Calculus, Jazz and Other Things Not to Listen to Your Ex-Boyfriend About

My choir teacher used to have a quote on the front of his piano which read, “The best revenge is massive success,” attributed to Frank Sinatra. I like that, and I think it’s very true.

Once upon a time, I had a boyfriend – we’ll call him Joe. (This was a long time ago. Although I dreamed about him last night. So that was weird. But to continue.) Because Joe and I were the weirdos who still talked to each other for a while after we broke up (not the most brilliant of ideas), we were once comparing course plans for what remained of our high school careers (I think we were sophomores at the time). I wrote down that I thought I’d take calculus, but wrote in parentheses “or stats/financial math.” I sent it as a word document to him. When he replied he sent back the same attachment (this was in the days of email), but he’d gone in and edited it. I will never forget what it said.

“or STATS!!!!!/financial math. NO CALCULUS, Erika, trust me, you are not meant for it.”

I was highly offended and told him off, adding that my math teacher father thought I was capable. I don’t recall speaking to Joe much after that, though I’m pretty sure we drifted apart for other reasons. But I did remember what he’d written three years before, when I earned an A in calculus first semester and got a 4 on the AP test.


So that felt good.

Right around the time I was getting an A in calculus I found myself in a relationship with Matt, who’s been mentioned on this blog many a time and oft as a very important character in the Summer of Learning a Whole Ton of Heavy S*%t About Love, Forgiveness and Other Wonders of the World That I Will Probably Not Forget Very Soon.

The thing about Matt is, despite the fact that he is a person and not a bad one, is that he can be a total ass. My theory, in the much psychoanalyzing of him I have done, is that he is actually really insecure, and feels vulnerable and has never quite understood that he is a valid person simply because he is (which I can’t blame him for struggling with because I have too), and so consequently he has this Matt-the-Asshole front that he puts up and thinks that’s who he is. Which I disagree with. I think that nobody can naturally be that mean and know-it-all-ish all the time. I feel sure there’s somebody better hiding in there.  He’s insecure, and so he picks at other people’s knowledge or lack thereof. Very classic situation. But I’m tangenting.

This cranky, uppity persona that he puts forth all the time translates, of course, to his probably most passionate interest, music. He’s a drummer and a good one, though I don’t know how good. And he also has a broad and deep knowledge of much of what I think, in my genre nomenclature nonexpertise, is classic rock and jazz, though he’d probably correct me on that. So he knows a lot about that. And, aided and abetted by his best friend Tanner, of not unsimilar mentality, he thinks that his knowledge thereof makes him superior somehow.

I hate that.

Don’t get me wrong. Both Matt and Tanner are talented musicians, passionate about what they love, willing to help, and loyal to each other. But they are also snobs and assholes about music.

Okay, we need to get Tanner out of this post. I was blogging about Matt. Matt is a snob and an asshole about music. He has (they have) this overwhelming holier-than-thou air when it comes to people expressing their music taste (I once mentioned that I liked Manhattan Transfer; he dismissed that even though they are a PERFECTLY LEGITIMATE MUSICAL GROUP and their version of Birdland is STILL MUSIC DESPITE HAVING (GASP) WORDS TO IT), their musical knowledge (he always either has something to add to what you said or something disproving it), their musical talent (he never took any section seriously except his own, and even then it was usually just the people he liked therein), and their musical ability (eg, “oh, you can do this? well that’s great, but can you improvise?” I never felt like my classical training was worth anything in his eyes, which is a horrible way to feel when you’re dating a person).

So learning to chord and improvise and mess around with that kind of thing has intimidated me, not only since I joined the jazz band before I ever had a chance to experience the burning abrasion of Matt’s scorn (does he think he’s being honest or something?!), but also after, when I had, in my revenge-is-massive-success-I-hate-this-guy-and-have-to-kick-his-ass mindframe, something to prove.

I have since come to understand that I don’t need to prove anything to this guy and I never have, the fact that I’ve forgiven him notwithstanding. But that didn’t stop me from desperately wanting to learn how to improvise, if for no other reason than to show him I can.

Today I had my first day of a jazz improv class at ISU. I was grateful to be somewhere where the drummer was not an asshole, the bassist was not his friendly albeit willing accomplice (actually the bassist today was a girl!), and the director could tell me what I needed to be able to do. He turned on a song called “That’s Cool” (I have no idea who it’s by) and told us which scales/notes would work for the first sixteen bars, the next eight, the next eight, and so on. So I just messed around with some stuff on that scale AND IT WORKED!

Not to say that I suddenly turned into Count Basie or Bill Evans or anything, but I WAS ACTUALLY MAKING SENSE OUT OF THIS STUFF!! (It was not half as hard as I had previously thought.) AND I DIDN’T SOUND HALF BAD!!

The next thing that happened was that I had to solo, and so I did, same track, same scales, sixteen bars, I believe. And whatever I did was what I was after, I guess. THE MOST BEAUTIFUL MOMENT OF MY LIFE was when I looked up and realized I HAD JUST IMPROVISED.

Granted, this is a baby step. But while I guessed that it would be this obvious all along, I don’t know why I was so terrified to do it. It’s so simple, it’s beautiful. ISU Jazz (did I mention Matt picked them apart too?) has given me something that Mountain Home Jazz never could. AND I LOVE IT.

SO. Instead of concluding this post with Why Matt’s Approach to Life Is Totally Wrong, we are going to instead conclude with how awesome it is to have gone and done something an ex-boyfriend made you feel like you couldn’t do, AGAIN.

The best revenge is massive success. Hello, revenge. Smirk.


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