Everybody Knows… You Can’t Do That

Replica StradI’ve been finding any way possible to postpone writing, over the last few years.  I’ve put together a couple of 2,000 piece jigsaw puzzles, binge watched a lot of Netflix and listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts.  I’m just finishing building a replica Stradivarius Messiah violin, a 200 hour project the, book said.  400 if you don’t know what you’re doing!

Why am I willing sink this kind of time into ANYTHING other than writing?  Frankly, writing is difficult.  Not typing… typing is easy. Bloviating is easy. Blithely making fatuous observations is easy.  But telling a story, with heart and authenticity is a bitch.  Especially when the story is me.

When I told a few friends I was going to try building a Strad, I got some amazing reactions.
“Don’t you realize experts apprentice 10 years before they build good violins?”
Every builder starts with a first violin, no?

I think I nearly choked another friend when I told her my plan, mid-linguini-bite.  The way she stopped chewing, I thought she had bitten her tongue, or found a clam shell in the pasta.
“Wait,” I said, “Let me say what I think is running through your mind.  You’re thinking, ‘Who the fuck do you think you are attempting to build a Stradivarius replica?’ right?”
“Well, I was going to use more polite terms, but it is ambitious.”

Everyone KNOWS how hard this project will be.  Funny, everyone also seems to know why a Stradivarius is reputed to have the best sound of any violin ever (even though double-blind studies between 6 Strads and 6 modern violins revealed that experts could not detect the difference).   People have sidled up to me and whispered surreptitiously, as if passing a nuclear code, or the contents of Edward Snowden’s hard drive, “You know where the remarkable sound of a Strad comes from?  He soaked his wood.”
“It’s in the varnish… only used live bugs, crushed with an ivory pestle.” “Aging… the wood has to be exactly 32.5 years old, and come from Bosnia.”
“I hear he masturbated twice daily, and rubbed semen into the wood, working cross grain at all times.”
“It’s a fungus in the wood, you know?”

Every one of these people (full disclosure: one of these stories was made up; you pick) had no connection to music, no knowledge of woodworking.  They had all been exposed to the myths and lore of Stradivarius marketers.  The others, those who believed I shouldn’t try to build one because I’m not “expert,” had been soaked in marketing and high-priests-of-art scare tactics.

This photo is a closeup of a portion of my nearly-finished project.  The splotchy varnish and myriad other minor defects and screw ups make it painfully clear, to me, that this is no Strad.  It’s pretty darn good for a first try, and I learned a lot of things about technique and process that I’ll be able to put into my second, and third, and so on.  There is no learning from imagining building a violin, nor from imagining writing a book.  Is it difficult?  Well, it doesn’t walk itself out of the box, but anyone can do it, given time and tools.

The irony is not lost on me that I have sanded, and shaped and scraped the parts of this violin over, and over, and over to get it near a decent quality level.  And I put in this dedication and effort even though I have no previous skill building violins. But I avoid re-writing and polishing chapters in an unfinished book, even though I’ve had some small success in writing through the years. Maddening procrastination, avoiding the fear that I will be unable to be true to the story and my heart, or worse… fearful of response to the story.

As this woodworking project comes to an end, however, I’m resolute: I will put in the time, face the demons and write.  This blog, in the interim and on the side, is my way of putting in a little effort every day, smoothing my rough edges, fairing the curves.  There’s much to be said for putting in the hours, running my “scales and arpeggios” as it were.

Wait… maybe I’ll get down to writing after I learn to play the fiddle?


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