Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Fighting discouragement

Vignette #1

"I bought a banjo about a year ago.  And I have been working to teach myself how to play for the past year."

"Oh, well, that's good.  I understand it is the easiest instrument to play"

My next door neighbor is not known for his tact.  A concert pianist, he doesn't have a lot of sympathy for people who struggle with music.  It isn't unkindness.  It is just that he has no idea what it is like to struggle to make music.

Or maybe his struggle is simply in another form.

But those words just killed me.  My short fingers do not move quickly.  They do not stretch where they need to go.  They are not nimble, and they do not play the music I hear in my head.

Particularly because I do hear music in my head all the time - I am preternaturally susceptible to the earworm, and I go through my life with my own soundtrack (there is a woman who appears at regular intervals in my life to the theme of the Wicked Witch of the West) - it is a particular struggle when I can't get that music out. 

So I hear the music, and yet I struggle to make the instrument sing the way I hear it in my head.

And to hear a musician so easily dismiss my year of work to gain competence.... it hit harder than just having a bad session.

Vignette #2

My wife opened the kiln.  This firing was particularly slow, so we had been waiting on this moment for three days.  She reached in, and pulled out the tile....

...which was blistered and cracked.  The glaze had simply not adhered to the clay body, and the result looked awful.  This was the second batch she had run with a new clay, and it meant that her work for the past two weeks had been for nothing.

Vignette #3

A co-worker gets turned down for a supervisory job, and is supplanted by someone with less experience.  Five times in a row over three years.

and Vignette #4, and #5, and #6....

Everyone deals with disappointment.  But what do you do when it goes beyond just not getting the gig (or the girl, or the promotion....)

What the difference is, has nothing to do with the disappointment in not succeeding.  That element is in present in any process, and represents a temporary emotional setback. It is the discouragement (dis-cour: literally, losing heart) that really is the danger.  In high school, I read a book called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig. I have read it numerous times since, each time getting something different from it.  But I remember particularly his discussion on what he called 'gumption traps'.

Gumption traps, he explained, are the dangerous places in a project where you lose enthusiasm for the project.  And they can be external (where you have a setback) or internal (where you have a hang-up.)

So how do you deal with these traps?  How do you face disappointment without becoming discouraged?

No, seriously.  I am asking.

I am told that taking a break helps.  (Pirsig mentioned that mechanism for dealing with a setback.)This approach helps because it allows the brain to change perspective on the problem. 

Violence also helps.  Well, not exactly, but there is something cathartic about breaking things and using physicality to fight discouragement.  I once used about four days with a sledgehammer to fight off a discouraging setback (fortunately, the concrete sidewalk needed to come out anyway).

What other elements help you? What are your walls?  What happens when you hit your wall, and how do you push through it?


Elizabeth Henderson said...

Hey there - Stacy S.'s friend Beth here...Great post!

Depends on my emotional reaction - if violent, physical activity. If weepy, a good cry, a nostalgic movie, and sleep. And am likely to have both, since anger covers pain and disappointment a lot of the time with folks.

If those don't mitigate the feeling, journaling to find out why I'm so discouraged or disheartened about something helps too.

and release - gotta have release or it doesn't go away. You may have to release it several times, but still - release.

Crorey Lawton said...

Thanks, Beth. I suspect that trying to 'release' out-of-kind might be a root of the difficulty to release. That I try deal with emotional disappointments with physical release, or physical with writing. Interesting...