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Kindles and Guitars

By Siddharth

I’ve come to the realization – as have most people for whom it is the first pandemic – that it is extremely handy to have a hobby to keep yourself entertained within the constricting 4 walls of your house. In my case, however, the problem was not having a hobby; it was having one too many. For the longest time, I have wanted to learn how to play the guitar. Yet, I also tried to follow in the footsteps of John Fish, trying to go through one book per week. But wait, I’m just as eager to improve my skills in chess. And of course, there’s always the New York Times Crossword and sudoku puzzles by ‘Cracking the Cryptic’ on YouTube. Oh, but how will I ever get around to speaking French fluently? Where do I even begin? 

 In this sea of hobbies and fascinations, I found myself confused. What direction should I swim in? The grass always looks greener on the other side (or, in this analogy, I guess the sea looks bluer). This all is, obviously, nothing new. A frequently known phenomena to someone who has worked in marketing, overchoice or choice overload can occur when one is presented with too many choices, all or most of which may seem equally appealing. Making a conscious decision under such circumstances can become infinitely harder than if your choice were restricted to, say, only two courses of action. What if I end up making the wrong choice, pursuing a hobby that may not be as worthwhile? In this haphazard labyrinth, I did what came to me most naturally. I swam everywhere. Mornings got kicked off with the NYT Crossword, and the rest of the day was interlaced with habitually picking up my guitar, sitting at the chessboard, getting through Le Petit Prince, or solving Sudokus. And as the day came to an end, my midnight routine involved a health dose of my trusty Kindle (which is, till date, my most valuable purchase).  

But, this unstructured and whimsical attitude, albeit entertaining, was not really helping me develop any of my hobbies in a meaningful way. It was merely a surface level exploration of all the areas. I was around 3 weeks behind on my readings; my guitar skills were subpar, at best; I was still somehow getting fool’s mated in chess, and so on. But I realized, with an entire year’s worth of activities to look forward to, I could easily split my time between these activities. Instead of trying to get everything done at once, I could quite easily pick up one, or two, work on those first, and then move on to greener pastures (or rather, bluer seas). Therefore, I have decided to put a few things on the backburner for now, focusing primarily on keeping up with my resolution of one book a week, and improving my guitar skills, with a hint of chess every now and then.  

Almost three months into the gap year, it is still difficult to fully appreciate the true freedom that a year off from formal education can provide. It is an exercise in self-exploration and reinvention, and I hope to make the most out of it in the remainder of my time off.  


The Sun Rises on Autumn

By Lukas


As the sun sets on summer and the pace of “normal” life begins to resume, I have found myself constantly in turmoil about the near future, the years of college, and the distant “career” that supposedly comes after all of this. No matter what career my existential daydreaming has chosen, I find my thoughts wrapped in music. My headphones might be playing music from a 15 hour long orchestral playlist, or my hands are laying down my violin in my case before a quick break. No matter the scenario, this truly unique form of art has captured me and will never let go.

Films and music have been areas of study and entertainment and art that have altered the way I approach living. I see this influence, however, as more of a woven fabric rather than an external force. The subtlety of art in my life has evolved into an enhancement of lived experiences rather than a charging bull of change. When I received my diploma from my music school in June, the lack of closure made each goodbye seem superficial and undeserved. Three months later, the fear of losing one of the constants in my life has made its way into my existential daydreams and thoughts. That consistency is one I aim to keep through my gap year in the spring. This summer, I dedicated myself to one piece: the first movement from Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major. Quite literally since I began playing the violin have I listened to this piece. Depending on the interpretation, it can run from 15 to 20 minutes long, and it is truly something to behold. I began in the summer of 2019, but other shorter, more reasonable pieces took its place. Having no commitments this year to present myself in front of my music school’s jury in the winter, I threw myself at the massive 15 page challenge. Not only was this one of the most musically and technically complex pieces I had tackled, but also did I decide to learn it by myself. The precedent I set for myself while learning a piece took control. Memorization would not be forced; rather, I would let daily repetition of complex passages and daily playing of the piece on Spotify or YouTube take control. I have months to go until I see performance even as a possibility, but being able to play the piece through with most of the memorization already having taken place sets me up for a successful polishing.

As my artistic ideas for the spring begin to shape into plans, my fall plans have been cast. I have spent the last month preparing myself for a three month voyage. As part of High Mountain Institute’s Wilderness and Conservation program, I will spend my fall in the vast American West. My trip will take me through Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and Arizona. I begin in Leadville, CO, and through several excursions over the course of the three months, including backpacking, rock climbing, and rafting, I will finish in Phoenix, AZ. My last month has seen an increase in my physical activity, including biking, taking long walks through my neighborhood, or “hiking” in Central Park and through Midtown. I am thrilled to have a change of scenery and continue to learn about the natural world that surrounds us.