How To Invent Gravity

Before I strummed my next chord, I stopped.  I pulled my guitar from off my lap and started to cry.

I use to think I knew everything.  I could ace a test like I cheated, but really didn’t.  I could run faster than any other person on the track team, but no one off the team knew.  I could draw a picture and everyone knew that that was Jonathan Manor, no one could top him in drawing.  The day when they finally published my short story in the school newspaper with my name next to the title, was the day I couldn’t be overlooked for my talents as a writer.  That front page on that paper wasn’t just my 300 word fictional short story, it also said, “Jonathan Manor is a passionate and gifted person, and here’s a slap in the face because you thought he was stupid.”  I was the best at what I did.  Throw in some somewhat emotionally intense bones and you had what I was.  It didn’t really matter to me that not everyone knew that I was fast, smart, or gifted.  I knew who I was.  That’s all I wanted to know.  But for some reason, when I picked up the guitar, I was a failure.

I use to bring my guitar everywhere.  I could still smell the corridors in high school, the carpet at church, the benches, the cement grounds I use to sit on, every place and every moment where I strapped on my guitar and just started playing.  I could tell you what material I wore on my wrist, what fabric I was probably wearing.  I brought my guitar everywhere because I wanted to play guitar so badly.  I wanted be good.  I took the summer guitar course they held at the nearby community college.  I took weekly lessons.  I played 6 hours a day.  I even bought a tape that told me that I could learn perfect pitch so I could identify every note played in any song.  It didn’t work.  It all didn’t work.  I played the same chords, the same music, finger picked the same way, and my plucking never got any faster.  I just couldn’t do it.  No matter how hard I tried, pushed, and practiced, I never got any better.

There was a lot of reasons it must’ve been pretty obvious why I would never be great at guitar.  The first and most obvious reason was that I didn’t have an electric guitar.  I had an 80 dollar acoustic Yamaha guitar that came with free strings and a flimsy leather guitar case to hold it in.  I would later buy a hard case that costs even more than my guitar to begin with.  Another reason why I thought I couldn’t get better at guitar was that I didn’t have the proper utilities at my disposal.  I didn’t have a computer, I had compact disks that I would borrow from the library.  I didn’t have an infinite plethora of music which was just a few clicks away.  I had to rewind, hold the button with the two arrows on it, and hope I don’t overshoot.  I knew I didn’t have the proper equipment or have the means to become good at guitar like everyone else I knew.  However, there was one reason why I failed and continued to fail and that was because the way I approached the guitar was wrong.

I had two friends, Tony and Hans.  I pretty much grew up with Hans.  I knew Tony before he even picked up the guitar; we met in chemistry class sophomore year.  Hans and I started playing guitar at practically the same time.  Within a few weeks he was playing the solo to Stairway to Heaven.  It was crazy.  We all thought he was a prodigy.  Tony use to play the same power chords, power chords are the most basic type of chord, and then one day I passed him my guitar and he started playing the Mexican Hat Dance at some unreasonable speed.  I was jealous of these two, and I was frustrated with myself.  Neither of them spent money to learn guitar.  Neither of them had started playing guitar before I did.  It baffled me.  How could they be that much better?  I read every textbook, learned Melbay’s Guitar Method, the most well known basic guitar method booklet out there, and worked my toosh off to learn everything I could.  That there, that was my problem.

Tony and Hans played by ear.  I approached the guitar like a science class.  I memorized everything.  I read from all the textbooks.  All this!  All this was really just hurting me.  Unlike my friends, I didn’t end up having all the possibilities in the world, because I felt I had to read about it, memorize it, and then do it.  This just isn’t the way to learn especially with an art like music.  Did someone tell Van Gogh how to paint?  Did someone teach Picasso to draw pictures that looked like badly drawn Nickelodeon cartoons?  No.  They didn’t go plagiarizing everyone else’s best paintings.  There’s a difference between science class and actual science.  In science class we never went outside.  We stayed inside, read our books, and assumed everything in that textbook was right.  Some people have never seen a jaguar, yet they know it exist.  Most people have never seen a venus fly trap, but we all know they are pink or neon green toothy plants that eat anything that walks into their mouths.  We all learned these things, but we really didn’t know these things.  We didn’t experience them.  What a textbook really does is put limits on what we can learn.  It puts knowledge in a cage and tells you how things should really be, just because you should take their word for it.  That scientists from long time ago figured everything out for us and from now on we can’t learn anything for ourselves.

