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  • Writer's pictureTonic Dominant

entry 10 - i think maybe fear keeps me from even really trying

brain log begun

13.3.2021 - 16:38

Sometimes I think: "Is this the kind of thing I could offer to the struggle for universal freedom? Well written, calm speeches that don't demand you to change, but inspire you to change? Is that even useful? Or just hollow words?" It's hard to tell; I think maybe fear keeps me from even really trying.

as the time to write this week's entry approached, i thought to myself: 'i should write for one hour, and then stop, and come back the next day to edit and add links and post the entry. that way i'll be really efficient with my time and get to all of the other important things i want to do.'

but right away i doubted the trustworthiness of this thought. it seems like just another attempt to measure my time as either well spent or wasted, which is a thought that continuously crops up in my head and i'm increasingly convinced is not useful for behaving the way i want to behave! it's actually kind of frustrating.

if you have read all – or even most – of these brain log entries, you are witnessing me perform a kind of therapy on myself. i've been keeping a journal (same fucking thing, i just didn't call it a brain log back then) since i was 14 years old; i just went searching for the original journal, but it's not in my current dwelling place, i believe it's on a shelf at my parent's house.

i'm such an organizer of things, i organize as a way to put off finishing – or even beginning – tasks. having noticed this pattern in my thoughts and actions is what makes me suspicious of a thought to organize my time writing this blog; the value of organization feels intuitive to me, and i'm deliberately trying to question everything that feels intuitive, that feels natural, effortless, thoughtless, even. racism can come intuitively, sexism can come naturally, ageism can come effortlessly, all of these ways of accepting and perpetuating inequality are thoughtless.

the first paragraph of this entry was written quite a few weeks ago; i'm actually not sure when because i didn't date it. it's an excerpt from an email – practically a speech, due to its length – that i wrote to other members of the st. martin's chamber choir, an organization i am currently the singer representative for. i hoped to build consensus and bridge understanding with this email, and i think i succeeded. sometimes our discussions about accessibility, diversity, equity, and inclusion (adei) can become tense – suspicion of other's motives arises, fear of saying the wrong thing grows. sometimes i find words that help people interpret what's being said in a new way, sometimes i find less helpful words. i'm fucking full of words.

for whatever reason, i think in grandiose, galactic frameworks a lot of the time: 'if i could just find the right words, i could inspire the world (insert well-meaning but ultimately evil laughter here)!' that seems like bullshit, emptiness that makes me feel good, but not something palpable that could transform how other people behave. and so i'm trying to be more suspicious of this impulse and retrain my focus on what's closer to me: myself, family, comrades, friends, coworkers, students, acquaintances, and at the bottom of this list is where i should place strangers who i sometimes interact with on the internet.

it's not that those strangers aren't worthy of my love and attention, but just as there is a limit to the time of my existence, there is a limit to the well of energy required to administer that love and attention and there are people close to me in my life who need that love and attention! perhaps the real point is that i know how to give desired love and attention in a desirable way to myself, family, comrades, friends, coworkers, students, and acquaintances, but it's less certain how to meet the needs of strangers. that's the justification in my brain at this moment.

that said, i often feel a desire to engage more with strangers, to go looking for places to change people's minds! and i believe that's what could be called performative wokeness. 'look at me, i'm so hip and awake and socially conscious that i spend all of my time on my computer fighting (typing) for freedom instead of hugging my partner!' and that brings me back to the thought of limiting the time spent on this blog to 1 hour.....

the temptation to stray from focusing on behavior and interaction with humans and become completely lost in thought is a very real one for me. just like practicing a musical instrument, more therapy doesn't necessarily mean more function. there's a quality of practice that really focuses on what you need to improve, instead of cycling through the pitches and rhythms that already make sense to you. if i want to have new behaviors, i need new thoughts, so being cautious of how much i repeat myself is valuable.

accepting inequality is thoughtless.... people in my life have called me an over-thinker. being an over-thinker, my natural response is a question: 'can a person over-think? how to determine the optimal amount of thinking?' it's easy to offer this advice, and it has been offered to me during games and singing exercises alike: "you're over-thinking it, tony, try to relax."¹

but the thing i've come to determine is that i cannot simply relax to reach an optimal amount of thinking about the way my body moves while playing piano or singing or chopping vegetables, because if i relax and leave the vacuum of my industrious mind to its own devices, it inevitably and quickly fills back up with thoughts that can leave me even more distracted than before. i actually need to think more about what specifically to think so that i can discard the less useful thoughts, embrace the useful ones, and perform a task without excess tension or second guessing.

for me, over-thinking is a problem of organization. all of the thoughts are spewing forth at once because i haven't taken the time – or put in the thought – to separate the thoughts that will help me flow from the thoughts that will keep me stuck.

