Taking on a Different Project

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops her dog and her new red pcornet bought to practice her embouchure for bugle playing.Sometimes it feels like I’m just treading water, going nowhere. Simply staying afloat. It’s during those times that I tend to take on projects, maybe because I need something to dive into or some material thing to account for my time. Usually these projects have a predictable end upon which they get photographed and planted on Facebook. My newest project is different.

“I want to learn to play the bugle,” I told the guys at Hickey’s Music Store, last week. They put me in a tiny room to spit and blow raspberries into a rental trumpet, until I hyperventilated myself to exhaustion. They sold me a red plastic cornet. Cheaper than renting an instrument, we all understood a stunning bugling career was unlikely.

As a kid, I roller-skated over the cracked basement floor to recordings of John Philip Sousa marches and US military bugle calls. Bugle calls followed me through decades of summer camps, signaling wakeups, bedtimes, and changes in activities. This past winter something got me searching the internet for these calls, bookmarking various sites on my computer so I could play them all hours of the day. And one day, I came up with the notion I should learn to play Taps myself. It was only four tones. Twenty-four notes. Old, puny, and never very musically inclined, I hoped I had enough resolve to learn the four tones.

It’s not like I needed another project. Certainly not one that keeps me holed up in the house with windows shut tight to keep neighbors from hearing the horrible racket. The dog hides behind a wall when I practice. She peeks out at me in disbelief at the only sound I could produce for days, blasts that brought up images of an elephant yowling with bellyache. But yesterday I managed a second sound, somewhat like a foghorn. The dog crouched closer, cocking her head. And today I added a screaming duck call to my repertoire, though I still can’t control which of these noises will spill forth.

For this project there will be no end product to display on Facebook. From the start, I knew I would invest a lot of time and energy just to produce one beautiful solid note. I went into this hoping to be able to play one tune to my own satisfaction. What I didn’t know was that the reward would not be in the tune, but rather in the witnessing of progress in its rawest form. I’m experiencing slow but steady increments of improvement forged by dedicated effort. What a simple strange joy.


What’s your latest project? Why do we take on projects? What brings you simple joy?

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5 thoughts on “Taking on a Different Project

  1. Elaine Mansfield

    I’m deaf, so bugles are out. Whew…. I’m possessed by silent Monarch Butterfly Fever. I have about 40 on my back porch from tiny caterpillars to large caterpillars to chrysalises + 5 eggs. Now is the time to hatch butterflies for fall migration. My obsession ends abruptly when they’re all gone by the end of September. I’ll have to take up knitting again.

  2. Monica Sword

    How fun! You made me laugh out loud imagining your bugle sounds. Many years ago when Lena was just 6 or 7 years old, I enrolled her in Suzuki violin. She hated it. I loved it and was trying to live vicariously through her. So I rented a violin for myself and we played together for a while and even did a “concert in the round” in Mom’s living room during a family holiday. Alas, she still didn’t like the constant practice and we let it go. Thanks for triggering that memory.

    My latest project is creating a soul card deck. It never occurred to me to make one until I heard of a mastermind group that was doing it. The deck is called Bright Soul and I’m just winding up the review stage before making the final version. It will be for sale this fall if all goes well. I’m also learning to paint more intuitively. My logical, linear self has a hard time letting go but I’m making progress.

    Keep on bugling!

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Yow, Monica. I just had to look up ‘soul card,’and that is awesome. I can’t wait to see the ones you’re creating. This thing – painting intuitively – is pretty spectacular. I love the name, Bright Soul. It sounds a lot lighter than the images I saw when I googled ‘soul card.’ I could see how you’d get really excited and engaged in this. The images are so compelling. I wonder if I could do that? “Letting go” isn’t one of my strengths. But I am intrigued by the idea. Must look for your deck in the fall. Cheers!

  3. Lynne Taetzsch

    Robin, I applaud your new project! I also don’t have any musical talent, and at age 70 took up the piano when my granddaughter started lessons. It was great taking them together, even though she surged far ahead of me from the beginning. My accomplishment was to eventually be able to play some simple duets with her–a joyful experience. She’s grown up now and doesn’t need me to take her to lessons (she still plays), and I have retired from playing, but I’m so glad I did it then.

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      I love that idea, Lynne, taking music lessons with a grandchild. If I am ever so lucky as to have a grandchild, I will have to do just that. But meanwhile, I’m still struggling to make a decent sound come out of the plastic cornet. And still looking for a bugle instructor. And still shutting all the windows in the house when I practice. I’m sure I won’t be able to play duets or anything with anyone for years probably. But I’m not giving up. May also have to retire from playing one day. But hopefully I’ll have graduated to playing without offending the dog before I get to the point of retiring.


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