I have this very childish streak in which if I can’t be brilliant at something, I develop a severe attitude problem. Like learning Japanese. From Year 8 to Year 11, I was top of the class. The teacher adored me. I won prizes.
But then in Year 12, the Fluent Ones came in. These were the kids who used to be in the grade above us, except they spent a year in Japan on exchange and had returned to do Year 12. On day one of the school year, I sat there in a state of panic and they babbled on to the teacher with rapid accuracy. How could I compete with that? They didn’t have to scramble for the dictionary for every word, all those spidery characters made perfect sense to them. They could even crack jokes in Japanese. Which they did often, and only they and the teacher could understand. Which of course meant I would sit and fume some more.
Instead of applying myself to study, I decided my best option was to give up. If I couldn’t be the best, then I would do my best to be the worst. I threw all my energy into English and History and ignored Japanese. In my oral exams, my Nihongo was reduced to, “Umm. Cat. Dog. Let’s go to the museum”.
Then it was Parent Teacher Night. Mum came home and reported, “English, great. History, great. Japanese, Your daughter has developed an attitude problem. What are you going to do about this?”
“I’m not going to do ANYTHING! AH HA HA!” I screamed, and swooped off to my room in melodramatic fashion.
One day my friend Su and I sat in the library for twenty minutes after Japanese class had started, hiding in the shelves and muttering, “I hate Japanese” and “Me too.”
Then we decided we should probably show up. She went, then five minutes later I sauntered in, ignored the teachers hostile expression and said with my nose in the air, “Sorry I’m late!”.
Ohhh yeah! Did I feel like a badass or what?
Until of course, I stumbled over a Fluent One’s backpack and went flying across the classroom and smashed face-first into a poster of Mount Fuji.
Now the same Attitude Problem is developing with my singing classes. We’re in a group of three now, and we sound like gold when we’re in tune. Which is about 10% of the time. The rest of the time consists of our teacher going, “No no no. Stop stop stop. Let’s do that again.”
Which means our progress on The Andrews Sisters hit, Mr Sandman, has been excruciating:
Lesson One: Mr Sandman, bring me a dream.
Lesson Two: Make him the cutest, that I’ve ever seen.
Lesson Three: Give him two lips, like roses and clover.
By Lesson Four I was starting to get cranky. None of us are interested in becoming professionals, we just wanted to make some noise. But the teacher is adamant that we learn correct technique. He’s a nice guy, really. Funny and sweet with cute little dogs and an organic vegie patch out the back. But he demands perfection from people who are not interested in perfection.
Last week he showed us this technique where you have to make your jaw all loose and keep your mouth open wide so you don’t strain so many muscles. It sounded easy. The first Andrews Sister tried it and got it straight away. Then the second tried and was pitch perfect. They squealed and marvelled at what a difference this little technique made.
So of course this was my cue to panic and think fuck fuck fuck fuck! I just know I am going to screw it up.
Which I did.
“Relax your jaw!” my teacher was saying. “Open your mouth! Relax!”
“Muuhh-kay” I mumbled, face contorting.
“Put your tongue into the E position!”
“Wuh’s E puhsishen?”
“Like this! Now, do your scale.”
“Ah Ah Ah Ah — Huh can’t”
“You’re closing your jaw! Try again!”
Over and over and over we went. I could not get it right. And so my temper began to boil.
Suddenly he decided the only way I was going to learn was to sing with a WHITEBOARD MARKER shoved between my teeth.
“You have got to be joking!”
“No! Put it in your mouth! It’s clean! If this is the only way I can get you to keep your mouth open, so be it.”
So off I went again on my scales.
“That’s a little better, but you need to be louder.”
I yanked out the marker and perched in my fingers like a cigar, tapping my foot and glaring.
“No no no! Put it back in! Do it again!”
Six garbled attempts later, he finally sighed, “Can you practice this at home? Ten minutes a day? Please? Can you do this for me?”
“Can I do this for you? I’ve never heard that from anyone but my mother before. Can you do this for me? That’s all I ask! It’s the least you could do for your poor mother.”
He snatched the marker from my mouth. “You’re a dork.”
I don’t know how this will all end.
Five years of Japanese ended with me writing “I HATE JAPANESE!” on my HSC Written Exam (in Nihongo). Perhaps my grand finale will involve me sneaking into the teachers garden at midnight to chop the tops off his organic carrots and or kicking his tiny dogs. More likely, I will just simmer and sulk and sing very, very horribly until it’s all over.