Friday, May 13, 2016

So you've taken up the Cello?

“Yes, I have.”

“But aren’t you writing any longer?”

“Well, not as much.”

“It’s just that you’d mentioned a third novel in the Laguna series. Think you’ll write it?”

Conversations like this happen fairly often. You get known for doing one thing and people expect you’re going to always do that. After all, don’t you want be like Charles Dickens? He didn’t piddle around with other art forms or start playing the trumpet, did he? Neither did Hemingway. They stuck to writing and that’s as it should be. And, friends assume, that’s they way it should be with you too.

I’ve never subscribed to the one-track notion of what to do in retirement. What I did know was that with a delicious amount of time on my hands, I would have to do something besides watch constant reruns of “I Love Lucy” all day. Besides, I’ve always had a wide range of interests, always wanted to try new things just to see how I’d do with them. The image of Maude’s (Harold and Maude) jam-packed Pullman car of a dwelling comes to mind, her walls lined with the objects that had fascinated her, activities she’d liked to do, musical instruments she’d learned to play, altogether a collage of her engaging and captivating life.

Making pictures came first for me. Painting watercolors had me enthralled for quite a while. I went out to Balboa Park and painted with my friend Lew (quite a good painter) on many Saturday mornings. Never got very good, but I enjoyed setting up a sheet of Arches paper and getting out paints and deciding on a subject. Lew and I had a good time.

Then I took picture making a step higher when I went to live in Florence. I enrolled in a traditional art school of the sort that Da Vinci and Michelangelo would have approved of. There I learned to draw the human form. Later in my stay, I began to paint, and I could fairly well record what was in front of me. But at some point, I realized the difference between being a painter and being an artist. The latter has vision; the former merely uses his eyes to reproduce in oil paint, what’s there in front of him. I was (am) a painter. I can still do it although I don’t because my heart isn’t in it.

Thanks to reading a badly written novel that an acquaintance wrote, I got interested in writing more than thousand-word essays like this one. His ‘novel’, a collection of poorly constructed sentences that failed to construct a plot and anything like believable characters impelled me toward the idea that I could write a better story, that I could describe characters with verisimilitude, and that I had a few tales to tell.

The easel and paints stowed away, I sat down at the computer to figure out what became the Laguna novels. Within two years time, I had written The House on Shadow Lane and its sequel Lagunatics. The year after that, I wrote a third novel. In all that time, I hadn’t painted a single stroke.

Last summer, for some unknown reason, I decided that I’d like to re-learn the cello. I’d played the cello many years ago but had quit when life got hectic and too full. I’d started teaching high school back then, attending graduate school two nights each week, and teaching at a community college. The cello sat silent for some time before I sold it. But now almost thirty years later, in the summer of 2015, it called to me once more and I began lessons with a wonderful teacher named Edward. Here it is almost a year later and I’m playing fairly confidently at a decently intermediate level, and enjoying the challenge of playing with others (duets with friend Mark from time to time; an ensemble group as well). My goal is to become a thoroughly competent cellist, but I have no aspirations to compete with Yo-Yo Ma or become the first chair of the San Diego Symphony Orchestra or to star as a soloist. I want instead to hear myself make music and have people enjoy it enough to want to hear me play it again.

The point here is that you’ll be happier if you don’t limit yourself. Try everything that you thought you might like to do and don’t worry if you find out that you aren’t the world’s next Picasso or that your novel doesn’t hit the New York Times best seller list. Don’t worry about scoffers or critics either. Just do your best to have a good time following your passion even it’s a temporary one.

Truth is, you’ll find lots of people to encourage you to help you find your potential, and it may surprise you what’s hidden inside your talent bank. The important thing is not to fear failure, not to head into oil painting intent on perfection as if you’re going to paint a masterpiece, not to take inaccurate notes on your cello to heart. Don’t take yourself too seriously but give whatever you take up all you have and be prepared to find out that all you have isn’t enough. That’s just fine. You’re a more fulfilled person for having learned not only your limits but your capabilities.

By now you may be saying, “Well, it won’t be long before Restless Robert gives up the cello for some new hobby.” From what I’ve said here, you’d have every right to think that. The difference is that among the three pursuits I’ve talked about here, I am most passionate about learning the cello. Painting and writing both deeply interested me and writing still does, but I am in love with the cello and learning to play it better. There is something about its sonority, the responsiveness to the bow, to the almost instant gratification of being able to have it make music with me that transports me as no other endeavor has. So let me put your doubts about my loyalty to rest. Regardless of whatever else I do from here on, I will be playing the cello.

As for that third Laguna novel that my friends think is residing somewhere in my head, I say, “Could be!” There are no limits but time. You’re retired? Good! Follow your dreams—all of them.

Robert Heylmun

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