Looking Back, Looking Forward
It is the time of year for surveying past and future in the manner of Janus. About whom I realise I know absolutely nothing except that he inspired the name of the first month of the year by his capacity to look forwards and backwards at once. I expect he was good at three-point turns. (Though now I think about it, he must have found the introduction of car-seat head-rests to prevent whiplash both inconvenient and uncomfortable.)
Anyway, do you realise it’s just over eight years since I started this blog? That sounds like a significant chunk of time to me. Part of me is surprised to find I’m still going with no signs of letting up, but then again, I have found it an excellent form. I look back to my early twenties and see that even then, what I needed was a genre of short-form writing that is both intelligent and informal. And for six years before I started blogging, I was journaling regularly in what I have always referred to as my ‘Thinking Book’. Many of the early posts came straight out of those early-morning jottings.
I still use my Thinking Book, as it happens. Only, now that I’m doing so much of my thinking in public, the ideas only get started out there. Once I have developed a thought enough to know it looks like a blog post, I come out here to share it with you lot.
Looking back over the eight years of posting, the most obvious change since I started is how the posts have got, on average, longer and, commensurately, less frequent. I’m not sure there’s much to be read into that other than finding my stride. I have quite a well-developed feel by now for the size of thought that will unfold into a single article.
The themes have been both varied and consistent. Like my Thinking Books, the topics respond to the ideas and experiences I happen across in the various parts of my musical (and, occasionally, wider) life. So there’s no particular sense of narrative or teleology. When someone recommends an interesting book to me, or asks me an interesting question you get to hear about it shortly afterwards. The needs of the people I help to make music drive my practical reflections on teaching, learning and skill-acquisition.
Still, blown around by the winds of circumstance as the themes may be, they are still all filtered through my basic set of obsessions. How do we do this musicking business? How can we help each other get better at it? And how do we experience ourselves while doing it?
But the essentially reactive nature of the activity does make the looking forward bit kind of hard to do. I can make some educated guesses about the immediate future from looking at the musical activities already in my diary for 2017, and from the hatched-but-not-yet-blogged-about ideas in my Thinking Book. I can predict that we’re in for a healthy dose of musical feminism in the early part of the year, for instance. (There was some sexism in 2016 that needs dealing with, in case you hadn’t noticed.)
There have also been some significant changes in my musical life in the tail end of 2016 that make lots of things hard to predict for 2017. I may be reflecting on them here as the spring progresses; it is certainly too early yet for me have started figuring out how I feel about them, or what they will lead onto.
But, having this unexpected space open in front of me brings into interesting focus how much we do normally cast our imaginations out into the future to lay the path we plan to follow. This is a useful thing to do, as it helps us keep on track to achieve the bigger, longer-term projects amidst the routine patterns of daily life. We get to feel a sense of control over our destiny, which, whilst possibly over-optimistic in strictly literal terms, is realistic enough to give us confidence to get stuff done.
Having a path you had laid out some time previously, and had been following with some vigour, end unexpectedly is a strange experience. (Heh, I said only two paragraphs ago I wasn’t ready to reflect on this yet. Apparently I am, but it turns out I’m just not ready to tell you exactly what I’m reflecting about. You’ll have to live with abstraction and metaphor for now.) There is a sense of loss, of course. But there is also a sense of freedom, of an opportunity to rethink.
So as I survey the first half of 2017, I see a wide open vista, unmarred by the structures of past decisions. I think I’ll sit and think about the view for a while before I set off on a new path. Happy New Year!