Monday, March 21, 2011

Paths We Walk

Yesterday, I watched Mike emcee a local variety show.  It was mostly a concert for a community orchestra, composed of purely volunteer musicians. And I gotta tell you, they were pretty darn good.  Mike was good too, but I already knew that. :)

But watching a huge orchestra, adults of all ages, musicians playing all sorts of instruments, well it got me thinking. I know, I know. I always "get thinking" about these things.  In this case, I started thinking about my own days as a musician.  A long time ago, I took both piano and flute lessons.  Even voice lessons, at one point.  I was decent - I needed practice, it's true - but I had a natural inclination towards music.

And before music, it was dance.  I once took tap, ballet, jazz, and even hip-hop.  I loved dancing, hated the practices though (some of that I attribute to how mean little girls can be, especially when you're the chubby kid).  In time, just as I walked away from the flute and the piano and my voice lessons, I walked away from all those dance classes.

Some of these changes were necessary.  We moved around a few times during my formative years, so I had to find a new piano teacher or locate a new dance studio.  Sometimes, lessons were just to expensive.  But giving up the classes didn't have to equal giving up the hobby. I owned a flute, a piano, a pair of tap shoes.  Instead of practicing, embracing my passion for these arts, I let my talents rust and my music and dance muscles atrophy.  Those things were easy to give up, easy to ignore as I chose a different path.  Why?

What makes us choose what we want to be good at?  The men and women of that orchestra remained committed to playing the flute, the violin, the tuba.  No matter the odds, they kept at it.  Perfected their craft, honed their skills, and dedicated time as adults to pursuing their beloved hobby.  I didn't choose that path and I wonder why not. 

In the two years since I found out I was pregnant with Ellie, I've given up another hobby: theater.  For a long time, acting and working backstage on shows was my life.  It got me through the tough parts of college, the rough patches in my life.  I turned to the stage as a refuge and came to relish the sound of applause.  Acting turned me from a shy person to a confident one and it stayed a huge focus of my life for nearly a decade.  After college, I started to let go, still dabbling in costumes and props here and there.  I got back onto the stage a few years ago, happily acting beside Mike, and then just gave it up again. Just like that. 

Mike, as many of you know, is still very active in theater.  That is his passion.  Acting, directing, writing plays... he's even on the board on one local theater and hoping to coach a summer program for another.  His talents are alive and well, they get plenty of exercise, and he chooses to spend part of his free time dedicated to this craft.  Theater is part of who he is.  He chose to let it define him.  I let it go; I didn't choose it.

As you know, I chose a different path.  A more solitary path.  Writing.  It's a craft you must do alone, but that you can share with others when it's done.  You can't practice writing with a friend, not really.  You can't get a troupe together and perform a night of writing (umm... boring). I chose the most solitary artform there is.  What made me choose the path? What made me say, "Yes, this is the talent I want to develop"?

I guess we all face many times in out lives when we have to choose a path. How many talents in your life did you discover and choose to walk away from?  Today, if I pick up a flute, I can still play it...kinda.  I still remember how to do a timestep, with a few minutes practice.  And if I wanted to read you a dramatic monologue, I'd probably get by okay.  The talents lay dormant, the paths unexplored.

So watching that orchestra reminded me of these things.  Of how all the little choices we make in our childhoods can result in one big path.  One path to writing, for me.  One path to acting, for Mike. One path to playing the xylophone, for someone else.  I like to think of how I might've done, had I picked another path.  But I didn't.  

In 20 years from now, Ellie will have picked her own path too.  I guess I'll just have to tell her to follow her heart, her gut instinct.  It doesn't really matter to me what she does - professionally or as a hobby.  Maybe she'll make a career out of one of the things Mike and I choose to do as a hobby. Maybe she'll have an extraordinary talent for something I've never attempted.  Whatever it is, I'll push her to follow it.  I have my
path and she needs to find her own path too.

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