the wisdom of “it needn’t be correct”
when you wander through life utterly certain that there are volumes you’ve yet to learn, a certain thing happens. a wonderful thing. you wake up every morning with your eyes, and your ears, and your heart at full alert. you are the ever-scanner, knowing that at any minute, from any crevice, the light might seep in. might flash in. the wisdom, gosh darn it, will come.
by day’s end, by the time you plop that cheek back onto the pillow, by the time you snuggle the sheets up by your chin, tucked back in for one more round of dreams, you’ll have — perhaps — learned a thing or two. gotten just a wee bit wiser. all because the teacher appeared, and you, the eternal student, were ready.
so it was the other afternoon as i was listening along in poetry class, when all of a sudden a fellow, a dancer with the new york city ballet, said something that shocked right through me, that slipped in through the crack, just off to the edge of the frame.
the subject, allegedly, was poetry. emily dickinson’s poetry, specifically. but in this wonderful class that i can’t stop inhaling, all sorts of wise souls wander onto the scene and peel back the layers of emily, of poetry, in ways i’ve not before known.
the discussion at hand was emily’s poem, “i cannot dance opon my toes,” the last poem of the four-week class taught by my beloved professor elisa new. she’d invited damian woetzel, a retired principal dancer with the new york city ballet, and now director of the aspen institute arts programs, to parse emily’s poem. as is professor new’s knack for unlikely pairings in the parsing of poetry, woetzel, a classically-trained ballet dancer, was joined in conversation by charles “l’il buck” riley, a practitioner of a street-dance form known as memphis jookin’ (think breakdance; it’s otherwise known as “gangsta walking”).
as street dance and ballet twirled in conversational tango, woetzel suddenly said this: “when i go to see people dance, it’s not to see them do it correctly. i’m not that interested in correct. i want to be moved. i want to cry. i want — (his voice faded away). i want to find voice, essentially.”
now, this was nothing short of revolutionary to my little mind. i felt the shock of a chill run through me. (my brilliant friend amy, by the way, just yesterday afternoon defined “chill” to me in this way: “a chill is a current of truth that runs through your body,” when you see beauty, she said, or when you hear flat-out wisdom in a way you’ve never thought it before, i’d add.)
“i’m not that interested in correct.”
i felt the ties that bind snap loose. i felt myself freed from the tethers that, long as i can remember, have bound me. do it right, do it correctly, or don’t even try. that was pretty much the lesson i grew up believing. and while it didn’t stop me from trying, it set a nearly impossible bar. “get it right.” or else.
but here was a brilliant dancer, here was the director of aspen institute arts, for crying out loud, telling me it needn’t be correct. needn’t be perfect. stumbles are okay. bumps and bruises are beautiful.
your whole imperfect self is the most ravishingly beautiful self imaginable.
because it’s about something much deeper. it’s about opening up and saying, “this wobbly old soul, this soul that tries and tries, and sometimes makes it and more often stumbles, this is me.
“and you’re here for the likely chance that our two stumbling fumbling selves will find communion — not in our perfect pirouettes, but in the moments when i trip and you catch me. you brush me off and set me back upon the path, and you point the way forward. or better yet, you take me by the hand. you walk together with me. and you laugh, besides, at the way the two of us, we so often nearly fall off the stage.”
it’s a whole new paradigm: the paradigm of imperfection as aim. because what matters lies deep therein.
“i’m not that interested in correct. i want to be moved. i want to cry. i want to find voice, essentially.”
and voice we all have. and, yes, sometimes it warbles. and sometimes it cracks. but it’s a voice and it’s ours. and it’s how we put words to what rustles around deep inside. it’s where our breath resides. it’s the topography that puts height and depth and nooks and crannies — glorious texture — to all that air flowing in and out of our lungs, air keeping us alive.
all of this is all the more immediately essential because this sunday i am doing something i’ve never done before. something that might have scared me out of my behoozies. i am walking onto a stage, and i am sitting down beside a cellist and a pianist. it’s a spoken word concert, inspired by one that a beloved friend and editor of mine once saw in japan.
