Thursday, March 29, 2007

Career possibilities at New Dream: getting the ball rolling

I've mentioned previously that I'm interested in working for the Center for a New American Dream. Recently, my friend S., who knows someone there, passed the word along to them about my interest. I wasn't expecting to start working on this goal so soon, but I'm grateful to S. for mentioning it to them and getting the ball rolling - it's just the kick in the pants that I needed to prevent me from procrastinating. I followed up with a couple of emails to New Dream staffers, and now I have a phone appointment to talk with one of them next week about their current hiring situation!

Taking a year off: how are we able to afford it?

When talking to people about my plan to take a year off, some of them exhibited inklings of curiosity about how we were able to afford it. Someone even asked if I had a "sugar-daddy" who was bankrolling the whole endeavor. (After hearing that, I've taken to calling my spouse "Sugar-Daddy" and I laugh and he just rolls his eyes.) In a nutshell, here's why we were able to financially prepare for it. I'm definitely not saying that this works for everyone, I'm just describing our own situation.
  1. We are both fortunate enough to have had well-paying jobs for the past several years.
  2. We don't have kids.
  3. We paid off our debts (student loans, car loans, no credit card or mortgage debt though).
  4. We both have low-maintenance, money-saving financial personalities, and the things we enjoy doing for fun are not that expensive.

Again, it's not a magic formula, nor is it a model that everyone can or should emulate, it's just an explanation of our own situation. I think that the combination of the four factors is significant - if any one were missing, that might blow the deal.

Consequently, we got to a point where we can get by comfortably from a cash flow perspective on either one of our incomes, especially if it's just for a limited time period, e.g. one year. (So I guess I do have a sugar-daddy! But I hope to be my spouse's "sugar-mommy" in the future when he takes a year off to do his own thing.) And, we were able to build up enough of a savings cushion to stay afloat for more than a year even if both of us lost our jobs. After making that assessment of our financial picture, I felt comfortable with leaving the working world temporarily to pursue some other interests.

About #4, our lifestyle is low-key compared to some people that we know, but not everyone. We rent a 2-BR apartment and drive 10-year-old economy cars. For fun, we like to hike, ride our bikes, attend concerts, read, learn new things, sing and play music, stargaze, go out to eat, do volunteer work, and spend time with friends and family. We can do many of these things with little to no cash outlay, especially since we're not equipment junkies with respect to our hobbies. (Probably the restaurants and concerts account for most of the cost, plus we pay dues for the performing arts and astronomy organizations.) Now there are lots of other ways to blow discretionary income in this valley, but the spouse and I don't get too excited about most of them!

Also, I know some people in the area who live significantly more streamlined lifestyles than we do, essentially for the same reason: to maximize the flexibility of how they can spend their current or future time, so they can use it for pursuits (paid or unpaid) that are worthwhile to them - without having to win the lottery!

About #2, I can see how having a family makes it tough to cut loose. I've talked to people who wanted to do something similar, but haven't figured out to swing it financially while raising children. Although I'm pretty impressed with how some of them come up with creative financial arrangements to have a one-income family and still provide their kids with lots of opportunities and/or a stay-at-home parent to spend time with them.

Progress on goals: a little here, a little there

I'm updating some of the to-do stuff at right.

I'm done fiddling with 43 Things for now, so crossing that off. I did add one of their widgets to the bottom of this blog.

I haven't spent as much time on the Messiah movements as I wanted to, been too busy learning the music for my regular choir, gotta get cracking on Messiah today. I still have a few days to cram!

I've been procrastinating on this, but it's time to buy a laptop, so I'm bumping that to the head of the list. I'd like to consult these websites before making the purchase:, Conscious Consumer: Buy Cleaner Computers Now, and A Better Upgrade, Not a Faster Throw-Away (thanks B.! I remember getting the last link from you long ago.)

I did some stuff related to the Music Curriculum for Self-Study, namely: went to the library and checked out some recordings of Stravinsky and John Corigliano, as well as books on conducting (general and choral) and choral music performance practice. I'm not yet ready to delve into these subjects in detail; I'm just perusing them to satisfy my curiosity for now. I don't have any pretensions to becoming a conductor; I just want to understand in more detail how a conductor does what s/he does. Also, I think that if I can understand the music at the same level that a conductor does, and see the music through a conductor's eyes, I would be a better musician/performer for it. (Note to self: check out the Practica Musica software for music theory and ear training; that's what they have at the Stanford music library.)

