How to unwrap your life

December 8th, 2009

I speed-read a short story collection last week, Ishiguro’s Nocturnes, which I cannot recommend. Despite that, one story in the book stuck. It was about the relationship between a cellist and his musical mentor, a woman who described herself as a virtuoso. The woman gives her protégé weeks of technical and inspirational corrections before revealing that she cannot play a cello herself. “We are both virtuosos,” she explained in pitch-perfect logic, “but my virtuosity has not been unwrapped.”

A wrapped-shut virtuoso. Does that resonate?

We dare not yet pick up our own instrument for fear of, well, everything. We are cautious, guarded, unprepared. Getting closer, we tell ourselves. Getting ready. Awaiting the moment of fulfillment, when our mastery will be revealed. In the meantime, our virtuosity is unchallenged, shielded beneath layers of tissue, inert, immobile, a precious empty ideal. Held in reserve for one day.

How to Unwrap Your Life

1. Do something you’ve been avoiding, without thinking twice.
2. This might mean that you need to mail the letter or send the proposal. It will put things in motion.
3. This might mean you need to make the call or send the resume. Go for broke.
4. This might mean that you need to tackle the hand wash cold.
5. This might mean you need to make a meal from whatever you have on hand in the kitchen, without restraint or apology.
6. This might mean a dog walk or a litter box cleaning.
7. This might mean forgetting what he said, she said, you said and everything that has been said before now.
8. No one can tell you a thing. There is no “how to do.”
9. There is only do.
10. Play as if your life depends on it. Without you, there’s no music.

Subscribe to my newsletter • Come to my retreat • Fan me • Follow me.


  1. [We dare not yet pick up our own instrument for fear of, well, everything.]

    honestly…did you have to. 😉

    loved this.

    Comment by latisha — December 8, 2009 @ 8:50 pm

  2. okay, okay. thanks for the reminder to stretch and believe.

    Comment by 6512 and growing — December 8, 2009 @ 11:06 pm

  3. For me tonight, it means shutting my mouth and not thinking twice about opening it. Well, I will open it for some hot bedtime tea, but otherwise, I need me some serious silence tonight.

    Thanks for this – and for all your writing, for all that you are, Mommazen.

    Comment by GailNHB — December 9, 2009 @ 1:29 am

  4. Well isn't that perfect timing. I sent out one submission last night and five more today. Time to unwrap my virtuosity!

    Comment by Marianne — December 9, 2009 @ 1:53 am

  5. Gorgeous. Thank you. I'm moved to tears.

    Comment by Emma — December 9, 2009 @ 2:05 am

  6. Exactly what was needed. Thank you.

    Comment by Lisa — December 9, 2009 @ 2:19 am

  7. So very glad Marianne. So very proud and glad. Wheels are made to turn.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — December 9, 2009 @ 2:19 am

  8. scary. it's like you're inside my head… timing is golden. thankyou. (im cath, by the way. a new comer to your blog. loving it.)

    Comment by daffado — December 9, 2009 @ 5:55 am

  9. Ugh. For me it means moving for the fourth time in six months and trying to NOT have a nervous breakdown.

    All thats keeping me together is the retreat in Jan…

    Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

    Comment by Jeannie — December 9, 2009 @ 6:30 am

  10. thank you for the gift of you

    Comment by Wendy — December 9, 2009 @ 12:46 pm

  11. I especially liked #7. My 4th grader is dealing with bullies at school, and I with their parents. I've been stuck in hell for weeks. Thanks for the breath of fresh air..
    and i agree, you are a gift, Karen. 😉

    Comment by Yogajill — December 9, 2009 @ 2:29 pm

  12. #7 is a very difficult one indeed!

    #9, sorry, but I had to smile at this one because it reminded me of Yoda in Star Wars, who said, "Do or not do … there is no try."

    Anyway, off to make some music now. Thanks for your timely words!

    Comment by Lana — December 9, 2009 @ 2:59 pm

  13. Always what is needed and always right on time. I hope I learn to trust this someday.

    Comment by Sheryl — December 9, 2009 @ 3:35 pm

  14. It is so easy to fall back on letting "life" get in the way – "But I have to do my laundry first!" and so on. Thank you for the reminder that now is the time to leap, and the laundry can wait.

    Comment by Swirly — December 9, 2009 @ 4:48 pm

  15. And hey, sometimes laundry is the leap! I'm all over that one.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — December 9, 2009 @ 4:50 pm

  16. I love this post 🙂

    Comment by Erin — December 10, 2009 @ 3:35 am

  17. how do you do it, Karen? for me, again, you are right on time. the tears-in-my-eyes-as-i-read-it kind of right on time.

    for now, i say thank you. I love this as much as I needed to read it right now.

    Comment by katiesmurphy — December 10, 2009 @ 4:46 am

  18. You have me laughing, Katie. "How do I do it?" No how, just do, and so easy since there is only one mind as we seen proven over and over.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — December 10, 2009 @ 4:56 am

  19. Thank you so much for this.

    Comment by erigal80 — December 10, 2009 @ 5:21 am

  20. Yes, and even in going for broke, when it doesn't work out & you are broke for the moment, it still works in your favor. Out of the scariest moments come serious truths.

    That is one lesson I've emerged from the Dark Side of the Moon with…

    So good to see your words again, Karen.

    Comment by Cam — December 10, 2009 @ 6:59 pm

  21. No how, just do. My new mantra.

    Comment by jena strong — December 12, 2009 @ 11:26 pm

  22. #5
    That is a question I've been learning to ask myself lately… "what ingredients do I have on hand?"

    I can't believe it never occurred to ask myself this before.

    Comment by Stacy (Mama-Om) — December 13, 2009 @ 10:54 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

archives by month