i am, for the first time ever, invited into conversations about lighting and stage set, and in the faintest of ways, costume. i’m immersed in the full dimensionality of theatre. and i am discovering what happens when words are lifted from the page. when words are set soaring by the power of cello strings and piano keys, and the alchemies of audible, ephemeral creation.
and, as is my natural inclination, i was scared silly. until two things happened: until damian woetzel taught me that it’s not about correct; correct holds little interest, little tension, scant transparency.
and the other thing that happened is i stepped into the music during rehearsals, and i felt the most astounding flight: cello and piano, cellist and pianist, dove into conversation with the words i was unfurling. and then this, which i’ll preface by saying that many a writer’s whispered prayer is that, in between and through the words, music might come for those reading or listening. and, suddenly, there in the light-filled rehearsal room, i heard it, i felt it. the music did come, did lift and vault and carry the words to places and heights they’d not otherwise have ascended. it comes, the music does, i discovered, when you step onto a stage, and sit down beside a cellist and a pianist who’ve spent their lives deepening their knowledge of the landscape that’s theirs. the power of music, i’ve realized, is the safety net to my trapeze. is what holds me aloft, shooshes away my perpetual fears, is a medium that suddenly felt like coming home, a place where i, at long last, belong. how utterly unlikely.
so sunday afternoon at 1, at the midwest buddhist temple in chicago’s old town, i will be walking out from behind a curtain, all in black with a wrap of fuchsia. i’ll be sitting down in a japanese armchair, a bowl of oranges beside me, a vase spilling with springtime white. the cellist will pick up her bow. the pianist will strike a key. and i will put breath, put voice, to my words.
and i will remember that the wise ones in the room aren’t there to hear “correct,” they’re there to be moved, to cry, to find a voice, essentially.
and that is a truth that sets me soaring.
do you, like me, spend far too many hours of life being worried you won’t get it right? and thus binding yourself in ways that demand houdini-like tricks to set you free?
that said, here’s an invitation: if you’re near chicago sunday afternoon, find your way to the temple, and plop yourself in a chair. cellist sophie webber and pianist soo young lee, both of fused muse ensemble, will take you places that might take your breath away…..
a few things:
1.) emily’s poem
I cannot dance opon my Toes –
No Man instructed me –
But oftentimes, among my mind,
A Glee possesseth me,
That had I Ballet Knowledge –
Would put itself abroad
In Pirouette to blanch a Troupe –
Or lay a Prima, mad,
And though I had no Gown of Gauze –
No Ringlet, to my Hair,
Nor hopped for Audiences – like Birds –
One Claw opon the air –
Nor tossed my shape in Eider Balls,
Nor rolled on wheels of snow
Till I was out of sight, in sound,
The House encore me so –
Nor any know I know the Art
I mention – easy – Here –
Nor any Placard boast me –
It’s full as Opera –
2.) the program for sunday’s “interludes on mindfulness: words and music for slowing time”
and a post-script:
it’s sunday night, the interludes have ended. it’s quiet now and i’m breathing again. a dear friend snapped this moment of the concert. and i’m enchanted by what appear to be fairy lights wafting across the stage. the cellist is sophie webber, the pianist is soo young lee, both have PhDs in music. both are beautiful. sophie founded fuse muse ensemble, a collective of musicians who dedicate themselves to social causes as well as beautiful music in all forms. i hope this is only a beginning for us….here’s a peek at the magic of “interludes on mindfulness: words and music for slowing time.” thank you, from the bottom of my heart….
maybe i should add one little afterthought: this isn’t the first time i’ve learned this lesson. but i think with some lessons in our lives we need to learn the lesson over and over and over. so it is with me and this. apparently, the re-wiring on this one is so stubborn that i might be a perpetual student of this one particular lesson. we all have those, don’t we? the lesson we must learn and learn again. because it’s just that hard to really wrap our heart around it……
is there a lesson you must learn over and over?
