I always miss East-Coast-style fall here in LA. I even bought some liquid amber branches with some fall color on them at Trader Joe’s the other day. They were for Melissa, but were they really?
But I am grateful that in LA you can still plant a fall garden, so hopefully there will be some good veggies to harvest by Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’m looking forward to the parsnips most of all.
Many of you know I’ve been studying opera and classical singing again. It is not for the faint of heart. It’s unearthed all kinds of gaps in my technique and pushed my nose directly into some very uncomfortable emotional/spiritual places. In other words, it’s a blast.
…Okay side note. I just went out to our little laundry shed to check the clothes in the dryer, and I saw a hummingbird just sitting on a branch. I’ve never seen one sitting still. It chirped a few times and flew away. I just thought that was really cool. Hummingbirds are incredible…
Okay, practicing. Why do we avoid it? Why is practice time the best time to check Facebook, text your mom, or dust the light bulbs?
I don’t think it’s because of the fear of failure. Most of us who are performers have failed plenty, and we didn’t die, and we’re fine. This is my theory. I think we avoid practicing because we know if we practice consistently, we’ll get really good at what we do, and then what are we going to do with that?
All kinds of heartbreaking possibilities come into play then. We could get really skillful at our art form and then never get the opportunities we think we want.
Or we might get the opportunities, and we realize that we’re too scared to accept them. Our skill brings a level of responsibility that deep down we wonder if we can handle. It’s like the lottery winner who squanders all their winnings because inside they don’t think they deserve the money.
Here’s the big revelation. We don’t deserve any of it. Who among us made ourselves happen? We can’t make ourselves breathe. We can’t make our hearts beat. We can’t make our vocal chords phonate. We are downloaded with the most intricate and miraculous systems when we arrive on this planet. My wife is a biologist. She could tell you about it all day long. It’s mind-blowing, the universes that exist inside us on just a micro level.
So all of this is to say that any talent we have is truly a gift. We didn’t do anything to earn it or create it. But somehow we get into our heads that we are not worthy of it, or that we don’t deserve it. Here’s the truth. It doesn’t matter whether we deserve it or not. It’s been given to us. So what now?
We practice, and we make our skill beautiful and strong and precise.
Then we get to give this skill to others who, guess what, probably don’t deserve to receive it either. It’s a gift we get to pay forward. See how it works? It’s all a lot of grace and undeserved goodness.
A couple of weeks ago I was at my lesson, and as I was singing an exercise, everything lined up. The space, support, relaxation, focus, and a really beautiful feeling/sound came through me.
My teacher Renee stopped playing at the piano, looked up at me, and said…”Shit.” Then I started to cry. As the tears leaked out of my eyes, I knew why I was crying. I had been making it harder than it was, saying no to it.
I couldn’t just let it be easy and joyful, I had to worry it and work it. It’s the other side of the pride/ego coin. One side is stamped “grandiosity,” the other side says “self-flagellation.” And pride-ego careens us from one ditch to the other. The narrow, solid road in between the two is humility to receive the undeserved gifts. It’s an active acceptance, a decision to open our hands and receive something precious and un-earnable.
Think about it, though. If you let it be easy and joyful, you stop taking yourself so damn seriously, and something really beautiful gets to come through you. Then what does that mean for your audience?
And this is something we can practice every day. Just the ability to sing a scale is a gift. Because we can’t see an immediate outcome, we avoid it. It doesn’t look fruitful to us. Especially if you live in LA, we’re surrounded by a culture that is entitled and demands results without any investment.
So there is the paradox, right? We are given a gift we don’t deserve, and so we’re entrusted with that to make something beautiful out of it. And even the ability to work on it is grace. It’s a road that requires us to look at ourselves, feel afraid and do it anyway, and then do it again. And I don’t know of a more rewarding road to take.
So I’m encouraging you all. That thing you have been given, that talent: practice it. Commit to it. Be willing to do it even if your heart gets broken in the process. Take the hit. It’ll be broken open and then you’ll have more to share.
That’s the thing about our creative gifts. I can’t think of a more perfect means to redeem the crap that happens and turn it into gold…a song, a play, a poem, a painting, a sculpture, a film. We know the ones that have touched our lives. Let one come from you and touch someone else’s.