We’ve all done it. Woken up in the middle of the night with a brilliant idea, grabbed the pencil on the bedside table and that scrap of paper, and scribbled down a word or two before they slip away. The words could be “kitty litter” or “Rent!” or “buy milk”. I have done this often, even when I was living alone and there was no bed-mate to avoid disturbing. It is a game really, to see how little can I wake up and still jot down a legible squiggle.
For those of us who grew up before the advent of cell phones, handwriting was a necessity, no matter how embarrassingly sloppy it was. If it was legible to us, we got by. I bet big bucks you have no idea how strong your handwriting muscle memory truly is.
Here is your experiment. Grab a piece of paper and write your first name on it. Then move your hand down the page, close your eyes, and write it again. I bet it looks pretty similar. The challenge may come when you write a whole sentence in the dark, especially if that sentence is long enough to need two lines. Still, I bet you will be surprised at how well you write if you slow down just a bit and don’t think about it too much. You have hidden ‘talent’ you see, a misnomer if there ever was one. ‘Talent’ is just skill developed over time with a boatload of practice. What most people mean when they say, “You’re so talented!” is really, “Wow, you are so motivated to keep going even when it sucks at the beginning.” In that case, yeah, I’m talented. No idea why the itch to doodle is so strong in me, but I do know I only got better at it the same way you got better at holding a pencil—by doing it. Again and again.
So to my point, hand-dancing in the dark.
Last week I was fortunate to attend a concert featuring the work of Beethoven, performed by the Dartmouth Symphony Orchestra, right here in Concord. The conductor was Filippo Ciabatti, a brilliant young man whose joy and enthusiasm for conducting was obvious to all. (Well worth watching this brief link to a Bizet performance here .)
The first half of the program featured a wonderful pianist, Sally Pinkas, another gem of an artist who is Professor of Music at Dartmouth College. She was almost as animated as Mr. Ciabatti, and as I watched I was just itching to capture the energy in the theater. I pulled out my sketchbook and pen, in the pitch black darkness where I was sitting, felt for the shape and size of the page, picked a spot for the top of her head, and began. Looking only at the stage (the sketchbook in my lap was invisible in the dark), I felt for the top page, placed my pen at the crown of her head, and gently rubbed down along her animated back. Then out to the left for the bench, then across to the right and down for her leg, and guessed my way back up to the front of the piano and the top of the piano which was braced open. The conductor was above, so I attempted to place him, but ran out of paper at the top. No worries, I just slowly moved over to the left, with my glance at the stage and my pen on the page, and stroked in ovals, half moons, and angled lines for heads and violin bows.
Not sure whether I had slaughtered that page nor concerned, I moved down to the lower page and really focused on just the pianist, just her amazingly responsive arms and body, and her sassy way of smiling and shaking her head as she played phrases at the speed of light. What joy! What energy! Yes, yes, yes!
At intermission the lights came up and I was able to take a peak at the results. I smiled, chuckled a little. You see, the results will forever look different to me than they look to you because I was there. I now have access to a Starship Enterprise Transporter Room experience just by opening to that page and seeing what a hand-dance in the dark can look like. It looks like a memory more than a mark. It scratched my itch perfectly.