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Something New: 2017

I hate New Years resolutions. Let me just begin with that. But after a few encounters with Aaron Carroll's blog, I got a little envious of his 2016 series entitled: "Please help me learn new things." On the surface, this just looks like a New Years resolution on steroids (minus the gym membership). And even worse, it looked like an invitation to develop a brutal reading schedule that I'd never be able to maintain.

That last point is what got me to thinking. And my conclusion is to modify it so that it's not entirely about reading a new book. Good thing since both my Kindle and my newest bookcase at home are both chock full of unread books. This idea was finalized after purchasing a new keyboard (like, the piano kind) for the home music studio. Since I've had zero training on piano, getting some lessons in was a logical first step and a great way to launch this annual project. Also helpful was that it doesn't involve the promise of reading a handful of new books.

But I didn't just want to go in the direction of completely new things to explore. There are a number of subjects that I'd like to re-explore. So I'm admittedly complicating things by having a category of "old" material that I explore while also learning something "new." The hope here is that in the process of working out some new neurons in the brain, I'll see some old topics in a new light at the same time. Given the start of a new legislative session, I'm starting this track by dusting off two texts on Public Administration to set the mood.

The fuller schedule is still being ironed out. I'm expecting the first half of the year to be a challenge since I'll have a few more hours a day eaten up by that previously mentioned legislative session. When in doubt, filling in a month of "old" material by forcing myself to commit something musical to a recorded song is relatively easy.

For now, the short-term schedule looks like this:

New Stuff
January - Learn to play piano
February - Go through an Open Yale Course (currently eyeing Robert Shiller's 2011 Economics course)
March - Read a celebrity bio (current pick: Henry Bushkin's bio of Johnny Carson)

I consider myself under no obligation to be "Van Cliburn-ready" after an entire month of learning piano. Just good enough to add a bit too some home recordings, develop good practice habits, and work on techniques that are currently alien to my more guitar-friendly fingers and brain.

The Open Yale course is primarily video-driven, but I'm open to adding a book to it. To be honest, I've wanted to get a good college text in either economics or science to mow through it and see if I can re-invigorate my study habits from college. Open Yale is essentially me saying "close enough" to that dream.

The Carson bio caught my interest with a few of the reviews about it back in 2013. It's a short read and hardly qualifies as "serious subject matter." But I'm fascinated with it due to the way Carson experienced fame as the lone late night face on TV. That stands in stark contrast to the post-Leno/Letterman era where the market is considerably more fractured. And since I'm of the belief that politics has added a more celebrity-driven attribute, I'm a little curious to see if I find any parallels. In reviewing past reading habits, I think I've found myself reading about one celebrity bio a year (Steve Martin, Dave Mustaine, and Michael Sweet come to mind). At least in this case, I'm not choosing a subject due to being a fan. Then again, Carol Burnett's bio is awfully tempting as a fallback option.

Old Stuff
January - Read up on Public Administration
February - Record a song
March - Complete a Truefire video guitar lesson

I've had two great texts on PA since the 2014 and have barely made a dent in them. It's probably the most boring subject that I'm immensely fascinated by and I feel awful for the two books every time I look at them on my bookshelf. I'm currently in the process of picking and choosing some chapters to focus on.

February's goal is a minor challenge in a few regards. To start with, I haven't really recorded a new song in years. And even then, it was probably more of a snippet of a song. And still ... it was probably improvised during one practice session. And still again, it didn't involve keyboards. So, giving myself a month to create something in a fuller song format, with keyboards, after a lengthy amount of time allowing a basset hound to chip away at time spent with my toys seems like a fair tradeoff.

The Truefire guitar lessons have been a great resource for me since picking guitar back up in 2010. But there was a point where I found myself collecting unused video downloads as if they were book samples for my Kindle. For one month, I think I can focus on one lesson series.

Since birth, we've found ways to develop habits, learn languages, develop expertise in areas and enjoy new sensations for the first time with unparalleled ease. As adults, trying to learn a new language or develop a new skill or learn about a subject matter incredibly outside of our world is a skill that fewer of us maintain.

I think this happens for reasons not involving getting dumber. Instead, we develop patterns of behavior – in both work and play – that shape us neurologically. In my own case, the time deficit for reading longform material has gone on way too long for my liking. I'm not about to get lost in reading research on neurology, but my sense that there is a way that the brain functions when absorbing material for hours at a time versus picking up snippets in 15-second episodes of news scanning, television viewing, conversations, facebook posts, or talking to my dog.

The outputs of this endeavor will be where the blog goes for this year. So expect a bit more subject-matter diversity in the months ahead. I believe that writing here is going to be helpful for the project, so feel free to follow along (or not). In any event, my thanks to Aaron Carroll for the idea. His wrap-up of his 2016 project can be read here. It was decidedly more reading-centric than what I can do, so I'm all kinds of jealous. We'll see how my version goes. I look forward to any and all feedback once things get underway.

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