I don’t just enjoy writing, some part of me needs to write. I spent much of the early part of the week drafting a very long proposal on the behalf of a committee on which I serve at DePauw. The proposal is the culmination of over a year and a half’s work, including much disagreement within the committee. The process was so infamously contentious that the committee which must review my committee’s proposal requested a recounting of how we reached our decision.
And so the proposal needed to not only present the arguments for our recommendation itself, but also given an even-handed and fair account of the disagreements and how they were eventually resolved (or at least moved past). It took many hours to draft; overall it was a fascinating and enjoyable process. There’s a certain satisfaction that comes from doing a significant piece of writing, especially when it was well-received by my colleagues, many of whom expressed their appreciation.
One of my colleagues was so impressed with the draft that he honestly asked me why I was a music professor when i could write so well. (OK, no pretension of false modesty here. And once I wrote a document for another committee, which included members of the Board of Trustees, one of whom said, “If you can write like this, what the hell are you doing in the School of Music?”) I remarked that had I not gone into music, I think I’d have enjoyed being a lawyer. I love developing arguments and being an advocate.
But a few days of being absorbed by this process, as interesting and enjoyable and satisfying as it was, left me feeling not really myself. Why? There wasn’t time or energy left to really practice. And it came after a week out of town, where I did some playing and had beautiful experiences doing so with my relative who is recovering from a stroke. It was a fairly limited amount of playing, and no actually practicing or working.
When I don’t practice and play a lot, when I don’t feel really in shape as a cellist, I get somewhat miserable. (Can one really be only somewhat miserable?) People who live with me discover this rather quickly. My former father-in-law was the first to name it. “If Eric doesn’t practice, he’s pretty much impossible to live with,” he explained with a sigh and a smile–and combination of exasperation and paternal pride (he is a musician, too) that I’ve never experienced before or since.
And so there it is: when I’m not being a cellist, I don’t feel myself. It’s something I recognized back in my senior year of high school. I was faced with the choice of going to a conservatory or going to a university. My academic teachers wanted me to major in literature or philosophy; my music teachers urged me to pursue performance. (False modesty thrown to the wind, I’ll also mention that of my father’s law partners said I was one of the smartest people he’d ever met–which surprised the heck out of me, since it seemed to me we’d had too little contact for him to have any sense of me); he told my father he couldn’t understand why I’d even consider going into music when I could become a doctor or a lawyer.)
I wrestled with the decision. (If you’ve read this blog much, you know that I’m an agonizer and have a hard time being decisive about important decisions.) This was a hard one, at least as long as I tried to figure out what I should do.
Then somehow I realized something which made the decision for me: that I felt the most alive, the most fully myself, when I was making music. 30, 31 years later, it’s still as simple as that. I’m most alive, most me, when I’m playing and practicing and making music.
So as much as I like writing, I think it’s safe to say I’m a cello player who writes, not a writer who cellos.