  life. The urge to check my facebook account is minimal, if not non-existent these days. The time limitation helps me to do only what I need to do and then to actually log out when I am done. This creates much more time for big daily priorities.

On a broader scale, it is a good practice to analyse the parts of your life that either create noise or give you something truly substantive, meaningful, and worthy of your limited time. Here is a small list of potential things that could always use some cancelling out.

1. Sources of feedback

If you have a lot of people in your life who give you advice, maybe it is worthwhile to ask yourself who, of all those people, gives the most constructive and thoughtful feedback that never feels condescending, controlling, or hurtful. Maybe those are the people truly worth listening to.

2. Recreational Activities

Maybe you only play frisbee golf on the weekends because you were pressured by friends to join in, even though you hate it. Maybe you’ve been thinking of baling out of your book club because it’s kind of boring. What if all you want to do is knit or bake pies all day even if all of your friends or family members don’t care about it? Isn’t life more fun when you are doing something you really enjoy? Take some moments to look closely at what you do on your free time. Make sure that you are doing something that is fun or somehow gratifying for you. It’s YOUR time. Own it.

3. Those things you covet.

These days, every item I am considering to purchase goes through three layers of scrutiny before I actually buy it. First, I ask myself whether it will add value to my life or just be more clutter. If it passes that layer, I see if I can afford it by obsessively comparison shopping online. I look for the best deals and sales anywhere.  Lastly, If I manage to find a reasonable or great deal, then I look at numerous customer reviews about that specific product. If all is favorable, then I finally make a purchase. This intense scrutiny cuts out any impulse buying and helps me spend my hard-earned money wisely. Incidentally, this is EXACTLY the process I carried out before buying my now beloved and new noise-cancelling/over-the-ear/hyphen-loving headphones. Even though I might covet several different things, I only actually buy one or two items that are truly useful to me and are available at the best price I can afford. Anything that doesn’t pass these tests does not take up space in my life. I am very cool with that.

I hope these examples give you some idea of how you can cancel some noise out of your life. Living with a purity of purpose is a precious practice to pursue every day. This means that all unnecessary distraction is deemed mute and powerless.

Isn’t this as it should be?

Five Life Hacks I Live By

January 24, 2017

Creativity / Simple Living

The word “hack” has become ubiquitous in our modern tongue.  I used to know the word as the way by which some genius techie could break into a computer system, but these days, its informal definition generally applies, that being “a tip, trick, or efficient method for doing or managing something” (according to dictionary.com). In the last couple of years, I’ve seen the word used in this manner and have grown to like it. In fact, since I am somewhat of a simplicity and productivity geek, I make use of the word every day through my actions. I hack away at tasks and situations that should be much easier than they are, and after various trials and research, I have figured out ways to make them more manageable.

This week, I wanted to share five simple hacks that I carry out every day that basically make my life a little easier.  Feel free to try them out yourself.  Maybe they can help you too. 

  1. Make my bed every morning.

Seriously?  Yes, seriously. It takes a little extra effort to make your bed after the ordeal of getting up from a restorative sleep, but this simple act pays dividends.  When you think about the size of a normal room, a bed that might be a full or queen size in most cases takes up at least one-third of the space. More often than not, a bed is also the focal point in the room, the one element that grounds and centers the whole arrangement. If all you did to clean your room was to make your bed, not only would a significant percentage of your room be done already, but you would not have to clean much of anything else. Your room would look pretty good with just the bed made up.

For myself, I am a bit of a neat freak, and so, my bedroom stays tidy almost all of the time, but on the occasional instant when I am rushing out or too exhausted to care about the state of my room, I fix my bed, and I have already won half the battle. Besides, coming back home to a bed that is tidy and made up feels pretty darn good.

 2. Use a wardrobe capsule.

I did not know that a “wardrobe capsule” was actually a thing, but as it turns out, it is. What in tarnation is a wardrobe capsule? Basically, it is a small collection of clothes that you can mix and match to wear every day. Why would you or anyone do this? It overcomes two real challenges.  First, it eliminates the decision fatigue that comes with deciding what to wear.  You can quickly grab any combination of clothes, and they will instantly work together. Secondly, a capsule still allows you to have some variation in what you wear, as opposed to wearing a boring suit or the same thing every day.

