Three months ago, a friend interrupted my dark-cloud mood to chide me when I said I had given up on some dreams. “You’re not even forty!” he said. “And you have, God willing, a long life ahead of you. Think of all you’ve ever wanted to do and can still do!”
“Well, I can’t spend my twenties living in Barcelona,” I argued.
“No, but what do you want to do that you still can? Maybe,” he said, drawling out the word into far too many syllables, “you have unspoken dreams that can still happen, with the right amount of care and work and prayer.”
For weeks, I’ve been thinking about that conversation. So, when I read a Fast Company article in which Nolan Bushnell (founder of Atari) shared some advice for creativity, I fixated on the following quote.
You wanna build your IQ higher in the next two years? Be uncomfortable. That means, learn something where you have a beginner’s mind. I like to play chess. So it turns out, the neurogenesis (the birth of new brain cells) of chess, for me, is over. My brain grew a great deal when I was first learning, but once I really got it down, it’s very, very incremental… Stay on the uncomfortable path and you will find that you can get smarter.
Though my goal isn’t to be smarter (not that I wouldn’t welcome some extra smarts), I just loved the fact that Bushnell, at 69 years old, is urging all these hep young cats to do things! Learn stuff! Branch out! Shake off the doldrums!
Keeping my friend’s and Bushnell’s comments in mind, I made a short list of achievable dreams that I’ve long had but long ignored.
The Dormant Musician
One dusty love of mine is playing music. As a child, I took piano for several years, but then through an unfortunate series of events, I stopped taking lessons and lost my piano. In my early thirties, I took a year of violin lessons. The violin is one of my favorite instruments, and I’ve a mad sort of musical crush on celebrated violinist Joshua Bell. Another difficult pregnancy, however, put me on bedrest, so I couldn’t play and learn while lounging. So, I gave up violin playing.
I call her the Donna Noble.
For my birthday, however, I thought about taking up a new instrument. Something easy to tote. Something that I’ve always wanted to learn. And so, I received a lovely dark-red De Rosa acoustic guitar, courtesy of my husband who indulges my creative whims. Since then, I’ve practiced guitar chords obsessively for an hour every day, learned to tune my guitar online and peruse free guitar lessons on YouTube.
“Why does it sound like that?” my six-year-old son asked me curiously as I practiced. “Why does the guitar make that horrible sound?”
“Because my fingers aren’t strong yet,” I replied. “I need callouses to keep the strings down strong and secure. My fingers are too soft, my fingers are unused to these strange movements.”
The guitar does indeed make a wretched sound. And though the fingers are in the right places, they lack strength or the memory knowledge to play well. The gap between what I know to be good guitar playing and my own ability to play such music is immense.
Which is why this short classic video of advice from public radio personality Ira Glass resonated so deeply with me.
Glass discusses the gap in our writing ability, but the same holds true for anyone learning a craft, whether playing an instrument or cooking.
And so, onward. I’ll continue producing hours and hours of ear-torturing guitar playing and string-killing… but at some point, a year from now, two years from now, I will play a solid, clear musical piece.
But not if I don’t put the hard work in learning it today.