Well a month and change has gone by, and what are resolutions without some sort of update?
BuzzFeed right now has dozens of articles about New Year’s Resolutions. How to make them, what they should be about, quizzes to build a house and they’ll choose one for you, that sort of thing. I was talking about it with a friend and realized I have never actually done it. I’m sure I must have as part of a school assignment but never seriously.
At work, we have to write yearly SMART* goals in order to measure performance. It’s a counter-intuitive exercise in the Public Sector. In the Private Sector, you can usually pick up more work as the year goes on or create projects for yourself to expand your skillset if you find yourself in a lull. In the Public Sector, due to the way contracts are awarded and transparency required, you must pitch all of your projects at the beginning of the year to have funding in the next year. If you don’t know what you’ll be working on that year, it’s difficult to make goals.
In any case, I’ve been doing it for so long now that I have gotten decent at it. Then I realized the obvious that it’s basically a New Years Resolution that’s directly tied to your Performance Reviews.
I also realized that the purpose of a Resolution shouldn’t be to make me a better person, because if the news of 2017 has taught me anything, I’m pretty ahead of the game as far as not being an asshole. They should be things I can complete. That will make me feel better and more accomplished. Things that will make my life easier and get me back to where I was before things happened. Things I can basically enter into a ticket system to manage and track. Not that I have one. But I can make one.
So, I present to you, my 2018 SMART Resolutions.
I played the piano for five years between the First and Sixth grade. The only reason why I was allowed to quit was because of exactly how miserable the experience had made me. I was not quiet about it. I would come back from lessons in tears because I just was never going to be good enough for my piano teacher and honestly had no idea why I should even care.
If you know how to play and have been one of those who has kept up since childhood, I salute you. One of the many things I will never, ever do myself.
Almost twenty years later, I decided to try again. My husband has an old keyboard that he picked up and I wasn’t about to buy new equipment if it turned out I hated it again. First, I should explain my motivations, because why would anyone in their right mind go back to something they despised so much. My motivations are odd. One of which is I don’t want to be burnt out again and a great deal of my time is going into expanding a very small section of neural resources. What never gets exercised is music or really any sort of sound recognition. I used to speak and understand Japanese, but there isn’t anyone around who I can talk to about that and frankly it makes me extremely self-conscious. Something I do well like handiwork (typing, sewing, that sort of thing) should make piano a natural choice. I have no basis for any of this short of ‘it sounded right at the time.’ I am also well motivated when I make myself do things I don’t like to do. Natural competitiveness makes me enjoy crushing things I hate. Like the Piano.
Unfortunately, I did no such crushing.
There are apparently a ton of free resources to help someone learn the piano over the internet. It’s not always inconvenience, as musicianship requires very much an apprentice’s environment. You need someone there to say, ‘Hey, slow down!’ or ‘Hey, maybe you should try something easier like Scales before trying to play Earth, Wind, and Fire,’ or even slower, ‘No, your hands go over here.’ My brain was screaming these things at me while my hands continued to run into each other like arena combatants.
A lot of these resources are good if you have the patience and are genuinely curious about how to grow as a piano player. If you have some experience, are generally impatient, or your chief motivations are hatred and competition, they are not so helpful. Similarly, these motivations will keep you from searching out a piano teacher. No one wants to teach an art they love and have nurtured into a career to some temperamental jerk who came in with a chip on their shoulder who hates things that are pretty and require effort.
Here is my process…
Step 1: Find Beginner’s Sheet Music
Google will vomit up any number of free places to get sheet music, and just like anything else on the internet, better than half will just be bots re-linking things for ad views. Nearly all that remains will be awful. I found two decent resources. One was Music for Music Teachers (music-for-music-teachers.com). They have a great free collection of printable sheets and suggestions of how to teach them to get the best interaction and retention. The music is also targeted for children, so as an adult student, one can get bored very easily. Another was PianoLessons.com which serves a series of YouTube videos demonstrating concepts as well as some beginner music. In their first video, they talked about the bazillion sort of chords that exist and the very subtle nuances in each so I became confused almost immediately. Also, the presenter talks non-stop and it’s hard to remember what the point of the lesson was in the first place. Again, if you have the patience, it looks very thorough. If you don’t, prepare to be disappointed in a lot of things including how to play the piano.
Step 1, revised: Refresh on Sheet Music
Okay, after going through a few extremely base sheets which were three notes played over and over again and still not realizing where they were on the keyboard, I thought I should look that up. The good thing about PianoLessons.com is that they transcribe the entire video. It became easy to skip through the video to the points in the text that I needed. Okay. While it became less confusing, the breadth of what I was trying to do started to become overwhelming.
