Saturday, February 1, 2014

Music of the Spheres

Please note: for the purposes of this entry, the terms "alto horn" and "tenor horn" are synonymous.  Also, this is a super sappy post.  You've been warned.

I'm an alumnus of James Madison University (JMU), where I received my bachelors degree in music.  I don't think about my time at JMU often, as I'm a very different person now and tend to cringe when I remember my attitude in those days (particularly the first few years).  That said, there's one experience I would not take back: a three-year adventure that shaped me more as a musician than any other ensemble experience.  I'm talking, of course, about my tenure as solo horn in the JMU Brass Band.

JMU Brass Band, Spring 2005: The end of my first year in the band, before we got the infamous shiny purple vests

That's right, friends- at one point in my life, I was a tenor horn player.  And a good one, too, if I do say so myself.  I was serious enough about the instrument that I almost moved to England to study it. Ultimately, the superior horn won out in my life, and I let my dream of becoming a real tenor horn player die a peaceful death.

Soloing on Kenneth Downie's The Piper O'Dundee, battling the summer sun at the Great American Brass Band Festival in Danville, Kentucky: Summer 2006
I still play tenor horn every now and then.  I gave my DMA lecture-recital on Paul Hindemith's Sonatas for Horn and Alto Horn, performing each work on its intended instrument.  I can still hack it okay, but I've accepted that fact that I will never again be the tenor hornist I once was.

Performing John Golland's Meiso with virtuoso baritone soloist Katrina Marzella: fall 2006.  Shiny purple vest in full force.

Since I don't seriously play tenor horn any more, I haven't thought about my time in the JMUBB for quite a while.  Recently, an old friend posted a recording of the band from 2006, performing at the North American Brass Band Association (NABBA) championships.  I was shocked by how good we sounded; I didn't remember that we were that fine of an ensemble.  I immediately wanted to hear more recordings of my time in the band, and my wish was granted. Another friend shared an abundance of old recordings with me, including what is probably my most personally enriching performance to this day: the 2007 NABBA performance of Philip Sparke's Music of the Spheres.

I haven't listened to this piece in years, and completely forgot how much it meant to me.  As I listened to our performance, chills covered my body for the entire 18 minutes. Smiling, I closed my eyes and was transported back in time.  This performance was special because it was one of those rare times when I nailed every lick that gave me trouble.  I remember feeling as though I channeled a real European tenor hornist, and played far better than I had any right.

Now, nearly 7 years later and with vivid memories resurfacing so strongly that I feel as though I'll wake up tomorrow and have a reason throw on that purple vest, I understand how I was able to play so well that day.

Listening to these recordings, I realized one of my most profound experiences of creating a community through music is my time in the JMUBB.  I have yet to play in another ensemble that provided such a supportive, empowering environment.  This was in large part due to the band's fearless leader, Kevin Stees.  Mr. Stees pushed us to our limits, never accepting anything that was less than our greatest potential.  He taught us how to play together, how to balance and blend, how to keep striving for better. He was always supportive (unless he knew you weren't practicing).  Beyond the band room, he encouraged us to be friends and get along outside of rehearsal.  I was much more reserved then than I am now, but I remember us all being friends.  Someone inevitably hosted "Brass Band Orientation" once per semester.  We even had our own vernacular.  The relationship we had with each other, and with Mr. Stees, contributed greatly to the band's success.  We wanted to work hard, because we didn't want to let each other down.  We went to competitions, but the goal was never to win; it was simply to have a powerful shared musical experience, to create a performance of which we could be proud.

NABBA 2006
In Music of the Spheres, there's a tenor horn solo in the middle of the piece that gloriously peaks at a written D above the treble clef staff.  I always struggled with the extreme upper range of the instrument, and regularly missed the note in rehearsal (and in a performance or two).  With each rehearsal I grew more and more frustrated with that stupid note.  A few rehearsals before NABBA, Mr. Stees told me that he couldn't care less if I missed the note.  It was just one note, and all he wanted me to do was play with feeling.  In the NABBA performance, I nailed it for the first time ever.  I nailed it because, also for the first time ever, I wasn't thinking about it.  I was so engrossed in the incredible music that my colleagues in the ensemble were making all around me that my thoughts were focused on contributing to their outstanding musicianship to the best of my ability.  This desire carried me through the remainder of the piece; I was guided solely by the music being made in the moment, not the notes on the page.

