The Plagued Parent

posts about surviving our children, the Baby Boomers who raised us, and everyone else with an opinion...

New Strings; New Song

Four days into the new year and we got our first snow day.

Two snow days actually. The day before the storm, as is typical in Rhode Island, shoppers headed to one of two places — Stop and Shop and Home Depot. Occasionally, I’d imagine people will hit both. Milk and bread from one; generators, snow blowers and salt from the other.

As a rule, I try to avoid both on the day before a scheduled weather event such as a Nor-Easter or hurricane but In all honesty, I did find myself in Home Depot; I needed boiled linseed oil and tiny foam pads to insulate some drafty wall outlets.

Linseed oil is great for conditioning fretboards, and I figured that in between snow-day binging of Netflix and public library DVDs, it might be a good idea to finally clean up my guitars. One of my critical errands that day before the storm hit was Roberts Music so I could get some strings. Strings should be changed after every eight hours of playing. Yea, right. I generally hold out as long as possible — partly out of laziness, frugality and the fact it takes me months to amass eight hours of play.

When the tarnish from the strings blackens my fingers, I use a jewelry polishing cloth to clean them. When the polishing cloth stops working I know its time and it was time about a month ago. Interestingly enough, strings begin to “break down” once exposed to oxygen, humidity and contact with the player’s fingers. All sorts of variables will affect playability and longevity of those strings. Some take longer to tarnish than others, but then again everything breaks down eventually — its the way of things

I recall about ten years ago a neighbor of mine walked me through my first effort at changing out strings. Like anything else attempted for the first time I was intimidated. What if I break something; what if I do it wrong; what if, what if, what if…

“Quit worrying,” he said over the phone. “Go online if you don’t believe me. It’s really simple.”

I did, and it was.

On YouTube guitar techs for just about every US manufacturer have “how to” videos with different stringing techniques. That’s where I got the bit about the linseed oil but this week marked the first time I actually used it because the oil is not exactly cheap — $8 for a small can, the kind paint thinner comes in.

Shortly after re-stringing my electric for the first time, my neighbor was over the house and wanted to take a look at how I did. He amped up, played a few riffs and declared, “It’s like a brand new instrument.” Since then I have restrung my guitars with a variety of strings looking for the sound and tone I want.

And each time I say the same thing when I am done: “It’s like a brand new instrument.”

This time of year, in particular, that’s the goal isn’t it?

Take what is old and renew, rejuvenate before stepping forward into the atmospheric mystery of an untarnished calendar. A pity we only see this opportunity with consistency in that window during the month of January.

Last year US News suggested that 80% of all resolutions fail by the second week of February. Typically once tossed into the trash bin, those resolutions aren’t picked up, dusted off and re-purposed. No, we move on.

Which isn’t a bad thing, however every night can be a “New Years Eve” of sorts. Hell, If an old guitar can become a brand new instrument with a new set of strings and some linseed oil, why can’t “New Years Day” be every morning we wake up? Each sunrise we re-sting a familiar instrument, and each day is an opportunity polish and condition our way of living until the next sunrise.

However, we often engage to block that movement.

We get caught up in the supposed symbolism of a perceived opportunity which magically appears but once a year. We make excuses regarding the inconvenience of pursuing the task as a chore rather than a creative act imbued with devotion and tenderness.

Years ago I read a profile of a guitarist from Senegal who began playing on a discarded instrument that only had three strings. Over the years his talent grew to where he had become a know figure in Pan-African music. When asked about his technique and he replied that he did not play the guitar. No caressed it gently coaxing from the instrument her song.

Moving into this new year of 2018, maybe it is time to see the year as an instrument, one to be caressed each day as though its shining strings hold tight a secret song waiting to be heard. Perhaps, I might examine past failures and shortcomings that plague me not a downfalls or flaws, but as mere tarnish that bends the notes flat or sharp which can easily be removed with but  the tiniest bit of pressure. In this way perhaps these first days, belonging to the first month, may exist as prelude to a composition waiting in momentary silence to sing.




