Be prepared to be surprised…

When was the last time you were truly, totally, mouth-gaping-open, not-believing-it-could-be possible, SURPRISED?

This weekend I remembered that feeling…the utter glee of being surprised like a child again. After dinner out on Saturday with my boyfriend, I noticed he was a little tense.

“We’ve gotta go,” he said.

“Why?” I asked. I didn’t think we had any plans. But I went with the flow, not asking too many questions. We seemed to hit every traffic light on our way across San Francisco, and I had no idea where we could be headed. We pulled up alongside a large, modern-looking stone building, which I thought was a museum of some kind. There were throngs of people standing outside, and a line of cars waiting to get into the parking garage underneath.

A volunteer usher on the street asked, “Do you have your tickets already? Oh good, because the will call line is out the door.” We snaked our way down in the underground garage, and still I had no clue where we were. Was it a concert? A lecture? An exhibit? I came up the stairs, saw a sign that said “PME Choir”.

“Oh, that’s nice,” I said, not knowing who the PME Choir was, or why he would have picked this out as a surprise for me. “I like vocals,” I said, trying to sound excited when I wasn’t really.

It wasn’t until my butt actually hit the seat – on the main floor, left center section – that I heard the announcer say, “…the Pacific Mozart Ensemble, and the incomparable Bobby McFerrin!!!” I couldn’t believe it. I shouted “OH MY GOD! NO WAYYYYY!” at the top of my lungs. Everyone around me must have thought I was crazy. I was. I was crazy with excitement!

When we were babies, we were great at being surprised. For pretty much the entire first year of our lives, one of our favorite pastimes was playing “Peekaboo!” It never got old, we’d play it with anyone who would come along, stranger or not. We never tired of the moment of discovery when something that disappeared from view, would suddenly reappear, like magic!

The mixture of glee and awe from playing “Peekaboo!” was once enough to make us drool all over ourselves.

Now imagine the ways we adults typically interpret “surprise”. How many of us actually assume that something GOOD is going to happen if we prepare to be surprised? I don’t know about you, but when someone says, “Prepare to be surprised,” my mind often immediately translates this as, “Prepare for the worst.” I often equate surprise with sheer terror of my impending doom.

Which is why I practice music improvisation. I find that when I face my sheer terror in the context of sound and music, I am held by some element of it – the rhythm, the repeating melodic lines, the harmonies, the unison – and am often surprised in that childlike way again. I am reminded that there are many delightful surprises in the unknown.

Following my own rules

The other surprise from Saturday night came from the fact that the previous week, I had set the following rule for myself: “Never leave your car or house without a flyer in your hand.

I’m promoting a series of new offerings, and getting out there to market and promote myself is like dusting off a set of skills I haven’t really used in a few years. In the first year of starting The Music Within Us, I tried everything I could think of to spread the word. I stood on the streets during the Art Fairs and handed out flyers to anyone who had children (I was teaching toddlers at the time). I sent out direct mail to all the preschools I could find in the area. I knocked on doors and asked people to post my flyers. I talked to anyone I possibly could. I kept doing this, and one day (much later than I first expected) I started getting responses.

So you’d think it would be easy this time around. But it still takes some steeling of my nerves, calming of my thought tracks, and practice! So I came up with the rule this week, and found myself bringing flyers with me even to unlikely places like the taqueria where I was stopping by to get lunch. Standing in line, I ran into an old friend who is now launching his own photography business. As he asked what I was up to, I knew why I had brought the flyers with me…and I handed them to him! He’s a guitar player also, and has a Buddha on his business card, “for inner peace”.

All week, I never broke that rule, and I kept stumbling upon opportunities to introduce myself to people and invite them to look at my pretty flyers.

Until Saturday night, that is. Since I didn’t know where I was going, I didn’t think to grab my flyers. (There was my mistake; I should have just followed the rule without thinking.) It turns out that a Bobby McFerrin concert is the PERFECT place to have flyers about “Music Improvisation for Everyone” and “Finding Your Own Song“! Hello!

Since there was no intermission, I had to do without the flyers and just strike up a conversation with the woman in front of me, who I noticed was bopping around to the grooves just like I was. I suspected she had a musical background. As we exchanged cards, I found out she is a pianist and vocalist. When I got home and looked at her website, I found out she is a background singer on tour with Stevie Wonder! I emailed her some of my flyers and she shared them with her mailing list. How cool is that!

Finally, on the way out of the theater, we discovered that Bobby would be signing CDs after the concert. Of course we were all over that! I ran out to my car to get my flyers, determined to make up for not following my own rule.

I crossed a major threshold in my self-limiting beliefs that night, having the “audacity” to hand my own flyers to The Legendary Bobby McFerrin himself after he signed my copy of his CD. He was very gracious and patient with all of his adoring fans, even though it was past 11:30pm. There’s no posed picture with us because by the time we got to the table, he had taken so many pictures that he could barely see.

That was enough surprises for me in one day. But one thing’s for sure…I’ll always follow my own rules from now on, and prepare to be surprised!

Photo attributions (used with permission through a Creative Commons license)
Baby with hands over mouth: Brian Warren http://www.flickr.com/people/vistamonster/
Toddler on jungle gym: Jessica Lucia http://www.flickr.com/people/theloushe/
Baby with sweater over head: Karl Gruenewald http://www.flickr.com/people/slithy
Infant with glee: Woo Chun Kai http://www.flickr.com/people/kai_photo/
Terrified infant: Brian Walsh http://www.flickr.com/people/thepartycow
Me at Masonic Theater in San Francisco: E.E.Kim

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