ODY: Weeks 18/19. 133/365. Home and Hearth.

Well, I just keep hacking away. It’s all about hideously retro concepts like faith and, ugh, duty. I can do dutiful, but it wouldn’t hurt to have some beautiful. I could sure use some inspiration. Just after the funeral dirge that was the last progress (?) report, I actually put together two really fine days of practice in a row. Whining is virtue! Venting can be fun and productive. Catharsis lives!

There was no aha, no shining moment of clarity. But as has happened before, coming back to work on smooth and semi-automatic chord changes did the trick, for a couple of days anyway. The Big Picture was awfully cloudy, but the microscopic viewpoint helped me see some new things. I realized that my index finger is always en retard when I’m shaping a D chord, so I’ve been focussing on getting that reluctant follower to lead for a change. He’s still not trustworthy, but Finger One can surprise me by doing what he ought to without me having to remind him every time.

Because we were either on the road or doing home improvements for much of the last two weeks, it was as if my 100-Day guitar habit had never been. More than once, I staggered gratefully to bed after a too-long day, pooped and dim-witted, only to realize that I hadn’t visited the Six String Chapel that day. Argh! Much groaning and rationalization ensued. Don’t be so anal. It’s after midnight anyway, so what does it matter? Besides, maybe One Missed Day – oh, the horror! the horror! — will give you something more interesting to write about, you know, the tragic death of a perfect attendance record (what is this, Sunday school?), and the inspirational story of overcoming that awful setback and building anew. No? Well, how ‘bout this? Just between you and me and the dishes in the sink, nobody cares whether you miss a friggin’ day! You’re not that important! This is about as meaningful as a dog taking a dump in the woods. Rover has a consecutive days streak going, too.

One of those days was the Princess’s birthday, so to that snarling voice was added her sweet one. It had been a quiet and lovely evening, and sleep was calling when the realization hit. “Oh, stay with me, it’s so warm. And it’s my birthday…” Now that was pretty convincing. I came close to falling from musical/dutiful grace, such as it is, so I had to summon my best argument. (Not so much to convince her, but myself. And it worked. It might even be true.) “If I miss one day, a second one won’t matter. Next thing you know, a week’ll go by and I won’t mind much. I’m not in lessons, so who’s gonna notice? The thing is, I feel like I could mail the whole thing in. It’s bloody fragile.” Okay, so maybe I’m a drama prince. (We all gotta get some drama somewhere.) But this Guitar Player persona IS fragile, and I could lose my tenuous toe-hold on the sheer face of music very easily. So I stumbled down to my mom-in-law’s laundry room, leaned against the washer and played some cement-floor blues. It actually felt good, like a small sacrifice that might someday have value. And the Princess was sleeping, and the bed was just as warm, when I gratefully crawled into it half an hour later.

A few days after that tiny crisis, I had a more comfortable perch in my big sister’s living room, and somebody to play with. It was the Return of the Itinerant Artist, into my personal space at least. While I didn’t get as much time as I’d hoped for guitar renewal with my music guru and son the IA, it was marvy good. He answered some questions, and made helpful observations on my technique and on my earnestly clumsy approach to this whole business. He showed me how to play the acoustic guitar line to “Wheat Kings” by The Tragically Hip. (It’s just G to C and back, with a D thrown into the chorus. Pretty much the same ingredients as CCR’s “Who’ll Stop the Rain”, but an entirely different rhythm. I’m going to have to hear it some more, because I’ve lost the feel of it.) We looked at my attempts at playing the Twelve-Bar Blues sequence – still having some trouble getting smoothly into the B7 chord, but I know da blues – and then the IA gave me a great and much-needed experience. “Okay, Dad, you play that line, over and over, don’t stop, and I’ll solo over the top of it.”

And away we went, two acoustic guitars in a quiet small-town living room, and I was playing MUSIC! I need to find way more of that. Holy Fun! ‘Course, when ever now and again I tried to get a little creative with my strumming rhythm, I instantly lost track of the chord changes. And it didn’t matter. The IA would just nod, smile and keep picking, and I’d gradually find my way back into the groove. Sweetness!

And on another road trip night, in another living room, brother-in-law Silent Paul and I followed our epic country walk with some guitar sharing. (He’s not so silent when it’s just two guys and some ideas that he cares about.) Actually, most of the sharing was his, as he’s a lot farther down this road than I am and actually performs in his church sometimes. He showed me a fine little sequence that starts with a different fingering of the basic E chord, leaving the first finger free. Sliding that same shape up the fretboard, and barring the 5th, 7th and 9th frets behind it with the free index finger, produces respectively a higher A, a B and (dropping finger three) a C minor chord. Nifty. SP got excited about showing me this guitar lick, and worked hard to figure out how to write the sequence of chords for me, since he plays it beautifully and brainlessly. I’ll need at least one more visit down home before I grasp this sequence – Paul gives me way too much credit – but it’ll be, at least, a fresh reason and a new way to work on barre chords.

Even better, it was a chance to share this way-too-solitary cruise with others. For those two nights, playing guitar was less lonely and more interesting. (This playing alone in my cave is what the IA mainly means when he shakes his head at my weird way of learning guitar.) I still don’t play well with others, or very much, anyway, but there’s hope. Two living rooms’ worth.

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