It’s been a minute since I’ve written one of these updates. I’ve spent these past couple of months slowly building back my mental health, which was poor during the summer. The lowest point was July, when I got Covid. The side effects lingered for weeks: I was short of breath and would break out into sweat over the smallest physical exertion.
Then in August my personal laptop broke, and I sent it back to the retailer for repair. It stayed with them for 44 days (incidentally, the same length of time as a prime ministership these days), and as silly as this sounds, not having my computer for 44 days actually felt really crappy. It made me realize just how dependent I am on this one single object for so much in my life: writing, reading, watching TV shows and YouTube videos, and general dicking around. It isn’t healthy. And it’s something that I need to work on.
On a positive note, I also did some cool things during this time. In July, I started guqin lessons. The guqin is a Chinese instrument with seven strings and more than 3,000 years of history. It’s an instrument that I’d always wanted to learn, but when I lived in DC a couple of years ago and tried to find a teacher, I couldn’t find anyone who was accessible by public transit.
Then, when a friend recovered from cancer, she told me that she’d started learning the saxophone. The fact that she was in recovery and also had two toddlers at home shook me to the core: if she could find the time and motivation to learn something new, then why couldn’t I? I ended up finding a teacher who was based in St. Gallen, all the way on the other side of the country. I took a train and a bus over the course of 4.5 hours to go to her house for the initial lesson, and now we have a virtual lesson every week. It’s now been over 3 months, and I’ve been able to dedicate 30-45 minutes to practicing almost every day.
Learning a new instrument has been life-changing in terms of stretching the neuroplasticity in my brain. I always knew that the guqin would be hard, but I didn’t expect that it would challenge me to constantly process and execute five to six different things at the same time. First there’s the right hand: 1) which string do you pluck? 2) Do you use the index or middle finger? And 3) do you pluck towards you, or flick away from you? Then there’s the left hand: do you 4) use your thumb, index finger, middle finger, or ring finger? 5) Do you stay on one string or do you slide it, and if so, 6) is it left to right or right to left?
Every note is played differently. Reading the sheet music is like doing math in your head. And it’s for that reason that playing the guqin totally takes me out of my anxiety and stray insecure thoughts, because there’s simply no room to accommodate them. I definitely don’t have a natural talent for music, but I enjoy playing. After I practice, I don’t feel tired, but rather re-balanced: as if there was a chair in my head that had tumbled down, but has now been picked up and set upright again.
Two of my favorite guqin pieces to listen to on YouTube are Wo long yin and Chu jian. I should note, though, that these are renditions of contemporary tunes and are not representative of how the instrument is traditionally played. For a more authentic experience with a historical piece that has been passed down through generations, I really like Flowing water. It is incredible how much it sounds like actual water bubbling and gushing in a brook.
Travel-wise, I’ve slowed down since the busy summer. In August, I had brunch on a farm to celebrate Swiss National Day. In September, a friend and I went to Athens, Greece together to celebrate our birthdays. I also went to a small village to see a traditional Swiss cow parade that marks the end of summer. And last weekend, after visiting my teacher in St. Gallen, I continued further east to Liechtenstein, a tiny and delightful country. Now that I finally have my computer back from the shop, I hope to blog about these experiences.
Lastly, a few things lately that have made me happy:
- The weather in Geneva has been remarkably sunny and pleasant this fall.
- I found a Korean hair stylist in the nearby French village of Annemasse and got my hair colored for the first time.
- I’ve moved offices and am now working in a big open space with huge windows and a view of the park outside. No more windowless basement office!
- I bought sunflowers at the open air market.
- I made Taiwanese-inspired red bean buns for the first time, and they were a hit.
It’s the small things!