Tallinn/Estonia, 17 August 2021
I have been writing about working hard and about finding the balance between dedication to my work and my family. It seems to me as if it was a question that was solved a long time ago, but on reflection, I realise that actually it really hasn’t. It isn't so much about the question of gender roles but more of a question of being or aspiring to be masterful in the creative field one has chosen or one happens to have found mastery in which may have happened not necessarily by choice. Whether one is born with some sort of innate urge to express oneself as an artist or as a writer or whether one choses this path, is another question. I am not going to go into it now in detail, although I do think about it often, especially in relation to assidiousness and how this also plays a role in pushing oneself into other creative pathways.
Käbi asked herself after her parents' death whether and how much her career as a successful concert pianist was connected to the wish to make them proud and act as a substitute for the loss of their homeland in Estonia.
What about the aspiration of mastering a skill? The desire of pushing and expanding oneself. I claim in my letter to Käbi that one should be demanding towards oneself. And I would still agree with that statement today. However, perhaps there also needs to be a consideration of another side, such as kindness towards oneself? This is not only because of the self but also because of the sake of others, those closest to us.
My son said to me a few years ago "whatever he will do, it will not be good enough, it will not meet my standards". This has forced to me reflect constantly on the value of pushing oneself and setting high standards.
What are my standards? More importantly, how do I state them (as this is not something that I do intentionally)? I started to consciously observe my reactions to this question and learned that the demands I put on myself have made me become visibly harsh and unforgiving to others. I have even been told it has intimidated them and this has been an uncomfortable thing to accept about myself. However, on reflection, I am prepared to acknowledge that my harshness to others if they do not meet the demands I put on myself is a price worth paying. This behavior I realise is part of me and it serves a positive purpose and I am prepared to accept it.
Ruthlessness is also a word that has been used to describe my behavior, especially when getting things done. My initial reaction to being described as such was to get upset. I truly disliked this description. I had great difficulty believing or even accepting this observation was accurate as it felt such a negative thing, i.e. the way I come across. I now realise that whilst my ruthlessness doesn’t happen often, it is again an uncomfortable aspect of my character. Again, I am prepared to accept that it has helped me, especially when trying to complete something when there has been stressful deadline.
I realise that things like 'harshness' and 'ruthlessness' are part of who I am. These are different but necessary sides of me that make 'me' possible. Perhaps these behaviours are part of my coping strategies in difficult and challenging situations which probably have their roots deep in my childhood.
I have learnt to accept that I still need these uncomfortable streaks in my character today. They are necessary in order to be able to achieve difficult and challenging things at work or perhaps even in coping with some everyday situations. This of course is not all of me, it is just a small part. In my maturity, I have learned to see and accept these characteristics. Whilst the journey to acknowledge them has been far from easy, it has enabled me to begin to perceive myself in a more wholistic way. I accept though there is still a long way to go. I am sure there will be more uncomfortable and perhaps necessary aspects of my character revealed either by me or others who have contact with me.
Take care of yourself, be kind and sometimes, when needed, be also a bit more demanding on yourself. Why not?
Today I wanted to talk to you about how encouraging your descriptions are of work as a creative individual and the sense of self. You write about how, in one sense, you could never be satisfied with your performances. Yet at the same time you write in "Ludus tonalis" about how different teachers have inspired you. In some way this confirms what I have intuitively understood about the culture of work. I’ve also understood how important teachers can be in one's life, inspiring creative individuals towards whom I would like to aspire. Not necessarily to be like them, but to achieve something comparable, something worthy of my teachers, perhaps even higher and more. There is no sin in wishing this. However, sometimes it seems to me that if I want to be at least as good as one of my educators or even to go beyond, I would not dare to express this in public. I've at least learned to admit this to myself.
I think one has to be demanding toward oneself; one always has to demand more. But one also has to have the courage to wish, the courage to always be a little more. This is the only way that good and great things are born. At least this has been my way of living and acting. I know that there are many who see this differently, and they do not pretend to want more. For me, it is demanding the maximum that matters. To work toward the maximum where the circumstances allow, to give one’s all.
And so one has to be demanding, always demanding more of oneself and always wishing for a little bit more.
With greetings, yours always.
The letters are part of a book published in Estonian in September 2019 entitled ”The Courage of Living. Letters to Käbi” (Elamise julgus. Kirjad Käbile, EKSA, 2019). The Estonian book is almost sold out (though some copies can still be found in a few book shops and on my home page). A translation into English by Tiina Ann Kirss will hopefully be published soon.
To find out more about the book in English, read the introduction in my “Essays and poetry” section under “Who was Käbi Laretei?" and “Why write letters to a person you have never known personally?”.
The original letters that later became part of a book began to be written in August 2017. I am publishing them in English in their original chronological sequence, four years later.