Saturday, July 6, 2019

Written Saturday, July 6, 2019

[Published retroactively on 2021-10-09, with only minor edits for privacy.]


There's a pattern to learning skills that I think is really useful. I mostly think of it these days in terms of music, from learning bass. I first started awkwardly poking a bass something like... 13 or 14 years ago I guess. Not sure exactly. But I remember a feeling, at the time, of impatience and envy. I just wanted to skip the learning and be good.

Over a decade later I still don't know if I would describe myself as "good." But that's not really the point. There was a journey there, and it comes back to mind as I face a very reminiscent set of feelings these days. I don't want to learn how to dance, or sing, or conduct my life in girly clothes. I don't want to learn to girl overall.

I just want to be good.

Learning things like this involves a progression. You start with the atomic movements. Here's how to hold your hands, here's how to move your fingers. Get that comfortable. Now you can actually touch a guitar. Hold your hands in the right shape - doesn't quite matter where, yet. Move your fingers, doesn't matter where. The sound that comes out isn't important. Posture and movement. Once the posture and movement are more comfortable, introduce position. Pick a fret and a string, play a note. Rhythm doesn't matter. Just that note. Get comfortable.

And this moves along, over time. Drills to play notes on multiple strings. Then multiple frets. Then changing between frets and strings. Then scales in one octave. Then more octaves. Then rhythmic drills. Then building licks, riffs, lines. Play along with a backing track. Jam with other musicians. Adventure.

Everything starts with the atomic movements. You need to have those be automatic, effortless, so that you can spend your attention and energy on increasingly complex and abstract things. Movements. Combinations. Sequences. Improvisation. Increasing in skill and unlocking greater potential for beauty, expression, and joy.

For someone like me, a strict regimented curriculum is lethal to motivation. Sometimes it's important to skip ahead a few chapters and just try to play something beyond my level of technical ability or patience or just skill in general. It's been a critical part of keeping me interested in learning my instrument for more than a decade. Short of computer programming, bass is literally the record holder for things I have maintained interest in the longest.

The kicker, though, is that I still don't think I'm good. I haven't stuck with playing for so long out of some kind of belief that I've "gotten good" and now the fun happens. I've stuck with it because somewhere, very early on, I chose to trust that "getting good" isn't the point. If someday I feel like a good bassist, that's cool! And if I part ways with the world, still feeling like I never "got good", it doesn't matter. I don't pour my soul into those strings because I'm motivated by being good at it.

A decade-plus of investment into a hobby that I feel mediocre in, at best? I know that'd sound like failure to a lot of people. I know I've had to push back my own temptation to think of it as a failure. But I didn't sink over a decade into failing to be good at my art.

I've enriched more than a decade of my life with the joy and thrill of doing something I find immensely rewarding and soothing. And I've been rewarded by feeling like I just keep getting more and more from the practice.

Sometimes I want to just skip ahead and be good at girl already. And I understand the frustration, the exhaustion, the weariness, that drive that feeling.

I just want to try to remember something that all the silly Zen quips never really managed to get through my skull. It's no use to tunnel-vision onto the "end result" at the expense of the process of actually getting there. Just like with bass practice... don't neglect the incredible potential supply of joy and beauty that's in between here and there.

It really is a journey, and it's a pretty day out.

Let's put the top down.




It's been a long evening, but a good one - bittersweet and sad but immensely hopeful, and so very right.

I've said before that "Amelia" was a lightning strike. I wish I had a more vivid analogy but it really was just like remembering something I'd always known, just somehow misplaced for a while.

When I learned "Joy" it was much the same, albeit with a little more specificity about why it's so fitting. Amelia made sense and felt at home; Joy was like finishing a complicated theorem and seeing everything just cinch into place in elegant and profoundly satisfying perfection.

I'm thinking a lot about names these days because coming out at work means also having to work on name changes - even if not in a legal sense just yet, I need to have them put something into the systems. Amelia Joy is just so right... I just felt the need for a last name to match. My assigned family name really isn't acceptable and I want to get away from it as much as I can.

The progression feels poetic and beautiful, to me. Learning my first name was like remembering me, on a very primal level. Learning my middle name was like understanding me, and marveling in the way everything fits.

I learned my last name today. It was like coming into a heritage I hadn't even known to call mine - a birthright and a legacy and a destiny that I am solemnly honored to take up.

My mother's maternal grandmother was, by every account, a strikingly wonderful woman. She lost her husband in the First World War and raised her children more or less alone, never remarrying. She travelled to the United States with my grandmother and family, when they immigrated to join my grandfather post-WWII.

She had passed long before I came along. I barely even overlapped with my grandmother, who passed when I was only a couple of years old. But I have always heard stories about her. Always lovely stories. She was kind, she was generous, she was strong but unassuming. She was the kind of eternally pretty soul who could leave an undeniable mark on four generations of women in her family.

She's the kind of woman I am fiercely proud to have in my lineage. I am inspired by her example, and I swear to do right by her legacy. I like to think she would be proud to see me carry on her family name.


In loving, reverent memory.