There comes a point in any endeavor where you bump up against the upper limits of your abilities. It’s the last math class that’s easy, the last stack of weights that doesn’t crush you, the last time you can do that thing easily. There’s still room for improvement, of course, but it will take work, and that takes a decision: is it worth the leap?
A few weeks ago, I finished my first novel. The other day, I finally got Bach’s Minuet in G. Yesterday, with Ian pushing and Jamie and Paul pulling, I stuck with the main pack of the Riviera Ride for two out of three laps*.
All three of these things were right at the edge of my current upper limits. The first draft was about twice as long as anything I’d written before. The Minuet only has one little position shift**. I needed Ian literally pushing me up Amalfi, one hand on my back as I pedaled like hell to keep up. These are things I can do, and I can probably do them well at this level of intensity and focus.
But I want to do more.
I want to lead the Riviera Ride for a lap. I want to play Bach’s cello suites (and Piazzolla’s tangos and Paganini’s Caprice and Zappa’s symphonies and whatever else there is). I want to write novels that entertain and sing. And all of these things will take work, a kind of work that I’ve never thought I could (or would want to) do before.
Here’s a secret: college was the first time I bumped up against my natural limits, and I wasn’t willing to do the work, which is the reason my diploma is from Cal Poly and not Harvey Mudd. I never got promoted at any of my video game gigs because I didn’t want to spend my off-hours learning how to crunch vectors in my head. These aren’t things to be ashamed of; they’re just facts (and, to be honest, I don’t regret the vectors-in-the-head thing. When you get down to it, learning how to Lindy hop and talk to girls are much more fulfilling).
It’s not the risk of failing that’s kept me away. It’s inertia. It takes energy to overcome, to build, to surpass those limits and build new ones. Yes, there’s going to be a point where I hit a hard wall (ie, I’m not going to ride like Contador, write like Moore, or play like Casals), but that doesn’t mean I can’t do my damnedest to find out where those walls are or how well they’re built. Before yesterday’s ride, I really thought I was giving it my all, but, no, I found I could dig a little deeper. I’d never written as much as I did on Windswept. And I was pretty sure I’d never get that tricky bit with the triplet and the hand shift. I bloody well got them, and I want to get more.
You do something, and then you stand on the edge of a cliff. Sometimes you fall, sometimes you die. And sometimes, you fly. So what else can you do but jump?
Today, that’s what I’m going to do.
* The Riviera Ride is three laps down San Vicente Boulevard to the bottom of Amalfi, then up through the canyons to Sunset and back to 26th and SV. You do this three times, and you do it fast.
** Actually, this is pretty self-explanatory: your fingering hand has to move up and down the finger board to get all sorts of higher and lower notes.