Anastasia’s Music

I was running south on Shaw’s Creek Road and a beautiful tune came through my headphones, an Andrea Beaton original that made my feet dance and my face grew a smile. I found myself humming along and by the time I got home, I had to grab my fiddle, pull the tune out of my memory and play it.

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Pulling a tune out of thin air…

I’m lucky like that. I can’t always remember the words to songs, or have the first notes of a tune ready to just start and play. But if I hear a tune few times, I can almost always play it back. I’ve never thought much about that skill, until I met my most wonderful friend Anastasia. 

Anastasia (or Aunti-Stasia, as I sometimes say in my head) is an amazing fiddler. She picks up her bow, and she looks like a professional player,  with an intense focus and drive. She’s also a  NINJA when it comes to sight reading. You can put anything in front of her, and she can play it. It is almost as if her brain doesn’t even have to register the notes she sees, and the tune goes from the paper to her eyes and down to her fingers in lightning speed. At our Tuesday night fiddle group with Sandy MacIntyre, she puts us all to shame when we get a new set of tunes, because she can play them perfectly as soon as she sees them.

But here’s the thing: she has serious trouble memorizing tunes. She can read anything. But take the music away, and she’s temporarily lost. 

I have read about how people’s brains are different, and I can acknowledge that, intellectually. But it really wasn’t until I spent time playing music with Anastasia that I really, truly understood how different people can be.

At first glance, Anastasia and I pretty similar. She’s got a handful of university degrees, and so do I. We are both medium height, with Germanic last names. We are both runners, and we play the fiddle. And we both smile a lot.

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Partners in crime after our Half Marathon in Ottawa!

But the way that we process information is dramatically different! My brain seems to capture the tune in its entirety, and I can reproduce it. Anastasia’s brain sees the individual parts of the tune, as transcribed in notes, rests, time signatures, and she reproduces it. We can both play the music, but we do it using different skill sets. 

I was running a workshop for York Region last week, and I had a room full of people who worked in the forestry sector. A quick glance around the room told me everyone was pretty much the same – outdoorsy types who prefer to wear plaid shirts and hiking boots, but were stuck behind a desk doing management plans. I imagined that everyone was going to have the same ideas and perspectives about the upcoming tree planting programs.

But then I thought of Anastasia and our differences. How many people around the table had brains that worked like mine? And how many were like Anastasia? And (gasp) how many other kinds of brains were out there???!!!

Before I got myself twisted into a knot, it occurred to me that I could just ask a question and I’d find out what kinds of brains were going to contribute to the discussions. So well before panic set in, I simply asked people to tell me how they “thought”. Were they problem solvers? Were they skeptics? Did they see a few clear choices, or did they see a variety of options? Could they hear the music and repeat it, or did they prefer to see all the notes beforehand?

As each person shared the way they “thought”, I wrote down their responses on a flip chart so we could all see them. Once I realized the wide variety of thinkers who sat around 

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Don’t be blind to the differences!

the table, I got excited about the diversity of ideas, options and models that we could generate. And interestingly enough, once everyone else understood this incredible diversity, they looked at one another differently and with a more critical appreciation of what each person could contribute.

Suddenly, the plaid shirts appeared quite different!

My take away from this? If you are a facilitator, or a participant in a meeting, or any living, breathing human being, please don’t forget that there is a wealth of diversity all around you, and that is goes above and beyond gender, culture and apparel choices. Take the time to recognize and take advantage of that diversity in your work and your personal life, and celebrate the differences as your move closer towards your goals.

I read a quotation this morning that said: Play the music, not the instrument. So listen for Anastasia and I playing music this weekend. She’ll be the one paying close attention to the notes, making no mistakes and playing with joy. I’ll be the one with my eyes closed, playing whatever notes come from my fingers, and also playing with joy. We may get to the music in different ways, but the result makes us both happy! 

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Gifts within a Gift

For the first time ever, Jaime didn’t come home for Christmas. My daughter had just moved out west, and taking a week off her job was not really possible. So her Dad flew out and spent some time with her, and we skyped and talked and laughed while opening presents. Jaime sent her presents home with her Dad, and it wasn’t until a few weeks later that I opened my gift from her.

