Letting life happen through you

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grayscale photo of person playing violin

Today, my friend came over with a violin. She is an accomplished piano player, but the violin is new to her. She taught herself by messing around until some of the notes started sounding right.

Meanwhile, I’ve been playing violin for 40 years now, and though I’ve always wanted to learn the piano, I don’t know much more than the location of middle C.

By the time human beings reach the middle of adulthood, it is unusual to consistently engage in undertakings that are new to us. It is even rarer to try and tackle something like a musical instrument that has a steep learning curve. This is partly practical.

The majority of adults have a job, often a family, a home and lists upon lists of responsibilities. There isn’t a whole lot of time, energy or interest left over to devote to doing something you will definitely be bad at for a while.

And then there’s the fact that we also have increasingly less time left in general. It took me years to learn to play the violin well. I can’t imagine having the devotion to attain that kind of proficiency with another instrument.

New book

My second book is coming out in a week. It celebrates 10 years of this column and loosely corresponds with my arrival on the ranch. Abruptly moving to a rural area to start a completely different career as a ranch hand was a pretty crazy thing to do at that point in my life and is likely one of the reasons I’ve been able to write a new story every week since.

Ranching like playing an instrument takes a lifetime to master. Ten years in, and I’m still mostly just trying to avoid disaster. I don’t want to completely sell myself short. Last week, I had the whole flock of town sheep get out and start grazing in my neighbor’s front yard. I somehow managed to shepherd them back where they belonged with minimal fuss because I apparently know a lot more about sheep body language and flock dynamics than I realize.

Still, it is a near daily exercise in humility to participate in a livelihood that contains so many skill sets I lack and very likely always will. One look at my arm muscles will tell you all you need to know about why no one will ever hire me to pound fencing posts into the ground.

I’m going to make one more giant narrative leap before I wrap this all up.

In addition to managing wayward sheep, last week I presented at a rural arts conference in Minnesota. I attended this same conference last June, too, but what a difference a year makes.

Last year, I spent a lot of the conference feeling weird and a little out of place. My rural is so much more rural than, well, almost everyone else’s rural. I wasn’t sure how I fit in with a lot of what was discussed, mostly because I wasn’t sure how I fit in with anything at that particular moment.

I don’t know why this year was different, but it was. On the first day, someone commented in passing, “Life doesn’t happen to you, it happens through you.” Our perceptions of the events that make up our lives are at least as important, if not more important, than the events themselves. Last year, it felt like life was happening to me, this year I could FEEL that it was happening through me. What a shift.

I don’t have any big conclusions to draw about all this yet. But today when my friend came over with her violin, I sat down at the piano and asked her to show me some chords, and we proceeded to play folk songs for over an hour.

It did not sound good. It didn’t even feel that good — my brain hurt from trying so hard to do something so unfamiliar. But you know what? That’s okay because I’m excited to see what comes through me next.

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