Zoe can turn over now. She’s been working on this skill for days. Initially, it required a lot of squealing and a lot of effort and sometimes she got stuck half way and had to shout for help. It’s been improving markedly, though, and now she whips over from her back to her front with cat-like speed every time I set her down. Two inconvenient things about this, though. Once she gets onto her tummy she can’t turn back over, and she doesn’t exactly like being on her tummy, so she has to squall for assistance in getting back over. And two – she is so enamored of her new skill that she really can’t do anything else. Like sleep, say, or eat, or sit calmly on my lap while I eat or work. No, she has to be TURNING OVER all the time now, and even though she’s so tired by the end of the day she can’t do anything but wail, she still would rather turn over over and over than actually fall asleep when put down.
I can remember when I was this focused. When I could literally spend ALL DAY on a piece of music or a technical passage on the oboe and then go back to it after dinner just to see how far it had come and work for an hour or so more. It takes 10,000 hours of doing something before you become an expert at it. (I’ve seen this statistic several places, most recently in Malcolm Gladwell’s amazing book, Outliers, which I bought for a bunch of people last xmas and for some reason don’t own a copy of myself. I certainly had those 10,000 hours in a long time ago, and while I don’t claim to be the world’s greatest expert I do more or less know what I’m doing on the oboe. My question, though, is: what happens after those 10,000 hours are in? After the basics of the craft are mastered? I find it hard to get as sucked into practice session as I used to, and I think there are several factors at work.
One is that I’ve gotten pretty good at the oboe, and one is that I’ve gotten pretty good at practicing the oboe. It’s not that I can play everything perfectly the first time – but I have my skills in place and I know how to efficiently learn most technical things. A passage that would have taken me days to learn when I was in school I can work out in an hour or less, usually. The aspects of my playing that I actually work on now when I practice are more ethereal – sound or vibrato or musical phrasing and planning. Once I figure out what I want it to sound like I can usually do it pretty easily. Does that mean I need less practice? No – I need the time on the instrument to stay in shape and on top of my game – but now mostly I play scales and complicated arpeggio patterns to work on technique, instead of getting absorbed in a piece of music for months while I work out every little detail. It’s still fun, but less engrossing than learning the Vaughan Williams Concerto for the very first time.
In a way I envy Zoe. She’s got so many amazing things to learn yet – starting with turning BACK over and progressing through walking, reading, riding a bicycle, acing her SATs, becoming President, etc. And learning a skill is such a triumphant thing! I love watching her in her journey towards becoming an actual person. And maybe soon she’ll start sleeping again?