Mastery Is Just Around the Corner

July 28th, 2019

So the other morning I watched the Wimbledon men’s finals, all five hours of it, the longest men’s final in the history of the tournament, and Roger Federer lost, which is an awful shame because he’s thirty-seven years old, which is a hundred and nine in dog tennis years, and, at the end, having spent more time running in this one match than the total amount I have run in my entire life, he did not look tired. And maybe the quality of his tennis had dropped a bit from five hours before, but it was still magnificent, and, apparently, this is all because he was a dilettante when he was a child.

Or so claims a new book called “Range”, by David Epstein, which I coincidentally started reading later that afternoon. Apparently, folks like Tiger Woods, who had a putting green in his mother’s womb, are in the minority in this fine world of ours. Early specialization isn’t suicide, but it isn’t the recipe for greatness that people keep suggesting it is. Apparently, the key is diversification, and making connections across disciplines.

This is good, because I’m not practicing right now.

A few months ago, I reported that I refused to be stopped by a month-long coughing fit. This was true, up to a point. What I did not report is that some other annoying and boring health issues over the last several months have also limited my musical adventures, and so other things have been filling my time.

I read. This book “Range”, for instance, or a fantastic, riotous “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”-type throwback called “Space Opera”, by Catherynne Valente, which you should not attempt to read while you’re drinking any liquid of any sort, for fear that it will spurt out your nose when you laugh. Or “Hot Protestants”, a book about the Puritans in England and New England, which will give you all sorts of warm fuzzy feelings about theocracy (not). Or “Cheer Up, Mr. Widdicombe”, a comedy of manners about neurotic wealthy people on Long Island. My wife, She Who Must Be Taunted, and I raid the new books section of the Cambridge Public Library, taking copious prisoners, every other Saturday, and these are some of the hostages I’ve taken home with me.

Or I use tools. Just like crows do, only with hands. Earlier this spring, I modified the platform bed I’d built years ago, which required some very exciting work with a hand-held circular saw, and I’m pleased to report that an after-incident inspection revealed that none of my fingers had been liberated from their moorings. I recently read that Django Reinhart had only three working fingers on his left hand, and I’m pretty keen to avoid that sort of challenge. (You may ask why, then, I use power tools in the vicinity of my hands, and the answer is simple: I can’t use them wiith my feet.)

Or I go out to hear other musicians. Perhaps you think this doesn’t count, since it falls under the category of “music”, but I find that listening is waaaaay different than performing, since, among other things, when I’m performing I’m the center of attention, which, as you’ve probably figured out, is one of my primary goals in life. The same night that Mr. Federer went down to defeat, I stopped by the Burren Backroom series to catch my friend Jason Hunt’s son Josh and his partner Holly Auna, and I enjoyed the show immensely and, as usual, came up with an idea for a new tune called “They Don’t Make Me Like They Used To” (this is what you get for letting me listen to songwriters from Nashville).

This may look to you like a dog’s breakfast of activities, but you’ll have to trust me when I tell you that it’ll all make sense eventually. I have a friend whose wife majored in mathematics, then got a graduate degree in library science, then got an MBA while her husband was clerking for a federal judge, and the job she got at the end of it was working for the New York Public Library overseeing the renovation of their science branch.

You just need patience. Someday, when I’m, oh, seventy-five or so, I’ll become a YouTube star by performing a musical version of the “Aeneid”, accompanying myself on the electric drill. And I’ll be a genius at it.

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