Learn to improvise: 5 easy steps to get you going

Learn to improvise: 5 easy steps to get you going

Getting started with musical improvisation can be intimidating or overwhelming, but it does not have to be that way. For years I had not performed improvisation on stage, until last year. Finally, I had enough confidence to get up on stage, in front of the orchestra and let the music form in my head and be played by my hands at that very moment. By no means am I a great improviser, but I did figure out a few things that helped me get enough confidence to perform on stage a couple of times. And if they were helpful to me, they may be helpful to you.

Motorvatie

Baard en ik rijden over een open vlakte ergens in Finland. Om even van zithouding te veranderen zijn we van fiets geruild. Ik heb me zelf opgevouwen op Baard's Z-1000, Kawasaki's kuiploze kruisraket. Alles wel aan boord tot zo'n 7000 toeren, maar daarna krijg je een trap in de rug en gaat standje "Schone Onderbroek" aan. Baard is kapitein op het veer naar Breskens, zoals we mijn Suzuki V-Strom liefkozend hebben gedoopt. Rechts van ons is goed te zien hoe een wolkje in korte tijd uitgroeit tot een enorme Charlie Brown met aambeeld. Oftewel; een grote onweerswolk. Prachtig om te zien, maar ik word er ook een klein beetje bang van. Ik heb jaren geleden veel respect gekregen voor die dingen, toen ik met mijn paraglider op 2500m hoogte speelbal dreigde te worden van zo'n wolk. Maar, ik dwaal af.

Van een afstandje is het mooi om naar te kijken, dat dan weer wel. "Gaaf man, die bui daar", roep ik in de intercom. "Maar ik ben blij dat we daar niet doorheen hoeven", antwoordt Baard. Te vroeg gejuicht. Links van ons wordt het ook snel duister en voor we er erg in hebben zien we aan beide kanten van ons bliksem inslaan. Niet best. Maar geen goede schuilplek te zien en dus besluiten we door te rijden door de eerste druppels heen naar een dorpje in de verte. 

  Echt waar, het was nog veel gekker dan dit... :-)

Echt waar, het was nog veel gekker dan dit... :-)

Inmiddels is het gestopt met zachtjes regenen. Het giet nu hard. Heel hard. En ondanks de goede kleding zijn we tot op de onderbroek doorweekt. Heeft ook zo zijn voordelen: Vanavond dagverse paddenstoelen uit eigen laars, heerlijk!

Door de stortbui en de spray van andere weggebruikers, ben ik blij dat de navigatie op het stuur laat zien wat er ongeveer aan zit te komen. Verder is nauwelijks een hand voor ogen te zien. Alle zintuigen zijn naarstig op zoek naar informatie om mijn positie op de Bonus/Malus-ladder van mijn verzekering te handhaven. Plots onderbreekt de stem van Baard mijn concentratie: "He man, je rijdt precies in een spoor, kom daar eens uit." Ik probeer mijn rijgedrag nog te rechtvaardigen door uit te leggen dat zolang ik de motor in het spoor voel en ik rode lampjes voor mij zie, dat moet betekenen dat ik nog op de juiste weghelft zit. Maar ik weet dat hij gelijk heeft, dit is niet slim. We besluiten af te stappen en te schuilen. 

Dit geloven ze nooit als we dit thuis vertellen. Onder het motto "Pic's or it didn't happen" pakken we de camera en nemen we een kort filmpje op. Gelukkig voor ons, maar helaas voor het filmpje neemt de bui in heftigheid af zodra we de camera aanzetten. Zodoende stappen we even later, nog steeds soppend in de laarzen, weer op en besluiten vanavond niet de tentjes op te zetten, maar een slaapplaats met verwarming te zoeken. Die vinden we in de vorm van een blokhut. Alles uithangen, verwarming op de hoogste stand en dan wegwezen voor het echt gaat stinken. Op naar een pilsje en wat te eten...


Zomaar een uurtje uit een prachtige motorreis die Baard en ik gemaakt hebben. `Short Way Round` hebben we het genoemd; in 3 weken door 9 landen in een rondje om de Oostzee. Vanuit Nederland door Duitsland en Polen naar de Baltische staten gereden.  Litouwen, Letland en Estland doorkruist op weg naar Rusland. Na een paar dagen in St. Petersburg richting Scandinavië getourd en via Finland, Zweden en Denemarken weer Duitsland in en na bijna 6000km weer thuisgekomen in Nederland. Fantastisch!

Het is inmiddels 2 jaar geleden dat we die trip gemaakt hebben en nog steeds hebben we het erover. De mooie plekken, bijzondere mensen, (voor ons) vreemde landen en het soms hondsberoerde weer, het hoort allemaal bij de enorme verzameling herinneringen en ervaringen die we hebben opgedaan in die drie weken. 

