Here’s what I’ve been reading in between deadlines:
– The exquisite Canadienne serves up some dark thoughts on a subject of interest to us all:
I’ve always known I am a perfectionist. What I have come to realize, as of late, is that there is one huge problem with being this way: the perfectionist, when judging himself/herself by this standard, is doomed to eternal failure. After a while, there’s no joy in doing anything when you consistently fail to live up to an unattainable standard. Right now, in my singing, I am a living breathing wreck of a mess, because I cannot attain anything even close to perfection in my current role….
I don’t know how to stop damning myself to eternal failure by being a perfectionist. All I know right now is that I am driving myself crazy with it. I fully realize, objectively, that while performing in this production with this conductor, I will never reach anything even closely resembling my own vision of perfection–nor the conductor’s, nor the director’s. Regardless, I don’t know how to allow myself to strive for anything less. and therein lies my problem. As I write this, I’m remembering Warren Jones in a master class saying “Be excellent. If you try to be perfect, you’ll fail. You will succeed at striving for excellence.” Maybe that’s a better goal. Right now, I don’t even feel like even excellence is attainable. The closest I’ve gotten so far is “o.k.”…
As today’s almanac entry suggests, it is the fate of most serious artists to bear this cross, though a few are fortunate enough to be graced with the unselfconsciousness that is God’s gentlest gift to the gifted. In my case the curse comes and goes (not that I’m any kind of artist, but at least I can imagine what being one would feel like). Sometimes my wheels start spinning, and the next thing I know, I’ve frittered away pointless hours trying without success to trim a recalcitrant sentence to its ultimate essence.
The good news is that we always get a second chance–not to perfect yesterday’s flawed performance, but to do it better tomorrow. Remember the scene in Ron Shelton’s Bull Durham in which Tim Robbins, returning to the dugout after having pitched a great inning, is told by Kevin Costner not to get smug about it?
ROBBINS: I was great, eh?
COSTNER: Your fastball was up and your curveball was hanging–in the Show they woulda ripped you.
ROBBINS: Can’t you let me enjoy the moment?
COSTNER: The moment’s over.
Yes, that’s a pointed little sermon about the importance of perfectionism, but it’s a coin with two sides: do your best, learn from your mistakes, then move on. Good, bad, or both, the past is past.
– All of which puts me in mind of a recent posting by Brenda Coulter:
Sure, we all want to be published. But if you knew you’d never be published, would you keep writing? Don’t worry–there’s no wrong answer to that question. But if your answer is that you’d keep writing, then it’s you I’m hoping to encourage when I say don’t get bogged down in studying the rules [of writing]. They will not ensure publication. In fact, if you allow them to leech the joy from your writing, I believe you’ll find the rules will effectively prevent publication.
I think there’s something to this, and I also think that blogging has had the effect of liberating thousands of talented amateur writers whose particular gifts may not necessarily fit neatly into the pigeonholes of professional publication. Just because you aren’t comfortable writing oped columns or magazine essays doesn’t mean you don’t have anything valuable to say. How wonderful, then, that the blogosphere allows us to say what we want in the way that best suits us….
– Speaking of the artist’s life, here’s another eye-opening dispatch from the road by Mr. Think Denk:
As if the glamour of a touring pianist’s life needed any further confirmation or evidence, I am now blogging from a Denny’s in Lubbock, Texas. Outside, Lubbock’s wide, dusty Ave. Q bakes in seemingly endless sunshine, while inside, and particularly backstage at the concert hall, one freezes in extreme air-conditioning. I just left the piano technician safely behind in the chilly hall, a friendly man with a gentle west Texas drawl, and asked him to remove some of the metallic quality from the upper octaves–though I have to admit that asking any technician to do anything to a piano fills me with fear, with second thoughts and self-remonstrances…the devil I know so often seems preferable to the devil I don’t. I will have to drown these unnecessary, futile fears in spicy chicken and fries.
Anyone could imagine that after weeks and weeks of just Bach, leaping into the Tchaikovsky piano concerto could be a shock…perhaps only paralleled by the cultural sea-change of leaving Manhattan for Lubbock. As I sat on the floor in the Lubbock baggage claim, awaiting my giant gray bag, beneath an advertisement for irrigation pumps, my face made wan by the inevitable banks of fluorescent light, I charged my phone at a lone necessary socket….
Oh, man, have I ever been there.
– No less illuminating (to stick with today’s Mostly Music theme) is this meditation by my favorite blogger:
As a pianist, I am perhaps highly sensitized to the physical manifestation of sound, since the sounds I produce seem held at quite a distance from my body. Once, in the middle of a lesson, a piano teacher picked up a pencil and tapped the eraser from key to key. She said, “I can play this Bach with a pencil. Now you tell me, what’s the difference between you–your fingers–and a pencil? Why should I listen to you when I can listen to a pencil?” (That was one of those go-home-and-sob-for-hours lessons.) There are two camps of musicians: those who use the breath and those who touch. (Those who play laptop or any stringed instrument are, I think, in the latter camp with us pianists and percussionists.) What we all have in common is how we use our ears. Lately, I find my ear straining to find ways to embody the music, to flow with the breath, to…be more like a singer.
This reminds me that one of the things I loved most about playing bass was the sheer physicality of wrestling with an instrument as big as I was, wrapping my arms around it and trying to coax it into doing my bidding, gradually realizing that it, too, was a living thing to which I had to be reciprocally responsive. Not unlike, er…well, you know what I mean.
– Enough music already. Here’s a rhapsody (I’m being metaphorical!) on the subject of my least favorite punctuation mark…
– …and a list of “all the art blogs in the known universe.” By “art blog,” the compiler means “visual art blog,” but it’s still a very interesting list, one with which I plan to spend quite a bit of time the next time I have quite a bit of time to spend.
– Finally, if you’ve ever suspected that the shuffle-play key on your iPod wasn’t really serving up random strings of tracks…well, I hesitate to say it, but perhaps you’d better go here and feed your paranoia. Just don’t send me your therapy bills!