Monday, April 2, 2012

The Best Intentions

I come from, more or less, a musical family. My three sisters and I play the piano (with varying degrees of efficiency, true); we all play another instrument, as well. My parents, in their new home, have a "music room," which houses a piano, organ and dulcimer, as well as the old sheet music I take out every now and then: Thriller; Sunrise, Sunset; What's it all about, Alfie?

My high school yearbook trumpets my accomplishments: Four years of concert band, three years of grad band, four years of pep band, four years of handbell choir, four years of singing in the Winter Music Ensemble. You would have thought I was destined to be a musician.

And yet, and yet.

I harbored a deep suspicion for most of my childhood that I was really not good at music. That in fact, if my piano teacher hadn't needed my parents' $20 an hour, she would have cut me off after a single lesson.This belief was bolstered by the fact that my sisters seemed to have talent; the best any music teacher could say of me was that I had an excellent work ethic. My band teacher told the story -- may still be telling the story -- of how I lugged my massive alto clarinet case to and from school on the bus every day as proof that a little bit of effort goes a long way. But he never complimented my sense of timing or my tone.

This had much to do with the fact that while I took my instrument home each day, I rarely opened the case. I had such good intentions! And, secretly, a poor work ethic.

When I think back on it (which is almost never, except, for some reason, it is today), I think I understand why I eventually stopped being a musician and started being someone else. I was a great dabbler; I loved to page through my piano books and try out the top hand of something by Bela Bartok, and then start in on Stevie Wonder's "Part-Time Lover." I really didn't care about learning to mastery. In addition to my too-long fingernails, this drove my piano teacher insane.

"Again," she'd say, and then, "Again." And then, suspiciously, "How many times did you say you practiced this piece?"

I always felt horribly guilty at these accusations. I was wasting my time, I was wasting my teacher's time, I was, worst of all, wasting my parents' money. For a day I would stick to the pieces I was supposed to practice, the Minuets and Odes and Sonatas, and then I would grow restless and instead pick my way through "Wind Beneath My Wings"or the theme song from "M*A*S*H".

It was the same way with my music classes at school. My teacher, for unknown reasons, was obsessed with campfire songs. I must have sung a million times this nonsensical string of syllables:

Sarasponda, sarasponda, sarasponda ret set set.
Sarasponda, sarasponda, sarasponda ret set set.
A doray-oh, a doray boomday-oh.
A doray boomday ret set set, ah say pa say oh.

From there it was "Greensleeves" or "I've Got Spurs That Jingle Jangle Jingle..." -- words that have left indelible impressions on my life, no doubt. In the car, in the shower, I sang whatever was on the radio, trying out different keys, imagining I had the range of a Mariah Carey.

And in my bitter seventeen-year-old heart, I thought, So what if I am untalented and undisciplined?

* * *

I'm feeling the same sort of restlessness right now, working on a revision of my novel. It's hard for me to stay on the page -- it's fiercely tempting to scoot away from the document for a few minutes to ogle shoes I'll never buy or play a 57-pointer in Words with Friends. Today I opened a new Word document and just wrote and wrote. It felt fantastic. It also felt like infidelity.

If there's ever been anything that I have to do "to mastery" -- it's this book, and in my cheating heart I know it. It's not enough for me to carry my laptop around, to open it at random moments, to type loudly and importantly. I've got to put my nose to the grindstone and the pedal to the metal, and no doubt a host of other cliches. And I will. I absolutely know I will.

Right after this game of solitaire.

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