There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time. This expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it.
It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.
No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others. – Martha Graham
I have learned that my books of music tear in a certain place when I throw them aggravatedly across the practice room with my left hand (and for whatever reason, it’s always my left hand). Today during a coaching I added another volume to my collection with torn covers as a result of a minor tantrum.
Everything my coach asked me to do was met with discouraged resistance. “Find a higher resonance” I don’t know how. “Relax the breath” I’ve never been able to do that. “Use less pressure” I don’t know what that means. So after about fifteen minutes of hating the sound of my voice, I abandoned all pretense of maturity and threw my score across the room.
My patient coach was laughing at me, commenting that he had just finished congratulating me on winning an award, and I was still so down on myself that I could barely see straight. What could I say? The award, though an honor, hadn’t satisfied me, didn’t mean I was singing as I should be. My last few practice sessions had been crap – I couldn’t sing in tune, couldn’t even out my vibrato, and sometimes couldn’t get through a phrase. What good does an award do me if I sound like garbage? I thought.
I know I don’t sound like garbage. Still, I always want to be better, which is probably not an uncommon desire among people who are already very good at something. Driving home from my coaching a delivery van from “Wacky Wings” rolled up next to me, and the driver gave a creepy stare. Rather than being unnerved I indulged one of my worst habits: Imagining life is easier for other people. “I bet he’s not hung up on evening out his coloratura”, I thought. More remarkable evidence of my emotional maturity.
Sometimes I imagine what it would be like to be satisfied. It’s not that I don’t feel accomplishment: I go to bed most evenings happy about and thankful for all that has happened that day. Yet every night at bedtime I have even higher hopes for tomorrow. What would it be like not to be constantly pushing to improve?
As a teenager I had that quote from Martha Graham hanging above my bed, even though I didn’t really understand the last paragraph. Suddenly tonight, I do. I will live my whole life knowing I can always be just a little bit better, and knowing that improvement is the duty one owes to a gift.