The other day I suggested to a friend that we take an aerial silks classes together, and she said, “You think of such good ideas for things to do! That is seriously a skill.”
This compliment could not have come at a better time, because recently I have been feeling rather skill-less.
Last week, for example, I found a recipe online for “bread that will change your world.” The recipe claimed that the bread was “stupidly simple” to make – it involved no yeast and didn’t even need to rise. Excellent, I thought, because I am pretty stupid when it comes to cooking. I went out and bought all the weird ingredients the bread called for, like coconut oil and psyllium seed husks. I mixed up everything and popped the dough into the oven. I checked on it thirty minutes later, but it was still very much a soggy mush in a loaf pan.
“It just needs more time,” I thought, but more time only turned it into a burned soggy mush. Turns out, I had forgotten the physllium seed husks, which is the very ingredient that makes it become bread. Whoops. I ate the burned mush for a few days, trying to convince myself that it tasted like oatmeal, until I finally admitted it was gross and threw it away.
Then there’s the guitar. For months now I’ve been struggling to play power chords, and just as I’m getting to the point where I suck a little bit less, my guitar teacher decides I should move on to bar chords. These painful chords are way harder than power chords. I can’t even make all the strings sound, much less move from one chord to another quickly enough to actually play a song. “Yeah, you’re fingers are going to need to get a lot stronger,” my guitar teacher told me.
I’ve also started teaching myself Italian using an iphone app called Duolingo, which I thought would be fun, but the other day I kept failing my lesson, and the app made that sad “whomp-whomp” sound you hear when your character falls off a cliff in a video game. “Aww,” my boyfriend (who is fluent in Italian) said, looking over at me. “Did you die?”
“I used up all my hearts,” I said grumpily, pressing on the option to “practice weak skills.”
And then there’s today. I got some much-anticipated feedback from a friend about my most recent novel. It was thoughtful, thorough feedback, and I’m really glad to have it – it’s given me a lot to think about – but it was pretty hard to hear. She said my writing itself was strong, but the plot was so weak as to be almost nonexistent. She suggested scrapping at least fifty percent of the novel and reworking it with a completely different plot. “Maybe you need to leave this one alone for a while,” she said. And I’d been thinking it was ready to be sent out to agents…
Whomp-whomp. I sort of felt like I was falling off a cliff.
The other day I was sitting in yoga class when the instructor said, “I am going to offer forearm stand today as your inversion.” I knew I couldn’t actually do this pose, but I figured I would at least get on my forearms, lift up one leg, and give it my best shot, which was what I was doing when the instructor came over.
“Puff up your back right here,” she said, placing her palm between my shoulder blades. I tried to widen my back and breathe into the space. “No, here,” she said. “Puff up your back right here.”
I knew what place she was talking about, but I wasn’t sure how to puff it. Maybe I didn’t even understand what she meant by “puff up your back.” I tried different things, breathing and engaging various muscles. “Right here,” she insisted.”
“I’m trying,” I said.
“I know you are.”
“Try kicking up your legs,” she said. “I’m here to spot you.”
I kicked up one leg and it fell quickly back to my mat.
“No, no,” she said. “Start with one leg already up, then kick the other one.”
“No, no,” she said. “Kick harder. Kick as hard as you can.”
“I am. I just can’t do it.”
“It’s tough,” she agreed. “You probably need more strength in your core.” She left me face-down on my mat, and I felt tears smarting in the corners of my eyes.
We lay back in cobbler’s pose, and I felt like crying. I was trying so hard and failing. At everything. I wasn’t smart enough. I wasn’t strong enough. I wasn’t a very good writer. And I wasn’t sure I ever would be.
I woke up early this morning and went to a yoga class with my favorite teacher, a soft-spoken yet level-headed girl named Alex. As we were standing in warrior two pose she said, “Find a balance here between effort and ease. In every pose, we should be working, challenging ourselves, but we should also be finding a sense of relaxation. A way to rest in the pose.” It sounds contradictory, but it made sense to me.
That’s what I need to find. Not just in yoga, but in my life.
“I think I need to find an easy song to play,” I told Paul last night while I was practicing guitar and drinking a White Russian. “So I can play it in between practicing bar chords and feel a little bit of success.”
My teacher says that bar chords are the number one reason why people quit the guitar. I don’t want to give up just yet.
As for yoga, it’s a practice, not something to be achieved. It’s impossible to “fail” at yoga, even if I can never do forearm stand. Although maybe it’s true, maybe I do need to get stronger. A stronger core, stronger fingers, a stronger mind. A stronger heart.
I may need to get stronger in my writing, too. My friend suggested some books on plot that I should read. I’ve requested them from the library. I’m sure that that getting rejected by agents and receiving harsh criticism from friends is one of the reasons why people stop writing. But I won’t give up.
What I will do is try to be gentle with myself. I won’t stop challenging myself, but I will try to find ease in my work. Play some easy songs. Take a day off from writing. Stay in child’s pose in a yoga class, with my knees at my chest and my forehead resting on the ground, for as long as I want.
Strength will come in time.
“You seem to have such a sense of urgency,” my friend Nikki told me on the phone the other day. “Like you think you have to do everything right now. Allow yourself to take all the time you need.”
Finding a balance between effort and ease, now that’s a good skill to learn.
This weekend, I’m going relax a bit. I’m also going to try making that bread again. They say it will change my world. But I doubt anything is that easy.