|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?