After reliving this unforgettable NABBA performance with the JMUBB, I then remembered my final performance with the band, which was only about two months later.  I played a solo piece on this concert, which I barely remember.  What I do recall vividly is playing Hymn of the Highlands, another great programmatic work by Philip Spark.  This was the final piece on the program; the last piece I ever played with the band.  I remember taking the time to look around at my bandmates, listening intently to every musical line they played.  I soaked in every fortissimo chord (of which there were plenty), feeling the vibrations throughout my body.  I shed a few tears, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. I knew that this was the end of an era for me, that I was saying goodbye to something irreplaceable.

The band at the Great American Brass Band Festival: Summer 2006

I'm so grateful that these old performances were returned to my life.  They transport me to a time when making and sharing beautiful music was the most important thing in the world.   This experience has reminded me that we're all capable of much greater feats than we realize if we work together for the sake of achieving beauty.

Sap-fest complete.  Thanks for putting up with me!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Performing with Purpose

Please note: no real names of students were used in this otherwise true account

I've often struggled justifying my life as a performing musician.  There is nothing I love more than playing the horn, and I am at my happiest when I'm playing music with friends.  But, what does my life as a horn player do to make the world a better place, to give back, to make me a contributing member of society?  A battle with this notion constantly, wondering if being a musician is nothing more than a selfish pursuit.

Recently, a powerful experience allowed me to realize how all of my life's puzzle pieces need to fit together overcome this mental, moral obstacle.

Most of my performance experiences in the past several months have been incredibly joyful.  I've been so happy to get back into the performance lifestyle that nothing could bring me down.  However, during one recent performance, I was so nervous and stressed that I was not having ANY fun at all, instead feeling only discomfort.  I couldn't seem to calm myself down, particularly in the measures leading up to a passage that made me particularly nervous (read: I screwed it up a few times in rehearsal).  I tried all of my old tricks during rests: smiling, centering, deep breathing, closing my eyes and feeling the music happening around me.  Nothing was working.

Then, I'm not sure why, but for some reason I started thinking about my El Sistema kids in Lexington. I thought about how they light up every time I pull my horn out during rehearsals, or every time Mr. Paul pulls out his bass, or when they see Ms. Anna playing in the Lexington Philharmonic during school concerts.  The light in their eyes when they watch and listen to us play shows me that we are actively inspiring them, and the work we do with them (the nurturing musical environment we create) allows them to believe that they are capable of achieving something great.  I imagined them in the audience, and how excited they would be to see and hear their teacher play.  I then started thinking of specific kids in the program, eventually getting around to José, a seven year old violinist.  José tugs at my heartstrings because he's very shy, and he struggles a bit with social skills, but he LOVES playing the violin.  He's not the best in the class, but he is a diligent worker and clearly loves every minute the instrument is in his hands.  He wouldn't get to have this experience without our program.  I decided to play the upcoming portion of the piece for José.  I then performed the middle of the piece for Maria, and the end for her twin, Gabriela.  Once I decided to dedicate my time on the stage to those kids, I felt a calmness that I hadn't felt in days.  I played significantly better for the remainder of the performance, because suddenly what I was doing had purpose.

I realized in that moment that, above everything else, I perform music to give hope.  I practice because I enjoy improving my craft, and I rehearse because I love to play music with friends, but I perform to inspire.  Without those kids, performing isn't nearly as meaningful to me.  At the same time, I HAVE to keep practicing, to keep playing at a higher and higher level, in order to provide the greatest amount of inspiration possible during performance.

I know those kids weren't actually in the audience that night, but they will be someday.  And maybe, just maybe, they'll be on the stage with me someday, too.

