Thursday, March 6, 2008

Existentialism for beginners

A literary agent in San Francisco has written a post on why it takes so long to get a novel published, at the end of which he says: You have no choice.

My mother used to tell me a story about my grandfather. He was the most talented musician she knew: he taught himself to play the violin at the age of 12 on a fiddle he bought by mail order from money he'd made crabbing on the Chesapeake, he could play any string instrument by ear, he could play the piano by ear. His Uncle John, a doctor who'd trained as a doctor at Heidelberg, offered to pay to send him to college to study music. My grandfather thought of the concerts he'd been to: at the end the musicians couldn't wait to get away. He didn't want to hate music because music was his life. So he said he'd rather be a lawyer, and his uncle refused to pay, so he put himself through law school. He never did become a professional musician, but he loved music to the end of his life. He had a basement full of instruments he'd been unable to resist picking up at auction: two violins, a Gibson mandolin, a banjo, a viola, a cello, a bass, a couple of guitars, a ukelele. Grand piano in the living room. When he went to parties he drove people crazy because he couldn't see the point of a party without music: he'd bring out one or two of the instruments he'd brought along, and soon they'd all be singing while he played up a storm. Sometimes he'd go into his local music shop and the owner would let him play the Jefferson Stradivarius and say: Nobody gets the tone out of it that you do, John.

Nathan Bransford tells writers they have no choice but to put up with the things that make writers hate their work. Anyone with a crazy grandfather who played the Jefferson Strad for fun knows better.


Nathan Bransford said...

My grandfather once told me a story about my mother. My grandfather was a beekeeper, and he bought land in a remote high desert area along the border between Oregon and Idaho, but from that patch of land with a couple of colonies of bees he built one of the biggest bee operations in the west, with operations in California and Montana. Every June, before they transported the bees to Montana for the summer, they put my grandmother's upright piano on the truck before they loaded the bees. One summer, my grandfather tells me, my mother asked why they had to put my grandmother's piano on the truck, why didn't they just leave it in California. My grandfather said that my grandmother loved that piano, and their home in Montana would not be home without it. And so they loaded up the piano on the truck, just as they did every summer before. Now that piano is in my living room and I play it every night.

I don't have a moral, I just wanted to tell a story about my grandfather.

Ithaca said...

Well, I'm torn. One New Year's Resolution was to stop leaving bolshie comments on other people's blogs. I naturally now want to race over to NB's blog and reply. One thing is clear, my mother would probably have been better off married to someone like NB's grandfather. My grandfather played Mozart on the violin over her cradle (as one does) in the hope that she would be musical; when she was 4 she looked at the piano and discovered she could play by ear; about 8 years into my parents' marriage my grandfather gave my mother a grand piano which he had happened to pick up at an auction, which my father (a diplomat) then had to cart resentfully around South America. Years after their divorce the piano was still a source of grievance.

nsiqueiros said...

Doing something you love for money is an interesting thing indeed. There are expectations to be met of what will be wanted, and obligations to meet those expectations because you are being paid.

My senior year in high school I discovered I had an artistic side of me, particularly in the area of portrait drawing. I was immediately approached by people to do portraits of their children. My art teacher was basically my self-appointed agent, and would set up commissions for me. I got paid good money, but it didn't seem to make up for the fact that it took away from my enjoyment of just drawing something for the sake of drawing. I experienced a serious episode of art burn. I say serious because I ended up destroying most of my portfolio because there's something strangely therapeutic about doing so and just starting from scratch.

So, yeah, doing something you love for money can detract from personal enjoyment. A balance must be found where one can still enjoy the activity, while possibly being able to profit from it. Many people are able to be professionals at various skills, so it is possible, but it takes practice and experience. It takes making mistakes and learning from them.

I stopped drawing for money because I couldn't stand not enjoying something that I loved so much. I've learned though, that if one is going to do something they love for money, they must do it on their terms or else they do end up sacrificing personal satisfaction. I do pictures again for people, but I make it clear I work on the picture on my own time, and they take what I give them. They seem to be happy with that arrangement mostly because I say it with a lot of finesse and because my portraits are pretty decent.

The thing is that when it gets out of control, you really do start sacrificing your sanity for the sake of pleasing other people, and that's never fun.