For 12 years once a week, I took piano lessons. I actually wanted to take voice lessons, convinced I could be as talented as the Go Go’s (the first cassette my mom gave me from her stash), but once my teacher, Mrs. A, heard me sing – she persuaded my mother into piano. After some practice and an understanding of notes and measures, I could switch back to training my voice for be the next Whitney Houston.
Eh, never did return to voice and now that I can hear myself without blinded childlike certainty, I think piano was a much better fit.
I caught on pretty quickly and after a year, had my very first recital. I never did fall in love with piano, but I loved being able to perform and I grew quite attached to Mrs. A – she served as one of the most precious mentors in my life as a kid. She was tough with a stroke of kind and I admired her endlessly. She encouraged me to try harder, to go for a piece that was out of my comfort level, and complimented my courage.
But one thing that Mrs. A never liked was my practice skills. My mom wasn’t a fan either, considering she was paying for piano lessons. When I would refuse to practice for the alloted 30 minutes a day, claiming I had something to do, a bike to ride, a swing to sway on, a friend to visit across the street, she’d drag my 7-year-old self back into the house and sit me down at the piano she and my father graciously bought. If I didn’t practice, she’s stop paying for lessons and I just couldn’t have that – I wanted to be that singer. Or at the very least, I wanted to have another recital and hang out with Mrs. A some more.
Practice never came easy to me. I’d rather just go for an hour a week and play through the chords while Mrs. A instructed me. Sure, I knew that the more I practiced, the better I’d get, but I figured I’d get better eventually anyway. For a while I was convinced Mrs. A didn’t notice when I hadn’t spent any time in front of the piano. If I just played with confidence, even when the key was flat or I missed an entire measure or my beat was off, if I pounded the keys hard enough, if I held my head up high enough and made my back perfectly straight, she’d think I was brilliant. She’d think I had slaved over the black-and-white noise makers for hours upon hours.
I soon discovered playing loudly doesn’t mean playing well, it just means you’re pushing way too hard to make up for a lack of confidence. And Mrs. A could see right through it.
While I stopped taking piano lessons when I landed my first internship, choosing writing over music (though I can still read music and I’m thankful for that), I haven’t ceased to overdo my insecurities with an unfaltering ego. Or rather, when I’m upset or unsure about something, I try to push it so far out of my mind or dwell on it so deeply that it either goes away or it haunts me. I can knot up my stomach with a single thought, I can be my own cruel critic, and if given the opportunity, I can devise the worse possible outcome if I let my mind get the best of me.
And when I feel like something, someone, or the essence of who I am is slipping away, I grab onto it for dear life. I pull the pieces together next to my heart, just like I did with those scattered notes on the piano. I hadn’t seen those measures before because I failed to practice and though I’ve felt lost before, I’ve never practiced learning to find my way, so everything feels new when it falls apart. And just as I did in front of Mrs. A, I still feel vulnerable and fear disapproval, no matter what kind of happy face I may put on.
Unlike piano, there isn’t a set course of rules for life or for love. Things are sometimes out of key and things fall flat when you’d like them to be sharp. Sometimes you push yourself before the measure and while I’d like there to be a metronome to steady my rather-chaotic pace, the only beat I can really listen to is the one that’s in my heart.
That beat, my heartbeat, isn’t something I can fake. It’s not something I can ignore or push aside or beat with a silly ego. And keeping it in check, listening to it, and believing in its rhythm is something that must be practiced each and every single day. Practice doesn’t make perfect because perfection is quite honestly a beautiful allusion – but with practice, comes patience. And with patience, some understanding, and mastering the art of feeling it out instead of forcing it, sometimes, life makes one hell of a lovely melody.
Daily Gratitude: I’m thankful for my roommate’s keyboard that she let me play today. How I’ve missed it!