I’d been thinking it might happen this time. I didn’t want it to, of course, but when that feeling hits, it can take you down hard. When it hits you for the tenth time, well, that might be it.
This time I even said the words to my teacher. “I’m very discouraged. The truth is… I’m thinking it might be time to quit.”
This was last month. I was a coward and said it to her answering machine, two days after a particularly discouraging violin lesson. I told her I just needed some space, some time, and that I wouldn’t be practicing, or coming to the lesson that fell the day after my birthday. It was my gift to myself. When skipping a lesson and a week of practice is the biggest gift you can give yourself, well, that’s saying something.
I understand the importance of perseverance here. In the past, I’ve managed to work my way out of it. The unwillingness to practice could always be bullied. “Just put in the forty-five minutes, dammit, and then you’re off the hook.” Or the gentler “at least start. Pick up the violin and run the bow across the strings. Routine will take over, and it’ll feel good.” Or the sugar-coated approach of “play something fun, whatever you feel like.” But this time, I resisted them all. Fiercely.
What came around the week of the missed lesson was an eerie, ungrounded feeling. I didn’t want to practice, to go back to that dutiful, hopeless, uninspired place. And yet, I felt so darned sad about it, missing the touch of my pretty violin. It was sinking in what I’d lose if it were permanent, even as the relief was undeniable. There’d been simply too many Friday afternoons when I was too tired and I pushed myself to practice anyway. Or weekend days that I was busy, or out of town, and oh, the guilt, to go both weekend days without practice. The busy school night where parenting challenges (okay, I confess, also the two glasses of wine that followed) stole my practice time slot and I just didn’t care, I didn’t need one more challenge that night, I wanted only to top off my wine glass and sit in a quiet room with zero stimulus. To drop the heavy sense of responsibility to this craft, to say “screw it, no more,” was a true load off my shoulders.
I’d told my violin teacher we could talk in my following lesson, since clearly I wouldn’t have “what I was working on” to present during the lesson. She was understandably alarmed by it all, and called one night. I have a good relationship with her, but like any long-term relationship, it is not without its bumps. Seven years, steady weekly payments from me without fail, and suddenly this enraged me. Jobs give you two weeks off, kids get summers off school. Why no long break for me, the paying student, ever? I was sick of it. It came to me that if I needed to quit to get a month off without paying, well, that was one more reason to quit.
She’s a smart and seasoned teacher; she knew when to listen, when to assure, when to agree. Between that night’s call and the following lesson, we discussed and agreed on new parameters:
- Lesson time reduced by a third, to thirty minutes. Less time for me to feel responsible for filling with pieces I’d worked on (or failed to). Further, if I have to cancel a lesson—another thing I decided I wouldn’t torture myself about—the cost I sacrifice is less.
- I am free to take a month off if I feel I need it, with advance notice and the understanding that she can’t guarantee my preferred time slot upon my return. Fair enough.
- I’ve decided to seek out familiar, beloved classical tunes, like Mendelssohn’s “Nocturne” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Grieg’s Peer Gynt excerpts, Bach’s “Bist du Bei Mir,” among other pieces, all with uncomplicated sheet music accessed free online, to supplement the lesson books we’ve been using. During my practice time, after scales, I work on a piece because I’m enjoying it. If an assigned piece brings me more frustration than pleasure, after a decent effort, out it goes.
- If I miss a day of practice, even two (or, gasp, three), really, it’s okay in the big picture. If practice time averages twenty-five minutes and not the previously requisite forty-five, it's better than nothing. Only ten minutes? Hey. Better than nothing.
- I understand, as a result of all these choices, that I will most likely never “go somewhere” with my violin playing. It may remain a home practice, certainly now, given my various obligations elsewhere. There it is.
I ponder the reality of the final one and there’s a certain poignancy to it as I recognize it might well apply to my writing career as well. A dream of “going somewhere with it” is failing to actualize and, in truth, it’s pretty damned tiring to keep trying. (This is likely a rehash of my last blog, the process of turning fifty and the life introspection it produced: www.violinist.com/blog/Terez). I’ll keep writing, regardless. The need in me is too strong, too innate. But I’m letting go of the pretty dream. Relief mingles with grief, and yet it’s a softer grief than it might have been a year or two before. Paradoxically, it relaxes me, and up springs a renewed desire to “go have fun” with my other art form, playing the violin. It’s easier now, knowing that there’s nothing to lose, nothing at stake.
There is no failure here. That is my new motto, in so many aspects of my life. I show up, I have an honest experience, which means I put my heart into my practice and go with whatever my energy/mood/motivation dictates. Walking away from the violin after fifteen minutes is not failure. Staying an hour to plug away at something challenging and/or rewarding might feel like success that day, but it’s no promise of a repetition of such days, or that it will all propel me to the next level. It just happened to be that day’s honest experience. I imagine when you tally them up, you come up with equal parts good and “meh” days. No planning or theorizing or self-berating is ever going to change that.
How close I came this time to losing my violin practice in the process of discovering all of this. But it didn’t happen, and for that, I am so very grateful.
© 2012 Terez Rose
More entries: September 2012
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