By Melissa McNeely
When I was in Junior High, I had a teacher that kept a written list of the best excuses he had heard for not turning in homework in the upper right-hand corner of the chalkboard. I know! So many questions come to mind already starting with what is this ‘chalkboard’ you speak of? A chalkboard is a board on the front wall of a classroom, and it is the tool that teachers used to USE to write things on for the class to see. Now these chalkboards came long before white boards came to be, which came way before SMART BOARDS, and who knows what else? There are probably teachers out there teaching on iPads and laptops at this point with the evolution of technology and remote learning! Anyway, somehow with this archaic tool called a chalkboard, I, and maybe you too, walked away with a perfectly acceptable public education! I’ve already digressed.
The thing about this excuse list on the chalkboard was that I absolutely loved reading it because I thought this list was hilarious! Not only were the excuses hilarious, and well worth reading, but I also honestly admired the teachers’ resolve to keep this list in the first place, almost as a challenge to the rest of us students, in the satirical style of ‘try to do better and maybe, JUST MAYBE, I’ll believe you’ and if not, your lame excuse is going to be right here on my list. Because I thought this excuse list was so hilarious, I had a fun time reading through the excuses all the time. “My dog ate my homework, (classic) my backpack got stolen (you can do better), I had to listen to my dad talk for too long last night, (love it) my sister got her period and it was a family disaster, (brought me to silent laughing and definite choking the first time I read it), and on and on.
Clearly this teacher did in fact, teach me something very important about life in general, that I’m not entirely sure was his actual goal since the class he taught was algebra! HA! I am here to tell you that every single time I don’t feel like completing something I am supposed to do, I attempt to come up with an acceptable excuse that sounds plausible, and well, you guessed it again, I think of this chalkboard ‘excuse list’!! I use this list somewhat as an ‘excuse filter’ all the time! You know, just to see if whatever excuse I am currently thinking up to get out of something I have committed to do would ‘pass the excuse filter’ and be acceptable enough and hopefully NOT end up on the chalkboard! Usually my excuse does not pass, and I typically end up, sometimes albeit begrudgingly, doing the thing I was supposed to do in the first place! Oh boy! I love teachers!
Now this brings me to excuses in general. How many times have I NOT WANTED to show up, or DO something that I already agreed to do? I cannot tell you the number of times this happens to me. I wonder if we all do this a little bit occasionally. Possibly, we might even employ an excuse tactic for things that are in fact enjoyable and fun and that we typically love doing! I’ve heard that the hardest part about life (and I guess anything) is ‘showing up’, or something like that. The truth is that once in a while, all I want to do is put my pajamas on and recline somewhere instead of this ‘said commitment’! Well, this will never do. Sadly, and humbly I am here to admit that I find myself trying to come up with these excuses even when the ‘something’ I was planning to do is an agreement and commitment that I have made with myself! What kind of psychological mumbo-jumbo is this self-sabotage? Yikes!
These excuses sometimes come to mind when I am about to try to figure out the ‘fingering’ in a new piece of music. Why on earth am I trying to make an excuse for not writing in the fingering? I know from trial and error writing the fingering in will definitely make my life easier as I try to learn this new piece of music. I know writing in the fingering is an essential part of staying consistent with playing this piece, all pieces in fact. I know that once the fingering is in, this piece will move from the ‘pile of dread’ side of my piano into the ‘I love to practice this piece’ side of my piano. I ask again, why do I go through the mental process and the self sabotage? (I don’t have an answer for that one). What I’ve decided to do when I feel like this and I start to attempt to make an ‘acceptable excuse’ to try to trick myself out of what I’ve agreed to do, with myself mind you, is start with something I love to do first. (I’m on a mission to out-psych myself!) Yes, I’m talking about practicing the piano, starting with seemingly easier tasks first. I start with some simple warm up scales. I’m not talking about any difficult scales, but something that merely gets my fingers moving. See now? That wasn’t so bad, I’ve got this! Another thing I’ll do is go back a page or two in my lesson book and start there, simply reviewing something I did a day or two earlier, that I feel I almost mastered at that point, and I build a little confidence back.
And then, listen closely, I try my mental manipulation tactic, to outsmart myself and say something like, ‘Today is a great day to work on the fingering of my new piece of music!’ Viola! All of a sudden, writing in the fingering feels like a GREAT IDEA! I know! What happened was that as I was enjoying the things I was doing with my practicing, I was building a little momentum and confidence to get myself warmed up, so to speak. I like learning the piano, I really do! It is fun and I am progressing! And the result? The result is priceless! I have successfully tricked myself into getting right to that fingering!! HAHA! What a simple process to go through. I guess in a way I outsmarted myself and you can too! You are just as smart! Today is a great day to tackle your own practice on the piano!
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