The Well-done and the Could-be-better

What I'm really itching to do is get out of the house, visit Powell's downtown, and have lunch out before my lessons. But I'm here writing because I may as well get my WT post out of the way before I do all that.

My results this week were a little bit mixed. On the good side:

1. Abstaining from alcohol all week was a good move. I feel great.

2. Excluding my phone from the bedroom all week was very clearly the right thing to do. It's helped me sleep and the RSI I was starting to feel in my left arm over the past few weeks is completely gone.

3. I made my weight-loss goal thanks to no alcohol and deliberately light eating, and set a new goal.

4. Ate very light and healthy all week long.

5. Keeping up trivial maintenance things like shaving every day and keeping the kitchen clean, getting my haircut on schedule and doing my laundry each week: when I neglect them I feel like my life is disintegrating around the edges, but when I do them I feel like I'm maintaining things and staying on top of life. This is way out of proportion to their actual importance but doing them really helps so I try to do them.

6. I've done a lot of writing and I feel like I'm getting back to the place I used to be with it.

7. Set up my Medium account to (hypothetically) earn money, and published a couple short pieces there.

8. Recorded and posted another improvisation.

9. Read books a lot a lot, internet garbage only a very little.

10. Drank a lot more tea and a lot less coffee.

Things to improve upon next week:

1. Woke up hung over on Monday, which was a harsh reminder that Sunday is a school night. Oops. I'll do better in a couple days.

2. Unable to work out on Monday thanks to that idiocy, and that kind of punched a hole in my motivation for exercise all week long. Last night's short walk around the neighborhood was the most walking I've done all week.

3. Didn't work on any of my long range projects, which I'm starting to feel antsy about. I'm not going to list them here because that is a project for the cafe at Powell's or wherever I have lunch today.

So that was the well-done and the could-be-better of my past week. Time to go do the rest of my Friday and then the weekend with all its fun!

Writing About Writing

This is my second attempt at writing a post today! I originally got to my desk at about 9 in the morning and ended up writing 1,000 words, but it was one of those writing days where I took two separate unproductive detours in the writing and ended up with something absolutely not post-able. Nothing especially private, in fact, it's material that may lead to a longer piece. Just not anything I can put directly on the internet after a single writing session.

I started off with the usual nonsense that gets me going but then remembered an idea I had last night. I finished the Liszt biography right before bed and had the idea of writing a summary of the entire 3-part biography in the form of key scenes from it. I think this could make for a pretty compelling longer piece, but round about 600 words in, I realized I hadn't even gotten to his first wife and children. Clearly not something I'm going to complete in just one session.

So I had to set it aside and go about my errands, a little shopping, a haircut, my laundry, lunch. And now here I am knocking out a quick entry to keep the WT streak alive.

I have to say that I do think Write Together has served its purpose for me, in that I originally came here in order to re-establish a habit of daily writing, and also to re-establish a certain amount of comfort with writing for an audience, as a way of easing back into publishing my writing more widely -- which I hadn't really done at all for seven years before yesterday, when I published my first Medium story as a "Medium Partner". That said, I think I'm going to keep my account going here because I enjoy this little community, and the streak does remain a useful prompt to write at least something on days when I otherwise wouldn't even write a private journal entry.

I've been mirroring all my posts here over on my website for a couple weeks now, mostly as a matter of archiving them permanently in case Write Together disappears at some point. I have been thinking about republishing all of them over there with the same time stamps, but that sounds like an awful lot of work for no obvious benefit. It makes me wonder whether there is a tool here for exporting one's data. For some reason that seems like a big ask for a tiny site like this, but then I don't know much about the technical side of that problem.

Minor Achievements are the Gateway Drug of Productivity

This morning I was feeling unmotivated and out of sorts, or perhaps it was just laziness. My plans for the morning had fallen through, and I was experiencing the mild dislocation of having unexpected time on my hands: what do I do now? In the absence of any good answer, I tend to putter around the house and feel vaguely guilty, as if I'm playing hooky from something important I could be doing. And then that puts me in a mood where all the things I have been telling people I'm going to do, and have been planning to do, and actually really do want to do, simply sound like too much work even to start on.

So I started cleaning up the kitchen.

This is an old trick I have for breaking a listless mood. Somehow it's easier for me to start cleaning the kitchen than any other room in the house, perhaps because everything has its place, and it's so easy to isolate a small area and get it exactly right before moving on to the next. First, the counter where I make coffee and tea. Next the stovetop. And so on.

