ACW

ACW

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Learning or playing?

The other day I was carrying my cello to a friend’s house.  My cello, in its big blue case, gets lots of comments whenever I carry it anywhere, because I wear it on my back and it makes me look like a petite, female version of Obelix with his menhir.  I once had a label stuck to the case which answered the most commonly heard questions: ‘Yes, it’s a cello.  Yes, it’s heavy.  No, I don’t wish I played the piccolo.  Yes, it’s very hard to get it under my chin…’
This time, though, an acquaintance stopped me with a question I hadn’t heard before: “Are you learning, or do you play?”
I knew what he meant, of course, but it struck me as an odd question, and reminded me of the famous answer that cellist Pablo Casals gave when asked why he still did so much practice in his nineties: “I think I am making some progress”.   Surely, a player never stops learning, and a learner has always been playing?

Just started learning - but definitely playing!

Have you ever been haunted by a question or a phrase?  By the middle of the following week I was still chewing over the invisible line between ‘learning’ and ‘playing’, but I had also noticed that if I translated the question so that it referred to my writing, my reaction to it was strangely different.
“Are you learning, or do you write?”
For some reason, though I was happy for learning and playing to co-exist in musicians, when it comes to my writing it appears that I’ve been chasing that invisible line.  I’ve been waiting for the moment when I can say that I’ve arrived as a writer, when I can confidently answer, learning days behind me, that I write.
Oddly, though, that line seems to be ill-defined.  It keeps moving.  With every article, blog, script or book, it shifts a bit further away to the next publication, the next recognition.  Maybe once I have written a work of fiction, maybe once I have published my first novel, maybe the first time I’m asked to sign a book, maybe when I have a best selling trilogy and can live off my royalties, I’ll finally feel like An Author.
How silly I have been not to see that it’s the same question.  Am I learning, or do I write?  It’s the same for every writer: we have always written, and we will never stop learning.

I think I am making some progress.

13 comments:

  1. Amy, this is another good post. It seems that cellos attract more attention from passers-by than other instruments. When my now grown-up children were learning they seemed to cause a stir in the short distance to their teacher's house! perhaps someone should compile a book of comments made to cellists in transit... Sue

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You should try looking up viola jokes on the internet, Sue!

      Delete
    2. Oh, I know, but do people in the street recognise a viola case, Fiona? Sue

      Delete
    3. They don't...so then I have to explain it's a viola, and what the difference is between that and a violin!

      Delete
  2. Excellent Amalogy Amy. It is so true that we are always writing and yet always learning at the same time. Beautifully put

    ReplyDelete
  3. I agree, Amy, it's a lovely analogy. I'm sure this is why so many of my music pupils quit: they want to play, but they don't want to learn!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I was carrying my guitar on my back a while ago, on the way to church, when an old lady on a bench said, 'Is that a surfboard?' It being winter, and me looking as little like a surfer as it's possible to look, it amused me. As for defining oneself as an 'author' I was in a writers' workshop the other day when people were saying exactly the same - the goalposts just keep moving. Some said it was about guilt - maybe it wasn't a 'proper job' in the eyes of some, so we really needed a lot of evidence to validate it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's very true! At least musicians have lots of ways of looking to the outside world as if they've arrived: playing in a pro orchestra, selling concert tickets, even teaching. But writers who Are Writers in the public eye are very rare and they're people like JK Rowling. Most unfair.

      Delete
  5. Great post. I've been writing professionally for 37 years and I still feel like a complete beginner.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Same as all the rest of you - we never stop learning, and we are always looking to the next accolade to underline that we've arrived - only we know, 'really', that we haven't! Nice piece.

    ReplyDelete
  7. A great way of looking at writing and anything in life, when you think about it. I could say the same for teaching, cooking and child-rearing :) A wise and beautifully written post...

    ReplyDelete
  8. The next day conference of The Scottish Fellowship of Christian Writers has a speaker (Ruth Aird)talking abut 'Impostership Theory' in relation to writers. Ruth has researched and written a paper on it. Seems we all struggle with feeling un-entitled to call ourselves 'a writer', let alone the even grander 'author'.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Oh, yes yes yes yes yes.
    Thank you. x

    ReplyDelete