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.
I’ve found that there has been MUCH less interaction with all of my blogs. I don’t know if it’s that I no longer write anything of interest (quite possible!) or if people are just overwhelmed now with so much available online. I know I don’t have the time to investigate all the blogs I used to spend time with. I also found that the “friendship” formed with so many was false. After all, they only know the me that I put online, and they mostly didn’t put ANYTHING online to give me a bit of the “all of them”.
Just rambling … because I (finally!) happened upon your blog again, Emily. 🙂
I’ve followed your work for about five years, while earning a degree in music education. Yes, your work has helped me improve my teaching practices, A Modern Cellist’s Manual sits on my resource shelf. But I wanted to comment now, for the first time, to note that anyone “resentful that the product was no longer helping them,” reflects poorly on those shallow individuals, not you. While the technique and pedagogy were helpful and insightful, it was your personal reflections that were inspiring. Continuing to move past failed attempts — having the courage to share those failures — pushing yourself to develop new skills, and revealing all of the bumps along the way.
You’re most welcome. What are you up to these days?
I would like to second Jacob’s comments on the usefulness of your blog and mention the inspiration that it provided for me. I can barely play, but reading the things that you wrote about and watching your YouTube posts motivated me to try, and try harder. Criticism of someone like yourself who gives of themselves freely and without demanding a return is simply mean-spirited.
Thank you for all the time you took to write you blog. Please don’t go away.
Thank you: I’m not going away, just taking the time to regroup so this place can be what it is meant to be. Keep me posted on your progress!
Just finished reading your book, which was among a stack purchased by an amazing student of mine, a retired doctor/engineer/pilot who decided at 72 to play cello.
Made lots of margin notes.
Interested in who published your book? Couldn’t find the publisher.
Also very interested in what cello you play. It sure is beautiful.
May come back with query questions.
Thanks for the chance to contact you
I self published through Lulu. I do not play that cello any longer, alas: http://wp.me/p1zgl9-oi
I have to say I’m saddened that we will not be able to watch your wonderful cello insights from across the globe. Many of my students have found support and confidence in your words, so I hope they aren’t silent forever. Your humor and reality mixed with a thought-out point of view has always been refreshing.
And your post about You Are a Cellist is something we all need to hear – baby twinklers to professionals. Thank you for your words.
I’m not done- just explaining why things are quiet at the moment. 🙂
Thanks for your constant support. You have mine, too! Let me know if you’d ever like to do a mini teaching camp together. I bet we’d make some music and change some minds!
I was just looking at your blog again for the first time in years and ran across your ‘why I stopped posting’ with a link to the cellist by night forum post I contributed to.
I am the one who wrote” “Very well written.
I find Emily’s Blog a bit depressing, though.”
Lacking context I can see where it could be taken as callous, for that I am sorry.
As a middle aged beginner with fundamental timing problems and crappy intonation, I struggle to stay motivated. Your blog was wonderful, but the financial troubles and having to sell your cello resonated against my own fears and insecurity and amplified the voice in my head constantly telling me I am wasting my time and money. Your joy and love of music and the cello were no longer coming through to me, only your frustration and sadness.
Your write up in ‘why I stopped posting’ kind of hit me, I never considered your blog interactive. I thought of it more as a sermon from on high…when the prophet turns to something uninteresting or against personal beliefs, wander on. I always assumed a sort of narcissism from blog writers where they liked writing and views but didn’t really care about hearing back. Your post opened my eyes. I never realized that you might have been able to receive something of value from me had I simply empathized with you rather than leaving your blog.
So I would like to apologize, not for my post in Cello by Night, because that was just my opinion at the time, but for leaving you when I might have been able to offer some comfort or solidarity and for thinking of you as a source of information instead of a person.
I would like to start reading your blog again, if you don’t mind.
Robert: what a kind reply! Thank you so much. I would love for you to be part of this blog again. 🙂 Readers like you are truly the reason I do this stuff, especially when one can pay for pageviews and barter for “likes”- it’s the humanity part that has so much meaning, and is worth all the risk.