Chris Padilla/Blog / Notes

Holding With a Loose Grip

I have a nasty habit of holding my pencil with a mean pinch. I can't write for too long because my palm will get sore.

It's something I'm being mindful of now that I'm drawing regularly.

How it probably happened:

  1. Go to school, learn how to hold a pencil properly
  2. Before I nailed that, I had to learn to write accurately - hitting the tops of my letters on the dotted lines
  3. Strain a bit to get it right, trading good form for accuracy
  4. The bad habit solidifies once accuracy became more important than technique

It's easy to imagine that in other disciplines, and on a much more serious scale. On sax, I knew folks that developed tendonitis. I've heard of artists with Focal Dystonia. Even when I taught marching band, I saw students push themselves to overexertion.

So I'm stopping to ask myself: What if it were flipped? What if the way I did things was more important than the end result?

Here's how it's going so far with drawing: comically!

My lines were already pretty inaccurate, now they're hilariously so! It's both frustrating!?

It's been a weird cheat for another benefit. Focusing more on how I'm holding the pencil has made it so I can let go of the result. In other words, drawing is even more playful than it was before!

I'm already translating this to guitar and piano to pretty great effect. Things are moving more slowly, but I don't leave either instrument with any cramps. Since the physical process was more pleasurably, lo and behold, I'm feeling even more bouncy and light after leaving a session.

W.A. Mathieu has a great essay in The Listening Book that advocates for practicing slowly. The message is different: practice slowly to learn quickly. But the sentiment is similar:

Lentus Celer Est

This is bogus Latin for Slow (lentus) Is Fast (celery). Write it large somewhere. It means you cannot achieve speed by speedy practice. The only way to get fast is to be deep, wide awake, and slow. When you habitually zip through your music, your ears are crystallizing in sloppiness.

Yet almost everyone practices too fast, their own music as well as others'. We want to be the person who is brilliant. This desire is compelling, and it can become what our music is about.

Pray to Saint Lentus for release from zealous celerity. Pray for the patience of a stonecutter. Pray to understand that speed is one of those things you have to give up—like love—before it comes flying to you through the back window.

Does it have to stop there? There's a big life metaphor here, I bet! Say: setting up your days where you actually enjoy them, have energy to do the most important things, and in a way that sustains relationships.

I'm going to keep trying: Holding days and practices with a loose grip.