Onbedoeld neveneffect is helaas dat de "gewone" tripjes, een dagje rijden hier of daar, niet kunnen tippen aan die trip. Natuurlijk is het allemaal wel leuk, maar de kick van motorrijden heeft plaats gemaakt voor een soort vanzelfsprekendheid. Deze zomer reden Baard, Snor en ik een dagje rond door de provincie en deden daarbij verschillende terrasjes aan. Superleuk allemaal, beregezellig ook, maar dat is het ook als we ons luie achterwerk in een stoel of bank positioneren tijdens ´Movie Night´. 

Voorlopig zie ik in de nabije toekomst geen mogelijkheid om er een paar weken met de motor op uit te trekken. Betekent dat dan het einde van mijn motorcarrière? Met een naar gevoel in de onderbuik heb ik de afgelopen weken met die vraag rondgelopen. Ik ben verslingerd aan motorrijden, dat weet ik, maar het hart wilde er even niets meer van weten zo leek het. In de knoop door het gevoel dat ik weleens uitgereden zou kunnen zijn.

Niets is gelukkig minder waar. Thuisgekomen na een half uurtje woon-werk-verkeer door de stromende regen, sprong ik vandaag onder een heerlijk warme douche toen het kwartje viel.

De wens naar motoravontuur is eigenlijk de wens naar twee losse dingen: "Motor en Avontuur". "Avontuur" is (in dit geval) met een tentje achterop het gebaande pad verlaten op weg naar onbekende plekken. "Motor" betekent alles om die tweewieler optimaal te benutten.

Voor die definitie van Avontuur is nu even geen plaats, simpel zat. Ik ga liever vakantiedagen en -budget besteden met vrouw en kind, dan alleen of met een maat op de motor naar een ver oord. Kleinere avontuurtjes misschien, maar even geen grote trip nu. 

Voor "Motor" is wel ruimte. Na 20 jaar op twee wielen kan ik heel fatsoenlijk sturen en vlot en veilig rijden. Maar als ik met Snor onderweg ben op de motor, realiseer ik me dat er nog veel meer te leren valt in het verkeer. Snor is beroepsrijder en lijkt een haast oneindige stroom tips, truuks en ervaringen te hebben. En onverhard ben ik helemaal nog niet behendig genoeg. Ik heb maar weinig ervaring in het zand, maar voor menig mooi plekkie moet je toch echt van de gebaande paden af. Daarnaast weet ik veel te weinig van de motorfiets techniek. Ik heb wel een heleboel gelezen en weet op papier hoe een motorblok werkt enzo, maar het enige onderhoud dat ik zelf aan mijn motoren heb gedaan het vullen van de tank, smeren van de ketting en afstellen van rem- en koppelingshendels en poetsen.

Pak van mijn hart zeg, dat gevallen kwartje. Nu heb ik weer hernieuwde zin om voor de lol op of onder de motor te kruipen. En om de daad bij het woord te voegen meteen een dag `sleutelcursus´ geboekt samen met Baard, Snor en Herr Heinrich. Baard en ik willen graag zelf wat onderhoud kunnen doen. Snor hoeft niet zo nodig te sleutelen, terwijl Herr Heinrich al veel zelf doet, maar het is vooral een heerlijk vooruitzicht op een mooie dag in het winterseizoen met goed gezelschap die mooie nieuwe herinneringen en ervaringen zal brengen. 

En zelf aan de motor sleutelen die mij op grote en kleine trips moet vervoeren, is toch eigenlijk best avontuurlijk op zichzelf.

 

Controlled response

Controlled response

He was angry. Very angry. “Unbelievable! I had to sell my house for a lot less than the mortgage on it. So, I am forced to get a loan from the bank which caused the crisis that devalued my house in the first place! ”, he said, while his face colored dark-red.

Many people are in the same boat, myself included.

“At least you did sell it.”, I tried.

That didn't lighten the mood at all. 

“This whole problem would not exist ifthose banks had not caused that crisis in the first place”, he responded.

Me: "And I guess that same bank is also responsible for you getting divorced, which is why you are selling the house", I thought.

30-Day Learning Challenge ends today

30-Day Learning Challenge ends today

Today is the last day of the 30 day learning challenge. One post a day for every day of the month. Well, except one.

Yesterday's post looked at the details of the experience. Today, I would like to ask you what you liked and disliked. Don't worry if you did not read every post. I would still appreciate any honest, constructive feedback!

Looking back

Almost there. Just one more post after today and that will be the end for the 30-Day Learning Challenge. in which I commited to writing a post on this blog for every day of the month June. Unfortunately, I did miss one day because I was sick, but I have managed to write something all other days. Here are the takeaways for me: 

Writing something is easy.

But, writing something good is hard. Yesterday's post was obviously done quickly. But, posts like "How losing €53k made me happy" and "How to become a serial killer" have taken a lot more time to write.

