Scheme H: “Kora Theory”
Published (gregorian) (ornellember)
I don’t know much about musical instruments, but I know even less about string theory, which is what I was going to title this scheme at first. This isn’t even an article about music, or koras, but I love the kora, and I guess this is a good time to plug it (why not.)
The kora is a stringed instrument, usually 21 strings. You can play chords, by holding down multiple strings, but oftentimes you’re playing one string at a time in quick succession - think harp - and creating beautiful, harmonious pieces.
This scheme is about how I’ve been trying to approach life in the last few months. It’s officially the blog post I’ve procrastinated on the longest, and it’s difficult to write, because I’m still figuring it out.
Focus on the harmony, not the individual strings you’re pulling.
Last year, I moved to the Netherlands in order to be more present with my grandma. We’re very close, and she is at an age where it’s important for me to make memories with her while I still can.
In doing so, I took a big pay cut – around 40%, even though I got promoted from associate to mid-level. My employer couldn’t employ me in France, which is where my grandma lives, so I moved to the closest office, which was Amsterdam (even though I’d never even visited before), and got put onto the pay bands for the Amsterdam office.
For the first 6 months, I traveled to my grandma’s house one week per month. It never felt like enough, but we made some great memories. I also traveled to see my other family members a lot. Keep in mind, I don’t have a car, so this is all public transportation (praise the European railway system).
In November, I felt my body start to get… weird. I won’t go into detail, but it was pretty serious, and kind of freaking me out. The Dutch healthcare system is very reluctant to get you to specialists, so I had to do a lot of self-advocacy, while knowing very little about the system, not speaking the language, and also… living alone. Going to appointments alone, and coming home alone. With health problems that had no answers.
In late November, I came home from staying at my parents’ house totally drained. My parents were traveling, so I’d been taking care of my family dog who was recovering for cancer, and helping my sister-in-law plan her wedding. I felt thoroughly neglected. I barely had the energy to sit through meetings.
After much back-and-forth with my sister, who is truly my biggest advocate, I took one week of sick leave, and decided I needed to learn to chill. 3 weeks later, of course, I was in conversations to join a different team at work (to further my career), and was spending Christmas at my grandma’s, having just installed a new floor in the guest room.
But I did chill. For my birthday, instead of visiting or hosting the family that was requesting it, I asked a dear friend to watch Pixie for a long weekend, and treated myself to a mini-trip in Copenhagen. In March, instead of visiting my grandma, I hosted her and my brother at my apartment. I did yoga. I set boundaries. I put a hold on being vegetarian, because being intentional enough about my diet to fulfill all my needs was taking up too much energy. I used Ubers, because it was the most convenient for me. In short, I decided to let go of my responsibilities a little, and also, to do some stuff that made me feel good.
In June, I wasn’t feeling fulfilled enough at work, so I decided to take a sabbatical, and join the Recurse Center (see post). And friend, it’s only last week that I was able to see that I’m a little burnt out.
Recurse is all about being in the moment and taking things one step at a time. You make sure you’re challenging yourself, but also balancing that with enjoyment. And that balance looks different every day. That was an incredible perspective.
Looking back at the last few months, I can see everything’s been a series of balancing acts. I exchanged money for time with my family, and family time for health, and health for career progression, and career progression for enjoyment… but they weren’t total exchanges, it’s just that I kept assessing the harmony of things, and putting effort into what was more needed at any given point.
I don’t think this was consciously a plan, as it was happening, but rather a series of smaller plans. So it is kind of cheating to refer to Kora Theory as a plan. But it is becoming clearer to me that there kind of is a meta-plan: a lot of my smaller plans come together in a sort of harmonious system. So now that I am aware of that, I think my plan is not to sweat consistency much, or expect to be able to maintain specific commitments and routines for long. Rather, I just want things to feel harmonious, overall, and to keep adjusting which strings I pull based on that. It’s fine if that means taking a step back from my career, or eating a little less healthy, or not seeing my grandma for 2 months, as long as things feel, overall, right.
YEESH. This was long! and personal. Thanks so much for reading! I am arriving at my train destination, just on time, and going to go enjoy my day trip!
I just remembered. I was going to share a live performance of my favorite kora song, Lampedusa, by Toumani and Sidiki Diabaté, two of the best-known kora players, who are father and son from one of the oldest kora player lineages in history (over 70 generations.) Sidiki is also kind of a massive pop star. Enjoy!