“Practice makes perfect,” or so the saying goes. But my music appreciation teacher in high school amended that well-used phrase in a way I’ve never forgotten when he instead insisted that “practice makes permanent.”
Others have had their own take on that saying, modifying it to say, for example, “perfect practice makes perfect.” The point of the lesson is that practice alone is not enough to achieve perfection. Bad practice only permits what you manage to learn stick with you. Perfect practice is the goal.
As a child, my mother insisted I take piano lessons, and I stuck with it through the end of high school. But when it came time to go away to college, the family piano was no longer convenient, and opportunities for practice — perfect or otherwise — all but disappeared. By the time I was out of an apartment, into a house and able to afford a piano of my own, those musical skills had withered. I mentioned to my wife just a few weeks ago that when the time of reckoning arrives, letting that erode will be one of my biggest regrets.
“You could pick it back up,” she said encouragingly.
Perhaps, and I’ve tried a time or two. But the frustration is almost unbearable when I sit down in front of a piece of music I could play like the dickens when I was 16, and realize that it’s not like riding a bicycle.
They teach keyboarding in schools these days because typing has become such an important aspect of life in the computer age. But when I was growing up, people who took typing were planning to become secretaries, and most of those jobs went to women. But my parents, recognizing my interest in writing, directed me to a summer school class in typing when I was in junior high.
I spent one morning there and refused to go back. My mother told me the day would come when I’d wish I’d learned to type. Meanwhile, I continued pecking along as best I could through three years of high school and four years of college journalism classes, until my senior year arrived and I could no longer put off the mandatory typing class needed for my business degree.
Typing things “the right way” almost messed me up forever.
So, mother, you were right — again.
Playing notes on a piano and typing on a keyboard have many similarities. Fingers are held bent in a like manner. There’s a muscle memory that develops, and things almost go on autopilot. The preacher announces that the congregation is going to sing “Just As I Am,” and the organist is off and running. Now is this the 10th or the 11th verse?
Typing brings quite the same phenonemen. Our newest addition to the news staff, Cal Brown, brought me something I had typed with his name on it grinning as big as a young man can grin. His name had come out “Calvin Brownwood.”
My only excuse was that I type the name of our city so many times, my fingers went on cruise control and refused to stop at the appropriate time.
By the way, Cal said he is often asked if this county and city were named after his family. He doesn’t think he’s related to Stephenson Brown, our community’s namesake, but if enough people ask, he might just decide to claim the ancestry anyway.
In the interest of equal time, I also type the name of the city of Early quite often. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that when someone named Earl goes into a story, I often tack an extra letter on to that, too.
I don’t know if it’s a function of advancing years, poor attention span or just plain zoning-out, but I’m catching myself making more of these kind of “asleep-at-the-wheel” miscues. I think it’s a problem with a lot of people, though. How else can you explain NASA misspelling the word “Endeavor” on the sign at the platform where the space shuttle is launched?
Most of these lapses in attention will generate some moments of laughter, especially if they are caught before becoming public. But you don’t want motorists, train engineers, surgeons or pilots wandering off somewhere mentally when seconds count and lives are in the balance. That’s why they have checklists to guard against the time when things that are routine becomes monotonous.
Like they say, perfect practice makes perfect. But even something that is mastered can become too familiar, and such inattention can lead to mistakes. After all, we’re only human. If you need affirmation, just ask Calvin Brownwood.
Gene Deason is managing editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Friday. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.