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Guitar Hero: Taking Care of Business (Part One)

I’ve mentioned on and off that I want to take guitar lessons.  It’s something I gave up as a teenager, and I’m barely functional on the instrument.  I am pretty much limited to “Puff the Magic Dragon” and “Charlie and the MTA.”  I cannot restring my own guitar and that apparently makes me a pussy.  In my head, I’m Kelley Deal of the Breeders, except without a twin, band, or swingy hair.  Oh, and with an acoustic guitar instead of an electric one.  But, you know, same thing.

But in my head, I also have this mental block — that art classes and music lessons and the like are for kids.  And I missed that boat.  Now, if I want to learn something new, I am expected to take cooking lessons or yoga.  It seems like there is a clear line — noticeable if you look at the course offerings for adults in the county catalog — between activities that are for kids (beginner fine arts classes and tutoring) and adults (fix your car or manage your finances).

My cousin and I were walking around Harvard recently and it suddenly hit me that I’m never going to go to Harvard.  I know, I’m a little slow on the uptake (perhaps why I didn’t get into Harvard), but I realized that I was going to die and never have that experience.  Yes, I could dedicate myself to that goal; move up to Boston and take a night class or whatever they have open to the general public.  But it was this moment where I started to feel as if my life was speeding down a bowling alley-like lane towards death with all these unfinished dreams scattered in the gutters like shattered bowling balls.

And it terrified me.

Because you only get to live once.  And I don’t want to get to the end of my life and say, “holy fuck, I totally forgot that I wanted to learn [fill in the blank] and now it’s too late.”

Becoming a kick-ass guitar player a la Joan Jett is one of those gutter ball dreams.  It’s not even about performing — I don’t need to play for anyone else.  I just want to know in my head before I die that I fucking rocked that guitar hardcore.

One of the beauties of being in your 30s is that you have a confidence that you didn’t have in your 20s to grab life by the balls (and apply pressure for good measure — not enjoyable pressure, but the kind that makes the guy wince a little).  And I decided that I didn’t care if all the other students at the music school were 12-years-old with retainers and homework.  I was going to take music classes too.

We went to the music school earlier this week to sign up for my lessons.  And the guy was a little confused, but he kept saying, “yeah, that’s cool” as he furrowed his brow, as if he was trying to convince me that he believed that it was super cool for a woman with greying hair and bladder control issues when she sneezes (perhaps he didn’t know per se about the bladder control issues, but he could suspect) to come to the school and rock out.  I am starting with my acoustic guitar and once I’ve proven to Josh that I’m not going to flake out on this, he is going to get me an electric one.

I am joking about this, but I’m scared.  I don’t feel like I have the luxury to walk away from this again.  I can’t be so cocky this time unless I’m willing to leave the guitar dream in the gutter.  I feel old.  I’m 9 years older than my teacher.  I feel slow.  I worry that I won’t have time to practice.  I worry that even with practice, you won’t be able to tell that I’ve been working hard.  I worry that I’ll be the joke at the school — that the guys will laugh about me once I leave for the day; that old chick who thinks she’s ever going to be good at this.

But too many friends have cancer, and Josh and I often wonder aloud how we reached an age where multiple friends have cancer.  Where is moves from being an anomaly to something that happens.  And maybe I need to borrow from their mortality to remember that life is short.  Even when you get to the ripe old age of 90, life is short.  And if things should change for me tomorrow, I’d want to know that even if I didn’t achieve all my goals, at least I was working towards them and had taken to heart the gravity of unfinished business.

I start my guitar lessons this week, and I plan to blog about them once in a while.  Just because it’s a chance to subject you to painful sound clips of me playing “Sister Goldenhair” while crooning along.  Thank G-d I self-hosted so I could do this to you. Just because I need to be held to knocking down bowling pins rather than being dragged past the gutter balls of life.  Just because I need to feel like a rock star instead of grey-haired writer.  Just because y’all know about my bladder-control-while-sneezing issues and those boys have no clue.  Oh, and because I’m going to fucking rock that guitar hardcore.

What skill do you wish you had learned?


