Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Trying Better

I'm sure none of you are aware of this at ALL (snicker), but I'm kind of a competitive person. I like to be the best at things, but when I can't be best, I grudgingly settle for really damn good. If I can't be really damn good something, I have a bad tendency of not doing it all. 

Well, last week, I went to my very first choir rehearsal in oh ... over ten years. Back in high school, choir was my life. My senior year of high school, I was in both the school choirs, AND I was vice-president of our choir society, AND I was an alto section-leader. I was hard core. And I loved it. I loved that I was able to help my choir, that I could lead the alto section, that people would stand next to me in rehearsal when they were having problems so that they could get the notes down. I loved singing, but a lot of my love of singing was wrapped up in being good.

But I haven't sung in years. I've lost my range. My ear, which used to be fantastic (being an alto will do that for you) is now pretty mediocre. I have no sight-reading ability. Hell, I have difficulties reading music!

Still, when I came to school I decided to join the choir. This was a huge part of who I was, and I love music. I love singing. I'd like to have this piece of me back.

So last week, I went to my first rehearsal. And ... I sucked. I really, really, REALLY sucked. First of all, the piece is an extremely difficult piece of Handel's that in a previous life I would have loved because it requires all of these crazy, intricate runs that have to be done in absolute precision. But in my current life, as a non-singer, it was seriously intimidating.

Secondly, the choir director kept pushing through to cover more and more music. After a couple vain attempts at sight-reading I basically gave up. And I have NEVER been that girl in the choir who stands mute while others sing around her. But I was.

Thirdly, and this kind of exacerbated everything, I was sick. So though I have lost most of my previous range, last week, my range was roughly half an octave.

By the end of rehearsal, I was a mess. I kept thinking, "I'm awful, and I can't sing, and what am I even doing?"

Today was the second rehearsal. And I almost didn't go back. "I'm busy, and I'm tired, and I don't feel like it," I told myself. "It's not fun." But the truth was I was scared. Scared of not being good. 

But, in the end, I pushed myself to go. To give it another chance.

And you know what? 

It was better. 

I'm still not good. 

But I'm better. And everything: the singing, the sight-reading, the hearing, the crazy runs? Was easier. And while no one leaned on me for singing support, I did sympathize with a couple of my fellow choir members who found the piece difficult, and helped them feel less alone.

I'm not going to be a leader of this choir. 

But I'm a participant.

And sometimes that's okay.

I think there's a broader lesson, somewhere, for me to learn. 

As I've been immersed in classes that have talked about the problems of Kyoto, GMO crops and everything in between, I've begun to feel a little well ... despairing. In one seminar, someone was talking about how food aid should be changed to promote self-sufficiency, and I wanted to throw my hands up in the air and be like, "Sure! Why don't you re-write the American food aid bill, and while you're at it, can you please re-write the farm aid bill? And maybe give us universal health care?" Sure it would be nice if American food aid were different, but it ain't gonna happen, the leadership isn't there, so what's the use of even raising the point? Just take the food aid. Or leave it. Most Americans won't know or care either way anyway.

But there is a use in raising the point. There is a point in trying. Even if you know it's not going to be good. Even if you know there's no way America will ever rewrite its food aid bill. Maybe something else will come of it. Maybe you'll learn how to better negotiate. Maybe you'll convince one person, and that person will be your ally. Maybe nothing will happen, but you'll know that you gave it a shot. That even if you weren't the best, you did show up and make your case.

And in the end, that's all any of us can do. Participate. And hope that our participation makes a small amount of good.


Joyce said...

Knowing you gave it your best shot actually counts for a lot. You're in a place where somebody will hear you, somebody will have to at least wrestle with what you said. Those ideas you voice won't just disappear from the universe.

And, I'm glad you didn't give up on choir, either:)

Anonymous said...

Ruchi, someone at a meditation retreat two weeks ago made a comment that I thought was brilliant:

"Failure is not an option. It's inevitable."

I like to remind myself of this when I'm scared to try something. Our failures are what help us learn and get better. Not so much our successes.

Let's do karaoke some time!

Allie said...

What a great post! And I love FPF's comment about failure too. I love that you've joined a choir again. I loved singing in one in high school too, and sometimes really miss that. Good for you for participating!

Tina Cardone said...

I learned a different aspect of the same lesson last weekend. I went to an education conference and we all said the same things about hardships we have. I felt like it was totally pointless because we were preaching to the choir. Then, a professor stood up and said "so, do something about it!" And I remembered that I do have power, especially if we make an effort en masse. We may not change the entire educational system this week, but we can affect change. Don't give up!

EcoGeoFemme said...

I was with band how you were with choir when I was in high school. I miss it so much. I always imagine joinging a community band when I move after grad school, but I know it will be really scary because I'm going to suck!

Anonymous said...

Okay you are going to laugh about this. I went to the parent-teacher conference this morning for my 6-year old. One of the challenges, the teacher said, was the kids' trying to be perfect. Apparently they get really frustrated when the first few tries are not perfect. So one of the parent's jobs is to help their young kids learn that imperfection and failing are okay.

I suppose we continue to learn that all our lives :)

Anonymous said...

Oooooh, it's so good for us to suck at things! Remember when you were a little kid and everything seemed hard ...? Think of how fast your brain was growing then! And then you (we) found things, like singing, that were just the right amount of hard and easy and the success feels so good that you (we) just kept doing the things you (we) were good at...? And you (we) avoided the hard things because they made you (us) look dumb and feel dumb...?

But now you're an adult and who cares if you look dumb! You know you're not, you're just trying something new (or getting back to something old that you love) and the rest of the world is too worried about looking dumb or feeling dumb that they are watching tv and not solving the world hunger crisis. Except for the heroes, who don't worry about looking or feeling dumb and they keep trying new things and sucking sometimes (you read Three Cups of Tea!) and their brains are growing and so is our collective consciousness.

Congratulations and keep on sucking, hero! You'll need something like singing to keep you breathing and remembering the beauty of things when your classes and subjects get stressful.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Great post. I tend to be a bit of a Lisa Simpson myself and see the same thing in my 5 year old. Thanks for the reminder to not be perfect!