Opinion: By L.E. Taylor
There’s an old joke that has an out-of-towner stopping a fellow carrying a fiddle case on 6th Avenue, and asking, “Uh, pardon me. Can you tell me, how do I get to Carnegie Hall?”
The guy answers, “Practice, man. Practice.”
The advice is not merely colloquial. Nor even artistic. It is universal for all of us – professional, amateur, and plebeian. If we seek to enjoy life in full, we must expose ourselves relentlessly to what’s been accomplished by the doers – to standards of excellence, and ultimately, courageously, to our own flawed selves as works-in-progress.
The point is not only to humbly acknowledge our momentary limitations, but also to reveal our unexplored potential.
Decades ago, I read an autobiography by Charlton Heston, An Actor’s Life. It was based upon a diary he’d kept over his first twenty years in Hollywood. Among many lessons I took from the book was a simple truism, “The more we do a thing, the better we get at it.” Heston also remarked upon how “easy” he had been on himself in his shortcomings, and how he would change that, given the chance.
About the same time in my young manhood, I was preparing to travel to New York City to consider moving into a life of what would be called, these many years later, the “Mad Men.” Translation: 1960s Madison Avenue and all the sin-and-sizzle it implied. Before leaving the Midwest, I was given words of advice by an experienced advertising CEO from my home state. He said: “Don’t sell yourself short; you are better than most of the people they see; remember, talent recognizes talent.”
Then he said, almost to himself, “What’s ‘good’ may be subjective, but there’s a common thread: Taste is educated perception.”
I can’t remember the man’s name, but I didn’t have to look up his admonition; it was seared into my brain before the waiter brought the luncheon check.
I’ve poured thousands of hours into feeding my ‘perception’. Now four decades later, my worldview is seasoned by experience in combat. Bloodless corporate combat, certainly, not the heroic D-Day kind. But in its time-and-place, it was urgent mundane struggle, nonetheless. We who strive know about exposing oneself to failure. Whether it’s playing the piano, or playing rugby; or hitting a curve ball, or raising a heifer and a crop of corn to feed her, you won’t fully appreciate it unless you’ve tried to do it.
The same is true of writing. Except for one caveat: when you sound a sour piano chord or fan on a fastball, the evidence is there for all to see and you’re the goat. But with a lousy page of writing, you can get away with it unless someone who knows better is there to read it and to tell you it stinks.
So practice, kid. Practice. And don’t take it easy on yourself, just work.