fear and over-thinking have lots of overlap. when i am afraid of what reactions an action might produce, i have more thoughts to either make the case for or against the action, and these internal arguments don't usually help me make a decision. this happens to me frequently while lesson planning for a class i'm currently teaching called exploratory music. i was given free reign for the curriculum of this class, which seems like a particular dangerous opportunity for an over-thinker like me; how to CHOOSE?

fortunately, i remembered a lesson i've learned in past teaching experiences: ask the students what they want to learn. i offered some possible directions to go, and the students voted on what we're currently doing: deconstructing student-suggested songs, building parts of those songs in garage band on their ipads, and then creating their own original music using the techniques they've picked up from all this different music.

and yet, the doubts still come! i've recently determined that i need to mix my own suggestions for music in there, or else we'll be stuck studying pop music created by australian musicians for the entire semester. it probably seems obvious to anyone experienced in such things: let a homogenous group of young humans choose music, and you will get a homogenous collection of song writers and genres. but it's what the students want! but who really knows what they want?! what do they need? can i really decide that for them? what if they're bored by this explanation of tonal harmony? what if they can't learn to use music technology because i am only a few steps ahead of them myself? the doubts still come.

and so i am making good on a resolution i settled on a few weeks ago: to memorize the litany against fear, from dune, by frank herbert:

i must not fear. fear is the mind killer. fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. i will face my fear. i will permit it to pass over me and through me. and when it has gone past i will turn the inner eye to see its path. where the fear has gone, there will be nothing. only i will remain.

it sometimes seems silly to use this language when talking about resisting my fear of middle school student reactions, compared to the massive worms, lasguns, and harkonnen trickery that the fremen have to navigate in dune. surely i shouldn't be afraid! but that thought is just like the thought that says i need to relax, or 'don't over think it bro.' those words don't change anything in my mind. my mind needs to change in order to react differently to lesson planning; maybe the litany against fear will help.

ohhhh education. i've actually been teaching in some capacity for 14 years! sometimes people have asked me how long i've been playing piano, and i tell them 'well a high school girlfriend taught me to play take 5 when i was 14 years old in 2004, so now that's 17 years, but i didn't really start practicing and improving until 2015....' and they're like, 'i was just asking a simple question, man.' my twisted ideas of time tell me that if i've been doing something for a long time i should have attained a certain level of quality, and so it can be embarrassing to admit how long it's actually been. i feel this now as i write down that i've been a teacher for 14 years. a thought says: 'you should be better.'

it is notable what 'been a teacher' actually means: at first i was teaching one private voice student and a guitar/piano class at a charter school after school 1 day per week. i eventually started teaching a 45 minute choir class at that same school during the school day 4 days per week, and teaching 4 - 5 voice students every week. later, i taught and wrote musicals with groups of students for 1 day per week for 10 weeks and then never saw them again. i feel confident i learned some sort of teaching technique during all this time, but i'm not confident i've organized those techniques, or made any attempt at improving my teaching technique on my own time.

honestly, i think i've actively resisted calling myself a teacher for these 14 years, always just afraid enough of failure not to invest too much time into my own improvement, but not afraid enough to run away from the gigs. now i am almost 2 years into not only my first full time teaching gig, buy my first full time (40 hr/week) job ever. how fucking lucky am i??? warning: i'm about to complain about my lack of energy for my job when i've only actually been a part of the 'typical' american work life for less than 2 years. ha! 'welcome to the real world, bro,' would be an acceptable response to this privileged rant.

i have a memory of multiple conversations with various friends and family where i confidently stated that 'everybody should teach.' it can help you understand a subject more thoroughly, it gives you an appreciation for the different and equally valid ways in which humans learn new information, and the more diverse teachers are, the more diverse students' knowledge can become. but being in the world of teachers, i now wouldn't wish this profession on anybody. the classic assessment seems to be 'underpaid and overworked.' for me, teaching has not ever started to feel easier, the way that piano playing eventually did – but how much of that is just my own damn fault for not practicing!?!

let's keep the complaining to that one paragraph. i claim to be interested in infinite possibilities, but i don't explore what's possible for me as a teacher. i run from it, afraid that i will waste the effort and come out the other side feeling just as ineffective. but i want to behave as though time cannot be wasted – not because i'm ready to die on the hill shouting 'do whatever you want!' but because when i, personally, label something as a waste of time, it usually prevents me from doing something that i am simply afraid of. if i face that fear, if i allow it to pass through me, and i observe how i am left standing, alone and whole, after it passes, what possibilities will i discover on the other side?

rather than leave you on that potentially hopeful and perhaps ultimately false note of inspiration, here's a little exploration from the world health organization's definition of ageism² that i found quite clarifying and useful:

Like racism and sexism, ageism serves a social and economic purpose: to legitimize and sustain inequalities between groups.

