This year for the holidays, I received a beautiful gift: a bow.
Not a knot tied with two loops and two loose ends to adorn my hair or embellish a box.
Not a weapon from which I would launch arrows to fend off foes or hunt whilst hungry.
Instead, it was a wooden rod, curved and carved, attached to horsehair, and meant to fill a room with sound once drawn across a set of strings.
I’ve been missing the bow to my violin for years.
I’m fairly certain it left of its own accord, for my skills as a violinist are thus that once revealed, fill any listener with more desire to have me cease, than the encouragement they first offered to have me begin.
I have been surrounded by musicians my whole life. It is not difficult to assess who was capable and who was simply fulfilling the chore affixed to their daily schedule by a parent who insisted that if they wished to see the dawn of the next day, they would accomplish the tasks assigned to them on the present one.
I wasn’t fond of practicing the violin, and I don’t really know what would have happened had I refused to play it. Or if I would purposefully create sound that would have others beseeching I never do so again. I was a rule follower. And more than a modicum of effort was expected to produce results.
I reached the great height of mediocrity and would still to this day firmly quibble with Elfriede Jelinek who stated that The middling level has no terrors, no anxieties. For no matter where I went—and at that time, I was going from stage to stage—I found I was hired on because “yes, you can sing,” but also “we need a violinist too.” Therefore, I was thrust into the limelight where others now shined a blistering focus on those lackluster skills. Terrors and anxieties accompanied me as if we were tethered triplets.
Once departing that domain and birthing two small humans who grew to the level of trust where they could hold an instrument and not simply utilize it as teething relief, I quickly, and astonishingly, discovered what true aptitude looked like. Smart enough to engage industrious tutors, and youthful enough to recall tutorial methods that did not resonate with me, the blueprint to build two true musicians began to take shape. The foundation of this construct required one element I insisted be present, lest the whole edifice collapse: joy.
I think most of us realize that to achieve any measure of competency, it will involve some elbow grease, and therefore, joy can be muffled when engaged in employing said grease. Muffled does not mean silenced. No pillow may be engaged in asphyxiating the necessary joy essential to furthering one’s abilities—no matter how downy soft it may be. Many would agree the joy emerges strengthened and intensified, but usually after great effortful endeavors. Learning that pattern is what’s most difficult.
Now although my skills did not improve greatly as I worked and learned alongside my children, my joy associated with my violin did. I think it was due to living vicariously through many of their advancements. Hearing someone tackle increasingly difficult passages and produce mellifluous sound was phenomenal not simply to experience firsthand, but also to feel the jubilant skipping of my own genes expressing the thrill of a job well done. I would never take credit for my offspring’s’ capabilities, but I take a small amount of satisfaction knowing I did not fully dampen them to the point of being mute.
Today, the two of them are magnificently masterful with their art, and I remain astonished at the heights they’ve achieved.
I also remain tethered to my own averageness and would love to shift the blame onto something as absurd as my personal fear of heights. Some ladders are not meant to be climbed, although I find myself at least brave enough to perch a few rungs above dirt level.
And the view from this spot, although not panoramic, feels purposeful enough to elevate the worthiness of my efforts—the energy put forth to revive latent skills for no one else’s benefit but mine, where a small bloom of satisfaction unfolds as ancient filaments of melodic line burble up to the surface from ink to brain and instrument to air. The fact that they stitched themselves to some part of my essence and found hush-hush housing, emerging when called–albeit dusty and brittle, does not dampen my pursuits. In fact, those efforts are made more profound because someone I love gave me the means to express myself. And although I wish that that which is expressed from those four tightly drawn strands sounded less strained than the method one envisions it required to create the catgut strings, there is still joy.
Joy that someone gave me the gift.
Joy that someone still absurdly believes I have the wherewithal to make use of the gift.
And the joy that on any given day I can simply announce, I am not going to practice today, so there.
From where I stand on the ladder’s rungs of talent, I’d have to say that’s a gift in and of itself and should be wrapped up in a bow.
For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!