Last week This American Life rebroadcast an episode in which a number of kids from a poor New York public school went to visit a rich private school.  The reactions of some of the kids highlighted a little-discussed effect of poverty.  Even when these kids were given opportunities to escape their world, they were brought down by a mindset that told them that they did not “deserve” good things.

I have experienced the sense of “don’t deserve.”  But with me it was about talent, especially on the piano.  That’s why I’m writing about it here.

At the end of the summer, I heard that my friend Katherine Moore was feeling uncertain about where she was in her career.  So I asked her if she’d like to come teach with me at my music school.  She turned right around and asked if I had plans to expand the school into something much bigger.


I immediately said, “No.”  I was terrified by that idea!  I had my little school and it was safe and secure, and I wasn’t interested in taking risks.


But when I thought about what she said, her reasons for expanding made sense, and my own reasons for not expanding didn’t.  So I took a deep breath, turned around and told her, “Yes.” 

I've been "stuck" for sometime, in my writing and my life.  Sure, things were going all right, but there was something I felt I was missing.  This poem came to me today out of nowhere and it seemed to answer my question.


Happy New Year to you and everyone you love.

My wife, who believes in me, is sending me in February to the San Francisco Writer’s Conference.  There I will attempt to find people who want to help me go from good to great.  In order to do that, I’m preparing my elevator speech and my bio.

In the world of creativity and performance we must “know our audience.”  I’ve preached that, and it has really helped me to focus my efforts on the people that I can most easily reach, and that are most interested in what I’m doing.  Sometimes, however, I perform for the wrong audience.

When I was a child, I had to endure a great sadness.  While I have since adequately dealt with it, there are times when the memory or the consequences of this sadness completely overwhelms me.   It feels like an unbearable weight, something I’m just not going to be able to carry. 


When I get stuck over handling my emotions, I like to think about the body.  Sometimes figuring out how to deal with a problem of the body can teach me how to deal with problems of the mind or the heart.  On the body, the unbearable weight is the head. 

I have no more right to write a remembrance of Ron Dicenzo than anyone else who knew him.  I only venture to do so because he shared many stories of his life with me that I would prefer were kept alive, and because I consider him a great friend.  When I attended Oberlin in the late 80’s it was possible to be great friends with a professor without invoking any electronic demons like Facebook, if you had the courage and the will.

When I was a young teenager it became necessary for me to numb myself in order to survive and move ahead.  I had to block a certain amount of emotional and social input so that I could manage emotionally and socially.  Without realizing it, I also closed myself to physical sensation as well.


Many years later when I’d gotten well into the process of untying my knots and emerging as a social / emotional person, I discovered a stumbling block.  I was finding physical sensation a difficult thing to process.  What helped me through this block was realizing that sensation is not pain.

As I write this, I am a few hours away from participating in an afternoon recital with some of my colleagues.  Many of my students will be there with their parents.  Although I am only playing a short movement from a Mozart sonata, I am feeling the pressure.


Last Friday, though, something happened to change the balance of the equation.  I was opening a folding door and the third and fourth fingers on my left hand got caught.  The third finger was jammed and swelled up so that it wouldn’t really bend.


Over the course of the day, the injury retreated enough that I was confident I could still play the recital.  However, it was uncomfortable and I was no longer certain I would play well.  This setback turned out to have an interesting benefit.


I think people fall into two camps when it comes to mistakes, or are of two minds.  On one side, we seem to understand that mistakes are necessary in order to learn.  On the other, we seem to agree that mistakes are something to be avoided.


If I accept both ideas, then I don’t know whether to welcome mistakes or dread them.  I don’t think its enough to simply accept both statements as valid.  Maybe there’s more to mistakes than meets the eye.

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