Sucking really Sucks!

I had my first ever tap dancing lesson yesterday. I was really excited about it because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do and I had new shoes, so of course, that in itself is very exciting and I was dying to try them out:

I was disappointed with the first lesson and I had to fight hard not to get pissed off at myself (I couldn’t follow what everyone else was doing), at the teacher (she didn’t explain things very well [at all really] to begin with) and at the other people in the group (they’d all been dancing together for more than a year and all pretty much ignored me). To be really honest, it was actually hard not to cry because I felt so stupid and like I didn’t belong. The whole entire lesson the teacher and the other ladies talked about their kids or the kids they were teaching (some of them must have been teachers) and because I don’t have kids (or a job) it was like I wasn’t even there because there was no way for me to participate in the conversation. At one point I almost said, “Oh, yeah, my friend’s daughter does that too.” But I stopped myself because it would have drawn attention to how strange it was to invoke a friend’s child when they were all talking about their own.

When I felt like I wanted to cry, I said to myself, “no, fuck you. I’m doing this. It doesn’t matter about any of that other shit. I’m doing it.” This is the same inner mongrel that rises up and gets me through stuff when it’s hard. I wanted to play the brain injury card in my mind. It’s story I tell myself about why it’s hard for me to learn new stuff: I have a brain injury and that’s why I can’t get pattern-based activities (like dancing), but this time, I tried something new and told myself that there would be no brain injury card and that I would act like a “normal” person and just learn without telling myself little stories about why things are difficult. I also made a promise that I wouldn’t reveal to the teacher or the class that I had a brain injury. It’s certainly a fact that I have a brain injury and as a result, face challenges that non-brain injured people don’t, but revealing that I’m brain injured has never helped me in the past, so I decided that it’s pointless revealing that aspect of my life to anyone anymore.

I guess every approach to learning something new is going to have its limitations. If I learn at home on my own, I’m limited because it takes a long time to work out how to do stuff, and even then, I don’t know if I’m doing it right. If I learn in a group, especially a group that’s already formed, like the tap dancing group, it’s hard to fit in because groups have a dynamic and once a group is formed, it’s difficult for it to absorb new members, especially if the common ground is something that is not shared by the new member (in this case it seemed to be kids).

After feeling like I stuck out like a sore thumb in the dance class I got to feel like I was on display as I walked back to my car. A group of about 12 bearded, black t-shirted, rum can toting dudes were hanging out in front of a house across the street from where I’d parked. All of them leaning on cars, they stopped chatting and stared right at me, one guy elbowing the nearest bloke and pointing at me with his bearded chin. I got in the car, gave them a huge smile and waved at them as I drove off. None of them waved back. I went and got a pizza and ate the whole thing without feeling one shred of guilt because when you burn a bazillion calories everyday you can pretty much eat whatever the hell you like and still have legs for days.

It’s really very hard to suck at stuff, like so hard. I never really considered how shitty it might make me feel when I decided to commit to a year of sucking. I just told myself a little story of how it’s going to be awesome to learn all this new stuff, and oh, imagine all the new and wonderful friends I will make! Happy days afoot.

The way to manage this is to keep returning to things I know I’m good at or at least I’m comfortable with because to suck 100% of the time, would just, well, you know, suck! I’m 100% in control of my own body and I feel good about that and happy about all the work I’ve done and still do to make sure that I’m mentally and physcially fit and healthy: counting calories, running, cycling, walking, swimming, skipping, hard style dance, hiking, reading, writing, cooking and just generally being creative.  This is what some of that looks like:

A day out of my calorie book. I aim for 1700 calories a day, so this one is a bit over at 1935, but I allow myself this as it’s still in deficit (anything below 2000).

The blackboard where I track my weight lifting sessions. I don’t like weightlifting, but I do it because I like the results, and I’m also comfortable with it. If I didn’t record it on this blackboard, I’d never have kept at it. I rub it off everytime it fills up (like now) and start again with heavier weights. To keep the hatred at bay I never try to change the sets and reps. It’s always two sets, one of six reps and the second of four reps. The abs along the bottom have two sets of ten rep each, so 60 reps in total for each session, plus a one minute plank -ugh 😦

One way I keep my brain healthy: reading and writing. I know I’m good at these things because I’ve been doing them since I was about 3 or 4 years old.

