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Suck Spectacularly!

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illuminated manuscript

photo by John Benson

Every so often, I will decide to sign up for something that I have no business doing. Sometimes it’s something practical, like design & typography classes. Sometimes it’s a whim, like the fashion construction class I took at Parson’s before Project Runway made sewing cool or bhangra dance class at my old gym.  Sometimes it’s a little odd, like the Illumination class I took at the School of Visual Arts once. Illumination as in, medieval manuscripts and gold leaf and making glue from garlic (my husband will verify this as true). And then there are those times that I will sign up for something even though I so completely and utterly suck at it that I know I’m going to be embarrassed every time I go to class, such as the beginner swimming lessons I signed up for as an adult. After completing the sessions, I’m still not confident I won’t drown but I can now put my head underwater. It’s a start.

Some people might say I am all over the map and indecisive. I like to say I contain multitudes and am simply interested in a lot of different things.

Tennis Lessons

maria sharapova

No one will ever confuse me for Maria Sharapova. Photo by Mark Howard

After writing my last post I got to thinking about item number two in my list of things that made my weekend awesome:

I went to the park to hit the tennis ball against the wall, and I didn’t suck quite as spectacularly as usual.

A few summers ago I took beginner tennis lessons because they were being offered for really cheap. We can safely file this experience under the I so completely and utterly suck at it that I know I’m going to be embarrassed every time I go to class category.

Now when I say I’m bad at tennis – I don’t mean it in an Oh I’m just being modest but I can hit the ball back and forth a bit. I mean bad.  I couldn’t hit the ball over the net bad. Or if I did hit it, it’d go flying way off court bad.

But you know what? So were the other two people in our class. We were all on the same level. We cheered each other when we did something right, and sympathized if one of us didn’t get something. We collectively refused to be embarrassed by complete and constant failures.

Funny things happen when you stop being embarrassed about doing something badly

You put yourself into it, because you start to think, Hey, I really suck at this, but so what? You realize it doesn’t matter, and no one cares how good or bad you are. You have fun. You loosen up and try harder. You stop hitting the ball half-heartedly and follow through. (My instructor used to yell at me over and over: Follow through! Follow through! and I still hear his voice when I practice hitting the ball against a wall.)

Because you’re putting everything into it, the ball occasionally starts going where it’s supposed to go. You don’t quite suck as much.

I won’t say we all figured it out by end of the seven week class. Because we didn’t. When the other girl in the class asked our instructor if he taught other levels, he told us that yes, he did, but we could all benefit from taking the beginner class again. Ouch.

I’m not sure I did much else with that tennis racket for a while. But last summer, I started occasionally going to the local park and hitting the ball against the wall they have for that purpose. Most of the time I’d have to go running after the ball because I hit it over the wall or way into left or right field. No matter how many times I practiced, I never seemed to get any better. “You don’t have any follow-through,” my husband told me.

I kept trying, partially because I still hold out hope that one day I can actually play against someone and not spend the entire match running after a ball, and partially because I can be pretty stubborn.

Mostly, though, I keep trying because, ability notwithstanding, I actually enjoy it. A lot. I like hitting the ball against the wall by myself. I don’t mind chasing after it. I don’t even care if I don’t get better. (Ok, you got me, I might care a teeny, tiny bit, but it’s not the reason I play). The last few times I’ve practiced, I haven’t had to chase the ball quite as much. I follow-through more often than I don’t now.

dancing fools

I don’t know why he’s got a pipe in his mouth, either. Photo by Stephanie H.

Have you ever been to a wedding, and there’s this one guy on the floor who’s really really bad at dancing and he knows it but he doesn’t care? People loosen up around him. They have fun. He’s having fun. Certainly, he’s having a lot more fun than the guy who refuses to get up from the dinner table all night because “I can’t dance.”  Which one would you rather be?

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