Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Turning Points or Humility Checks, You Be the Judge

Continuing on with this week's turning points theme, I spent most of my childhood years trying to emulate my mother and her many talents. (Ironically, by high school, I switched to spending all my time trying to define myself as separate and different from her, but that's another story.) This turning point memory is more of a compilation of my greatest flops on the passionate quest for talents unpossessed.

A Pooper of a Pianist
My grandmother, mother, and aunt were all great piano players. I'm not saying they performed for live audiences or anything. (Well, my grandmother was class pianist for my Sunday school for many years, rattling the keys to such hits as Jesus Loves Me, but I digress.) However, each one of them could sit down at a piano and play for a good long stretch without many missed notes. It was something they all did to relax and unwind, and sometimes reminisce. I'd stretch out on my Grandmother's antique red velvet love seat and watch each of them play, noting how they all had their own style, and wishing I could play too. Instead, my lessons went something like this:

  • FAILED ATTEMPT #1: Grandmother attempts to teach me to play. The unique and inseparable closeness between Grandmother and grandchild is seriously threatened by my lack of attention and waning desire to practice. Lessons end with a rare show of open frustration and a huge blow to my child ego, when dear Grandmother blurts out, "You are just so...so...so STUBBORN, CHILD!"
  • FAILED ATTEMPT #2: Lessons begin with the school's half-deaf music teacher. This woman was despised and hated by every child in our elementary school for her self-righteous attitude, grumpy nature, and those damn "mee, mee, my, moe, mooo" vocal exercises. The only benefit of having a music teacher who is half deaf and long in the tooth, is that the boys can switch to singing the girls vocal parts and she never knows the difference.

    After many lessons, "grumpy old" teacher starts showing exasperation at my lack of talent. She seems perplexed by my ability to get the timing just slightly off between my two hands on a consistent basis. The teacher's favorite tool, her beloved Metronome, starts to wear out by the end of many lessons. Of course, it didn't help that I still never practiced.

    After a really hideous performance at a small concert given by grumpy old teacher, she speaks to my parents. Both parties mutually agree to end the lessons immediately, before she becomes completely deaf.
  • FAILED ATTEMPT #3: The Pitying-But-Nice teacher did her best to help me. She uses her sweetness and kind heart, attempting to hug the talent out of her students. I feel her sad eyes looking upon me as I attempt to play. Finally, I decide to give up on a career as a pianist, choosing instead to steal private moments at home to play such hits as the Theme from Ice Castles and other TV jingles when no one was around. "Pleeeeeease...don't let this feeling end..."

Yo, Elton? This Ain't No Tiny Dancer!
Two of the three aforementioned wise women in my life, are also quite petite, whereas I am not even close. They were also good dancers. My Mother and Aunt both danced in a ballet company as they grew up. My sister actually did too. The toe-pointing gene skipped me. As I clodded around with my flat feet each practice, I again felt the pitying looks from the instructors. Was it possible that this girl with the straight boy-like build and the cement-weighted feet could EVER learn to be a dainty ballerina? The answer after years of lessons would come back as a clear NO. I avoid the pirouette to this day for fear of the flashbacks.

Madam, please CURE HER of any Future in Science
My best friend and I found a secret book of my Mom's that had belonged to she and her best friend when they were the around the same age as us. It was a book of potions and experiments they had concocted to keep them busy and entertained in our dusty old town. We instantly set to work, determined to come up with perfume made from flowers, meanwhile performing frontal lobotomies on grasshoppers in my back yard. The hypothesis and theory here was easily and effectively proven--science was not my forte. We went back to acting out the Sandy and Danny vocals to my Grease album and playing hairstylists to our Barbies. And, I can honestly say, the world is most definitely a safer place because of this.

Not in the Artist's Way
I've already written about my early desires to be an artist like my mother. I would spend long afternoons at my grandmother's home in my mom's old room, where I'd find tablet upon tablet of sketches she'd done as a girl of horses and landscapes, as well as crisp rolled-up works she'd hidden away in the back of cabinets and drawers. In my mind, finding a well hidden painting or sketch of hers was like finding a rare treasure.

My drawing attempts were humorous at best. I tried too hard to make a picture look exactly like what I was sketching, rather than learning to capture the spirit of the object. My works were quite memorable: the no-armed and triangled bodied drawings of my early years, the harsh-lined sketch of the Newsweek cover of Mommar Khadafi, and the awkwardly disproportionate heads on my later drawings that left no room for a skull whatsoever. "Pat, I'll take a forehead with that sad sketch for $100 please."

Simon Called...Give it Up, Girl
Yes, I have a passion for singing. I love to sing along to the radio in the car or around my house. I have been known to belt out tunes even in the company of others, much to their chagrin. But, it was not until I finally attempted to karaoke last year that I learned that I am, in fact, a trainwreck when it comes to vocals. The first song was "It's Raining Men." It went over OK, probably because of the popularity of the song. Then, we followed with "Build Me Up Buttercup." Instead of building us up, my duet with another low-singing pal managed to bring in a reign of sudden silence to a room full of half-drunken moms on a retreat. This time, I got simultaneous looks of pity and shock at the same time. Nice.

In summary, my friends, turning points can come in many forms. They aren't always spiritual epiphanies or moments of intense and life-altering tragedy. And, thank God for that, right? No, sometimes they make their mark in those moments where you chose to jump off the high dive only to freak out and belly flop just as you hit the water's surface. And, boy HOWDY, doesn't that just sting like the Dickens!


Blogger Vanessa said...

I really envy people with artistic ability. I'm sure it was tough for you to try to emulate your mom and her artistic talent.

I bet she doesn't write as well as you do, though!

6:35 AM, February 22, 2006  
Blogger Lazy Daisy said...

Praise the Lord I didn't succeed in some of my "passions" otherwise I would be a folk-singing, baton twirling, roller derby queen!

8:47 AM, February 22, 2006  
Anonymous Theresa said...

Belly flops can be kinda fun though...not everyone can perform that beautiful dive. You just have to find what it is YOU do best, right?

9:36 AM, February 22, 2006  
Blogger liz elayne said...

you have written with such humor and honesty here. oh i jut love it. and the belly flop image is truly priceless and oh-so-true.

i also wanted to finally stop by and say thank you for the beautiful postcards (from My Topography's swap). One of my secret wants is a sewing machine. You have inspired me to want to be able to stitch paper - so fantastic. Thank you.

1:07 PM, February 22, 2006  
Blogger Alison said...

At least you got the sports gene! I was spared that one by far, and your list reminded me of a time that some friends and I went to play a half-hearted game of soccer in a park (more like, to kick a soccer ball around). I normally avoided sports, but this time I wanted to play. After all, these weren't athletes--these were writers & drama people who also normally avoided sports. They wouldn't laugh at me, right? Actually, even though they were my closest friends, they still picked me very last when choosing teams, even AFTER a guy wearing *cowboy boots* who was vociferously protesting that he didn't want to play! Sigh. And then I got hit smack in the nose by a flying soccer ball. (But I still wanted to keep playing! They, on the other hand, gave up and called off the game early.)

BTW, I really like your writing!

11:07 PM, February 22, 2006  

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