“To become a master at any skill, it takes the total effort of your: heart, mind, and soul working together in tandem.”
A single person on planet earth now has at their fingertips the same technology that twenty years ago would have cost close to $10 million. With the breakneck advancements of the information age, we are increasingly expected to know a lot about a lot. In our jobs and our businesses we need to be experts on finance, social media, marketing, complicated systems, computer programs and apps, and our product or service. We’ve got to keep up with an overflowing inbox and in some jobs, long hours, tight deadlines, and mind-numbing meetings. Add to that the expectations in our personal lives and multi-tasking is an understatement.
A mere fifty years ago life was simple. You honed a craft or skill and became an expert at that one thing due to the amount of time you spent on it single-mindedly. In Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers he speaks about the 10,000 Hour Rule, the tipping point of mastery.
In the book, he cites an example of The Beatles’s iconic success. Before they hit the world stage, they had cultivated their craft by working 8-hour gigs in Hamburg on a daily basis. Before they became an “overnight’” success, they had played over twelve hundred concerts together. You can’t reach that level of excellence if you’re spending your time fragmented.
I still remember an interview I saw of Charles Schultz (Peanuts fame) many years ago. Syndicated in seventy-five countries with estimated earnings of $1 billion per year, he was asked what the secret of his success was.
Schultz said it was because he made it his job to create comics. Period. Each morning he’d eat a jelly donut, go over the mail with his secretary, and then work in his studio. He didn’t concern himself with accounting or marketing or anything other than his cartoons. That’s all he wanted to do and he did it for nearly fifty years.
There are still those among us who work at distilling their craft in a single-pointed focus. I know a flamenco dancer, Fiona Malena, who has devoted her life to being an expert in her field. Although not of Spanish decent, she has constructed the persona of a Latina. She lives part of the time in Spain studying dance and performing and then returns to Canada to showcase her skills. She is single-minded in the pursuit of her passion.
My friend Francis A. Willey spends his days prolifically composing music and poetry and creating his fine art photography. Despite financial droughts, his allegiance is to his art and he refuses to dilute it by working at unrelated tasks.
I also have a friend who has a career as a pedorthist. He doesn’t yet own a computer so has no information overload that the rest of us consider the norm. He focuses on his craft day in and day out and has become a respected expert at it. He works hard for ten hours a day, but enjoys it and finds it fulfilling.
In a book I read years ago called Spending, the protagonist is an art professor at a university. After hearing her speak about the great masters, one of her wealthy collectors makes her an offer–to become her muse. She speculates that the masters succeeded at greatness because they had all of their base needs taken care of: money, time, space, food, housekeeping, and sex and therefore had time to concentrate on not much more that their art. Her new patron challenges her to access her best work by offering her all of the same indulgences the male masters were afforded.
If you could remove all extraneous noise and focus on one given talent, skill, or passion, what would it be? Given the time, the place, the food, the help, the money, and—if you wanted it—the sex, what one thing would you love to be great at?
I am currently working on my second travel memoir about another romantic misadventure that happened many years ago. The tone of this book is different than my first travel memoir. The story does not have the irreverence and breeziness of The Cuban Chronicles. The romance was the most significant of my life and, as I am learning, has had a profound impact on the past eighteen years—more so than I had previously realized or acknowledged.
We all have a story inside of us, but to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) is not quite as easy as one thinks when reading a compelling book. We know when a sentence is brilliant or moving, funny or bitter, but we do not know what it took the writer to get there.
I have loved words since I first learned to read. It was only in my mid-thirties that I gave myself permission to not just read them, but to write them.
As I pen my French story, I struggle to convey the depth and intensity of emotions I felt during that wild ride. I want the reader to understand the juiciness of this journey; I want her (or him) to feel the bodacious bliss and to be hit in the gut by the pain—to experience the agony and the ecstasy. The book is set in four countries and I wish for the reader to travel with me, to get a sense of place and to taste what I ate and to see what I saw. I toil to write love scenes that are not trite and tussle with how far to go.
Some writers can transcribe brilliant prose in snippets between childrearing or a law career. So far, I’m not one of them. Jumping from the masculine world of selling and cold calling and dodging traffic through a concrete jungle to entering the inner world of words is a challenging leap. Grabbing a quick hour at lunch to put a few words to the page, the writing can be stilted. The black clouds of financial burden tend to impede my creative process with an oppressive undertow of constant nagging.
What if I could live like Pablo Picasso or Diego Rivera? Or jaunt about the globe like Hemingway?
In years past, I have been fortunate enough to be able to take mini-sabbaticals. But if a muse like “B” in Mary Gordon’s Spending was to magically appear in my life and offer me the same luxuries, I would hone myself as a wordsmith. My truest love is the written word.
I would visit the places that ignite my inspiration and coax my creativity to bubble and boil.
As did Whitman and Emerson, I would spend long periods of time nature-gazing to allow my mind to be purified by the kind of quietude and beauty that sparks a connection with the quantum mind, the consciousness that brings man his brightest inventions.
Like Mr. Schultz, I would leave the dirty work to the bookkeepers and maids and I’d practice and play.
Maybe I would live to be 98 like Georgia O’Keeffe because I was doing one meaningful thing well instead of twenty things in mediocrity.
And as with the many masters of the world, I’d have my lover as my muse, a passionate man to spend fiery nights and spicy mornings with to keep my joy levels topped up.
The appearance of a genie-type muse would be grand. But if there is a profound desire in our hearts, we can choose mastery.
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