Each area is small enough that it usually only takes a few minutes, and I only commit to that little piece of it. Yet somehow I always want to do the next little piece after finishing the last one. It's probably because it's pleasant to work on an easy problem that has only one correct outcome. It's always satisfying to behold a nice, clean, tidy kitchen. I always get a small sense of accomplishment at having set even one thing right. And today I ended up doing the whole kitchen, which set me up nicely for working on harder things.

Sweeping up the coffee grounds and wiping down an 18" square section of countertop is not much of an accomplishment, but it seems like my brain doesn't know the difference between resetting a counter and writing a blog post. When I stand back and look at my finished work, I feel the exact same sense of pleasure. Of course the glow from a finished piece of writing lasts quite a bit longer, and that's one reason I don't just do chores all day. But I think this may be the reason that a small and do-able project like cleaning up the kitchen often propels me into an entire day of productive work. It's a way to get started that doesn't require much effort or brainpower, and then once started, it's hard to stop. I want to get more of that feeling of achievement from something more durable, before the fleeting one from the kitchen evaporates completely.

In fact, after I finished up with the kitchen today, I went straight to my computer to write today's post. And now I'm moving on to the most complex and satisfying work of my day: four or five hours of teaching music.

Trained Attention

Yesterday I wrote about the "foyer method" for keeping my phone use minimal, especially when I'm trying to sleep. In general I leave my phone docked in the office when I'm at home. The hypothesis is that, in addition to helping me combat RSI, this practice will lead to deeper sleep at night. Last night was a test of this because my sleep was unusually light and frequently broken, for whatever reason.

Prior to last night, if you had asked me how I deal with insomnia, I would have said this: "usually I read on my phone for a while. Sometimes a book in Apple Books, more often news or other articles. And then when I'm starting to feel sleepy again, I'll listen to a podcast that I'm only sort of interested in and drift off to the chattering voices."

This was what I honestly thought I was doing. And I was doing those things, of course. But as I lay there with my thoughts, I found it extremely revealing that I persistently thought about Facebook and things I might see there, or whether there was anything new on Instagram, or whether I had any email, or various questions I might settle with a quick internet check, and so on. Apparently I have been doing a whole lot of social media and random web surfing in the middle of the night.

Even though I must have been awake for hours, I resisted the impulse to get the phone anyway for a variety of reasons. For one thing, our bedroom door sticks, and opening it is guaranteed to disturb my wife's sleep. That element of social pressure is strong and I leveraged it to assist me in keeping away from the phone. But also I was simply appalled that I kept wanting to just look at the internet, every time my mind wandered. That's all I thought about. I have somehow ended up completely trained by the attention merchants despite my sustained efforts to resist them.

So instead I lay there feeling resentful at all my thoughts about looking at the internet, and tried to get back to sleep. Of course, not every night of sleep is going to be great. But I have reached one clear conclusion: I need to carry on with this practice. And in the meantime I'll get a book light, so I can read a library book the next time I can't sleep.

The "Foyer Method" and Some Thoughts on Voice Control

The rain has returned in force to Portland and I could not be happier. I've thrown the office window wide open and I'm in here typing and enjoying the fresh air and this afternoon cup of coffee and this album of Mozart piano sonatas. I'm also enjoying working in my office again -- it has been a while since I used the space for its intended purpose. All summer it was just nicer to use the kitchen table.

I've been explicitly reducing my phone use and my left hand and arm has improved significantly. Essentially I'm trying to use the "foyer" method, so-called because it started with people leaving their phones charging in the foyer and not carrying them around the house. I've done this a number of times in the recent past, charging my phone on a dock in the office and only using it right there. This has led to Jessica's great amusement at the times I will stand awkwardly in my office in order to catch up on Instagram. But it really works well at reducing phone use by significantly increasing the friction necessary even just to look at the screen: I usually don't want to make the effort, and it helps that I kind of feel like an idiot standing there. Could I sit down? Yes. But standing prevents long sessions.

Last night I also left my phone charging on my office desk and used my Fitbit to check the time whenever I woke up, since I've narrowed down my truly problematic phone use to the bed. But as a nice benefit, my sleep is overall much better when I leave it in the other room. Now that I have a HomePod I don't even need a phone for my alarm or my usual morning routine of checking the weather forecast, my first calendar appointment, and playing some music. All I have to do is talk to Siri to make all of this happen. At the moment I have to preface every command with "Hey Siri," but I think it's just a matter of time before the interaction becomes more natural.

