Last week in piano class, I was working on a song (A song for me is a piece that has two lines of music.), and my instructor said to transpose it to F minor. Yikes. This was the very thing that I’d been dreading. Although I now better understood the various keys and major/minors, I was still very confused about transposing.
While she moved on to the next student, I made myself take a deep breath and tried to focus on what I knew. And after a couple of practices, I got it. I was so excited that when my teacher came back around, I asked to play the transposed piece first. Which I did.
I finished and turned to her triumphantly. She then did her job: praising my accuracy but pointing out my rhythm was off. I was a little disappointed that she wasn’t as excited as I was but then realized this was a personal victory. In fact, I had concentrated on not letting her know how confused I was about transposing.
Since then, I have made many more mistakes. But that one victory has kept me plugging away.
(And I had an extra raspberry fudge popsicle to celebrate when I got home that night.)
This is Thanksgiving week, and gratitude is the theme for many of us as we reflect on our health, our friends, and our families. But let’s also be thankful for the less-obvious things that make our lives happier as well.
Here’s my list:
I am grateful for the plumbers who came to my house last week. They made my shower run again. So now I can take a hot shower without standing in a pool of water. And while I’m at it, I’m grateful for all the engineers and builders throughout history who learned how to create indoor plumbing, hot running water, and shower heads that can get thick, curly hair soaking wet.
I am thankful that I could pay the plumber without having to put off another crucial purchase, something my parents had to do more than once.
I am thankful for Susanne, who, every three months, takes on the job of cutting my crazy, curly hair. I am grateful that she enjoys her job and spends time learning new techniques.
I am grateful for quick reflexes, which made me the neverending butt of jokes in junior high school. People always pretended to throw things at me just to see how fast my arms went up to cover my face. But this weekend, those same reflexes helped me steer my car out of the way when a woman ran a stop sign.
The fact that I’m writing this means that I live in a culture that values literacy for all social classes and for women as well as men. I’m very grateful for that.
In her book Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up, Professor Patricia Ryan Madison suggests that we say yes to more experiences in life, including supporting the dreams of others. Sadly, too often, I hear stories of how people face not only financial and academic obstacles, but also lack of support from the people in their lives:
A student came by to pick up a copy of Tetrahedra (our literary magazine). She wanted to show it to her family because they said she wouldn’t be able to do anything in college. She wanted to show them tangible proof that she could.
A friend told her best friend about something she wanted to do. The response: “What makes you think you’re special?”
Another friend remembers being told by a professor that she was so gifted in art that it would be a shame if she didn’t make it her life’s work. Instead, she chose a government job because her mother didn’t believe she could make a living at art.
Let me be clear here. Our families love us and they want us to be safe and not get hurt. They are certainly not trying to kill our dreams but to protects us from danger. And, yes, there are some people out there who don’t want us to succeed. They think by keeping others down, they won’t have to deal with their own dead dreams. And then there are the realists: Every dreamer needs those to help keep the dream grounded. Still, there does seem to be a plethora of those who see the negative. And that’s not counting the number of negative things most people say to themselves each day.
So perhaps we should make an effort to be a cheerleader for those we care about:
Say “yes you can” to students who are doubting themselves.
Listen to someone’s plans without bringing up all the things that can go wrong.
Don’t say “I told you so” when plans go awry.
Offer to babysit or provide a quiet place for the person to work or study.
Give a gift that encourages their dream. (I would suggest a book, of course.)
It’s nice to have someone in our corner. And everyone deserves that.
Two weeks ago, I hit a wall in my music class. My instructor asked me to play my practice piece in a different key, and I had no idea what she was talking about. Then she asked me what key my practice piece was in. I didn’t know that either. So she told me to stay after class for a little individual tutoring.
Our tutoring session went something like this: My instructor drew a diagram on the board of something called the Circle of Fourths and Fifths. She obviously thought that this was going to clear up my confusion. She was wrong. Still, when she asked if I understood, I nodded yes. I don’t think she believed me because she went over it again. And again I nodded yes when she asked if I understood. (And I now have sympathy for all the students who nodded when I’ve asked similar questions over the year. There is a point when you are so confused that you know that nothing further can be done at that moment. And your only wish is to escape the situation.)
So I left class disheartened. It was clear that my lack of knowledge of basic music theory was a problem in this class. At some point in my past, I probably would have gone straight to the computer and dropped the course. But I was determined not to do that this time. Instead I got on my iPad and looked for an app on music theory. I found one that was cheap with good reviews.
Then I sat down to read and practice. The first time through I didn’t understand much more than when I started. And I failed horribly at exercise one, blindly hitting keys hoping that somehow I could find the relationship between the notes. I wasn’t much better the second and third times through. Two days later, I was at lunch, reading the instruction part again and suddenly one sentence made total sense. Working from that one sentence, I drew my own Circle of Fifths. And I finally understood. I still had a lot to learn, but at least now I knew what my teacher had been talking about, and I would be able to move on with the class.
When learning something new, there may come a time that you find you have a gap in your knowledge that is preventing you from moving on. It’s up to you to fill that gap: You can talk to your instructor. You can get a friend or professional tutor to help you. You can do what I did, go online and find an app or a program that will help. But don’t give up.
My eight-year-old buddy has this poster on the wall of her bedroom.
It’s there to remind her not to get frustrated when she tries new things: that setbacks and temporary failures are part of the process.
Of course, on an intellectual level, we know this. We’ve heard the stories of the number of elections that Abraham Lincoln lost before becoming one of our greatest presidents. J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter was turned down a dozen times before being published. And every athlete has suffered the humiliation of going through a dry spell.
But it feels different when it’s happening to us. We look at those missed baskets, the harsh-sounding music coming out of the piano, the loss of an election, or the “F” on a paper and feel that we’re losers at this skill and we need to move on to something that won’t be so hard.
But the problem with that approach is that everything gets hard at some point. There are always setbacks. We forget how to play a chord that we thought we had mastered. An additional skill just won’t come. And we get burned out on trying.
And that’s when we have to remember my friend’s poster. These problems don’t mean that we’re failures. They simply mean we’re human and on the path. The path is just not a straight upward line.
Yesterday I was in a store and needed some help. If you know me, you know this is pretty big deal. One, I’m an introvert who doesn’t particularly like talking to strangers. Two, I usually think I can find the answer myself. But after fruitless searching, I knew I was going to have to talk to the salesperson.
“I think I’m going to need some help finding the right size,” I said. She looked at me, sighed, looked down at the paper in her hand and said with no enthusiasm whatsoever, “Well, okay, I need to go downstairs to look something up for another customer. But come on.”
My first response was to say ‘Never mind” and run out of the store. But I really needed the item. So off we went, me wishing that I had waited for the second, more jovial assistant on the floor. But as she asked me questions, she turned out to be really nice, and I realized her initial abruptness resulted from the stress of trying to do several things at once.
Not only did she find the item I was looking for, she showed me some alternatives that might work just as well, and ended up giving me some great advice when shopping in the future. I’m glad I didn’t run away
It was a good reminder that none of us should be judged by a single action.