I hope you are staying warm and safe out there…So, I have some pretty big news to share:
I won a Fulbright Award!
This has been a long time coming — what with Covid wreaking havoc everywhere it was really uncertain whether the Fulbright program would be able to go forward this year. But happily, it worked out for me, so pretty soon I’ll be in Korea, working on various projects and I plan to share my adventures here with you! I’m excited and grateful, of course, but also nervous to be embarking on this new chapter of my life, especially during these strange times. At the same time, I feel honored to have this chance to flex my creative courage and share my experiences with you.
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Since I received my Fulbright in the creative writing category, I thought it might be helpful for me to share some ideas about how creative writing has helped me and my violin playing:
How Creative Writing Could Make You a Happier Musician
In classical music, we accept nothing less than perfection. We mustn’t miss a shift or play out of tune. This perfectionism made me relentless and hard-working and followed me from The Juilliard School to the M.F.A. classroom. But it also made me deeply afraid to take risks, to grow. I suspect I’m not alone in struggling with toxic perfectionism. If you struggle, too, consider putting your violin away. Not forever, just for a pause.
There’s an idea that I like called “wabi-sabi,” the embracing of flaws in pottery where, instead of throwing away broken pieces, they’re mended with gold lacquer so that the restored object is gilded, made more beautiful. In Korea, we have the idea of “mak” or suddenness. A welcoming of imperfection that’s present in architecture and aesthetics. An affection for the unrehearsed, the unprepared. The surprise of unplanned delight.
Like meditation, writing has provided surprising lessons that have helped me with my violin playing:
1) Create distance from the inner critic.
Our inner critic is a bully who doesn’t want us to change. Through writing, I’ve learned to grow fond(er) of the “sh**ty first drafts,” a term coined by writer Anne Lamott. Crappy early work is necessary. A willingness to tolerate it without self-loathing makes it possible for me to accept “sh**ty practice days” on my violin, too.
2) Curiosity NOT judgement.
This is a mantra from the writer and teacher, Megan Stielstra. When I’m too tight in my writing (or violin playing), it’s because I’m trying too hard to be good. Judgement is heavy, mocking the toilet paper stuck to our shoe. Curiosity is lighter, gazing at our mismatched socks wondering, “hmm, how did that happen? Do I want to fix it? Maybe I like it this way?” Curiosity helps us grow in spite of our flaws. Judgement keeps us stuck in our flaws.
3) Clarify your thoughts.
Everyone’s a writer. If you think, you’re a writer. If you talk, you’re a writer. The legendary pianist and pedagogue Leon Fleisher said that if we can’t articulate what we’re trying to do with words, then our intentions aren’t clear enough in our minds. Writing helps us understand ourselves. The clarity of mind that comes from writing makes you a better problem-solver and musician, not to mention better human, citizen, and advocate.
4) The importance of “play” and making something of your own.
Writing teaches us to follow our creative impulses. Making my own stuff is like being a kid, playing for play’s sake. I’ll write something that I might throw away or put in a drawer. But it’s mine, something I made for myself. What do I want? What do I think? Instead of: Am I doing it right? What will other people think? Writing cultivates a creative mindset instead of a corrective mindset
A term I use with my writing students and violin students is “creative courage” or the willingness to:
…be brave and take risks
…make mistakes and fail often
Writing has made me more creatively courageous and a happier violinist. I think you might enjoy writing, too!