How Do You Get To Carnegie Hall?

Sharon March 26th, 2009

The old punchline “Practice, practice, practice” applies to more than musical performance. It applies to the project of coming to terms with our new circumstances, and perhaps embracing our new lives.

Ideally, I feel like my last post in the Adapting In Place series (at least until I run the class again in the fall) ought to be something rousing and inspiring. But at the moment, I think the quiet exhortation to simply keep practicing at your life might be more to the point.

All works of art have two pieces - the obvious, occasionally transcendent product, and the whole body of work that preceeds them that makes them possible.  A lot of that work, even to create the purest, most elevated art is dirty, sweaty, smelly, hard and exhausting. 

Writers write and write, they screw up, they expose and humiliate themselves, they get carpal tunnel, bursitis and back injuries, they fail, they burn out their anger and frustration at their own inadequacies, they work and then throw days of hard work in the recycle bin, and they get up and do it again. 

Dancers endure injuries, strained muscles, bleeding feet, they sweat, they get filthy and sore and they try the same motion over and over again until their mind is numb with frustration and boredom and they wonder why bother - and they get up and do it again and again. 

Musicians see their fingers rubbed raw by strings and their muscles cramped holding their instruments, they play the same passage over and over and see where they fail, they can hear the right notes in their but they cannot make them, they play in public and screw up and they get up and do it again.  Do you sense a theme?

A graceful life, lived with as few non-renewable resources as possible, and as adapted to changing and shifting conditions as possible is a thing of artfulness and beauty.  The extraction of every drop of happiness and comfort from the resources you do leave you at the end with a life well lived - and what better art form is there? 

But just as with music, dance, literature, sculpture, behind the art is failure, many mistakes, frustration, repetition, imperfection, and practice, practice, practice.  It is not enough to say “Ok, I read Sharon’s blog, I know I’ll need a garden someday, and look, I’ve got the seens vacuum packed here.”  I can’t teach anyone anything about gardening that will not be completely dwarfed by a single season in the dirt trying to grow food.  The same is true with every single endeavor - you can know what you need to do to go without any electric tool, to live without a car - but until you have done it, and done it enough times to know what happens when seasons and circumstances changed, you will not know.

Behind this blog, which very occasionally has its artful moments, are literally thousands of failures - time spent writing papers for classes and arguing ideas on the internet in which I did not speak clearly, I did not make my ideas clear, I was boring or missed the point or wasted my own time and others.  There are plenty of posts on this blog in that genre ;-) .

Behind Sharon-as-writer is an acre of red pen on papers, and kind and harsh replies to my foolishness, screw ups and mistakes that seemed irremediable but weren’t, and lots of time doing dull, frustrating rewrites.  And what I learned was to (sometimes) do it mostly right the first time, to mostly be able to make myself clear, or for others to understand me.  If there are moments when this is good it is only because of the sweat and sleeplessness and the failures behind it that made it possible for me not to screw up every single time.  If I avoid some mistakes it is only because I already made them…and made them and made them.

I say this because there may come a time (or we may be there now for some of you) when you cannot afford to experiment, to make too many mistakes, when you may have to do it right the very first time to keep your life together.  And the only way to avoid many of the worst mistakes is to make them early while there’s still time.  Now is the time to screw up.

And that means you have to try adapting in place, as though you really needed to.  Try for a week to give up the car.  Try for a weekend to turn off the breakers and the gas and live without fossil fuels.  Set a limit on your kilowatt hours or you consumption of gasoline for the month, and stick to it. Don’t make it an easy one - push your limits.  Cut your budget to the bone and then cut some more, as though you had no choice - and see how you do.  Even your mistakes will teach you something about what you need. 

Dmitry Orlov often observes that living through tough times is a little like falling out a window - you want to fall out the lowest possible window, not the highest.  The lower you are prepared to go in your resource use, the more you are able to adapt to tough things, because the distance between what how you need to live now and what you’ve already experienced is small, the better off and more secure you and and your loved ones will be.

