The Last Metric

Once, I dreamt I had cancer. Conversations quickly turned to what I wanted to do in life. And then I woke up. It was literally a… wake-up call. Yet what I wanted to do in life was… a lot. How would I prioritize my bucket list? How would you prioritize? I’m using what I consider the last metric: deathbed regret. I had one clear thing. And then I did it! (And it sucked!) More on that in a sec…

The ‘metric’ is easy to construct: If I were on my deathbed right now, what would I regret not doing?

I don’t know about you, but I have amassed over time a list of things that I think are super-cool, from skateboarding, to breakdancing, to having my own troupe of tap dancers following me around everywhere. (And having my own orchestra that could be summoned at a moment’s notice, the Jeddah Knight L Lamontanious Orchestra, the J.K.L.L.O.) Upon reviewing this list, there was one I would clearly regret not doing: being a drum busker.

Literal buckets on my bucket list.

Growing up a classically trained pianist, with the Beethoven, and the practice, and the concerts 2 times a year, and the grading by the Associated Board for the Royal Schools of Music, and the kids playing Fur Elise and Moonlight Sonata during each half of each concert 2 times a year for years (did I mention the freakin’ Beethoven?), I would also compose. I’ll admit, the spotlight was fun (who am I kidding: it still is), yet what was more fun was the sharing, aloud, of something I made, and while there were others within earshot, it was always for me (much like this blog): a public yet personal celebration of what I could pull off, and in some cases, what I could craft out of my desire to translate the orchestra in my head onto the 88 keys through 10 fingers.

Being a drum busker seemed like the opposite of all that.

The piano can be this large instrument for which an industry has sprung up just to move ’em around.

Drum busking is 1 bucket and 2 sticks.

The piano is a complicated, mechanical device, made of metals tightly wound in triplet per key (for the higher ones, at least), and wood, and felt dampers, and whatever keys are made of nowadays that aren’t ivory, and all tuned, and requiring retuning with some frequency (get it?).

Drum busking is 1 bucket and 2 sticks.

The piano player can invoke depth and power and playfulness and ethereal curiosity, either as a solo performer or with any number & type of accompanists. You can be brought to laughter, to tears, and to awe.

Drum busking is 1 bucket and 2 sticks. On a street corner.

The pianist I wanted to be was one of either flashy braggadocio, inspired by that Tom & Jerry short, or a jokester where everybody was in on the bit, a la Victor Borge.

Being a drum busker seemed like an epitomal avenue to all that.

Post-cancer-dream, and knowing what I had to do, I did what you’d expect: set up OKRs to define & track my progress. Like an Agile dork.

Here’s what I wrote down, pulling straight from my private journal (this blog is my public one) on May 18th, 2018:

  • Objective: Grab that Spotlight
  • Key Result 1: remove 1 deathbed regret
  • Key Result 2: perform 3 times during routine slots
  • Key Result 3: perform for at least 5 minutes
  • Key Result 4: audience is at least 12 people

Technically, I should’ve determined these before picking the initiative / continuous experiment of drum busking, but that’s bridge under the water now.

Anyway, per this post’s first paragraph, I did it. Copley Square in Boston, just before lunch – this is a popular enough spot in terms of foot traffic. 3 Tuesdays – I had shaped a weekly schedule that allowed for mid-day creativity.

And each time, I counted down the 300 seconds.

I hated it.

I mean, I liked it, but only for about 10 seconds. After that, I ran out of things to say.

Thus, also per this post’s first paragraph, it sucked. Y’see, with the Beethoven, and the practicing, and eventually the composing, I had reached a level of competency with the piano that I (wrongly) figured would transfer over to the 1 bucket and 2 sticks. This was a different beast, a different language, a different… instrument. The picture I had in my head, of magically drumming away to an adoring public, was rendered… irrelevant: it was a combination of neither having a message to share, nor the vocabulary to share it through that medium.

Exhibiting flashy braggadocio or collaboratively joking around with others wasn’t cutting it since there wasn’t a flashy & fun message I felt like saying, to myself or otherwise.

(Eww… “flashy & fun” is pretty cringe-worthy, but I’ll keep it in…)

Is this creative resistance?

I have to check myself. It could be that I felt like I was 9 again, staring at this monstrous musical machine, knowing it could handle a Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody, but helping me barely cobble together an English sea shanty in A major (yep, that was the first ‘piece’ I learned). The piano helped me say things I wanted to say, and eventually I got good enough at the piano to say ’em.

If I got good enough at bucket drumming drum busking (‘busk’ is such a fun word, although ‘bucket drumming’ is technically correct), would I also have things to say with 1 bucket and 2 sticks? I haven’t thought this fully through.

It also isn’t the point of this blog post.

The point is the ‘deathbed regret metric’ got me to take action, to then learn about myself, and learn about what type of future I want for myself (skill up via The small experiment, dorkily delineated via an OKR, got me to test the assumption that drum busking was indeed important to me, to then integrate what I’ve learned, to then run the next little experiment.

Because life is short. (These blog posts are not.)

I almost called this “In Defense of #YOLO”. (But I knew I’d regret it.)