Even Blythe Danner Makes Mistakes Sometimes

My next-door neighbor, Paula, is a music professor at our local university. Her specialty is the piano.

During summer break, she was visiting her family in Memphis. Driving around one day, she heard Chopin’s “Barcarolle,” a piece she’d played in college, and decided she’d give a recital in the fall semester showcasing it.

It seemed like a simple enough idea at the time, but now, several weeks into her decision and just six days from her performance, she’s exhausted from practicing 3-4 hours a day and teaching a full schedule on top of it. She says she’s “not as young” as she used to be. But she’s a professional and as such, is committed to giving a spot-on performance on Sunday.

Aside from a major malfunction, if Paula makes a mistake, only the most trained ear will notice. The recital audience will hear each song nearly flawlessly from start to finish. However, what I hear next door every time she practices is something quite different.

To memorize a song, Paula plays a section over and over again until it’s familiar. If she messes up, I hear her say, “Ack!” and give the keys a quick smack before going right back to the section. When she needs a break, she mows the lawn or waters the flowers along her deck or logs on to Facebook to see who’s there, but always she goes back to the piano.

During one of her breaks yesterday, we were talking about making mistakes during a performance and she told me about a play she went to in NYC in which Blythe Danner was starring. She went with some friends including a drama professor, who’d gone along reluctantly.

The play was going along smoothly until out of the blue, Danner completely forgot her line. It stunned everyone, especially Danner. She called for “Line!” and got right back into the play, but Paula said it was clear that in that moment, Danner was disgusted with herself. However, Danner’s mistake was exactly what the reluctant drama professor needed to experience to help her understand that even the most seasoned veterans screw up sometimes.

There are days I get so stuck on a section of my book that I just want to delete the file, log out of Word and become a plumber. There are days I get so tired of caring about every stinkin’ thing I put in my mouth that I just want to eat cake all day and never weigh in again. But as the Buddha and my mother say, this too shall pass.

We all yell “Ack!” or “Line!” sometimes, especially when we’re losing weight or maintaining weight loss. How ridiculous would it have been if Blythe Danner walked off the stage in the middle of a play just because she messed up a line? Or if Paula quit playing because she missed a note? Or if you and I stopped paying attention to our fitness goals just because one morning (or four) we ate a bagel with cream cheese when we “planned” to eat grapes or took a day (or four) off from the gym? Is it worth chucking everything because we made a few “mistakes?”

It’s not easy, by any means, to ride out the feelings, validate the frustration and keep doing what you were doing. It sometimes takes the mistakes of others to help us see that even the most enthusiastic losers and maintainers among us lose their grip sometimes. I learn the most from bloggers and others who share their gains and weaknesses as well as their successes.

This little pep talk, in fact, is me trying to learn from…well…me. Sometimes I have to keep my own faith, or at least remind myself I have it. A few days of water weight, an undeserved gain, and an unexplained pain in my left shoulder have me frustrated right now. But I’m bigger, so to speak, than my scale, and I’ll work out the shoulder thing. I just have to trust that I am a “professional.” A professional of me. I won’t walk off stage or stop playing. I might wallow in a cup of vanilla rooibos tea and bitch about it with a good friend when we meet for coffee in a few hours, but I’ll get back on that maintenance pony and ride on.

I found this lovely performance of Chopin’s “Barcarolle” on YouTube. This is what I’ve been hearing, in fits and starts, for several weeks, but will hear all the way through (nearly) flawlessly on Sunday. (Wait till you hear what happens around minute 7. Oh. My.)

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