We all have different reasons for performing.  What's yours?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Eating my Horn Vegetables

A few months ago, I started a new horn student.  She's a sophomore in high school, and very talented. We started lessons in the midst of district and state band auditions (which she made!), and a concerto competition.  Now that some of these events are over with, I told her it was time to go back to more regular etude work.  We're starting with the basics: Kopprasch book 1, Maxime-Alphonse book 2, and the Pottag Preparatory Melodies.  

When I was explaining Kopprasch to my student, I told her that this book was not necessarily for fun, but it's important to her development as a horn player.  I used the conventional analogy of eating that one vegetable that doesn't taste great but you eat it anyway because you know it's good for you.  Then I started thinking about the role of vegetables in my life (this is not a weird sentence if you know me). When I was a kid, I hardly ate any vegetables at all.  Now I'm vegan.  I love vegetables of all kinds!  At the age of 20, I went from cringing at vegetables to eating a diet that consists entirely of plants.  It was a tough transition, but now I can't imagine living any other way.

Like every good American, I also enjoy frying vegetables.  This is a scene from when I lived with 2 veggie friends a few years ago.

For me, the metaphor of Kopprasch to vegetables is significant.  And yes, I'm certainly the only person ever to utter that sentence.  It's my blog and I'll write what I want :)

As I assigned these etudes to my student, and thought about vegetables, I realized that I've never really worked through any of these books myself.  I started tinkering with M-A and Pottag a few months ago, but other than an etude or two, I've never done Kopprasch.  That's right.  I'm an ABD doctoral candidate at a major conservatory, and I've never made it through Kopprasch.

That's pretty silly.

It's not through lack of my teachers' effort that I didn't do Kopprasch.  My undergraduate professor started me with the book, but I found the etudes boring and didn't understand the importance of them at the time, so I just stopped bringing the book to lessons.

Immediately after I assigned my student these etudes, I realized the fault of doing so.  How could I properly teach her if I hadn't done them myself?  As soon as the lesson ended, I opened all three of the books and started from the beginning.  Now, as I play through each Kopprasch etude I think, "I wish I would have done these sooner!"  Sure, maybe I don't have a ton of fun while I'm playing them, but as an educated hornist, I now know exactly the skills that each etude builds, and I'm so grateful to be playing each one.

Perhaps it's faulty to wish I'd done them sooner.  Clearly I didn't have the appreciation for them at the time like I do now, so maybe this is exactly the right time for me to begin.  I'm learning more and more each day that, whether it's eating your greens or practicing your lip trills, it's never too late to get back to the basics of life.  No matter when you start, you'll be better and healthier for it.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Excuses vs. Strength: A Different New Year's Resolution; or, My 2nd Post about Making Excuses

For the past several years, I have subjected my Facebook friends to a lengthy list of New Year's Resolutions.  They always come with descriptions and explanations of purpose (I've never been accused of being concise), but they boil down to the following four things:

1. Get great at the horn
2. Attain some kind of fitness goal
3. Be kinder to myself
4. Learn a new skill

I've experienced varying levels of success and failure in all four areas.  I've begun to feel silly about making the same statements over and over again, though, so I thought briefly about not making any resolutions this year.

A better solution came into my life last week.

I spent the five days before Christmas in a constant state of bliss in Northern Virginia and DC with some of my favorite people on the planet.  The night before I left, I grabbed a drink in Adams Morgan with my longtime friend Jeremiah.  Jeremiah is a phenomenal musician and teacher, and the founder of Harmony Rising: A Music School Online.  He's also a yoga and spinning instructor, and convinced me over an Old Fashioned to come to the spinning class he was teaching the next morning.  I hadn't been to a spinning class since undergrad- which, as I was reminiscing with my good friend Adam, is now longer ago than I care to admit.  Still, I knew Jeremiah would be an amazing instructor, so I dragged myself out of bed Christmas Eve morning and went to class.

