Running from the Storm of Learning

Running from the storm

I was running with the wind. I knew it wasn’t the smartest move, but the storm had appeared in the northeast and the beach was to my southwest, as close to a straight line as could be measured by eye from this distance from shore. I was trying to keep the bow into the wind just enough, but a wave unexpectedly lurched us the wrong direction. The boom came cruising around above our outstretched bodies and heads with such momentum the boat came out of the water. We were instantly in the drink, headfirst and backwards.

I had been out on Lake Erie with a friend on a monstrosity of boat. It was a Hobie Monocat, which the famous catamaran maker produced for less than five years. The year before my family picked it up I had spent a day with another friend on a small sailboat and learned everything there was to know about sailing. Well, to my teenaged mind it sure seemed that way, at least. I mean how much was there?

It is a typical teen response to gain a little knowledge on a subject and assume you’ve instantly become a pro.

Unfortunately I kept that trait for some things well into my thirties. I had never taken skiing lessons but since I’d skied with all of the good skiers I knew I was great. In my thirties when I broke down and took lessons I discovered how awful I was.

This trait showed its ugly head in the art world more than any place else. I finally started realizing my weaknesses and took drawing and painting classes. Although the picture at the top may not show I’ve had formal lessons, I think some of the pictures I’ve put up in other posts have shown that I did get something out of the classes.

Perhaps my biggest surprise was with music.

I learned to read music when I was six. I had guitar lessons from six to ten, cello when I was eleven and started trumpet at twelve with formal lessons until I was eighteen. I also had lessons in voice. I taught myself to play piano when I was sixteen.  I once started reading a book on harmony and thought it was too simple so gave up.

Years later I wanted to “review” the basics. I started studying a book on harmony and discovered I knew absolutely nothing about it. Later I continued with counterpoint and then form.  At that point I took formal lessons.  After a year and a half of study I listened to my recently posted “St. George and the Dragon” and discovered my counterpoint was all off and I had no concept of form. So I put it away and haven’t listened again until just a month or so ago. I studied first on my own, then for a year with a composer and then for years on my own again. By the time I stopped my “lessons” I was so far removed from my earlier self that I could no longer understand the “old” way I did things.

The same thing happened with the piano. I took lessons and discovered I had been doing everything wrong. It’s not easy to unlearn decades of muscle memory! I struggled to play simple scales with correct fingering. I struggled to keep my hands in a good position, to use my hands instead of fingers and actually have my arms involved. I’m not a great piano player, but I am much better than I was before I learned better technique.

Looking back at it all from my current position, I wish I had learned the correct way back when I was a kid. But of course I knew everything back then and wouldn’t have listened.

My friend and I struggled to right the boat. In my inexperience I had taken down the sail but forgo to make sure the “sheets” (ropes) (I didn’t know the term then!) were secure. They ended up wrapped around the top of the mast, totally out of reach. So my friend and I got back into the water and started pulling and pushing the boat to shore. After about an hour we finally got to a spot where we could touch bottom. This made our job easier. Of course we were close to shore when a boat, the first we’d seen since we first arrived at the beach, came up and asked if we needed help. At that point, no, we were fine, but where were they and hour before? Of course if I was experienced I would have noticed we were the only boat on the lake and not have ventured quite as far from shore. If I was more experienced I would have done pretty much everything differently.

As with everything else, it pays to learn to do things the right way from the very beginning. That’s what lessons and classes are for. If you can’t afford them, find a friend or someone else to help. Even reading a book is not enough. It’s better than learning by fire. Or cold water.

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13 thoughts on “Running from the Storm of Learning

  1. prior

    I like so much about your post – and will limit my response to three comments – first – you sure are the dabbler (and master of some) and second, sailing is so hard and I could partly relate to your teen experience and third – I really agree with the unlearning difficult – and like the share on that and the angles to it with your experience – :)

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      1. prior

        I hear ya! and actually your post reminded me that there is plenty of time to still learn and do things. and I remember our pediatrician in Denver – he just started piano in his mid 50s- but things sure area easier we learn early (some things) and especially as you note d- if we learn the proper way

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  2. Pingback: If We Were Having Coffee – 4/17/2015 | Trent's World (the Blog)

    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Thanks. For a lot of things I agree total immersion is best, but usually if someone knowledgeable is around. I mean I guess it depends on the subject – if you want to learn French, move to Paris and sink or nager. But with my sailing experience I would say have me take control but someone knowledgeable sitting next to me helping me through some of the rough spots as I get into them.

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  3. aladywrites4u

    I have often skipped the lessons and learned to do things “by the seat of my pants” as the mountain folk say. Formal lessons do make things go more smoothly.

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Yeah, we all do that. I think it’s just important to realize your doing it and correct the situation as soon as possible if you plan on continuing in that direction. But yes, formal lessons do make things smoother.

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  4. nerdinthebrain

    I’m glad your teenager self wasn’t swished away due to inexperience and over confidence. :) I totally agree with you…learning how to do something the right way from the start prevents a lot of frustration and confusion. A person can always tinker with technique *after* learning the “proper” way to do something.

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      (Listening to your posted videos right now). the storm wasn’t as bad as i drew it ;) but yes, stupidity and inexperience sometimes makes for a short life;) Yes, you are right about tinkering and even throwing away the “right” way after knowing it, but you have to know it first. How can you break the rules in a smart way if you don’t know the rules?

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