Sunday, April 25, 2010

Practice Makes Art

Hello, blank screen.

We meet again.

I'm getting a little tired of these gatherings.

You mock my existence, and I do whatever I can to shatter yours.

It is an odd cycle.

Don't you agree?


Blank screens are compelling, are they not? Perhaps not as compelling as empty pieces of paper, but close. Both are awkward in their naked state. Embarrassed, even. A piece of paper with a word or two jotted down upon it is at least fulfilling its purpose. The tree, who gave up its life for the purpose, did not perish vainly. The same is true for word processor screens, save that the trees are safer now. A blank screen is empty, lifeless, devoid of art and substance. Put a word on it, however, and it has purpose. Put a second word next to the first and the blank screen isn't blank. It is actually a remarkably easy process - writing. You think words and then you, well, write them. The trouble comes when you say to yourself that you have chosen the "wrong" words. It is not, however, the words which are wrong, but the writer. Confidence is the chief ingredient. The rest--all the rest--can be acquired after. Skill comes with time and with practice. Writing is an art. All arts require practice.

I've never been good at practice. When I was a boy I wanted to play the piano. I didn't want to practice playing the piano. I wanted to play it. I wanted to sit down at the keys and channel Bach or Mozart. I want music to rise up awesomely from my fingers. When this miracle of talent did not happen, I quickly lost interest. I hated to practice. The monotony of sitting hour after hour, day after day, working my fingers into shape, learning the shapes and distinctions of the musical marks, gaining a sense of rhythm, did not appeal to me. I abandoned the piano. I also abandoned the flute, the clarinet, tap dancing, and solo-singing. Math, too, once it required more work than the most basic algebra, I left behind. Anything that required me to practice, I despised. But now, seated as I am in graduate school, staring my dissertation in the face, I realize that I have long been a coward and a fool. For, you see, I must write, and I must write like I have never written before. And writing requires practice.

I still hate to practice, but now, at least, I know why I do. It was not, as I told myself all those years ago, that the subject just didn't interest me. It was because the subject was hard, and I was afraid to fail. If you don't do something, you don't fail at it. If you try, however, you will probably fail at least some of the time. Your fingers will miss a key, or your eyes will miss a note, or you will miss a step in your equation--and that idea, that concept of failure, was so terrifying that I backed away from it. I have run away from everything that was too hard to do. I have permitted myself to move by innate ability, choosing easy things, playing to my strengths, because when I did that I was less afraid of failure. But now that this vast writing project is before me, I have had to come to terms with my fear. I was afraid to fail, but now, I'm afraid not to.

It is a remarkable shift. I fear not-failing, or rather not-doing, more than I fear failing. I would rather fail, for failing means that I tried. I did something! I am tired of not doing anything, of watching while others do things. I want to write. I want to love writing. I want to foster an addiction to writing. I want to be ill with the idea of not-writing, rather than be ill with the idea of writing and writing poorly. I don't care if I write poorly. I can edit. I don't care if I ramble. I can edit. I don't care if my first ideas don't work. I can revise. I can edit. You see, I'm sure, the same pattern that I do. It shouldn't be the blank screen that is compelling, but the one that is filled with my words. Like Michelangelo with marble, a blank screen should burn to be filled, formatted so that a shape emerges from it: the shape of my work. That is what I intend. That is what I will try to do. I accept that I will fail as often as succeed, but at least now I'm practicing, and I'm bloody happy about it.


  1. The image of the embarassed piece of paper, naked in its stark whiteness, amused me veryvery.

    Also, is it wrong that I know you composed this entry in OneNote because of the font...?

  2. I'm glad you liked the image. I found the whole notion of empty page and filling them up vaguely sexual, but I tried to avoid making this entry too explicit. Sex and embarrassment are often companions, however, so it was a natural image at that point.

    And no, I don't think it is wrong. Kinda awesome, actually.