Thursday, November 12, 2015

Doing Wrong - Kristine Rolofson

Me and the lap steel.
My life as an amateur musician has had its ups and downs.  I taught myself to play the guitar when I was a teenager.  I learned every Judy Collins, Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell song.  I sang my little heart out.
And then I got married and had children.  I happily switched to bread-making and breast-feeding and singing along with my Willie Nelson albums.  I learned the words to a lot of songs.  I harmonized with Suzy Bogguss and Kathy Mattea and Lori Morgan in my kitchen.  I sang my little heart out.
And then I became a writer.  "Silence" was my new friend and writing my new passion.
About ten years ago I decided to be a musician again, but I didn't have much of a voice left and my arthritic fingers couldn't quite shape themselves into guitar chords, so I picked up the violin and took lessons for four years.
I loved it.  Until arthritis once again came into play and I realized I needed to learn another instrument just in case the time came when I couldn't move my fingers to play my beloved fiddle.
A steel guitar uses a bar for chording, so that seemed a good choice. Three years ago I bought a 1950's lap steel from a store in Texas.  I talked to the lap steel player with Suzy Bogguss and bought a 1940's Rickenbacker lap steel he recommended. 
But I couldn't find a teacher.
I dragged my husband to the quarterly meeting of the RI Steel Guitar Association meeting, ninety minutes away.  I brought a crock pot of meatballs for the potluck lunch and met some wonderful people, but no one knew anyone who gave lessons.
Two weeks later I went to the New England Steel Guitar Association meeting which turned out to be a dance party, complete with Western outfits and two-stepping 90 year olds.  They loved my boots and they asked me to dance, but once again, no one knew anyone who gave lessons.
I bought video lessons on-line, which was a technological nightmare.  I struggled with the downloads and I struggled with the lessons, but I played with my Idaho band in the summers and did the best I could (which isn't saying much).  My brother felt bad for me and arranged for an hour's lesson with the top lap steel guitar player in the country (and maybe the world), Cindy Cashdollar.  But Cindy was leaving Austin, Texas last winter and moving to New York and our schedules haven't meshed yet.  One of these days...
Last November I bought a dobro.  It looks like a guitar, plays like a lap steel and requires no electricity.  I found a teacher  here in RI, but last winter's storms meant I couldn't get out of the house to take lessons.  I couldn't find a dobro or lap steel teacher in Idaho last summer either.
But I am back in RI now and I have been taking lessons with "Buddy" for the past four weeks.
Can you imagine how excited I was about this?
The first three weeks of lessons didn't go well.  My elderly brain couldn't remember the blues licks he taught me on week 1, so on week 2 I recorded the lesson, asking Buddy to repeat lesson 1, on my new I-phone (but I couldn't get the lesson from my phone to my computer).  I bought another set of video lessons online, hoping to supplement Buddy's teachings.  Week 3 I recorded the 30-minute lesson on my cell phone but after 10 minutes it ran out of storage.  Week 4 I couldn't go due to food poisoning.  I would guess that Buddy was relieved.
I have had a terrible time learning what this patient man is trying to teach me.  I can't remember most of it.  My friend Ruth thinks I need to have my thyroid checked.  My baffled husband doesn't believe I can practice so much and still not get it.  I am not making progress.  I'm drowning.
Which brings me to the point of this story (and it may even have something to do with writing!!).  Yesterday I was prepared to record the lesson with my Kindle and a tripod.  I'd practiced "I'll Fly Away" thousands of times and it was still terrible.  I was dreading the inevitable struggle to make music and the humiliation that comes with failure.  Only my stubborn nature ("I will do this if it kills me") and the thought of my post-lesson Spicy Italian Subway sandwich kept me driving to the music store on week 5.
And then after some long minutes of playing together, Buddy paused, took a deep breath and said, "Kristine, let me tell you what you're doing wrong."
Let me tell you what you're doing wrong.
Are there any better words to hear when you are trying to learn something???
I wanted to jump up and down and cheer after Buddy listed what I was doing wrong.  There were a number of things.  Bring 'em on, Buddy!  I can take it!  I can fix it!  I can make progress now!
Tell me what I'm doing wrong!
I've met and taught and critiqued many, many unpublished writers in the past 30 years.  I've read hundreds of Golden Heart entries and even co-chaired the contest.  The writers who impressed me were the ones who were grateful for criticism, the ones who appreciated the comments about what they were doing wrong.
Sometimes it's the only way.

Have you ever had a difficult time learning something?  Do you play a musical instrument?  And what is your favorite Subway sandwich?



  

21 comments:

  1. What a great post! I admit I don't always want to hear it, but it's what I NEED to hear. (Don't tell Charles, my editor, I said that--he's just way too willing. ) Good luck with the dobro--I love its lonesome sound. My favorite Subway sandwich right now isn't a sandwich at all, but a chopped salad, which I can cheerfully eat by the pound.