For myself, I use a wardrobe capsule for school, and I have gone monochromatic with the color blue. I have a couple of blue slacks, a pair of grey ones (because it is a great neutral that works well with blue), navy blue genes, and various button-down shirts that have the color blue in them in some shape or pattern.  All of these items can be mixed and matched in any combination and still look great. Sometimes I throw in a red jacket or green sweater, but otherwise, I have no decision fatigue and do not look like a clone of myself from the day before.  This works for me.

3.  Drink a lot of water.

I try to drink a ton of water every day. There is the general rule that the average person should drink 8 glasses a day.  My only problem with this is that I tend to lose count. I have decided instead to just make sure I drink a lot of water throughout the day. I drink a glass in the morning after I wake up, and then make sure I do so again every couple of hours and with every meal.  I also drink a glass before I go to sleep. Why do I do this?  First of all, it keeps my energy level up, and I feel less fatigued throughout the day. Secondly, and to be blunt, it helps with regularity.  Constipation is no fun for anyone, and drinking enough water keeps everything flowing quite nicely.  Lastly, I do not mind that this makes me have to urinate more frequently.  I take that time to take a deep breath and a quick mental break. I could always use plenty of those.

4. Do all things gently.

This is a new habit I have been toying with lately. I’ve taken a cue from my piano playing. For the most part, the action of my hands as they press down on each key works best when I stay relaxed and nimble. This gentleness not only produces a consistent and even tone, but it also reduces strain on my fingers and joints. I got to thinking what if I applied this to everything I do?

Whenever I lift anything, be it a spoon or a small box, do it gently. When I push a door open or hold something up, do it gently. When I grip something with my hand, like a steering wheel or glass of water, do it gently. Walk gently. Run gently. Eat gently. This sounds easy, but for me, it requires a good bit of mindfulness to overcome a lifetime of needless overexertion.

Of course, there are times when you should exert yourself more like in the gym or in an emergency, but otherwise, why should we? I am hoping that the decrease in the amount of pressure I apply in all things will alleviate joint and muscle pains. I need to do more research on this, but I am certainly enjoying the more relaxed flow that this invites. Besides, mindfulness is a good practice to pursue, and this happens to be a great way to do it.

5. Consciously be thankful for something every day.

In 2015, I embarked on a year of thankfulness on social media. Every day, I posted a statement about something I was thankful for. As the year progressed, I noticed a very simple change in my life. I started to feel happier. I found myself having a pleasant mood and much less stress. Little things that used to bother me stopped being so annoying. I began to feel better about myself and my life.

One thing I realized about being thankful is that it is essentially an affirmation, a very positive, life-enriching one. Energetically, the conscious outpouring of thankfulness into your life and surroundings will ultimately create more personal satisfaction in all you do.

My gratitude taught me to embrace all that I have and to trust the talents and gifts I have been given. When you cherish everything, you take nothing for granted. When you value your life, you value yourself. These days, I carry a small weekly calendar in my school bag and write something for which I am grateful every day.

From the time I started to be consistently and outwardly thankful two years ago to today, my life has changed dramatically and for the best. I am happier. I have more love in my life, and I am doing more of what I love to do.

If I could recommend one life hack above all others, it is thankfulness. Do it every day. Make it known or document it somehow. Thank me later.

So, go ahead. Hack away. Make your life easier. These are among my favorite life hacks.  What are yours?

 

Gordon Roqué Performing LIVE on WMTS 88.3 FM on Jan. 20

January 19, 2017

Creativity / Press / Shows

Friday Night Spotlight, a new show  hosted by Rudolph Valentino on Middle Tennessee State University’s college radio station WMTS 88.3 FM, will have me on the air as its featured artist. I will be talking extensively about my music and also play some songs live.  The show will be on from 8:00 PM to 10:00 PM CST on Friday night, January 20, 2017.

You can live stream the entire program from the show’s website by clicking on this image here:

Live Stream

The show will also be broadcast live from the studio on Facebook, and I will be sharing that as well!

Happy Listening, and I hope you enjoy the show!!

My 5 New Habits for 2017

January 17, 2017

Creativity / Inspiration

I am not big on New Year’s Resolutions these days.  This year, I have decided to imagine that it was already December of 2017.  I started to think about what I could accomplish this year that would make me immensely proud, and then I started to think about how I can do regular small actions to make them happen.  Essentially, I started to think about how I can actively change by life through new habits.

