Since resuming keyboard lessons in September, one of my many life skills pursuits, I’ve been finding the journey pretty much a roller coaster.
Some days I would ascend to such heights of musicality I would surprise even myself; like the scenery you get at the peak of a roller coaster ride.
Panoramic and breath-taking!
Not that I’m banging out a great symphony on the ivories. But, at least by my humble standards, I was knocking a piece I was playing out of the ballpark!
(Cue pat pat shoulder)
But just like the roller coaster, that fleeting moment when you hit the peak is just that — fleeting! Most of the time, you’re plummeting to your death! And that’s just how most days learning the keyboard feels like for me.
One of the things I am learning is how I must hit the keys hard but almost as soon after, relax. When my teacher first highlighted this to me, I thought it was oxy-moronic.
Hit hard then relax? All in a split second?
But that’s what he said.
He also said if I don’t, my fingers would be too tensed to hit the next note accurately.
And he was right.
It would seem that to play well and hit the right notes every time, I must be at my most relaxed state.
Me? Most relaxed? Clearly, my teacher doesn’t know me very well, nor the second set of life skills I lack! (Previously I had touched on the first set here)
“I’m always angry!”
There’s a now-immortalized line in the first Avengers movie uttered by Mark Ruffalo’s character Dr. Bruce Banner, just before he transformed into The Incredible Hulk.
The Avengers were in the heart of New York City, fighting a massive alien invasion that clearly belonged in the realms of everyone’s worst nightmare ever. Called Chitauris, they were scary monstrosities many times bigger both in size and numbers.
In one scene, the Avengers were about to have a major showdown with a ginormous invading Chitauri spaceship that Iron Man was trying to draw away from civilians and towards the heroes. Banner had just joined them and Captain America was urging him to “get angry” and defeat the spaceship!
(For those who’ve been living under a rock, getting angry is how Banner morphs into his alter-ego The Incredible Hulk).
Moving towards the approaching danger, and just before he transformed, Banner turned back to look at Captain America and said those now-famous words: “That’s my secret Cap; I’m always angry!”
Thankfully, I’m not like Banner in this regard, though possessing life skills like transforming into a killer machine might be handy now and then!
However, had I been in his situation, instead of saying “I’m always angry”, I’ll most likely say…
“I’m always tensed!”
For as long as I can remember, I’ve never been very comfortable in my own skin. I’ve always felt like I should be somewhere else, doing something else. Or worst, being someone else!
I don’t always know how to be “in the moment” because I’m always thinking about the next one!
Even when things seem to be going well, I would always look around and unconsciously brace myself for something unexpected, and dare I say unfortunate, to happen.
Clearly if there’s ever a set of life skills I need, it would be how to take it easy!
If I had to pinpoint exactly when in my life I started feeling so tensed all the time, I would say it was during those early teen years, when I joined my school’s National Cadet Corps (NCC) and donned those green fatigues and black combat boots for the first time at the tender age of 13.
As directed by my oldest brother, I had signed up for NCC because he insisted it would suit me up with the life skills I need to prepare me for the army upon turning 18 (the age when men in my country serve in the military for a spell).
So from the first moment I put on my “number 4” (what they called the field uniform) and held a weapon, I pretty much had to learn to follow and execute orders, “shoot to kill”, and tough it out in various simulated military exercises under all kinds of conditions.
Needless to say I hated every minute of it, but was too chicken-shit to quit for fear of reprisal from my brother! And simply because I was too young, naive, and compliant to even consider leaving.
Instead, I learnt to tense up each time we set off for some field trip or other, like the starched uniforms we had to put on. I learnt to steel my body in anticipation of what’s to come. Kind of like living in a constant state of “hope for the best but expect the worst.”
Naturally, when I joined the army at 18, everything got dialed up several notches! My already heightened sense of “fight, flight, or freeze” ran amok and had their “field day”.
For the next three and a half years!
I was constantly worried and anxious about displeasing the corporals, sergeants, and lieutenants. I was constantly afraid of being bitten by insects and other unsavory creatures in the jungle. I dreaded getting injured while lifting heavy equipment or stumbling while charging up the hill with my fellow platoonmates.
My sleep was typically brief and restless whenever I was in the camp or out in the wilderness. Even though on most days (and nights) the exercises and stuff we had to do either wore me out physically or bore me to tears mentally.
To this day, I still look back and consider those my “lost” years.
“Rest & Relax” you say? What’s that?!
While I could never regain those years, they made me wary and unsure for many years in my life. It felt like I was going through life with two fists held up constantly, in a hopeless attempt to ward off seen and unseen enemies.
I just couldn’t relax totally in many situations.
It wasn’t just the major events in my life after leaving the military, such as college, dating, marriage, working, and parenting. It was the small moments too. Even when I’m supposedly swimming and relaxing by the pool, or watching a movie, or listening to my favorite music, my body’s always on the alert for goodness only knows what?
Ever felt that way? No? Really? Well, good for you.
But if for even the tiniest moment in your life when you did, then just expand that moment into EVERY moment, and you’ll have a vague sense of how life’s like for someone like me!
If I had to name it, my “spirit animal” (not that I believe such a thing) would most likely be the duck in the pond: its calm above the water belying the frantic non-stop paddling of webbed feet underneath!
So my piano teacher had absolutely no idea what he’s asking of me, when he asked me to hit the keyboards hard then relax right away. He just didn’t know my history, and that I lacked the life skills to rest and relax.
And to be honest, going by the many websites one can easily find on relaxation tips, techniques and their accompanying health benefits, it’s clear I’m not the only one who needs to be taught this life-saving skill set!
Yet for someone like me who’s now lived more than half a lifetime, the question is simple, though the answer’s likely not:
Where do I begin to pick up this life skill, as well as the other life skill I previously posted about?