I’m afraid, like many people, I have a rather binary, all or nothing mentality.

I was reminded of this recently because a couple weeks ago I threw out my right shoulder. This is my self-diagnosis, and probably not a very accurate one, but it serves the purpose here. To make a not very interesting story short (I slept funny,while being true, is not very interesting), my right shoulder/neck/arm have been in an extended muscle spasm. It’s been very painful and, much to my chagrin, has limited my normal activities considerably.

Unfortunately, the two things that I do most all day, every day—play the piano and type on the computer—were the two things that were the most uncomfortable. This was inconvenient, obviously, and my first instinct was to simply throw in the towel and go back on vacation. Or if returning to the Oregon coast wasn’t possible, then I would settle for a vacation on the couch with an icepack and a stack of books.

Like I said, all or nothing.

This, I’m afraid, sounds an awful lot like the thinking of the seven-year-old kid who breaks his arm and then announces to me with a certain amount of glee, “I can’t play the piano for six weeks!”

He is always quite disappointed when I tell him that a broken arm is no problem. We’ll drill note flashcards or key signature, I say. We’ll practice scales and chords with the healthy hand. We’ll play rhythm games. We’ll sight-read only the treble clef parts if the left hand is broken, or bass clef if the right arm is in a cast. We’ll find music to learn written for just one hand. We’ll review our “Name That Tune” list and do some extra listening assignments. We’ll do long improvisations in lessons and composition assignments written for a single hand. I start telling them about famous pianists who lose the use of one hand and continue to have a career. There is lots of practicing we can do with just one hand! I assure them (with a certain amount of glee).

At this point, the kid’s eyes start to glaze over. Perhaps a broken arm will not be so much fun. This is not turning out to be the Get Out of Jail Free card he had originally thought.

Last week I spent 24 hours lying on the couch with a good book and an icepack, acting much like the seven-year-old with a broken arm (I can’t play the piano for six weeks! Woo-hoo!). Then I decided to start acting like an adult. Specifically, an adult with practice skills and a career in thinking creatively about them.

Once I shifted my mindset to my teacher-self (my better self, I often think), I quickly came up with a dozen productive ways to spend my time. I listened to multiple recordings of the music I needed to learn this summer. I did some research on a handful of teaching pieces. I read several pedagogical journals. I reached out to a few colleagues who had long been on my to-do list. I cleaned out my teaching files and threw away ten years of old papers. I went back to an essay I had been avoiding but that needed attention if I was going to ever submit it for publication. I taught my lessons and did some studio calendaring for next semester. I watered my garden every day. I had lunch with my dad. Matt and I went to two dinner parties and a wedding. I read two novels. I did laundry.

In a summer supposedly devoted to inhabiting the rests, it was a good test to my intention, actually, to move more slowly and deliberately. A little more of this, a little less of that. It’s not black or white, all or nothing.

It’s all practicing.