Little Napoleon

My mother was a devoted practitioner of a Zen style of minimalist parenting, a style that suited me and my general desire not to be meddled with perfectly. Never was this style more expertly employed than when I was nine and first learning to play the flute. The problem was the slurs. To slur, a flutist does not tongue each individual note but exhales one continuous breath so that the notes appear to run together as if they were poured out of a jug, rather than dropped one by one from your instrument. I couldn’t get it. Somehow by not pausing to articulate each note the whole business came out rushed and muddied. How disappointing: only three months into my musical expedition, and I’d reached my Waterloo.

After a particularly fruitless practice session, I marched to my mom’s bedroom where she may have been seeking refuge from the life of a single mother, and broke the news. “I can’t get the slurs,” I told her. “I’m going to quit.”

To which she replied: “Okay.”

I was caught completely off guard. I had prepared a passionate defense of my fluting ineptitude and the pain it was causing me. Did she want me to suffer through failure after failure? But the fight for which I had readied myself never came, and I turned around knowing I was not going to quit.

There is nothing failure loves more than opposition. It feeds off it. After all, if something is being opposed, then that something must exist. When your punches come back empty, you can only ask yourself what you were swinging at. I certainly did that day. This little Napoleon marched back to his music stand, victorious in his surrender.


Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. "A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.

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