Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Where often is heard a discouraging word. . . . or ten

On the evening of 7 January 2013, my personal time at the computer was interrupted on several occasions by someone who just had to inform me how accurate were his predictions for the Notre Dame - Alabama Championship Bowl Game (or whatever it's called).  He has been claiming for weeks that Notre Dame would be crushed, that they weren't ready to go up against a real championship program like Alabama's, and that the choice to put Notre Dame in the game was made more on the basis of television market share than anything else.

I don't know for sure about that third claim, but the first was obviously accurate, and that accuracy probably validated the second claim.

So Notre Dame was embarrassed, and they'll no doubt have to put up with the cutting criticism from the sportswriters and fans and armchair quarterbacks and keyboard coaches.

That's what happens when you're not ready for the big game, when you're playing out of your league, when friends and family and people who have a vested interest in it tell you you're better than you are.  You get beaten, and sometimes you get beaten pretty badly.

Some of the Notre Dame supporters may eventually accept some of the reality.  The players will always have the experience of playing in a championship game and thus may not look at with the disinterest needed for objective analysis.  The armchair quarterbacks and keyboard coaches will debate it for a long time, but at least they have the advantage of being able to step back from their own emotional involvement.  (Whether they will actually do so is another matter!)

Approximately 25 years ago, in a moment of financial flushness and impulse, I bought a piano. 

I've wanted to learn how to play piano ever since I was six years old and Donna Braunsreuter next door got an old upright with chipped keys and a tinny sound.  Of course, her parents got her lessons and she stuck with them, and when they decided she was good enough for a better piano, they offered the old one free to my parents if I wanted it.  My mother turned it down, saying "Oh, Linda would never stick with it."  Grrrrr....

We all got music theory at South Junior High School in the early 1960s.  Mrs. Helen Raasch was the teacher, and she put us through learning to read music.  From that basic, I've always been able to kind of figure out how to play certain things on the piano, so when we borrowed my in-laws' old piano for a few years in Indiana before we moved to Arizona, I taught myself a little more and I took a few lessons and I bought a lot of sheet music -- but I never really learned to play the piano because I never had time to practice.

By the time we bought the Kimball in 1988, I hadn't progressed very much, but I still wanted to learn.  I was working, I was writing, I had two kids in junior high, so I was busy.  I started taking lessons from the older sister of my son's best friend, but as before, I had very little time to practice.

My teacher, Jessica, was in high school at the time, but she was an accomplished pianist and had half a dozen or so youngsters she taught.  I was her only adult student.  She helped me with pieces I wanted to play and went over technique with me, but my main problem was that lack of time to practice.  So when she announced she was going to have a recital for all her students, I laughed and declined.  She pressured, and I continued to decline.  She pressured some more, and I declined some more.

What she said to me to persuade me finally to give that recital is forgotten in the mists of time and terror.  I did agree, though reluctantly, and she asked me to play the piece I'd been trying so very hard to learn, a watered-down (pun intended) version of Bedrich Smetana's "The Moldau."  It has always been one of my very favorite pieces of music ever.  But I knew I wasn't ready to perform something that difficult.  No way, no how, not to friends and family and certainly not in front of total strangers.  Jessica pressured, and I gave in. 

There was not, of course, ever enough time to practice.  And even if there had been, my skills weren't up to that level.  Not even close.  So when it came time to sit down at the big grand piano and play for all the assembled family members, I experienced the absolute worst fear ever.  I knew I wasn't ready, and I knew even if no one else recognized how badly I was playing, I knew, and I was embarrassed for myself.

Now, what does all this have to do with writing?

Whether my friend who claims Notre Dame was set up is correct or not, the players still went out there and played the game.   Some of them may go on to professional careers and some may end up coaching other football teams, but they will always be able to say they went to the BCS Championship Game and played.  Unfortunately, that doesn't change the fact that they got beat, and they got beat badly by a better team.

I participated in that recital to please my young teacher, but I knew well in advance that my performance wasn't going to bring her any acclaim, and it certainly wasn't going to be a proud moment for me.  In fact, I was so embarrassed I didn't touch the piano again for years.  I still won't play when there's anyone else around to hear me.  But as one of my friends said after I'd told her about it, "Well, at least you got up there and did it.  How many of us would have done the same?"

Well, there are a lot of people who apparently don't mind getting in front of the public and making fools of themselves on American Idol and whatever else those shows are.  (I can honestly claim that I have never seen even one episode of any of them.)  But most of us know those people have no talent and we laugh at them and we ridicule them and when they're yanked (figuratively) off the stage, we sigh a sigh of relief that they're gone.

And when the sportswriters lambaste the losing teams, regardless what sport, no one jumps in to say they need to be kinder and gentler to the athletes who tried so hard.  They don't win just for trying hard.

Writing a book is no different.  You don't win if you're not good enough.  You don't win if you don't have the skills, if you don't learn the notes, if you don't practice, if you aren't brave enough to admit you need to learn more.

It's not about how hard you try; it's about whether you produce a winning product.

Winning a football game is hard work.  Learning to play the piano takes time and practice.  Not everyone who plays football will make it to the BCS or the SuperBowl, just as not everyone who plays the piano will sell out Lincoln Center.  It doesn't seem to take a rocket scientist's brain to figure that out and accept it as simple, commonsense truth.

Why then is it so difficult for some people to grasp the fact that not every book that's written is going to be a best seller?  That many authors will never sell more than a half dozen copies of their book?  That many of those books will get terrible reviews?

Notre Dame's loss to Alabama was a one-shot event, just like my piano recital.  Over and done with and put in the past.  Oh, there may be videos of the game to linger in posterity, but the game itself is over.  And as far as I know, no one recorded that recital.

When one publishes a book, however, that document goes out into the public.  It stays there, and other people "own" it and can, by virtue of their ownership, make comments about it, just as the sportswriters and bloggers and fans will go on and on about Notre Dame.  It may very well be that some of the players will get hurt feelings when they hear criticisms of their individual play or their team's performance.  But that's what happens when you put your performance in front of the public.

Criticism doesn't mean the critic hates the person being criticized.  It means they found fault with the performance.

Notre Dame doesn't get a do-over on the BCS game.  Alabama won, and that's it.  Too bad, so sad.

I don't get a do-over on that piano recital, and I will never give another one.  I play, rarely to be sure, for my own enjoyment.  I will not put myself or my piano playing on display for anyone else.

The writing is a different matter.  The digital books that are getting eviscerated (I love that word!) for bad grammar and improper formatting and shoddy research can be fixed.  No one hates the authors personally; the readers just aren't happy with the performance.

I can't help the hurt feelings of the authors whose books I review/critique.  I'm only dealing with the text(s) they put out there.  And in virtually every instance, I'm not alone in my criticisms.  So why are people searching my blog with phrases like "Linda Hilton hates _____"?  

I don't hate anyone.  I just think some books aren't very well written.

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