Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Glory of Defeat


This is how he grows—by being defeated, decisively, by constantly greater beings.”
-       Rilke

With Anne Lamont’s help, I consoled myself that it’s good—in fact, necessary— to write “shitty first drafts.” But stranded for five hours in the Washington Dulles Airport, I read over my 4th draft of this book that is kicking my butt and felt like I ran out of excuses. So now with Rilke’s help, my small consolation is that writing is damn hard and though I’m failing miserably at corralling the horses of thought into manageable beasts that others can ride, well, at least it’s a worthy endeavor.

For most of my life, I’ve summarized my paths in one-syllable words—Orff, Jazz, Zen. “Write” is the wrong part of speech to neatly fit in and “writing” has two-syllables, but it belongs. I’ve kept with some form of writing as long as I’ve taught, played piano and sat meditation and they all have one thing in common— they are formidable opponents.

I began Zen practice hoping to get enlightened and consistently failed my koan interviews with the Roshi. My consolation there was that everyone else did also. I long ago abandoned any hope for dramatic revelation, but still enjoy the act of sitting and am content to do so with that lowered bar.

Jazz piano still taunts me and I know I’m pretty much at the limit of what I can coherently express and that it’s miles below what the masters of the art form have achieved. Again, I’m content to just jump into the daily defeat, with those small moments of victory when a little breakthrough happens or a roomful of listening people get quiet and seem refreshed when the last note rings out. It’s an honor just to try.

And then Orff. That’s a triple defeat, coming up against the limits of my imagination, the impossible demands of some level of mastery in multiple medias and then the most formidable opponent of all—young children. I believe that of all of them, this way of teaching comes the easiest and has allowed me to scale the highest. But still one can never rest content.

So at the end of the day, let it be said that this little David stood up to four towering Goliaths and though constantly thrown down, occasionally got in a lucky sling shot. And that there was great glory and honor in the undertaking.

Now on to the 5th draft.

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