I’m back at my “desk” after 9 days in Madeira and then 4 days trying to get back to my “desk”. And I don’t want to be here, and I don’t want to be writing a blogpost. I want to be lying on the couch browsing Netflix or YouTube or listening to another podcast by people who actually made something rather than actually making something myself.
Because I prefer (at least in the short-term) to live in my head, live in the fantasy of what my life is like: the *fantasy* of making cool stuff that people buy rather than the reality of sitting down and making cool stuff that people buy. It’s only short-term though, because I only have to think back a little way to remember that the reason I was able to stop and sit by a pool and soak up sun and go on a boat ride to look at whales was because a little while before that I sat down and made some cool stuff that people were willing to pay for.
Where I’m at with writing and making media and being a social artist and all that stuff reminds me of maybe 15 years ago when I grappled with the fact that I wasn’t playing any music. I had no instrument to play. But I’m a musician, that’s in me, deeply, it’s never going away. I sang, I sang loudly, I sang softly, I sang with other people, but it was never going to be enough. I needed either to find someone to play for me regularly or I needed to find an instrument I could play.
I found a guitar somewhere. I don’t remember where. It was on it’s last legs. It was strung but the strings wouldn’t last long and the neck had already needed to be glued back onto the body once. But it was an instrument and I had another go at playing guitar.
Like most young men in Western society I knew how to play guitar in my head. I had Bob Dylan and George Harrison and Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen and Eddie Lang and Django Rheinhardt in my head. And I knew what my music would sound like and what it would feel like to be sitting on a stool in a darkened bar playing to a hushed audience. But *all* of that was just in my head because when I sat down with this lump of wood with stretched nylon in my hands it just wouldn’t do what I wanted it to do, at least not straight away. And so I put it aside, again and went back to daydreaming. It just felt better that way, at least for the time being.
And then, a few years later, still feeling the same way, unfulfilled by the fantasy but unable to engage with the reality of how much I sucked, a ukulele banjo came into my life. And it didn’t even have any strings, but it was much more solid than the guitar. And after a few weeks of living in fantasy about it, I bought some strings and found out how to tune it and got it all ready. Waited a bit longer until a quiet Saturday morning when I had the house to myself and got it out again and made a start with some simple chords. Messed around with how to strike the strings right. It was loud and plunky, I couldn’t possibly do this when anyone else was in the house and the neighbours were probably pacing up and down waiting for it to just get too much so they could come round and complain. It was time to stop again but at least my daydreams were fuelled with some real playing.
After a few of these secretive sessions, it started to sound better than anything I’d managed on the guitar and I could get my fingers round the chords. And one day I stumbled over a pattern of chords that I’d soon find out were the basis of 80% of the songs I’d heard throughout my childhood – the circle of fifths (or fourths depending on your perspective) and I realised I could play some recognisable (to me!) tunes without looking at the sheet music and struggling with someone else’s arrangement. And I was away!
From there I bought my own (cheap) ukulele, which I played until it fell apart (it took a couple of years), by which time, I knew it was something I could do and so felt able to invest in a more upmarket model.
I have no idea what the timescale between trying out that old guitar and buying my first uke was but it was a long time. Much longer than it would have been if I’d been able to persevere, give up the daydreams and just play everyday.
Everyone knows how to get better at making stuff. Every writing expert will tell you to write every day. Every artist will tell you to draw something every day. And that’s fine, but… it’s hard and what I hadn’t heard until recently was that I also have to decide that I’m going to put up with the horrible reality of where I am today and let that be good enough even though the daydreams and fantasy in my head are so tempting. That’s the deal: live in warm fuzzy daydreams and deal with the occasional shocking pain from finding that nothing’s actually changed OR get back to work (it’s really not so bad once you start!) and make something real on which I and others can build.