This reminds me of that book by Kevin Kelly that I mentioned a couple weeks ago, which I set down for good after a chapter in which he envisioned a Minority Report-style world with screens on every surface. I've heard this from him before and frankly it seems like a 90's-era hobbyhorse that he hasn't had the common sense to dismount, so I set it down before I wasted any more time on the text. Personally, I think the future will feature mostly voice control of, and eventually, natural verbal interaction with, the computers in our lives. Nothing is more natural to human beings than asking for information and giving commands with the voice. It is our primary way of getting through the world with other humans every single day. Plus, nobody wants screens everywhere, because that feels assaultive. But talking to your computer or phone and getting things done that way, from anywhere in your house, is appealing. The widespread adoption of voice-controlled devices in essentially every household I visit in Portland, including my own, just underscores that for me. Just the other day I saw a friend absent-mindedly ask Alexa to do something and then remembered he was in the wrong house. And when I'm out and about, voice control has become the primary way I interact with my phone. I think that is the way things are going to go in general.

To clarify, I actually use my MacBook and iPad around the house for all the things I'd otherwise use my phone for -- music, audiobooks, etc. The problem for me is not really the technology, it's the size and shape of the phone combined with the compelling desire to always be looking at it which leads to over-use and therefore, handstrain.

Kung-fu Tea Time

I think today is my 120th day writing in a row! Not too bad.

Yesterday we went out to the tea shop and I spent $70, which is pretty high for me, but easy to explain: I bought my first-ever Pu’ehr mini cake ($23), a special tool like a pointed screwdriver to flake it apart with ($10) and a white porcelain gaiwan ($12), which is a kind of Chinese teapot that I had come to understand is the best way to brew Pu’ehr and other whole-leaf Chinese teas. The remaining balance of $25 was more my usual spend at a tea shop. I picked up some single-origin orthodox black teas (Nilgiri, Ceylon, and Assam) and a commonplace China green tea I have not yet tried, called Chunmee. So it was almost like I made two separate purchases, one being basics and the other being items around this new interest I have in brewing Pu’ehr and Oolongs “gong fu” style, which as far as I can tell just means using a gaiwan, a holding vessel for the brewed tea, and tiny little cups to pour it into from there. And more or less devoting all your attention to the tea and the process of brewing it. A nice little break in the day.

I’ve also realized that “gong fu” is a way of spelling “Kung fu” that does not evoke Bruce Lee. Well, I think that’s more badass, so I’m going to refer to these sessions as my Kung-fu Tea Time for now.

This morning I brewed up the Nilgiri, which I’d never had before, and it was incredible. My new favorite black tea. Later on in the morning I broke out all the Kung-fu gear and started flaking apart the raw pu’ehr I had bought. The cake itself smelled like a box of fresh cigars (not lit, just the amazing smell of cured rolled tobacco) so I figured the tea would have a woody, tobacco quality. Imagine my surprise when I brewed it in the gaiwan and it turned out to be a light, subtle, refreshing green tea with a pronounced but pleasant aroma of seaweed and iodine! I could seriously have this every single day, something I would never ever say of the sticky rice pu’ehr I’ve had in the pantry for a while now. This experience only makes me want to return to purchase a mini cake of their ripe pu’ehr and see what that has to offer!

Oh! And I decided to use some of my saved-up credit card rewards on this tea purchase. So in effect, I got all this stuff for free. A little gift to myself.

How to Write 300 Words

The best way to start is just to start.

Just start writing and you find a theme sooner or later no matter how blank your mind is.

No matter how many distractions are around.

Do not delete a single sentence, and eventually, you will make the quota.

Why are you writing to a quota? Because that number is just hard enough to reach that it forces you to dig just a little deeper than you otherwise would be inclined to. Something will eventually occur to you on the way to that target number, and often that subject will completely take over the process. And once it does, the minimum word count is a trivial consideration.

I've found something like this to be true with any creative activity, not just writing. Usually the real rewards only come once you've forced yourself to sit with it for long enough that your mind settles down and engages with the matter that comes up in a truly deep way.

There was a time in my early twenties when I thought I would try visual art, and learn how to draw. I never demonstrated any talent or genuine willingness to practice drawing -- for every hour I spent drawing, I wished I had spent it practicing an instrument or writing instead -- so I dropped it except as an occasional way to kill time or occupy my hands. But my time drawing gave me a lasting insight into all creative work. I found it easy to get started once I had made a mark -- any mark. It didn't matter what that mark was, or if I ended up keeping it, or if I moved on to the next page in the sketchbook to begin again, so long as I followed the suggestion of that first random mark.

