Practice, Practice, Practice

I’m sorry, but isn’t this just the most annoying advice in the world? There’s nothing worse than someone telling you to calm down and slow down when all you want to do in reaction to, say, a political election that is dividing your country, is stress eat under the blankets with the cat until it’s all over. Because it’s just so painful and counterintuitive to slow down and focus on addressing deeper, more complicated problems in the things that truly matter to you when your pulse is racing and your temperature is rising. And the absolute worst part of this truly, epically annoying advice is that it’s almost always right.

Ugh.

Sometimes, I think it must be fun to be Trump. You speak/bully/opine first and think later (maybe). He reminds me of a charging bull; it’s really hard not to look away when he’s snorting and pawing. Until, of course, you realize that his rage is a compulsion that will not respond to reason and you hope you have enough time to hop the fence and get out before he charges in your direction. Trump is sort of like rage and reactivity in general; when you’ve had enough, sometimes it just feels right to throw a tantrum. Or back someone whose excellence in this skill surpasses all others.

But that satisfaction is so temporary. When there are really important issues and a country’s welfare at stake, there is no easy way to manage the rage that comes when we all look around and see how unfairly life is going for so many, at best, and how just as many others are facing flat out injustice.

I have little political savvy, but I do think that political blow outs usually reflect symptoms, rather than the problems themselves. And part of me wonders if one of the big problems we Americans are collectively facing is a tendency toward quick fixes that have a lot of flash or make a big bang, a reluctance to slow down and really face the music.

Writing has taught me a heck of a lot about how slowing down helps to achieve seemingly impossible dreams, while hasty work done with the sense that someone is breathing down your neck or looking over your shoulder almost always ends up in the trash. Still, practice doesn’t come easy. Trusting in the good and measured is oftentimes hardest to do when it’s most desperately needed.

My kids all take music lessons. Oftentimes, their practices sound like the musical equivalent of an auctioneer on a crowded floor, tripping over the cattle. “I’m done!” they exclaim after plowing through three pieces in as many minutes. It’s hard to explain to them exactly why that’s not going to pay off, long term. After all, it gives them more time that afternoon to play, and they technically did what they were supposed to, so win-win, right?

But for the longest time, no matter what I said, I couldn’t get through to them. it wasn’t until I started taking music lessons myself that something shifted. Because as much as I love words, actions usually matter even more. I took several years of piano when I was younger, but I didn’t really learn to practice until after I became a writer. Now, I take my pieces very slowly. I separate each hand, and study the musicality of each line before studying the musicality of both lines put together. For several weeks, my kids looked on sympathetically, the way you might look back at the runt of the litter when he’s trying to find his way toward a teat. But then, somewhat magically, I had a piece with several movements mastered, and it was like someone threw on a switch. “Wait!” I could hear their little brains churning, “If all that painfully slow, much-less-than-promising-sounding practice Mom did resulted in the actual mastery of an actual piece of music, maybe, just maybe….”

And there just might be where it’s at. Quick fixes won’t get us anywhere. They’re like the junk food of the world’s problems; obviously more delicious and appealing at first sight, nutritionally vacant in the long run. But if we dig down and take the time to invest our bravest and most meaningful attention to even the small things that matter to us, well, maybe, just maybe….

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