like racism

and sexism

ageism serves a social and economic


to legitimize

and sustain




humans want to justify everything. i want to justify my lack of development as a teacher by claiming the profession is simply unfair, undervalued; i lack passion for it, somebody else should do it, could do it better than me. other confident and nasally voices chime in: capitalism is working really well for me, so it should work really well for everybody. youtube's algorithm suggested this pop music written by another australian musician, so it's probably the best music around.

do we even know what lies beyond these justifications? are we afraid of what lies beyond? if i stopped trying to justify the way i'm currently behaving, i'd be forced to admit i'm just lazy, right? but hold on, that's not necessarily a helpful thought either! keep laziness or wasted time or any of that bullshit out of here – i feel confident it is possible for me to transform myself. it's possible for me to like more things, different things outside of my current life experience. it's possible for me to acknowledge inequality without accepting it.

behavioral transformation status report:

Behavior 1: silently repeating what other people say

Purpose – to improve the quality of my listening; remember more, respond more generatively


  • when i remember to do this, it quells my desire to respond. when i forget to do this, i interrupt people, especially my cousin-in-law/comrade/roommate. this has been a troubling realization, but focusing on this behavior and repeating her words really does help.

  • i'm remembering to do this when listening to the lyrics in music, and podcasts, and when i do remember, it makes a huge difference in how well i remember the song/podcast later in the week. i've been listening to the podcast dissect and their analysis of lemonade by beyoncé, in which there is a guest host for the entire season. i noticed pretty quickly that i zoned out more often when listening to her speak than when listening to the original host who i'm used to from previous seasons.

  • i do think familiarity is part of it, but i also think unconscious racism and sexism is part of it, the guest host is a black female and the original host is a white male. i've been socialized to listen closely when white men speak, and to take the opinions of black women less seriously. i do think that's real, and this is a small example. when i repeat her words in my head as i listen, i don't zone out, and the more i did that, the less frequently i zoned out when listening to her in future episodes. so this technique might have the potential to overcome my unconscious biases, which is exactly what i want. more work to be done.


  • in the last status report i wrote this: "i'd like to notice how my conversation partners feel in their bodies when i am silently repeating their words; this aligns with behavior 2. are they also more relaxed? is there any difference?"

  • i haven't done that at all. it may be taking up all of my focus right now just to remember to repeat people's words at all. i think i want to shelve that refinement until i am actually repeating other's words the majority of the time, which is not a percentage i feel like i've achieved yet.

  • so the current refinement is: do it more! perhaps it needs to be incorporated into a daily meditation.

Behavior 2: limiting words spoken aloud

Purpose – to improve my awareness of what a person's body is communicating to me; improve my awareness of what my own body is communicating to others


  • i'm still doing well with my partner, but what about other people? i have been remembering to look up at my comrades over the dinner table, which feels good – they are often looking down, but i still feel good about remembering to look at their faces.

  • i've been working with choir students on conducting the choir and leading with physical gestures. this is going really well, engaging everyone in the room, and i want to do more of it. it's helping me learn what my body can communicate to them by showing them what they can communicate to each other.


  • int he last status report i wrote this: "i'd like to be even more aware of my breath in different situations. it's so obvious when i meditate, but even now, as i write, i'm realizing i've lost awareness of my breath. what could that do for my posture, my typing, my enjoyment of this process?"

  • i am on the right track here, as i've learned about some new focal points for breathing, and am definitely conscious of my breath while teaching. deepen, deepen, deepen.

transformation is probably always going to seem far away and unrealistic until it is past. just like letting fear pass through me, making me a cold and shivering child until i wake up and realize i still have energy left to share love with every being around me.

dang, i couldn't resist the hopeful end note, so here's one more random thought that was already written in this draft today:

does it help to dismantle capitalism if i treat my own money more casually? there's a thought that donating to every single cause is unsustainable, irrational. in february i gave $5 to black lives matter, $5 to equal justice initiative, $4.20 to how to survive the end of the world, and $5 to mutual aid houston. that's $19.20, a little less than 1% of my monthly income. is this useful/meaningful/meaningfuless/logical/stupid?

that'll be a good focus for next week's entry.

brain log ended

14.3.2021 - 19:02

bonus thoughts:

1: if you've ever said something like this to me, i'm not upset; in fact, i'm grateful! over-thinkers love having more shit to think about. (back)

2: i thought i had written explicitly about ageism in a previous brain log entry, but after some searching, i cannot find that moment. i came across this definition after googling 'ageism,' wanting to confirm that it was indeed something on par with racism and sexism, and i could not have been more satisfied (weird word to use here, i know) by this definition that so succinctly linked 'isms' to their purpose.

if you view life as a game that you need to win, then isms are a fantastic move. it forces your opponent to battle perceptions of themselves that are not factual, and eat up their time with these struggles instead of spending that time accumulating wealth or social status or simply enjoying themselves. if i refuse to even play the game of accumulating wealth, status, or other forms of power, will i be able to enjoy myself? this is perhaps the quintessential spiritual question. (back)

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