Hello and welcome. I’m glad you've decided not to do the billion things you could (or should) be doing for a few minutes. Given that you don’t close the tab on me, I will now get to explaining the stupid title, how it’s rocked my world, and why it’s a relevant concept for you to consider. Enjoy.
A few years ago, I decided I’d try my hand at a blog. It failed. Exactly two weeks and two blog posts into the thing, I realized that I had no clue what I would actually write about (yes, level 10 idiot). At that point, I had to do what any regular human would do--cut and run. I accepted that the whole deal wasn't for me and that I'd just stick to playing the piano. "whatever."
Every few months, though, I would indulge a sort of ‘blog craving’ (kind of like when you really want Mexican food and you dare to let your mind think about what Nachos would actually smell like if they were right in front of you… ah.). My self-critic would kick into high gear with something like, “ha, Joana. Really? You tried that and you failed. Why do you think you can do it now? You will fail again and embarrass yourself. Again. And don’t forget: even if you don’t completely flake on the blog, you have nothing relevant to say to begin with.” I'd accept, drop the craving, and go back to banging on the piano.
About a month ago, though, I had an answer for my internal self-critic. For the first time, I knew what I would write. I had content that would last for ages—content that was about music; content that was personal; content that was relevant. All of this, thanks to my newfound friendship with the insidious 2x4.
Now bear with me on this little imaginative journey (I'm sorry for the linear thinkers reading.. you might want to find another blog.): Picture your face being swatted by an actual 2x4 in public (here’s a picture of a 2x4 just in case if you forgot what they were or like looking at random slabs of wood). The effect would terrifying, painful, and *very* humiliating, no? (We should probably all take a moment to be thankful that we don’t generally run the risk of getting slammed with a 2x4. I did.). But now, imagine that the thing getting hit was your ego (ouch.) and the 2x4 was something you don’t know but *really* should. Are you still imagining or has a memory popped up now instead?
If you still haven’t grabbed ahold of what I mean (or if you’re just down for a funny story featuring my embarrassment), let me further illustrate with a personal example: It was the middle of the fall semester of my junior year in college—very regular kind of day. I walked into my piano lesson and my teacher (who always starts with a, “how are you?” or (if he’s in a very serious mood) “what will you play for me today?”) opened with a hefty 2x4. “How many piano Sonatas did Mozart write?” Now, non-musicians, if this question bears no significance to you, just imagine being asked a very simple question about one of the most important figures/topics in your field. It’s the kind of thing you're just *supposed* to know—something so basic that they don’t usually even teach it to you in school. Well, surprise surprise, I didn’t know it.
*queue full on panic mode* It felt like a fire alarm was blaring in my head while some mean computerized voice shouted, “What are you going to do now, Joana?” Now, being the idiot that I am, I decided to guess confidently (lie?). My teacher's head was down. Great. Then, he lifted it. I waited. He laughed. Really really great. Since digging a hole through the ground wasn't an option, I wailed out an exhaustive list of excuses for why I didn’t know it and what had compelled me to guess. He listened (the man has some serious patience). Then, he told me a story about a time when he had encountered a similar experience, guessed, and been humiliated. Just as I was beginning to feel a bit less embarrassed, his tone grew serious again. Then, he cautioned me against ever again calling my integrity into question when my reputation was already on the line (ouch, Joana.). Then, he said, “Now go home and memorize these things.” I did.
My story and your own experience make a few things clear: when the 2x4 is something objective, we really only have three possible routes (escape tactics) to follow. We can lie successfully, lie unsuccessfully, or admit our ignorance. Regardless of the choice taken in the immediate situation, though, the end result is generally universal: we acknowledge the fact we didn’t know and learn it to avoid a future 2x4 swat. Simple, clear. Right? Yes.
*now, enter the insidious 2x4*
Ah, not so simple. Instead of a fact you should have known, imagine that you are smacked upside the head with an *idea or a concept* that you hadn’t thought of. Why is this so insidious? Because instead of three escape methods like we had before, the insidious 2x4 only leaves its victims two possibilities: improvise about how and why this new concept is some brand of wrong *or* admit that we had never previously conceived of this particular idea. Now, compared to the factual 2x4, it’s a pretty sweet deal—we can always slide out unnoticed and unashamed. The problem (and why I’ve called it insidious) is that we begin to believe ourselves. We believe that our improvisation was really quite intelligent and a perfectly adequate reason to go on as if nothing had hit us in the first place. And actually, we do this so often and so well that most of us don’t even know that we do it! At least I didn’t.
This thing shocked (as in electrical shock) my world a few months ago. I was at a music festival outside the practice room building at 2AM. To give just a bit more perspective, I had been practicing for weeks (as in: besides vital necessities, all I did was practice. Not because I wanted to, but because I had a deadline). I was tired. I was frustrated. I was cranky. I had been sitting in silence for less than a minute when a friend of mine walked outside. I watched with secret dread as he began walking towards me. “Don’t start a conversation. Don’t. Don’t.” I screamed at him silently. Five seconds later, we were having a conversation. Great. Five minutes later, it got philosophical. Ah, even greater. Then, he brought up the topic of improvisation (no, not musical improvisation). The kind of improvisation we do to get out of facing the ideas we haven’t heard of before. That was all it took for me to feel a rush of anger over what I judged to be a rude and unjust accusation. The anger was better than the frustration, though. “Game on,” I thought as I improvised vigorously on the topic of improvisation and why I don’t do it. It sounds funny and really quite stupid, but I didn’t realize how ironic this was until much later. I’ll spare you the details and just say that it turned into a war with many casualties (namely, my ego).
It stuck with me the next few days, though. At first as a grudge, but then as a serious question: do I actually improvise? Is that actually bad? And the one I couldn’t let go of: Is he right? Yes. He is right. I had never thought about it. And so I began to honestly think about it. In the next few weeks, I gradually became aware of just how many insidious 2x4s I had convinced myself out of exploring and considering. (If you are still wondering about the dude, yes. I apologized profusely and thanked him. He laughed. We are still friends.)
Soon, I started to actually look for these insidious little guys. Finding them has become to me like discovering a gift I forgot to open (for the record, that has actually never happened to me). The other thing I wanted to do was to bounce these ideas off of people and see what they thought about them. If they had ideas to add, I wanted to hear them. I started walking around like a lunatic (literally) grabbing anybody who would listen saying something like, “You will never believe this. You know, I’ve never even once until now actually thought of .. blah, blah, blah.” The new connections and explorations that these conversations brought was beyond wild. At this point, I had to go bigger—more people, more ideas, more input. Clearly, the next step was facebook. I made new friends with ‘facebook friends’ who I never even imagined might want to listen and bounce off ideas. It was amazing. It is amazing. But then it hit me. “Joana. Blog.” So, here I am.
Do comment below or message me or whatever you want to do. What do you think? What are you ideas? What are your opinions? Ah, and do you know how much you improvise?