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    1. Thanks, Liz. "Lonesome sound" is a great way to describe the dobro's notes. I love listening to it when it's played well. :)

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  2. I admire your tenacity. Yes, I had a difficult time learning Geometry. I never could get it. I played the clarinet from grade school to High School. Music was always my favorite subject. I felt right at home in music class. My favorite Subway Sandwich is Turkey with provolone, lettuce, tomatoes, oil, vinegar and a little pepper on honey oat bread. Well, it might not be my favorite. I don't know since that's the only one I attempt to eat there. ( :

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    1. I've heard many times that music and math go together, but I don't understand the connection. Hurray for honey oat bread!

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  3. Oh, I can relate! Although I'm not good at taking criticism, I can learn if someone kindly says, 'Let me tell you what you're doing wrong.' I admire your determination to learn your new instrument. Best of luck!

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    1. The one positive thing with the dobro is that is doesn't sound as bad as when I was starting the violin. My dogs would hide in the bathroom whenever they saw me lift the violin out of its case.

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  4. I took violin lessons in elementary; then, guitar lessons in high school. I could play John Denver songs, some Elvis, and Dueling Banjoes. When I stopped taking lessons, I stopped playing. Years ago, in my 30s, I bought a psalter. It's in the closet. I made it all the way to Simon and Garfunkle with that one. I will play it again because I miss it. Unfortunately there's not enough time in the day for all I want to do.
    My favorite subway sandwich is the chicken and onion teriyaki.

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    1. One of these days you'll pick up the guitar again!!

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  5. In my teenage years, I played a banjo, self-taught after my mother showed me how to read the music. A few years ago, I took lessons on the guitar. I never had your drive so my guitar now gathers dust in the corner. Kudo’s to you and Buddy. I’ve always appreciated when someone tells me what I’m doing wrong. How else can you learn? I pretty much like all the Subway sandwiches.

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    1. Where did you grow up? Almost all of the banjo players I've met are over 50 and male! LOL!

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  6. Kristine, thank you for sharing your soul. I love listening to music and love watching dancing. I never had the knack for either. I love guitar and especially mountain music. When we traveled the Blue Ridge Mountains I stopped at every shop and bought a CD of the music. And I went to several places that made guitars and dobros, just because I like knowing how things are made to work. I'm so taken with Keith Urban that I watch his programs on the home shopping channel where he sells guitars and lessons. I grew up loving the singers you mentioned and wonder what has happened to Suzy Boggus, and Kathy Mattea. As for Subway, my favorite sandwich is almost exactly like the one Laurie listed above. So Kristine, I applaud your every effort to keep doing something you love.

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    1. We went to see Kathy Mattea perform before she was at her career peak. She opened for Lee Greenwood and did one of the best sets I've ever seen.

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    2. I think I'd like going on a road trip with you! Suzy Bogguss is touring again, now that her kids are grown. Her husband is her stage manager and sound guy, and she has a new cd out called "Lucky", which are Merle Haggard songs. I've seen her live 4 times in the past couple of years and it is always a thrill.

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  7. Starting in elementary school, until my sophomore year in high school, I played the clarinet. I wanted to play the flute, but for whatever reason, my mother had visions of our family having the next Benny Goodman. That didn't happen...I could never tone down the squeaking.
    As for Subway, I love turkey and swiss.
    You've inspired me, Kristine. To this day, I still long to learn to play the flute.

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  8. Terrific post, Kristin.

    I always strive to be better at whatever I do, so I value feedback.There hasn't been a single step in the editing process for any of my books that I haven't learned something new from Paula, and I am grateful for it.

    Great picture, by the way!

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    1. Thanks. Ellie on mandolin, Linda on accordion and on the right: Connie on keyboard. We're missing Ann on mandolin but she was at her son's wedding and missed the gig. Very special women in my life!

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  9. Good for you, Kristine. You may suffer from arthritis, but with your attitude, you'll never get old. I'm fairly positive about being told what I'm doing wrong - eventually. But I need a good 48 hours of storming around first before it can take hold. Our Sub shop is teamed with a little burrito shack, and when Ron heads for Subway, I go for the burritos.

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    1. Ashamed to mention that I don't even know what a dobro is. Have not a speck of musical talent on any instrument, but love to listen to others play. Or just watch Keith Urban. I loved that Kathy Mattea was in Maverick.

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  10. Most of my school subject came fairly easily, but Spanish class would leave me with a headache every day. I took piano lessons for years, but never could get both hands coordinated. Saxophone in the marching band was better. My best musical performances came when I switched to baritone sax my senior year and just had to play the oom-pa parts. It hung nearly to my ankles, but I did march with it.

    You've got a great attitude, and I'm sure the aptitude will come with time. And you're so right, you have to know what you're doing wrong to move ahead. Great post

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  11. I'm one of those people who wants to play/sing but alas I must have been hiding behind the door when God handed out musical talent. Lol. So proud of your determination!

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