Once upon a time I must have made New Year’s resolutions. Who hasn’t? I doubt I kept many of them. Who does? It’s a cliché how much exercise equipment winds up in the classifieds by the first of February.
I did make one resolution as an adult. I think it was for New Year 2002. I must have had 300 second- or third-draft manuscript pages of The Mud of the Place by that point, but I’d never successfully completed anything longer than 40 pages and I was sure I was going to choke before I finished this one. My resolution? I will work on it every day until it’s done.
And I did. Some days I was so terrified that the thing had turned to crap when I wasn’t looking that I wouldn’t open the Word file till five minutes to midnight. Whereupon I would realize to my astonishment that my ms. wasn’t the crap I’d been thinking all day that it had to be. Thus reassured, I’d then tinker, revise, or write for at least half an hour before I went to to bed.
A couple of decades before that, in my D.C. days, a friend confided that on New Year’s Day she made a list of all the things she’d done for the first time in the preceding year.
I loved this. I grew up with a perfectionist father who was forever ridiculing my mother for getting her facts wrong and supporting insupportable positions. I learned early on that it wasn’t safe to make mistakes. I learned to get my facts straight and make coherent arguments. I’m still pretty good at it.
Trouble is, it’s hard to learn anything new if you don’t dare make mistakes. The list of projects I dropped or never started for fear of looking stupid is very, very long. See why I loved my friend’s idea? Ever since it’s been my way of giving myself credit for overriding the voice in my head that’s sure I’ll get ridiculed, ostracized, or trashed for looking like a klutz.
So here’s one thing I started in 2016: learning to play the guitar. As a teenager I was insanely jealous of my friends who could play the guitar. I had fantasies of going to bed and waking up a guitar virtuoso without ever having to be a beginner. It didn’t happen.
This is actually my second attempt. Ten years ago, with huge trepidation, I took a free intro guitar course offered by a local musician. You’re right to be suspicious of my excuses for not keeping up with it, but in that first attempt I did acquire a guitar, the Rise Up Singing book (which has the lyrics and chords to at least half the songs I ever knew in my life, and plenty more besides), and enough competence to accompany myself on a few songs.
This fall I heard that a free intro course was being offered at the West Tisbury library. I signed up. My fledgling skills had long since faded, along with the hard-won calluses on my left fingertips. At the first class in November I couldn’t remember the fingering for a single chord.
Four classes in, I’m still at it, practicing every day. All the while my endlessly creative mind is inventing excuses for giving up.
My fingers are too short
My guitar’s neck is too wide.
My fingers can’t do that.
Half the people in the class aren’t really beginners.
The other half have more talent than I do.
I’ll never catch up.
I can’t change chords fast enough.
I will never be good enough to play in public.
At some point “My fingers won’t do that” progressed to “I can’t change chords fast enough.” Gotcha, girl; you’re making progress in spite of yourself. You’ve still got problems, but the problems are more advanced than they used to be.
This is a wonder. My short fingers can actually reach farther than they used to, all because I’ve been practicing.
When I was training Travvy all those years ago, we’d repeat a lesson over and over and over and I’d be sure we were getting nowhere, then all of a sudden he’d get it. He’d know something as if he’d always known it.
Seems like my fingers work the same way.
Part of the challenge is that I keep comparing my guitar playing to my writing and editing, which I’ve been doing for almost 40 years (editing) and more than 40 years (writing). I know writing and editing so well that I don’t know how I know it, and I don’t remember how I learned it.
I will never be that good at playing the guitar, or at doing anything else for that matter. But really it doesn’t matter. Starting from scratch is a good thing because it’s a good thing to fumble and feel like an idiot and realize that you’re getting better.