This isn't on my to-do list at right, it's more of a general life goal, but one thing I would like to have more time for is nurturing relationships with family and friends. On that front, I met some friends who are former co-workers for a leisurely and highly-enjoyable lunch last Friday. We all used to work at the same company and I was the last one to depart the company, so now we are all alums! Note to self: at lunch, D. suggested that I get in touch with K. W. about his his volunteer work setting up a database during his sabbatical - it might be up my alley in terms of things I'd like to do for future work.

Survived my first voice lesson

Just had my first voice lesson after a nine-year interlude! I studied privately for one summer in college, but did not pick it up again until now. Years ago, I wrote down “Start taking voice lessons” as something I would like to do before turning 30. I made it with a couple of months to spare!

My teacher was friendly and supportive. He would like me to adjust my tone production to be more “forward”/”present”/speech-like, while not over-expending breath, and gave me some vocalises to work on it. Next lesson is in two weeks; I’m to prepare “Lasciatemi morire” from the 24 Italian Songs and Arias book, and I think I may work on “Quia respexit” from the Bach Magnificat for bonus points.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

43 Things: Good idea, but some frustrating aspects

I just spent some time fiddling around with 43 Things, a website where people list, share, and track progress toward their goals. My original idea was to post my life goals there (!), but after playing with it for a while, I realized that there are two ways people seem to use it, which don't necessarily mesh together all that well:
  1. Create a to-do list where you state exactly what your goals are, in your own words. Or,
  2. Search for a goal that is somewhat similar to yours, add it to your list, and thereby connect with a community of other 43 Things users who are attempting to achieve that goal (or have already done so).

There is power in choosing the language you use to express your goals to yourself and to others (#1), but there is also power in numbers and in having a support network of people who want to achieve the same thing (#2). I couldn't find a good way on 43 Things to marry the two, and I don't think tagging is adequate for this purpose, either. Right now, #2 is a higher priority for me, so I'll use 43 Things only for the goals of mine that have a critical mass in the website's user population. The master list of life goals will just have to be committed to paper for now, unless I find some other inspiring online medium for posting it.

I also observed that some goals on 43 Things are short-term to-do list types of items, while others are longer-term overarching kinds of goals. It would be nice if they had a way to group together smaller tasks under a larger overall goal. Hey, maybe they need a whole project planning interface, complete with Gantt charts, milestones, and Excel spreadsheets...oh, wait a second, that's why I left the corporate world, to take a break from that kind of stuff :-)

News on a related front: I bumped up some items on my To Do list at right that I'm starting to work on.

Starting in on Handel's Messiah again

I’m participating in the Messiah Sing at West Valley Presbyterian this year on April 1. What makes this event unique from similar local events is 1) it takes place around Easter instead of Christmas, and 2) they do the entire 2.5-hour work, not just the popular excerpts.

I like doing these Messiah sings because the piece is fun but also highly challenging. Last Christmas, I did a whole Messiah Sing-Along Tour with three events, it was pretty insane.

I just spent Sunday afternoon listening to the movements that I don’t know. Fortunately, due to the craziness last Christmas, I realized that there aren’t that many of them. I just need to get some of the choral and solo movements from Part 2 under my belt, brush off and review the other movements that I did last year, and then put a little time into the technical stuff (i.e. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion”). That’s the plan!

Got my first voice lesson scheduled

Next Tuesday at noon. Yay!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Serendipity: when the universe affirms you

Sometimes events happen in life that are like signposts from the universe, making the way clearer, and giving you a portentious feeling that things are starting to come together. A recent example in my own life was being invited to perform solos in the last couple of choir concerts that we did. It came completely out of the blue, and was my first chance to do so in the seven years I've been performing with that ensemble. I was especially pleased and surprised to have this opportunity because 1) for the past couple of seasons, the conductor has been assigning solos rather than having open auditions, and 2) I wouldn't consider myself one of the "teacher's pets" in that group (and I don't mean that pejoratively, I just mean the A-list singers in our ensemble). I was particularly grateful to be invited back for a second time this season, since it must mean that I didn't completely botch the first time! The whole experience felt like the universe was giving me another nudge to go and take voice lessons, something I did briefly in college and have wanted to do again for many years since then.

