Not everyone wants to take the slow train. A prospective student might ask me how long it takes to get good at the guitar. A parent will occasionally express concern that her child is not progressing as quickly on the piano as he should.
A teacher's job would be much easier if these variables could be managed, but the truth is that there is no helpful answer to the first question ("Anywhere from six months to ten years") and there is no easy solution to the second problem ("Your child is either in the midst of a plateau from which he will emerge victorious, or he's truly not into it. We should know one way or the other in eighteen months").
My left foot is almost healed. I hurt it somehow on a run on Christmas Day - not sure if it was broken or sprained or strained, but I could barely walk. Now, the pain is just a little ghost that reminds me to continue to take it easy.
The fact that I am almost fully healed is thrilling, because at the beginning, the pain was so bad that I couldn't imagine it would ever go away. My injury was my reality, and it felt oddly permanent in its intensity.
Turns out it took just over three weeks to get to this point. If I had known at the beginning that it would be three weeks, I wonder if that would have changed my experience. Would it have seemed like an unreasonably long sentence? Or would it have soothed my fears of being sidelined all spring? I think that by not knowing, I let go of running and focused on healing.
Speaking of being sidelined, a powerful ice storm recently shut down the city of Atlanta. On day one, when I learned that I would have to close Eclectic Music, my mind was tallying up the lost revenues and fretting over the inconvenience. After five straight days of being shut down by ice and snow, I just didn't think it was a big deal anymore. If I had known at the beginning that the aftermath of the storm would last all week, I would have driven myself crazy with worry.
I recently came across a (presumably) well-meaning guitar teacher on Twitter. Most of his tweets were essentially advertisements for his services. "Learning the guitar is hard. It takes at least two years before you'll be able to play anything decently."
I happen to believe that both of those statements are false, but even if they were true: It doesn't matter how long it takes. But by sentencing his students to a long and difficult process, he's taken all the fun out of learning and is unlikely to find any takers.
There's a saying: The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time to plant a tree is today.
If you want to do something, just get started, and don't even think about about how long it will take to get where you want to be.
Some things, you just can't measure in time. It doesn't matter how long you've been playing. It doesn't matter that another student started three months ago and can already do more than you can do after a year. It doesn't even matter that you don't feel like you've gotten anywhere. What matters is what you do with today, with this moment that you've been given.
We aren't supposed to have all the information. We've just got our little lantern to illuminate the pathway a few steps ahead. Too much analysis, too much awareness, too much anticipation, and the passion is lost. Reading the plot synopsis of The Usual Suspects on IMDB is not the same as spending a couple of hours in its thrall as the twists and turns of the story unfold before you.
So what does that mean for the adult trying to decide whether to start learning the guitar? Do it for the sake of doing it, and be pleasantly suprised when you realize at some point that you can actually play.
Winter can seem long and dreary, but we all know that spring is coming. The beauty is, there's no way to know which day it will actually happen. I'll take the pain and discomfort of those cold days of wondering when it's ever going to warm up, just so I can have that incredible moment of awe and delight when I finally find the first green shoots of the daffodils.
Don't tell me which day it will be - I want to be surprised.