Practice Practice Practice

When I began playing the piano, my Grandpa Spurgeon used to chasten me to “practice practice practice.” Someday, he told me, he’d be my agent, and then he would be rich. I figured in his equation somewhere. I was the one who practiced, you see. And I took his advice, for years. I got pretty okay at playing too.

There was that time when I was twelve years old and had just finished reading Roots. There was a passage in the book that talked about Kunta Kinte having to adjust to wearing shoes because he became a coach driver. This was after he attempted to escape several times, and had half his foot chopped off by the slaver. Anyway, before this time in Kunta Kinte’s life, he had never worn a shoe in his life. I was also reading a lot of Louis L’Amour. loads of people wore buckskin moccasins and I thought I’d give it a try. Maybe I could be cool and sneaky, and have giant, leathery calluses on my feet and not need shoes. Think of the money my family would save!

Most people aren’t ridiculous enough to attempt becoming one of the Thick-Soled Few, so I’ll explain to you what happened next. If you take a pair of soft-leather moccasins (really house slippers), a bird dog, a .22 caliber rifle and a pocket full of bullets, you’ll make it about a mile before the first hole quarter-sized appears in the bottom of your house slipper. No big worry, you’re walking around in the brush and all that grassy stuff. By the time you’ve reached mile 2 or 3, the hole has gotten bigger, and you are flapping along with practically no protection to your feet. You’re walking up and down well-rocked logging roads. There’s nothing left in the fun. You’re just trying to get home, and going back the way you came is no longer an option. Mile 4, and you’re limping down Old Highway 101 and the moccasins are practically useless, with holes as big as apples exposing your feet. Also, you don’t want to step in puddles of hot tar. Hot tar is hot (yeah. Really it is…) and it coats the soles of your feet, and then scalds your blisters even more. There was enough recent rain that I mostly walked home in the runoff ditch, my feet in the water as much as possible. Did you know people throw bottles at the sides of Oregon roads, and those bottles break sometimes?

But here’s the kicker: I was so impressed by the novels, I actually tried this stunt twice. The second time was without moccasins at all (they were full of holes anyhow and I had to throw them out). . By the time I made it home the second time (I gave up before I made it the 1/2 mile to the top of Burnt Hill), my career as a silently-stalking native scout was over. Also, the soles of my feet looked like flaked tuna.

Good times! Goooooood times.

You see, the problem is, in order to do some things, you have to build up calluses. Or maybe not calluses, but at least take your time doing it. My gigantic, soft pink-feet looked something like shredded walrus flippers, and were definitely not familiar with the torture of walking around without protection. If I were really going to attempt this, I should have taken my time. Then, I could have achieved my goal done it maybe. An hour a day, every day all summer, until I had calluses thick as melon rinds. Not that it was a noble goal or anything; it’s just, my methods were stupid and I wanted instant gratification. I thought if I dropped my dues in all at once, I’d see the payoff immediately. Wrong.

When I began learning to play guitar, I was fourteen. I played every day for an hour a day, because that’s how you do these things. Without even realizing it, I began to develop calluses. The strings never cut into my fingers because I didn’t try doing it all at once. Also I learned a bunch of chords, and strumming styles, picking styles, and how to play The Eagles’ Lyin’ Eyes. We only strummed out the chords. I never heard the melody until a decade later. But the point is, I learned stuff. And it was relatively pain-free.  You don’t just slap your money on the counter and say “give me a jar of guitar skills!” The music fairy will just give you a funny look and then throw guitar picks at you.

I figure that most of life is like that. Take your time. Don’t rush. You’ll only kill yourself if you don’t build up stamina. You’ll get there in due time and nobody expects you to be a superhero overnight. But your first concert? Wow. You won’t believe how far you’ve come. You don’t play Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata overnight. Or AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.”  But if you practice… That’s the tonic. It tastes blah. But it works.

That said, when you’re hiking through the woods with a bird dog and a rifle, wear your boots and not your stupid pink bunny slippers, even if the guy in that Louis L’Amour book could get along without them.  There’s a reason they were invented. Use the tools given to you, use them gradually, and use them well.


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