#8 Learn to play guitar
For the last few years, I have been toying with the idea of learning to play guitar. It seemed ridiculous at first, to try to learn an instrument at the ripe old age of not 20. The idea seemed even more ridiculous to one of my children who asked if I would be singing in cafes and wearing flowers in my hair. Of course, this taunting was followed by an overly dramatic cover of Kum by ya. I was then given advice on changing my wardrobe to include clogs and long, flowing dresses. It did seem to be a bit silly, given that image.
I let the idea go.
Then late one night, I was scrolling the dream life that is Pinterest when I saw the perfect guitar. It is a Luna Guitar, called Flora Rose. It’s an acoustic guitar with inlaid abalone roses on a quilt maple top. It’s a thing of beauty. I’m sure the fact that my middle name is Flora and that I was named for my Grandma Flora, contributed to the allure. I quickly added the guitar to my Wish List page and thought… one day. And then I moved on to other things.
A few months later, I found out that Patty Griffin was going to be in town. I love Patty Griffin and I sometimes set my alarm to wake me up to Heavenly Day, the first love song she ever wrote. She wrote it for her dog.
I saw that she was going to be playing at the El Rey, which is an old theatre in Los Angeles, and I thought how lucky for the people who are going to get to see her. It didn’t occur to me that I might go.
I have to be home. I have children. Actually, I have TEENAGERS. I imagined a house party ala Risky Business, with streaming searchlights and kegs and half naked cheerleaders passed out on my lawn. My husband was out of town. I need to be available in an emergency. I’m in the suburbs and the concert was downtown. Patty wouldn’t even come on to the stage until 10pm and there was no seating, Yelp said, it was standing room only.
Still, the idea that I might go, started to gnaw at me a bit. A few days after that, the gnawing turned into gnashing.
I went to the website and saw that tickets were still available. I read copious reviews of the venue. I knew I would have to get there around 7 and then rush toward the stage to get a good spot. I took a deep breath and told myself that this was not a big deal. I then put a single ticket in my cart and pressed Purchase.
I know people go to concerts every day and that it ISN’T a big deal, but for me to buy a ticket to please myself and no one else felt revolutionary. To plan to go to a concert at night in the city by myself felt daring and bold. I might have been able to persuade one of my friends to go with me, but I didn’t want to bring anyone that wouldn’t love the music. I kind of wanted the experience all to myself. I knew that if a friend went with me, I would be distracted from the music and I wanted to be completely engaged with it.
I didn’t tell anyone I was going to the concert. It’s harder to plan the Risky Business party if you don’t know your mom is going to be gone. When they first notice I’m gone, I thought, they’ll think I’m at the market. Then they’ll go out to hang out with their friends and they’ll think we just missed each other. I felt like I was planning a covert op.
Concerns still bubbled up to the surface. I wondered if people would think that I was weird or sad if I went to a concert alone. I wondered about my shoe choice for five hours of standing in the same spot. I decided I would have to limit my intake of liquids, because if I went to the ladies room I would lose my place. There wouldn’t be anyone to save it. I was obviously thinking too much.
But, as you know by now, I like to plan things.
I left the house at 5:30pm. I was nearly out of the house when one of the kids asked me where I was going. I said I was off to London to see the Queen. He asked if I could bring him a Byron Burger. I said, “Sure thing.” And then I made tracks.
I arrived downtown around 6:30 pm. I left my car with the valet and was surprised to see that there were already about 20 people in line. I had thought that I would have time to grab a snack nearby, but it didn’t look like that was going to work out. I jumped in line and busied myself with taking pictures of the marquis.
I listened to a narcissistic twenty-five-year-old whine to her mother about office politics in the line ahead of me. I listened to three ladies behind me discuss homeowner’s insurance for the better part of an hour. Mostly, I watched people. They were fascinating. Some were chill about the line, others were incensed. Still others were confused. Some were drunk.
I was having a good time.
