The Important Things In Life Are The Things You Do

This is The Grendel:

Grendel for web

He just turned 14.  I’ve had him for 10 or 11 years.  I’ve just found out that he won’t make it to 15.  He probably won’t see much of 14 even.  He’s very very ill and the vet has informed us that even the most aggressive treatment will mean the difference between his leaving this form between any moment and a few months from now.

It’s heartbreaking to me.  After a decade, I could not love a son more than The Grendel.  I’d set every guitar I own on fire if it would make him better without a moment’s hesitation.

But it won’t.

When I lived in Sylmar, my cat Oliver died from old age and that was hard.  (“Hard” in the sense that as a child, I went to something like 14 funerals of family and friends in a single year and have attended many more since then.  I understand loss intimately.)  I buried him in the backyard in my favorite shirt, and I cried like a little boy for a while.

This creature with a plum sized brain has taught me so much.  He taught me to be generous.  He taught me to give of myself and to do everything – eating, sleeping, playing – with all the attention and energy available to me.  More than anything, he taught me to be grateful.  Grateful for the time I had with him.  Grateful for the lessons that he taught me.  Grateful for showing me the love I had in my heart and for being someone I could give it to unconditionally.

I love my guitars but they’re just a tool.  I use them like I’d use a favorite pen – but I’ll never love a guitar like I love The Grendel.

So now I try to make him comfortable.  I try to give him what I can and try not to cry as Candace takes pictures of him being cute.

There are lines to get under my fingers, songs to record, things to write – but those things will wait.  Those things will still be there tomorrow.  My boy is here today.

The important things in life are the things you do. 20 years from now – you won’t remember that thing you saw on YouTube.  You’ll remember the moments that were real.  You’ll remember the warmth of the sun on the back of your neck as you and your beloved are walking towards the perfect skyline.  You’ll remember the freckled lip and the silent meow.

As a musician, your job is to express something and move other people.  To do that you need to develop substantial skill, but you also need to live a bit to have something to actually say.  It’s why a 13-year old boy will probably not write the most devastating love song you’ve ever heard – even though he’s convinced that it could not be any heavier.

Having things to say takes time, it takes other people and it takes other experiences.

Being a little older you see the balance in keeping both those things in check.

A long time ago, I realized that death gives life meaning.  It’s only in the finite that there is a sense of urgency to accomplish something.  If you had forever to get good at guitar, it wouldn’t mean much because everyone would eventually get good at it.

It saddens me that my boy will eventually be gone but that’s the price of being here and I wouldn’t give up my time with him for anything.

Everybody gets a ticket at birth and at some point, somebody collects the ticket.   The good news (other than the fact that you get a ticket at all) is that once you’re tall enough to get on the ride – you get to determine both the ride and how you interact with it.

It’s a tremendous amount of power.  Use it passionately.  Use it wisely.  Use it to make the world a better place.

For now – I have to go learn whatever lessons The Grendel’s willing to teach me.

As always, thanks for reading.

-SC

Finding The Deeper Lesson

Finding mastery in strange places….

One person who’s fascinating to me is Gordon Ramsay (in spite of a celebrity chef status).  I remember years ago, on an early season of Hell’s Kitchen, a Cambridge resident that competed on the show and interviewed by the local Fox affiliate after she was voted off.   When asked about how mean or callous he was, the woman replied that he was really neither.  She said he was a world-class chef who maintained high standards since his name was going out on everything and that his demands were in line with what was expected from any professional kitchen.

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Another thing that fascinates me about Chef Ramsay (other than the fact that he came from a working class background and parlayed a career ending soccer injury into a pursuit of cooking) is that his mastery shines through on everything he does.  The next time you get a chance to see him do a cooking demonstration, watch the ease and speed he moves at.  Everything he does on camera is graceful, seamless and effortless.  If you’ve ever tried to pull off a video demonstration of something – you know how hard getting everything right really is (much less doing it on a sound stage in front of a national audience).

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Reaching a level of technical precision where the technique is invisible is a sign of true mastery.

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According to those who know, at the highest level the mastery of one thing is the same as the mastery of all things.   In other words, the focus, skill set and mental space that one needs to enter to be a master musician – is the same that it takes to be a great chef, a great athlete or anything great.

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Once you learn how to master something, you’ve gained a skill set in mastery and, ultimately, that lesson can be the greater take away.

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Years ago, when I was at my undergrad I wanted to get into martial arts.  I went to study kickboxing (since I had no aptitude for kicking) and my lesson was  with a guy who was nationally ranked.  When I went for the introductory lesson – we did a little bag work and when it was done I asked some questions about the martial arts as a philosophy and he replied that there was no philosophy, it was just about hitting the bag.  (That should have been a huge warning sign but instead I stuck it out for about 3 months).  I remember a class he was teaching where he was doing a weight lifting routine during a full class session of about 20 people.  We were working on kicks and he was teaching us by doing bench presses on a universal weight machine.

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Some of the classes were taught by a student of his and while the student teacher was not at the technical skill level level of the main instructor, these were the most informative classes that I had there.  This teacher was attentive and really helped me address specific technical things and applications.  He might not have been at the technical level of the main teacher, but he was the much better teacher of the two.

Needless to say, I didn’t learn a lot from the main teacher about kickboxing (other than the fact that he was a lot better at it than I was).  But I did learn more than I thought I did.

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The initial conclusions I took away from this experience were:

  • kickboxing sucks and/or
  • I suck at kickboxing

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Obviously kickboxing doesn’t suck and neither of these were the real lessons for me.  They were just faulty conclusions that I came to.

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Eventually, I realized that I had learned some other things:

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    • I learned a lot about teaching – both good and bad practices.
    • I learned some things about myself like my threshold for frustration and the value of discipline and focus.
    • I started thinking about how training affects performance which opened some doors for practicing later on.

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The take away

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If someone plays something better than you, it doesn’t mean you’re hopeless as a guitar player – but it does mean that person devoted more time to something than you did.

It’s easy to fall into those mental traps and it’s also easy to take the wrong lesson from any given experience away with you. 

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Try to find the lessons in whatever you do and then dig deeper into them and see if they have a broader application.

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The wrong lessons are the self-defeating lessons. 

The right lessons are the self-empowering lessons.

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Thanks for reading!

-SC