Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Growing Straight

You’d think with the advent of Google * you could find any quote ever worth quoting. But somewhere sometime I read a quote that fascinated me, but failed to write it down and name the source (I have a vague memory of Chesterton). The quote was something like this:

The beauty is that everything attempts to grow straight, but nothing succeeds in doing so.

All jokes about sexual preference aside, I think about this often. Our deep need for order sets us on the straight and narrow, but the best part of life is lived in the detours, the wrong turns, the unexpected twists in the road. We admire someone and copy their writing style or jazz solo, but even when we play the same notes, it’s the unique us that pushes through to announce ourself. And New Age Californians to the contrary (are these folks still around?), the punch line is not to be yourself and abandon order and discipline and drill and the details of craft. It is in our attempt to grow straight that the delightful curves begin to emerge. Without that attempt, we’re just floppy. (Parents, take note. If you want your kid to be their full possibility, give them something to push up against— routines, expectations, consequences, etc.)

After two days of inspired piano practice, gifted by the Muses with their full blessing, they withdrew it today, probably just to amuse themselves to see what I’d do. I stuck with it, playing the same pieces as yesterday as if baby elephants were attached to my wrists and by the end of a couple of hours, they backed off a bit and let a few good phrases emerge. Then one piece where I first listened to a version by Chick Corea, stole the general shape of a few of his ideas and let my own voice start to whisper. Not that it’s a voice that has paid it’s dues to be heard professionally, but at least it’s one that has been stubbornly persistent and followed Monk’s advice, “Keep on tryin’.” Really, what else can one do?

I imagine Chesterton (or whoever really authored this quote) had the natural world in mind when he spoke those words. Consult your nearest tree or daffodil to note the unique deviations from the template. Kinsey, that famous and infamous sex researcher, began his career as a biologist and observed hundreds of thousands of gall wasps under a microscope. He concluded that even at the low end of evolution's chain, no two were exactly like, that diversity and variation are life's irreducible facts. If that's so for gall wasps, how much more for humans. And yet in school after school, we seek to conform children to some mythical norm, to make sure they fulfill the national standards and be satisfied if they appear to do so.

It's fine and even necessary to aim them for the highest standards in each craft, but with a different end in mind— for them and us to discover precisely where their variation—and thus, their uniqueness lies.
You see how this works? This blog began as a simple comment on my piano practice and following good essay writing, should have begun with a topic sentence, developed the theme and affirmed it at the conclusion. And yet here I am talking about kids and education again after an excursion into Google, jazz solos, gall wasps, lost quotes and two references to sex. So much for the straight and narrow. I better stop before six other themes pop their head in and insist on air time. Good night. 

* I did search far and wide on Google for the original quote, but no luck. If anyone finds the real quote from above, please let me know!

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