Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Accordion 1, Ukulele 1, Shelly 0

One of the many reasons musicians practice every day, dancers exercise and dance every day, writers write every day, painters paint every day, etc is to install then instill muscle memory, that repetitive process by which we do the things that mean so much to us to the point where we are able to do them without thinking, the point where, even if we feel somewhat sore and stiff at the outset, once we have begun, we are transported into an encompassing sense of correctness.


Practice may not make us better musicians or dancers or writers or painters; we may in fact reach a point of optimal performance beyond which we will never advance. Muscle memory may or may not improve our ability to rise above the mediocre. Nevertheless. We practice so that the next time we do whatever it is we do, there will not be the pain and uncertainty, perhaps even the thoughts that come when we have spent time away from what it is we do.

At one moment in your younger years that you are just getting around to achieving closure with, you had a chum who lived across the street. Somehow, his instrument of choice was the accordion. He could not come forth to play until he practiced an hour a day, which meant you spent some time sitting outside his window, waiting for the hour to be up so that you could sally forth to play baseball or football or whatever outside activity you had planned. After about a year into your friendship, you, who played no instrument and who could not read music, observed to your friend's mother, "You know, don't you, that he's never going to get any better?" It was an incredibly insensitive and rude thing for you to have said. The mother regarded you for a moment, nodded, then said, "By the time he finds that out," she said, "it will be too late for him to quit." Those were junior high school years, and with the exception of a few things you'd learned from your parents and sister, you had rarely heard such wisdom and understanding; the incident made you consciously aware of wanting to discover more such insights.

Thinking is for after, not during. Practice help you avoid the need to think. This is especially true for you as it relates to writing. Thinking may even be helpful before, but not during. But mostly, as the thinking disappears and you become a part of the process, regardless if the process is a short story, a review, or something much longer, the material begins to speak to you and as you lean in to listen to it, on of the few things you can rely upon becomes emboldened and at the same time confident enough to alight on your shoulder for a time.

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