1 gingerandlime { 01.27.11 at 8:16 am }

Good for you! So many people feel like you did, that the arts are for kids, and it just isn’t true. I work at a community music school and about 1/4 of our students are adult amateurs. As a teacher adults are actually my favorite population to work with. In general adult students (like you) are really motivated and are taking lessons for the pure joy of it — as opposed to kids, who all too often are coming in exhausted from homework and soccer, and are only taking the lessons because Uncle Steve bought them the damned instrument so they’d better learn to play it….

I’m so glad you’re going for it! Bring on the sound clips.

My answer to your question: I wish I had learned to sew. I own a sewing machine, some mutilated fabric, and several horribly tangled bobbins, but I’m not having much success with it. I taught myself to knit and to do a few types of embroidery, but this whole sewing thing is eluding me. It’s hard. And I’m not sure how to learn it — everyone I know just seems to know how to do it.

2 Tara { 01.27.11 at 8:22 am }

Woodworking…I loved it in elementary school & was really good at it & very adept with tools…but when I hit highschool my “girlfriends” said only loser-pot-head-boys & butchy-loser-girls take shop…so I caved to peer pressure & never took it…

3 April { 01.27.11 at 8:36 am }

I always wanted to be able to play the piano. I know a little that I taught myself, but it’s not much. And my ability to read bass cleff is really atrocious.

However, it’s never too late to learn something new. I do play violin and I teach it one night a week. My only student is a retired man. He inheritted his father’s violin and found it in his attic when he was cleaning it out. Once he found out that I could play, he asked for lessons. He isn’t going at the speed of light and he’ll never play Carnegie Hall, but he’s learning and is lightyears beyond where he was 3 years ago.

Oh, and you will fucking rock the guitar hardcore. I have faith.

4 manymanymoons { 01.27.11 at 8:40 am }

Hell Yes!! I am so proud of you (and by proud, I mean jealous and inspired). Good for you for just doing it. I may have to bookmark this post and revisit it occasionally to remind myself that it’s now or never. Thanks for the kick…I needed it!

5 tara { 01.27.11 at 8:50 am }

cello lessons- no question about it. I’d like to start them once my kid is old enough to take lessons- you know go at the same time. But I think 3 is way too young for a 50 minute lesson on fake violin at the end of the day regardless of what suzuki says.
i agree with the other Tara about woodworking- my father in law helped me turn a bowl once. It was wicked cool. If he actually had safe equipment and a shop that didn’t make me blind from allergies, I’d love to do more. It’s wicked empowering.
So congrats & squeeze away– another one of my recent grads died this week and I’m also in that wow, you gotta just do stuff stage.

6 a { 01.27.11 at 9:47 am }

I am going to learn how to sew one of these days. I also want to learn some different languages. I just have no motivation lately. However, I am not intimidated by my age or gray hair, so that’s not what’s holding me back. For me, it’s just lack of time – or more accurately, lack of willingness to make time.

7 mijk { 01.27.11 at 9:52 am }

I am gonna sound like a recent convert or a creep but I can’t help it . I have just finished The artist Way by Julia Cameron and she adresses all these fears. I am pretty sure you’ll like it and the biggest plus is that I found it an incredible parenting tool. It tells you how to unblock and int hat it showedme how sometimes I subconsiously block my kids..

8 Another Dreamer { 01.27.11 at 10:22 am }

Awesome! I can’t wait to hear how it goes 🙂 I’m kinda like that right now, I want to take some lessons in a few things because life it short and there is so much I’ve been missing. I keep telling my husband that I want to get a bass guitar and learn to play it, learn to dance, and take cake decorating classes… only time will tell if any of that comes true. We did decide that this is the year of adventure, so we’re taking a few road trips (just within the state for now) and getting out there and seeing what we can 🙂 It’s liberating.

9 Cattiz J { 01.27.11 at 10:22 am }

This reminded me of the time I took guitar lessons (still in my 20s) because I thought it would be cool and fun. It turned out though, I didn’t like it much. My lack of patient wasn’t anywhere near what I had needed for the practice. So doing this in your 30s may be the key!