I arrived early so Jeremiah could help me set up my bike.  The class began, and we all started pedaling. I felt exhausted after the first 15 minutes.  I began searching for every excuse possible to let myself stop adding resistance and just pedal at a slow pace for the remainder of the class.  It was at that point where Jeremiah- an extremely enthusiastic leader- said the following:

"Are you looking for excuses?  Or, are you looking for strength?  Either way, you'll find what you're looking for."

Ouch, Jeremiah.  That one punched me right in the stomach.  I knew he was addressing the whole class, but I felt like he was reading my mind. And, it worked.  I decided that I didn't care that my thighs were throbbing, that my face was beet red, that I most certainly looked ridiculous trying to keep pace with all of the fit people in the class.  I pushed myself as hard as I could.  I had a major case of jelly legs when the class was over, and it was awesome.  I felt I had already accomplished a great feat by 9:30am, and the rest of the day was mine for the taking.

Jeremiah's words have remained with me since he uttered them a week ago.  They've helped me achieve small victories daily, and have caused a great deal of contemplation.  Completing a spinning class may seem like a trivial accomplishment, but what if I applied the excuses vs. strength rule to all of life's struggles, major and minor?  How much greater would life feel if I persevered instead of lamented?  What if, instead of falling victim to my many excuses, I instead call upon my inner strength to achieve something better?

Can you guess what my new, improved and concise New Year's Resolution is? No?  Okay, I'll tell you...

This year, I resolve to have the wisdom to search for strength instead of excuses.

Happy New Year, friends!  Let's raise our glasses to a healthy and loving existence for all beings everywhere!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Plow Pose and Perseverance

This post has nothing to do with music, education and culture.  This post has everything to do with music, education and culture.

One of my most stereotypical qualities is that I love yoga.  I still consider myself a beginner yogi, and sadly I go through periods where I don't practice very much at all (even though I KNOW that I always feel much better when I practice regularly).  I appreciate many types of yoga, but the style in which I find the most tranquility is Yin Yoga.  Unlike active (or "yang") yoga practices, yin yoga is a passive practice that involves holding each pose for an extended period of time- usually somewhere between three and eight minutes.

The first time I went to a yin class was around this time two years ago, during my last year of doctoral coursework in Cincinnati.  I was making more frequent visits to my favorite studio, World Peace Yoga.  I had no idea what yin yoga was, and only showed up because the class fit into my schedule that day.  I was expecting a "normal" class (whatever that means) full of sun salutations and warrior poses.  I was definitely NOT expecting to hold pigeon pose for 5 minutes on each side.  I remember being very sore at the end of the class, surprised at the difficulty of that 90 minutes of life. Yet, I kept going back for more.

Usually, the final pose preceding shavasana ("corpse pose") was an inversion held for five minutes. With the sole intention of placing your body in a position where the heart is above the head, the inversion could be as simple as laying flat on your back with a yoga block under your sacrum, knees bent and feet on the floor.  It could be shoulder stand.  Or, it could be plow pose: with the head, neck and shoulders remaining on the ground, the rest of the body is inverted so that the toes touch the ground beyond the head.

A recent "selfie" in plow pose.  It's really hard to take a photo of yourself in this pose.  For a better example, look anywhere else on the internet.

The first time I tried plow pose, I felt an intense sensation in my back.  Since the teacher always warned us to never go so deeply into a pose that you feel a sharp or electric pain, I came out of the pose immediately, opting for a milder inversion to complete my practice.  This happened for weeks: I would attempt the pose, feel the intense sensation, and fearfully back out of it.

Like it always does, eventually my stubbornness kicked in.  I decided to try to wait out the discomfort. With each class, I held the pose for a few seconds longer than the last, but the sensation never went away.  However, sitting with the irritation for progressively longer periods allowed me to distinguish the difference between a powerful discomfort and pain.  I was a competitive gymnast in a former life, and suffered a back injury that ended my participation in the sport, so back pain has always sent up a giant red flag in my brain.  I compared the back pain I underwent when I was a gymnast to the feeling I experienced in plow pose, and realized they were not the same. The feeling was strong and unfamiliar, but it was not pain.  It was not sharp and debilitating. It was not harmful.

