Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lent, day 1.


Have you ever played an out-of-tune piano?
It sounds weird.  You can’t make good music on it.  A song you know might still sound familiar, but “off”.  If it’s really out of tune, it will grate your ears; you will cover them, wince, try to leave the room if you can.
But what if, for fifteen years, all you’d had to play was an out-of-tune piano?
It would sound normal, eventually.  Especially if you’d learned to play on it.  You’d make your own rules, train your ear to expect the quarter-step differences that make a “tuned” ear weep.  You’d play your own music, make your own tunes, dance to your own melodies and sing your own harmonies.  
It sounds beautiful to you, because it’s all you know.  As long as you played by yourself, you’d be fine.
But if one day you met someone who had a tuned instrument?  Whose ear was properly trained?
You wouldn’t be able to play with them.  You’d have to tune your piano.  And once the piano was tuned, you’d have to tune your ear, as well.  Fifteen years of hearing notes and songs and concertos a certain way, and you realize that it’s “wrong.”
You can recognize that the way that everyone else is making music is more aesthetically pleasing.  You like it better, honestly.  That doesn’t change the fact that your mis-tuned ear is now an instinct, a nature you have to fight so that you can play with others.  You know that the songs you play are a quarter-step off from everyone else.  But these are the songs you’ve known for fifteen years; your horrific key of A-flat-melodic-minor-with-augmented-third-and-diminished-sixth is how you sing.
If you want to play with others - and you want to - you have to not only tune the piano, but entirely retrain your ear.
That’s the problem with my social anxiety.  I know that the piano of my brain is out of tune; I have an idea of how to tune it.  But how do I undo fifteen years of obsessive anxious thinking patterns?  How do I rewire my brain to sing in harmony with others?  And how do I learn to sing my own song, in a beautiful key - a song that others can join?

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