10 loribeth { 01.27.11 at 10:28 am }

Driving. I actually have my driver’s license; I just never drive. I sailed through driver’s ed when I was 16, then flunked the road test — twice. I had an awful man giving me the test, barking out orders like Hitler, never cracking a smile. Totally shattered my confidence. 🙁

Eight years later, before I got married, I bit the bullet, took a few private lessons & managed to pass (in my parents’ one-stoplight small town). I’ve maintained my license, but I have rarely driven since then. Dh drove a standard for the first eight years we were married, which I didn’t know how to drive, & I didn’t want to drive in Toronto traffic anyway. :p It’s slightly calmer out in the suburbs where we now live (especially if you stick to the side roads), but we’ve just gotten used to dh always driving & me always in the passenger seat. My grandmother never drove & made me promise I wouldn’t be like her. Maybe when I’m retired I’ll take some lessons & start driving again. ; )

Dh took up guitar after he turned 40. He took some group lessons through the local community college, ehough to be able to pick out a tune. He doesn’t play as often as he used to, but he loved it, & I love seeing him with his guitar, because I know it makes him happy. : )

11 PaleMother { 01.27.11 at 11:00 am }

A perefect, perfectly sad expression … Gutterball Dreams.

One of the crazy things about parenting is trying to figure out which chances to give them … music, sports, you-name-it … so they don’t miss out on these learn-em-while-you’re-young-or regret-it things.

I distincly remember watching the winter and summer olympics a some ripe, old elementary age and realizing … that I would never, ever get to do that. The island of Your Possibilites only shrinks from there. Some windows close before you even realize such windows exist.

Someone just opened a new guitar place in our town … they actually have groups for the “older” students. If these lessons don’t work out … maybe look for a different school?

“Where is moves from being an anomaly to something that happens.”

Very weird turf. Life is different on this side. Suddenly you understand why Adults are so damn serious some of the time and why they are occasionally can’t relate to your … youth.

12 Tara (TIMO) { 01.27.11 at 11:09 am }

My Grandpa started taking guitar lessons at 66 years old. I remember him playing for us on Christmas Day.

I’d like to learn photography. I inherited Grandpa’s old cameras and lenses (film, thank you very much). I know he’d want them used again.

13 Foxy { 01.27.11 at 12:51 pm }

Spanish, I wish that I could speak spanish.

But, the reality is that I will probably never learn. meh.

14 Jem { 01.27.11 at 12:54 pm }


I’m right there with you! As part of my IVF de-stress campaign I bit the bullet and started guitar lessons. I’ve wanted to learn for years. I borrowed my aunt’s (classical) guitar and have been playing for 4 weeks now. I take private lessons and practice most evenings. It gives me great pleasure in the doing, but also in knowing that you can teach this old dog new tricks.

15 Kristin { 01.27.11 at 1:21 pm }

Way to go, Mel! I sort of wish I had learned to play the piano.

16 HereWeGoAJen { 01.27.11 at 1:48 pm }

I want to take ballet. Someday, I might, when it works out with the schedule.

17 Tracy { 01.27.11 at 2:29 pm }

it’s almost too prosaic but the best commentary on living while you’re aging that I ever read was from “Dear Abby” and it’s why I started college at 35. A woman about my age wrote in and said she was thinking of going to school but at her age, what was the point? It would take her four years to do it and for what?
“Abby” asked her how old she’d be in four years if she didn’t go to school.
this logic makes it easier for me to find reasons to do things vs. focusing on all the reasons not to do them.

18 Kir { 01.27.11 at 2:34 pm }

good luck sweetie, I know you are GOING TO ROCK that guitar..

I always wanted to be a psychologist or a lawyer…and I’m still thinking of both of things, it’s never too late. Right?

19 Vee { 01.27.11 at 3:24 pm }

You go girl! That is great and you will totally rock because you rock everything you do.
I had lessons in my 3o’s too, one thing I have always wanted to do is to play the guitar. Max bought me a guitar and off I went to my lessons, but my down fall was practicing. I just didn’t have time for it. But I will have another go and we can rock together :).

20 Lori Lavender Luz { 01.27.11 at 3:34 pm }

You make me want to take up something new. Something I can subject my blog readers to.

Will you eventually be able to pennywhistle to your own accompaniment?

21 BigP's Heather { 01.27.11 at 4:49 pm }

Any sport…mostly gymnastics but that is just never going to happen. So I did join a roller derby team and was LOVING it – until they recently moved the team and I can’t do it anymore…insert sad face.

