July 2008

Reckless Authority

July 29, 2008 13:06

So I bought a new bow. Not a cheap one. In fact, it is equal in value to my violin.

This is a big deal.

The thing is, I was just dipping my toe into the market to buy one. My main bow, an upgrade two years earlier from my beginner bow, needed a rehair, that was all. I’d put it off for months and months, in denial, but finally it was so offensive to my ears—a scritching sound like kitten claws against glass, sadly indistinguishable from the beginner bow—that I said enough is enough. My teacher agreed. Off I went to Stevens Violin Shop in San Jose. A rehair was my goal, but I needed a substitute for the week it was in shop. Kill two birds with one stone, then. Start my search for The Next Bow while testing a loaner.

Twelve bows had been laid out for me, ranging in price from $395 to $1000. The testing room at Stevens Violin Shop is an elegant, softly lit, climate-controlled room filled with violins, glorious violins, old ones, new ones, all of which resonated softly whenever I hit a G, D, A or E. It was nice to play in that room. Seductive and mesmerizing, all those fiddles humming their approval. I felt instant affinity with several of the bows. I finally chose two to take home. Merely testing, I told the shop’s staff.

And we all know how the story ends.

This is not normally how I shop. When I bought my violin two years ago, I spent six months looking. Tested out fifty violins. Visited six shops. Interviews. Back and forthing with authorities. Anguishing. Sleeping on it. More consulting. Thinking about it a lot. Talking about it a lot. Soliciting opinions.

There is an interesting correlation here between this and my novel writing. Last time I wrote a novel featuring a professional violinist and her world. I knew absolutely nothing about the violin; I had to start from scratch. I commenced violin lessons. Joined Violinist.com. Coaxed myself to overcome my intimidation and visit the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, pelting violin professionals with idiotic questions. Email queries, phone calls, interviews with luthiers, violinists, reading any book I could get my hands on. I nervously asked for help at every turn, needing to know whether my violin-related passages sounded “right.” I encouraged judgment, feedback. I needed permission.

So. New novel. No longer the world of the violin soloist, this time it’s the ballet dancer soloist. Completing a rough first draft, I then set out to find my authorities, planning to follow the now-familiar routine: visit sites, interview professionals, seek permission to phrase scenes a certain way. San Francisco is home to one of the world’s premiere ballet institutions. No better place to start.

Long story short. I could find no one at the San Francisco Ballet Association to help me. Calls went unreturned but finally I received a response to an email, from the PR department. “Due to the high number of requests we receive like yours, and due to a myriad of union regulations, we are not able to accommodate you.”

A hiccup, then. I was shocked, disappointed, angry. But once I got over it, I saw the gift I’d been handed. I didn’t need permission. Not this time around. I have twenty years experience in ballet, after all. (Check out the proof HERE.) Maybe my ballet performance years weren’t on a world-class stage. What the hell. This is fiction, after all.

What a paradigm shift. What liberation.

This new state has taken over the driver’s seat in my writing, in my life. You don’t need permission, this voice whispers every time I wonder if I can get away with taking some risks in my writing. You don’t need permission, the same voice whispered when I brought home the tester bows and decided it wasn’t just the resonating violins in the tester room at Stevens Violin Shop that made them sound good. Playing the one that quickly became my beloved (the more expensive one, of course) was like biting into a really good chocolate truffle. The sound it draws from the G string—a miraculous absence of breathy scritch, which my old bow, even with good hair, could never quite avoid. Heavenly. It responds well to soft pressure; I love that I can produce rich sound from the lightest touch. It weighs well in my hand, glides evenly over each string.

I brought the beloved into my next lesson. I didn’t even ask my teacher if she liked it. I said, “This is the bow I’m going to buy.” This, after constant consultation two years earlier when choosing my violin. My teacher took one look at the bow, then the determined set of my chin and said, “Okay.” And that was that. Which, now that I think of it, was pretty much the scenario when I announced the news to my family.

Reckless authority. There is a time for it. There is a time in your life where you should research like mad, ask permission, listen but don’t speak, defer to authority. Look before you leap. Sleep on it. Take two aspirin and call me in the morning. Mind the gap. And so on.

Then there is a time to say “What the hell.”

It’s good to know which comes when.


© 2008 Terez Rose

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