Deliberate Practice

We had a peaceful, pretty quiet weekend. Dave and I broke down and treated ourselves to new computers which we've both been needing for a very long time. After recovering from the sticker shock and loading all my photo editing magic into the new little brain that now sits on my desk, I drove down to a local bookstore to hear my dad read from his second book of poetry that was recently published. 

I love hearing my dad read his poems. He has a gift for lulling you into the scene and you are right there with him as he helps his dad and his little brother deliver a new calf on their Ozark Mountain farm. As he tells you about Shadytown, a magical town made out of smooth Arkansas rocks that he and siblings constructed in the creek bed that ran in front of their house, you can feel the sunlight trickling down through the tree branches and feel the cool splash on your own bare feet as you wade in the water alongside him. Dad gets a dreamy look on his face and his mouth curls up ever so slightly into a gentle smile as he reads from the pages. He's right there with you as he guides you through his childhood. 

I watched a class yesterday, really more of an interview, about Roberto Valenzuela, a famous wedding photographer. His is an interesting story, having come to the U.S. when he was 10 from Mexico City and settling in Tuscon, Arizona. He went on to put himself through college by teaching guitar (something that he had no idea how to play, so he first taught himself), earning three degrees in economics, marketing and international business. His first job was as a high school business teacher, and when he won a grant to begin a class run business, his students decided that they wanted to run a photography business. Roberto didn't know anything about photography (when presented with his first camera body, he thought it was broken because it didn't have a lens attached to it), but he told the class that they could use the money to start a photography business and Roberto taught himself photography alongside his students. 

Long story short, Roberto taught himself photography through deliberate practice, setting up parameters for himself and working within those parameters until "my brain hurt". He said that once your brain begins hurting, that's when you know you're really learning. 

I like that idea of deliberate practice. It makes me think back to all those hours I spent practicing my flute, taking apart the sonnets of Telemann and other pieces of music my teacher had assigned, and working measure by measure, phrase by phrase, until I could play them perfectly. That is deliberately practicing. My mom did the same thing with her piano playing, sometimes even working backwards on a piece until she could play the movement perfectly. 

Just for the record, I tried working backwards once, but got even more confused and "messed up" even more. Practicing from the beginning or the middle of a piece made more sense to me. 

It is those moments when my brain hurts the most that I usually nail something that I've spent way too much time trying to accomplish. It could be a photo that I've been trying to bring to life, learning a new way to light a scene, or something as simple as working up my nerve to ask a stranger for his photograph. But when my brain begins hurting, then I know I'm on to something. 

And that is a wonderful feeling.