Archive | March, 2013

Practice, practice, practice

13 Mar

You’ve probably heard the old joke, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”

Answer: Practice, practice, practice.

Lately, I’ve had to practice, practice, practice my music a LOT for several performances. If you’ve followed my blog, then you know that I am a hammered dulcimer player. March is a big month for folks who play Irish music, since St. Patrick has his very own day that is not only celebrated by the Catholic Church, but also by anyone who thinks they might have some Irish roots, regardless of their religious affiliation. St. Patrick was actually not even Irish! But he was a missionary to Ireland. And so now, we celebrate his life by playing Irish music and wearing green. Go figure.

If you’re a musician, or if you’re anyone who tries to do anything well, then you know the importance of practicing your craft, whatever it may be. In fact, writer Malcolm Gladwell theorizes in his book, Outliers, that people like artists and musicians (and others) need 10,000 hours of practice in order to be really great at whatever skill they’re trying to perfect. Since I was 28 years old when I started playing the hammered dulcimer, I am woefully behind. I guess all those years of playing other musical instruments don’t count, but even if they do, I’m sure I’m still behind!

Anyway, one of these “gigs” that I performed was last week at a retirement home for senior citizens. It was fun. I had a request for “Danny Boy” which I played through on the spot. I really should sit down and learn an arrangement of that song, but one verse seems to satisfy most folks. We played a lot of Irish, Scottish, English and American folk tunes for about one hour. We played our hearts out, too! After the performance, an elderly woman said to me, “There’s another woman who brings one of those instruments here sometimes and she can REALLY play that thing!” I’ve learned to let insults like that just roll off my back, since I know that at places like this, most of the people have absolutely NO filter for what they say and you’re liable to hear just about anything. I just laughed.

Now, I know that I am not the greatest musician in the world, and there are plenty of hammered dulcimers players that are much better than I am, but I was a little dumbstruck by her comment. I thought to myself, “Is this going to happen to me one day? Will I become a snarky 80-year-old woman who says anything, even if it’s not very kind?” And then I asked myself, “What can I do to NOT become a person who says unkind things, even if it’s unintentional? How can I make sure that I become the little old lady who says nice things to people? How can I be KNOWN as the nice little old lady that says sweet things to others?”

Then it hit me. Practice, practice, practice.

I think that being kind is a habit that one must cultivate. There are many religious AND cultural traditions that tell us to be kind to people. One Bible verse that I learned very early in my childhood says, “Be ye kind, one to another.” Just because you might be a person of faith doesn’t necessarily mean that you are going to feel kind things about others. And, you might be like me—I often have kind feelings for other people, but neglect to show them because I’m distracted or forgetful or too busy. Kindness is an action that you have to practice. You might have a good reason to practice kindness—perhaps your religious beliefs tell you that this is the right thing to do, but being kind is basically an action that if you do it regularly, it might be something that you eventually do without thinking, like when you’re a little old lady and, well, you’re not thinking. Sort of like playing a musical instrument—you’ve practiced those scales so many times, that you don’t even think about the notes and the details of what you’re doing, because it’s automatic. That’s how I want to be as a person—I want to practice being kind so much, that it’s automatic, and it’s so automatic that I don’t have time to judge whether or not the person deserves my kindness. God knows, I’m not always deserving!

I think that that’s a lofty goal to start this late in my life. I did a little math. If I think about my day, there are about 10 hours per day that I am either asleep, or worthless, because I’m getting ready for work, or haven’t had enough coffee yet, or it’s the end of the day and I’m eating dinner, etc. So that leaves me 14 hours per day. If I practiced being kind for 14 hours per day, I’d be an expert in almost 2 years, but would have had no income, because that left me no time to do my job, not to mention bathe, walk the dogs and clean house, etc. A little research reveals that about 90 minutes of practice per day is probably the minimum that I would need to become a very good amateur at something, but not a professional level person. If my math is correct, then if I practice kindness for 90 minutes per day, then in about 18 years, when I am 70, I will be a very kind person, though not an expert at it. My main goal is not to become a snarky old lady, so I think I’ll take the label of “very kind little old lady” and pray that God will help me to continue that habit even as I get older, and more decrepit with age. I’m pretty sure that I’m going to need God or someone to remind me to be kind on a regular basis, too, since sometimes I’m just not paying attention.

And, specifically, what constitutes practicing kindness? For every person, it’s different. My mother bakes bread for people, and takes her friends to doctors’ appointments, which I think is very kind. If you drive a lot, it may mean letting that person who got in the wrong lane pass over in front of you to your lane. Maybe it means leaving a bigger tip for your server at a restaurant. A few more “thank you’s” in the world sure wouldn’t hurt. I know there are some people whom I could email or call more often. Being kind to the people we live with or are related to is very easy to overlook, so there are plenty of opportunities there. I suppose we could even include kindness to animals, and I’m thinking of my empty bird feeder right now. Those sunflower seeds in my bird feeder can also end up blooming in someone else’s yard—I’ve seen it happen, thanks to the birds!

Gotta go…I need to practice, practice, practice.

 Dulcimer hands

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