Who Needs Sleep? 15 Things You Can Do Instead


I have bouts of insomnia throughout the year – but January is when my insomnia game is the strongest.  I don’t know if its the pressure of starting a new year off right, or what. But when January comes around, my circadian rhythms decide to pack a bag and go on vacation.  Over the years I have come up with a way to deal.  It doesn’t involve tossing or turning, or laying in bed waiting for sleep to come, or even watching netflix documentaries.

Here is my list of 15 things you can do to stop stressing about your lack of sleep and have some fun.

  1. Get some crayons, paper, and maybe a colouring book or two. Go to town. Colouring is a great way to relax and destress – and it engages your brain just enough to help you forget the stuff that is actually keeping you up at night.
  2. If you aren’t a classical musician, I would suggest listening to some music written before the romantic period. If you are a musician – may I suggest listening to ambient music written by Brian Eno (or someone similar), Music for Airports is my go to work for nights when I can’t sleep.  And if I’m still awake, I listen to Keith Jarret’s The Koln Concert. Here is  a snippet of him talking about some of the problems that came before the recording. *Not so fun fact- Keith Jarrett has lived with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – and so he knows insomnia.  Why not commiserate together.
  3. Make art. Try to make art without using any electronics – the light that comes from that equipment is not your friend. Find other means.
  4. Clean. Get up and sweep floors, wash dishes, scrub your bathtub, make your bed.
  5. Write mantras in lipstick on all of your mirrors. Use sports quotes – In the past I have used quotes from Wayne Gretzky (but you will need a big mirror – he is wordy), words of wisdom from grandfathers work well, as do bon mots spewed by members of the Algonquin Round Table. This morning I wrote a bunch of hideous lipstick mantras about how failure makes you great – and that its healthy to fail – and then I cleaned my mirrors. Wiping out words about failure made me feel powerful – which is something we don’t often feel-when we can’t sleep. And fear of failure could also be the reason why you are still awake at 3am.  *side note – only use lipstick that is so hideous looking that you can’t believe you ever bought it.
  6. Resign yourself to the fact that sleep isn’t going to happen for you. Get up and start your day.
  7. My favourite insomnia activity (best done in the spring and summer) is to go outside with your camera every hour on the hour, and take photos of your street – notice how the light changes, if the cars have moved, wave to your neighbours, capture the trees blowing in the wind, or the crows digging for worms.
  8. Do some yoga. Im new to yoga – but am finding a lot of peace and enjoyment out of sun salutations. A couple of these will totally wake you up – and you will be ready for some coffee.
  9. Call a far away friend.  Just call someone that is several time zones ahead of you. Don’t interrupt someone else’s sleep – that’s a bit rude.
  10. Read a book. May I suggest opening an actual book made of paper – remember screens are bad.  I read 110 books last year, mostly during hours I should have been sleeping. You can find what I read here. Try reading the book backwards – read the last word first and make your way to the front of the book. This will help tire your brain – and you may find yourself back in bed sooner than you think. Hat Tip to Casper for this.
  11. For me, simple math is hard. And when you are in the throes of Chronic Fatigue – doctors will often ask you to start at 100 and count backwards by subtracting by 7.  Try doing these exercises – if you are anything like me, you will give up and fall asleep long before you get the final answer (its 2).  Its way better than counting sheep.
  12. If its safe to do so, go for a walk. A little bit of fresh air and exercise might be just what your body needs. I usually walk just before 5 am, head to Starbucks (because thats the closest place that is open) and walk for about an hour or so- but only if I am restless.  I won’t go earlier than that because when streets are too quiet, I find it a bit too scary to stray far from my home.
  13. Organize a closet. There is a strange clarity that comes at 2am that you don’t get during the rest of the day. Its an optimal time to do a clothing purge. Be quiet though, if there is someone else is sleeping in your bedroom.  Best practice would be to weed out a closet in a room where no one is sleeping.
  14. Make coffee, cinnamon rolls, and bacon. It’s a gentler way to wake up the other person/people in your house, if you are feeling a bit lonely and want someone to talk to. Chances are they would appreciate this method a lot more, than being pestered to wake up by being poked and nagged.
  15. Practice. Surely you have something going on that needs to be worked on. For me its guitar. But for you in might be a keynote you are preparing, or math problems, or getting ready for baseball season. Whatever you are passionate about find a way to work on your craft.  If you can practice full out – great! If you are sharing your space, find a way to practice quietly.

