When I was 15, my parents bought a house and my father bought a ping pong table. I didn’t know how to play, and my sister wasn’t interested, so the table went unused except for an occasional game with my father. I left to go to a music camp a few weeks later. Although I played the piano unenthusiastically and wasn’t interested in immersing myself in music, it meant I’d be away from my family for a month and that was worth a lot.
On the first full day of camp we had to audition for lessons, orchestra, and ensembles. I wasn’t skilled enough to play badly intentionally so in addition to my private lesson, I was signed up for four-hand piano ensemble. I argued that I wasn’t good enough to play with another person on the same piano, but the instructor, mistaking honesty for humility, assured me I would learn.
Desperate for something to do besides play the piano, I wandered into a building I hadn’t seen before, into a large room where a man was sitting next to a ping pong table, looking as lonely as I felt. He brightened up when he saw me. “Want to play?”
One more thing I wasn’t good at. Too depressed to lie I told him, “I’m not good at playing piano and I’m even worse at ping pong.”
“Want to learn?” he asked, not at all fazed by my admission.
“Okay,” I said, wondering how long it would take for him to give up on me.
He had infinite patience. No matter how terribly I played, he assured me I could only get better. That wasn’t much comfort; I was about as bad as one could get. When I told him it was time for my piano lesson, he invited me to come back, that he worked in the building. While my piano playing didn’t improve, I can’t say the same for my newly developing ping pong prowess. His encouragement: “You have great hand/eye coordination; you’re good at watching the ball; you don’t give up,” kept me more interested in ping pong than piano. I wished I had the courage to stop playing piano or at least get out of the four-hand ensemble.
The apex and nadir of my time at camp came on the same day. At the piano recital I lost my place in the music and pretended to play for the last third of the piece, much to the dismay of my fellow piano player, teachers, and parents. At the ping pong tournament I shone, beating much better players. I shocked them by returning balls these hot shot players thought were winners. In their frustration, they lost focus and hit the ball out.
I returned home and grudgingly practiced the piano, wishing I had the courage to quit, yet keenly interested in maintaining and improving my ping pong skills. After beating a bunch of neighborhood boys, my father said, “Nancy, if you want a boyfriend you have to let him win.”
“I guess I don’t want a boyfriend that much,” I told him. Although I didn’t have the wherewithal to choose to stop playing the piano, I chose to keep playing ping pong as best I could. After a short while none of the boys came to play.
How does pressure from peers or important people in your life inform your choices?
Life tales from a woman different living in The City Different.