I had a student perform in a concerto competition yesterday; he took third place.
He sent me an email later in the day expressing that he was somewhat satisfied with his performance, but was having a really hard time with not having won.
Without getting into unnecessary and tangential details about preparation, and competitions; and not having sat in on every other performance, I wrote back something like this:
One should never enter a competition expecting to win. All you can do is go in and do your best, or at least whatever version of your best is available to you at that particular moment. Everything else is out of your hands, and therefore not worth thinking about. Ten people could play fabulously and the judge still has to pick one.
And I clicked send, and I went to brush my teeth and get ready for bed, and I realized
[bam, mind blown]
that this statement is actually about everything.
And I realized that I have actually always done my best, or at least whatever version of my best had been available to me at that particular moment. And sometimes it was enough, and sometimes it wasn’t, but that part of it Didn’t. Actually. Have. Anything. To. Do. With. Me.
And then I went to bed, and kept thinking that I wasn’t really sleeping, but realized in the morning that I must have been, because I dreamed that this discovery [when the world seemed to stop for a moment, like Dorianne Laux putting gas in her car in the rain] led to a transformation, and when I woke up in the morning I was actually a different person. I looked different — tall, blonde, thin (Freud would have a field day with this one) — had a different name. Same husband, same children (Freud, again), but I. Was. Different.
I woke up this morning, and am, as you probably expect, still me. Except I think I’ve finally forgiven myself for everything that wasn’t my fault.
I looked in the mirror a couple of times today. [Still] not tall, [still] not blonde, [still] not thin.
But definitely different.
*From Courage, by Ann Sexton
It is in the small things we see it.
The child’s first step,
as awesome as an earthquake.
The first time you rode a bike,
wallowing up the sidewalk.
The first spanking when your heart
went on a journey all alone.
When they called you crybaby
or poor or fatty or crazy
and made you into an alien,
you drank their acid
and concealed it.
if you faced the death of bombs and bullets
you did not do it with a banner,
you did it with only a hat to
cover your heart.
You did not fondle the weakness inside you
though it was there.
Your courage was a small coal
that you kept swallowing….
*This discovery may or may not have had to do with the fact that yesterday I watched To The Bone. A fabulous, beautiful, powerful movie about people struggling with anorexia. The poem above was read in the movie.
Calmness is power. It doesn’t have to be stoic, but it is not reactive. You are in control of how you respond, no matter what.
You must do the thing you think you cannot do. (Eleanor Roosevelt)
You will be successful if you show up to your life and live with calm confidence. If you show up, you will suffer and change and have to be honest and you will experience so much beauty around you and in you. And if you show up with calm confidence, realizing that most things don’t need your opinion, that your reaction to anything is your most useful power, and that most things that hurt you have nothing to do with who you are, you will find your freedom
Secrets rarely help. Say your truth out loud. You owe the people who love you that much.
You are good, worthy of grace, and have nothing to prove.
in putting all my eggs in one basket
in blood and promises
and knowing when neither is enough
in letting go
and not letting go
in rearranging furniture
in ascribing the best intentions
in being a good audience
Eventually the future shows up everywhere:
those burly summers and unslept nights in deep
lines and dark splotches, thinning skin.
Here’s the corner store grown to a condo,
the bike reduced to one spinning wheel,
the ghost of a dog that used to be, her trail
no longer trodden, just a dip in the weeds.
The clear water we drank as thirsty children
still runs through our veins. Stars we saw then
we still see now, only fewer, dimmer, less often.
The old tunes play and continue to move us
in spite of our learning, the wraith of romance,
lost innocence, literature, the death of the poets.
We continue to speak, if only in whispers,
to something inside us that longs to be named.
We name it the past and drag it behind us,
bag like a lung filled with shadow and song,
dreams of running, the keys to lost names.
The Book of Men
This material may be protected by copyright.
“I will be different. I will remain the same. I will still go parchment-faced with embarrassment, and clench my pencil between fingers like pencils. I will quite frequently push the doors marked Pull and pull the doors marked Push [and spill coffee on myself in bizarre places for reasons too difficult to explain]. I will be lonely, almost certainly…I will walk by myself on the shore of the sea and look at the freegulls flying. I will grow too orderly, plumping up the chesterfield cushions just-so before I go to bed. I will rage in my insomnia like a prophetess. I will take care to remember a vitamin pill each morning with my breakfast. I will be afraid. Sometimes I will feel light-hearted, sometimes light-headed. I may sing aloud, even in the dark. I will ask myself if I am going mad, but if I do, I won’t know it.”
~Margaret Laurence, A Jest of God
I spend my life traveling (careening?) between point A and point B
of various cognitive dissonances
With the not-good-enough voice trying to
shout down the “am so” one,
having traveled four thousand
and sixty-two point nine
miles to do what I’ve been
wanting to do
trying to do
qualified to do
for twenty years.
And this pervasive feeling of joy
teetering like a plate on a stick atop the awareness
that it’s only ever as good as my
hormones will allow it to be,
plus that soupçon of fear
that rides, always, just behind my right ear,
and the awareness that we are all,
in some way,