I'm not a musician, and I'm especially not a singer. My 10,000 hours of practice are with writing. The Malcolm Gladwell-distributed theory is that fluidity in any vocation starts appearing at around 10,000 hours. When I started to write without thinking about it, I became ashamed of my writing. Sounds perverse, right? I could find nothing to take pride in. Before, while I was learning the tools and ridding myself of the first round of cliches, I took great pride in my writing, especially as it seemed to improve. But one day, I was done. Writing just happened. I started to think of it as a parlor trick. It always worked, and seldom was far from me. When a dear friend expressed admiration for something I had written, and I responded that it was my parlor trick, she became alarmed. To her, "parlor trick" meant insincerity. I think she was wise to be alarmed, and now I think I was wrong to have used the term. At the time, I truly didn't believe I had done anything, or written anything particularly eloquent. I didn't feel I had done anything much at all. Taking credit for it seemed crazy. Insincere even.
With work and discipline, anyone meets his or her capacity to leap onto the back of the winged muse and take off. I imagine it feels the same for just about everyone who experiences it. No? A venture capitalist feels it when she starts the dance. An opera singer when she hears the overture. An athlete when the gun goes off. A plumber when he reaches for a wrench.
Last night watching Bellini's The Capulets and the Montagues, I couldn't help think about Maria Callas singing Norma. Her seemingly effortless "Casta diva," the aria she opens with, floats into the divine while staying painfully human and worldly. She is meeting the muse on both its terms and hers. There were moments last night like that. And that was enough. It didn't need to be sustained to be welcomed and to last and last. Here's another performance by the mezzo-soprano I enjoyed last night, Joyce DiDonato, playing Romeo, and a different Juliet:
So what is it to meet the muse and stop taking credit for mastery, and at the same time feel the sincerity of something flowing through me that is not necessarily just me? It's as if by calling it a parlor trick I wasn't giving credit to the mix of history, discipline, and conscious acceptance of the divine that allows the flow to emerge as a timeless aria, or just a note to a friend.