Calloused

When I was 14 or 15, I babysat some of the neighborhood kids to earn some extra cash. One of the kids had guitars, one electric and one acoustic. He was taking lessons, and sometimes he would show me things he had learned. I decided to begin learning how to play the guitar, basically by teaching myself. Once I deciphered the symbols on sheet music that tell you where to put your fingers, I could pretty much figure out the rhythm myself for strumming with my pick.

Immediately, my fingertips began to develop callouses. It was quite painful at first, and not really knowing what I was doing meant I had to screw up a lot to finally get “You Were Meant For Me” by Jewel to sound anything like what I had heard on the radio.

I’m sure you know what a callous is, but the metaphor I’d like to draw from it bears repeating here for explicit reference. A callous is a toughened area of skin which has become relatively thick, compared to surrounding skin, from repeated friction, pressure, or other irritation.

Ballerinas get them on their feet and toes. Gymnasts can get them on their hands and must chalk them before mounting an apparatus in order to proceed with their routines.

I have a callous on my right middle finger, on the side toward my index finger, from writing long essays and papers in longhand in my many school days.

I removed my burgundy Converse All-Stars in Oslo this afternoon, after a very early train ride from Stockholm, to find new blisters on my heels. On this trip through Europe which is well into its second month, I have developed many blisters, and ultimately callouses, on the bottoms of my feet. What once hurt from the freshness and unfamiliarity, has now made my skin thicker and less painful for my body as it’s become more used to its environment.

My heart has grown calloused as well. It’s had enough of a go at love in my 33 years (although admittedly, most of those beginning years didn’t really count) and been hurt and healed over to develop somewhat thicker skin. It doesn’t mean things cannot get through and still hurt, but the places where I commonly found friction points and pressure, are now smooth and ready for stronger loves that may be out there. To be clear, I’m not insensitive, but the little things that once hurt, no longer do. Some of those earlier hurts, that is.

Callouses may look ugly, as may blisters. They’re not something you want to Google images of on the internet, unless you are a clinical type of person who likes the science of it… But callouses show where you have grown strong and immune to smaller pains.

I like the idea of them.

I had no idea at the outset of my trip that I would develop so many. Yet, here they are, ugly as ever, and I’m proud of them.

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Find your voice and learn to use it

I’d like to teach the world to sing, even though I can’t read sheet music.

Believe me, I’ve tried. I took keyboard lessons (don’t hate; it was the 80’s) at the tender age of 6 years old, and learned what the keys were. A-B-C-D-E-F-G. Doesn’t seem that hard. However, I didn’t have the attention span or talent to learn the black keys. I learned how to play random songs by ear (a little Kenny G, a little Heart & Soul, and the theme song to Miami Vice) but never made anything serious of it.

Instead, I found my musical inclination in the weirdest of ways. My mom liked to listen to the easy listening adult contemporary radio station when we would drive anywhere in the car. I memorized words as I heard them, as well as the melody. So now, I find myself a less than musically inclined random belter-outer of music. Even though sheet music just didn’t stick in my normally Velcro mind, I still found a way to learn songs through words and intonation. I saw myself as the poster child, the lead singer of the band who was just so good she couldn’t be bothered with any instrument but her vocal chords, given my only child Leo year of the rooster subliminal desire for attention.

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I couldn’t tell you what notes I’m singing out, nor do I know much about treble or bass or half notes. I can, however, sing an impromptu version of just about every mainstream song from the 80’s and 90’s. It was easy – all you had to do was listen for the words. Once you learned the words (or the sounds if you couldn’t figure out the words), you just had to sing along. For the longest time, basically until the invention of the internet and search engines, I thought Creedence Clearwater Revival was pretty helpful by telling me, “There’s the bathroom on the right.” No wonder I missed a heads up on all those bad moons on the rise.

I’ve always wanted to play some sort of musical instrument. If only I had talent, I could wow people without having to talk.

When I was 10, I was already quite the entrepreneur, opening a neighborhood maid service, countless lemonade and Kool-Aid stands, and then tried my hand at babysitting. I didn’t have any siblings, but I hadn’t managed to kill myself yet, so I figured that qualified me enough. After years of babysitting for a few families in the neighborhood, I gained a reputation as a reliable babysitter who had no social life when parents desperately needed “date night” to get out of the house.

When I was 15, I spent a whole summer babysitting 4 kids, from two families – 2 brothers and 2 sisters. I spent 10hrs a day on the clock, and it was a lot harder than the max 2 kids at a time I’d been used to. Hello, now taking applicants for the Preschool for the Blonde Village of the Damned Kids. Yes, all 5 of us blondies rode our bikes that summer to the neighborhood pool, the ice cream shop, the park and anywhere we could try to entertain ourselves during those long hot days. It really looked like something out of an M. Night Shyamalan Garbage Pail Kids family classic.

Anyway, the older brother was taking guitar lessons and needed to practice while I was there. He had a couple guitars – one electric and one acoustic. He much preferred the rocker style of the electric guitar and the attached speaker, so I’d grab the acoustic and do my best to accompany and learn from him. He loved Alanis Morissette, Jewel, the Wallflowers, and had sheet music showing finger placement on guitar chords. This was new to me – I could read where to put your fingers on a guitar! I was set! I just assumed every time a note appeared in between changing finger positions, just strum it. This musically dyslexic prodigy finally had her instrument!

I asked my parents for a guitar for my birthday that year – I got a no name cheap acoustic of my very own. By the time I had it in my position, I knew the chorus chords of Jewel’s “You Were Meant For Me” and the Wallflowers “One Headlight” enough to sing along.

The more I played, the more I came to a horrible revelation: I have insanely small hands with short fingers. I’m double jointed, and thus, the chord positions wreaked havoc on my weaker left hand. If only my right hand could control the chords and my stupid left hand could strum awkwardly. No dice. I can be ambidextrous at writing things left handed and upside down, but I cannot play a left handed guitar. I tried. I got all the chords backward, and I still struggled a bit with finger strength and placement, as well as moving them quickly enough to make any kind of melody.

It was hard, but I eventually stopped playing my guitar. When I got to college, I ended up taking it to a pawn store, and I hacked it for beer money. Money well spent too. I’m sure it afforded me two or three 100-packs of Keystone Light or Natural Ice.

I discovered along my lifetime that whilst I reckoned myself a champion singer and comfortable in the spotlight, that I sing horribly when actually trying in front of people. I would get up on stage for karaoke and while I imagined a stunning performance hitting every note in my head, what eventuated was ultimately flat rubbish. Perhaps I wasn’t as comfortable in the spotlight as I thought. But you get in me the shower, or intoxicated walking down the street, and I can belt out in perfect pitch without batting an eyelash, regardless of whether I have an audience or not. It actually sounds like I can sing sometimes.

Singing is how I found my own rhythm and inner drumbeat. It’s different from everybody else, sometimes astonishingly so. When you can liberate inside of you, finally let it out, you find ways to harmonize with other people.

So yeah, I’d like to teach the world to sing the way I learned to sing. Because once you discover your voice, no one can shut you up.

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