And yet another nudge: last night we rehearsed "Frostiana", Randall Thompson's choral setting of poems by Robert Frost, including "The Road Not Taken":

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Music Curriculum for Self-Study

This is my proposed music curriculum for self-study*:

  • Choir
  • Private lessons
  • IPA
  • Languages: French, German, Italian
  • Vocal literature
  • Sight-singing
  • Schools of singing technique
  • General keyboard skills/exercises
  • Jazz/improvisation
  • Sight-reading
Composition and Theory
  • Harmony
  • Conducting
  • Orchestration
  • Jazz
  • Ear training
Music History
  • Composers
  • Performance practice
  • World music
  • Jazz
  • Great classical singers
The Do-It-Yourself Music Degree (an idea I've been toying with): Find out what a college music curriculum is comprised of, and then do all of the same reading and study, but on a self-directed basis. (maybe later...)

*Disclaimer: This is too much to cover in one year, maybe even in one lifetime, especially for someone who does not aspire to be a professional musician. But this list will provide me some guidance whenever I ask myself, "What should I try next?"

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Piano instruction books - got 'em (serendipitously)

I was going to post on Freecycle to see if I could score some free books for learning to play the piano. But while in downtown Mountain View last night, somehow I got sucked into BookBuyers, my favorite local used bookstore. They actually have a decent selection of basic piano method books. I picked out three books and was going to break down and buy them, when I realized that I might still have some store trade credit left. Turns out I did, so I didn't have to shell out any cash. So that worked out nicely.

Note to self: BookBuyers also had a few interesting texts on sight-singing, ear-training, and music theory. I'll try the library first, though.

I just fired off an email to my choir conductor Greg Wait to see if he's taking new students for private voice study, will see what he says.

Positive responses from New Dream

I've mentioned in conversations with friends that I have a strong interest in working for the Center for a New American Dream, once my year is up. I'm in touch with several of the staff members there, and I keep them apprised of my activism and volunteer work via email. I'm enthused when I get positive responses from them like the ones below. I hope they stand me in good stead when I come knocking on their door to ask for a job!

One staffer says:

"I was really bowled over by how involved you are with so many great organizations and how much you give of yourself to help whenever you can. You are a real inspiration. Just your enthusiasm alone could power this office--and we are an office with a lot of enthusiasm.

I'm personally touched, too. Your commitment keeps me motivated and gives me faith at times when I begin to doubt the human race. Thank you for being so dedicated and so cool."

Another says:

"I was reading over your e-mail reflecting on 2006-2007, and thinking what an eloquent and inspiring summary it was of multiple ways in which members and supporters engage with the New Dream community."

Yet another says:

"I knew that you were one of our top activists, but I had no idea that you were approaching missionary status! I am awed by your commitment."

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Words of encouragement and advice

When I told my family, friends, and colleagues that I was taking a year off and explained why, I was surprised and warmed by the number of people who responded positively and even offered their congratulations. I actually expected more people to think it was weird, since it is a somewhat unconventional thing for people in my social circle/peer group to do. I'm glad I was wrong.

Supportive words from a very close friend:

"Wow! That's a big career move, but you know, do it now and it is very good to have a very supportive spouse! ...

I can see you in the non-profit sector, though that's not necessarily less work or less stressful. When you get in the funding side of it, there's a whole political aspect that you might not otherwise expect, this goes for all non-profits...

It comes down to finding the right employer, I think...

Now is the time for you to try different things, mistake or not. You won't know till you try it. Heck, we did, failed, but are slowly bouncing back. Yes, now's the time to try, while there aren't any kids to worry about and deal with. Remember, kudos for trying!"

Steps I've taken so far

The countdown is well underway - I've given notice to my employer, and my last day at the office will be Friday, March 16.

Things I've done so far to make progress toward my goals:
  • Bought a digital piano on Craigslist and picked it up yesterday. I even practiced some scales and read through some music!
  • Started this blog
Things I want to do soon:
  • Ask my choir conductor if he will accept me as a student for private voice lessons, or if he can refer me to other good voice teachers who are accepting new students
  • Make a list of my life goals over at 43 Things and link it here
  • Also, make a list of some shorter-term things I'd like to do during the coming year
  • ...and yet, not let the to-do lists get out of hand - I have a nasty habit of overcommitting myself and biting off more than I can chew!
  • Type up my planned music curriculum for self-study
  • Post on Freecycle to request some beginner/intermediate-level piano instruction books