Ebony and Ivory

When I was a child, I took piano lessons. They took place at my piano teacher Mrs. Mackelbee’s house, and I frickin’ hated it with a passion that was unparalleled. Once a week, I would trudge over there, and she would open her front door, wearing her navy blue Keds with white laces and her Mike Brady perm, and she would let me into her house to learn a tune or two. She had this whacked out, slobbery dog that would bare its teeth at me menacingly and race toward me like I was a gigantic sirloin steak, and she would say “oops!” and catch the dog just in time and drag him into another room while it gnashed its jaws at me. She never put the dog into another room before I got there. They did this every week, the dog and her, like some fucked up mind game that would somehow prep my mind and hands to play the goddamn scales out of the Finger Power songbook.

When I started piano lessons, I liked it. I must have been like 5 or 6 when I started. But, somehow, over the years, the seeds of hate were sown. I say “somehow,” but actually, I know exactly what my problem was, besides facing Cujo each week. First of all, my sister was taking piano lessons, and she rocked it. And a key part of my life has been dedicated to differentiating myself from my overacheiving siblings. So if one of them rocked something, I was so not even going to go there. I spent enough time being compared to my sister that I never put myself in a position where I would have to directly compete with her, because I knew that in any such competition, I would lose.

But the bigger problem? Was that the more I played the piano, the more that I came to understand that I was so-so at it. Not bad, certainly, but just medium ok. I got myself to a place where I could read music, and move on from “Mary Had a Little Lamb” to “Nadia’s Theme” to Moonlight Sonata.” I even got myself to the really good stuff like “Careless Whisper” and “Head Over Heels” by Wham and Tears for Fears, respectively. My parents’ whole rationale for putting me in piano lessons was that they wanted me to learn how to read music which, they insisted, I would be grateful for later on when I was older. And that is certainly true. I am glad I know how to do that. So Wham songs and music literacy. What more could I have wanted than that?

What I wanted, people, was to be good. Not only good, actually, but GREAT. I wanted accolades, I wanted applause. I wanted my teacher to say that I was such a great student and that she was wowed by my untapped potential.

Mrs. Macklebee never said that. She was a kind lady, and she taught me as best she could, but she wasn’t going to lie to me. She gave me a lesson each week and sent me home. Thus, the hatred grew.

I begged my parents to let me quit. And my parents, who were very easy going and usually let things like that be what they are, were kind of ok with me quitting. Until I said these words:
“What’s the point? I just SUCK AT THIS.”

For some reason, these magic words got me sentenced to many more piano lessons. They kept sending me to Mrs. Macklebee. I begged them, each week, to let me skip. They never let me. I remember the hatred grew so strong, that there was this one time where I was at my piano lesson, playing some stoopid song, and the tears just started rolling down my face in frustration at even BEING there. Mrs. Macklebee didn’t say anything. She just let me keep playing. I didn’t make a sound, but I was crying my eyes out. When I was done, she silently handed me a tissue and went on with the lesson.

You know what my problem was, people? It seems so obvious to me now. I had learned, from school, that you only do what you are good at. If you suck at something, the best thing to do is to just quit doing that thing. You have to specialize, even as a kid. Not a gifted artist? Put down the drawing pencils and go find something that you excel at. Have an aptitude for soccer? Make sure you quit the swim team then because clearly that is a waste of time.

But you know what happens if you do that? You miss out on lots of things that, although you may not be great at them, you might find fun, you know, just because. You also over-develop the part of you that is goal-oriented, and the part of you that just likes to try stuff for the experience shrivels up and goes away. Third, you may become a person that quits things too early if you don’t kick ass right off the bat, and you miss out on finding a talent that needs more time to develop. Didn’t Ralph Macchio have to wax on wax off for a good long time before he could do the Crane Kick? What if he had quit at the waxing stage? Crane Kicking would have never happened, that’s what.

Eventually, I made my peace with piano lessons. And then my parents let me move on from that to try something new. When we’re really little, we don’t put ourselves into categories like we do as we grow up. Everyone is an artist, a scientist, an athlete, a brain. But as we grow up, we get these messages that tell us that we need to start letting most of those things go, especially if we’re not great at them. We judge ourselves, and then we lose out.

With that thought in mind, I thought I would make a list of things that I do that I 100% suck at, but that I like anyway and will continue to do. With love to my parents who heard me say “I SUCK AT THIS” and knew that I needed a lesson in not judging myself and doing something in order to stretch, even if there was no gold at the end of the journey. And with thanks to Mrs. Macklebee. I really do appreciate that I can still read music and that I can bust out “Careless Whisper” at parties.

I SUCK AT THESE, but who cares? A list.