Currently, I already brush and floss my teeth, read books, play music (either my piano, cello, or ukulele), and do some kind of exercise (even if it is just a little) every day.  What’s great about these daily practices is that they are already attached to specific times.  Brushing happens in the mornings and evenings.  Flossing and reading takes place before bed.  Music is played for at least a half hour (usually longer) in the evenings and so on .  .  .

This year, I want to develop new habits that enhance my creative abilities.  So here is a list of them and how I hope to get them accomplished:

1.  Goal:  Write 52 Blog Posts in 2017

How:  Spend at least 5 minutes every morning writing, and publish a new post on                
Monday or  Tuesday every week.

At the core of all my creative pursuits, I have always been a writer.  Being able to express myself through words has been a conduit and catalyst for my music, lyrics, and virtually everything else.  I have learned that writing is a skill that needs to be practiced.  Especially since I am currently in college, my writing abilities need to be at the top of their game.  Writing every day will help me do this, and since this blog is my own sort of online journal, it is the perfect outlet and forum for me to practice my writing and share my thoughts.

2.  Goal: Learn to read and play 2 difficult pieces of classical music
                1.  Impromptu #4 (Opera 90) by Franz Schubert
                2.  Moonlight Sonata by Ludwig Van Beethoven

How: Study just one line of sheet music per week (the equivalent of about 3 to 5                 stanzas).  Go over them every night during regular practice.

As a pianist, I am actually pretty terrible at reading music.  When I think about how I learned to read letters and numbers, it was a gradual and very consistent process.  Learning a long piece of music incrementally will help me understand how to play it better.  I chose two different pieces for the qualities they possess.  The Schubert piece is more about virtuosity through speed and rhythm, and the Beethoven piece emphasizes mood and emotional expression.  I have my work cut out for me, but I really want to do this.

3.  Goal: Learn how to play the ukulele

How:  Memorize one new song to play and sing every month in 2017.  Practice                     every night.  Song for January:  Coat of Many Colors by Dolly Parton

I already play the piano and the cello.  The problem with both is that neither is terribly convenient to carry around.  My cello is petite and delicate, and I have already broken it once.  I have owned a ukulele now for about 4 yours without actually digging deep to learn it.  I can take it EVERYWHERE with me.   I already know how to play a couple of songs, and I think it is time to really start branching out.

4.  Goal: Do more with watercolor

How: Paint a new piece for every blog post in 2017.  One night every week will be           dedicated to painting.  Continue with “Year of Color” practice on social                         media by 
posting this art.

I have recently been geeking out on watercolor.  I have this adorable portable set  that comes with a brush, sponge, and thirty colors.  This is far less expensive and messy  than oil painting, and it is super fun.  One new piece every week means 52 pieces by the end of the year.  Woah.  I am still trying to figure out which actual night will work best, but as you can see at the top of this post, I have already started.

5.  Goal: Improve my cello hold and learn vibrato

How:  Consult with as many cellists and experts as much as possible.  Do research through weekly lessons and practice on Sundays.

By this time, I have no doubt that I can play the cello and consistently produce a solid tone, but I still experience pain in my hands when I play.  Perhaps this is par for the course for any cellist, but I want to do all that I can to play well and not damage my hands.  If by the end of this year, I have not improved my technique and eliminated pain, I may retire my cello pursuits altogether.  It is just not worth the damage to my hands if I cannot fix this.  Lastly, learning to play vibrato is one of the aspects of cello music that makes it sound so darn beautiful.  I live to play beautiful music.  So, let’s do this.

There you have it.  I’ll be checking in about all of these pursuits throughout the year both here and on social media.  Please feel free to ask me how I am doing.

What do you hope to accomplish by the end of this year?

Reading Will Save the World: 2016 Books In Review

January 10, 2017

Inspiration / Reading Will Save the World

At any point in my life, I have always had a book that I was in the middle of reading.  I love to read.  Outside of playing music, it is my favorite form of recreation.  You can visit foreign countries and experience new cultures.  You can live someone else’s life through their thoughts and perspectives.  You can laugh, cry, or become inspired.  I would not be the artist and creative person I am today if I had not taken the time to read important books and become more informed about how the world around me truly operates.

