Monday, February 22, 2010

How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?

I was reminded again this afternoon that you are what you practice. It's been almost three weeks since I've braved running the streets of Arlington. More accurately, there has been nowhere other than snow-narrowed streets to run until the past couple of days when sidewalks and bike paths began to reappear.
If you practice couch potatoing you become a couch potato, and couch potatoes find that first running a bit more painful than runners do. On the other hand, having been in the practice of running it was easier to start up again than it would have been had I not been running all winter.
The season of Lent invites us to take on a practice -- a spiritual discipline, if you will. Running has been part of that for me off and on for many years. I've never found that I love it, but I have found that I need it, not just physically but emotionally and spiritually as well.
We do become what we practice, and thus I have become a runner. Putting it that way, however, raises performance expectations that are ingrained in us in this culture from childhood. To be a runner -- or an athlete in general -- carries for many of us the implicit framework of winning and losing, and because I have neither the innate giftedness nor the drive and dedication to be competitive I will never win any races nor turn in any sterling times.
I'm just happy to get to the beer and pizza after the run! Nevertheless, I am a runner.
In the same way, as David LaMotte once told me, if you make music you are a musician. It doesn't matter whether or not you make great music for others to enjoy or simply sing a lot in the shower, if you make music you are a musician. You are what you practice.
The great thing about practices, from that point of view, is that it is never too late to become something new. You can take up painting and become a painter, or writing and become a writer, or cycling and become a cyclist.
The point is not to become the best in the world, but to take the gifts you have been given, even the ones you do not discover until late in life, and make the best out of them.
So it goes with my Lenten discipline this year: to write at least a little bit every day. Not with the expectation of becoming another Hemingway or Halberstam, but with the knowledge that I am a writer because I practice writing.
Practice does not make perfect, no matter what they say, because it is not about arriving at some point and crossing some arbitrary marker that makes one a writer or runner or whatever. Practice simply makes you what you are, and that will never be perfect or complete until the journey ends.


Anonymous said...

Nice commentary on the act of becoming! I'd never thought about it quite that way before.

Anonymous said...

Tangentially related article from the American Historical Association: