Thursday, September 16, 2010

Joel

Our friend and sometimes neighbor Joel Becktell-- we say "sometimes" only because he is a full time freelance cellist and though he has lived here for years travels every month of the year, somehow managing to maintain a garden and cook good meals for his friends, and staying up with me all too late to drink wine and vodka and endlessly discuss the joys and mysteries of life-- appeared briefly in "Dinner with the Russians" a few posts back.

Joel has been a luthier and co- owner of a violin factory in China, but though thoroughly cosmopolitan he is firmly rooted in his native New Mexico. And though he has been a businessman, can discuss literature, cooks, gardens, and has even bred birds, he is a musician first and foremost. He is co- founder with Carla MacElhaney of the innovative "chamber band" The Revels, and she interviews him about musical matters and other things on her blog here.

Joell's thoughts that one must WORK to be creative resonate with mine. I always tried to pound that into my students' heads when I taught at Wildbranch (and when students were picking their instructors warned them that in my class they would write in class and at night, which at least weeded out slackers!) No matter how bad I feel i try to commit something to paper or electrons at least five days a week. Early in his career, novelist Tom McGuane said he owed to himself to work as had at writing as, I believe, a good mechanic would on cars. I never quoted this to Joel, but I bet he agrees! He has devoted an entire essay to the principle here-- a definite "Read The Whole Thing" but one I can't resist quoting a bit:

"...I think of a conversation, years ago, with a friend of mine who is a luthier, on the topic of how to cut a bridge for a cello. I’d done some work in this area myself, and my underdeveloped technique had caused me to settle on some inefficient and not terribly effective methods. “The way I cut a bridge” he told me “is very quick and effective. I can cut a bridge much more quickly with my technique than you can with yours. But…” he added, “it took me years and years to become this quick and accurate."

(snip)

"So many of us abandon our passions early on when we compare ourselves unflatteringly to what we believe we know about “real” artists. We smile at what we believe is mere modesty when we read quotes of great novelists telling how hard they work to be good at what they do. Surely they’re not telling the truth when they say they work hours each day, that they revise endlessly, that they struggle mightily to hone their communicative skills. So when we sit down with our great idea for a novel and several hours pass without the appearance of a perfectly formed chapter, we figure it’s because we’re just not cut out to be writers, and give it up. Any such example will do to illustrate this idea: creative work is exactly that: work!"

Obviously Joel can write, too.I hope we can sometimes even get him to write here...

Update: in response to a good comment by Mary Ann linking to a John Gresham op- ed I added the following, which may be relevant (see comments for link): "I actually preferred physical labor to most desk jobs when I was putting myself through school and at other times when I needed supplementary income- body busy, mind free; not horrible things like crawling under houses but surveying, construction, especially firewood cutting, which I did until fairly recently, both for money and for myself.

"It's harder for me to do today but I can still split and stack-- going to buy a new splitting maul. I don't know if Gresham would agree but I think writers NEED to do physical things-- sitting writing all day can kill you, and, worse, stunt your ideas."

6 comments:

smartdogs said...

It breaks my heart that many people today seem unwilling to put in the time needed to truly master a skill. There's no joy in the world as fine and as long-lasting as the joy of doing some thing really well.

A group of us were recently bemoaning the fact that a disturbing number of people now see dog training as a task like washing dishes where only one only needs to have the most rudimentary of skills before hanging out one's shingle to get paid for it.

I can take the leash and make your dog look good in minutes - if not seconds, but like cutting a fine bridge, it took me thousands of hours to perfect that skill.

And I think Becktell is wrong when he says, "many of us have ungenerously relegated ourselves to jobs, careers, and lives very different from what we might have embraced had we only known that our early, clumsy creative efforts were not signs of talentlessness". There's art in all work.

I think that the problem goes deeper than in a man's inability to recognize the seeds of talent in himself. In a culture where we're told that all effort should be rewarded and much of society chooses to spend much of its time lost in passive entertainments people have come to see art as something like beautiful clothing that, while it may be expensive and need to be tailored a bit - can be acquired and worn by absolutely anyone.

Steve Bodio said...

I think Joel-- who I am going to try to get to comment or write here more-- would agree. He is an extreme non- snob who takes pleasure in laying tile, gardening, cooking, rebuilding his house, and learning all these skills. He is also the kind of person with whom one can have productive discussions-- I almost said "arguments"-- unlike the uncivil, shouting, seeming majority I see today on both sides of so many issues.

And I won't put words in his mouth but I bet he would agree "There's art in all work"-- I know I do. Good cellists need not be "fancy", no more than good trainers or writers.

(Actually I think it would be hard to live in Magdalena proper and be a snob-- the now- stumbling yupster ranchette subdivisions maybe, but not in the old town. We'd chew you up and spit you out).

smartdogs said...

I think I'd like Magdalena ;-)

Anna Lear said...

I hope you can get him to write here, too; I enjoy reading his thoughts. (Yours, too, Steve!) Thank you for sharing this.

Mary Ann said...

For another perspective on "why", if not "how" to hone one's craft, here's John Grisham.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/06/opinion/06Grisham.html?_r=1&src=me&ref=general

In other words, writing might be hard but it's better than practicing law! Mary Ann

Steve Bodio said...

I actually preferred physical labor to most desk jobs when I was putting myself through school and at other times when I needed supplementary income- body busy, mind free; not horrible things like crawling under houses but surveying, construction, especially firewood cutting, which I did until fairly recently, both for money and for myself.

It's harder for me to do today but I can still split and stack-- going to buy a new splitting maul. I don't know if Gresham would agree but I think writers NEED to do physical things-- sitting writing all day can kill you, and, worse, stunt your ideas.