Taking the Punch

I remember the first day I walked into Christi’s studio for my first college-level guitar lesson. I was 19, excited, and nervous. I had been taking lessons for over five years and I was ready to show her what I was made of. But as she tested me, it quickly became apparent that my skills were not up to par with the collegiate-level that was expected of me.

While I had once known how to read music, I no longer possessed the skill and had to start from ground zero with the first three notes I had learned when I was 10. “I know you’re disappointed,” she said, “but take this very basic information you are relearning and approach it as though you are teaching someone else.”

I walked out of the lesson angry and bummed beyond belief, but I knew I would bounce back with a fierce determination. Setbacks suck, but they are a much needed wake-up call. Over the next year and a half, with Christi’s help, I completed a musical transition akin to going from kindergarten to college — spending hours upon hours learning what the black dots on the staff meant and examining and evaluating every single move my left and right hand were making — down to the feeling of my right hand thumb departing from the string and traveling in the air until it hit an exact spot on my index finger. If my thumb didn’t get to home base, I was just swinging a bat and striking out. And Christi hated that form of baseball.

Recently, I’ve encountered this as a writer. Although I thought I was producing great copy,  I wasn’t. I had been writing in sub par fashion — fumbling around ghostwriting while relying on natural talent, a journalism minor that didn’t teach me ghostwriting, and a can-do, determined, hard-working attitude without once taking a fine-tooth comb through my work or having someone hold a mirror to it. While that feels great, the bubble always bursts.

It burst big time. Initially, my reaction was shock. No thoughts. Streams of words came out of my mouth to communicate that I understood the situation so I could leave without crying in the face of defeat. I needed to take instant action. I sat at my desk reading works from other writers better than me and went through my writing with a fine-tooth comb….when I saw it. The repetition, the short sentences, the lack of description. If my writing were a musical composition, it was Pachelbel’s Cannon in D — the worst and most boring cannon known to man-kind. Wow. I’m not a great writer.

You might think the thought is self-defeating, but it isn’t. It’s motivating. When you realize you aren’t a great guitarist or a great writer, you have two choices: 1) to quit and walk away, or, 2) to wallow, get angry, get upset, call your mom, drink a cappuccino, then do everything you can to get far far away from that place. That’s the only way you can grow.

And to those people like Christi, who hold up mirrors to our work even though we may not want to look, thank you. Thank you for putting up with our initial shock, anger, defensiveness, and self-loathing that you are probably anxious to cause. Thank you for sitting there through all the hard times and emotions. Being the bad guy is never fun and you realize that. You know that creative work is always personal and any criticism is always taken personally on some level. That’s human nature. Despite knowing that, you put us in our places anyway. You are special people. Facilitators of hard conversations and growth — may your mirrors never get dusty and may they find their way into our lives far more often.

— Ana Lete

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