Now I’m unmotivated to do cardio.

22 magpie { 01.27.11 at 5:14 pm }

Okay, that’s it. I’m picking up the ukulele as soon as I finish putting in this zipper.

23 jjiraffe { 01.27.11 at 6:20 pm }

This is so cool, and I love that your idol is Kelley Deal. (Because everyone always brings up Kim Gordon whenever female guitar players are mentioned and The Breeders rock.) I can’t wait to see you do your thing!

The hobby I’m pursuing now is writing. Real original, I know 😉

24 TasIVFer { 01.27.11 at 7:18 pm }

Question: why does it matter if you wind up being good at it or not? When we were children we could sing or draw or play an instrument because we enjoyed doing it, not because we’re the best at it. The thing is if you’re having fun, you don’t HAVE to be Joan Jett; you’re having FUN! And actually having fun will add spice to your performance; make it better than it is (no matter how good or bad it is to begin with). So *whatever* about the how good you are, learn well enough that you enjoy what you’re doing! (And it’s totally an excuse for some rockin’ shoes – to improve you performance even more!)

25 Jendeis { 01.27.11 at 7:48 pm }

Too many things — piano, cello, ice skating…the list goes on and on. 🙂

26 meghan { 01.27.11 at 9:41 pm }

Go you!!!

I bought a fiddle off ebay a few years ago…and it’s still sitting in its case. I’d love to learn to play it.

And knit better. I’m such a half assed knitter…all I can do are hats and scarves because I missed the class on finishing. I should take another class but don’t have time right now.

Can’t wait to hear you rocking out!

27 Just Me { 01.27.11 at 10:32 pm }

I really enjoyed the guitar lessons I took in college. But now I’m a total girl about my nails, and you can’t play guitar with long nails… so the little I learned has fallen by the wayside.

I’ve wanted to take a photography class for a long time, but there never seemed to be the time. As I’m on a leave from my teaching job this year, I figured I have no excuses! I finally signed up and it starts next week! 🙂

28 ebc { 01.27.11 at 11:24 pm }

oh how fabulous! i took up the cello outta the blue two years ago and it’s been such a fun thing to finally learn it and just do something totally different than the rest of my life! the lesson before is 10yo and the lesson after me is 52yo…so it’s never too late!

as for my next thing to start learning…photography. can’t afford the classes or the fancy digital right now, so i’m starting with my mom’s old film since she’s got some cool lenses and a book from the library. gotta learn to take good pics before the elusive babies arrive!

29 coffeegrl { 01.28.11 at 7:26 am }

Yay! I love starting to learn new things. The follow through I’m not so good at. Turns out knitting really didn’t excite me like I thought it would. And frankly the yarn was too expensive for my tastes. Or rather, my tastes ran to expensive yarns….

I’d like to learn some form of martial arts. I’d like to learn to play the fiddle. Maybe Meghan and I should learn together! I’d like to be able to make seriously crazy baked goods and elaborate cakes and such. I think about culinary arts classes. And one day, I’d really like to get serious about learning Japanese, but I need intensive classes and that’s just not happening with a baby in the house. One day…. Um. And I’d like to improve my photography skills. All in good time! Rock that guitar! I seriously found Guitar Hero totally addictive!

30 Dora { 01.28.11 at 4:37 pm }

Good for you! I look forward to hearing your progress.

I’d like to learn to weld. And blow glass.

31 Bea { 01.29.11 at 1:49 am }

Go! Go! I am proud of you and I don’t think you should worry about what the rest of the class thinks because you are already cooler than them. Bring on the self-hosted guitar concerts. Hurrah!


32 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 01.29.11 at 10:38 pm }

I suggest that you make time for practicing by forcing your kids to participate in sing-alongs.

I used to always wish I’d done pottery, and then I did it! I mean, I do it, except that I haven’t set foot in the studio since before my twins were born. But every day they and I eat from dishes I made, and I’ll make more someday.

You at the school reminds me of when I was a kid: my ballet teachers offered a class for the moms during the day when we were all at school. Some of them used to dance when they were kids, but I’m sure some of them had always wanted to do ballet and never got the chance until then. I can see them all now, in my mind’s eye, at the recital… No one was laughing.

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