Holding the Future with Shaking Hands

Good days and Bad days: the attached video was from a bad day a couple months ago.

Good days and Bad days: the attached video was from a bad day a couple months ago.

Some of you may already know this, but I was diagnosed with an Essential Tremor in my right hand (my cello bow arm) in December of 2013. The day the neurologist told me, I was moving out of my beloved apartment for financial reasons, so I was too stressed to really let the news sink in... 

Over the last several months, I've tested out the different medication options and watched the tremor get progressively worse (it is a degenerative disease.) While I was at my Artist Residency, I was deeply processing the implications of this new physical challenge. I'm still asking myself the following questions, especially as I watch it progress.

  • How does this affect my career?
  • If I can't play the cello, am I still valuable?
  • Can I still teach cello, even if I won't be able to play it when I'm older? 
  • Should I get a heavier bow to lessen my tremor?
  • Should I focus on an instrument I can use in the longterm?
  • How do I treat myself and my career going forward?
  • Am I allowed to cry about this?

For the most part, I'm optimistic but there are some days that are not so. 

My attempt at drawing straight lines from earlier this week...

My attempt at drawing straight lines from earlier this week...

Mourning the loss of my handwriting is cute and endearing. But witnessing my cello-stamina lessen is like a knife slowly inching its way to my spine. I've played the cello for 18 years. I have a hard time remembering what life is like without a cello nearby.

In the moment, I can control the tremor, by tensing up my upper arm. And right now, I'm the only person that really notices this affecting my cello's sound. But still, this is not something a string player wants to do, for many reasons. Mainly, this way of compensating for the tremor is exhausting and hard to keep up for hour after hour. 

This new physical challenge is refining and redefining how I encounter music and it's making me a better steward of my time and talent.

Example: I've been re-teaching myself piano, but not in the normal way one might play piano - using the dexterity of your individual fingers. Knowing that someday I will no longer be in possession of that dexterity, I've begun to practice piano with the future in mind. Using hand shapes, utilizing upper arm movement rather than finger mobility, and treating the piano like a percussive and rhythmic instrument rather than intricately melodic is my current objective. It's working thus far... 

Most days feel like a race against the clock... and today? I'm just really tired of racing.