On Learning

Today, I was visited by an old friend. He doesn’t visit very often – I haven’t heard from him in several months now, actually. But today he came calling, uninvited, as is his habit. Our meeting went as usual. He sat there telling me that I cannot sing.

This time, his line of argument was a little uncertain, because I had strong evidence to the contrary, so eventually he settle for insisting that I could not sing today. Nevertheless, I recognised the symptoms of something that probably happens to any artist, professional or aspiring, every now and again. We are all visited by Our Friend The Vampire who talks to us in our own voice.

I cannot do this. I am worthless. All this hard work, and I still cannot do this. I have no talent, no skill. It’s no use. I should just-

…give up? I will take credit for the fact that no matter how far down I could’ve been, no matter how deep the vampire’s teeth were in my neck, I have never, not once, thought that I should give up singing. In frustration and slamming of doors, in quiet crying and hugging my knees by the wall, in hysterics and banging of my fist on the floor and even clawing of my arms with fortunately-short fingernails, I Have Not, Not Once, contemplated giving up.

I’d like to think it counts for something. The vampire, obviously, doesn’t. But then, to him, very little things count for anything at all. It’s his nature. But he’s a known evil now. And that’s the important part of learning, as much or even more important than learning the skill and technique and countless other aspects of any art or craft. You must learn to recognise the voice inside your head for what it is – a liar.

Quite probably, it’ll always keep coming back. The two kinds of self-doubt – the useful one and the poisonous one – go hand in hand. I don’t believe that there is a single artistm, no matter how much fame, recognition and acclaim they may have, never get visited by it. We can never protect ourselves against the vampire entirely. The best we can do is face him openly.

Let him in through the front door – because otherwise he’ll try to sneak in through the window or the chimney.

Listen to what he has to say, to your face – because otherwise he’ll whisper in your ear when you’re sleeping.

Then, after he leaves through the same front door, don’t hurry to close it. Leave it open. All the easier to toss the trash out as you clean up after the visit.


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