It gave me the insight that all creative work essentially begins as a concrete response to a prompt in the world and then, if you let it, carries on as your intuitive response to that response. This is as true of writing and music as it is of drawing.

This entry began as a response to the bare prompt of "write at least 300 words on any subject." My mind was entirely blank, so I simply repeated my long-held creative mantra, learned when I tried to pick up drawing: "The best way to start is just to start." My next line was an intuitive response to that statement, in this case, a simple elaboration. And so forth. This entire paragraph is an analysis of all the foregoing words -- another kind of creative response, one occasionally useful in a piece of writing.

With drawing, there is a moment when you've either done enough that your subject looks complete, or you've grown bored with the project, and that's reason enough to move on. Both writing and music share the problem of landing the work, as I put it, and I think this is because unlike drawing, these arts both unfold over time. You can start on any old subject in any old way, but once you've created momentum, you have to find a good way of bringing it to a close.

I'm having that trouble right this moment, but that's okay. After all, the prompt was to write 300 words and I've done almost twice that already -- the prompt was not "write a finished essay about writing 300 words." So with that, I will use the device of a lighthearted remark and a salutation to close this entry, in the hope that will be satisfying enough for you, my esteemed reader. See you tomorrow.

Old DVDs

Got up super early today and did my laundry and released my latest improvisation, but then for most of the six hours after that, I mostly just puttered around the house, reading, listening to podcasts, and shuffling various piles of media around.

The exception was my workout and my hour of piano practice, and I'd say I made good progress with both things. It's been 10 days since I started studying the Overture to Handel's Keyboard Suite in G minor and I'm remarkably far along for that short a period of time. The first half of the "presto" section I can already play securely at 120 bpm, and my target is 150. The second half I can play securely at ~100 bpm with the exception of a couple sticky spots I'm going to have to isolate and bring up to speed. So I'm glad about all that. If I do nothing else, that and these 300 words are accomplishment enough, to be honest.

Oh yes and I decided to reacquaint myself with Bach's Two-Part Inventions recently, because I found myself having too much trouble with the Well Tempered Clavier over the summer. I've more or less mastered the first four, which is not a huge accomplishment since I first learned them around the age of 16. The only one of the 15 Inventions that I have no memory of ever studying is #7, though I must have -- I wouldn't learn the other 14 and then omit that one for no reason. The trouble I'm having now with them is that I'm taking the time to learn the ornamentation correctly from the Urtext edition, so I'm having to undo many years of muscle memory in that regard, and that is really no easy thing to do. In particular the ornamentation in Invention #3 is totally foreign to my fingers, and it makes me wonder what exactly I did with the piece when I was 16.

I got into a pile of DVDs that I've had for about 10 years without ever looking at them, relics of my time interning for Wholphin, the now-defunct DVD magazine of short films. I can't quickly explain why I kept them for so long without ever looking at them, but I do know the reason very precisely. It has a lot to do with my disappointed hopes at the time about McSweeney's, and the fact that my working there was one of the early concrete steps on the path that led to the breakup of my first marriage. I didn't want to let go of these talismans but I also didn't want to actually engage with them for years because contemplating them just stirred up dormant anxieties and bad feelings.

But now all that is so long in the past that they seem neutral and interesting again, so I popped them all into the player to check if they still worked, and they do! My plan is to spend a little time each day watching one of the short films on these DVDs. Most of them are less than ten minutes long.

Well, I have made more than my minimum of words today, and it's time to go teach, so off I go!

Tea Drunk

This Tuesday I started drinking tea at home instead of coffee, mostly because we’re a little short on beans and I realized that I had plenty of tea on hand — about 30 different varieties, in fact — and may as well just drink that instead.

I love coffee and there is no reason for me to stop drinking it, but until just this week I hadn’t put it together that my coffee habit of two cups each morning was blocking any possibility of me enjoying tea as well on the same days. The reason is simple math. Coffee is highly caffeinated. Two cups of coffee contains about 200 mg of caffeine, and that’s about all I can take most days. Tea is so much less caffeinated that it takes 4 or 5 cups of a strong black tea like Assam to add up to that same 200 mg. It takes something like 7 to 10 cups of green or oolong tea to amount to the same. One of my favorite green teas, Hojicha, is almost decaffeinated compared to coffee: it would require almost 20 cups to reach the same caffeination as just two cups of coffee. Since I don’t want to drink even 5 cups of any one thing (except water) on any given day, if I at least start the day with tea, this means I can drink literally as much tea as I want, every single day, and probably have some coffee as well, and never hit my caffeine limit.

