Cords, Cubes and the Death of Knives

I think I’m finally getting somewhere with this whole sucking thing. I’ve been practicing the banjo and I can actually play the entire dueling banjo song all the way through AND most of it actually sounds like the song from the movie, but in super slo-mo.

I have no idea what I’m doing, so I’m pretty much just making it all up as I go along. This is what I’m dealing with:

I= index R=ring M=middle

I had no idea how to play a cord, so I had to draw the way it looks so that I could understand it. It’s so bloody confusing because I couldn’t find instructions anywhere on which finger goes on which string on which fret, so I just had to work it out myself. I don’t know if this is “right”, but I’m kind of assuming that there must be no “right” otherwise it would be more obvious.

The tab (the sheet music) is just as confusing and I had to make all these notations on it so I knew which finger to use when I played the note. Again, I don’t know if I’m doing it “right”, but who cares. It’s not like I’m trying to get accepted into the Peabody Institute.

Click here to see what banjo tab for Dueling Banjos looks like. I don’t know what the bars along the bottom of each note mean, but I’m assuming they’ve got something to do with the speed the note has to be played at, which is something I learned in primary school like 35 years ago.

Even though it’s sort of coming together I still can’t imagine ever being able to play it like this.

The throwing knives I’ve been working on since the start of the year have had to be retired for a while. Two of the knives suffered a fatality the last time I used them, and it wasn’t like I threw them hard or anything. I’m also thinking that the instructional book I’ve got might be a bit shitty for learning from scratch, which is a pretty common thing so far. Instructions and teachers are never really that great for people who have no idea how to do something.

Two out of the three from the set are broken.

I’ve been working on solving a Rubik’s cube too. The instructions for that aren’t actually too bad, but I keep getting stuffed up when it comes to solving the top face. I’ve had it out once, so all I had to do was solve the pieces on the outside of the upperside, but I got confused about which was clockwise and which was anticlockwise. Unlike the banjo, the woodworking and the tap dancing I’m pretty confident I’ll get there in the end.

Solved bottom face (white) and bottom and middle layers. Click here for  the YouTube video I’ve been learning from.

One thing that hasn’t been that hard so far is the graffiti. I’m going to graffiti up the side of my house, so I’ve been playing around with what I’m going to draw. This is the start of it:

The two rectangles in the middle are the windows. I’m going for a climate change theme (but it might get changed) that will be overlayed with a story. It’s probably not going to be “real” graffiti because I won’t be using spraypaint. I don’t know how to use it properly and it’s also really expensive. I thought it a good idea to practice on paper before I commit anything to the wall.

Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence – Abigail Adams


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.


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)



How much will I suck in 2020?

2019 wasn’t bad. It wasn’t all easy though. Some shit went sideways and I said goodbye to a few relationships and also some beliefs that I’d been hanging onto for too long. I also extricated myself from a toxic workplace. None of this was easy because it’s hard to see people for what they really are. I don’t want to believe that people are intentional arseholes, but the truth is that sometimes they just are, and contrary to what said arseholes probably think, that’s not actually my fault. It would have been easy to blame myself and say that I should have done this, I should have done that, I should have learned how to breath underwater, defy gravity, turn water into wine, tame dragons, control the weather, and I should have kept my mouth shut about the shady shit that was going on, but I didn’t because it’s not right to do bad shit to people and it’s not right to accept that from anyone, be it your boss, your brother, your neighbour, your best mate or a government department.  If I kept accepting that kind of treatment then I’m just as crappy a person as the ones who are treating me like shit because I’m teaching them that I deserve that kind of treatment. I’m also teaching them that they can treat other people the same way, and that’s not OK with me.

I did some pretty amazing stuff in 2019: I hiked 450 km on my own to Brisbane and got to meet some really cool people, and I raised over $6000 for brain injury while doing it. I read close to 100 books, exercised for 377 hours, ran more than 180 km, learnt some wicked skipping drills, went to some great gigs, grew out of my clothes because I built new muscle, got my first reading glasses, survived a bushfire, and made some freakin’ awesome plans for 2020.

In 2020 I’m going to see how much I can learn. Can a skill in one sphere emerge in another sphere, giving rise to an ability where none previously existed? Basically, will a lifestyle of breadth, rather than depth facilitate emergent abilities? I believe it will. It’s going to be tricky to measure this, but I’ll do my best. I’ll be recording everything I do and putting it on YouTube so everyone can see how much I suck when I first start out, and how that’s actually OK, because everyone sucks to begin with!

Watch me as I suck at these things:

  • playing video games*
  • knife throwing
  • tap dancing
  • learning a new language
  • skateboarding*
  • graffiti
  • juggling*
  • rubix cube*
  • macrame
  • physics
  • wood carving
  • singing*
  • kiteboarding
  • navigation*
  • chess
  • playing the banjo*

* These things I’ve tried at least once before, but was never any good at and/or it’s been over twenty years since I’ve done them.

Here’s what I’ve been doing in the last couple of days:

Snorkelling around the snags in the river. It’s a hard life.

Kayaking up the river and down a creek. This is where I suck. I made this ridiculously stupid and hilarious documentary about the Burrum River on a GoPro, but can’t get the damn thing to transfer to the computer so I can upload it to YouTube. Waaaahhhh!

See, it’s ok to suck, because that’s what pretty much everyone does the first time they try something, and this was the first time I’ve used the GoPro.

Learn by way of failure


No one ever started off being an expert