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How Do We Know When to Move On?

To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose


I’ve been a classical violinist since the age of twelve. There was a violin that had been passed down in our family, and I swiftly made it my identity, working my tail off to be worthy of it. Twelve, after all, is a mite late to be learning something as complex as a stringed instrument; many prodigies begin years before that. I knew I had an uphill battle since there were kids around me who had already been playing for several years, but I also knew deep down that I was up to the task. 


I had already tried piano, but my teacher was unnecessarily mean, and my mother (an excellent pianist) hovered over me at home, spelling out corrections, insisting I get it right before moving on. I also tested out acting, auditioning for every Children’s Theater production that came along in my Wisconsin neighborhood. 


But, the violin really…spoke to me.


I got down to work, actually enjoying scales and etudes, loving the pieces and performing, and I began to see results. As a painfully shy pre-teen, I had found a way to pour my heart into something that was mine alone, and I seized the opportunity. Along the way, I pissed off a lot of my fellow string students, but I didn’t care, I was having a great time and getting what I thought I badly needed: attention. Not a great reason to choose a vocation, but it’s all I had at that juncture. As someone who has dealt with lifelong depression, the violin gave me highs I had never experienced before, and I became addicted. 


This may sound odd, but at seventy-two, I’ve reached a point in my life where I feel like it’s time to move on. For one thing, I live in Los Angeles, a youth-oriented town if there ever was one. Then Covid came along, which forced a layoff for most California musicians by shutting down work and putting us on unemployment assistance. For another, more to the point reason, I’m just getting older, and stuff wears out when you get older. I have cataracts, for instance, and even though they’re too minor to do anything about, they still influence how I see (or don’t see) music. I also have a tremor caused by a brain lesion, which comes and goes, usually coming under stress, of which there is quite a bit of the music performance business. There is nothing like having an exposed solo on the violin while dealing with a tremor (or any kind of performance anxiety for that matter). It’s a nightmare scenario for any musician.


So I’ve stopped playing entirely, putting my violin and bow up for sale, and I have to say, it’s been strange. I get the urge in the middle of the day to go work out a passage that’s been giving me trouble, or to order new strings, before I remember there’s no need behind the urge. All my musical friends are now beyond reach (they’re busy playing gigs, they have no time for retired violinists in a place like LA, with its impossible traffic issues….). I no longer arrange music or players for weddings, parties, galas, and don't salivate about performing my favorite Brahms Symphony in an upcoming concert. And even though I could teach, as I did for my entire career, I guess I feel like it’s time to branch off in an entirely different direction.



Like many of you, I have written all my life. I began a novel many years ago, and even though I received compliments on the line-by-line writing, the plot itself just never seemed to go anywhere. I was describing people going through the motions of their lives without any tension whatsoever, which amounted to a very boring tale indeed. One friend even said, “Why should I care about these people?” Ouch! But also, Bingo.


I decided I needed to call in backup, and have been taking an online writing course for the past three years. 


The course has been astonishingly well put together, is probably one of the most challenging things I have ever done in my life, and I now have: 1) a full understanding of my past shortcomings, 2) close friends from the class who understand and share my frustration and determination, and 3) a realization that I am ready to get back in the proverbial saddle with a new sense of purpose and confidence. 


One of the things made crystal clear was that, among other essentials, one’s protagonist must have a non-negotiable goal that they’re trying to reach, and that they’re willing to risk a lot, maybe everything, to achieve that goal. When I think of the musical masterworks I’ve played over the years, I realize that each of them embrace and achieve those high stakes as well. The whole point of creating anything artistic is to help inspire humanity to see a better, different, new way. 


“Any great work of art … revives and readapts time and space, and the measure of its success is the extent to which it makes you an inhabitant of that world — the extent to which it invites you in and lets you breathe its strange, special air.” Leonard Bernstein


All this to say moving on from a music career has opened new doors and expanded my mind. Holding onto what I knew, what I had always known since my twelve-year-old self fell in love with the violin, was actually doing more harm than good. I was afraid to change anything or let go of the familiar.

Now I realize that I might have missed out on this new adventure entirely had I stubbornly stuck to my old ways of doing things. I’m not saying I know what I’m doing, or don’t experience intense fear and uncertainty at certain junctures, but at least now I’m committed to making this new path work, despite the challenges.


What about you? Have you been trying to make a difficult, frightening decision that might completely upend your life? To move ahead, to make progress with our creative selves, we need support and backup. Identify and/or share your fears, dreams and ambitions, and see where it leads you.

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