A lot of people have told me it's a courageous thing to start playing the violin at my age. It's such a difficult instrument, they say. No one has come straight out and actually said it, but that look in their eyes is so revealing.
Why would anyone want to do that? You. Are. Crazy.
Sometimes I think they're right.
There are days I want to quit. Pack up my beautiful violin and tuck it away under my bed and just forget it's there. Forever. More than once I had to restrain myself from smashing it to pieces.
For the last several months I've been working on a violin sonata by Vivaldi. During a recent lesson my teacher, JP, was helping me through one particularly challenging part where there are a lot of rapid string changes.
"Relax. Just let it be," he'd say over and again, mimicking the extended and graceful spiccato movement he wanted me to duplicate.
The frustration was building. No matter how many times I played it, it just wasn't sounding right. And I wasn't relaxing.
To his credit, I've never seen JP lose it. He's never said, "I can't believe you're such an idiot. How come you can't play it like this?" After 50 years of teaching violin, he's definitely had the opportunity.
But he's a master teacher. And he knows it takes time to learn a new skill. His patience is solid and sure. Terra Firma.
He must have seen the frustration turn to anxiety turn to despair, because he stopped me and said quite simply, "Play it how you want to hear it."
So I picked up my bow, took a deep breath, and launched myself into it again. This time - to my surprise - I found myself cascading through a blissful series of notes. Perfect spicatto. The bow touching the strings at exactly the right angle, with just the right amount of pressure. The notes were crisp. Clean. Smooth. Like flowing effortlessly down a river of sound, the current and I in perfect sync.
Then brain clicked in, said, "Hey, I'm doing it!". Before I knew it, I was thinking about my fingers and the bow and the rhythm and the notes. And this whole beautiful universe of exquisite sound we had created came crumbling down.
But I had done it. Or rather, I had gotten out of the way enough to play it the way I wanted to hear it. Maybe even the way Vivaldi himself had meant it to be played. For a few seconds at least. But I knew then it was possible.
Play it the way you want to hear it.
I've since tried to apply this to other areas of my life. Cook the way you want it to taste. Write the way you want it to read. Teach the way you want it to be understood. And so on.
Not always easy, especially when you don't believe you've got what it takes.
But just saying it seems create the possibility that, yes, I can.
Maybe that's all we ever really need.