Christmas 1999 (was it really?) I opened a large box – my “big gift,” literally and figuratively – and got exactly what I’d asked for – a shiny new acoustic guitar! Finally my dreams of being a rock icon were on their way to reality! Except that it was accompanied by book of chord exercises that was, despite my experience reading music (I played flute and saxophone in high school), completely indecipherable to me.
I strummed idly for months and months turned into years, but here’s the thing, Reader: I don’t really like to do things I’m not already good at. It’s a character flaw, I’m aware. It was frustrating that having played all those other instruments didn’t give me any place to start. The strings hurt and I didn’t really know what to do and guitar went back in the box.
It came with me to undergrad, and went to a “learn guitar!” session given by music students. I strummed idly and the strings hurt and the guitar went back in the box. It came with me to grad school, and a patient friend tried to teach me a few things (and succeeded at teaching me a somewhat smaller amount of things), but I was a bad student and didn’t practice and soon gave it up for the good of the friendship and the guitar went back in the box.
And I moved that guitar again. And again. And again. I’ve moved that guitar at least 10 times in the past decade, always thinking that eventually I would learn how to play; or maybe one day I would just know how. That could happen, right?
There’s that saying, a year ago from now you’ll wish you’d started today. I don’t even want to think about how awesome I could be if I’d learned how to play a decade ago, but I don’t regret wasting that time, since I accomplished a lot of other things. Yet my fantasy life is still me-as-rock-star, and I don’t mean rock star photographer (whatever that means I don’t even)(it also doesn’t mean Rock Band-star, although PS I am awesome at that), and it was starting to weigh on me. So I was flipping through the course catalogue for UNB’s College of Extended Learning and found a listing for a course – “Beginner Acoustic Guitar!” Complete with exclamation. 5 weeks, didn’t interfere with wedding season. I signed up immediately.
The first week was hard. So, so hard. I played until my fingers were purple, on only one string.
E, F, G.
E, F, G.
E, F, G.
Week 2 we added another string. And then another. And then another. And it got easier. My index finger started to feel completely foreign to me. It calloused in a way that was completely repulsive, and I was horrified to see the skin flake off. I went on vacation… and put the guitar in a carry bag and took it with me. I’ve played almost every day for the past four weeks.
D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A.
My dude’s patience is boundless.
Tonight I will attend my final class, and I don’t write this as a sudden wunderkind. I’m only playing on 4 strings (we’ll cover the last two tonight), and my repertoire of chords is at a mighty ten. But I’m working on it, every day, and it’s been an incredible, weird, frustrating, rewarding experience: remembering what it’s like to really have to work at something. Forcing patience. Feeling proud when I can perceive improvement from week-to-week. Making my own little dreams come true.
I strum with purpose and the strings don’t hurt anymore when I pluck out my little tunes and when I put the guitar down I know that I will pick it up again tomorrow.
Rock star by 30, for sure.