1. Kickball. I was in a kickball league a couple of summers ago, and it was rad. We lost every single game. By a lot. We could not win. It was fun as hell though.
2. Scrabble. I seriously suck at Scrabble. I have never won a game in my entire life. Ever. I come up with great words like “cat” and “ice.” I admit that this embarrasses me somewhat. But I still love to play.
3. Bowling. Me and Barack could totally be on the same team.
4. Painting. My paintings? Would not win any awards. I have no technique whatsoever. Unless “slap some paint on a canvas and call it a day” is a technique.
5. Understanding anything to do with concepts of quantum physics or even time traveling in movies. I can’t get enough of those kinds of movies and concepts. I will continue to watch them and want to hear about them, knowing I only understand about 30% of what is going on.

What five things do you suck at that you love to do?

I’m out,
Librarian Girl

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19 comments

  1. This is a brilliant post!1. Telling jokes (I like to think I’m so bad at it, the joke is actually how bad I am, and so it’s funny anyway, but I’m pretty sure that’s delusional)2. Singing–though, out of consideration for the general public, I only subject my immediate family to my top of the lungs, off key crooning3. Woodworking projects–you should see the monstrosity of a shelf I built….4. Dancing–my dog is the only dancing partner who shares my sense of rythm5. Swimming–actaully, i can’t swim at all (learning the backfloat was a huge acomplishment) but I love flopping around in the water at the beach

  2. OoOhh ooooh oooh! I too suck at Scrabble (admits the college english instructor). And I loathe it because I’m embarrassed to suck at? But you know what is Scrabble-like and fun and I stand a chance of winning at? Bananagrams. You use Scrabble tiles (without tile points) and you make your own crossword puzzles and pit your skill and time against opponents.

  3. No offense but you also suck at recognising songs, haha.Nah kidding, just Careless Whisper is totally George Michael, not Wham (DON’T say it’s the same thing!)And before you comeback at me with ‘dude you misspelled recognising’, I use British English :)- I suck at being subtle 🙂

  4. Hey, I finally figured out how to post a comment. I was going to email you and tell you posting comments was something I sucked at because I could never remember my password. So I just created a new account. Maybe this is the ‘just keep trying thing’..Anyway.. 1. I suck at singing. – Just ask CB, the elitist choir teacher who year after year reminded me just how bad I was. Still, I sing.2. I suck at being on time. For anything. I am habitually late for everything. Doesn’t matter what it is. I am late. I still love to go places.3. I suck at crafty things. I get together once a month with very talented women who make things that look professional. Mine stuff looks like a 5 year old made it. Still love to do it. And I show it off too.4. I suck at brevity. Enough said. Hey, maybe I don’t suck at this. OK, I do. I love to talk. And type.5. I suck at Trivial Pursuit. I can only answer about 10% of the questions, no matter what edition it is. My brain just freezes up. And I always seem to play with people who know every single damn answer. I think they memorized the cards.

  5. I hate being like everyone else! I also suck at scrabble, which is seriously embarrassing, since I was an english major. My painting is bad, but I don’t practice or take classes, so not surprising.HG: This Bananagrams game sounds a lot like the “scramble” game I was playing with friends a while back. I know they had to change the name if they wanted to market it because some other game had it already. Is it one where you start out with 7 tiles everybody takes a new one each time uses all their tiles?

  6. 1. Quoting from my favorite TV shows. The only quote I can ever remember is “That’s what she said” (The Office). 2. Dancing. I wish I had a larger variety of moves in my arsenal, but mostly it’s just hip shimmies and erratic arm reaching. 3. Cooking 4. Baking5. Painting

  7. Oh fun, an interactive post! 1. I love to cook but manage to find ways to fill the kitchen with smoke or burn toast or… well, you get my drift.2. I like to get to know new and fun people but I am awful at remembering names.3. Playing the guitar. My fingers can’t seem to move fast enough.4. Playing any type of sport. My name is, Xteener, and I’m the least athletic person you’ll ever meet.5. Swimming. I just can’t do it.

  8. 5 things I suck at are:1. Scrabble: I was playing Scrabulous on Facebook but I kept getting my ass whooped by everyone I was playing against so I removed the application :o)2. Jenga: it really stresses me out! 3. Logic/Being sensible: I don’t want to hear it. And it’s no fun4. Hiding my emotions: they’re always right there on my face for all to see; this can get me into tricky situations…5. Accepting that people actually enjoy celery. It is the food of the devil. So so wrong *shudder*

  9. SarcasmGirl – it’s very much like that but you start with more than 7 tiles. The number depends on how many people are playing, but it’s closer to 20 to start give or take a few tiles. Then yes, you take a new one when anyone finishes (called “peel”) and you can dump, like in scrabble, but you have to take 3 tiles for every 1 that you dump.