Updated: January 8, 2018 — 6:48 am


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  1. Good words to remember. Start each day fresh. That’s why I make Vision cards instead of resolutions. It’s easier for me to keep my goals in mind throughout the year. Nicely done.

    1. Thank you and I like your idea of reminding yourself with Vision. I frequently tell my students that if you can see it then you can do it. Really a great idea to get motivated by seeing what you’d like to achieve rather than writing something on a Post-it that your mind just can’t “see”.

  2. Oh my, I so love your quote about 2018 being like an instrument. I have written it in my quote journal (with credit to you of course) I like the romantic feel of it. 🙂

    1. I appreciate that. Thank you Diana.

  3. This year, I’ve decided to try Mini-Habits. The theory is that if you start with a small goal, like one sit-up or one push-up, it’s easy to then do more because you’re already in position. And then, this might lead to other exercises. But if you forget to do any during the day, then it’s still easy to just to one sit-up before you go to bed at night. That one means you met your goal. So far, at 7 days in, going pretty well.

    1. This concept seems to be very much in vogue. I’ve notice that just about every site devoted to “improvement” is taking that kind of approach to personal development. It makes total sense and makes me wonder what takes us so damn long to clue into these things. Maybe we put too much pressure on results and outcomes that the whole process becomes intimidating rather than liberating. Glad to see you’re doing well with your intentions. Happy New Year Jennifer and thanks for making us a small part of it.

      1. I think it’s partially based on Jerry Seinfeld’s daily habit of writing. He has a goal to write new material every day. And every day that he does it, he checks it off on a big calendar. It gives him a visual of being successful at meeting his goal each day, which then spurs him on to continue. Mini habits are like that because by completing something so simple as one push-up, you are then able to string together multiple days of hitting this goal which then spurs you on to continue meeting the goal. If you happen to do more than one push up, that’s great, but all you really have to do is check off the one push up.

        1. Seinfeld’s idea is fantastic. I’ve been rereading “Writing Down the Bones” (Goldberg, 1985) in which the author talks about her writing goal being to “fill a notebook a month”. She says the writing does not have to be great or even good, it just has to be. I struggle with finding the time to dedicate to my own writing and that gets worse when school is in session. Trying to set a limit that works for me with consistency is daunting. But, some of these ideas (Thank You Jennifer) may certainly help me follow through a bit in 2018.

          1. I love Writing Down the Bones. That book was there for me when I needed it. I started my blog while I was working full-time and by full-time I mean 50-60 hours per week. I wrote in the morning between 5:30 and 6:30 am because that was the only free time I had. Sometimes it was crap and sometimes it wasn’t so crappy. Eventually, I got a blog post out of it. And so it goes.

          2. Thanks Jennifer. Totally agree. I am glad to have rediscovered the book. It just sort of fell from the shelf one day. I wish when it came to me twenty years ago I paid the book more heed. Ah, well…

  4. Love this analogy, and how you referred to past failings or downfalls in such a gentle manner! I feel that so often we try and “force” things, when if we just relaxed our grip, we could get an even prettier sound out of our lives!

    1. Thank you Kate. If only I could create gentleness in action that’s seems more possible with language…

  5. Thank you for this thought provoking piece. I realize that my trouble in moving past the deep loss I suffered in November is that I haven’t decided to use a focus thought each day. I think there’s a balance between allowing grief to be and also finding another focus. It’s that struggle that I realize after reading.

    1. I hope you find that focus thought Carol. As I just wrote in a comment to Jennifer, I am deeply embedded in the struggle of finding what works for me with any consistency. Maybe that’s my problem in a nutshell — inconsistency. Or, maybe being inconsistent is my consistency. Anyway I hope you find the thought you need to balance things out. All my best and thank you.

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