Treat It as a Draft

When, in mid-2000, I released my mostly home-recorded CD Fish Wigs Hats Rats, I was elated and eager for reactions. They were mixed: some enthusiastic reviews and comments, and some expressions of disappointment along the lines of “You played cello so beautifully in high school.” Putting it all together, I see the mistake I made: this should have been a draft of a more honed project. Oh, everyone can say this. It’s hard to know when to stop. But this album suffered primarily from two problems: technical clumsiness and the effect of laying too many tracks on top of the previous ones, adding stray noise each time. (That in turn came from singing and playing all the parts myself, except in Gourds, where Hannah Marcus plays drums and synthesizer, and recording all but three on my own, at home.) Also, I didn’t know how to sing yet: how to work within my range, how to give shape to the words and phrases, how to pour forth and hold back. This little album did have its strengths. I am proud of the lyrics and some of the musical composition. But the weaknesses strain the listening, even today.

For years, after the initial excitement, I couldn’t listen to it at all; I cringed to think of it. I don’t cringe any more. It’s something to learn from; I can take the lessons into my writing. When I finish something, I often can’t wait to put it out there, but usually there’s more to be done. Finished isn’t quite finished. I need to step back a little.

This isn’t true for everone. There are those who work so long at something, trying to get every last detail right, that they never finish it, or, if they do, it feels over-labored. A work has to be lively (by which I don’t mean peppy; there’s liveliness in slowness). But probably each of us has a tendency that both helps us and gets in our way, be it impatience, perfectionism, sloth, self-doubt, imagination, or something else. To make a work of art, you have to both follow and resist your own tendencies, in the right proportion. If I weren’t a little impatient and impulsive, this thing would never have come into being, and all and all, I’m glad it did.

“Too Much Giving” (which I co-wrote with Mahlah Byrd, who died in 1994) is my favorite, followed by the first song, “The Ear.” After that, the title song, which was inspired by a sign I saw outside a store in Petaluma, California, with exactly the words “Fish Wigs Hats Rats.” The song alludes to a story a friend told me about a dream he had had, as well as some things that I was going through at the time. I like the eerie mood of it, although God, I wish I had had the sense to bring the key up a bit higher and add some more melody to the vocals. After that, “Funny Funny Grief,” and after that, there’s no particular ranking. “Gourds” and “Marks” are busier than I would make them now, but were recorded, along with “Too Much Giving,” by Joe Goldring at his wonderful studio in San Francisco, and you can hear the difference in the sound.

But those are thoughts two decades after the fact. The real lesson, for me, is to wait just a little longer than I would like, to take just a little more time with projects before hurling them outward into the world. Usually the world can wait too.

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  • “To know that you can do better next time, unrecognizably better, and that there is no next time, and that it is a blessing there is not, there is a thought to be going on with.”

    —Samuel Beckett, Malone Dies

  • TEDx Talk

    Delivered at TEDx Upper West Side, April 26, 2016.

  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

     

    Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture and the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Her second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2018. In February 2022, Deep Vellum will publish her translation of Gyula Jenei's 2018 poetry collection Mindig Más.

    Since November 2017, she has been teaching English, American civilization, and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and teach the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In 2014, she and her students founded the philosophy journal CONTRARIWISE, which now has international participation and readership. In 2020, at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, she and her students released the first issue of the online literary journal Folyosó.

  • INTERVIEWS AND TALKS

    On April 26, 2016, Diana Senechal delivered her talk "Take Away the Takeaway (Including This One)" at TEDx Upper West Side.
     

    Here is a video from the Dallas Institute's 2015 Education Forum.  Also see the video "Hiett Prize Winners Discuss the Future of the Humanities." 

    On April 19–21, 2014, Diana Senechal took part in a discussion of solitude on BBC World Service's programme The Forum.  

    On February 22, 2013, Diana Senechal was interviewed by Leah Wescott, editor-in-chief of The Cronk of Higher Education. Here is the podcast.

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    All blog contents are copyright © Diana Senechal. Anything on this blog may be quoted with proper attribution. Comments are welcome.

    On this blog, Take Away the Takeaway, I discuss literature, music, education, and other things. Some of the pieces are satirical and assigned (for clarity) to the satire category.

    When I revise a piece substantially after posting it, I note this at the end. Minor corrections (e.g., of punctuation and spelling) may go unannounced.

    Speaking of imperfection, my other blog, Megfogalmazások, abounds with imperfect Hungarian.

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