I just spent the last hour struggling through a guitar lesson.
Wow I am dreadful at guitar. But I have secretly always wanted to play. I love to listen to someone picking out a song. I am that person who is always hovering at the park, sitting close enough to the stranger strumming that I can bask in the glow of their music. A kind of peeping-Tom–a “listening-Tom” I guess it would be called.
Truth be told, I have always had a weak spot for a guy with a guitar on his lap. If he was talented, it was all over. Good night Irene. But all too often I realized it was the music not him I loved. I just wanted to listen to the live guitar, songs played for an audience of one– let the music wash over me and seep through the cracks in the stone wall around my heart right into that vulnerable place where my soul lived. A guitar could reach where no person ever could.
So I became a perpetual groupie. I had to be in order to get my fix of music–the thing that could get me high.
Because, see I had a story I told myself. It was a story that said I couldn’t play the music myself. I could dance while others made music. But play…oh dear me, no. I was bad at it. I would never be good at it. Never. There was no use in trying.
The man I married wasn’t a guitar player. But like me he loved it and always wanted to play. We shared a common guitar envy. His father played so beautifully it would make me weep. His brother in law too. There was music all around our house–Los Panchos in the kitchen, Bob Dylan in the car. We could listen to guitar for hours–any kind really. And one day, we said, one day we would learn–or rather I intended to pay for him to learn. I would sit at his feet and swoon. Because my story (and I was sticking to it) was that I couldn’t play.
There were other stories I told myself too. Stories like “Our love is so durable that we can withstand anything” or stories like “I need him to function, let alone make my heart sing“. When I was pregnant with Max I would stand in the shower and cry for fear that he would die and leave me all alone with our child. I believed my stories so fervently. I thought I wouldn’t survive without him. I thought I would blow away.
The day he walked out the door, all those stories that I had used to protect myself, the stories that formed the protective wall around my heart, they started to crack. Some shattered immediately, blown to bits by the bomb that just went off in my life. Others started crumbling more slowly. Some would need a couple of well placed sledge hammer blows to move. Three years later they are still falling away.
So here I am, tonight, Wednesday, the night of my third lesson. I sit on the couch with my new friend Jeff. The night this summer that I sat in his back yard and heard that he taught guitar, I realized that the universe had delivered a gift to me. “Girl“, the universe said to me, “Girl, its time you got rid of that story–the one that says you can’t play for yourself. Its time you learn to play your own music.”
Jeff helped me buy a cute used guitar–perfect for me. A pretty little sound. The day he delivered her to me, just days after I turned 38, was one of the craziest most blissful nights I had in a long time. She became a symbol for me–of my new independence–of my new fearlessness. Of a heart that lives so much lighter without all those stories around me. My first two lessons were fun. I was feeling empowered, amazing–a woman who could do anything. A woman who wasn’t afraid of kicking those story boards down and grinding them beneath her mighty feet. Triumphant.
So imagine how suprised I was tonight to find myself sitting with my dear new friend, unable to play for him–terrified, nervous. Unable to start showing him my homework assignment that I had so diligently worked on all week. A nervous wreck–completely freaked out. Paralyzed.
I was suddenly awash in my fear and an unexpected vulnerability bubbling up from somewhere unknown. I was standing in my shower again–naked and sobbing–believing my stories again–or at least the story that said I wasn’t any good at music. I wanted to put my guitar down and beg him to play for me…Dylan, Wilco, the Rev Gary Davis, the Beatles…anything so that I wouldn’t have to strum on my own. Jeff (I should say for the record) plays in a way that can make my heart break from the beauty of it. “Play my friend” I wanted to beg.”get me high. Just don’t make me play for myself.”
But even more disappointing than my inability to play, was my fear. Afterall I am now supposed to be the girl who is embracing doing things that scare her…Who is not afraid…Who pushes the limit…Who says “yes” to life and “no” to can’t. I am the girl who dropped all the stories, who walks lighter without them. Who is so carefree and silly. I thought of all the paths I have walked down in the last several years with a bounce in my step. Of the challenges I tackle with nary a shudder. I am the girl who faced her worst fear and LIVED.
So why was I sitting on my couch paralyzed. Why was I unable to start?
I wanted to throw that scared silly child out the window. She really was pissing me off. She was blowing my cover and exposing me as someone who was not fearless but terrified, nervous, weak, vulnerable–a complete wreck…a fraud.
Jeff is one of the most encouraging people I have met since my 4th grade teacher.
“Breathe” he told me. “Breathe. Its just me.” I breathed. I then closed my eyes. I tried tapping my foot. I couldn’t find a tempo. I laughed nervously. I admitted to him how scared I was and I felt so so small for having to admit it.
After what felt like an etermity I knew I couldn’t do this on my own. I said, “Play with me please’. He started to play so so slowly and told me to join him when I was ready. I did. And then when I was going–he dropped out. And my lesson got started. And I was neither scared nor fearless. Just there. Attempting to make my own music.
And so my lesson goes. Jeff playfully kicks my butt for rushing. He writes me a note in big block letters: SLOWLY!!! it says. My impatience is getting in my way and tripping me up. Over and over again he gently reminds me that I am holding on to the guitar too tightly. That I need to loosen my grip. Hold it all so much more lightly. We spend the better part of the hour deconstructing a superhero theme song. Its unrecognizable now but with practice…aaah I will play for my own inner superhero. While we work through my mistakes, drilling down on the difficult things he draws my attention to the things I am doing well–The things I couldn’t do three lessons (or even three minutes) ago. He draws my focus away from the horizon to the baby steps I have taken up this mountain. He pushes me and makes me practice the hard parts over and over again.
I knew that I would befriend Jeff when I realized that he is the only person I know who stretches metaphors as far as I do. There was a lot of that today as we worked on very basic skills–as I tried to make my hands do impossible tricks. A lot of his metaphors made me giggle from the absurdity. But they worked.
But I can’t help but wonder however if the biggest metaphor of all is lost on him, this new friend who knows just a little bit about the journey I have walked the last few years. He may miss it but I wrap my arms around it as I hug him goodbye.
I am learning to make my own music and while its imperfect, its mine. Just mine.
I am turning a corner in my journey. I am walking up a new path with a guitar strapped to my back. And much of what I think I need to know as I take off on this adventure, I believe my sweet little guitar will teach me.