Playing for me

Photo by ANNI GUPTA on Unsplash

I played guitar for the first time in almost three years again this week. COVID quarantine is dull. By the end of the day, I’ve stared at the screen all I can. I have two guitars sitting there in their cases. Why not try it again?

I didn’t like how stiff my fingers were, or how sore my soft fingertips became after only a few minutes of play. I didn’t enjoy it.

Playing guitar used to be a constant source of comfort to me. “I play guitar” was part of my self-image, even years after I stopped playing. But over the years, my interest waned. I rarely thought about my guitars except when I noticed the cases off to the side in my bedroom. How did that happen?

I got my first guitar for Christmas when I was twelve. I learned the basic chords and I learned a few songs. But I never enjoyed playing. It didn’t help that the guitar wasn’t a very good one. It was difficult to get it to stay in tune, even over the span of a few minutes. That made playing it frustrating and I gave it up.

In 1989, a friend decided to sell the 1987 Aria she had bought new, only to discover that she didn’t enjoy playing. I tried it, loved the sound of it, and paid her cash. I decided to take lessons and pretty soon, I got good enough to play for others and have them sing along. That was what I wanted: attention and recognition.

That 1987 Aria is still my favorite, partly because of its beautiful sound. Mostly because of the many fond memories around playing it in public.

But the pleasure of performing faded. I didn’t know why. I almost stopped playing. What stopped me was a gift from a member of the therapy group I was in during graduate school. The gift was a question.

Her name was Becky. In one session, Becky observed that it seemed like I did everything with my eyes on how others would perceive it. And appreciate it. And approve of it.

She asked, “What’s wrong with just playing guitar to make yourself happy?”

That is one of the most powerful questions anyone has ever asked me. It shook me. It encouraged me and gave me permission to put my own enjoyment first. I started focusing on what made me happy to play and learn. I started enjoying it again. And I began applying the same principle to other areas of my life. It changed the way I approached life and helped me develop a happier outlook in general.

Playing guitar remained important for many years after that. Eight years ago, something changed. I lost my job. I found a new job soon after, but it was a horrible one. A lengthy commute sapped time and energy, and the toxic workplace drained me even more. I stopped playing guitar.

When I started working at Malwarebytes, I was happy again and had a shorter commute. I started playing again. But after a year, I changed jobs again. Again, a daily commute across the Bay. The next job was also in Tampa. After two years, I started traveling for work. I thought about buying a guitar I could travel with, but it never happened. By the time the pandemic began, I was so out of practice that it seemed like too much effort to start playing again.

These days, my commute is from one side of the house to the other. I have a lot more free time — especially now that I’ve quit Twitter and cut back on following and commenting on blogs. And I have a real desire to play again. The desire might fade once I’m no longer quarantined. But it’s going to be nice to spend time with that Aria again.

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Professional Scrum Trainer and fiction writer.

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