21 August 2004

Trying to talk myself down

Have you ever tried practicing piano with the television on? Or with someone watching? Doing your scales and arpeggios and velocity exercises, and then repeating a phrase over and over, screwing it up, then repeating more slowly and again. You try to focus and get in your head--or outside your head, whichever--so that it's just the music. You work through the longer, difficult sections in one pass, hoping that when you get to that last phrase you don't think too much about it and psych yourself out. It's a balance of thinking (about the music) and not thinking (about you playing the music). Or something like that. And then something breaks your concentration.

I don't know how people with children get anything done.

About a month ago, I gave up. This is a weird, self-absorbed sort of thing, and a weird thing to deal with, and one I'm not dealing with very well. My crappy job at some crappy hypothetical company probably isn't helping the mood.

When I did The Journalist, I found what I wanted to do. I had always worked without great focus through the years on one project or another. I would paint for a few months but struggle and not continue. Then I'd write some songs but they'd be scattered and directionless. Since college, I started a comic book about ancient Greece, wrote a short novel, sold a couple of paintings, and tried to find whatever it was that reallyreally got to me. Having a skill doesn't mean you know what to do with it. The responsibility is to keep trying.

Then unemployment hit and I had to try one of those Big Things that I'd always planned to do. The short list was to either complete a comic book or write a rock opera. The scope was simply to complete something (keep trying). Jesus, do something. Once it was completed, I knew that I had finally found it. It. Not a money-making It but rather a sanity-making It. After all of the work from seventh (?) grade on, I finally found my focus.

Joseph Campbell calls it finding your bliss. Sortof a gay term, but it's effective.

I remember the practice rooms in college. Small cubicles the width of a piano and the depth of a piano + you. The doors had small windows to check for an unused room, and there was an unspoken, rigid etiquette about them. If someone was in there, you didn't stare. The windows were to the side and just above and behind your head when you were practicing, so that they were slightly in your peripheral vision. There was nothing more frustrating than being Alone and Focused and suddenly getting freaked out as you became aware of someone in the window. And geez, if you're in the hallways outside: be quiet. Asshole freshman (myself included) regularly got shushed and felt like assholes as they distracted someone trying to practice some finger-twisting bitch of a piece for their graduate recital.

I know: it sounds all very delicate and artistic, but trust me, it's necessary.

So on New Year's Eve day of last year, I finished writing my second rock opera and have been practicing diligently since then (minus an extended bout with a broken piano string and some crappy travel-time with some hypothetical company). The music's much more difficult than the music in the first one (not necessarily better) because I'm more confident and wanted to try new techniques. It's much more work and is taking more time. Composing has become the only me thing I have or want--it's the thing that is absolutely what I do and what I've attached my ego to. It took 37 years, but I found it. And now without it, I'm lost.

A month ago (that should be a short period of time), a month ago I had to stop because the struggle to get any practice in became more frustrating and more unsuccessful than the personal gratification of completing something. It was taking away more than it was giving, so I got rid of it.

I make fun of people who are too affectedly artistic. Art is hard work and there's no room, in my opinion, for "style" (artsy clothes, artsy attitude). You should continually try to improve your skills as you try to express whatever-it-is you're trying to express with your art. Attitude gets in the way and makes you think you're being creative when you're not.

So as much as I hate the fucking artsy people, I hate more that I'm being artsy and that I can't find two fucking free hours a day to practice what supposedly gives my life meaning. And if I can't figure out how to make that god damn little effort to find some quiet time or find a practice room or do something to get these ideas out of me, then I fucking deserve to lose it.

How do people live like this? And live without something like this?

[ posted by sstrader on 21 August 2004 at 1:26:54 AM in Music ]