Having to write can be a big struggle as opposed to writing when you feel like it

There were days that it turned out to be very hard to write something decent. Even though I felt like writing, cleared out some time in the day to sit down and do it, it just would not come to me. Somewhere in week 1 this happened for the first time and that is when I started keeping notes/draft posts whenever I did get an idea but was not able to start writing about it. Having a list of ideas present to go back to, really helped to jumpstart a post on some days. 

Writing is a really general term. Writing tutorials, fiction, or other stories are all very different activities.

It may come as no surprise to those who have been writing for a while, but to me writing was always writing. Just writing. But, during this month I found out that there are big differences when writing different kinds of things. Writing fiction was very hard when I figured I "had to write fiction". But, once I had an idea, my fingers just touched the keyboard and it all just came out. Writing a tutorial-like post, was much more methodical. There is a subject to write about, now just go do it. A lot less creativity. No, thats not the right way to say it: it is just another way of writing. But to me it meant less creative, as you write about facts and things that are already existing. Also, no opinion is required most of the time which made the writing process easier for me.

Whatever was written, it can always be improved

Not one post was completely 'perfect' in my mind. No matter how happy I was with it, or how much time was put in, everytime I read one back, I find something that could be improved. A sentence that ccan be rewritten, shorter, wittier, better. The reason for that is two-fold I think. First: When IO write something, you dive deep into it. Losing sight of the bigger picture. Once you zoom out, you can reread it and find things to improve. Secondly, I'd like to think my writing slowly improves over time, meaning that there should be some things to improve on older posts. The lesson I learned here is that at some point you should just hit the 'publish' button, knowing that it is good enough. Just get it out there and if something really bothers you later, you can always go back to change it. 

Writing has turned into a love/hate activity

This is closely related to the second point. Writing felt very liberating whenever I had the luxury to spend some time on it, an idea on what to write about and the quiet environment required. Those moments where great and to be honest in the first two weeks, I wrote a lot more than what was published here, but it was an amazing trip to be on. When writing had to be rushed between dinner and an appointment or at times I woke up earlier to write, or string together something over a few days, in lunchbreaks, and before going to bed, it was not much fun and felt like a chore. I find that especially the quiet time and focus was of great influence on how much I enjoyed writing. 

Could not get into a ritual for writing

In various places have I read that it is best to have a fixed moment in the day to do all writing acitivities. Unfortunately, that has not worked out so well for me. There are a few occassions where I set the alarm earlier than normal, to get out of bed and write. And I did once or twice, but more often then not was that time lost in the startup ritual of the rest of the family. Or I would hit the snooze button and continue sleeping for a bit. During lunchbreaks or after work was not great because at work I cannot focus on much else than that, plus I have a habit to take a walk, which I did not want to give up. After work worked one day, but didn't the next. We all come home, sometimes we need to rush a bit because of one of us needs to go out again quickly and we want to eat together. That stuff. ALthough I did manage to find time here and there, I was unable to get it into a ritual or habit. 

Not having a ritual made it sometimes a challenge to get something finished in time. Usually I would be ahead one day, so I have written today's post already, but need to start on tomorrow's post. But, between work, family and hobbies, I underestimated the effort it would take to write something every day. Having said that, the fact that I made the commitment to myself, and the accountability I felt because I would publish a post every day (as opposed to 'just' writing something for myself) have made me stick to it and actually write. That is a lesson I need to keep in mind for future habit changes: go public with your change, or find somebody who will keep you accountable. This maybe your partner/spouse/husband/wife, but is not required. Your relationship with him or her may not be one where he or she will point out that you haven't written anything yet. So, for you it may be a friend, co-worker, or someone else entirely.

Writing is a great tool for self-reflection The true value in this writing exercise was not the fact that I wrote something on this blog everyday. It was in the self-reflection. I am not sure why it works the way it does, but as you write about something, your thoughts will show themselves to you. I know this sounds like I have smoked some strange substance, but it is true. This was especially true for the 'non tutorial' posts. Somehow, it brings clarity in my head and I need to consciously make decisions about those thoughts. Should I put them on paper or not, what words to use. How do I feel about this, that and the other thing? It is a great way to explore your own mind.

These past 4+ weeks have not made me a great writer. But, it has made me realize that it is something that you can learn. And one of the best ways to learn is to read what others have written. Now that i have a very limited experience in writing, I start to notice how other people write and what I like or dislike about it. That eventually will find its way into my writing as well.

