I had a pretty happy childhood growing up and when you think about it, that’s no small feat. From what I can observe, a well-adjusted upbringing is more exception than rule.
Still, I had my moments of trauma…what kid doesn’t?
By trauma, I’m speaking relativistically, of course. True, I didn’t grow up in Sierra Leone where children my age were being recruited as child soldiers. That’s trauma in one sense of the word.
Trauma in suburban Southern California comes in the form of a piano recital.
Growing up, I didn’t suffer the burden of genius, which worked to my advantage in several ways. My mom put me through the gauntlet of what I like to call, the “Korean Mom’s Genius Test”.
The best analogy I have for it is throwing a bunch of noodles at a wall and seeing what sticks.
She tried me out in gymnastics, ballet, piano, oboe, art, trombone, language courses, pottery and…wait…did I mention ballet? It’s a bit of paranoia on the part of our parents who do this and you know what? I can’t blame them. What if your child is a dormant concerto pianist who was never exposed to piano? You would fail as a parent. So, I understand perfectly well why my mom felt the need to run the gauntlet.
It wasn’t long before she realized that I was no genius…not in piano anyways.
I remember the glorious day when it all came crashing down. This had to be my 6th piano recital. I remember that it was my 6th because recitals 1-5 were miserable failures. They didn’t end in a trip to Baskin Robbins, they ended with a silent car ride home.
My teacher set the recital agenda the following way. She determined who the best pianist was in her class and saved him or her for last. Based on talent, she would go down the line until she had the most beginner level pianist going first.
Being that it was my 6th recital, I should have been a veteran. Instead, I was going 3rd in a class of 15 students. To my left was a 2nd grader. To my right was a 3rd grader.
I was in the 7th grade.
My piece that day was Beethoven’s Fur Elise. Play that tune in your head for a moment. How far do you get before you forget how it goes?
In my defense, me too.
I don’t know why these musician maniacs insist that you memorize your piece. Would Tchaikovsky have been any less of a genius if he read the music? I don’t think so.
Anyways, I got through maybe 1 page of memorized lines before I blanked out. I restarted the line to see if I could muscle-memory my way through. (At this point, I can imagine my mom closing her eyes in shame).
I missed a note and it threw me off. I blanked again. I sat there quietly 30 seconds into my piece without the faintest idea of where I should go. I heard the 3rd grader gasp in shock.
I got up, walked to my chair, and sat down.
No one applauded.
The 3rd grader walked up and ripped the shit out of a Bach piece.
And that was the end of my piano playing days.
I wonder sometimes if this incident was the beginning of a neurosis I have, OR if it’s just one more incident in a contiuum of neuroses.
I describe my condition as such: I have a problem with subscribed situations where I’m expected to behave in a certain way.
Surprisingly, this has practical, everyday manifestations.
Take the club scene. People who like clubbing generally likes it because it’s dark. No one can see you making a drunken ass of yourself while you dance with a girl who is either way too hot or way too not for you. It doesn’t matter because it’s DARK.
But then you have that ONE friend (and Solomon Siah, if you’re reading this…this is YOU), who wants to single you out, form a circle and call out your name.
“Go Chris! Go Chris!”
I have nightmares that have started out this way.
Suddenly, you have hundreds of eyes fixed in your direction, all of them wanting to see some spontaneous dancing.
If you’re a good dancer, you’re happy for the spotlight. But for the 80% of us mortals, what the hell are you expecting us to do in this situation? (It’s not a good sign when you instinctively turn to the Running Man. The Robot is a more safe way to go, but that’s soooooo cliché.)
Subscribed situations where people are expecting a certain kind of behavior. It’s true of recitals, it’s true of public speaking, dance circles.
It’s also true of online dating.
My stance on online dating is similar to my stance on joining a fraternity/sorority. I don’t condemn/look down on people who do it, but it’s just not for me.
It’s that idea of hazing that’s always turned me off. You want me to shave my head, not sleep for 46 hours, and guzzle down a bong? Just to be initiated into your mold-infested house?
Perhaps not as intense, but I always imagined that first online date to be a more subtle version of hazing.
The other day, I was sitting at a coffee shop with my friend and I witnessed an unmistakable first date.
The guy comes up to the girl… “Hey, are you Shirley?”
“Hi. Are you Jon?” (DUMB Question. If a guy knows your name and is at the exact spot you’re expecting your date to be in…it’s probably the guy you’re supposed to be meeting for your assigned date. Dumb questions mean she’s nervous.)
Then, they do an awkward hug. (Really? When’s the last time you hugged a complete stranger? Because it’s a date, all of a sudden you’re allowed to get a hug?)
The guy jumps in: “So, do you want to sit outside or inside?” (DUMB Question. Is she suddenly the authority on where the best place to sit is? Outside or inside? And it’s not a matter of courtesy. If he suggests to sit outside or inside, and she has a problem with it, she’ll say something. DUMB Question. He’s nervous too.)
To which she responds, of course: “Doesn’t matter to me. Wherever you want to sit.”
Then, when they sit, there’s just way too much direct eye contact, chuckling and nodding of heads. As if they read it on the Match.com “What to do on your first date” guidelines page.
It’s NOT NATURAL. And that’s the point. I’m closed minded to the idea of synthetic…I’m an organic kind of guy. Things have to happen the way they’re supposed to happen, or else you get stuck in these horrendous nodding competitions.
I’d love to play piano in front of people if I just happened to be playing and people stopped to listen.
I’d love to go on a date, just so long as it wasn’t dictated by the rules of a first date.
So years from now, when I’m sitting alone in my rocking chair, pointing my crane and laughing at those awkward couples on their first date, or frat boys being hazed, or little boys forgetting the notes to Fur Elise…
Just know that I stuck to my principles.