  10. 1. Drawing – I can’t even draw good-looking stick figures.2. Clothes shopping – I’ll go shopping with a friend who buys a shirt that I think looks dull, but then I’ll try it on and it looks great. Why can’t I see the potential there? Drives me crazy.3. Singing – My husband once asked me to be quiet so he could hear the song while I was singing along to the radio. And for him to say that, it must’ve been really bad. =)4. Piano – I started taking lessons this past fall, and while I’m not too good at it, it’s kind of fun and I don’t mind so much that I’m not good.5. Volleyball – Every summer I get roped into playing, but I’m awful at it. It hurts my wrists, so I just kind of cringe away from the ball and if I do hit it, it never goes over the net.

  11. 1. Organization. I’m a Virgo and totally love planning things. Making lists and schedules and timelines bring me a freakish sort of joy. Actually executing those timelines? Not so much.2. Reading “smart” books. I am ashamed to admit I spent much of college actually doing the reading and not understanding it. How anyone knows what’s going on in Kant completely baffles me. But I still pick up books like that under the rubric of being a well-rounded person.3. Dancing. I have less rhythm than Carlton Banks. But I do it anyway.4. Singing. I sing at the top of my lungs. Not good at it, but neither are half the pop stars on the charts.5. Being funny. I’m only funny when I don’t try, but I try very hard very often, so it’s rare that I actually succeed. But I’m not going to get better without practice, right? 😉

  12. one. dancing. i suck at it so makes me wanna do it more.two. photography. eventually i do no want to suck at it.three. political analysis. worked as one and still suck at it.four. time management. i have no mind for short term memory so forget to even look at my planner.five. singing duets with my brother. he has a great voice and has no partner to sing duets with as child. so he let me. now its a sibling tradition.

  13. 1. swimming. i finally figured out how to float in 2003.2. cello. it took eight years for me to finally accept that heaven wasn’t going to open up and bestow yo-yo-ma prowess upon me.3. math. i learned early on to memorize the patterns required in the homework for the test and then promptly forget everything about it.4. getting up in the morning. granted, that’s not something i love to do, but i’d love to be ABLE to do it a lot better.5. trying things that i’m pretty sure i’m going to suck at. hearing the “99 out of 100? What happened to the other point?” speech throughout my youth makes me automatically weigh the odds of success before i even attempt anything new. i am trying to break myself of this habit.

  14. 1) video games. Except Pong – that one I’ve got down! But I love to play, and try to keep up with my boys, who just laugh. I *cannot* keep my MarioKart on the road! And I keep going backwards!2) Organizing. I love to read articles about it, and look at the Container Store Catalog. But in my life, I’m apt to find a cooking utensil next to my computer. For days. Until it dawns on me – oh! This belongs in the kitchen!3) Remembering which actor was in which movie. But I love to try – C’mon, you remember him? He was in that one with the woman – you know! I can’t figure out how many degrees Kevin Bacon is from Kevin Bacon, much less anyone else. IMDB to the rescue!4) Travelling. I am a *total* mess for days before any trip, even an overnight, feeling panicky and overwhelmed and making lists, but still waiting ’til the VERY last minute to pack. But I love to go, so I get through it. It’s something I’ve accepted about myself.5) There is no #5.One of my favorite quotes is “Anything worth doing, is worth doing badly.”

  15. wow – we suck at the same things! although i’ll have to add pool and golf (but not mini-golf) to my list. and my piano experience was different. i still sucked, but it was me who refused to admit my failure. my mom knew i wasn’t practicing so she rigged the piano to catch me in my lie. then she made me quit. i never she knew she could be so sneaky! and scrabble – yikes! i don’t think it’s skill – it’s luck. i always draw the worst letters!

  16. What a great post!I had a very similar experience with drum lessons. HATED. No Cujo, though.1 – Singing. I love to sing, and am so, so bad at it. 2 – Dancing. When drunk, I decide I’m J.Lo, but I am really very uncoordinated.3 – Gambling. So much fun, so much money lost.4 – Standing up for myself. Feels so great when I do it, so hard to do.5 – Home decor. Just … yeah.

  17. What a beautiful and sensible post? It made me realise that there are some people who are good in something and who suck in other areas! Here are 5 things I suck at!1. Singing..I can’t be heard at all2. Driving…I’m quite a reckless driver! This this is the first time I’m admitting it!3. Speaking up when my bosses are around. I trebble my way out and go ah, uh and eeeh!4. Controlling my emotions. I get quite emotional/disturbed at the slightest negative remark given by ppl around me!5. Getting dressed up for work. My clothes are always crumpled and I have a terrible taste at mixing colours.Looks like I suck at almost everthing !

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