Views and statistics suck

Every blog has a way to gather statistics about the amount of visitors your blog gets. In my case I can see a lot about the amount and origin of visitors to this site. Since I have announced several posts on LinkedIn and Twitter, I see increased traffic after the post was announced on those networks. The problem for me came when the post "How losing €53k made me happy" got more attention than the posts before (and since). All posts after that caused me to think about ways to actually top that amount of visitors I had that day. Completely impossible and unreasonable. No athlete will improve on his personal best everytime he practises or performs. But, that fact that it is easy to get insight made for a mind-numbing pressure to write something as popular or better again later. Eventually it wore off enough that it did not bother me anymore, but I am very aware of the (un)success of most posts. 

Listen to your gut

 

Finally, whenever I had a hunch, or a gut feeling about what direction a posts should go, it was always a good idea to follow that feeling. Some posts just pop up and are then easily and quickly typed. Those occassions are pretty rare though. Most of the time a post required very deliberate construction. So, whenever I do have a gut feeling again, I will allow myself to explore the idea. 

Tomorrow will be the last post in this series. One more night will I spend thinking about what to write and how to write it.  

Complete writers block

Today has been a real struggle to get something on 'paper'. A lot of things had to happen these past few days, nothing in particular but just a lot to get done, including the weekend. And somehow that has filled my brain completely with all kinds of things that require attention. And the more I try to get some headspace to figure out what to write about, the harder it turns out to be.

 

You too have hidden inboxes

 

It is true, you have hidden inboxes that slow you down. It is not a bug, nor is it a feature, it is a nuicance. A normal inbox is bad enough, I have spent several posts on the subject of reducing the amount of stuff in your inbox. But that is specifically for email. There are many more inboxes that you work with online, you may just not have looked at them that way. 

Know when you can see the International Space Station!

Know when you can see the International Space Station!

Earlier this week, IFTTT was mentioned as a way to automate boring or repetitive tasks. Also, readers who have been here before know I am not a big fan of notifications, but today I will move away for once and share some IFTTT recipes that notify you of something very not-boring. 

With the help of Nasa, IFTTT and a notification service, you can dramatically increase your changes of seeing the ISS pass overhead!

GoBag: my first kickstarter pledge

Are you familiar with the term "crowdfunding"? It is a way for people to support a project of some sort by pledging money. This can be anything from a book, stage play, a building, product or service. Kickstarter and IndieGogo are the most well known crowdfunding websites. And products like the Pebble smartwatch, Star Citizen video game, Coolest Cooler were funded using crowdfunding and were wildly succesful in raising money. 

With great interest have I followed several projects on kickstarter before, but never did I actually pledge money. Inevitably, there are stories about projects that were funded succesfully, but never actually delivered anything. That has mostly held me back. Of course, I could just pledge a very small amount of money, say $1, to mitigate risc but that does not get you the product. Just a sticker, or a mention on the website. So, I have never actually pledged any money, until now.

This week I backed the GoBag campaign on Kickstarter just before it closed. It is a well thought-out bag that aims to provide one bag that will enable you to pack everything you need in one bag, and make it as easy as possible to get through airport security.

More than 2400 people backed the campaign and pledged more than $467k (€418k)! Their funding goal was roughly $71k (€63k). So, they have a lot more than they bargained for. I just hope now they will deliver in time. I hope that the fact they raised so much more, means that the estimated time table will remain intact. And, that the extra money, and the many backers providing feedback, will not end in analysis paralysis or feature creep where they try to satisfy  everybody with additional features or design changes.

So far, James Fyfe has provided regular updates on their kickstarter page and is   very active in the comments section. It seems that their intention is to provide feedback during the whole production cycle. 

Nowadays, I do not fly as much as I used to, but whenever I travel, I want to travel as light as possible, but also not make (too many) compromises in what I take with me. But in the years that I did travel/fly a lot, I have been on the lookout for better bags all the time. I want a bag that I can use for years and years. So, it should be durable and practical first and foremost.

My Crumpler Belly rucksack has served me well as a daily driver for the past 8 years or so, but it does not work very well as carry-on luggage or small adventure bag. So, I look forward to using the GoBag as it seems that it is geared towards those topics specifically:

  • The bag looks to be very durable and robust
  • Maximum size within carry-on baggage limit
  • Reusable and removable washbag
  • Vacuum compression inner bag for clothing and other soft gear
  • Full edge zip. Almost every part of the bag is reachable this way, without opening the whole bag

Estimated time for delivery is october 2015. I will post updates on the progress!

 

 

 

 

Necessary + Boring = Automation

Necessary + Boring = Automation

Almost all paperwork is now in digital form. Bankstatements, invoices, receipt, payment slips, insurance papers,  etc are almost all digital now. That is great because it saves dead trees, and it is quicker to send this stuff digitally then by snail mail.But it is still paperwork and hardly anybody enjoys paperwork. but it cannot be prevented and there is a need to keep the stuff around and somewhat organised. Additionally, more digital devices and services mean more upkeep on those as well. Software updates for example.

Necessary + Boring = Automation. So, here are some tips to automate the boring stuff.