When I was a working jazz musician, my favorite jam sessions were the ones where I was always hopelessly outmatched.
That sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it? One would think it’d be better to be the best player in the room. Get the ego boost from shredding in a way that puts others to shame.
Well, no. Not so much.
Because improvisation is a conversation. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to stand there yakking at someone who doesn’t have much to say. No, my favorite conversations are a give and take.
And I frankly like being around other people who have interesting things of their own to say. Who I can learn from.
And it was the same as a musician. In those jam sessions with the uber talented, I would play better than I ever had. Rather than being discouraged by their ability, I intuitively started to push myself further — to match them, or try.
Playing with musicians better than me is frankly how I improved as a musician, over time.
I’ve Been Making New Friends… And They’re All Sorcerers
As long-time readers of the blog might know, I have moved cross-country not once, but twice. The first time was over a decade ago, when I moved from Maine to Ohio (it’s a major part of the plot of my first book Poly Land). The second time was 2 years ago — when I moved from Ohio to Texas for my partner’s career.
I had a lot of work to do fixing up and selling our nearly-100-year-old house. I stayed behind to do that for a bit while my partner started their new job. When I finally got to Texas, I was exhausted. It took me a while to get my bearings and venture out a bit in my new home. And just as I was starting to, and starting to meet some new folks, the pandemic hit, forcing me back inside.
Now, the pandemic is still with us of course. But due to the wonders of vaccinations and diligent mask wearing, my life this year is so much closer to normal than it was this time last year. It took some doing, but I’m finally starting to make friends in Texas. Huzzah! So great.
No small feat to be sure. Making friends as an adult is hard enough to begin with. Dallas is also a notoriously difficult city to make friends in. Throw a global pandemic on top of that and whoo boy…
But due to classes I’m taking and writing classes that I’m teaching, I’ve met a lot of cool people at an artist’s collective/community center. I really like them. And we have a lot in common.
It’s very interesting, however — since most of my new friends are long-term makers of physical objects. They’re craftspeople and visual artists. They win prizes. Are featured on local artisan pages all the damn time. They’re literally famous locally for making beautiful things.
And me? Well, I’ve created my entire life — but my creations were always intangible. I wrote of course — so I dealt with words and ideas — which is another form of communication but again, not a physical product.
I’m extremely new to making physical things. And because of this I don’t have the skillsets that normally go with it. At all. (You know, spatial rotation, fine visualization, adaptable motor control, an expectation of how the chemistry and physical of material objects behave, etc.).
I didn’t do a lot of physical crafts growing up. Nothing like sewing or needlepoint. The closest former hobby I have to any of it is cooking, which is more alchemy, time management, and estimating on the fly — when you set aside the strictly physical aspect like knife skills, which I’m solidly okay at (nothing special with my slice and dice, but I get by).
I am not good at making things. My pots are quirky, lumpy, and weird. My glasswork is unpredictable. I tried to learn to wire wrap from a jewelry instructor and apparently messed up and accidently created a new method (she said she liked it, however, which did make me feel better).
Am I good? Nooooo. Nooooo. But does it matter? No. I’m finding it very fun. It’s like therapy for me, experimenting with physical matter and seeing what happens (whether that’s clay, glass, or jewelry).
But my new friends are by and large VERY SKILLED creators. They seem like magical begins to me. I’m a little overwhelmed they want me to be their friend given how talented they are.
I don’t quite understand, but I am grateful.
I don’t exactly feel like I fit in with my new friends. They’re sorcerers. They have magic I do not possess. But I will continue keeping an open mind and having a good time with it all.
I’m not convinced I fit in, but no one’s kicked me out yet.