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Sebald Beham: The Fool and the Foolish Woman
(circa 1531-50)

"What wiser course could any half-wit devise?"

My mother would have said that I was singing my FoolHead off, but I was actually singing it on. Plugged into my studio headphones and finally satisfied with the filtering, I was suspended in an other world, singing while playing my guitar. Once tuned up and with my eyes closed, I had dulled all extraneous senses so that I could focus upon the few of them important to my mission. I was, in the vernacular, practicing, but I was more like focusing. The focusing's much harder, and a necessary precedent if practicing's to satisfy its purpose. The biggest challenge involves overcoming the distractions, and plugging into my sensory depravation system definitely helps. It seems that I can accomplish nothing as long as my full range of senses remain active. I must dismiss some feelings to make either sense or progress. I must put on my FoolHead, not remove it.

Performing seems a necessarily mindless activity.
I do not mean completely mindless, but less mind than, say, creating might demand. It's essentially a repetition, deliberately omitting most options to recreate a narrowly intended one. With the possible exception of jazz musicians, most performers work from a prepared script. Their remit involves recreating that script rather than inventing anything beyond, and even jazz musicians work within necessarily narrow confines, though their product might prove the more creative. It, too remains bounded, and does not in any moment require the full gambit of native intelligence or senses from any of its purveyors. They, too, must become sort of stupid to successfully perform, adhering to key and tempo however they might vary from the classical. Classical musicians must become masters of truly mindless repetition. Even us so-called folk performers must manage to muster our own sort of discipline to successfully entertain someone, especially ourselves, who should probably always know better.

I feel as though I am engaged in fool training, for I feel as though I really must show myself a fool for my art in order to properly perform it. I must somehow tolerate a hundred imperfect performances to perhaps stumble into one minimally acceptable to my public. This amounts to a lot of less than satisfying performances with me as the sole or primary audience. I can worry about disturbing The Muse's experience with my thumping foot and my caterwauling attempts, but I'm much better off when I can remain more thoughtless. I need to take what I need for this, and so reducing my usual emphatic sensibilities seems at least a necessary accommodation. I must become a son-of-a-bitch for my art first, and save any thoughtfulness for seeking forgiveness later. I must first become single-minded and fool-headed enough to mislead myself into it.

I deceive myself that I'm making real progress. If I were in my right mind, with a wise head on my shoulders, I'd never successfully misdirect my better judgement in the general direction of genuine accomplishment. I engage in a deliberate fool's mission, one only a right and proper fool would ever even imagine undertaking. To successfully run this gauntlet, I must be a little absent, perhaps a little less than just single-minded. Half-witted might better suit this effort. My greatest danger might be that I could too easily out-smart myself. I could know better. I could undermine my remaining motivation by properly categorizing this mission, which will not produce salvation. It will more likely yield at least a little public humiliation. Under no foreseeable condition will it produce perfection. At best, perhaps good enough might manifest.

It's better, I suspect, to just not dwell upon it. Inhibiting perception and thus intelligence definitely helps. Suspended in my sensory deprivation chamber, I might manage to master that narrow world by adding a touch more reverb and resetting volume levels. I can better hear myself whispering my deepest hopes and wishes and I better tolerate the blemishes which might guide me into tolerable performances. I work in snippets with my eyes closed, unconcerned about remembering words. I repeat the more difficult changes while wondering if my fingers will ever properly contort themselves again, all without obsessing. I've successfully narrowed my world so that I might more broadly open it, a practicing half-wit, deliberately stupid. What wiser course could any half-wit devise?

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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