So the Moisture Festival is going on right now in Seattle, which isn’t as disturbing as it sounds. Although, if you get creeped out by carnies, clowns and rubber chickens, then perhaps it isn’t your scene.
Personally, I love anything related to the circus arts, and the Moisture Fest is a four-week-long festival that showcases vaudeville and aerial acts from the Seattle area and beyond.
The festival comprises dozens of “variete” shows, each one a unique mixture of music, clowning, trapeze, and other sorts of vaudeville-style acts. My boyfriend, Paul, and I went to a variete show on the opening weekend and saw, in addition to some extremely talented jugglers and trapeze artists, a man who made a baloney sandwich with his feet, and a man who sang the Gilligan’s Island theme song to the tune of “Stairway to Heaven.” Again, if you don’t like weird, this isn’t your scene.
The thing that always amazes me about physical performers is how easy they make everything look. They juggle swords or hang one-armed from the trapeze bar, and they make it seem so effortless. That’s how you know they’re good. If they made it look like work, we wouldn’t want to watch it.
Speaking of work, I’m currently learning “New Slang” by the Shins on the guitar, and boy is it hard. I’ve been playing guitar for about six months now, so I’m not a total newbie, but switching back and forth between a C chord and an F is more than my poor fingers can handle. I’m building up a nice callus on the side of my pointer finger, and I’m getting better at the C and F switcheroo, but if you were to hear me play the song, you’d probably think I sounded pretty bad.
That’s the problem. People who don’t play the guitar don’t understand how difficult it is, and people who have been playing for a long time have forgotten what it’s like to be at this stage. No one is impressed by my butchery of “New Slang,” except perhaps myself.
It was Paul’s birthday over the weekend, so I treated him to another Moisture Fest show. Our favorite performer of the night was a male vaudeville performer who, while stripping nearly to his birthday suit, danced with a coat rack, twirled a cane, and hung his top hat on his you-know-what. When we got home, I attempted to dance around the house in the same style (sans the top hat trick) and realized it wasn’t quite as easy as he made it look.
The next day I planned to go with Paul to the climbing gym. He’s been rock climbing at least twice a week for a long time now, and he’s always coming home giddy about some hard climb he did and telling me that I should come and watch him sometime. So I figured that for his birthday I would go to the gym and be his adoring fan.
Except he decided he didn’t want me to do that after all. “You probably won’t be impressed,” he said.
“Sure I will.”
“No. Because what I’m doing probably won’t look that hard to you.”
It’s the same as with my guitar. Because I’m not a rock climber, I might have trouble appreciating the skill and training that goes into what Paul does. I’ll just seem him sweating on the wall and not be that impressed.
* * *
I regularly tutor a Ukrainian in English, and every once and a while he says, “I can’t wait for your book to come out so I can read it. When will I be able to buy it?” He looks at me expectantly, and then I have to explain that I still need to get an agent, and then the agent will have to find a publisher, and I’m not even sure that this current novel is good enough to get that far – I may need to write another one.
To be honest, I don’t usually take the time to explain all of that. Instead I smile and say, “thanks. I can’t wait either.”
The problem is that a lot of people don’t realize what a challenge writing is. Not only is crafting a decent novel a monumental task in itself, but then you have to figure out how to break into the extremely competitive publishing market. If you make it that far it’s a feat, and then you have to worry about whether or not your book will sell.
As I once said to a boyfriend who was in medical school, “if you’re a doctor, people automatically think you’re successful. But if you’re a writer, people will only think you’re successful once you’ve written a best-selling book.” It’s like saying the only smart kid at school is the valedictorian.
* * *
The other day, while playing my guitar, I thought, if only everyone could take up a new instrument, then they would understand that I’m actually doing a good job, even though it doesn’t sound like it. And then I thought, if only everyone could try writing a novel, then they would understand that it’s not easy, and that I’m doing the best I can.
As I was playing, a weird thing happened. My fingers automatically went from C to F, and it didn’t sound bad. Muscle memory was finally kicking in. All of my practice was making it easier to play the song. And I had a glimpse of some day in the distant future, when, like a professional juggler or aerial artist, I will be able to play the guitar and make it look effortless.
And one day, with enough practice under my belt, maybe I’ll write that way, too. I’ll publish books, and I’ll make it seem easy (even though it never actually will be). That’s how you’ll know I’m good.
But I hope I won’t forget what it felt like to be at this stage: the time when I’m still dropping pins and fumbling with my fingers and sweating on the wall, working so hard to make my way to the top.