Reading books makes me happy.  Here is a listing of all the books I finished reading in 2016:


Heart of Darkness

Author: Joseph Conrad
Book Length:  79 Pages
This book is not for the weak of heart.  It is a harrowing reflection of the pitfalls on both sides of imperialism, in which the vulnerable working poor and the indigenous peoples of conquered lands fall on the destructive and bitter end of the equation.  Though a tough read, it is an important piece of literature and a quick one at less than 100 pages.

 

 


The Robber Bride

Author: Margaret Atwood
Book Length: 528 Pages
This is the first novel I have read by Ms. Atwood of the many she has already penned.  It was entertaining and a bit predictable here and there.  There is a purely evil antagonist in this story who is the human equivalent of a small tsunami, sweeping everyone forcefully into the wrath of her cunning intentions.  The story  felt like a comparison between women either tearing each other down or supporting one another.  The former is horrendous while the latter is what gives this book some genuine tenderness.

 


Smarter, Faster, Better

Author: Charles Duhigg
Book Length: 300 Pages
I am constantly interested in productivity in terms of how we can do more of the activities that we truly value and enjoy.  Given the many demands in our full lives and varying individual sensibilities, this is tricky.  This book not only offers insightful ideas on how to live more effectively, but it gives real-life, concrete examples to back them up.  It’s a fascinating read.  Highly recommended.

 

 


The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay

Author: Michael Chabon
Book Length: 639 Pages
I can see why this book won the Pulitzer Prize.  It is incredibly imaginative and well-written.  My only complaint is that the story went on far longer than it should have.  The final third of the book lost a good bit of the momentum and excitement that it had earlier.  Nonetheless, the two lead characters, as constant underdogs, are what draws you in.  I was rooting for them the whole time.

 

 


Running With Scissors

Author: Augusten Burroughs
Book Length: 304 Pages
This is a semi-autobiographical novel by its author.  Quirky and strange would be good adjectives for the family this story molds together.  “Downright insufferable” would also apply to them in some instances.  Reading this book was like watching a terrible car accident in slow motion and then not being sure if it was a good thing that everyone made it out alive.

 


All the Light We Cannot See

Author: Anthony Doerr
Book Length: 531 Pages
This was one of the best pieces of fiction I have read in a long time.  It is another Pulitzer Prize winner and as such, quite deserving.  IT IS SO BEAUTIFUL.  There is a blind girl, her father who builds miniature cities (MINIATURE CITIES!!!), a gorgeous little French town on the coast, and a young man with an uncanny ability to make machines come alive.  There is whimsy, passion, sorrow, and love held high against the backdrop of World War II.  I did not want this story to end.  So. Damn. Good.

 

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
Author: Greg McKeown
Book Length: 272 Pages
These days, I am more prone to simplicity and minimalism as a way of life.  I found this book in my research of these topics, and for good reason, it has been universally recommended by anyone who has read it.  Its message and teachings are clear, precise, and extremely practical.  I loved it.  For anyone wanting to distinguish between all the noise and what is truly important in one’s life, read this book.

 

 

The Four Horsemen and the Apocalypse
Author: Viscente Blasco Ibanez
Book Length: 324 Pages
This book chronicles the lives of a wealthy family during World War I in Europe.  If its title sounds daunting, that’s because it is.  This is, by all accounts, a war novel, even though most of it takes place away from the battlefield.  It is more of an account of the effect of war on families and society.  If this is your cup to tea, it is a worthwhile and well-written read.

 

 

The Japanese-American Internment During World War II
Author: Wendy Ng
Book Length: 232 Pages
I chose this as a book report assignment for my US History class.  I have always wanted to learn more about this specific topic, and this book goes into great detail by providing an in-depth historical timeline and analysis, personal written accounts from actual internees, a photographic essay of the camps, reprints of pertinent legal documents, an extensive annotated bibliography, and a thorough (and quite damning) examination of the US government’s role in it all.  This is one of many dark periods in US history in which extreme prejudice based on race informed our government’s actions.  It is a modern and legal precedent that can be used to justify similar actions in the future.  For this reason, this book is well worth the time needed to read it.

Now that we are fully in 2017, I am engrossed in a new book.  This is what I am currently reading:


It is a book that explores the many mysteries of trees, and so far, I am really loving it.

Every month, I’ll be writing about the books that I am devouring.

What are you reading right now?  (Let me know in the comments below.)