Saturday, March 13, 2010

Wanting--with love to Lorrie Moore

Growing up all you ever wanted was talent, to be big, to know you were somebody doing something important.  Kids really do believe they can be anything.

You have to face up to reality though, life ain't gonna put you on a stage.  You have to want, kiddo, bigger than anything.  Then, you have to beg.

"Mommy, can I take ballet lessons?"

"We'll see."


"Mrs. Beard, I might take ballet lessons!"


"Uh-huh! My mom said she'll see."

A few years later...

"Mom, can I take viola lessons?"

"Now why do you want to do that?"

"Jenny isn't taking lessons anymore and the teacher said I could take her place.  It would be free and I can use her viola."


"Why not?"

"It's too much noise.  We live in an apartment."


"No. Now drop it." 

If begging doesn't work try something else.

You adore music, how it rushes in and yanks away at you, pummels your senses, throws you into some place you haven't been for years and wrestles you to just shut up and listen already.  You wanted that for yourself, begged for lessons, borrowed books from the library, listened deeply trying to pull out those few hidden secrets that would finally help you make sense of a sheet of music.

It never came.

So you thought this, you thought, some people learn music by ear, I could just start writing it down myself, to the tune in my head.  Sure, that might work.

What happened instead was this.

Right here.  This thing you're writing now.  This is the music in your head, the tune you can't get out.  Whatever happens in your life, this thing, this writing is what holds you together.  You hate it.  And you need it.

The first time you read out loud to a crowd of people...well, that was something, not at all what you expected.  Not at all.  But you're pretty sure it was equal to what you would have experienced had you played your first concert piano solo.

You're certain that night and the people lurking in that drafty, smoke-infested cafe and your shaking and stuttering are all going with you to the great nut house in the sky. 

So whatever it is--whatever circles you spin around in, whatever goals you meet or fail at, whatever success you hype yourself up about--there's always this at the end. 

Read Lorrie Moore How to Become a Writer 


  1. Well, the shaking and stuttering does get better with practice.

    When I was in middle school and high school I did solos and concerts all the time. I was also in theater. I got over my stage fright after the first year or so.

    Then, a couple of years ago, my husband's family asked me to sing at his grandmother's funeral. I had not performed in front of strangers outside of a karaoke bar in many years. "No problem," I thought.

    As the time for my solo (a capella, because I'd rather sing alone if I can't practice with the accompanist ahead of time) I slipped out the side door of the church and warmed up. The old voice pipes were working great. I slipped back in, walked up to the microphone...and got hit with the hugest stomach full of butterflies I'd had in fifteen years. I could hardly breathe.

    I sang it fine anyway, 'cause I had practice singing through nerves. But wow, was that unexpected.

  2. This took me back to my childhood. I was always bursting with energy to create something, to find an outlet for all the things that made me stop and stare in wonder. And how funny you should mention playing music by ear because I taught myself the piano, and when I could play it I began to compose on it. And when everybody wanted to me to be quiet, or when I had to fill some bored time away from an instrument, I made up stories.

    Thanks for the reminder!

  3. Mercy--I can't fathom singing at a funeral, anybody's. I can't even make it through a reading of Puff the Magic Dragon. Good for you to be able to sing through it!

    DWC--Thanks for stopping by! The creative spirit in children is difficult to harness and amazing to witness. I often say I write by ear since I have such a hard time remembering the jargon and go by gut instinct. Happy to ignite a memory!

  4. After a few rounds of "being picked last" I often didn't try for fear of failure. When I became a mother I remember wanting so much for my kids to find that creative thing they wanted to try and supporting them in trying anything. You just never knew, maybe they would have some talent hidden away (didn't get it from me) that without trying we would never see. And even if they weren't great at all they tried, they are lovely people all grown up anyway and probably better for the experience.

  5. Julie, I'm watching that right now with my own kids. One started bobbing to the beat at 7 months old while the other will sit with books and art supplies for hours.

    Whether nurture or nature,as long as we're supportive I think they'll turn out fine. I'm glad to hear you've proven that.