I took a freshman seminar at UNC-CH called the Interplay of Music and Physics. I studied two cute boys in the class really hard. When it came time to build my own instrument, the final project, that demonstrated my grasp of physics as it relates to music, I was tone deaf and dumb.
I went to the Scrap Exchange and bought an old cigar box and then went to a hardware store and bought screws and some hanging wire and toiled in my dorm room for hours. The result: a stringed cigar-box that sounded like... you'll never guess, a cigar box. It had exactly one note, two if you're a dog. The second string made a sound imperceptible to the human ear.
When it came time to perform my homemade instrument in front of the two cute boys and my professors, I had this Emperor's New Clothes kind of confidence that perhaps the class had made me into a musical genius and that I just might be headed for a sold-out national tour. My serenade didn't arrest hearts, but managed to assault senses.
I escaped the course with a low B but lower pride. My father is a Professor of Music at UNC-CH, a beloved treasure of that department and a musical genius. He didn't teach this course, thank God, I would have gotten a D, but he attended the first and only performance of my cigar-box blues, which made my cheeks burn the deepest red of ineptitude (see photo).
I haven't thought of this in so many years. My gentle, loving dad never brings it up. Like the patent for my homemade Stradivarius, best to let some things lie.
How wonderful that time makes its possible to laugh at failure. And what a relief to be old enough to admit you're not good at everything, that you're not interested in everything, that you are secure in what is finally yours and peaceful about what isn't.
A sense of ease and hilarity about faltering is everything. The biggest pageant of the year happened last night and the wrong film was announced as "BEST PICTURE". What a perfectly transcendent moment; failure center-stage in the arena of stars. No take two; the show must go on.
Reassuringly, there is no risk of me touring in a city near you with my cigar box harp, but I do occasionally appear on your TV screens and in your movie theatres. In spite of years of wrong notes, illusions of grandeur, and failing, I got to be an artist.
Take two: because of years of wrong notes, illusions of grandeur and failing, I get to be a stringed cigar-box work-in-progress kind of artist who laughs at herself and loves her papa, who believes the impossible and has a song called hope stuck in her heart.