Once I realized this distinction, I decided that my next class was the class I would remain in plow pose for the full 5 minutes.  Since I theorized the sensation wasn't actually pain and therefore probably not harmful, I knew I could make it.  I turned myself upside down, prepared to face something similar to getting a piercing or tattoo: intense discomfort during the activity, followed by an endorphin-induced high.  To my delight, I didn't have to wait until the pose was over.  After approximately 90 seconds, the distress went away entirely.  For the remainder of the pose, I experienced what I can only assume is bliss.  I felt euphoric, completely at peace, transcendent.  I was the owner of my happiness, and no one could take it away from me.  This became ritual with every plow pose in every yin class for the remainder of my time in Cincinnati: coaxing myself to endure the momentary suffering for the reward of acute joy.

Then I moved to Boston for 9 months.  I went to yoga classes when I could afford them, but never found myself in a yin class.  I fell out of practice.  I forgot about plow pose.

Then I moved to Lexington.  While I've started practicing yoga again since I moved here, there's only one yin class in the entire city, and it happens to be at a time I can't make.

Fortunately, now that I'm back in the same region of the country, life takes me to Cincinnati quite often ('s possible that I help life along in that mission).  About 3 weeks ago, I was lucky enough to catch a yin class at World Peace Yoga again.  It had been about 16 months since my last yin class, but I remembered why I loved it as soon as I stepped on the mat and prepared for the adventure.  I found myself longing for the end of class to come so I could do plow pose.  To my surprise, however, instead of just craving the feeling of bliss after the torment, I found myself wanting the entire experience: the intense discomfort included.

I've been to 4 yin yoga classes in the last three weeks, and with each class I have the same desire for the pairing of discomfort and pleasure offered by plow pose.  I found this peculiar at first, but I think I'm beginning to understand it now.  I don't think the bliss is possible without the discomfort that precedes it; how would I know it was bliss if I didn't have the opposite by which to compare it?  Or, maybe the second half wouldn't feel so amazing if the first half wasn't so uncomfortable, meaning it wouldn't truly be bliss.

Whatever the reason, I can only hope that plow pose is one of my life's greatest physical metaphors.  May bliss be at the end of every torment.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Music and Memory: For Andrew

I spent the last two days playing with Orchestra Kentucky, sitting in my 4th horn seat.  This is a great regional orchestra in Bowling Green, drawing musicians from Lexington, Louisville, Owensboro, Nashville, and Evansville (and more places, I'm sure).  Among other fun works, last night's performance included Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.  This is the third time I've performed this work in my young musical career, and the second time while sitting in the 4th seat.  There are a lot of great moments in the 4th part; the only unfortunate aspect about it is that there are several movements in a row where only one, two or three horns are needed, eliminating the fourth horn for several minutes of music.  It was during this tacet section that I remembered.

This is the piece my orchestra at CCM was playing when Andrew died.

Andrew Austin Howell was an amazing person, who also happened to be a fantastic horn player.  He has just begun his junior year at CCM when he died in the early hours of Saturday, October 23rd, 2010.  He was 20 years old.  I think about Andrew every day, but it's been a while since I've thought about when the event occurred, and the painful days, weeks and months that followed.  Sitting in the orchestra two days ago, it was like I had turned back the clock almost three years.

I remember the text I got from Stephanie late Saturday morning.  I remember calling all of the graduate studio members, telling them all to sit down first.  I remember everyone gathering at Emily's apartment, including CCM director of wind studies Rod Winther, and Randy Gardner's lovely wife Barbara (Mr. Gardner happened to be in Philadelphia, and was frantically returning back to Cincinnati).  I remember Eric putting on several pots of Highlander Grog from Seven Hills Coffee, and Mr. Winther (a coffee enthusiast) saying it was the best coffee he'd ever tasted.  I remember ordering pizza and making french fries, and joking about how this was appropriate mourning food.  I remember us all taking turns laughing and crying.