Someone put a plastic bracelet around my wrist and I felt like a club kid, even though I was wearing cashmere instead of leather. They let us in at 8:00pm. I rushed to the bar and ordered a Jack and Coke, because it had the fewest number of syllables and I wanted to be quick. The bartender volleyed it to me and I scurried to the edge of the stage. I stood there in that spot for the next four hours. I felt like I had the best view in the house. I could use the stage as a table to rest my drink and I was just a few feet away from a mike stand.
Within ten minutes, I was pressed up to the stage with a sea of people behind me. I noticed that there were chairs on the perimeter of the room, but they seemed far away and didn’t interest me.
Opening for Patty Griffin that night was a band called Darlingside. They are four young guys who play several instruments, including banjo and fiddle and they sing in four part harmony. They were talented and humble and funny and I bought their CD, Birds Say, later while I was waiting for the valet to bring my Jeep. They told endearing stories about their car breaking down on the trip out from Boston and they seemed to be a little gaga about being in LA. They were adorable. Twenty seconds in to their first song and I knew I had made the right choice. The music resonated with me and it unlocked something hopeful and joyful and lighthearted inside me. I was happy.
(If you’re wondering how I managed to get the back of my own head in the shot, I asked the 7ft guy who was standing behind me to take the picture for me.)
I was almost sorry to see Darlingside leave the stage at 10:00pm. By the time Patty Griffin came on, I had made friends with most of the people around me. I held a girl’s purse for her while she went to the restroom. I watched the blatant seduction of a young woman, by some old music business lothario. When he began kissing her neck, I turned to her and said, “Really?” She said, “Whatever.” From a devoted fan, I learned about Patty Griffin’s split from Robert Plant earlier in the year and I was told that her set might be kind of sad because of it. If anyone thought anything about my being alone, I certainly wasn’t aware of it.
When Patty arrived on stage, she looked lovely. She wore a tight black dress with a skeleton painted on it. She had her hair in a bun and had red roses pinned to it. They made me think of Flora Rose. The concert was November 6th, and she appeared as if she was a beautiful figurine left over from an altar of Dia de Los Muertos. She was about ten feet from me, and her guitarist, Dave Pulkingham, was directly in front of me. My eyes kept darting from her guitar to his. They were both unbelievably skilled. She sang one song in particular that blew my mind. It was powerful and bluesy and I wanted to live inside it. I tried to find the song when I got home, but all of the versions that are available online are not sung with the strength and soul that she had that night. I searched and searched, but then I was resolved. I knew that if I hadn’t gone to the concert that night, I would have entirely missed it.
I would have missed the fleeting magic of that one perfect moment.
I started getting texts from the children around eleven wondering where I was. I said I’d be home in a bit and they were all snoring by the time I got home. They’re good kids after all. The house hadn’t burnt down. No one was missing a limb. Child Protective Services hadn’t called and demanded that I report to jail for getting home past midnight. It was okay.
A week later I was visiting my grandpa, Homer, and he gave me an envelope. He pressed it into my hand and said that it was a check. He was thanking me for working out his caregiving situation. He said I could only spend it on myself, not on bills, not on children, not on necessity. He is 94, sharp as a tack, and he insisted. So I did as I was told.
I went directly to Guitar Center and special ordered Flora Rose.
Today was my first guitar lesson.
The very first thing the teacher asked me is whether I can exchange my guitar.
He said it will be difficult to learn on a guitar with metal strings. (I had to try hard not to say, that I couldn’t replace the guitar, but I could replace the teacher).
I think I might indeed have to buy a learner guitar, but I won’t give up my Flora Rose. Some day I might even be able to play a little song for Homer. That’s the extent of my ambition, and it is so freeing not to have to any serious goals tied to it. I said I want to learn to PLAY guitar, not WORK guitar.
I’ll let you know how it goes as the year unfolds. If you have any advice, I’d love to hear it.
361 days to go.
I hope your first Monday of the year was a Heavenly Day.