Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Recuerdos de la Alhambra

The nice lady asked me, out of the blue, "What's your goal?"

Laser sailing? Goal? Hmmmm. Do I even have one any more?

The occasion was a group dinner during the Massapoag Mashers Spring Break Very Serious Laser Sailing Clinic in Florida a couple of weeks ago. There were five of us Very Serious Laser Sailors and three non-sailing wives. I expect we five Very Serious Laser Sailors were blathering on about Laser sailing and all the drills we had been doing during the week and our sailing plans for the year - as we did every evening - and our long-suffering wives were suffering it patiently.

One of the other sailors' wives, a very nice lady, turned to me and asked me, "So, what's your goal?"

I was taken aback.

I didn't know how to answer.

Probably she was just trying to make polite conversation. Or perhaps just trying to get a word in edgeways as five Very Serious Laser Sailors blathered on about Laser sailing. Or maybe she was genuinely interested in my sailing goals.

But I took her question, probably entirely wrongly, as an accusation. She probably didn't mean it that way (she is a very nice lady) but I read into her question a hidden meaning something along the lines of, "Why on earth are you old geezers taking this Laser sailing game so seriously? What's the point of attending all these clinics? Do you seriously hope to improve your skills at your age? What's the point? What's your goal?"

So instead of answering her question politely, as the very nice lady deserved, I went on the offensive and tried to think of some clever riposte to her question about my sailing goals. I had just been reading the pages that inspired yesterday's post, the account of the research into how top violinists became so great. In my mind I was bouncing around the idea that my approach to sailing these days is pretty much the same as my approach to playing the classical guitar forty years ago.

I played for my own pleasure. I would pick a new piece every week and teach myself how to play it and practice and practice (on my own) until I could play it properly to my own satisfaction. The only goal was to be able to play each piece correctly, without mistakes, flowing smoothly, and with some element of musicality so that I could enjoy playing it.

I hardly ever played for anybody else. After a while I did take some lessons so that I could improve my skills even more. Guitar playing, generally speaking, is not a competitive sport. But my guitar teacher did persuade me to enter a local music festival and I did win the classical guitar section. Woo hoo! But that was never a goal.

Where was I? Where am I? Oh yes, the very nice lady and her question about my Laser sailing goals.

With all my thoughts about the analogy between playing the guitar and Laser sailing jostling around in my head, I blurted out, "What is my goal? Would you ask a musician that question?"

As soon as I said it, I knew it was a stupid question. Of course musicians have goals. To win a job with that elite orchestra. To play at Carnegie Hall. To master Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D major. All sorts of goals.

But I must have had enough attitude in my response that the nice lady could tell I meant it as a rhetorical question. After all I was talking about my younger self, just plucking away at a guitar for my own amusement.

"Of course not," she answered.

She was sort of right. I don't have goals any more like "Place in the top half of the fleet at the Masters Worlds" or even "Sail my Laser 100 days in 2012."

But I do still want to sail my Laser correctly, without mistakes, flowing smoothly, and with some element of seamanship. Purely for my own amusement.

What's wrong with that?


Doc Häagen-Dazs said...

I get sailing purely for one's own amusement, flowing smoothly, and with some element of seamanship. But "without mistakes"? Man, that's sick!

Doc Häagen-Dazs said...

You know what you are when you stop making mistakes? (No, Hombre. I'm not giving you any hints!)

O Docker said...

You've passed on. You are no more. You've ceased to be. You've expired and gone to meet your maker. You're a stiff. Bereft of life. You're resting in peace. You're pushing up the daisies. Your metabolic processes are history. You're off the twig. You've kicked the bucket. You've shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the choir invisibile.

You are an ex-sailor.

Tillerman said...

OK. OK. I never did learn to play anything on the guitar without making the occasional mistake. And I certainly never go sailing without making mistakes. But it's an aspiration of mine to make fewer screw-ups when I go sailing. Didn't a wise man once say that the way to win a sailboat race is to make fewer mistakes than the other guys? It's certainly the way to win a music festival.

Pat said...

Goals might include making smaller mistakes, repeating mistakes less often, adapting more quickly to correct mistakes, and making a higher proportion of "useful" mistakes -- those that are part of experimentation and learning. After all, one way that people can reduce mistakes is by never moving on to new challenges -- and that's a shame.

O Docker said...

Why do old men play with bravado, even if they’re out of tune?

Is it the realization that we will never attain the perfection that in our youth seemed just out of reach?

Is it the diminished capacity of age relentlessly catching up with us?

Is it the discovery that not as many people are listening as we once imagined, so we might as well just do what makes us happy?

Is it that turning inward allows us to relax and finally find the confidence that we never could when we were focused elsewhere?

Is it that most of us need a lifetime to acquire instincts that lead in the right direction?

Or, does our music sound better as we age because we don’t hear so well?

Whatever it is, play on and enjoy the music - even if you miss a note or two.

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