Tuesday, March 26, 2019

When You Have Nothing to Say

Once in college I was participating in a master class with a scary good jazz trumpeter.  He was cool, which I know because he said "tree" instead of "three" when he was counting off.  He had brought his drummer along too.  His drummer said I didn't play with enough attitude.

Anyway one thing he was working on was improvising solos.  When one went on too long, he'd say, "Man, if you don't have anything to say, stop talking."  I've written about this before, actually.  That's true about music and it's true about life.  If you don't have anything to say, stop talking.  I know, I should practice what I preach.

Sometimes I sit down to write, and I don't have anything to say.  My high school English teacher would tell us not to wait for the muse.  Just start writing.  "So my name's John, and I have to write an essay for English.  It's supposed to be about 'A Real Pickle,' but I didn't even really understand that story, so I'm not sure what to write..."  Eventually, that would turn into something.  He wasn't wrong.  I started a lot of essays that way, though those rambling introductions always found their way to the cutting room floor.

And now one more seemingly unrelated anecdote.  I have always felt like I have more to learn from my graduate school conducting teacher.  Every time I see him he teaches me something new.  I've realized that I will never be able to learn all he knows because every day he continues learning.

I've written articles about all three of these anecdotes, but today I'm realizing the sense in which they are all connected.

Sometimes when I sit down to write a blog post, I am completely blank.  I go back to Mr. Moran's class and start writing, but quickly start to feel like I have nothing to say and think maybe I'll just not write the blog this week.  But then I'm haunted by my conducting teacher because I realize that if I have nothing to write about this week, I have not been paying attention over the last week.  I have not been learning...or I have not been experiencing life on a deep enough level.

It's possible to skim across the top of things.  Like a boat on plane across the top of a lake, you can skitter across paying no mind to the rich depth below.  That can be a fun way to experience a lake, actually.  Wind in your hair and all that.  But there is so much more to see and feel and experience.  It's not just stopping to smell the roses, though that has its own rewards.  It's taking the time, now and then, to dive deep and see the stuff life is really made of.

I talk to the youth choir about this often.  I challenge them to engage worship and music and the world and life deeper than face value.  Because while they are fully capable of it, many of them won't.  Maybe that's because they're simply not aware of the depth life has to offer.  Or maybe they don't want to spend the time.  Or maybe they are afraid to.

Or maybe, and this might be the most common, they actually do it all the time but are a little embarrassed to admit it because they don't think their friends do.  As it turns out, that worry is the root of a good bit of the teenage angst (and the adult angst, if we're honest).

Has there really not been one moment in the last week that I dug into?  Maybe not.  I say that with a sigh because I profess to be a learner...one who seeks every day to keep growing.  The Sudoku I've been binging on the last few days hasn't really taught me anything, I don't guess.  Neither have the news stories about Mueller, his investigation, and what it means for the country.  Maybe I haven't engaged anything this week.  I should do better.

That's the good news, though.  There is another week, another opportunity for me to slow that boat, drop a line in the water, and see if I catch an log or an old boot or a toilet seat (because one thing I never catch when fishing...is fish).  With any luck, maybe I'll have something to say.

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