I’m finding that, after I practice, I feel like I can take on the world. What is so cathartic and energizing about playing badly? And yet, it is. It leaves me feeling more positive about life. More confident in myself. More secure in my sense of self. Why is that? Is it just that I need a win? Maybe it’s the act of pushing through all the layers of emotion that keep coming up. Maybe it’s picking up an instrument at all. I’m glad I picked something undignified. I mean, it’s a ukulele, not a mandolin or cello. If I’m reacting like this to a funny instrument, I can’t imagine I’d have had any success at all learning a more serious one.
Ukuleles are just inherently funny.
ps. Holding this thing is problematic. I think I’ll need a teacher for that, at least. Learning from YouTube only goes so far.
Found another link to sadness, today. As I play, I’m finding I grieve a few of the things that happened, and a few of the things that didn’t happen. I found my adoptive father in practicing, today.
Music was his domain, and only his domain.
I’ve spent much of my life curating my memories. I’m blocking some, and it’s not the expected ones. I adapted to losing the dad who raised me by only allowing the bad memories to exist. My mom reinforced this by only letting us talk about the bad things, and by feeding us terrible stories.
I’m running from the good memories. I’m afraid of the good memories.
Without meaning to, I found my way into a good memory. I was… six? Seven? Younger? In the kitchen, looking up, watching my dad cook and do dishes, and sing. He had such a good voice. I remember adoring him in that moment. I was so happy.
My first impulse with this memory was to not think about/feel it. Instead I stayed with it. I cried, and felt gutted. And there was my inner kid, crying with me. I’ve only let myself remember the bad. The abuse. The terror. The abandonment. But I also loved him with the desperation of a child. Reconciling that was confusing and just hurt so much. This experience had some bite to it.
Letting myself feel this doesn’t mean I forgive him; doesn’t mean I want contact with him. But it did make me a little more whole. Less divided from myself.
I thought this would be miserable, frustrating work, but it’s actually turned out to be fun. Who knew?
I’ve had my lack of musical ability pointed out in a million ways, both obvious and covert, and always by a loved one. Not once have I had a stranger or nemesis do that to me.
One of the sneakier ways has been to simply remind me that I have a tin ear. “They’re off tune. Can’t you hear that?” “I can’t stand that buzz. Can’t you hear that?” “That one instrument is off time. Can’t you hear that?”
No. No, I cannot. I cannot hear that. I just hear the music, and the movement to it, and the way it can fill the corners of a room and my mind and swirl through my chest.
I can’t tune an instrument by ear, either. But you know what? That’s what tuners are for.
I say unto you, Neener. Neener.
Ima do the thing anyway.
Harmony is any note your neighbor is not singing.
ps. I discovered this week that I’m not as alone as I believed.
I still find myself with a heavy chest a few minutes into practicing. I still feel like I’m going to cry. I’m still looking at my left hand struggling along, and wondering if I’ll ever get it to work like it will need to if I’m going to play this thing.
I’ve started being softer with my reactions. Gentler with my self-talk. More patient with how my hand does and does not work. I’m thinking of it as an awkward fledgling bird, hopping and flapping unevenly and ungainly and not sure what goes where when. This is creative play. I have nothing to prove here. There’s no ego in it. No one is watching how ridiculously hilarious the whole process is, except me.
It’s OK, fledgling hand. We’ll get there. And if we don’t, that’s OK, too. I’m learning to be gentle with myself.
This is interesting. I’m practicing in my head. I’m not doing it on purpose. I’m running through the strumming pattern and the finger positions in my head when I’m not meaning to. Is this a normal thing? It must be. Apparently my brain is on board with learning an instrument.
I’m enjoying this process way more than I thought I would. I find that I’d be practicing almost constantly if I lived alone. And, you know, if my fingertips weren’t infuriated already.
Just today, something has come up for me, and I was in a mindset where I could receive it. I’ve been punishing myself for my left hand.
I’ll back up.
In my 20s, I had a metric shit ton (roughly 2204.62 shit pounds) of anger, sadness, grief, anxiety, and couldn’t begin to even sort them out to name the feelings I was full of. I had no way of identifying them, and no way of expressing them. Well, I had one way. I was pretty good at self harm. I experienced various flavors of abuse growing up, and it turns out I’m excellent at internalizing that. Look ma, I can do it myself! So I did.
And one of the things I did was punch walls. It’s amazing how that refocused what was going on in my head and chest to a physical pain I could deal with. I had lots of practice with physical pain. Then one day, dear reader, I missed. I punched a window. It was an old window. Old-style glass. Nothing “safety” about it. Glass in my knuckles, glass in my arm, glass in my hand, and a rather exciting drive to urgent care broke my habit of hitting walls in one swell foop.
Aaand back to the present. I call my left hand my stupid hand, and it has arthritis in a couple of fingers. (See story above.)
Here I am, trying to teach my left hand to do things new things. I can’t figure out why I feel like crying a few minutes into each practice. I was sitting there, staring at my left hand struggle to hit D major, and wondering why I can feel sadness pushing rising in me. My eyes focused on the scar on my pinky knuckle, and it hit me. In trying to teach new things to my left hand, I’m linking up to all the pain and related emotions, right down the timeline.
Some of my self-harm was about getting the job done when there was no one else around to dish out abuse. I did it when I felt weak. When I felt less-than. When I felt overwhelmed with emotions I couldn’t even name. I felt like I deserved it. I deserve that pain in my hand. I deserve to have it work poorly. Old Me thinks I deserve that punishment.
Old me can go fuck herself.
Learning an instrument is an unexpected tiny rebellion. It’s also a healing of past wounds, and a way of learning to work with those wounds in a new way. Even if that new way is struggling with D major like a camel struggles to fly.
Just four simple chords. Just four… simple… chords. Come on, hands. I’m working through some weirdness. A few of the thoughts I’ve had: You sound ridiculous. This is ridiculous. You’re too old for this. How silly is a ukulele? And yet you can’t even get this silly instrument to work. You look ridiculous. Your hands are never going to do this. Your left hand is too stupid to learn any of this. I mean, did you see how D Major is supposed to go? Ha! Never going to happen.
Whose voice is that in my head? I think it’s my Grannie’s voice, when she was at her worst.
Quiet, Grannie. I love you, but I don’t have to listen to you. Learning this song is not about doing it right. It’s about doing a thing badly, and enjoying it anyway. It’s play. Play doesn’t have to be done perfectly. In fact, it shouldn’t be. That’s why it’s play.