Over the spring and summer, I’m going to do a series of practice challenges, and of course, there are a lot of other wonderful people on the web doing ones.  Perhaps the weekend with all the breakers turned off or the “how low can you go” spending practice will help you get just a little lower.  But you don’t have to wait for me.   It is time to start practicing - because Carnegie Hall, and our big public performance may be closer than we think.


11 Responses to “How Do You Get To Carnegie Hall?”

  1. Annetteon 26 Mar 2023 at 1:14 pm

    Your posts are so timely! I am ready to turn off the lights now! =) Good point though. Do a dry run now and work out the kinks before the curtain goes up and we are ‘live’.

  2. Adrienneon 26 Mar 2023 at 1:19 pm

    Oh I really love that about falling out the lower window. Sometimes I feel like I am SO far behind on what I should know, I might as well give up. Instead I’ll try to think of that.

  3. graceon 26 Mar 2023 at 1:21 pm

    “A graceful life, lived with as few non-renewable resources as possible, and as adapted to changing and shifting conditions as possible is a thing of artfulness and beauty. The extraction of every drop of happiness and comfort from the resources you do leave you at the end with a life well lived - and what better art form is there?”

    With gratitude and ever deepening Respect, thank you for the AIP class, Sharon…..

    grace, New Mexico

  4. Billon 26 Mar 2023 at 2:06 pm

    Many thanks for the continuing words of hope and inspiration. Your efforts are most appreciated. Hope you’ll keep on keepin’ on!!!


  5. Susanon 26 Mar 2023 at 7:37 pm

    How very true.

    I do plan to turn things off, but I plan to do it on a weekend when DH is gone on a trip. I am already thinking about the things I’ll need, since I work weekends at times — windup alarm clock, rocket stove for coffee and cooking, … you get the idea.

  6. Rayon 26 Mar 2023 at 9:04 pm

    What a wonderful post, and definitely encouraging.

    It’s so easy to get caught up in the enormity of the changes that we’ll all be facing soon, that making small changes in your life seem so hopeless. Yet it’s really the sum of all the little things in our lives that make up our culture, and seeing the emergence of a culture that values an adaptable, low-resource life helps to give one a small but growing sense of hope.

    Thank you, Sharon, for being an articulate guide in this journey we are all attempting to make.

  7. cynon 26 Mar 2023 at 10:06 pm

    “A graceful life” truley the greatest form of living art… a testiment for our children. “She lived a graceful life.” Thank you for that reminder. Cyn

  8. Christinaon 27 Mar 2023 at 2:38 pm

    We are doing more and more to prepare - our bikes are in active use, the clothesline is full daily, and we went through our SF area winter with no heat except for during our homeschool choir once a week. We WWOOF at a local farm one morning a week and our own garden is underway (3 cu.yd. moved in the last two days!!).

    All this time devoted to skill- and infrastructure-building comes from somewhere, though, and a place where I see significant slippage is in our dining habits. We have several good local restaurants within a few blocks of our house and depend on them many days when we are wiped out at dinnertime. I challenge myself for April to go restaurant-free, with the exception of an early outing that has been on the calendar for a while. I’ve put that challenge to my partner as well; he is out regularly for lunch… We know how to cook, and are whole-foods diners when we eat at home; the challenge will be to prepare in advance for putting together low-effort meals at the end of long days. Things like cooking a week or even half-week of beans at a time, and remembering to defrost foods the night before.

  9. John O. Andersenon 28 Mar 2023 at 7:41 am


    Thanks. This supports my point with my 16 year old son of how mastering math requires much tedious practice.

    I will ask him to read your post when he gets up this morning.

    He and I have been reading “Team of Rivals” aloud together, and will finish in a few days.

    It occurs to me that all of Lincoln’s life up to the presidency was that glorious trial and error process you describe.

    It is what made it possible for him to “paint the masterpiece” that saved the nation.

  10. myrtleon 29 Mar 2023 at 10:33 am

    thanks, your post was so beautuful

  11. kathyon 29 Mar 2023 at 2:22 pm

    Sometimes I read you and the only pie I can eat is humble. I think of all the mistakes I have made over the years and realize it is foolish of me to assume that I will figure out all I still need to learn and do when I have to. Thank for this. I needed a kick in the pants on this cold wet day.

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