On Tuesday I had 3 mugs of sticky rice Puehr, which is a little more caffeinated than the usual black tea, and one cup of Sencha. Yesterday I had two mugs of Assam and one mug of Wuyi oolong, the latter of which is still failing to impress me though I try it every once in a while. And after lunch I went out for a coffee at Peet’s. Today I had two mugs of Assam again and am thinking I should cut out that emerging habit immediately and make the second cup a Genmaicha or other green tea. Right now I’m sipping at a lovely floral, grassy cup of Bai Mu Dan white tea (very low caffeine) and am contemplating another coffee out after lunch today.

Of course no old habit is ever resumed without an interest in buying some fresh supplies and gear, so this morning Jessica and I were chatting about heading over to the Jasmine Pearl Tea House this weekend in order to restock a favorite herbal blend. In anticipation of that I spent way too long on their website assembling my shopping list, which will run me $60 if I end up buying it all. Jessica said I was “tea drunk” already! This is a known state for me.

But even if I do spend that much, I’m unlikely to regret it. Since tea is so wonderful and varied, and in general has a shelf life measured in years, it’s worthwhile having a pantry with 30 teas and even adding six more to that number. I sort of look on it as like having a large music collection, or a large wardrobe. If that’s the kind of thing that brings you joy, you want to have something on hand for every mood, occasion, and time of day, along with a few weirdo things (like that Wuyi oolong) that you never know quite what to do with. It can only add to the pleasure of life.

Daily Routine for the Fall and Winter

Following on yesterday’s post about behavior changes, I want to briefly outline the daily routine I’m thinking about trying to stick to this fall and winter.

1. Up with the alarm at 6:40. Eventually this will be 6:30; we’re working our way backwards.

2. Make a hot beverage and return to bed for an hour or two of reading, BOOKS ONLY.

3. Exercise - shower

4. Work on projects til lunch (includes writing and piano practice)

5. Lunch - chores - errands

6. Teaching

7. Dinner

8. Evening entertainments (usually lighter reading or podcasts)

8. Lights out at 10 pm.

I don’t think I need to elaborate on any of this. Now that the semester has started, my weekdays are dominated by teaching, roughly from 3 to 8 each day. That obviously leaves plenty of time for other things, but everything still has to be structured around those big time blocks.

The reading is the most extravagant part of this routine, but in a way it’s the most important part for my mental health. Some people start the day with a long period of meditation, and reading is much like that for me. I rarely read light matter first thing in the morning — usually biography, history, or serious nonfiction of some sort, and usually I pick the most challenging thing I’ve been working on.

Right now that’s the third and final volume of the Liszt biography. The writing is as clear and engaging as ever, so it’s not that. The challenge is coming from fatigue: having spent so long with my head in this biography I am beginning to tire of it a little bit. The whole work must amount to some 1,700 pages. There was also a long stretch, two substantial chapters, which were about his daughter Cosima and Richard Wagner, both of them horrible human beings, and the indignities they together inflicted upon Cosima’s husband Hans von Bülow. All this was important because Liszt’s life was intimately tied up with all three of these people, but at a certain point I was really tired of the whole sordid affair, especially as it was followed by a chapter about a particularly obnoxious hanger-on that caused him much drama. This morning’s chapter came as a welcome relief, as a return to the brighter side of his life. It described his return to Weimar and the beginning of his “vie trifurquée”, where he split each year more or less equally between Weimar, Budapest, and Rome.

Behavior Changes for Health

All right, so the “new year” is officially here today and it’s time to institute some behavior changes I’ve been considering.

1. Drinking tea mostly during the week instead of coffee. This isn’t really a health measure but it kind of fits into the dietary changes scheme. One reason I thought to start this practice today is that we forgot to pick up coffee at the store and therefore only have a small amount of coffee in the cabinet. I could just pick more up at the store when we run out, but the fact is, much as I love coffee, I’m not super-attached to having it every day. I also love tea, like, a lot, and have long been meaning to start drinking more tea instead of coffee. Our cabinet is stocked with at least two dozen varieties of tea that I’ve collected since moving here: several herbal teas, two kinds of maté, one white tea, several green teas, several oolongs, several black teas, and one pu’ehr — a sticky rice tuocha. So I thought, why not start off with the strongest one and drink a few cups of pu’ehr today? (One coin-sized tuocha is good for an entire day of infusions.) So that’s what I’m sipping now. Pu’ehr is quite caffeinated so I thought it might make for a good transition on the first day from coffee to tea.

