Oh Sweet Desire, You Know How I Hate to Practice

I’ve never been good at practicing.

I like to be good at something quickly, and if I’m not good at something quickly, I don’t like doing it. So I put it away, for awhile. Or forever. Such has been the fate of tennis, baking, sewing and tap-dancing, to name a few.

The blame seems to fall squarely on the shoulders of desire, but in fact it’s my inner critic who has to take the hit. I blame La Critica for successfully getting me to bail on a bunch of my passions. Back in high school, she convinced me that I wasn’t really any good at doubles tennis even though I was ranked first in my school and she knew how much I loved the feeling of being one with my racket, the ball, my partner and the court.

La Critica has convinced me that my cooking really stinks compared to my husband’s, even though I ace traditional German recipes and bake mouth-watering sweets. She’s even worn down my confidence in sewing, when in fact I made my own wedding dress, several elaborate gowns for the stage, a plush terry robe, and a pair of fancy pants for my guy (discovering all the secret tabs and pockets in a pair of men’s dress trousers). I actually find mending comforting.

Picking her nits, La Critica has been the most persuasive about something I’ve really loved. Dancing. More recently, she’s tripped me up in the luscious tango which I took up with a vengeance after discovering the tango parlors of New York City. Before that it was tap. Not film tap a la Eleanor Powell, but hoofing a la Honi Coles. Last week when I was down in my basement, La Critica stepped out of the shadows and got all in my face saying that I really should give away my tap shoes because the leather is cracking for utter lack of use. “No skin, no lanolin.” Little does she know that I have felt the most profound kinship with the rhythm of this earth while hoofing and actually cracked my leathers because I was dancing so much. Of course, she had a pointe. That was two decades ago in Austin when the exceptional Acia Gray was my teacher at Tapestry Dance. I stopped when I was just getting good (but that’s another posting).

When it comes to singing, it’s been a somewhat similar story. I’ve had little patience for classroom learning and claim only a handful of people as true mentors. The stage has been my teacher for 30+ years and what’s gotten me out there time and again is…desire. Pure and simple, Desire with a capital D. I learned my craft by doing, not by practicing doing. By singing, not by pretending to sing.  Indeed, it’s the many different stage partners from whom I’ve learned the most, and the many different audiences in the many different lands. La Critica is multi-lingual, and yet she’s mostly kept her distance here. It seems that opening myself to collaboration had the surest quieting effect on her secret voice.

In truth, no amount of pressure from her or her pal, El Guilto, have gotten me to volley any faster, cook any more frequently or dance any better when my Desire has flown the coop. We say it’s discipline we lack, but for me Desire is the D-word behind my drive.

When Desire comes knocking on my door, I run to answer. Fueled by her, I feel unstoppable, invincible, refreshed, alive and juicy. And she always brings her friends, Acceptance and Surrender, and together they tackle the demons starting with Resistance and lull him into submission. He loves it!

Don’t ask what the world needs.
Ask what makes you come alive and go for it!
Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
~ Howard Thurman

Following Desire is what it takes and I’ve learned this by her lead. When I burden myself with self-made stories about how passionless I feel, I know I’m really just desiring Desire. And she’s really just waiting for the coast to clear. When La Critica manages to throw my lusty, life-loving, art-priming passion over a cliff, she always climbs back up from out of some valley with a gleam in her eye. “Let’s go!” It may take a few hours, days or even months, but the happiest moments I know are when my Desire comes home.

Wearing many faces, she slips in by day, by night, in wet galoshes and satin slippers. I like her best barefoot and knocking vigorously on my door. Or when she lowers herself down from a branch and breathes herself into me for as long as I can stand it. Bar none she’s been the patient one, as all great teachers are.

Brush step, shuffle, ball change, f-lap
Brush step, shuffle, ball change, f-lap…


About Karen Kohler

Born in Frankfurt and raised in New York, Karen began her professional music career in Austin. Since returning to NYC in 2001, she has been a leading exponent of the cabaret arts as performer, director, producer and historian. Her performances blend multiple genres - classical, cabaret, jazz, blues and folk-rock - in six languages. She is founder of the award-winning ensemble, Kabarett Kollektif, and producer of Kabarett Fete, a celebrated international cabaret festival. Karen gives private lessons and conducts master classes in stagecraft, the art of public speaking and creativity coaching. View all posts by Karen Kohler

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