“Death Happy”

I practiced today with the aid of the shoulder belt but decided that I need to see my “shoulder doctor” who treated it last summer. I’m not the first to be frustrated by physical limitations, but it is hard not to be frustrated. I did read that up to 50% of people have tears in their rotator cuff by the time they are “elderly.” Many, however, never cause pain, and most that do can be treated short of surgery by physical therapy and, if necessary, cortisone shots. I don’t want to do either, particularly, but will do whatever’s needed to avoid surgery and to be able to return to the pool and the piano without pain.

First, I’d like to respond to two comments in response to the blog’s Aug. 18 entry. Jack Davis, the author whose blog is at http://www.davisbrotherlylove.wordpress.com, writes:

I am more familiar with visual creativity than the kind involved in poetry. I imagine that it is more of an auditory experience (hearing the sound of the words, which generates the next bit of sound in the form of spoken word). There is probably a musical connection for you, since you are a pianist.
At the core of creativity is inspiration. Everything follows from that initial spark.

Thanks for the comment, Jack. You are probably right about the musical connection with words.  And what sometimes happens is that I allow the sound-play to take over the meaning of the words: something that, thankfully, my poetry group frequently calls me on so that I can revise for that necessary balance.  I also love the sound play of Dr. Seuss, Lewis Carroll, etc., but often need to rein that in when I write.

Yes, inspiration as the “spark”—and yes, often, for me it is a sound or a “musical phrase” in language. But to make something out of it, I do need to sit with it and to revise for an audience (that leads me to the thought of what is, to some, the “strange” sounds of contemporary classical music, but I will save that for another day).

Larry, a teaching colleague and long-ago student, catches me on a typo in the Aug. 18 post, where I write:

As I said in my first post, everyone has a story, and mine has to do with the early knowledge that death can happy at any time—quickly and irrevocably—and so one had better make good use of one’s time. 

Actually, I did catch what Larry calls my “Freudian slip” and thought that I had corrected it. But apparently not. And since it led to the following thoughts (please see Larry’s original post from Aug. 20), I’m going to let it stand:

I’ll take the opportunity for some free-flow improvisational thinking on death happy and realize I no longer fear my own death; only the loss of those dear to me. Perhaps death is only one of many fears that distract and impede our creativity.

As a basement guitarist (I play for myself; rarely for others) there was a time that I blamed my lack of practice opportunity on others. Certain that my chance to play would be quickly interrupted by my family, I seldom began. Someone would holler “Hey Dad” and my joy would be over before it began. One day that changed. I left my guitar case opened and decided that interruption would be acceptable. The remarkable did happen. The expected mere 3 minutes frequently became 20. One riff became multiple songs. I began to hear songs emerging from the instrument I never expected to be able to implement; all made possible by a redefinition of cause.

The Death happens/Death happy conversion experience banishing of fears may fuel experimental improvisation. Where does an attempt to replicate perfection in performing pieces made famous by others, shift into an interpretive release from precise duplication and allow exploration of phrases? As students certainly the requisite repetition of practice is skill-building, but perhaps practice shifts into play shortly after we reach some level of mastery. I always wanted the ability to play without the practice that builds mastery….

We do not always engage improvisation in the same media. Kathleen you obviously improvise when you write, explore Kandinsky, or experiment with technology. You chose to practice piano. As a poet you have achieved mastery, as a pianist perhaps you define mastery more broadly. What context difference shifts us between practice and improvisation?

Wow—thank you, Larry!  First, I too have had that “conversion” about one’s own death that apparently comes to many as they age. All the former “ideas” about my own death have fallen or are falling away. As Joseph Campbell said in an interview shortly before his death, however, I still have projects that I want to complete and ideas for more (as I have noted in this blog).  Campbell writes,

The conquest of the fear of death is the recovery of life’s joy. One can experience an unconditional affirmation of life only when one has accepted death, not as contrary to life, but as an aspect of life. Life in its becoming is always shedding death, and on the point of death. The conquest of fear yields the courage of life. That is the cardinal initiation of every heroic adventure–fearlessness and achievement.

I think in the narrative of your experience with the guitar, Larry, you are also talking about the death of the ego—the same fight we all have. Will I be appreciated? Will I be interrupted? How “correct,” how “precise” do I have to be?  I love your concept of practice giving way to play, and that does happen, and you’re right—more easily, for me, in writing than at the piano.  See the “Home” page on this website for my poem “The Craft,” which denies that, for me, there IS anything like “mastery.”   However, your last question is a real stumper for me: “What context difference shifts us between practice and improvisation?”  I think you’re on to something when you speak of “release from precise duplication”—those Czerny exercises, for instance, that I wrote about previously.  Perhaps it also has to do with physical agility vs. mental agility. The physical so often lags behind. The physical is now “holding me back,” though according to Campbell, it needn’t if we understand that aging is inevitable. The acceptance of limitation is the key—which is somehow harder, for me, than acceptance of death, which rarely seems imminent, especially if we are generally “healthy”—even as we age.

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