One of my Christmas cacti is in full bloom. Meanwhile, my lilac bush outside is putting forth new flowers. It is mid-November. Something is not quite right.

I feel equally out-of-sync with the seasons. Recently, I was practicing and gazing randomly outside the window into the courtyard at the birds frolicking in the birdbath. My feet were cold, and I considered stopping to go find a pair of socks. “Soon,” I found myself thinking, “I won’t need socks anymore because it will be getting warmer.”

A full five minutes went by before I realized my mistake, that the next season was not going to be summer, but rather winter. This startled me. Did I miss summer somehow? Funny, because I remember last summer quite clearly. In late May I was hiring a designer to rebuild my website and picking out tile and countertops for a kitchen renovation that happened in late August. In June, a friend came to visit for a week. In July, Matt and I subjected ourselves to the Whole30 diet, depriving our lives of chocolate and wine and pretty much anything good for 30 consecutive days. We spent a long weekend in Durango and Taos. I taught dozens and dozens of piano lessons and swam countless laps. I read stack of books and went to the farmer’s market every Saturday morning. I went hiking and to yoga classes. We sat out in cocktail corner and grilled dinner most every evening. In August, there were 30 consecutive days of family visiting. I do remember the summer.

So what’s the disconnect about? I’m not sure, but I notice that I’m not the only one having trouble reconciling the passing of time. Case in point: I have a senior who is working towards college auditions. December 1 is the early deadline for preliminary audition tapes (although, of course, they aren’t “tapes” anymore). In late May, we finalized repertoire, most of which still needed to be learned, but at that point the timetable was completely reasonable. All the kid needed to do was practice.

The problem was that Jake thought he had “All Fall” to learn this music. “All Fall” sounds like a really long, leisurely amount of time. With “All Fall” at our disposal, anything is possible.

About a month ago, reality set in. Or it might be more correct to say that we had a Come-to-Jesus moment. “So Jake,” I said. “if December 1 is the deadline, when does the recording need to be made?”

“Around Thanksgiving,” he responded.

I nodded. I was pleased the answer wasn’t “November 30.”

“So when do you need to be totally memorized?”

“Uh. Maybe by Halloween?”

So far so good. This isn’t a timeframe that allows any wiggle room, but it’s manageable.

“And so when does the rep need to be totally learned?” This was the crunch, and I knew it. Jake had been thinking he had “All Fall” to learn the Fugue to go with his Bach Prelude and to get the Mozart Sonata up to tempo. Oh yeah, and the big Romantic piece? It was kinda sorta memorized, but wouldn’t hold up under pressure. But hey, no problem, right? We had All Fall.

I could see the blood drain from his face. This is a smart, hard-working kid. The problem wasn’t a lack of practice, the problem was he wasn’t working fast enough to meet the deadline. He was puttering along at 20mph when he needed to be going 60mph. He had been lulled into thinking that All Fall was a very long time. Time enough to stop at all the interesting places along the highway and take photos. Time for a couple of side trips (playing piano in the Albuquerque Youth Symphony program, learning a 4-hand piece for a choir concert). Time enough to not worry if he might spend an entire week analyzing the form of the fugue without ever bothering to practice it. Time to plant a whole forest of trees and watch them grow.

It occurred to me that this was the crux of practicing: it’s all about recognizing and telling the truth to ourselves about where we are in the process today. And then doing it again tomorrow, and again the next day, and the next. It’s about somehow staying totally in the present—this breath, this phrase, this scale—and being able to assess the longer journey at the same time. Because while it would be lovely to simply practice All Fall, the reality is that in this case we have a deadline. A deadline that matters. There is, in fact, an end goal, a finish line, to this particular work.

It’s a tricky place to practice, to find the balance between the short term and the long term. No wonder we find ourselves a bit off kilter from time to time, blooming in the wrong season. But the truth is these contradictory actions are actually quite balancing in much the same way finding two opposing actions on the yoga mat help us find stability and keep us from falling down. From moment to moment, our attention should be all about the present: the Christmas cactus with seven bright red flowers, our cold feet walking across the wooden floors, the white noise of the baseboard heaters clicking on and off. We listen closely to the shape of that string of notes, to the voicing of that progression of chords, to the steadiness of that long phrase of sixteen notes. We take phrases apart, one hand at a time. We practice with the metronome to increase our tempo or to indulge in slo-mo: super slow motion, the massage version of our music. That’s practicing with the up-close lens: it’s one tree, one branch, one leaf at a time.

And then we have to switch lens and assess the forest: Oh yeah, I have to cut down that oak over there and pull up all those random elms sprouting up. Look! the aspens are turning gold right on cue, but the cottonwoods are still green. I’m going to have to double my time on the fugue in order to have it ready in time and test memory spots in the Glinka if it’s going to be really solid.

Practicing with the view on both the leaf and the forest isn’t impossible, it just takes constant flexibility and attention: The Christmas cactus AND the lilac are blooming simultaneously! Oh my! How curious.

It’s November. Summer is far behind us. There are pies to bake and bulbs to plant. Time to put socks on our feet and a pot of soup on the stove. Time to practice.