Showing up! It sounds so easy. Like most of my New Year Resolutions, I have a burst of energy and determination to show up initially but then I hit a wall. I show up and stare blankly at my computer screen. I type a couple really bad; run on sentences, frustrated, I get up to brew myself a cup of tea. Sometimes I return to my stilted brain and my bad writing and start the real work of sorting out the vague idea that slowly simmers under that bad sentence. This is a process for me. I keep wishing for inspiration to take over my hands and place that amazing best seller on the page in front of me. I do have occasional glimpses of inspiration and beauty and that is what keeps me coming back to my computer screen. I am in pursuit of beauty. Beauty and Inspiration are fleeting mysteriously shy animals that seem to stalk me, like quiet cats not wanting to be seen. So in the mean time, I show up, I do my work and I come back again tomorrow.
I am taking piano lessons and my piano teacher is fond of calling Jazz a language. As you can imagine, there are a lot of similarities between my piano playing and my writing. My teacher reminds me that to learn a language you must first start with a list of nouns. Later you get to begin writing sentences, paragraphs, and essays. So, although I would like to be the master of improvisation by now, I am still learning scales, harmony, rhythm, and short Jazz Standards. If I continue to show up and do my work. Then maybe someday I will be improvising something worth listening too.
I met with a friend of mine for coffee and told her I was learning Jazz Improvisation. I found her response a little disturbing. She immediately responded with I’m not surprised because you never really liked following rules. The thing my friend misunderstands is the work that goes into accomplishing anything in jazz. There are a lot of skills that need to be learned and followed religiously until they are mastered, becoming second nature. It is true that a good Jazz musician does not rehearse before a show but neither does a professional basketball player rehearse before the game and I have never heard anyone condemn a basketball player of not rehearsing with the opposing team. He just shows up and plays. Both the jazz musician and the basketball player have learned to flex and flow with the other players in real time. The basketball player practices for years ahead of time until free throws, lay-ups and passing angles become second nature to him, after which time, he shows up and plays. A Jazz musician is similar, with his work and practice already done before the performance. The music flows out of the instrument effortlessly like the unconscious geometric bounce pass of a skilled basketball player.
This effortlessness is a result of hard work and a lot of showing up. It takes courage to show up day after day until you can seemingly flow with ease into writing an essay, playing a jazz standard, or gently placing a basketball on the backboard in a layup. In the mean time, instead of chasing that ever elusive cat named inspiration, I will continue to show up…..one more time.