photo: KT King on flickr

photo: KT King on flickr

Is there anything more uncomfortable than confrontation?

How about wearing a pair of underpants three sizes too small?

While waiting in line at the DMV?

Or being tied to a chair and being forced to watch reruns of Gomer Pyle?

surprise, surprise!

(Yes, I know some of you actually like this show, but that’s an issue beyond the scope of this blog.)

I’m not a particularly big fan of tight underwear, Gomer Pyle or the Department of Motor Vehicles, but I’d much prefer any of these – alone or in combination – to the rigors of a real-life confrontation. 

Like my interaction with a confrontational piano player, for example.

Melissa and I were in Los Angeles. We were preparing for a gig at a spiritual center in the city, and I was chatting with the pianist.

This guy was an amazing player. Jazz, rock, gospel, classical. You name it, he could play it. Given that I grew up playing classical piano and am still building my skill-set as a contemporary player, I often chat up the professional musicians I meet, hoping to learn a few tricks.

This guy was different.

He wasn’t interested in leading me over to the keyboard and teaching me a few things. He wasn’t chomping at the bit to share his tricks of the trade.

This guy was a tough cookie. Like, concrete.

photo: Andreanna Moya on flickr

photo: Andreanna Moya on flickr

There would be no soft and fuzzy moments with this dude.

Still, I was hoping to get something.

We were talking about a particular piece I was playing, one in the key of B.

B, for those of you who know the piano, is not a fun key. It has 5 sharps. Any key with lots of flats and sharps is more difficult to play. It means you have to think harder about what you’re doing. It means it’s easier to make a mistake, easier to play a note that has nothing to do with the piece you’re playing.

I should have known better than to be complaining about anything to Mr. Concrete, but complain I did.

The key of B is so hard, I said. I hate playing in that key. It drives me crazy.

Mr. Concrete looked me in the eye. He took a breath. And he said,

Get over it.

That’s right. Get over it.

He didn’t say, Yes, I understand your discomfort with the key of B. I feel for you and I empathize with your pain.

photo: David Goehring on flickr

photo: David Goehring on flickr

Oh no. Why waste time with sentiments of tenderness and empathy when three little words will suffice?

Get over it.

I would have loved some tight underwear or Gomer Pyle reruns about then. But no. I had Mr. Concrete and his tough-love piano lesson.

I wasn’t sure what to say.

Thank you so much! I’ll get over it right away. Done!

I was hoping for sympathy, for collusion with my whining, and all I got was concrete confrontation.

I quickly ended our exchange and went back to my life. Back to my piano playing and the key of B.

photo: Will Bakx

photo: Will Bakx

And the funniest thing happened.

The more I kept playing, the more I got used to the sharps and flats. The more I made peace with the keys that used to scare me.

I began to realize that one of the beauties of the piano is its stability. Even though some keys are harder to play than others, they’re predictable. The piano doesn’t rearrange its keys when you walk away from the bench. Once you’ve mastered a harder key, you’ve mastered it. It’s not going to change on you.

Mr. Concrete was totally right.

Not only that, I realized his advice applied to other areas of my life as well:

Laundry. Paying bills. Doing dishes.

All in the key of B.

photo: Frank Douwes on flickr

photo: Frank Douwes on flickr

And then there are my personal traits:

My big feet. My sexual orientation. My gender identity. My goofballism.

All in the key of B.

Accepting the these aspects, like notes on the piano, makes me available to deal with them.

Sure, I can put my head in the sand and pretend my hamper isn’t full of dirty clothes. Or try to ignore my sexual orientation and force myself to be straight.

But that would just make me a miserable straight-acting person in smelly clothes.

photo: Carlos García Fiestas on flickr

photo: Carlos García Fiestas on flickr

Better to face those things in my life that are unchanging. Better yet, embrace them.

Get over it was perhaps a rough way to dispense this information, but it was effective.

I needed to hear it.

Now, I can not only play songs in the key of B, I can do so with clean-smelling clothes and an androgynous haircut.

And I have Mr. Concrete to thank.

photo: Irwin Scott on flickr

photo: Irwin Scott on flickr

When were you the recipient of tough-love advice? How did it change you?

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