hmmm…i don’t know, i’m a lover of acknowledgement. or i should say i have become that sort of lover who acknowledges, instead of the ball and chain of acceptance. yikes, there i said it. it’s not alright with me to go over and over the same ground, gaining nothing but blisters. it seems better to simply acknowledge the lay of the land, the attempts i have made at bettering it then- maybe waiting for a season of some kind of change in tandem with nature’s way. there is some freedom in that- an opening almost when the very thing i was trying to produce, simply bursts forth- as if that seed of knowledge needed me to quit hovering over it so that it might grow of it’s own accord. i’d like to think by my trying to learn the lesson, i tilled up the prime spot for that seed to germinate- but in the end and often enough, i too must acknowledge, did i bring it along or would it have come along anyway? over tilling brings up more weed seeds than purposefully planted seeds can outgrow.
sure there are lessons better than that one and some i truly must learn- but i don’t do anything over and over again, ha…unintended weed farming taught me that.
i love the lessons the earth teaches you. and i love your wisdom of the seed left to germinate. i would admit to over-tilling sometimes. i guess i was preemptively responding to the moment a few years back when i was scolded for saying i’d just learned something that the scolder thought i should have known a long time ago….i was saying, yes, i know we needn’t aim for flawlessness, but sometimes it’s the way the lesson is spoken in words, or a way, we’ve not quite considered, and suddenly it zips right in through the crack to the place where it finally settles deep, puts down roots, and at last it’s bloomed into learning that lasts….
Sounds so dreamy,you,your words with these particular musical instruments ,wrapped in black and fuchsia all in a Buddhist Temple,divine!! Always such a a treat that is waiting for me every Friday!! xoxox
wish you were in chicago….
My soul took a deep breath as it soaked in your words. Bless you for this very important reminder. A lesson I must learn over and over? I’m not in control. Of anything. Except myself. On occasion.
There was a River North Dance performance years ago that made me weep — I was completely taken by surprise because, while I knew music had that power, I hadn’t realized dance did as well. It was something that all of a sudden overwhelmed me, and I felt the emotion well up with the beauty.
As it shall be with your reading and music on Sunday. I am crushed that I can’t be there (we shall be at the Lyric with long-ago purchased tickets for Carousel). You will be stunning in black and fuchsia. But even more beautiful and soothing will be your very presence and your words that move all of us here at the table and beyond into a more loving and caring place. Blessings upon you, bam. And try not to be nervous. You’re completely right, it doesn’t have to be “perfect” (whatever that is). You will touch the soul and that’s what people will remember. You got this. xoxo
my beloved nancy, you are my original and ever, “you got this” girl! a tether, a life support, from yet another angle. i seem to need all the life supports i can get in this old realm. i love that you’ll be at the lyric, where everyone there already knows the lessons i am only just learning.
i was trying to figure out if i could tuck the framed “you got this,” the one you gave me, into my binder of words. i’ll tuck it instead in my heart. where it always is….
How very wonderful for all of you to create such a special time for soul communing. Joy to you!
thank you, elaine…..crossing all fingers and toes….
one of these days, it will be my supreme joy to see you on stage. such an avid learner you are- so thankful that you find something so bewilderingly wonderful that you are willing to forgo your jitters and courageously mix and meld with instruments no less. (when you do these hair raisers, you inspire a few of us gutless wonders …so, tell your self as you’re learning, you are as much teaching too.)
you warrior you- it is not common knowledge, but warriors worry just as much as the rest of us, only they act as if possessed by glee. with you, that is no act. (as soon as i read that line- it spoke to me of you.)
happy for you, and just as proud.
one of these days it will be my supremest joy to see you again with these old eyes!!! i hear maine calling my name…..
bless your heart. “act as if possessed by glee…..”
for you, i will be bold….xoxo
Oh …. It sounds so lovely. God has given you a gift with words. I can imagine that once you are on that stage all will be well.
