Hello. I am 41 and I just started to play the guitar. If you’re a late-bloomer, a procrastinator, or just generally late to the party, welcome. You are in good company.
Playing the guitar is a longstanding interest of mine and at the beginning of this year, I decided to stop wondering what it would be like to play one and to just get on with it.
“Why did it take you so long?” you ask. “I was a meathead sportsball player in high school and now I’m in my 40s with a job in middle management, a mild weed addiction, milk crates for furniture, and an internet girlfriend in Slovakia that I’ve never met and even I know how to play the Iron Man riff!”
Sir, I’m glad you know how to play a guitar and you’re right – it did take me a long time to finally pick one up. But, just like your girlfriend situation, me not learning the guitar is a little more complicated than what you think. When a lot of people got their guitars in middle and high school, I was navigating growing up in a lower middle class suburban household in the 90s, where the focus on daily activities was always on how much money something was going to cost. Wanting to try something new was always translated into picking a part each penny to make sure it had value and while dance classes and sports had value in my parent’s eyes, music never made the cut.
So, I could have scraped together some cash from my bagel shop job in high school to buy an acoustic and strum away in my bedroom, write lyrics in my notebook, and show up at a coffee shop open mics like Jewel used to do, right? Probably, if I actually liked the music Jewel wrote and didn’t allow my spirit to be broken by some dumb shit guys about their thoughts on who was allowed to participate in the hallowed activity of talking about music. By the time I was 18, I was inundated with messages from boys at school and the neighborhood that my pretty little head couldn’t handle something as complicated as the noise coming out of the radio or the record player. Being talked over when I started to talk about music was a common tactic but I had also had the pleasure of being the recipient of some verbal stunners. Some of my favorites include:
I laugh at these now but at the time, because of my age and understanding of the world, I felt as if I was not good enough of a person to communicate with on such a basic and daily element of my life – if I couldn’t talk about music then I certainly couldn’t play it.
“But what about Riot Grrls?” you say. “Didn’t you know about Bikini Kill or Sleater Kinney? They were my idols in the 90s.”
Well, Mary, I guess I just wasn’t as cool as you. I mean, I don’t know what else to say except growing up in the suburbs of San Diego pre-internet, not being able to wear makeup or even the color black, you could say my exposure to the world at large was pretty limited. Being in a space where I was somewhat sheltered, my awareness of those grrrls out there in the PNW rioting and having mix tapes with PJ Harvey and Bjork, weren’t enough to persuade me that I could make music. In fact, there was never a decision that playing an instrument wasn’t for me – it was more like something I had accepted wasn’t for me. Like, swallowing batteries wasn’t for me. Like, branding myself with a hot poker wasn’t for me. There was no wondering about if or maybe or why not: It. Just. Wasn’t. For. Me.
It wasn’t for me but throughout the years I saw people (mainly men but some women, I’m not going to lie) picking up any (ANY) instrument, playing it badly (SO BAD), and still getting applause while I stood at the back wondering if I heard the same thing everyone else heard.
So, decades after feeling like I wasn’t allowed to play an instrument this year, I decided to take more control over the things I wanted from life and learn the guitar. I signed up for a rock camp for womxn through Rain City Rock Camp in Seattle and I told them I wanted to learn to play the guitar because I wanted to learn how to make the fuzzy sound I love in shoegaze music. At the time, they moved the camp online due to COVID and because I didn’t have a guitar, they brought one and an amp to my doorstep. I Zoomed into camp and met a bunch of other adults who were trying an instrument for the first time and, as the Camp Director Captain Queen Adro Boo says, we did “a thing”: we played our instruments, shared our stories, had a digital dance party while isolated in our homes, and supported each other to get through this thing we call life (couldn’t help myself). But during that weekend I didn’t just realize that I wasn’t alone in my ambition or in postponing my interest, but I mainly learned how much I stood in my own way throughout the years by letting someone else’s narrative control my existence. No more, friends, no more of that.
I started practicing in May 2020 and then stopped (because learning a new instrument is hard, y’all!) but I am jumping on the wagon again and have been practicing for a week and have even learned something:
This week, I’ll continue practicing the one finger G and C chords, learn about Em & Am, and start exploring the intimidating world of the G and C chords. I don’t know if there will be a video but maybe a picture of me crying. What I do know is that learning something new is hard and learning something new after a certain age is even harder and I’m hoping to keep up with the practice and keep myself accountable through this blog. Are you starting an adventure in something you’ve always wanted to do? I wanna hear about it! Let’s learn a thing together.