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?