What do you do when you can’t sleep? Do you have an insomnia regime?  I know that the usual form is to do something to get you back to sleep. That rarely works for me – so I find ways to distract myself. But I would love to hear your tricks. Please share.

Being Mentally Strong


This post is based on Amy Morin’s book, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do.
Let me preface this by saying, I have not read her book (yet), but I have read her summary post about it about 900 times in the past year – and I have some thoughts regarding my own journey  struggle to becoming mentally strong.

When I first came across this list, it was almost a year ago, and I had just re-injured my elbow so severely, that I couldn’t imagine playing guitar again. More than that, my doctors, and teachers/coaches didn’t think I would ever play guitar again.  If you know me at all, you know that there isn’t a whole lot in life that I love more than being a musician. It’s pretty much the reason for my existence.  So not only was I dealing with that stuff – but after years of teaching, I was unhappy with what had been happening in my studio, and had decided to take a break. I was in an unhappy place. I had isolated myself from a community that I loved, and I didn’t see a way to come back to it.

Of the 13 things that mentally strong people don’t do according to Amy Morin, I can tell you that I was doing all of them. These things are:

  1. They don’t waste time feeling sorry for themselves.
  2. They don’t give away their power.
  3. They don’t shy away from change.
  4. They don’t waste energy on things they can’t control.
  5. They don’t worry about pleasing everyone.
  6. They don’t fear taking calculated risks.
  7. They don’t dwell on the past.
  8. They don’t make the same mistakes over and over again.
  9. They don’t resent other people’s success.
  10. They don’t give up after the first failure.
  11. They don’t fear alone time.
  12. They don’t feel the world owes them anything.
  13. They don’t expect immediate results.

When I first read these- my initial reaction was “Fuck you Amy Morin!”.  I didn’t think that any of my problems at the time had anything to do with me – or at least weren’t my fault. I wanted a quick fix, and I didn’t think I should have to do the work.  I was pretty much the most spoiled brat on the planet when it came to viewing my situation.  I viewed myself as a victim, in the worst way possible. While I have definitely grown this past year, and made some great strides in my guitar playing and the way I see the world (and myself in it), I am still struggling with some of these things. Continue reading

The Practice


Playing guitar doesn’t come easy to me these days. Almost all aspects of playing have become challenging – even areas where I once excelled at have become foreign and a bit enigmatic.  Which is why a daily practice has become more important than ever, to me.  I’m slowly adding my old pieces back into my repertoire, but am cautiously adding new to me composers as well.  For someone who has invested almost her entire life to the playing of classical guitar, there are some huge gaps in my knowledge of guitar music. For instance, almost the entire baroque repertoire, with the exception of the Bach cello suites.  So I have added this Weiss Fantasie into my practice.  And surprisingly, I am beginning to love it.

For those of you who are interested – this is what my rehab practice looks like.  I try to get in an hour a day. Sometimes I am unable to play that long – and sometimes I want to play more, but I know that if I push it too much, the pain that will occur will be too much for me to handle, and I will have to take several days off – and I cant afford that.

  • Arpeggio exercises – 10 minutes.  I do this instead of scales, because its easier on my hands, and it gives my brain a workout, when I progress past the standard PIMAMI
  • Sarabande by Francis Poulenc – its a simple piece, but its quite difficult to master.  Its meditative and somber.  It was my dog Charles favourite piece, and when I play it, I can feel him next to me, keeping time with his tail.  Its a great warm up. Usually I play this for 10 minutes.  Trying to get the tone as even as possible.
  • Suite no. 1 – Richard Rodney Bennett – A suite of Pieces for the early intermediate student. Structurally there isn’t much happening, but the soprano and bass voices are written in different keys, which makes playing a bit challenging.  But mostly its brain work. Usually by this point my fingers are warm and about as agile as Im going to get in the practice session.  So the set of pieces usually flows fairly well at this point. – 2 complete tun throughs- plus any extra practice where its needed.
  • I am now halfway through my practice session. At this point I choose a couple of pieces I have had in my repertoire for years, and I choose a passage or 2 in each to deconstruct and re-learn.  I usually do about 10-15 minutes on this.  Usually this is an older contemporary piece, it might go back as far as Mauel de Falla’s Homenaje, or some thing from the Four Pieces by Frank Martin, or probably one of the many pieces I have learned and loved by Leo Brouwer.  The only requirement here, is that it had to be something that was at one time, performance ready – and had to have been played in front of an audience.
  • The remainder of the hour is devoted to new work(s).  I have several in rotation.  Weiss, Bach, Stephen Dodgson, Richard Rodney Bennett, and Scarlatti.  I usually work on a phrase or 2.  Because I usually have between 15-20 minutes left in the session – learning new works is a slow business for me.

