I used to be able to make music. The language was easy – like sounds with like sounds, punctuated with a few surprises, a bit of dissonance to ratchet tension to provide for a more satisfying conclusion. Just like writing.
Over the years, this talent started to melt away. To be fair, it was because I stopped actively practising. My piano was too large to bring up from home, I never spent the time or effort to find a group in need of a trombone player, so I effectively stopped playing, stopped getting better. The skills I developed regressed and now… well, I can still play reasonably well when called upon, but not nearly as well as I used to. Whenever I see live music, I immediately regret the fact that I’ve been lazy with my time. Last night, I saw live music.
Ben Folds was playing with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. It was a fantastic show, one that started with the conductor arriving on stage via a shiny red bike before Ben made it to the stage and the audience erupted with adulation and cat calls. (Aside: I will never, ever be comfortable with cat calls happening at an Edmonton Symphony Orchestra performance.) The night proceeded to be a more than a little surreal. Forget the part where that one guy you listen to is right in front of you, rocking the shit out of a piano. Focus on the part where this man, this unassuming creature, not only commands and conducts a sizeable audience, but a large group of amazing, professional musicians who are following his cues, escalating and ebbing to his whims. Imagine a section where this man decides to noodle around and make something up on the stage – cobbing something from nothing with a new notes and directions, producing his hand full of musical morsels and having the audience eating their fill, more than their fill, hooting and cheering as this thing happens in front of them.
Imagine the awe.
Then imagine the realization that you, you personally, are a fraud. A charlatan. That you will never ever amount to this, you will never have that talent.
This has never been an uncommon feeling for me. Routinely, I’m confronted with people who make me want to take a torch to anything I’ve ever written. Etgar Keret is a person who makes me feel particularly inadequate, a master of telling stories in mere paragraphs that lesser writers would require a full novel to convey. At the concert, it was my experience with self-disappointment in the writing realm that caused me to recognize the feeling that lurked below the joy of experiencing live music. It was also my experience with inadequacy that caused to light to a very specific fact as Folds closed out his set with the orchestra with one of my favourite songs.
Thank god I’m lucky enough to feel inadequate.
The Luckiest is a song about a confluence of events that the narrator believes brought him together with the person he is meant to be with. It’s a short song, succinct with it’s ideas, complete with an example of a reality where Things Didn’t Work Out – a brief heartbreak in a song filled with happiness and relief. Hearing it usually invokes a thoughtfulness on my part, as I decide to focus on the things that I’m quite glad I have. Thankfully, the list is long. For instance, I’m quite lucky that I got a job working at a comic book store. Oddly, this is a hard task to accomplish, and requires a confluence of several events to occur. I had to arrive in Edmonton at the exact right time, had to be available for part time work. In turn, the store had to be good, which (oddly enough) is a huge concern. If the shop wasn’t good, it would close or my love for the medium and the people would be stomped dead as the work would become to much work. A lot had to go exactly right for me to be where I am right now with my job. (Aside: I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that I’m lucky to have found my own soul mate. And no, not James, although I was lucky to cross paths with that loveable scamp as well.)
As well (and as I’ve already stated), I’ve been quite lucky to be gifted with the need to be better. In writing, in music and in life in general. There’s that part of my brain that tells me to always strive, to always be better than I’m being. It always shows me ways in which I can improve, shows me ways to hone the skills that I’ve been already given. I know that with my writing, I will never be satisfied with what I can come up with. Currently, I have an issue with deadlines and… you know, actually accomplishing things – which is a huge problem. You can talk about being a writer until you’re blue in the face, but the fact is, if you’re not actually doing something about it, you’ll never actually do it. Again, this is why I will never be a great musician. I know that I have at least a modicum of ability, but I don’t have the drive, nor the passion to be amazing. But with writing? With writing, I feel the drive. I feel the need. When I’m not getting things done, a hole opens up inside me, gaping and hungry. It eats away at everything around it until I fill it with something, with content.
I’m very lucky to have that ability. It’s what makes me strive to make my store better and better each and every day. It’s what makes me wash the windows, dust the shelves, re-order books, adjust orders, talk to my customers, and seek out new ones. It’s what causes me to look at my writing and demand more style, more coherency and less ineptitude. Hell, it’s why this site exists. As you may or may not know, a few years back, we were working for a comic book news and reviews type site, and decided that we had experienced enough negativity, and wanted to produce a platform where we could try and be better. Talk about the books we liked and how we could all probably get a little bit better at liking things, and building things up, rather than continually tearing things down. In small ways, we’ve succeeded. But it’s not enough. It’s never enough. And that’s what drives us, what allows us to continue. Maybe one day, it will make us good. But until then, we’ll count our lucky stars that we’re in this position, that we’ve arrived in this place, and that we’re happy with our choices and our place in the industry. But that’s all just a start.
Here’s to the future.