My fiancé, Paul, bought a 3-D printer and is crazy-giddy about it. He assembled it himself, which was quite the feat, and he finally got it working the other night. “Watch, babe!” he said, dancing around the living room as the printer made beeping sounds and filled our small apartment with the smell of melted plastic. “Isn’t it so cool?”
“It’s very cool,” I said for the hundredth time.
After about twenty minutes, the printer had successfully created a one-inch plastic cube. “It’s like we own a machine from a Lego factory,” I said.
“Yeah! I could make Legos for our kids one day.”
Paul’s been trying to convince me for the past six months that a 3-D printer will actually be quite useful. “I can make all sorts of things with it,” he told me, “Like… I could make a broom.”
“But we already have a broom.”
“Or…” His eyes fell on my guitar case, “I could make you some guitar picks.”
I laughed. “That would mean I’d have to start playing my guitar again.”
I began taking guitar lessons in October of last year, and back then I practiced nearly every day. I quit the lessons in April due to money and time restraints, but still I tried to play a few times a week and teach myself new songs using the Internet. But by August, my guitar-playing had fallen by the wayside, and I’d only picked up my guitar once or twice since we moved to Minneapolis at the beginning of September.
I looked at my guitar. I could practice, or I could sit on the couch reading and eating a cookie. I chose the latter. I’ll practice tomorrow night, I thought.
But then I didn’t. I’m always so tired in the evenings after work and yoga and making dinner. I didn’t feel like lugging out my guitar and struggling through songs that are frustrating because I can only half-play them. Plus, I’d lost the nice calluses I’d built up on my fingers — playing would be painful.
In a lot of ways, playing the guitar is like writing. Chances are, you’ll only get good if you do it nearly every day. That’s not to say you can’t take a hiatus, but when you do, it can be difficult to get back into the routine. You’re going to be rusty and things aren’t going to sound good or go smoothly, and that doesn’t exactly motivate you to pick up the guitar or sit down with a blank page.
While I was driving the other day, I wondered if maybe I’d never play the guitar again. It’s not like I’m ever going to be that good anyway. I have tiny, child-sized hands and little natural musical ability. I’ve never been the type to play around with an instrument until I get it to sound good, and it wouldn’t be any real skin off my back if I never played again.
But then I thought of the pleasure I got when I worked out the chords to a new song, or when I was able to play something simple and sing along. Sort of like the pleasure I get when I revise a short story or work out the plot to a new novel. The work isn’t always fun or easy, but I’m proud and happy when I get something to sound good.
So yesterday morning, I took a break from writing and sat down with my guitar. It was horribly out of tune, and I had to spend a good ten minutes tightening the strings and practicing some basic chords.
Then I played some of my easier songs: “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For a Sunbeam” and “Riptide” by Vance Joy. My fingertips smarted painfully, and my chords were less-than-crisp, but I could still do it. My fingers moved with muscle memory into the chord shapes and strumming patterns. It was hard, but I still had it in me. After three songs, I had to take a break, but that was okay. A little bit is better than nothing, and realizing that I could still make music would be my motivation to play again sometime soon. It was also helpful, I noticed, to play in the morning, when I hadn’t used up my reserves of patience and energy for the day.
For the past few months I’ve been fairly dedicated to writing, but I’m getting ready to take a hiatus. I’ve finished the first draft of a new novel and I want to let it rest. Plus there’s Christmas and New Years and a trip to New Orleans coming up. Oh, and a wedding to plan. So chances are I won’t get settled back into a serious writing routine until the middle of January.
When January comes around and it’s time to get back to work, I’ll have to remember that even though it’s hard to get back in the habit, and even though I’ll be rusty and writing might be painful at first, this is something that will always be in me. It may take a few days of tuning and practicing the basics, but eventually I’ll be back in the swing of things, my calluses fully-formed.
And although I don’t feel the need to be a guitar player, I do feel the need to be a writer. I like to think I’ve got some natural ability, and I’ve always been the type to play around with words and stories until I get something that sounds right. My guitar playing will probably come and go, but writing is a habit I intend to keep.