It is something small and elegant. A leather journal, handmade in Victoria, B.C. My son, Rory,  told me Jaime had explained that she had actually seen it being made. How remarkable. And how perfect for me…the keeper of lists, of ideas, of many little journals, calendar books and note books. This was something unique in which to capture my most special moments, given with love.

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Jaime’s Gift

I decided that this special journal would be used as a place to record wonderful things. In fact, I decided that each day, I would purposefully look for something wonderful to include in the journal. It might be something that I had seen, like colours in a sunset or a message from someone I love. It might be a moment in time, a conversation that brought me joy, or anything that makes me pause and be grateful.

I decided I’d share with you, friends who read my musings, 2 of my entries that have taught me something, and ask you to ponder on them and how they relate to you.

January 20th – Rory was not blessed with a natural sense of direction. In fact, one of his first important tools upon going to university was a GPS to make sure he made it home from Waterloo without getting lost!  With two parents and a sister who all seem to have an internal compass, Rory was unique, and we assumed he’d always need that GPS to get around. But we should all know the fallacy of assumptions.

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Christmas morning, Rory and Lucy (without Jaime)

Rory quietly made it his purpose to learn how not to get lost, and understand directions. How lucky for me. Because last week, when we were meeting for coffee, I missed a turn in the great void of Mississauga, and got lost in a never-ending series of parking lots. I drove in circles trying to escape, and finally made a frantic call to Rory for help.  Once he knew where I was, he was able to calmly talk me out of the parking lot, back on the road and over to the Starbucks.

I never thought I’d turn to Rory for directions. But look what happened when I did?

January 25th – “Don’t you want to talk to me?” It was my birthday, and yes, I wanted to talk to people I love. Like Jaime. But I had crushing deadlines and was taking the entire day to simply write, write more, and finish writing. I needed about 10 hours of staring at my computer. Then Jaime called. I was clearly distracted during our conversation, and she finally said “Don’t you want to talk to me?” Well, actually, I’d rather talk to Jaime than do almost anything else in the entire world. Those 7 words made me pause…and to remember what was important in my life. “Yes, I do” was my response. I stood up, left my desk, sat down on the couch, and settled in for a wonderful talk with my daughter.

I decided, in that moment, what was most important to me was the person I love, not the work.

Both of these little vignettes hold a message for me. And maybe for you, too. Rory knew his weakness was his sense of direction, and he worked on it. Had I not asked for help, I would never had known that he is no longer directionally-challenged; that he is someone who can help me, instead of me helping him. (And I would still be driving in circles in that *^#$@ ing parking lot!). He reminded me that in life, in business, in everyday, to never underestimate or assume things will be just so. Alan Alda has some advice that applies here: “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” Rory reminded me to abandon my assumptions and let the light in. And get out of the parking lot!

Jaime also helped me remember, in just a few words, what was truly important. My work, regardless, will always be there. But the time I get to spend with my daughter will not.

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Marj, Sue and Jaime, all three gifts in my life.

So I answered her question with an open heart and open mind. What resonated most for me was that when I returned to my desk, after laughing and listening for about a half hour, I was ready to tackle my work with focus and drive. In the end, I got to talk to Jaime, and was refreshed and reinvigorated for work. I know we can’t all have the luxury of doing that, but perhaps the message here is to look for those opportunities and seize them when we can.

Jaime’s gift of the journal is now being filled with my life’s gifts. Making faces through the window of an airport hotel last week; seeing a purple finch perched on my bird feeder; picking up a used Tim Horton’s cup, and then looking at how beautiful the road looked after that the litter was gone – these are all gifts. I spend my days actually looking out for those incredible moments, and sifting through them to decide what fits best in my journal.

I challenge you to get your own journal and for one week, write down one thing each day that amazes you, that brings you wonder, or brings you joy.

Perhaps you will find, like I have, that every day is jammed packed full of incredible moments.