There are a few things I was blessed to get right early in life. Declaring some habitual personal yardsticks for the rest of my life is one of them. These allow me to keep from fooling myself so bad, and more objectively calibrate where I really am.
- Body health = During my massage training at The Acupressure Institute in Berkeley when I was 21, I was exposed to the “Eight Essential Exercises”. These are a series of Tai Chi warm up movements that are said to stimulate all the right meridians in all the right ways. I’d done Tai Chi before this, and Aikido, so they were familiar. Now I’ve done these exercises more days than not ever since. They are how I calibrate my body nearly every day, and help me notice how my body has changed over time and the true current state of my health — separate from whatever I may think it should be.
- Vocal health = My Dad played “Moody’s Mood for Love” for me on vinyl when I was 16 and thinking of joining Jazz Choir. Recorded in 1949 by King Pleasure and transcribed/lyricized by Eddie Jefferson some time before, it has been called The First Vocalese Song ever. I’ve since been told that’s not true, but at the time I believed it and learned it. It was hard. It’s a lotta words, a lotta notes, and requires a lotta range (especially to sing both parts of the duet, as I do). Before most every concert or recording I’ve ever done, this is my warm-up. I recorded it on my first solo album. Singing this song is what tells me where the edges of my voice are, and the available power beneath my breath. Stuff like this changes constantly, and this song has helped me hear it so I can use what I have well.
- Mental health = I taught myself a new way of writing so I could take notes faster when I was about 15. People tell me it is very small and blocky and difficult to read, but I can almost always read it myself later. I started writing in those fancy Moleskine journal notebooks around the same time, and over the years I’ve filled about a hundred of them with my writing and scribbles. Sometimes it’s personal reflections, sometimes song lyrics, but mostly it’s lists and me sketching stuff up to try and figure things out. I can literally see the quality of my thinking by looking at the quality & quantity of pages I’ve filled over time. Writing has always been a calibrating activity for me, that and music help me make sense of a senseless world.
What do you use to calibrate how you are feeling, thinking, doing? I’d love to know, so comment below :)