I believe in virtuosity. I believe in the consistent application of practice to develop the skill and strength to carry risk. I believe in being intimate with the fundamentals.
I didn’t always believe this.
It was a childhood interrupted that caused the need to rush into every activity with the urgency of emergency. I didn’t have the time to learn patience, so I would quickly absorb the basics and produce; sometimes, I succeeded. Writing was like this too. Not a work-a-day writer, I would promise pieces with impossible deadlines and barely survive the chaos. More often, however, I missed my mark with the drama of the overexposed. “Slow down’” I was told, “Go back to basics.” After enormous effort and small successes, I decided writing was an impossible vocation and quit. “It just wasn’t time,” I told myself.
Ten years ago my sons discovered the joys of biking the trails behind our suburban home. Inspired, I borrowed the elder’s mountain bike and flew around the course. Misjudging my trajectory on one of the jumps, I landed not on rubber but bone. Being familiar with my accidental nature, the boys laughingly escorted me home, limping. I had not broken my kneecap, fortunately, but I would invite further damage if I wasn’t careful. The warning didn’t land right either.
Last year I joined a fitness class with a Coach. I threw myself into the workouts at full intensity, a whole-hearted attempt to bear hug health and bring down the advancing years. This didn’t happen; instead I exhausted the damaged left knee and myself. My Coach’s mantra – heard within the gym and in emails – was consistency, then virtuosity. I had no idea what he was talking about. “I must not be jock enough to get the code,” I thought. “I guess I have to work harder.” I applied the same vigor to writing, which I had returned to at about the same time. When I did write, whenever I could fit it in; I found I was no better prepared than 10 years ago and having the same experience. “I must not be writer enough to get how this works,” I thought. “I guess I have to write harder.”
I did, and December brought surgery, syntax and new warnings. If I did not slow down and care for my knee, I would be replacing it with a manufactured one. And, if I did not care for my craft, I would be returning to the manufactured life. It was time to take my time.
I understand the mantra now. In hubris I have become convinced of the slow walk and the steady pace. I understand that risk is not the jumping off the cliff but rather practicing the landing. I understand that the basics are the base of grace.
I believe in virtuosity. I believe in the spectrum between the humility of mundane work and the genius of true mastery, and now I believe; I am somewhere in the middle.