Me and My Big Fat Blue Smurfing Ego

Me and My Big Fat Blue Smurfing Ego February 19, 2024

As followers of this blog know, I teach high school English.  Part of teaching involves encouraging teenagers to set SMART goals –specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timebound. 

One of the ways one motivates people between the ages of 14-18 is to set a good example.
Stupid me created a public SMART goal.   I pointed out that for the past twenty-three years, I’d been working on learning a particular piano piece.  However, because I had no end point, I’d made little progress as one might expect.

Having explained this reality, my students now know I am attempting to learn Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata by the end of the semester.  I knew the first two pages almost by heart, how hard could it be?   To keep me honest, I videoed myself playing what I already knew and showed it to my students.

The next day. I got to work.  Well, having not looked beyond those pages 7-8 (okay, maybe half a page more), I didn’t know the workbook I owned went up to page 24.  Twenty-four?   Admittedly, I felt grateful for the six pages discussing the piece I’d never bothered to read.

My daughter’s eight year old untidy scroll on page two, “You can do it.” caused my now twenty-eight year old to ask Alexa to play the piece for me after I’d made several attempts. “You’re playing it too fast.”
My muscle memory wouldn’t let me remember the notes unless I sped up.  We went through page by page, miming the notes as we listened.

When I got to measure 116, looking at the notes, I audibly gasped.

The words, “Nopety Nopety Nope.” escaped my lips, while my oldest son walked by, “Who’s learning the theme from the 1980’s version of the Smurfs?”  Somewhere two pages over, measure 154 and 167 smirked or smurfed, I’m not sure.  Laugh or cry at the complexity that loomed, my son and daughter laughed.  I wimpered.    “Remember that time when you asked me if you should coach little league?” my son teased.  “And you said no because I was pregnant with number six and needed to take care of the existing five of you and I listened.” I added.

“Yeah. You didn’t ask me this time, but this is definitely worse.”
“Wait, I never heard this story.”
Their glee wounded my pride. “You’ll see.” I said, snatching the sheet music.

So now, the piano demands tribute each day, between 1-4 plays as far as I can get.  I’ve made it to measure 52 –which is progress, because I’d often dropped off at 30.   My SMART goal seems D.U.M.B, or if you  prefer, doggedly unnecessarily mind boggling.  Having shown a video of me playing in week one.  I promised to bring in a recording every so often so my students can monitor my progress.  It will be a good Lenten penance.

Now I know, practicing helps grow the brain. It also reminds me how difficult actual learning is, by forcing me to take on the role of student once more.   Any ego I have about my musical abilities is being squashed more than Gargamel’s dreams of catching a smurf.  It also makes me hypercritical of past me.Why didn’t 37 year old me practice?  Why didn’t 47?   Why didn’t 27? (Okay, she didn’t have a piano).   Somewhere in the recesses of my memory, seventeen year old me is laughing, “I quit piano remember? I wanted to take more dancing.”  Yeah, I wanted this:

So why did fifty-seven year old me take this on? Did I learn nothing from all those years of not getting past measure 31 or not coaching little league?  I did. I learned that deep down, I still am trying to somehow be in that school for the performing arts, I just always wanted to be in the class with Coco and with instructor, Lydia Grant (Debbie Allen), but now, I’m trying to be Bruno.

And if I don’t do well at the end of the semester, if Moonlight Sonata remains firmly out of reach, I’ll just say, sometimes, we don’t reach our SMART goals, but the process is still valuable.   They’ll learn that adults have to struggle to learn and master things too and maybe that will help them to be willing to struggle as well.

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