Practice makes perfect …does it?

I thought things are supposed to get easier with practice but I am not seeing much evidence of that lately.

I’ve been walking across (west to east) Manhattan everyday for the past year now. The walk lasts anywhere from 20-30 minutes based on the level of briskness. The brisker the better – say the health and fitness journals – so I walk, making up my own little games along the way, for instance the one where I take two steps per sidewalk square for as long as I can sustain it and the one where I resolve to cover each white strip of the cross walk in a single stride a la the Beatles’ Abbey Road album cover. So shouldn’t this walk now be the easiest thing in the world for me? Painless?

I should be stronger, muscles trained, breathing steady, I should be in a good position to break into a run any day now; the crowds should be gawking as they see me pass by in a zippy flash, after all I have been trying to walk faster and faster!

But hey…what’s this? Sounds like the patellas registering a protest, threatening a strike! Instead of zipping across town I am now a hobbling geriatric. What happened? Instead of adapting and strengthening they chose to just get worn out, synovial fluid depleted, cartilage rubbing against bone.

Agnes Oaks, principal ballerina with the English National ballet, who has been dancing since the age of 10 said in an interview that injuries have often been the low point of her career, that they have stopped her many times. She has been dancing for twenty eight years, putting in several hours of practice everyday, why is it then that she is still prone to injuries? With so many years of practice and experience hasn’t it been possible to learn how to avoid injuries?

But that’s ballet. I am just talking about plain old walking! I have been walking for many years now. I can’t quite recall the precise moment of delirious joy when I had the epiphany that walking on the soles of my feet wasn’t just possible but much more convenient than crawling around on all fours. I rose and have never looked back. My heels got rougher…they figured they had to, in order to resist and retaliate against the pounding they took. They didn’t just shut down and quit on me. So why can’t the patellas join the party?

The more you do something, the better you are supposed to be at it. It is supposed to work with mathematics, music, dance, writing, airplane flying, sailing, spacewalking, surgery, toll collecting, paper pushing…you name it… hence the universal insistence on experience. If you’ve done it enough you should be doing it faster, better, smarter, or so the story goes. One can tack on another layer to this, the “self-fulfilling prophecy” layer.

So if you tell yourself that each repetition is making you better and stronger at any activity, if you believe in yourself and have a Paul Coelho like faith in the universe egging you on in your endeavors then you are doubly assured that things are going to fall in place, sans missteps, wrong turns, twisted ankles and smarting knees. The flipside is supposed to be true too, i.e., if you have low expectations your performance is dismally proportionate to them. Which is why the Little Engine That Could kept telling himself – “I think I can, I think I can”.

And yet something always goes wrong – especially when you want it all to be as flawless as ever –like the presidential oath getting flubbed because the Chief Justice thinks he has it all memorized, leaving some talking heads wondering if we indeed had a president!

I keep digressing to presidents and ballerinas, maybe trying to see if I am in good company with my walking woes, my music playing woes, battles with rhythm and tempo, my work and home and time management woes and my occasional absent mindedness …wait…occasional??

That’s one thing where practice has actually made me perfect: from leaving water bottles hanging on trees, losing lunch boxes, pens, pencils, giving my Mom a blank look when asked where the spare change that a vendor returned disappeared and coming up with no better explanation than, “it flew away with the wind” to more recently, and on more than one occasion, wearing a different shoe on each foot – wondering why I developed a sudden limp – standing in an elevator wondering why it wasn’t moving while repeatedly hitting the button that corresponded to the floor I was on. Yes, when it comes absent mindedness – I am honing this particular science to perfection!

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