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Agostino Carracci after Federico Barocci:
Aeneas and His Family Fleeing Troy (1595)

" … all the time remaining in this world to Practice …"

At its best, Practicing renews. Any its worst, it undermines its own intentions. It's never real work. It doesn't even pretend to be productive, to produce anything. It's all preliminary, preparatory, precursor to some future delivery, meaningless without its future looming before it. All that said, it can sometimes feel essential, necessary if not exactly required. It can inspire. It aspires to be more than it will likely deliver and therefore must be grasped with a forgiving hand. It can reward but it's never obligated to payback anything. It might revive or disappoint. It's too easily avoided. It probably qualifies as one of the very few truly good habits.

I become a different person under the influence of my Practicings.
The ritual itself seems altogether too easily avoided, for it would be very good for me if I treated it more as an indenture rather than as an inconvenience. The latter stems from grade school when practicing was a time-bound mandate, part of finishing homework. A half an hour before the mast, practicing that clarinet, or I wouldn't feel worthy of supper. I learned that practicing was simply work to be dispatched and I was learning just how to dispatch such work by going unconscious. That half hour passed much faster if expended in a waking dream, all too deliberately entranced, such that any result would usually slide right off me. I eventually learned to practice without even being present, punch that ticket, then proceed to supper absolved if not precisely saved. I grew to hate that clarinet.

My guitar and I always had a different, more intimate relationship. First of all, the guitar understood me better than ever did that damned clarinet. The clarinet exclusively dealt in single notes, never in chords, and I lost the ability to even hum along once I started playing any song. The guitar seems so much more companionable, conversational. With it, I could forge and maintain an actual relationship. I could hum and even sing along. I could play individual notes if I chose, but was not strictly limited to producing those. The blessed variety the guitar offered me made it the clearly superior companion. Further, other than Benny Goodman, few people ever cut much of a profile when blowing on a licorice stick. The guitar was sexy.

The guitar repaid my fealty. Playing it left me feeling as if I has temporarily exited my body, but not in the mindless manner clarinet practice induced. I'd finish slightly light-headed, as if mildly hyperventilated, refreshed, cleansed. My voice sounded clearer, my eyes more focused. Time seemed to slow to a more reasonable pace, one I could easily match. I'd feel caught up with myself for a while. I wrote songs to figure myself out. I'd pose a problem then set about resolving it, switching between guitar and long solitary walks, scribbling trial lyrics in my back pocket notebook. I'd return to the guitar again and again, playing through the latest incarnation until all the elements came together. Repeated Practicings produced more than just a fresh song, they seemed to somehow scrub clean my soul. I slept like an angel afterward and woke with genuine enthusiasm the next morning, not waiting to play that newly crafted tune until after breakfast.

My Practicings fell out of practice. It does not matter why. The price of this absence was very likely immense, but uncountable and also unremarkable. I'd once, in my youth, practiced for a future which was always unlikely to appear. I firmly believed in that future for a few very good years before trading in that belief for something more practical, more immediately pressing, and I embraced alternate Practicings, ones more akin to how I'd learned to practice that clarinet. I became disciplined and more heavy-hearted. I cannot even now accurately assess the cost of that subtle little switch and I have no stomach for even attempting those calculations. I do have a hunger for the sort of Practicings I've known to once again become a prominent part of my life. I have a SetList to perform and all the time remaining in this world to Practice it.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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