As I have mentioned before in these writings, for years I indulged in martial arts. I would go to practice at first once a week, then twice, and finally three and four times per week. It strikes me as strange, because I have always found it hard to practice anything. When I attended art classes—life drawing—at the age of twelve, I enjoyed the experience and learned a lot, but I never practiced at home. For that reason, my mother discontinued the lessons. When I played the bassoon, again I don’t remember practicing very much. Now I chant every day, a procedure to which I refer as “my practice.”
The act of practicing, “having to practice,” takes all the joy out of it. It becomes a job. It becomes a contract: “If I do this for enough hours every day then I will be good at it.” I plod along, obeying the letter of the law, but without enjoyment; there is no shine to it—it’s dull, boring. What a dilemma. Because the other half of the contract says, “If I don’t practice this, I won’t be good at it.”
I live in a sort of dream world, where one is born with a superlative talent and one NEVER has to practice. Discovered by Hollywood talent scouts in a donut shop. Not having to kill myself trying. Lazy. As a consequence, I am not good at anything, really. Even the martial arts. Oh, yes, I “practiced”—but it was a sort of minimal practice that consisted of showing up, and coming back again and again. I virtually never practiced outside the dojo. My reason was that I didn’t have any natural ability and no amount of practicing would help. And I think there is some truth in that. Why spend time and energy on a lost cause? Wouldn’t it be a better investment to experiment and investigate to find that hidden talent that will shine forth, practice or no practice?
Recently, I have noticed how the Japanese go at things. For them, practice is a watchword. All you have to do is try and keep trying, and eventually victory will be yours. Throw yourself at it headlong, whole hog, for as long as it takes. (Hm. Japanese martial arts—karate—was very much like that. No one cared how much natural ability you had. Practice was all that was necessary.) A sort of mindless marathon of a life. Not for lazy me.
When I think of the word practice, the word piano just naturally comes to mind. Mrs. Snelson, my piano teacher, lived over on Lawson Road. I remember her musty-smelling knick-knack-filled house, her long bony fingers, and the little heating unit beside the piano that would glow a brilliant orange—it made toast out of a pair of my snowy socks one day. Yes, Mrs. Snelson’s place was the home of the burnt smelly socks, and the piano became the altar—which brings me to posture and the position of one’s back while at the bench. Sit up straight. Feet flat. Don’t arch your back.
Ten years later, I’m in high school practicing how to type in a grade nine typing class with a short, elderly, white-haired man named Mr. Coleman, whose pet companion was a long stick with a white pointer on the end of it. You knew when your back wasn’t straight with Mr. Coleman around, for he’d come by and give you a whack, sometimes a tap, sometimes a crack, depending, I assume, on how much of your body was out of alignment and maybe, although I always hoped this wasn’t the case, on how he was feeling that day. There was always a reason.
In England, there was a billboard I’d pass by every morning on the Battersea double-decker bus on my way to work. I was a seventeen-year-old kid who’d carried my art portfolio all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, in a case I’d fashioned out of cardboard and a stretchy powder-blue-coloured Crimplene material—the same material my Mom so lovingly made a white skirt suit out of for me to wear, along with a frilly lavender-coloured blouse, to my first school concert, Alice Cooper and his original band. I was hoping to get a job in advertising. I knew nothing about advertising, but I knew what I liked, what was clever, and what worked. Every morning on that bus when we drove around the corner and under the bridge, no matter how crowded it was, there was always this one moment of brilliance. The billboard—a huge, vertical rectangle—at the top were the words, “You know what practice makes.” Under those words was a large, beautiful photo of a Volkswagen Beetle and, under the photo of the car there was one word: “Perfect!”
“Practice” is word #147, and can be found in Volume Two on pages 25 and 26