2. Sober school nights. Here’s where that herbal tea will come in handy. This is partly on doctor’s advice, partly because I need to lose weight, and partly because this is just clearly a good idea for overall health. For the past 20+ years I have been trying to follow the advice to have a moderate amount of alcohol every single day, and that might be sensible enough but I seemingly can never confine myself to just one drink a day. It’s either zero, or two at a minimum, and the extra drinks add up fast. I’ll also have to rein it in a bit on the weekends, but that’s another story.

3. Resume intermittent fasting. This is simply to lose weight, since I’ve found it so effective in the past. Looking at my schedule it seems that my eating window is mostly going to have to be 2 to 10. It’s hard to wait all the way until 2 in the afternoon to eat when you get up at 8, but so be it. Presumably the tea will help.

4. Increase exercise. I want to build up to 10,000 steps a day and start doing weekly strength work again. I increased my step goal to 6,000 on my Fitbit this morning and later today I plan to do my usual exercises to failure just to see where I’m at, and plan a routine for Friday based on that.

5. More fruit, veggies and fiber; less red meat and fat. This is doctor’s advice also, but again it’s a change I’ve been wanting to make for some time, so I go into it quite willingly. I’ve already started making different choices at restaurants, and guess what? The healthier options have all been great.

So that’s my rundown of health changes I’m starting this month. As usual, I’ll be re-evaluating all this on the first Monday of next month.

Thrift Store CDs

Lately Jessica and I have been spending some time thrifting on the weekends, an old shopping habit that I am glad to revive now. (I bought my first guitar at a Goodwill!) Mostly I just spend my time browsing the books and the CDs, because I almost always find something worth picking up in one of those two sections.

Browsing the CD section is reliably entertaining. In the pop section, there’s always such an incredible pile of garbage from the 90s through the early 2000’s to sift through, because that was the heyday of the CD, and by definition the CDs at a thrift store are primarily the ones that actual music stores had no interest in buying back at any price. I’m thinking that next time I go, I should just buy the ones with the most ridiculous covers simply for the entertainment value of showing them to my friends, maybe listen to a track or two for laughs, and then donate them back upon my return. They’re only $2 a disc, after all. That can’t even buy you a decent cup of coffee in Portland!

It’s not all garbage, though. In the pop section in the Portland stores there are always CDs from certain major artists. I’ve noticed that you will always find CDs by Natalie Merchant, Sarah McLachlan, and Tracy Chapman. Every time! I don’t know why the music stores don’t want these, because all three of them are fine artists, albeit not quite to my personal taste. Yesterday in the Goodwill I visited, I even found a copy of the Beatles Anthology 1 going for $7. If I hadn’t already played that through to my complete satisfaction years ago, I would have been tempted.

By far the best stuff is to be found in the classical section. There’s a lot of garbage in there too, of course. Plenty of cookie-cutter CDs with titles like 101 Love Themes and Rachmaninoff for Relaxing, the kind of cheesy knock-off compilation that classical fans have been plagued with since at least the 60s. But four CDs I found recently can give a sense of the kind of quality that can be found if you look a little. One was a Segovia collection. Another was Itzhak Perlman’s first, unreleased studio recording from 1965, an intimate set of short pieces which was shelved because they wanted to market him as a major talent right out of the gate and therefore decided to start him off with a concerto. A third was a Liszt program by André Watts, and the last was a blisteringly fierce rendering of Chopin and Rachmaninoff sonatas by the iconoclastic French pianist Hélène Grimaud. (If you don’t know her work yet, and you’ve made it this far, you now have assigned listening from me.) This is an amazing haul of music for $8.

Lately I’ll just throw them in the car after buying them and listen to them there, now that I’m not listening to audiobooks and podcasts quite so much while driving around. I’ll bring them in only after I’ve decided what to do with them. There are three possibilities: donate the CD back, rip it to mp3 before donating it back, or rip and keep. Most of them I rip and donate.

There are always great books too, but maybe that’s a good subject for another post!