Last week found me standing outside of the Long & McQuade Music Education Centre, knuckles white from the double-handed death grip on my guitar case handle, stomach churning and brain regretting eating lunch a mere three hours earlier. Why? I thought to myself. Why, oh why, am I here?
It was a long road that led me there. My desire to play the guitar started when I was 14 and in love. I worked at a summer camp in the kitchen, chopping vegetables and scrubbing pots. He was the head counsellor. Cute. Popular. Eighteen. Every evening he’d lead 50 kids in sing-a-long songs, strumming his guitar like a rock god, all the female counsellors swooning in their seats. I had no chance.
But that has never stopped a girl from dreaming. I went home and liberated my dad’s guitar from my parent’s closet, determined to impress the pants off my super crush the following summer.
Let’s just say that didn’t happen. The whole “practicing” thing didn’t really jive with my budding grade nine social life. That and the whole “never seeing him again” thing (I think maybe his name was Aaron?). But I thought the guitar case looked cool and kept it in my room.
Four years later the guitar moved with me into my first apartment, and I decided it was finally time to learn how to play it. So I found a music teacher and once a week me and my guitar would board a bus to downtown. We’d climb the stairs to a small studio above an antique shop, and sit quietly while Patrick droned on and on about numerology.
Seriously. This guy was crazy. He was obsessed about the numeric values of music, and was writing a book about all the hidden numbers in the Bible. The first few seconds of my weekly lesson would be spent with me taking my guitar out of its case, and the remaining 29+ minutes were all him telling me about his latest revelations.
I’d sit there quietly and listen. Then I’d pay him and leave. This arrangement actually sort of worked for me. You see, I had discovered something quite annoying about myself.
I’m terrified of trying new things.
Once I left high school I was plagued with this feeling that anything I might want to learn I should already know how to do. Things like playing an instrument, or drawing, or swimming, or applying makeup so I don’t look like a drunk circus performer.
In that awkward transition from adolescent to adult I thought I was done learning things. That there was something pathetic and laughable about an 18-year-old girl stumbling over simple chords on a guitar. Better not to try at all.
Even though I was afraid to play in front of people who were already really good (otherwise known as “teachers”), I continued to want to play. And so I lugged that stupid guitar everywhere.
It traveled across North America with me in the back on my Honda Civic during a four month road trip. It flew to Halifax and lived with me there for two years. Then we hitched a ride back west in my sister’s car. Over the last 12 years it’s lived in more apartments than I can count. I don’t even really see it any more. It’s just one more thing that doesn’t get dusted.
Yes, I’m aware that this fear of trying things is ridiculous. It’s a pretty basic concept to have someone who knows something teach it to someone who doesn’t, and that the person who is learning (me) won’t be very good to start. I can’t help it. It’s some sort of genetic disorder (thanks a lot, MOM and DAD!). I can argue with myself for hours, list all the reasons I’m being stupid, agree with myself, and decide to stop it. And then I’ll sign up for something new and spend a week feeling nauseous and not sleeping.
Fortunately, I have learned that the icky feeling passes. I know that if I can get through the beginning — the first lesson or attempt at whatever it is that scares me — the sickness goes away and I have a lot of fun. So even though I’m a big old chicken, I still do a lot of cool new stuff. I just say yes right away without thinking, and then spend some time hating myself and trying not to vomit. Healthy, right?
This method has seen me through several new jobs, crazy travel plans, a few awkward dates, and more recently, lessons. In the last year I’ve finally forced myself through swimming lessons, a beginners drawing class, and some make up tips from the lovely girls at Mac.
My last hurdle? The guitar.
I was reading fellow Life As A Human writer Chris Finch‘s bio, and noticed that he teaches guitar. Before I had the chance to talk myself out of it, I emailed him. Which brings us to the beginning of this post, where I’m standing in fear outside of the music school, hating myself with a violent passion and wondering if it’s too late to back out. I could get back in my van, call the school and pretend I’m not sitting outside like a stalker.
I swallowed. I breathed. I opened the door.
Since then I’ve been having fun with my homework — trying to play the three chords of Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’ without producing a horrible buzzing noise from the strings. I’m not exactly a rock hero yet, but it’s a start. And who knows? If I do run into Aaron (or whatever his name is) one day, I may still have my chance to impress the heck out of him.
Is there anything you’ve always wanted to do but have been afraid to try? Trust me, as one totally shy wuss to another, it’s worth forcing your way through it.
You may even like, grow. As a person. You know, gain character. Or something.
guitar_attempt1 © bb_matt @ Flickr. Some Rights Reserved.
While My Guitar Gently Weeps © Simone13 @ Flickr. Some Rights Reserved.