I’ve always wanted to be the kind of person who plays guitar. Not in an annoying way, where I bring it out at parties and try to impress people but only irk them instead. I want to play the guitar in a badass way, where someone’s like, “I am having a rock and roll emergency and I need an amazing guitar player, STAT!”
And I’m all humble and unassuming. “Uh, I play a little guitar.”
And they’re like, “Well, I don’t know… You’re a girl and you don’t look like much, but I guess you can play me a song just for laughs.” And then I pick up the guitar and play a face-melting riff of my own composition and the other person is totally blown away, and signs me to a record label instantly, and also feels really bad about being so sexist. You know. That kind of thing.
So when my dad gave me a guitar that he didn’t want anymore, I was pretty excited. I unzipped the case and only bumped the instrument into a table and my own body parts a couple of times when I put the strap over my head. I’m gonna play this guitar so well that people who hear me practicing will think Jimmy Hendrix and Carlos Santana had the world’s most soulful lovechild, I thought.
“This is a G chord,” my dad said.
“Easy,” I said, and then tried to do what he was doing. But none of the tendons in my hand were on board with this plan, and my fingertips didn’t know what hit them. And when I strummed, nothing good came out. I was somehow simultaneously pressing too hard and not pressing hard enough.
“No, no. Move your hand this way. Your fingers are touching the other strings,” my dad said. I tried to do what he was doing, but I’m 97% sure that no human has ever been able to move their hand that way without selling their soul at a crossroad and/or dislocating a few important joints.
And with that, my rockstar dreams were dead. I wanted to pick up the guitar and instantly be able to school B.B. King. I wanted Clapton-like skill without having ever practiced once. Is that too much to ask?
This attitude is mostly rooted in laziness, but I’m also spoiled. I know a dyslexic physicist whose wife told me that he struggled with every subject in school. She said that when he got to theoretical physics, it wasn’t any more difficult than anything else he’d tried to do up to that point so he wasn’t phased. I’d like to approach challenges that way. But since a few things in life have come easily to me, I get really, really frustrated when I have to put in more effort. And by more effort, I mean any effort at all.
For example, I breezed through reading and writing assignments as a kid, but 15 years ago my parents spent one terrible summer trying to teach me fractions and I still want to throw a temper tantrum when I think about them.
I’ve heard you can’t get to Carnegie Hall without practice, practice, practice. I’ve even heard practice makes perfect and I crave perfection. Intellectually, I understand that it will take thousands upon thousands of hours to really learn a skill. But every time I try to learn something new, I’m convinced that none of this applies to me. Surely the universe will make an exception for me.
Things I’ve Tried at Least Two Whole Times and Yet Have Not Mastered
1. Playing an instrument. One of these days I’m going to sit down at the piano I never play and suddenly be Elton John, but with even better glasses. It’s going to happen, I know it.
2. Playing sports. I’m sure it’s only that I haven’t found my sport yet. I’m probably a curling prodigy.
3. Becoming fluent in another language. I studied Spanish for years and I was pretty good at it! And then I quit! But only because I stopped being interested in it and certainly not because it started to get difficult!
4. Gardening. I really seem like the kind of person who could grow plants, you know?
5. Drawing. You simply put lines down on paper until you have a perfectly recognizable image. So simple!
6. Cooking. You just make it up as you go, right?
That’s only the beginning of a list that could go on and on. There are a million things I wish I could do without really trying. I wish I could identify birds by their calls. I wish I could start conversations with strangers at parties. I wish I could understand theoretical physics — or any physics, for that matter.
It’s totally illogical to believe that everything will be a breeze for me because the list of things I truly have mastered is much shorter.
Things I’ve Mastered or Can Do Correctly at Least 80% of the Time
If anything, I should believe that learning new skills will be difficult, time-consuming, and painful, because most of the time it has been. It shouldn’t be a big, hurtful surprise every time I’m not a wunderkind. I should stop making excuses and giving up just because things get a little tricky.
So I’m getting my guitar out and I’m going to try again. I’m going to get so good that people will name guitars after me. I’m going to be on blacklight posters 50 years after my death. And I’m going to start tomorrow because my fingers kind of hurt from typing this, and I haven’t done any hand stretches, and I’m pretty sure it’s out of tune anyway.