Tuesday, December 15, 2009


First of all, I am one lucky person and I know it. I've heard from—and/or of—so many people who have been through brain surgery and had or are having miraculous recoveries (like I feel I am), but also of many struggling to overcome the limitations the surgeries have caused.

Limitations on one's talent(s) or creativity or physical capabilities or capacity for empathy or understanding or intelligence etc. have always interested me. I remember reading once that Irving Berlin, considered by some to have been the most prolific and successful songwriter in American popular cultural history, could only play in the key of C, so in order to write songs in other keys he had a special device created for the piano he composed on—sort of like a giant capo, that little bar that guitarists strap around the neck of their instruments to make it possible for them to transpose songs into keys they could otherwise not play in—so he could continue playing the notes as if in C but thanks to the device they would come out as being in whatever key he chose to set the device to.

Even though I knew that story and others like it, I was still always hard on myself for not living up to some imaginary standard that always seemed to be out of my reach. Then one day I was laying on a couch in a place I was renting in Santa Monica lamenting the loss of Marvin Gaye who had just been shot and killed by his father when I had this epiphany about my musical abilities. I had always judged myself harshly for not being able to play as uniquely and brilliantly as Bill Evans or Thelonious Monk. But suddenly I understood that if I had only mined the musical talent I had and accepted its limitations and worked within them, I might very well have ended up with an equally unique and maybe even brilliant sound.

It seemed so clear I wondered why I hadn't seen it before. But now, recovering from the enormous limitations I started out with after the brain surgery only a little more than four weeks ago, I understand how easy it is to allow natural or imposed limitations to create a sense of frustration and futility when you're constantly comparing yourself to some implied standard either from without or within.

Fortunately, I surrendered pretty completely to whatever the outcome might be from the beginning of this adventure, which I believe may be contributing to my rapid recovery in some ways. Even if just in attitude. And it gives me more insights into transcending any limitations—health, age, experience, expertise or lack of it, etc. I'm not talking about any New Age-y idea of being responsible somehow for calamitous circumstances beyond our control (like many health problems etc.) but rather of realizing and accepting the reality of whatever limitations might be keeping us from accomplishing something in ways we think we have to and instead using those limitations as a means of achieving whatever it might be we're trying to accomplish.

Like me playing piano only in the key of C or limited to certain ways of using chord changes to reinforce the melody line etc. Or using language that's limited to the vocabulary I have access to at any given time (much more limited four weeks ago, and still compared to pre-operation) and making it achieve my aims anyway (Dr. Suess anyone?), etc.

We've all witnessed or heard stories of people who overcome enormous limitations to their physical or cognitive capabilities after car accidents or war injuries or getting hit by lightening etc. All I'm trying to share is my realization that all our limitations of whatever kind or magnitude can be faced the same way, with the idea of using those limitations to create something uniquely ours from simple nuances of personality to entirely new creations of art or science or etc.

And PS: today's typing was yet again improved even from yesterday's, making writing this post the lest difficult yet. Like I said, I know I am one very lucky person.


Jamie Rose said...

Wow. Great post Lals. Needed this. Time for me to get back to writing to writing the book. ;)

JIm said...

I had a mental picture of you from our youth and from your political posts over the last few years. You have shattered that picture. You are much better, talented and certainly wiser than I thought.