It can be argued that any reader/writer relationship revolves around a transaction. The writer offers an insight, or shares an experience, or somehow provides new context for something the reader is working through. The reader places value in what has been written. As a writer, I live for this transaction. Being useful is important to me. Maybe too important. I have been known to go beyond what is good for me to demonstrate my worth this way- staying in relationships too long, bending over backwards for an ungrateful employer, losing sight of my own true north from time to time.
For years, the Stark Raving Cello transaction was fairly reciprocal- an artifact of the post-and-comment format of blogging. I’d spend a day or two crafting a post based upon some cello-y success or failure (of my own, or from a lesson I’d taught), and then a day or two reading and responding to comments. Every SRCB post came from a deeply emotional place- even the technical posts about why your thumb is sore or how to nail a shift. This place was one of sublime empathy for the struggling adult student; it’s a source from which my lessons continue to draw today. Back then, I would frequently cite my own frailties and insecurities and feature some serious real talk about how professionals struggle with the same stuff students do- despite whatever their glamorous Facebook and Twitter feeds say.
The adult amateur musicians seemed to appreciate this perspective. I have over a thousand emails saved from people who have written to me saying everything from “Thanks for helping me- I can’t afford lessons and this was what I needed” to a few “I wanted to kill myself and what you said made me feel less alone.” It wasn’t all sunshine and cheer: I also received a few death threats, lots of gendered/misogynist/sexual commentary, and many condescending notes (including two YouTube diatribes) about how I have no business teaching the cello and that I am clearly not an expert.
This transaction is laden with expectation- some we don’t even know are there until they go unfulfilled.
I started this blog to be of service, but also to give myself a place to go to write about things that are meaningful to me. So I have posts about cats. Planes. Authenticity. Anxiety. Writing. The creative process.
And it seemed like everybody was fine so long as the vein I was opening offered some sort of useful takeaway. A moral to the story, a juicy tidbit, a sense of closure and satisfaction at the end of it all.
Everything changed when I started using this space to occasionally sort through the detritus of the last several years. People were resentful that the product was no longer helping them improve as musicians. Nevermind that the site has hundreds of posts and accompanying comments and downloadable resources. Nevermind that I’ve written multiple articles for teachers and students in Strings every month since 2008. SRCB has to be useful! Enough with this depressing self-indulgence.
The point has been made, and it strikes at the core of my insecurities. I figured that readers who had benefitted from my earlier posts would be there to catch me when I had nothing else to give, but it is demonstrable- there is no worth here unless I am somehow useful. This blog didn’t ascend to some pretty dizzying heights (one month in 2009 I had 60k visitors- not bad for an über niche no-ad site) because of my own humanity, but because the way I couched even my deepest fears somehow made readers feel better about themselves.
So I’ve all but stopped posting here. I changed the branding of the site to support my part-time writing efforts. I still live and breathe cello and teaching. It is my life’s work, and my calling. I’m still looking for substantive professorial work in the music world, but that, my friends, is a waiting game. Nobody retires any more. The pickings are slim- maybe because the work is just that good, maybe for slightly darker reasons, too.
This blog allowed me to build a base of support and travel the country doing what I love most in the world for several years. It’s astonishing, when you think about it. I am grateful to (nearly) every reader, especially those who stepped forward and helped me organize teaching tours and workshop appearances. It’s something I want to get back to, sooner than later. But this time, I will not kid myself about the nature of the transaction, and may adjust how far I go trying to demonstrate my value. It’s in that gesture, where actual worth, self worth, is proven.