reprioritising

Last night I sat down at the piano for the first time in about 1-2 months. Before that, I had been practising less and less due to a combination of being busy with other things and being lazy. Last night I decided that I had to recommit.

I’m certainly not at the stage of being able to return to piano after a long absence and pick it up again easily. Indeed, I’m not sure that I’ll ever get to that stage, since I don’t have a natural aptitude for music, but I’ll be darned if I don’t try. I hadn’t even looked at sheet music in these last several weeks, so I had to start from the start, playing scales to become reacquainted with the notes.

What I realised last night — or re-realised, because this is certainly nothing new — is that I need to be more consistent with my piano practice if I want to improve and be able to play with any level of proficiency. It’s a thought that has been gnawing away at me for a while, but I’ve been sweeping it under the proverbial rug instead of doing something about it.

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much to do

Not feeling much like writing this week because of being busy with life. Not overly busy, but just doing things. Here’s a run down:

I’ve been continuing with trying to learn Russian, but now I’ve decided to use two different websites instead of relying on just one. The one I’ve added (Memrise) has the benefit of having recordings of actual people saying the words and phrases, which you’d hope is more accurate and true to real Russian.

If I try to do even just a little bit of learning every day, I’m hoping I can get decent level in a few years or so. I have a book of Russian stories I’d like to be able to read one day, but I know that day is quite far away (unless I really dedicate a significant amount of time to learning).

As for other reading, after realising that I haven’t been sticking to my own advice to someone else about reading a little bit every day, I’ve been trying to make sure I read a bit whenever I can. Sure, it’s not quite back to a daily habit yet, but I think I’m making more progress with War and Peace than I was, say, a month or two ago.

Speaking of War and Peace, I’ve discovered that I’m more engaged with the book in the parts about the relationships between people, and their lives in Russia. On the other hand, my brain seems to tire more quickly from reading about battles and warfare. Only when there is some description of the individual human experience in the war, do I become more captivated. I think perhaps it’s just harder for me to picture the landscapes and battalion manoeuvres and whatnot than to picture a bunch of people sitting around a drawing room or dining table. 

Either way, I’m still enjoying the book overall, and am far enough along that I can start to have delusions of possibly finishing the book by the end of the year. Only thing I want to add is that I read in the introduction or blurb or somewhere that Pierre is the character most like Tolstoy himself. However, I’ve so far found Pierre to be one of the least likeable characters, which I think is confusing my brain because in Anna Karenina, Levin was the most autobiographical character, and he was my favourite.

Writing this post, I’ve really come to realise that I’ve given myself a lot of things to do that require consistent and frequent effort. The next on the list is piano. I’m very aware that I need to practise piano a lot more than I have been if I want to ever get any good at it, and be able to play the kind of music that I want to play. Of course, in this I have no delusions, as I seem to spend more time on learning Russian and reading books, which seem a lot easier.

Perhaps another area that has been a bit neglected is the garden. After all this rain, the plants are flourishing, but so are the weeds. And I think too much rain builds that complacency of “we don’t need to worry about watering the garden today”, and it quietly slips from the daily routine.

But the clouds have dispersed for now, and the sun has come out. It is the start of the week-end, and there is much to do!

home time

I was going to write a post to round up the year, and lead into the next one, but it feels like there has already been so much contemplating, reflecting and philosophising throughout this entire year, that maybe one more is superfluous. I think it is normal to see a surge in these reflective posts on the blogosphere around this time of the year, which is completely fine, but I think I’ll leave it to other bloggers.

As I started writing the previous draft of this post, I realised that there were only a few things I wanted to mention.

First, that it would be wonderful if I could just stay at home all day, like I have been over this long week-end, and just learn things (piano and Russian being the main subjects of study at the moment, along with the Napoleonic wars, which I’m inadvertently learning about from reading War and Peace). But, alas, one must have an income to support these hobbies (not to mention sustain life), so I’ll be back at work tomorrow.

Second, is that my partner has got me back into computer games. I haven’t played — as in, properly played — a video game of any sort for a very, very long time. Those little mini games or apps don’t count, and I don’t play those anyway (there are no games on my phone). I think good games need good storylines with interesting characters in order to captivate me, and make me feel like I’m not wasting time. The ones I’ve been started on — Dragon Age: Origins; and Spec Ops: The Line — certainly deliver on intriguing stories.

Initially I felt incredibly uncoordinated with the controls, having become unaccustomed to the movements of gameplay, but I’d like to think I’ve gradually gotten better. Yes, I’m playing on the easiest settings, but it’s challenging enough for me. Besides, if it was too hard, I wouldn’t have energy to appreciate the stories.

And so, as we approach the end of a year that most would probably rather forget (or bury as far down in the depths of memory as possible), I think ending on a quiet note is not a bad idea.

the start of my Russian journey

Before I started learning Russian, I had some confidence that if I could pick up Farsi/Persian, then Russian, surely, could not be much harder. Ever since reading Anna Karenina a few years ago, I wanted to learn Russian. Since (obviously) I read an English translation of the novel, and I’ve had very little exposure to the Russian language before, my desire to learn the language was based almost solely on how lovely all the Russian names sounded.

When I actually started learning Russian (about a month ago now), I was quickly dismayed by how hard it was to learn the alphabet. Of course, I knew their alphabet was different, but I thought it would be reasonably easy to pick up since they look similar to English characters. And, yes, several of the letters do look very much like English letters, but a lot of these also have completely different pronunciations.

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space and beyond

Last week-end I finished reading Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures, a book about the African American women who helped launch America’s first astronauts into space. If you’ve seen my previous posts, you’ll know that I’ve been quite engrossed in this book, which is about something that I thought I had next to zero interest in.

Don’t get me wrong — I have a reasonable interest in maths, science and historical events; and the age-old question of what is really out there? has some portion of my curiosity, but space exploration has never rated very highly on the list of things I’m interested in enough to actively and independently research. (What would be on this list? Sounds like it could be a whole other post on its own, but probably stuff that affects my day-to-day, or stuff about why things are how they are. But in truth, I don’t think I’ve done much non-fiction reading, web browsing or other “research” since finishing formal education.)

I guess space exploration, to me, was always something a bit pie in the sky compared to immediate problems like climate change and poverty in developing countries. Shetterly even mentions in the later chapters of her book that the space race left some African Americans of the time quite disgruntled, wondering why their country was so concerned about getting into space (and spending millions of dollars on it) when there were Earthly troubles to be addressed, like why they were still being treated as second-class citizens.

So why did I read this book?

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history books

I’ve been reading more of Margot Lee Shetterly’s book Hidden Figures, and I’m finding it really awe-inspiring and thought-provoking. And I’m not even that much further in (haven’t been doing quite as much reading as I hoped, but such is life, and I read slowly).

Yesterday I read the part where some important guy (I forget who — one thing I’m having trouble with is all the names and titles in this book, but that happens with other books too, so it might just be me) — anyway, important guy (some higher-up in the military) is giving a speech to an assembly of staff from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, and he commends them for their work. This is set in the years of WWII, so he tells them that they are helping the war effort as much as the soldiers on the frontlines.

And that got me thinking about how, in all my history lessons in school about the World Wars, no one ever mentions the researchers and scientists and engineers that had to invent and innovate and problem-solve to help “win the war”. I remember being told about the surge in women entering the workforce for jobs that involved things like sewing, cooking, and nursing; and I remember learning about large factories and warehouses that employed a lot of people; but I don’t remember being told about the recruitment drive for scientists and mathematicians.

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