I took up the viola again when E was eight months old. It became my default activity anytime I wasn’t motivated to do anything else. If it was a bad depression day, I’d just play the songs that I knew so well they were automatic. On other days I would work on newer pieces. That process was automatic too, actually: play each phrase on its own, identify the trouble spots, play one slowly at first and increase the tempo gradually, repeat again for muscle memory, next phrase. Practicing viola was easy for me, even when the pieces I was learning were hard.
It sounds like I was using my time productively, and in some ways I was. But to my mind it was just like taking a nap to shut out the world, except that it sounds productive. Day after day I would practice viola until my hands hurt, while my responsibilities—mail, bills, correspondence, scheduling—went undone.
I injured my left arm on Friday, which means that I can’t play viola right now; but I just happened to get some new calligraphy pens this weekend, and it’s turning into my next “avoidance hobby” (for lack of a better term.)
I bought the pens for a specific homeschool project: illuminated manuscripts of the kids’ chosen quotations from Pirkei Avot. I took the pens out to try them before introducing them to the kids; an hour later I was still practicing my Hebrew calligraphy and marveling at how perfect some of the letters looked. One by one the kids joined me and practiced writing Hebrew letters (much more willingly than they would have otherwise.)
Today we were doing some preparation for Passover (this will be the year that my kids can actually read some of the text fluently in Hebrew) which involved copywork. The kids are usually reluctant to do it, but they jumped at the chance to use the calligraphy markers again. I did it alongside them, enjoying the focus and flow that comes to me when I’m creating one letter at a time.
Now I can’t decide whether the calligraphy is meditative enough to call it a mindfulness practice, or just another avoidance strategy? I certainly have plenty to do—mail, cellphone contract re-negotiation, finishing up things for K’s bat mitzvah, adding a sketch to the email I drafted for the landscape designer—but I can’t bring myself to do them right now, whereas I’d happily sit down with the markers and some lined paper for another hour of calligraphy practice.