I remember Sunday when we all gathered at the Gardner's home.  Anni happened to be in town that weekend, and recent graduate Danielle joined us too.  Usually, convocations at the Gardner's home involved bowls of ice cream and games of cornhole.  This was no such occasion.  We all tried to make it a supportive environment, and a time to share happy stories and fond memories.  We did our best, but the tears still flowed freely.

And then, I remember Monday, when we all had to show up at CCM.  I don't think any of us walked in alone that day.  Professors were extremely lenient with us, understanding if we just couldn't make it through class.  At 4PM, it was time for orchestra.  I remember sitting in the section with Austin, Robert, Jeremy and Eric.  I remember Annunziata's kind words.  I remember the rest of the orchestra's compassionate glances.  I remember Pictures at an Exhibition.

I remember Tuesday morning, when we had studio class for the first time since Andrew died.  I do not envy being Mr. Gardner in this situation.  How on earth do you hold a horn studio class when a member of your studio just fell off of a roof and died?  Not surprisingly, he made a great choice.  We listened to music for an hour.  Arkady Shilkloper, among other artists.  The class ended with an impromptu conga line.  The following hour was a grief counseling session, which the Wind Studies Department was hosting all day during normal rehearsal hours.  After that, Emily, Cecilia, Eric and I decided we couldn't handle the rest of the day at CCM.  We went and got giant burritos (again, appropriate mourning food) from Habañero, brought them back to Cecilia's and my house, opened up the futon, and stayed there for the rest of the day.

For the rest of the year, Emily tagged us in any picture she found of four kittens cuddling on a couch

I remember the vigil Wednesday night.  There was a huge crowd there.  Friends and teachers spoke.  The horn choir played an arrangement of Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings.  Cecilia played principal, and was rock solid.  I was sitting in the back row between Eric and Brigette.  It was the most difficult and most important performance of which I've ever been a part.  The vigil ended with a recording of Josh Groban's You Raise Me Up, which was one of Andrew's favorite songs.

I remember studio class on Thursday.  Mr. Gardner was brilliant, and decided this day should be his infamous Distraction Class.  It was the funniest one I experienced in my four years at CCM, probably because we were all so in need of a good laugh.

I remember the weeks and months that followed.  I remember having to go and pick people from CCM because they couldn't handle their sadness, and bringing them back to our house for a reprieve.  Our futon stayed open for at least a month, and we gained several temporary roommates.  I remember the night approximately a month later when, alone in my house, my body finally gave in to the pressure of staying strong for my friends; I called my parents, sobbing and shaking.  I remember the group hug on our last day of studio class in December, and the celebratory feeling we all shared for simply making it through the quarter.  I remember the concerts and recitals dedicated to Andrew's memory.  I remember gathering with his family in January to celebrate what would have been his 21st birthday, going to the spot in Bellevue Park where some of his ashes were spread.

Andrew's family and friends on his 21st birthday

I remember one year later, when we held a giant memorial concert.  Corbett Auditorium was filled.  Our horn studio was joined by members of the horn studios from Ohio State University and Indiana University.  Mr. Gardner asked me to represent the horn studio by giving a speech about Andrew.  I don't remember much from the actual moments I was speaking, but after I spoke I remember immediately running to the hallway behind the backstage area, putting my head between my knees.  Emily came and found me to make sure I wasn't barfing.  When I stood up, Mike held on to me and wouldn't let go, noting that he could feel my heart beating through my chest against his body.

I remember two years later.  I had just arrived in Los Angeles a couple of days prior, beginning my brief residency at Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA).  It was my first Andrew anniversary away from my CCM family, and I felt so alone.  Two of my fellow Sistema Fellows, Carlos and Sara, were also in LA with me at this time.  I had spent a grand total of 6 weeks of life with them at this point, but wasn't left with much of a choice but to tell them that I was probably going to have a very bad day.  Luckily for me, this was the beginning of a great friendship among the three of us, and they were wonderful about the whole thing.  I was also fortunate enough to share a phone call with Stephanie and Austin that day, who were also spending their first Andrew anniversary away from CCM.

