It’s funny looking back on the directions one’s life might have taken. Sliding doors moments, I guess (I think I have said before how much I hated that movie but the idea is still an interesting one). What if…I had chosen art instead of music at high school (where they were timetabled on the same stream so you could only choose one, and I actually did better in art than in music but all my friends were music nerds and I wanted to be with them). What if…I had pursued a career in theatre instead of taking an admin job? What if…I had actually finished writing that novel back when I did my MA? What if…I had actually kept playing my flute through to AMus and beyond instead of stopping just short of it?
My grandfather said to my mum when I was a kid that my problem was I was reasonably good at such a range of things I would end up finding it difficult to focus and specialise. That has definitely been the case. I look at people who are brilliant artists, writers, musicians, theatre practitioners and I feel like I would never be able to get to a professional level at any of those pursuits. But here’s the thing, which I’ve been reminded about while watching Mozart in the Jungle, where the protagonist says (multiple times) that she had no life growing up because she practised five hours a day and that left time for nothing else: to get to be an expert you need to put in the time. Although his use of the research has been questioned, if you go by the figure cited by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers just as some sort of yardstick, you need to clock up 10,000 hours of practise to be an expert in something. That’s a lot of time even if the only thing you want to do is play piano or paint in oils or take photographs. But what if you want to do all the things? What if you go through bursts of creativity in one area, only to get distracted by something else, or to be discouraged when it gets too hard and not to have the motivation to push through that speed bump? Who has the time, amidst trying to keep body and soul together and pay one’s bills, to put multiple lots of 10,000 hours in?
On one level it doesn’t really matter. My life is not going to be defined by whether I produced any great masterworks or not – and even if I do, say, publish a novel, it’s unlikely to bring fame and fortune that last into perpetuity. It was definitely a temptation in my younger days to be thought of as brilliant, especially when you buy into things like a girl I did my MA with whose only desire was to publish and be considered one of the hottest authors under 25 or something…even though she didn’t really have a story she wanted to tell. Needless to say, her book wasn’t especially readable. Her motivation was to be featured in the arts pages of the Sydney Morning Herald, rather than to write beautiful fiction.
But the nice thing about coming to Launceston is that there seem to have been more opportunities to nurture all the various elements of my creative self and remember the enjoyment I get out of almost any creative pursuit. Now I am doing things for the joy of doing them, for the pleasure of creating, rather than wondering whether I’d ever be able to make a career out of them. Perhaps that’s just a side-effect of inching towards middle age (or am I already middle aged?).
I am actually enjoying practising my flute, being able to play whatever I want, not just having to play things by rote for an exam. I am enjoying feeling the muscle memory awaken after 20 years’ sleep, and gradually hearing a change in my playing. I am enjoying making music with other people, whether at Symphonic Band or at church…and that’s even extended to writing a song that got accepted into the Word Songwriting showcase (more on that soon). I am excited about getting onto the stage again in Sound of Music and singing soprano (what the HECK, I’m totally an alto, I swear). I can’t wait to get stuck into the writing retreat Karen and I have carved out for next week, where we will spend good chunks of each day just working on our writing and not having to think about anything else (though inevitably there are non-writing things I have to do…not so much a physical retreat for me as I am at home and not going to another location, but perhaps it’s more giving myself permission to take time out to work on writing instead of everything else that makes it a retreat).
Occasionally I still have those moments of ‘What if…’ or even ‘What if I never…’ but actually, as long as I keep creatively exploring, it doesn’t matter where I end up because the journey is where the bulk of the enjoyment lies.