Tuesday, July 21, 2015

"A Lesson Learned, Though Not Entirely The Best Lesson"

The “lesson learned” apparatus can be surprisingly unpredictable.  You can always learn one.  But it may not necessarily be the lesson you were hoping to learn.   

When I began writing half-hour scripts for the Mary Tyler Moore Company shows – Mary, Phyllis, Rhoda, The Bob Newhart Show, etc. – I would be given two weeks to complete a draft (of which there were inevitably two drafts, so you could repair in the second draft what you had stunk up in the first.  Is my negative attitude showing a little?  Okay, sometimes it wasn’t because I had stunk the place up.  Sometimes, the producers dispatched me in an erroneous direction and, seeing the consequences of their mistake in my first draft, they strategically altered the course.) 

(Note:  There is a historical precedent for Americans (in this case, the producers) dispatching Canadians (me) on problematic assignments.  During both World Wars, Americans consistently sent out Canadians to confirm their questionable, military hypotheses.  I was simply the latest recruit in that proud and glorious tradition.  And now, back to our story.)

I had two weeks to complete a draft. 

And here’s how used them.

The first week, I would find myself sitting on my couch, my knees drawn up to my chest, my arms wrapped tightly around my knees.  I would feel this gnawing needle in the pit of my stomach – which I am reliving as I provide this description…

And I would rock.

Slowly… back and forth... 

Accompanied by the words, repeated over and over, and heard only by myself:

“I can’t do this.” 

“I can’t do this.”

The second week,

I would sit down, and I would write the script. 

This agonizing excercise was repeated with every assignment. 

Week One:  “I can’t do this.” 

Week Two:  I would write the script.

Now.  If a certain pattern is repeatedly experienced, there is a lesson you can learn from that, right?

Having consistently come through with a script – an apparently acceptable script, as I was offered subsequent assignments – the obvious lesson to be learned from that would be, not

“I can’t do this.”


“I can do this.”

For some reason, however,

That particular lesson…

Never sank in.

Instead, my habitual routine persisted.  Though with necessary alterations. 

As I began rising in the ranks and ran television shows of my own, due to time constraints and expanded responsibilities, rather than two weeks to complete a script, I would instead have perhaps three or four days.

No longer had I a week to rock back and forth, going, “I can’t do this.  I can’t do this.” 

Regardless of those limitations, however, I invariably found time to question my abilities.  I am nothing if not true to my traditions.  I just had to doubt myself faster.

Well then, you are asking, if despite my regular successes I did not learn the lesson “I can do this”, what considerably less valuable lesson did I learn instead?

The lesson I learned instead was the following:

“This is always going to happen.”

That was the lesson.  The anxiety was inevitable.  Despite the mountain of evidence confirming my abilities, I will always unequivocally question those abilities. 

And then I’d do it.

There was no way to change it. 

It was always going to happen.

Truth be told, I have not even internalized that lesson.

I have been taking piano lessons for more than eight years.  How it works is, I bring my teacher Gary a song I want to learn – so I can accompany myself when I sing – and, consistent with my level of development, Gary teaches me how to play it.

More than eight years.  I have learned more than a hundred different songs. 

And still…

Every week, after Gary has assigned me my homework, I sit anxiously at the piano, rocking back and forth, repeating,

“I can’t do this.  I can’t do this.”

After which – over time –  

I successfully learn the song.

It’s just like the old days.  Nothing has changed.  Except once, it was writing, and now it’s the piano.

I am aware of the lesson.  Which is a step.

But it remains, to this very day, unincorporated.

It is not even that great of a lesson.  Not like, “I can do this”, backed by the tangible proof of repeated accomplishment.  It is more a “Consolation Prize” of a lesson:

“This is always going to happen.”

Hardly “Bumper Sticker” material.  Or something to tattoo on yourself as a reminder.

But it does bring back the words of a man I once met named Pedro who had fourteen children and he asked me how many I had and I said two to which he philosophically replied,

“Better than nothing.”

That’s how I feel about my lesson.

As I head trepidatiously to the piano to face “Eleanor Rigby.”

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