Step 1, revised again: Try scales.
It finally occured to me if I didn’t know what the notes were or how to get there, it made no point to read sheet music. I found a video on PianoLessons.com that showed scales, but as usually it was inundated with talking. I replayed the demonstration I needed, barely a few seconds worth, over and over until I could make my hands match. Then I went back on the keyboard.
Did you notice I never made it past Step 1? That is because I didn’t make any progress. I wanted to make sure we were all on the same page with that.
So as I was doing scales, I learned a few things about my environment. My keyboard is too rigid. I’m practically pushing the keys down using way more force than is actually necessary. This is causing my left arm to get sore faster. I spend more time concentrating on this than the actual scale. It’s just uncomfortable to do.
On the bright side, I did manage to do scales in time. I did them with both hands without making it sound like a gorilla was punching the chords. And I am frustrated enough about the stupid, stupid piano that I will most likely make an effort again. If anything, to make my left hand feel less stupid than it does now.
Recently, I went to the Grace Hopper Celebration. It was my first conference actually representing Yahoo! and doing interviews. It was also my first time going to Portland! On my way there, I decided to amuse me the only way people can on a short flight: Skymall, a collections of the worlds most insane products to give you just enough to think about until you land. A few really set themselves aside for me. And here they are!
Do you remember the Theremin? It is a strange device where you move your hands around it and the sound is adjusted which is how they got the otherworldly sound for the original Theme for Star Trek. Someone released a mass production version! Except it’s cheap and relies on IR instead of general EM Fields, so I suspect it’s more like breaking IR ‘harp strings’ than an actual Theremin. Except now it’s not just the instrument, but it also includes music videos! And Karaoke! It’s like DDR but with a cheap theremin-harp device! Because that’s not dweeby or reeking of poor decisions. It’s really not.
If you don’t remember the 80’s and early 90’s, the slap bracelet phenomenon was basically a small, thing, excessively sharp band of metal that a young girl would slap on her wrist and it would wrap around it. These became so popular that they were banned from most schools because of some asinine idea that a girl could accidentally, or purposefully, slit her own wrists with it because sharp objects were so difficult to find. But now they padded it with rubber and added a relatively heavy block of metal and turned it into a watch! In case you didn’t just want to relive that slaptastic feeling, but you also wanted to sling that small block of metal as hard on your wrist as possible. I get the same sensation from knocking my arm into the bathroom door and frankly I don’t see the appeal. But you can for $35!
Of course, if hurting yourself just a little wasn’t enough, they also advertise a Universal Skate Sail. It’s a sail that you hold using poles on either side with each hand while on wheels, because that can’t go badly at all. In case this impromptu windsurfing apparatus wasn’t enough, they also have a skateboard that doesn’t have a board. They are two gyroscopic wheels that act like small rainbow cycles around your feet. If you combine these two, you may trend on YouTube. You might even make it on Tosh.0, just make sure you don’t tell anyone I suggested it. I will deny it completely.
Thank you, Skymall. I would never have thought to find these things if I wasn’t on trapped on a plane!
It was the last day of our Las Vegas Vacation. My husband wanted to go to the Hoover Dam which left us with two options for that morning: find a Starbucks or settle for Hotel Coffee. Apparently, hotel coffee was no option. There was one at the Harrah’s which was on the next block, so it wasn’t exactly out of our way and it was an oddly comfortable day in the mid-80’s.
We were walking out of the Starbucks not long after when one of the many billboard trucks passed by. Except of advertising your morning dose of discount call girls or an opportunity to fire off an automatic weapon, this one was for Dick Butkus.
I’m not an English Major, so I can’t be sure if the situation can be described as serendipitous. As it is, my English Major friends already brace themselves at the constant question of, ‘Yeah, but is it ironic?’ What I can tell you is what Dick Butkus meant to me or, more specifically, my family.
I am what you would call a ‘Generational Fan.’ I am die hard. I grew up watching the Chicago Bears, both modern games and classics shown on WGN long before either NFL Network or ESPN Classic existed. I would hear retellings of Butkus’ games like they were war stories. He is #51, the embodiment of 1963. My father and I were convinced that we would have to win the lottery before we would have the chance to meet him.
My husband has been assaulted with the same stories over the past ten years. He could see how I froze on the sidewalk as the truck sped by. He knew it was that important to me. I pointed out that the appearance was just across the street. He suggested we should go.
But you wanted to go to the dam. The dam will always be there. But what if the line’s too long? Then we can just head back and still make the dam. But… This is important, and you wouldn’t forgive yourself if we didn’t try.