Now, it's almost three years later.  I still have many of the same feelings I had when it happened.  Sadness. Confusion. Anger. And, happiness.  Happiness that I had Andrew in my life.  Happiness that he brought the CCM community closer together.  Happiness that I am fortunate enough to make the most of my life.  In a cathartic way, I hope that every time I play Pictures at an Exhibition, I will remember that time in my life; for me, every performance of the work will be dedicated to Andrew.



This was how I snapped out of my whirlwind of memories during Sunday's rehearsal of Pictures.


The conductor had stopped the music to address a member of the orchestra.  His name happened to be Andrew.

Sometimes, the universe does strange things.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Keep it Simple

Last week I had the great opportunity to perform in the horn section of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra.  It's always a real treat for me when I get to play with them; this time, the deal was even sweeter because I got to play with my good friend and CCM colleague, Jeremy.  Jeremy and I carpooled from Cincinnati all week, and had a lot of time to catch up.  We had many great conversations about making the most out of life, and living exactly how you want to live.  A subtopic of this conversation involved Jeremy's summer practice routine, which entails getting up at 5:00 every morning.  To a lot of people, waking up at 5am daily is undesirable and may seem impossible. Here's a summary of what Jeremy had to say about it:

"People ask me how I get up at 5 every day.  I say, 'I set my alarm for 5am and then I wake up'.  It's that simple."

This simplicity resonated with me so much.  Like many people, I have a hard time getting up early.  I'm the girl who sets 10 alarms on her phone and ignores every one of them.  Eventually I stumble out of bed just in time to throw on jeans, pour some coffee in a travel mug and walk out the door.  In the moment, it's so easy to make excuses for sleeping in.  I always try to justify it by convincing myself I'll have plenty of time during the day to complete everything I need to.  This is rarely true.  At the end of the day I usually end up being mad at myself for my inability to do the right thing in the morning and just wake up when the alarm tells me to.

Jeremy's simple explanation of how he gets up so early every morning really got me thinking- mostly about how I tend to make simple tasks way more complicated than they need to be.  Getting up early is difficult for me for a number of reasons.  Some are legitimate; some aren't.  Whether the reasons are justifiable or not, I know getting up early will help me live every day exactly how I want.  What if, instead of rationalizing or justifying or making excuses, I just got up whenever my alarm went off?  What if I kept it that simple?  I know that there are more pros than cons of getting up when I intend to.  I'll feel better about myself, and I'll actually have a fighting chance of getting the day's tasks completed.

It's like the old quote- falsely attributed to everyone from Albert Einstein to Mark Twain- about the definition of insanity: "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results".  I can't expect to make changes in my life if my daily routine never changes.  If I want the outcome to be different, I have to consciously make new choices.  For starters, I can't expect to live every day like superwoman if I keep ignoring my alarm.

I'm trying something new this week.  I'm going to get up at 6AM every day.  This will allow me plenty of time to get some face time in on the horn before I set foot in the office.  My trial run this morning was successful.  The alarm went off at 6:02, 6:03, 6:05 and 6:08.  Once the last one went off, the excuses crept up.  "You really could just sleep till 6:30."  "But you're SO tired!"  "It's still dark outside..."  Normally, I would have chosen to listen to at least one of those excuses.  Instead, I thought of Jeremy and how he'd been awake for an hour already, and asked myself one question: "How badly do you want it?"

If I want my life to include everything I desire, I have to make changes.  It all comes down to choice.  I could choose to listen to my groggy excuses in the morning, or I could choose to simply set my alarm for 6am and then wake up when it goes off.  When you think about it objectively, the latter is far simpler than coming up with a half-asleep elaborate ruse of justification.

Getting up early is just one of many examples I could use of how I make my life way more complicated than it needs to be.  I hope this is only the beginning of discovering more ways to simplify my life, taking away baggage and living fully and honestly.