So, in the face of sucking I look at what I’ve been able to achieve so far in my life and use that as a way to get through things when they seem hard. Recording everything I do is a great way to track my progress. Sometimes it feels like progress isn’t happening, but when everything is recorded, you can see that you’re getting somewhere and it means you’re less likely to give up, especially when stuff is new and you feel like you suck because new things are nearly always HARD, and just because something is hard doesn’t mean it’s going to be hard forever.

Sucking is finite: Unleash your inner mongrel

Knives, Banjo and Cashews

I had my second go at knife throwing the other day and it was heaps better than the first time I did it. Yay! I threw 50 times and managed to get 1 knife in the target 17 times and 2 knives in the target 3 times. I was pretty excited about that:

The times I got the knives in felt different to the times I missed, kind of the like the way it feels to hit a perfect shot in tennis; it was a really good feeling and I took heart from that because it didn’t feel like that AT ALL the first time I tried throwing the knives.

When I kept getting it wrong I went back to the instructional book to see what it was making me get it wrong. I tried to concentrate on how the knife was meant to be held, the follow through and the windup. It all make a difference. My aim seems pretty good because even the knives that didn’t stick in the target hit the target. Still, I wouldn’t encourage anyone to stand around with apples on their heads.

After the 50 throws I wanted to keep going, but I thought it would be best if I didn’t overdo it and end up getting the shits with it like I did the first time.

The same day I started playing the banjo again. I’ve had my banjo for a long time, but have never been able to play it. Well that’s not technically true; I can play it fine, I just can’t make it sound like anything anyone would recognise as a tune. I started out worrying about never being able to get it right and this kept coming up the whole time I was playing it, although it was pretty easy to pick up the rolls again.

I found the whole thing pretty frustrating actually. For the millionth time I wished that I could find someone to teach me how to do it because it feels like I don’t know how to learn this particular thing properly and that I should be further along with it by now given how much I’ve done so far. If I break it down though, I’ve probably only spent around 20 hours practicing in the six years I’ve had the instrument. I think the belief that I should be further along comes about from my most recent attempt (about 7 years ago) at learning the violin; I was able to play an actual tune after the second lesson and was able to teach myself other songs at home. I’d played the violin for a short while when I was 8 or 9 years old, but have never played the banjo prior to owning this one.

I found a slow jam beginner’s banjo DVD in my library of 5K plus books and DVDs and slapped it on in the hope that it might help. It didn’t. It was too fast to follow, didn’t explain anything properly and I felt like it was saying:

Here, it’s easy, just play it like me. I’m so great. It’s so easy and if you can’t get it right following these simple instructions, then obviously you’re stupid.

It would be like someone walking into their very first maths lesson having never even seen a number before and the teacher going, “here’s an equation, work it out” without explaining anything.

I wasn’t really that happy after this and I recognised that I was getting the shits when I felt cause to yell at the DVD: “How the fuck am I meant to follow that when you didn’t even tell me what it was, you dickheads!!” So, I shut it down, put the banjo away and hoped for better luck next time. I had a really good link to put in here for a TED talk about how this dude was able to learn stuff, including the mandolin, by teaching himself, but of course now I can’t find the darn thing. Poo!! Anyway, Tim Ferris is someone to look up regarding learning and Josh Kaufman also gives some good insights on how to learn new stuff on your own, both on TED.

The cashews are a small aside that I wanted to use to demonstrate how it can serve you to think outside the box. We have a huge cashew tree in our yard. For all the years we’ve lived here it has dropped its disgusting fruit here and there but this is year is what some would call a mast season:

These are cashew apples. The nut is on the outside of the fruit. Apparently the fruit is edible, but far out, I can’t imagine eating them! They stink and are all soggy and disgusting. Yuck! The dogs love them though and my kelpie has put on a considerable amount of weight from gorging on the fruit before we can pick them up.

We’ve been putting them in our compost until I thought about how wasteful it was to throw away the viable seeds. Could I sell the seeds? Yes I could! Daley’s Fruit Tree Nursery replied to my enquiry email by saying they wanted to purchase 300 seeds:

So, basically I got paid almost $100 for stuff I’d been throwing away. All it took was to think about the “rubbish” in a different way.

If it’s my thinking holding me back with the banjo playing, it would be great to find a way around it, but for now I just have to remember:

If I am willing to be good at something,

I must also be willing to be absolutely terrible at it.