This time of regimen is new for me.  I used to be the type of musician who would skip warmups.  I hated scales and other technical exercises (I still do). I didn’t think technique was necessary.  Ah youth – so stubborn, so wrong!  In the past, I was the master mistress of thoughtless practice. I’d just play whatever was sitting on the music stand. I was a really good sight reader, so I didn’t have to think about what I was doing – I just did it, and I could get away with minimal amounts of practice.

Im in a very different situation now, I actually have to think about alternating my fingers. They don’t do it on their own anymore.  When you have to put that much thought into movement, playing becomes laboured, heavy, and clumsy. There really isn’t any way to make it sound good. So you have to look at your practice in a new way.  Instead of reclaiming a new skill. I have chosen to look at is as an adventure through history. Which is why I am trying to close the gaps. It’s going to take me a long time – since I am lucky if I can master 1 single measure of a new piece in one practice.  But if you aren’t aiming to get better, you are getting worse.

So I deem it to be worthwhile.


The Renaissance – Part Deux




It’s good to shut up sometimes ~ Marcel Marceau

This is not a time to be quiet. In fact the opposite is true. It appears that it is  our time to speak, yell, take action. To do anything but stay quiet. People who have endured abuse are coming forward to tell their stories. Stories of which we should not be ashamed of. There are so many, these stories are bringing down powerful people, and people who just abuse what little power they have. But people of both genders have come together to say #metoo – and from what I am reading, its working, people are taking their power back.

I have not been shy of talking about my experiences with abuse. It’s not easy to talk about – and my history with it is complicated.  But I don’t want to talk about sexual abuse, or my relationship with it. Rather a type of abuse that is not so easily defined, by me. Emotional abuse is something I am still struggling with- and for a long time I didn’t view it as abuse at all. I thought of this person as someone who knew more than I did, and who shared his rules of conduct passionately, eventually that passion became a bit constricting, and then over time became threatening.  This is where I am now. But lets be honest, it was emotional abuse right from the start.

I use social media mainly as a way to connect to people, to friends that I have had for a long time, or with people that I share common interests with.  I am completely authentic online, as I am in the “real world”. I find no reason to pretend to be someone else. So if I am sharing that I had a breakthrough, it really happened – and if I am sharing that I am having a really bad day, you can believe that I am really struggling.  So I don’t find it terribly productive, when someone I used to know sends me incredibly toxic and threatening emails, calling me “pathetic” or a “sick fuck” or referring to the fact that I am mentally ill, and that I am hurting people by being honest about who I am, because he is unhappy with my online presence. We aren’t connected on any of these platforms- he is seeking out my content, without my permission.  If I was really worried about what people thought about me, then I would just post videos of puppies being puppies.  But I am not a puppy, I am a person. A person who has passions and interests, and emotions. I have good days and bad days. I have people who care about me, and people that I care about. I don’t have time for someone who sends me threatening and hateful emails, just because he is too cowardly to post his comments publicly. This is not an invite to post nasty comments, I truly have no interest in reading anything negative towards me or the people I care about.

In the weeks that have gone by since I last heard from this individual, I have gone through some stuff. Most of that stuff is fear. Then fear led to growth, which has developed into some strength. I can handle things now. But during the time I was experiencing fear, I wasn’t afraid for my personal safety – it was something a lot more personal than that. The fear paralyzed my creativity. I lost the ability to express myself. And this is unforgivable. I have a business where my imagination is my most important tool. If I am unable to create, tell a story, come up with new ideas, then I don’t have a business to speak of.  Fear took that ability away from me.  These are some of the things I experienced, and what I did to get my creative self back. Continue reading