origami, flamenco and true bliss

I thought I’d posted this video (“Because the Origami” by Ben Jacobson) long ago, but can’t seem to find it in my blog archives, so perhaps I’d posted it in my dreams…

It’s a lovely, sad sort of story, and one that any child and any parent can relate to (and clearly we are all one, if not both).

It reminds me of a passage I earmarked from Stephen King’s “On Writing” in which he describes his son’s sudden love, at age 7, of the sax and, in particular, the sax playing of Clarence Clemons from Springsteen’s band. How cool is that? Well, the parents thought so too, but seven months later Stephen King suggested to his wife that it was time to discontinue the lessons, and his son agreed, with “palpable relief.”

I knew, not because Owen stopped practicing, but because he was practicing only during the periods Mr. Bowie had set for him: half an hour after school four days a week, plus an hour on the weekends. Owen mastered the scales and the notes—nothing wrong with his memory, his lungs, or his eye-hand coordination—but we never heard him taking off, surprising himself with something new, blissing himself out. […]

What this suggested to me was that when it came to the sax and my son, there was never going to be any real play-time; it was all going to be rehearsal. That’s no good. If there’s no joy in it, it’s just no good. […]

Talent renders the whole idea of rehearsal meaningless; when you find something at which you are talented, you do it (whatever it is) until your fingers bleed or your eyes are ready to fall out of your head. Even when no one is listening (or reading, or watching), every outing is a bravura performance, because you as the creator are happy. Perhaps even ecstatic. That goes for reading and writing as well as for playing a musical instrument, hitting a baseball, or running the four-forty.

It may well be true that sometimes you need to forge ahead (or be forced to forge ahead by a Tiger Mom, and yes we are our own Tiger Moms) even when you want to quit, that until you achieve some semblance of competence at whatever the task is you are not in a position to decide whether you might be good at it…or not. But while competence can be attained by practice, can passion?

I remember years ago a discussion in the Spanish press about some Japanese flamenco dancers. They had studied with incredible dedication and care, with very impressive results. Their technique was perfect, absolutely exquisitely perfect. Feet tapped and stomped without a fraction of error on the beat, arms were bent and extended and fingers curled in the most perfect of flamenco grace and angst, yet something was missing. Call it passion, call it brío, call it art or… whatever you wish to call it, what lacked was not knowledge, but that je ne sais quoi that separates art from mere imitation, even in this world where we seem to elevate the value of derivative creation. There still must be that spark, that brilliance, and it cannot be taught or learned.

I have had glimpses of that amazing rush when I have found my passion, my niche, my talent, when whatever I may be doing at that moment is happening almost in a vacuum where all is aligned and the noise is quieted and a purity of action, of deed, of thought, results. Creativity is the ultimate adrenaline rush, despite the fact that often it is brief and always it is volatile and unpredictable. It may be coaxed from us, but can never be forced or corralled with any success.

As a mother I try to help my children explore many things, hoping that something they come across, most likely in a convoluted unintended way, might spark that passion. To coax, not coerce. To allow room for and encourage exploration without imposing on one what it is they must explore. One of my children shows intense passion and talent for music, but for that reason I treat it with great care, knowing that passion when pushed too hard, can rebel and become quite the opposite. The others are passionate about a few things, but have yet to discover or display what will really move them and pull from them that joy, that ecstasy, that glorious blissing out.

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9 thoughts on “origami, flamenco and true bliss

  1. Hello – I linked to you for the first time from She Writes. Love this post! As the Mom of two teenagers who tried many things over the years, I can relate. Stephen King’s son’s sax experience is very much like my older son’s violin experience; he was techicnically proficient and mastered te exercises beautifully but had not passion for the music. He later found passion in running and abstract art…. By the way “On Writing” is one of my all-time favorite writing books!

  2. What a beautiful post! I see you and I have similar mothering philosophies. I want my children to follow their passions, not turn their passions into dreaded chores. Of course, my daughters’ passions right now are dressing up like princesses and having tea parties– not sure how they’ll make careers out of that, but I’d love to see them try!

  3. Great post – quite encouraging and enlightening. Sometimes, one may stop pursuing a passion/talent but return to developing it with more fervor. Also, sometimes “perfection” loses flavor or essence.

    1. Yes, I so agree with your point about how returning to something may be with a whole different perspective/fervor. Perfection is highly overrated (and rarely, if ever, attainable). Thanks for stopping by, Diana!

  4. That video is terrifying. I’ve tried hard to follow your method of exposure and opportunity to my kids. I remember watching a coach leer a my 4-year-old daughter in her first gymnastics class. She had the talent, a strong work ethic and the perfect body type for gymnastics. And he wanted her. That was the last time she took gymnastics. I didn’t want a fun 4-year-old activity to be turned into someone else’s dream. Maybe I was right. She has found other passions along the way that suit her better. Maybe I was wrong and she could have been a world-class gymnast.

    My brother often blames my parents for not pushing him harder in sports when he was a kid. My parents remember it differently. They remember a highly talented athlete who didn’t have the killer instinct and who would get stomach aches right before every practice session. It’s hard to know what to do as a parent. I think all you can really do is pay attention, trust your instincts and keep your own ego out of the equation.

    1. I never had that aggressive competitive gene in me, and I sometimes worry that my kids will be at a disadvantage when faced with others who are taught from birth to win win win as if that’s all that matters. But I think that, if anything, I’ve taught them that winning is not all that matters, and that competing with self is far more important than competing with others. But oh yes indeed, we do our best and all we can do is pay attention. As for your daughter, and your brother….I do think that the instinct and drive must come from within. Sometimes it needs support, but it must be there in the first place. But then again, being a parent is the must humbling thing we do, ever, and I’m never sure!

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