Ripped this old poem open, put in a new transmission and upgraded the OS, and trotted the revised edition back out at last night's Open Mic-
As a child I spent a lot of my time
worrying about making mistakes-
I was that nerdy kid who forgot a homework assignment
exactly once in twelve years of primary education,
and then seriously contemplated changing my name
and running off to Canada rather than tell my
parents I’d been kept after school because of it.
It was Mrs. Winters’ 7th grade Social Studies class,
March 12, 1975, by the way, and the assignment
was draw an imaginary animal of the future
and describe how it evolved from a currently-existing animal...
Not that I dwell on it or anything.
As an adult I’ve tried to shake out of that habit.
I’ve worked very hard to feel ok about doing
things in ways other people see as wrong-
And I work hard at it because, of course,
when it comes to being ok about being wrong,
there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about it.
“There’s really no such thing as the *correct* note”-
That’s a new self-help mantra
I’ve been repeating over and over to myself-
One evening recently
while attending a community theater production
of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance”
I watched as the lead soprano put that theory into practice.
Yes- there were some notes on the page
which Sir Arthur Sullivan had *suggested* she sing-
but the young woman seemed to take those
as an affront to her own ingenuity.
“Sure”, she was obviously thinking to herself,
“Those are the notes THEY want me to sing-
But I’ll show them!”
Did she have a point?
Ask any man who has put together a gas grill or
piece of IKEA furniture, and he will tell you-
instructions are at best a list of suggestions.
Yes, there were seven bolts, five nuts
and this oddly-shaped metal rod left over
when I finished,
but the grill fires up,
so how important could they be?
As the years have passed I’ve kept trying to hit
just the right note, and often missed,
and I’ve finally decided to take the advice
my high school guidance counselor gave me-
“If you can’t live your life as a good example for some,
at least proudly serve as a warning to others”.
There’s some solace in the fact that
many of art and poetry’s successes
spent their careers hitting the wrong note-
and one day people decided it wasn’t the wrong note after all
-and some of those artists and poets were even still alive to enjoy it.
But of course, many of art and poetry’s never-were’s
also spent their careers hitting the wrong note-
and in the end everybody just asked:
What the fuck was he thinking????
You play your notes and hope somebody else
will dance along with the tune,
and if you’re lucky, nobody throws tomatoes at you.
And you think the song will go on forever,
but of course it won't.
One morning people will wake up
and start talking about you in the past tense,
and when you’re in the past tense
you’ve walked through a door,
and you can never go back.
So lately I’ve begun to worry less
about right notes and wrong notes-
and I just keep hitting *some* note, like
that golden-haired Pirates of Penzance soprano;
she may have had Sir Arthur Sullivan
spinning like a top in his grave-
but even if she wasn’t technically faithful to the score,
her interpretation of it
was at least strikingly original.