I know, the proverb goes, comparisons are odious, as in horrible. But Shakespeare’s Dogberry makes it odorous (in Much Ado About Nothing) and I like it. Comparisons are stinky. Indeed, so I’ve been thinking lately.
This is a story about hooping, so I will need to start at the beginning, years ago, when I saw a woman hula hooping at the Deerfield River Festival. She whirled the hoop around various parts of her body and it looked so graceful and joyful. She told me I just needed to get myself an adult-sized hoop and I could do it too.
It seems weird now, but as soon as I got home I looked online, saw what she meant, and without a second thought ordered myself a hoop. For quite a while, I used to practice in my back yard, thinking I was getting pretty good at it. I got so excited that I started ordering DVDs and watching hooping videos and tutorials online.
One result was opening up possibilities of hooping moves. Some of the tutorials were even useful in helping me figure out how to make them happen. Progress was slow, but went this way: first I’d try the maneuver over and over again and bash myself in various places, accumulating bruises. The sought-after hooping feat wasn’t happening yet, but I felt myself getting closer.
Next I’d make the move, just once and completely spastic, but it was a glimmer of hope. Then as I practiced, I’d succeed more and more times, and my successes began to feel slightly less choppy. I’d call W out to watch me and he’d duck as the hoop went flying out of control.
Finally, the move would become my own and I’d start practicing something new I’d seen. I kept going outside for more, wanting to feel the hoop around me, the whirling, and the challenge of constantly learning something new. Plus it was an outdoor activity that required nothing more than stepping outside my house with a hoop–no special outdoor equipment to prepare, no driving, no all day expedition, no convincing W to go on some new adventure.
Meanwhile, underneath all the good stuff, something subtle and not useful was happening in my brain. I started comparing myself to those images of (generally women) performing graceful combinations of tricks. Even though I was having fun, and even though I had mastered quite a few moves, I started to believe I wasn’t ever going to be good at hooping. Those people were good (and naturally talented etc etc) while I was just some woman in her backyard. Those insidious thoughts probably account for my enthusiasm dimming and my hoops going unused for a season or so. (The other reason is that there is no space in our house to safely hoop indoors, so the weather had to cooperate.)
Then I decided to pick up the hoop again, determining to bring my whole collection with me to my MFA residency and get all my friends to do it with me. What I didn’t expect was their reaction; they were impressed. They joined me on the lawn as I had hoped and then convinced me to show off my moves in the talent show.
Just before my turn I started to have second thoughts. I said to my friend Elizabeth I wasn’t sure I should go up there and perform when I am no professional; there are people out there who are amazing with a hoop. I was playing those videos in my head again.
Elizabeth pointed to a musician onstage. “She’s not Yo-Yo Ma, but that isn’t stopping her.” That put it in perspective. The audience was thinking about the gorgeous music from this talented musician, not that there are more accomplished musicians in the world. I didn’t need to be the most spectacular hooper in the world to perform for my grad school colleagues in a talent show. Duh.
Afterward, people genuinely seemed wowed by my performance which made me realize that no one was thinking about the tricks I didn’t yet know how to do or how much better I could be. Only I was comparing myself, and making myself feel stinky.
Since then I’ve been practicing almost every day, enjoying the feeling of being inside my hoop and twirling it over my head and the challenge of learning and the new bruises and best of all, not worrying about whether others are better or worse than I am.