He was right.
We arrived a while after a slight deluded detour where I started walking towards where I thought there was a bridge but apparently I imagined it. I’m still trying to figure out how that happened. There were half a dozen people in line and they had just started signing. I was shaking in line while my husband rubbed my back so I wouldn’t hyperventilate. I would watch people from the line and grow confused.
No one else was this panicked. Maybe they were more prepared. They had their photos and footballs ready to be signed, so obviously they were aware of what was going to happen. Still, I was panicked. I was on the edge of tears the entire time and growing furious that I was the only one. The line was full of middle-aged men and their wives. The men would be polite and humorous while their wives would bear with it and took pictures.
I was, as I like to say, ‘flipping a mf’ing spaz.’
I don’t remember much of what I was able to say to Dick Butkus when it was finally my turn. It probably wasn’t coherent. I know I blubbered in the beginning and my husband had to translate it to Human English. At some point he had me introduce myself and I said I worked at Yahoo! Fantasy Sports, which amused him. And he asked if I had any questions. I said no, because if you have been watching sports long enough to know Dick Butkus is, you also have watched enough interviews and analyses to know there isn’t much more to be gleaned from 1963 that hasn’t already been said.
“This is weird, but I really want to hug you right now.”
That is what I clearly remember saying. He laughed and said I could and I hugged him. He was warm and I had finally lost it and started crying. Then I rapidly told him about how important he was to me and my family and how we thought we would never meet him.*
I can guarantee I’m the only one who reacted like that on that particular day. I shocked the hell out of the shop owner and Dick Butkus looked like he appreciated my reaction. When they gave us the picture they took of us three to sign, thankfully before I cried and shrieked, I had him include my dad and grandfather, since they weren’t there with me. My dad was at home but my grandfather had passed away. I think he appreciated that as well. Afterwards, he asked me something I remember very clearly.
“Do you want another hug?”
I shrieked again and hugged him, this time tighter. I staggered out of the shop and sat down on a bench out of direct line of sight to the shop’s door where I could spaz and cry in peace. Everyone who passed by stared and everyone we passed stared. I didn’t care. This was something my husband did for me that led to one of the single best moments that I will remember. If you can ever show someone, even if you’ve never met, what they meant to you, it will be one of your best moments.
That is how my addiction for Starbucks let me meet Dick Butkus. And for anyone who thinks this moment is a bit overdramatic, well obviously it was overdramatic. But that is exactly how it happened. I was a spaz. I cried. I hugged Dick Butkus. I feel glad that there is any person who makes me feel that way, where just meeting them for something that they did out of a passion allowed me to thank them for impacting my life for the better.
That’s the power of fandom. Not just for sports, but for anything where someone has a skill set above all others where you appreciate it on a level above yourself. I have mathematicians, scientists, writers, and other athletes on this list and if chance should have me meet them, I will jump on it. Everyone should have this list. I couldn’t imagine how empty or cold or sanitary a life would be without it.
I’m not sure if triumphant is the word, but it’s out there, so we’ll go with it.
I realize now Post-a-Day was unrealistic. I try it every year, always starting on my birthday, but it is incredibly foolish since I have a very seasonal calendar. The very time I can’t do any sort of writing is in Spring and Summer. Why? Because of my love-hate relationship with sports.
Let’s take a quick glance at what my calendar generally looks like…
Taking a break from Anchor WebCamp –Don’t worry, I’ll get back there on Monday.– After it was over, my husband and I headed straight for the Kylie Minogue Concert. It was Fantastic. It was held at the Bill Graham Theater and I hate floor seats. This means something completely different for this theater than the Pavillion which is my venue of choice. It was just the floor. No chairs. I was packed into a crowd. I was freaking out.
Considering the extremely small number of people who will read this, I can say 100% of my audience knows what this will imply. Still, I have some significant social anxieties. And Claustrophobia. And personal space -slash- touching things… And germophobia. And … well, you get the idea.
For people who are scared of heights, they can stand on a ladder or go in a plane to try and deal with their anxieties. This was like that for me. I survived the entire concert surrounded by sweaty people and pot. I had fun! And considering I have been having rolling anxiety attacks all week, this was the first day I didn’t wake up at four in the morning or sleep through the night by punching my husband while I was unconscious. He calls me ThrashyPaws, a play on Mass Effect’s Thrasher Maw.
I can honestly say I would never do that again. I don’t enjoy standing for 3 hours squished into sweaty horny people. But the fact that I did it, suffered some massive sensory overload, and still had fun? I’m making progress!