Woodcarving

One of the things I decided to try this year is woodcarving. This is one of the things on my list that I’d never done before and I was looking forward to it, but also a bit worried that it would be really hard and I’d be really bad at. See, this thing is, there are a few things I’ve tried to do in the past that I failed at because I had a shitty teacher, which caused to me to sink into despair, not just for the skill I was pursuing, but for my entire life: I’m a useless idiot, why do I bother with any of this? Playing the banjo is one of them and when I try something new that involves a teacher I get a bit scared that it’s going to pan out the same way as my banjo lessons.

This post isn’t about banjos, but I’m attempting to impart how it feels to be held back by past experiences and why you shouldn’t let negative crap from the past stop you. See, my banjo lessons were run by a very good banjo player. He really was, he was awesome, he was in a band and he traveled all around the country-side doing his thing. But what I didn’t realise at the time is just because someone is an expert at a particular thing, doesn’t mean they are a good teacher, which is what happened with my banjo teacher; he was a useless teacher, but an awesome banjo player, and I was a bit scared that the same thing would happen with the wood carving teacher. Thankfully, it didn’t. I really didn’t want a repeat of the banjo lessons – old mate not explaining what to do, followed by a speed demonstration, which I couldn’t copy, then repeating the same procedure over and over until all he was doing was playing the banjo as though up on stage for an expensive hour that I drove a six hour round trip for (I worked out after the second lesson that he was a total dick and never went back). Click here for what he expected me to do in the first lesson.

Anyway, the wood carving was hard, but not seemingly impossible like the knife throwing. That strikes me as strange because with the carving there is more than one thing to get right, but with the knives it’s just the knives. I thought that maybe it’s because the carving is slower and you can see what’s happening as you do it, whereas with the knives, you throw it and that’s it, there’s no coming back from that single action; it’s a single action to get the result, but the carving is multiple movements and actions to get the result.

I worked on a relief carving of a leaf. I had trouble knowing which side of the chisel to press up against the edge when cutting the line along the margin of the leaf. It feels weird not to know how to hold something to make it do what you want. I can’t remember the last time I had to learn something like this; probably in childhood. Once again, it was very difficult to embrace the feeling of ineptitude and I had to constantly remind myself that it’s a natural way to feel in the circumstances.

This is how I started out: just playing around with the tools on a block of wood clamped to the bench.

This is what I ended up with. I’ll keep working on it in my next lesson. It’s going to be a leaf.

Experiri est Descere

(to try is to learn)

 

 

Graffiti

Today was my first attempt at graffiti drawing and lettering. Graffiti is one of the things I want to learn, not because I want to deface public property, but because I’d never done it before and I thought it would be interesting to pursue; it is.

Man, I had no idea of the history of graffiti! It’s so cool and there’s so much information on it. Graffiti Diplomacy and Graffiti Knowhow were really good websites. The first one with lots of practical lessons and the second with lot of info about the culture of being a graffiti artist. I totally love it when I get to learn something absolutely brand new. It feels like I’ve discovered buried treasure. For example, I learnt about mops, which are a certain type of pen/marker used by graffiti artists. That’s a much more exciting use of the word usually preserved for describing a boring household item that is used to drag a ratty wet end across a dirty floor. By the way – I hate mopping. It makes me sad.

I spent around three hours today researching and giving actual graffiti a go. I would like to learn how to do Wildstyle, which is a kind of font. This is what I came up with today, which I did freehand, following the methods on the websites I mentioned:

I think I did better at this than I did with knife throwing. This probably comes down to graffiti being a form of writing, which I am quite familiar with having been able to write since I was a little kid. Plus, I’ve kept at writing,whereas with the knives, the only thing I’ve ever thrown at a target is a few darts. I gave up on that when I was a kid after being yelled at endlessly by an impatient father who expected me to be an expert the first time I tried something.There’s a hilarious video here of an angry, impatient dad. Mine was about this level, minus the eff word plus religious blasphemy.

I felt like I had level of pre-existing mastery over the graffiti, which was absent during the knife throwing. The knife throwing took more brain power and a level of perseverance that the graffiti was void of, and as a result I was able to enjoy the graffiti more. That doesn’t mean I’m giving up on the knives, just that I suck more at them than I do at the graffiti and that’s ok, because that’s what beginners do; they suck at stuff.

Imagine how much room you’ve got to grow