Way back when I was a piano student, I had to participate in the annual ritual of the recital. I hated it. HATED IT, and a lack of performance ability is why I eventually abandoned the career in music that was already supporting me.
But I did learn a lot from the whole recital ordeal, besides the fact that I am not cut out to be a performer (for reasons I am only now beginning to understand). My piano teacher was an inspired instructor, and one of her tenets was that to really learn a piece of repertoire, you had to master it, then put it away, then come back around later and master it again. I would learn my recital pieces in the fall, then forget about them over the winter, and pick them up again in spring.
I once asked Cathy Maxwell, who has written many a fine book, what one lesson she had to keep learning over and over as a writer. Her answer would have resonated with my piano teacher. She said something like: If the story isn’t coming, if I’ve tried all my usual tricks to get through a knothole, then I need to shut off the computer and walk away.
As a writer, I am rationally convinced of the creative necessity for frolics, holidays, and intermissions. The well goes dry if all I do is stare at the screen.
But society generally frowns on intermissions. We no longer have even two-minute commercial breaks, we instead binge entire seasons of streamed content. Our version of the Sabbath is usually a highly structured, busy day even if it’s a religiously observant day. Endless scrolling is the default design. Year round school (because less re-teaching, I know). Prep years instead of gap years. We are lucky to get a whole two weeks paid vacation after working without interruption for an entire year, and it’s not necessarily vacation–it’s “personal time,” meaning too bad if you use it all up being sick or caring for sick loved ones.
And yet, for some inexplicable reason, entrepreneurship across the whole US marketplace has been trending downward for fifty years. Now why is that?
Growing up, I heard, “Proboscis ad carborundum!” And if it wasn’t nose-to-the-grindstone, it was another of my dad’s famous aphorisms, “You gotta gnaw it to death.” And yet, the guy who pounded that into my head took almost daily long walks in nature when he was at his most productive, largely because my mom made him walk with her. He went on every possible sabbatical, he nipped off on weeks-long scientific “expeditions” that I suspect bore a resemblance to party boat excursions on a yacht with a lab on board.
Dad’s words venerated unrelenting effort, his deeds were about the absolute necessity of building in a seventh inning stretch–and a third inning stretch, and maybe a fifth inning stretch too.
How do you know you need an intermission? How do you build in the frolics and detours? What is your ideal break from the routine? Are you getting enough of them? To three commenters, I’ll send ARCs of Miss Dignified (no later than mid-December).