True confession: I have loved Steve Martin since the first time I saw him, in the early 1970’s, on Saturday Night Live. That qualifies as “back in the day.”
Through the years, I have marveled at his talent, versatility, and creative output. He’s a magician,a comedian, an actor, a playwright, and author. He creates and finds expressive potential everywhere. He’s a major creative force in American culture today. So there.
Tonight, I’m enjoying watching his mastery of the banjo. He is Mister Cool. He is playing the HELL out of that thing, with such an economy of movement! There’s nothing wasted. It is simple, clean, and kind of minimalist. He makes it look effortless. He and the guys clearly have a ball making music.
That’s the true mark of mastery: the ability to do something difficult, and make it look easy. Paradoxically, you don’t get “there” without a lot of work. Malcolm Gladwell quotes the 10,000 hour rule. If you’re doing the math at home, that works out to four hours a day, every single day, for about seven years.
The part they don’t tell you is that those 10,000 hours are not hours of rote drudgery. Repetition alone is no guarantee of quality. The work is more like the fully-absorbed attention of a child at play. Even when there seems to be no improvement for long stretches of time, the person on the path to mastery persists in the playful process of getting better at it. You trust the process, keep showing up, and eventually you and your work are transformed.
I like to think that Steve Martin’s process has been “making the impossible, possible; the possible, easy; and the easy, elegant.” Those are the words of Moshe Feldenkrais, describing the Method that bears his name. Movement by movement, action by action, choice by choice, by baby steps, you get there.