Posts Tagged angst
After I wrote my previous post about creative angst, I decided to share it with an online harp group and ask for feedback. I’m not acquainted with many artists, but I was itching to talk with someone creative and find out if they’ve had similar experiences. I figured my feelings weren’t unique. The heartfelt personal responses that arrived in my inbox confirmed my suspicions! Others have been in the pool of angst, too, and they’re passionate about encouraging beginners to keep climbing back out and pushing forward.
Several harpists took the time to offer kind words, thoughtful suggestions, and book recommendations. I am grateful for every tidbit, but the one I love the most — and intend to keep in front of my eyes — is this sky-opening, heart-enlarging quote from Ira Glass of This American Life. I’m including it here because it has encouraged me more than any quote I’ve ever seen. It diagnoses that “aching gap” I wrote about, then speaks directly to it. It means so much to read these words from the perspective of someone who has felt the same pain, worked their way through it, and achieved satisfaction in their creative life! I hope this quote will find everyone who needs it.
What nobody tells people who are beginners (and I really wish someone had told this to me) is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. … It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.
There’s a pool of creative angst that’s never too far away from me. Every so often I fall in. I could drown in that pool. It’s filled to the brim with overwhelming emotions: deep longing for my inner music to find expression … grief when I see how far away I am from that goal … intense frustration with the obstacles that delay and thwart my growth … fear that I will die with my music still inside me … and hanging over it all, the dreadful possibility that, despite its relentless clamoring to be heard, my music may not be worth hearing at all! The edges of the pool are slippery, and I’ve never found a reliable ladder. Somehow I always manage to get back out, but not until I’ve had a thorough, head-to-toe soaking.
Last week I was back in that wretched pool again. I can’t quite remember when I slipped, but I usually fall in for the same reason. It starts when I listen to myself playing my harp and I’m struck, once again, by the aching gap between the music I hear in my soul and the sounds I’m able to produce with my current levels of knowledge and skill. The distance between the two looks insurmountable, yet the thought of not reaching my destination seems like the worst kind of death. Will I ever make it? Or is my dream just too impossibly beautiful to come true?
I was still stuck in the pool late last week, even as I was preparing for a weekend road trip. Part of my agenda was to play my harp for a very loving, accepting audience. I felt like a fraud for planning to offer up my puny skills to these kind people, yet I hoped the process of forcing myself to play (however insecurely) would give me some sense of accomplishment. It might even give me a boost out of the pool. Then, the day before the trip, my plans fell apart.
Texas remains in the middle of a record heat wave and drought. Air conditioner repair companies are working practically 24/7 to keep people cool. They’re doing a phenomenal job. Even so, it was 24 hours before our company could get around to us. At 2 p.m. that day, it was 103°F on our shaded front porch and far too hot upstairs. Our musical instrument zoo retreated to the safety of our downstairs living room, where (blessedly) the AC was still running.
The AC technician finally arrived around 9 p.m., coated with a shiny layer of sweat. He had been working on one air conditioner after another since 8 a.m., doing fun things like crawling around in 130°F attics and fielding the complaints of overheated customers. As it turned out, we were the last stop of his very long day. He got right to work.
While the technician went in and out of the house, checking things and testing parts, I stood staring at my living room. The furniture was rearranged to accommodate my harps, which sat sulking under their covers. Looking at them, I was suddenly in the mood to play. Not for myself; I was still angst-ridden and sick of my own sound. No, I wanted to play for someone … and we happened to have a visitor. I asked Michael if this was too weird. He said I should take any audience I can get! Since my other plans had disintegrated, I realized my only audience for the weekend might be a captive one.
So, while the technician was working outside, I unwrapped my Merlin, found a bit of space on the living room rug, and started a mini-concert for Michael. I kept it up when the technician came back inside, all business, writing out invoices and explaining the repair. For several minutes, he gave no real sign of noticing the harp.
Then, during a pause in the AC conversation, he looked up from his clipboard and said, “I’ve never actually seen someone doing that. That’s awesome. It’s really relaxing!”
A smile crept up on me.
“How’d you learn to do that?” the technician continued, eyeing my fingers on the strings.
“Three years of lessons,” I replied.
“Sounds like you’ve been doing it forever,” he said. I looked up in time to see an expression of genuine respect cross his face before he turned his focus back to his paperwork.
It’s a good thing he was covered with sweat at that moment; otherwise I might have embarrassed us both by leaping up and hugging his neck. “Dude, you just made my day,” I thought, “and not because you fixed my air conditioner!”
My playing that evening was nothing fabulous. I still can’t play with enough skill to give life to the music in my soul. It may be many, many years before that will happen, if it ever does at all. The pool of angst is always ready and waiting.
But in spite of all that, when I sit down to my harp and play, a little bit of something does come out. It’s a long way from being able to satisfy me, but it’s good enough to bring joy to the people I was going to play for during my weekend trip. It has been good enough to make a number of other people happy so far. And it was good enough for that hard-working, sweat-drenched air conditioner technician, who more than deserved a nice ending to his day.
Hand me a towel, will you? It’s time to get out of the pool for a while.