I use to have a pear tree in the backyard of my old house.  The pears would drop off the branches when they got too big and the stem holding them would break.  I discovered gravity when I was 6 years old, “Where’s my nobel prize?”  Where’s my auditorium filled with old white men dressed in togas stroking their beards.  I was 6 years old!  How come I don’t get to name the process in which things fall to the ground?  I would’ve named it “Uh oh,” or “Oops I’m falling.”  Forget about Isaac Newton, I was a 6 year old scientific prodigy because I watched the pears in my backyard go “Uh oh.”

Textbooks teach replication.  They teach you material and tell you to memorize it, so that in some far off future when you have to meet a slug you’ll know that he’s not in the same family genus species as puppies.  Pretty useful, huh?  But what if we meet something that there’s no textbooks for?  What if there’s nothing to replicate?  No wikipedia, no internet, no google images.  Who can we replicate?  Are we stuck?  It’s the same reasons why we have a poor people epidemic, because most people aren’t surrounded by millionaires and their millionaire knowledge.  It’s the same reason every guy you know is terrible at meeting women, it’s because every other guy is telling him what to do.  It’s the same reason we suck at most things.  It’s the same reason we can’t understand the things beyond what we’re taught.  It’s why we’re scared of new information.  Who says we can’t just learn things for ourselves?  Who put a page limit on biology?  Who says we can’t “JUST” play by ear!

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

On Christmas of 2003 the only present I got was a 6 string, wooden, acoustic, dreadnought, Yamaha guitar.  I would spend years finding out what failure was.  However, that day was the same day I would eventually find out that I was Isaac Newton.

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4 responses to “How To Invent Gravity

  1. This is a great post! Took me a while to wrap my head around it, but I think what your saying here is we got to go beyond all this fixed knowledge. That what we’ve read and what we’ve taught actually limits our potential, instead of increasing it.

    I’m gonna play devil’s advocate here and just say that sometimes those limits are the very things that free us. You know how they say: “learn the rules first, so that you can break them?” I think that’s the idea. I learned that about grammar when I became a English teacher. It isn’t there to limit us, it’s there for us to play with and break it apart. So what drove you to realize that textbooks were limiting, were in fact the textbooks themselves! Isn’t that just crazy? Not sure if that makes any sense, but the point is I like your point, your style, and your argument. Well said my friend. 🙂

    • great thoughts ollin.

      Don’t get me wrong, we do live in information overload and most of the time we do have to play ball, but it still puts us in a less hands on approach to life. We still do need textbooks for certain obvious things; nursing, mechanics, computer graphics, and so on.

      But at some point there is no information for things. Or at least real information. There’s really no information on how to listen to your children. There’s really no information on how to build that intricate unknown object we could only imagine. Yeah we do have to break the rules, but more importantly we have to acknowledge the fact that we could still discover things for ourselves.

      It’s a really far fetched unjustified look at learning, but if musicians can do it, we could all become incredibly powerful and utilize our full potential, if we could see things that no one else can see.

  2. I’m with you Jonathan. It sucks to be good at everything and then discover the one thing you want to be great at you are terrible at.

    Check out the book A Mathematician’s Lament for thoughts on thinking outside the book in math:

    Oh, and I invented acupuncture when I was five. Poke a spot on my toe and a spot on my leg hurt. “We can use this,” I thought. Alas, the day I found out we’ve been doing it for thousands of years I was both pleased and disappointed.

    • I mean it’s great that we didn’t invent these things. If Newton didn’t discover gravity then we’d wouldn’t have rockets and stuff. If we didn’t discover acupuncture, well, we wouldn’t have acupuncture. What I’m trying to get across is the fact that textbooks can only teach so much, and sooner or later there are just things that we have to jump into and not take anyone else’s word for it.

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