A leak in the line

Finally, and long after it might have helped me prevail in some critical life battles, I have taken to the idea of developmental daily disciplines — things you do just because they are the things you do so do them. I have a few running right now, modest programs so tenuous and imperiled, given my history, that I am loathe to list them for fear of jinx. But anyway: singing practice, deep breathing, and this very column. More.

In everything I do I am improviser per force and not by choice. Plans and designs do not take well in my neurological soil. There is a layer of static between conception and execution that has always been there. The blood that carries thought to action doesn’t make it to the tips of my mental fingers with all its properties intact. There’s a leak in the line.

If you have read much of my work here at Village Voices, you might recall that this nameless condition was sort of half diagnosed as “well, something’s up” in the Seventies, an era before the vocabulary of descriptive dysfunction was as rich and granular as the one we enjoy today.


Problems were noted with my acute motor skills and organization. A keen discrepancy between apparent intelligence and overall performance/achievement became the keynote of every parent/teacher conference and exit debriefing.

It was a message that I internalized. Hard. Both sides: that nothing was ever going to quite work out, and that I was supposed to be exceptional.

As I look back across a life of getting stuff done anyway, trying my hand at a lot and filling a dossier of successes and failures that strikes me, ultimately, as just about normal for anyone who had half a reason to dare a creative life, I conclude that the output is consistent with the potential. This implies the good news that I did all right for myself, and the bad news that I am not the chosen one.

And that brings me these new, tenuous daily disciplines. I undertake them now not with a sense of worldly reward down the line, training in secret like Sonny Rollins on the bridge and then springing a new me on my world. I stick with these habits, honestly, because they are decadent and they feel good. They are not what I am supposed to be doing, and that is what I will always be best at.

Read more installments of Village Voices by John Burdick.