In my world I am plagued by the perfection demon. If I create something and it does not come out the way I wanted to …. Others say it’s a happy accident. One piece in particular I made last fall ended up in an exhibit and sold right away. Who knew? I almost set it aside to cut up and turn into something else. I think we are our own worst enemies sometimes.
I take lessons to get help with my horses. The trainers always remind all of us there that quitting because you got it wrong the first time keeps you from getting it right the next time. The horses know when you are trying and unless you are just plain mean they do not hold it against you.
Some Amish quilts have one block in them that’s wrong, just for the sake of imperfection. Ok lots of random thoughts. Go be happy have fun.
i love the amish quilts with the “one block.” i love the notion of wabi-sabi. so why am i struck as if i’d never thought of it before when the brilliant dancer says that “it needn’t be correct”? i love, too, that the horses are so forgiving. may audiences be as well…..
your world of quilts (i think that’s what you mean when you write of “one piece”) and horses sounds so deeply earthly and grounded. i love all the arts and gifts that come to this table…..the expression of the soul is infinite….
I loved reading this!!! It is such real truth that it’s about being over, not being right, correct or perfect! This message would fit so well on my blog about living w/brain injury! My imperfect blog that I do not do according to the rules of blog-land and regularity. Could you adapt and write it as a guest blogger on my site? Or can I use your lovely lesson for it. God only knows, when I’ll get it done, imperfectly!!! Thank for this inspiration!!!
Actually the “one piece” was a nuno felted shawl. Wool combined with silk. It was supposed to be a jacket but shrunk so much while I was making it that there was only enough left to drape around ones shoulders. Like a shawl.
I think real people will be happy just to be there and listen.
a nuno felted shawl sounds glorious. i am rather crazy for wraps. and yours sounds lovely.
The first thought was supposed to say ” it’s about being moved.” Darn auto-correct!
auto-correct trips me up all the time! i love your thoughts, and yes, yes, yes, of course you can use it……i will be happy to adapt if you want, or you can use as is…..i’ll send you an email……
bless your heart…..
Thank you so much, Barbara!!! Do you have my email? There’s an email on my website.
it needn’t be correct……(correct according to whom? someone once asked me …. and now the wisdom learning part is the hard one – like pulling wisdom teeth….
just love love the post….and the picture! bowl of oranges, vase with white spring, dressed in black….please please bring back some memories …
i wish i could post a picture a friend just sent. don’t think i can do that in the comments. hmmmm. she captured a wee bit of the magic. will try to figure this out. it was a lovely, beautiful day…..i felt surrounded, and held up on the wings of others….
ah….thank you for the picture…
hope you soar today!
you sweet angel. it was a day i’ll forever hold close to my heart….you were all right with me. tucked in my heart….xox
Oh! my dear friend, what a glorious post, filled to the brim with soul-stirring thoughts and images! While we watched our precious newlyweds open wedding gifts, hundreds of miles away, you set jitters aside, walked on stage, unfurled your soul before a hushed audience. Just thinking of it gives me chills – a silver shimmer of truth and beauty. I so wish I could have been there to hear you speak, to absorb each gorgeous musical interlude. But I was right there with you in spirit.
There are a thousand points touched upon in this inspiring essay and in the thoughtful remarks of your marvelous readers that I’d love to comment on individually, but I couldn’t possibly choose just one. Instead, I’m sending heartfelt congratulations to you and to the gifted musicians who performed at yesterday’s concert.
Words and music for Slowing Time. . . oh, how lovely.
Congratulations, admiration, and much love~
first, thank you much, dear amy, for the definition of “chill.” and, yes, it was quite a weekend — you with your first wedding of now-grown child, a moment so lofty you’ll be floating on air for weeks and months and years to come….
the music really was what made the magic. i feel so blessed that i might have finally found a way to weave music-making into my life. i’ve always known words deserved the loft of music, but i’ve only just figure out how that might be done, and how i might get to twirl with the makers of music…..it’s all rather profound. who knew so many doors would keep making themselves known…..
blessings in these days after your holy dance……