Flexing My Creative Muscles: Training to Failure

By Melissa Llanes Brownlee

I have been doing my yearly ukulele challenge for the month of September, where I am playing ten Elvis songs, some new to me, some not, and posting my videos on the place formerly known as twitter and my ukulele Instagram.

These videos are not me showcasing my best. It’s just me being who I am, no makeup and mistakes and weird faces and all.

And yet, there is one video which I haven’t been able to record, one song I haven’t been able to play.

Song #5: It’s Now or Never.

There’s a phrase in weight lifting – training to failure: where you push your muscles until they literally can’t lift that final rep – and I feel like that’s what is happening here.

I’m pushing myself so much and hurting myself so much to learn to play this song, but I know if I keep trying, eventually I will build up the skill, strength, and flexibility I need to be successful at it, but you all, it really hurts to play it. I can play it about three times through before my hand cramps or I get pins and needles in my thumb and palm.

You are probably wondering what this all has to do with writing. Well, I do really think that pushing your brain to work harder makes it stronger, makes it make more connections, makes it fire those synapses more, but like weightlifting, pushing yourself also requires rest afterwards, so if you are like me where you pushed yourself so hard on a project (I’m side-eyeing you the novel I started earlier this year and never went back to) that you had a metaphorical failure, then take a break (like me) and I think your brain will be stronger for it.

Or maybe not, I’m not an expert. I know what works for me and maybe it will work for you.

As for It’s Now or Never, I had considered giving up and saying no this isn’t the song for me. The E chord will forever be out of my reach, and it’s okay to fail at something. I fail all the time at my other artistic endeavors. Some days, shit just doesn’t click and that’s okay.

I know that, like yoga, I can modify my body, hand, fingers to accomplish it and maybe that’s what I need to do, learn to work with what I have physically. I’m getting older, my hands don’t have the fluidity they used to, and again, that’s okay, too.

So, I took a break from trying to play it and I hope to circle back to it later before the month ends – and who knows, maybe it will be my final video of the series and you’ll get to see the glory of my struggle before this column comes out.

Sending you all light, love and creativity – especially that creativity because I know we all need it!

Bonus Prompt: Write about failure, physical and/or mental. Write about how it feels, cramps and headaches and all. Then, continue writing past it. Is this failure the end or the beginning? Does it have a positive outcome like weight training where your muscles get stronger? Or, does it have a negative outcome where you decide that maybe this task or project isn’t for you? See if you can capture it all in less than 500 words.

Bonus Bonus Prompt: If you haven’t already, pick up a cheap ukulele and learn to play! Ukulele can be happiness if you let it (don’t be like me and challenge yourself to learn difficult songs unless that’s your thing). Let me know if you need a recommendation!

Melissa Llanes Brownlee

Melissa Llanes Brownlee (she/her), a native Hawaiian writer, living in Japan, has work published or forthcoming in Smokelong Quarterly, Cheap Pop, The Razor, Ruby Literature, Milk Candy Review, Cotton Xenomorph, Lost Balloon, Best Small Fictions 2021, and Best Microfiction 2022. Read Hard Skin, her short story collection, from Juventud Press. She doodles on Instagram and tweets @lumchanmfa. She posts the occasional ukulele video on Instagram @lumchanukulele and talks story at www.melissallanesbrownlee.com.