Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Color Series: Yellow

Taking a bit of a blog break right now, and re-posting the Color Series while I'm away.
Hope you enjoy:

This song was one of my favorites in high school. It was the chorus that spoke to me: I still haven’t shaken it/This feeling of fakin’ it. What a perfect soundtrack for certain seasons of my life. I imagine singing it like a song going into battle—scared and unprepared, but going nevertheless. There is something joyful to admitting that I don’t really know what I’m doing. That I often don’t feel the way I think I should. I might as well sing and dance a little while I plunge into unknown territory. Maybe after a while I won’t even be faking anymore.

How is it, anyway, that yellow--the domain of caution signs and cowardice--is also the color of smiley faces?

In the violinist part of my life, I am used to preparing. I get the music ahead of time, I mark fingerings and bowings, I practice, I rehearse, and even if I have a performance after only one rehearsal, I’ve got the music in front of me and years of experience behind me. It may not be perfect, but I feel pretty comfortable with the setup.

But there was this one gig in Chicago. I don’t remember how I got it, but I assumed I would be playing in a string quartet or some other small ensemble, and that the contractor had music for me at the very least. When I got to the restaurant at Navy Pier, though, it became clear that this was a strolling gig—two violins, playing in parts, from memory. That meant a whole repertoire of music I didn’t know, in a style of music I had never played. You know those stress dreams you have sometimes, when you are in college again and have to take a final exam in a class you never attended, or you are at the church for your wedding, everybody waiting for you, but you don’t have your dress, or you are on stage for a big solo performance with an orchestra and you suddenly realize you never learned the piece? This was like one of those dreams, but real.

We had no choice but to fake it. The other violinist told me to play things I knew, as much as I could remember of them, and he would harmonize whatever I came up with. He made lots of suggestions, and if I knew the melody I played it. We played the first page of the first movement of “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.” We played bits of Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, portions of Vivaldi “Spring” and some Beatles tunes. Pachelbel Canon. Somehow we filled at least an hour with music and then I got out of there as quickly as I could.

Improvising scares me. I don’t think well on my feet. Give me some paper and let me write out whatever I’m going to say, or play, or do, and I feel much better. In the heat of the moment my brain wants to shut off, but whatever is on the page stays there, anchors me, guides me through. One of the problems with life, though, is that so very much of it is improvised, and most of what I get written down to help me through is after the fact. I find this both freeing and terrifying.

One of the biggest things I’ve learned about performing is that sometimes I just have to pretend. Pretend I’m not terrified, pretend I’m relaxed, pretend it’s easy, pretend I meant to do that, pretend that I am in fact a fabulous musician with music just flowing from my pores. Because something happens when I fake it. I play differently when I decide to ignore all my misgivings, my trembling hands, my queasy stomach. I get a lot closer to confidence when I pretend I’ve already got it than if I sit around and wait for it to come to me. Act first and trust the feelings will follow.

It turns out I’m afraid of many things, big and little. Sometimes I think the yellow streak down my back positively glows. But a lot of what this summer—maybe even the past year—has been about for me has been about acting in spite of my fear. Trying out a high ropes course, a zipline, a Tarzan swing while on vacation. Accepting opportunities to improvise on the violin. Going to the writing workshop in Minneapolis. Deciding I’d rather be the one who reached out than the one who said nothing. Saying the things that are burning inside me. Making changes. I would love to tell you that the results have been joyful and glorious, and sometimes they have been, but I’ve also spent a lot of time feeling awkward and clumsy and—to tell the truth—shaking. I am still a coward, but somehow I seem to breathe differently these days.

Yellow dances through the places I am afraid to walk. I’m trying to follow suit, faking it a little as I go.

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  1. I love this. Faking gets a bad name, but I find that it can be a useful skill. I was just thinking this morning of how faking it applies to our tone of voice. How forcing myself to speak in an enthusiastic tone to my kiddos actually sparks a little enthusiasm in myself, while letting my voice ooze with the boredom that I'm really feeling just leads to all sorts of unpleasant emotions, both in me and the kids.

    1. Presentation really matters, doesn't it? I hate the idea of being fake, but it seems like an important distinction to be able to make, that sometimes I have to approach a situation with the feelings I'd like to have, vs. the the feelings I might be overwhelmed with in the moment.

  2. I love it as well. A difference in our outlook, and training, is that I NEVER feel fully prepared for ______ (life). I am no expert; it all feels improvised. Enjoy the moments on the violin when it all feels as you know it should. And know that from what I have seen over the past year, you do a great job at faking the performances of life! -Ashley

    1. Ashley, I might sound like I'm contradicting myself, but I can usually list a myriad of ways in which I don't feel ready. For anything. But at this point in my life, violin is more of a comfort zone than many other things.

      And thank you. Since I wrote this a year ago, I've had a lot of "I'm-terrified-but-I'm-going-in" moments, and I'm grateful for them. I suspect I'm getting more comfortable with stepping out of my comfort zone...

  3. 1. Re: Faking, do you know about the pencil experiment?

    2. In Spain there is a long-held superstition that yellow is an unlucky color. So now it is my color of choice in board games. : )

    3. After a long day of work, your writing helps me feel human again. THANK YOU!

    1. Sarah, I didn't know about the pencil experiement, but I love it! Ditto to your color of choice in board games. And thank you--because I think I'm writing partly to feel human again, and hearing back from people is unbelievable wonderful.


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