Setting aside Sunday evenings for a blog update has one unforeseen (but in hindsight obvious) consequence – I may not always be in a blogging mood at the appointed hour. Or more precisely, I may be having feelings and thoughts that are not as pleasant and well-ordered as I would like when it’s time to put e-ink to e-paper. CS geeks recognize this as “event driven” vs. “clock driven” processing.
It’s been an eventful weekend. The bowl I worked on (at the top of this posting) was finished, but not without some hair-raising moments in the final cuts. Just as with one of the last bowls I attempted (using a similar design), I used too much force for what should have been patient light cuts, and the bowl went flying off the lathe into the wall. Instead of shattering into pieces, though, this one only suffered a crack, easily repairable with some CA glue. You can see the entire episode in the frame below (it only lasts 3 or 4 seconds).
I went to a party on Saturday night to give this bowl to a kind gentleman who had given me a trunk load of walnut about six months ago. He was very grateful and thankful, and other party-goers paid some very nice compliments. So that goes in the “win some” column.
At the same party, the host (my sweetie’s uncle) had asked if I’d be interested in playing my guitar, as there’d be other musicians there and I enjoy such informal gatherings, so I said “sure!” As Lyle Lovett once noted in a song: “it was then I knew I had made my first mistake.” I hadn’t been practicing much, and still don’t have anything memorized. No biggie, I thought – the NYE jam was low-key enough.
I’d forgotten that Unkie (as he’s affectionately known) is a bit more, um, structured in his event planning than the NYE crowd. Some of his friends are professional musicians (i.e., they make a living playing, composing, and teaching music), others are very serious amateurs, and these were the other folks he’d invited to play as well. This wasn’t just a bunch of people singing along to Simon & Garfunkel while a couple of us strummed guitar in the background – this was me sitting on a chair with a living room full of expectant audience members. After some very good musicians had already played, some of them singing their own compositions. Very gracious, kind, wonderful people, audience and players alike. That’s what saved this from being an unmitigated disaster.
Instead of sticking with something simple that I’d have a half-way chance of pulling off under pressure, I went with one of my favorite preludes by Villa Lobos (here’s a YouTube video of John Williams playing it). I knew right off the bat I’d have to modify it to skip the fast middle section, and I set the audience up by explaining I was just getting back into playing, and felt like a guitarist with Alzheimers — I’d be going down a familiar path, but all of a sudden would forget where I was or what came next. I managed to struggle through this with fingers shaking – it frankly sounded horrible, but like the dog walking on two legs, the miracle isn’t that he does it well but that he does it at all.
As Lyle Lovett continues “it was then I knew I had made my second mistake.” I decided to try another favorite piece that I had once completely memorized – could play in my sleep: Steve Howe’s Mood for a Day. I got about 35 seconds in and completely fell apart. My left hand just couldn’t remember where the notes were, and my right shoulder was trembling so badly I found myself taking blind stabs at hitting the right strings. So I just stopped, said I was going to have to stop as I clearly couldn’t remember the piece, and bowed out. Again, the audience was very gracious, and the party went on. This goes in the “losing some” column.
Today I had periodic bouts of post-traumatic stress flashbacks to how excruciatingly awful it felt to just blow up, publicly. My friends who are into improvisational theatre tell me that’s an essential part of the practice: to “fail spectacularly” when things go awry. My sweetie (bless her for her support!) told me the Villa Lobos was well received and that I’d made a very graceful exit.
So as I sit reflecting on the weekend, I’m reminded of that central principle of “non attachment” the Buddhists practice. This becomes a profound “easy come, easy go” way of being in the world, not grasping at our “wins” nor regretting our “losses.” I was happy to make Russ happy by making him a bowl I knew he’d like – my ego was for the most part not involved in that. But boy, I wish I had the same detachment over melting down in a musical performance. I’m having trouble letting go of that one just yet. It’s still painful to remember (which is why I hesitated to keep to my “clock driven” blog posting), but I know I need to sit and process that experience.
Some of the lessons learned are basic – I had no business trying to play for an audience unless a piece had been memorized to automaticity, or unless I had a *lot* of public playing experience. As with everything else, practice is critical. It was also a good opportunity to experience the “energy” of a situation. When I used to practice Aikido, one of the points of the practice was to make threatening situations (e.g., someone grabbing your arm or collar) completely ordinary, so that one could learn to be present in the situation and respond accordingly. This was done through sheer repetition – thousands and thousands of grab-counter-throw episodes over a span of years. I realize now I should avail myself of more opportunities to play in groups (there’s a local Meetup group of SF classical guitarists who should fit the bill). I need to feel that adrenaline rush, be able to stop, take a deep breath, readjust my posture (I wasn’t sitting comfortably on Saturday, which didn’t help), even ask the group for help as I feel the panic set in. (It was an uncanny loss of fine-motor control that did me in – it felt like playing a guitar in ski gloves). There’s no way to get better at this than to practice with good guidance and coaching.
Meanwhile, I try to stop beating myself up over this episode. It’s also an excellent opportunity to practice non-attachment and the suffering that accrues from dwelling on the past. My mind knows that’s what I “should” do, but there are some well-worn habits of shame and humiliation that can’t be broken with just a thought. As with all things, practice, practice, practice.