November 12, 2012 at 1:50 PMI’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
Enjoyed your feedback!
Maybe it's time to consider whether you need a real break from LESSONS so that you can focus on enjoying the violin and the music. At our place in life, lessons can equal production, and something that was a joy begins to feed resentment. I am there with a few other things in my life.
I'd be happy to privately chat more about this if you feel an inclination to touch base.
I've been sick for the past month. And then the "cure" was worse than the disease for a couple days. Now I think (hope!) I'm out of the woods.
And while I was in the middle of it I had to cancel not 1 but 2 violin lessons. While I was talking to my teacher about this, I said, maybe I need to skip playing this upcoming orchestra concert. Or at least I needed to skip rehearsal that night. My teacher said "I know you feel very committed to this, but maybe if you can let go of that feeling for one concert, you've earned it."
While I was saying that I realized that I had not missed an orchestra concert since February 2008, my first orchestra concert with this group. Virtually everyone else has missed at least one concert over the years--and the world didn't end. It won't end if I'm in the audience this time, either.
There will be time again, in another season. I think it's great that you found a way to keep it up and not quit altogether.
Hope you are feeling better!
Really great to read your experiences - thanks so much for sharing them. : ) And Karen, I hope you keep feeling better and better in the health department.
Mostly I'm relieved to know it is a viable option if/when I get that trapped feeling again. Funny how once you know there's an open door in the room, you feel less claustrophobic about staying in the room. (Did that make any sense at all?! It's getting late...)
Hang in there!
Anyway, like all this feedback, it's good to hear, to bear in mind. And Tom, you nailed it with your comments about future years, establishing a holding pattern of sorts now. That does, indeed, seem like a good, solid plan.
Anne, one option, now that I think of it, would be for you to move to the Bay Area. I'll leave my teacher to take from you, okay? All you have to do is move. ; )
And so I did it, in spite of the late hour, enjoyed it, spent 20 mn on it, and the time flew. Dang. Something's working here. : )
Are you effectively giving up that student, or do you find that they come scurrying back after a spell with another teacher? That sounds daunting in its own right, suggesting that to a student (unless you're trying to get rid of them, and in that case, it's a win-win situation, eh?).
Can you tell I'm someone who resists change, even as I get mired down in the ensuing muck? There's something I can learn here... But only if I don't have to change anything! ; )
Several years ago someone asked me why, with three small children and a full-time job, I was still playing in my orchestra. The answer was simple, "Ummm, BECAUSE I have three tiny children and a full-time job!" There were a lot of nights when I was afraid I was too tired to haul my sorry ass to rehearsal, but was always glad to be there once I settled in.
If some weeks your lesson just feels like someone else wanting another piece of you, that won't help. It sounds like your teacher is happy to help you take the (self-imposed?) pressure off. Go to learn, to enjoy, and to get the heck out of the house besides another trip to the grocery store!
That made me laugh. I have a 13 year old, and back when I started, when he was 6, I guess, it was very much a refuge from the mommyness of it all. And it was my way of finding needed solitude in the house, by saying "it's my time to go practice, alone." Even now, I like the solitude aspect of it. Guess that's why I'm not too wild about hurrying to take it all to a group environment just yet. Ah, but the time will come...!
Terez, I totally get your comment about claustrophobia and an open door. It's happened to me. Two weeks ago, it happened to one of our
colleagues. I assured our leader that if we give him time to decompress, he would take a less extreme view of his needs and he did.
Regarding children: To my frustration, I've learned that they don't stop needing you--they just change how they need you. Mothers need to take what they can get, but they're not getting anything if it's not what they feel they need.
I will move to SF if you buy me a flat, and pay the yearly real estate taxes. Otherwise, I would be living in a small cardboard box underneath a highway somewhere. (The cats would most likely object!) It would probably be cheaper to fly me out there every week...
(Smiley face here)
Also, sending a student to another teacher isn't giving up on the student. Quite the opposite: If the student is to be the best student they can be, sometimes that means another teacher will be the answer.
Keep practicing. And practice *before* your nightly wine swill!!!
(Another smiley face here, of course)
And, of course, listen to Holzman. Wise man!
Anne, no problem, I will buy you a flat!! Yay!! ...Oh. Wait. I misread your request. I thought you wanted a flat cardboard box that pops up into the cardboard box you were going to live in. (My grey cat, btw, LOVES cardboard boxes.) Mind you, I will still buy you this flat box. And the property taxes on flat boxes are a steal, btw. In fact, yes, I'll pay that too!
Yes, good point on the "practice before the nightly swilling"... but wait! It's not nightly! Just, um, well, okay, lotsa nights. But only when stress leads me to it. I blame it all on parenting. Okay, most of it. Some of it. That, and the fact that I like wine. ; )
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