“I’ve Got Blisters On My Fingers!”

In the last episode of the HBO show, Newsroom, there is a scene at Sam Waterston’s wake that really touched me. In what was the final scene of the series, Jeff Daniels picks up a guitar and joins Waterston’s bass playing grandson in an elegiac ballad which I found quite moving.  It re-awakened in me my desire to play the guitar.  I was about to write, “my desire to learn to play the guitar”, but I now realize that I have zero interest in learning,  just a huge one in playing. I say “now realize” because I’ve been trying the learning part and it’s no fun whatsoever.  And incredibly hard.

I’ve been wanting to be able to play for a long time now.  And when this re…retir…retirement thing came along and I thought it would be a great thing to do.  But it took that Jeff Daniels scene to get me over the motivation hump.

I started asking around for some suggestions for a guitar teacher for raw beginners.  My friend, Nod, who plays, said one of his neighbors gives lessons; but it turned out that she only works with kids.  When Nod saw my disappointment he very kindly offered to give me a starter lesson to see if it was something I wanted to continue with.  Apparently, a large percentage of people who take up the guitar give up fairly quickly.  In fact, I know practically no one who hasn’t given it a try at one time or another . . . and yet, almost no one who plays.

What's so hard?

What’s so hard?

In any event, now that this plan was jelling, I had to get myself a guitar.  I had a vague memory that my son, Essej, had tried to teach himself (another one of the fallen) and had an unplayed Yamaha guitar.  So I borrowed it knowing that since he has three little kids, I wouldn’t have to return it for at least fifteen or twenty years.  Which seemed like enough time to learn.  And with the Yamaha in my possession, Nod and I make a date for my first lesson.

And then . . . about a day or so before my first lesson, Nod sent me an email that included a chart of  21 chords with the following instructions:  “As a pre-lesson assignment start practicing and memorizing the following chords.”  And then he enumerated about 15 of them adding, “Your fingers should get used to forming each chord and moving from one to another.”  Although  I’d never held a guitar before in my life, this seemed like a good starting point.  That is, until I got to the first chord.  Apart from not knowing which fingers went on which strings while forming the chord, just holding the guitar felt awkward.

But after about an hour or so, I was able to play one chord.  Only by looking to see precisely where my fingers were placed.  The notion of moving off that chord to another–either while looking or not– seemed like a virtual impossibility.  And at the pace I was going, it was clear to me that the “pre-lesson assignment” was going to be handed in late . . . very late.  I started to think that Nod had played a joke on me because what he was asking was an impossibility.  I actually had visions of him laughing his ass off while imagining me trying to complete my assignment. (Which, as I saw it, was asking me to learn to play the guitar before we even met.) But Nod had been sincere.  He had just (wildly) overestimated my ability.

When we got together for my lesson, it became very clear to me that this was going to be a long haul.  So long, in fact, that I’m starting to think I should have begun way before the re…retir…retirement; that I may just run out of time at the other end ( a genteel way of putting it).  I think Nod was a bit disappointed with my lack of progress but he still tried to motivate me by going over some songs that have only a few chords which I should be able to master in the next decade.

This past spring, after playing tennis for forty years, I started taking lessons to improve my serve.  My instructor, Todd, and I worked on it and gradually it did get better.  Not great, but better.  When we had finished up for the season, Todd told me that he admired that I was still looking to improve my game.  And in a similar way, when Nod was leaving after our guitar lesson, he too said that he admired that I was taking on a new challenge.  Although I’m a little flattered by their remarks, I sense they both contain an unsaid phrase.  I just don’t want to know what it is.

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2 Responses to ““I’ve Got Blisters On My Fingers!””

  1. Nod Says:

    I haven’t given up hope in you, young man.

    By the way, Ddot, is upset that you revealed him. : )

    • iron(ic)man triathlon Says:

      Yes…I didn’t include ddot in the witless protection program. An oversight. Sorry Yob Yddot.

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