practice makes practice; life is only perfect in practice

guitar fingers

When I practice my guitar, to get a song down or a smooth finger-picking riff, I have to run through it about a thousand times. I wish I could say I’m exaggerating but I don’t think so. Maybe I’m slower than the average, maybe not. I wouldn’t know.

I do know that rehearsing can carry an air of boring at times. But then I remember that just like writing practice, it’s incubation. Staring at the ceiling/sky looks like laziness but that’s gestation, too. That’s where I pluck poems or unearth song snippets or capture phrases for rant-ology! Or where those things discover me because if I’m not focused and willing to just show up, they can’t find me.

Incubation can be tedious to the mind and given our cultural child training of dividing work from play and calling one a chore and the other fun, labeling one good and one bad can turn practice to doldrums. But practice is life; there’s no real division but in the head.

Ask my broody hens who sit 23.9/7 on their eggs for 21 days. Talk about devotion and sustained intention. If they weren’t willing, if they got “bored,” there’d be no chicks. What fabulous girls they are; I believe they meditate and deep think during this time.

If I don’t pick up my guitar two or three times a day, there’d be no music either. I don’t have to pick and strum for 4o minutes each time; I just have to play. Whenever.

Notice the word: play. Yes, the brain’s dictator mutates play into: nose to the grindstone, humdrum, monotony, tyrannical lists and iron-fisted one-step, two-step, three-step, don’t look out the window or take any breaks. And then there’s the dreaded music theory before music actuality.

Play the music and the theory will come. Trust me, you’ll want to know.

I also like to stop on a good note. Literally. When I’ve gotten the phrasing right, when the riff was played through without a mistake or I’ve written a fabulously structured sentence, I cease. I’m left with the music-worm/poem-worm traipsing “correctly” in my head as I weed & water & cook & sing & read. When I go back to it, I’m jazzed.

The Zen folks call their work practice; us yogis do as well. All of life is a practice. We’ll never get it perfect because life isn’t flawless. That’s a truly boring unrealistic patriarchal myth and misery comes from pursuing what doesn’t exist.

So, “practice” the hard stuff in life first—just for a little bit—then move to the more polished exercises and before you know it what was difficult gets easier. Keep adding on merry-making challenges (no matter how complex) to keep the river flowing. Close on a spirit-filled, soul-ful satisfied note. Cultivate fun in all its forms, be it “work” or “play.”

These endorphins are free; clock in and claim them.

6 thoughts on “practice makes practice; life is only perfect in practice

  1. Right on! Write on. Writing every day since 2004 ruined my life for a time during my divorce: It gave my sociopath ex plenty of material (he subpoenaed my computer) to twist into a rope to hang me, even though I was plaintiff.

    One of the pieces they used against me was a short essay I’d written on why I sympathize/identify with drag queens–not having to do with gender (though the legal eagles involved didn’t get that) but having to do with hating to be perceived through a set of presumptions. (My ex used that to try and take custody of the kids on the grounds that I was sexually perverse, so to save on child support and distract from his own perverse misdeeds.)

    But the habit of art, like Van Gogh’s landscapes or Shakespeare’s sonnets, is precisely to build alternative structures sound enough to withstand the explosion of blown-up preconceptions.

    Like theirs, my art and yours is discovery: The “givens”–any pile of prehashed ideas–are antithetical to being surprised. You may be surprised outside of art–ocassionally one manages to escape moribund expectation–but likely it would be purely experiential, fleeting, or even destructive. It’s the nurturing embrace of our ready and waiting art that cultivates the common ocassion of discovery.

    It’s odd but true that practicing technique itself creates artistic opportunity.

    For example, not long before my Ivy League degrees, I was illiterate. I could read but I couldn’t write–couldn’t write a readable sentence: I didn’t know what a verb is or where to put a period. My childhood hadn’t created many basic educational opportunities.

    I was married and middle-aged before I learned the fundamental craft that risked all and saved my life: Writing late in my marriage showed me what was wrong and why I needed to get out. His narratives had always won me over until I came to recognize that adverb by adverb he kept (and keeps) lying about me, himself, our children, and our lives–and what a threat his lies posed to our children’s survival and mine. His habitual and often dangerous crimes against us were camouflaged and pardoned in his mind (and often for others) by the “marketing” language he effectively used to alter our perception of reality.

    Writing my way out of the abuse started in the practice, practice, practice every morning at my keyboard, without knowing what exactly I was doing: Wanting to get better at writing turned into getting better at everything, including seeing and believing the truth.

    As odd as it sounds, grammar was my door to clarity. It may have saved our lives. (It often defends us against lies.) And though we may never win in the court of popular opinion, grammatical purity has vouchsafed the motives of our minds and hearts. Being able to write a clean sentence was not just the beginning of my art, it was the birth of my speaking up for my children and myself.


    • I do believe writing (all art actually) truly does save lives. I’ve seen it over and over when I teach writing. When we put “air” to our words, the world within and without becomes clearer, our Self becomes more evident as the spirit it is. I wish you truth in that court of popular opinion.


  2. Thanks for teaching me to remove that line between work and play long ago. It has aided me in all of my successes and my appreciation of life. I’m happy to know that others can learn from you as well.

    Free endorphins!


    • Awww. I remember once we were going out to rake the yard and I said it would be fun. You said, laughing and teasing me, “Mamma, your idea of fun is twisted.” And we had such delight that day with the leaves…and other days: shelling fava beans, harvesting veggies, cleaning, figuring out notes together while composing music, the destruction video, running lines in poems by you, etc. You were a joy to work/play with. xo


  3. Thanks, Renee. I read in a book that 10,000 times is not an unreasonable number with which to strive for “perfection”, or better, “mastery.” So you’re doing really well, girl! Also, love the chickens meditating. Why should so many people think they’re stupid, anyway? Their gift is not having to understand and engage with all the reasons this world is fucked up. I do feel really sorry for most of them, though. Their intelligence multiplies infinitely when they are owned…nay, stewarded….. by us
    private families, together with our victory gardens.


    • I agree with your thoughts Claire. Nicely put. I also find it very difficult when people “decide” things about other beings (including humans) by projecting their own issues, ignorance, or just lack of vision on them. Upcoming blog post will discuss this. I find something very interesting by living with chickens. They have “group mind” and “individual mind” and they constantly shift between the two all day long given situations. That seems pretty darn smart to me.


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