The callous on my left index finger has developed to the point where I no longer wince when playing C or F on the first fret. My middle and ring fingers have adequate callouses, too. All of that hardened skin is especially beneficial because I’ve moved on to learning chords, and learning chords has been…interesting.
In my first draft, I used the word “sucky” instead of “interesting”, and in a way, learning chords does suck. But that’s such defeatist language and defeated is not where I want to land in this piece.
My virtual guitar instructor says that with practice, playing chords will get easier, and in theory I know that is true, but I’m going to have to accept certain limitations. My long bony fingers can reach an octave or more on a piano, and years ago I probably could have performed the hand gymnastics to play a G7, an “easy” chord. Now, at 57, my long bony arthritic fingers do not like the G7 stretch.
So why bother?
I thought I was chill, like, I got this year, even as spectacularly weird as it’s been. Then when Dad fell in early December, every day has been like riding a roller coaster. My brother, sisters and I are now responsible for the person who was once responsible for us. We’re making decisions that – before pulmonary fibrosis, a stroke, and chronic dizziness – Dad would make himself: finding a rehabilitation facility, finding alternative income sources, engaging legal and financial transactions, and signing papers committing him to moving to a place where he can no longer putz in a garage because he struggles to walk and dress, all the while worrying if we’re doing the right thing. Multiply that emotional fallout by two since Mom doesn’t have the financial or physical means to support herself or live alone, and she’s not interested in moving. No wait, she is. No wait, she isn’t. No wait, she is. Her autonomy is slowly being usurped by her aging body and mind, and it’s hard to make decisions when you’re anxious and afraid.
Quiet, candles, and meditative breathing wasn’t calming me during these difficult times (and animal rescue videos, while helpful, only get me so far). I needed something more – if even for a few minutes every day – to challenge my brain to think in the opposite of crisis and uncertainty. That’s why, in the middle of a sleepless night, I bought a guitar.
I’ve always likened watching someone play guitar to watching hockey. I can’t follow finger movements or pucks to save my life, but I love the music and the game just the same. Absolutely I will never play hockey, but in the middle of that night I thought, You know what? I can learn my way around a guitar a little bit.
It’s turning out to be one of the best purchases I’ve ever made, even if I can only play two-thirds of a C or D7 chord right now (or maybe ever). The point, I remind myself, of learning to play guitar is not because I want to try out for the Foo Fighters. (Although I’d love to meet David Grohl.)
After I do what I can with insurance companies and phone companies and assisted living facilities and banks, I turn it all off, and for thirty minutes, I read music, not emails. For thirty minutes, I’m a guitar player. And yesterday, when I got frustrated and thought I’d not learned anything about anything, I played Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” Five weeks ago, I sounded like a dying goose. Now, I play it without looking at the music or my fingers. It’s a simple tune as written in my beginner’s guitar book, but the way it set free the shit in my mind was magic.
So if you’re looking for an escape, a way to take the edge off, take John Mellencamp’s advice and learn how to play guitar. (This earworm’s been in my head since I started writing this post. I thought if I share it, maybe I will be free.)