Extended family / Family / Kids

Sibling Rivalry, All Grown Up

I have a confession to make: I’m teaching myself how to play the guitar.

I realize that this is not a particularly dramatic disclosure. It’s not like I’ve robbed a bank or am pregnant or anything. But I’ve been keeping my guitar-learnin’ kind of quiet.

(Don’t ask me why I felt the need to drop the G at the end of that there instance of “learnin,’” but maybe somehow my brain is now thinking about guitars and twanging — I mean, twangin’ — away in that random way that brains do. Or at least my brain does.)

I’m not exactly sure why I don’t want to talk about the guitar thing, but I’m guessing that it boils down at least partly to embarrassment. Which is closely linked to shame.

There something a little bit embarrassing about being a complete beginner. It’s not rational — I mean, obviously, there’s something much more embarrassing or shameful about never picking up an instrument because you’re too scared to look like a complete loser in the first place — but it’s there, isn’t it, that need to appear competent? Especially if you’re, say, in your early 40s and at this point in your life someone accustomed to being decent at the things you do.

That said, I am about a million times better at the guitar today than I was, say, in January, when I could play zero songs and didn’t know the names of the strings, or any chords, and when the tips of my fretting (frettin’) fingers were softer than a baby’s bottom and erupted in painful blisters and welts after pressing the strings for even a few minutes. No, now my fingertips are properly and credibly calloused, and I know the names of the strings and I can play several songs quite badly, and I know LOTS AND LOTS of chords. Even F.

Did you ever see that episode of Friends, where Chrissie Hynde from The Pretenders replaces Phoebe as the Central Perk guitarist? And Phoebe is all upset, and tries to figure out why, and asks Chrissy Hynde’s character, “Well, what chords do you know?”

And Chrissy Hynde’s character says, confused, “Uh, all of them?”

“Even F?” asks Phoebe.

Hynde sings “Angel of the Morning.” I love that scene. And that song — I should learn how to play it.

I think I’ve been a bit quiet about my guitar learnin’ also because it calls up some of my anxieties about not being a music geek. I mean, I love music, and I love singing (singin’), but I don’t have a favorite band or favorite guitarist or even a favorite genre. My musical vocabulary is, perhaps oddly, stilted — it’s as though it resides in my brain’s right hemisphere: intuitive, nonverbal, nonlinear. I like what I like to listen to but I don’t think about music or really talk about it, much less write about it. This is strange for someone who is so accustomed to writing down All The Feelings, to using language as a way of processing the world.

But, I think that the hugest part of the reason that I haven’t written or talked much (online or elsewhere) about guitar is this: my brother is a very accomplished guitarist. He was the kid who picked up the instrument as a teenager and became obsessed in the way that only teenagers can. He practiced and played daily for hours, driving me, his younger sister, crazy in the process. He went to music school for a couple years, has cut a CD, plays recreationally now, and generally knows more about guitar than I can ever hope to learn.

All of which means, clearly, that the universe has decreed, via the Law of Siblings, that I’m not allowed to play guitar except in some kind of sneaky, shameful way.

That’s right: the reason that I am so hesitant about talking about guitar may just boil down to sibling rivalry. My brother is a nice guy. We have a fine relationship. But I want to find my own way forward with this instrument. I don’t want to be compared to my brother, nor do I want to talk to him in my stilted way about guitar — at least, not until I am decent enough to have something to say, which, given my limited musical vocabulary, may not be for a very long time, if ever. I want to enjoy playing on my own terms and not feel as though I am playing in his shadow.

I’m reminded of all the people who say to me, when they find out I’m a writer, “Please never read anything that I write.” Or my friend who is a chef and never receives dinner-party invitations because people are too scared to cook for her.

As I watch my two boys — kids who have always operated in different spheres, pursued different interests, who are so different from each other already even at the tender ages of seven and 9½ — I wonder how they will make their choices in the world and to what extent those choices will be based on insisting on being different from each other. I’m not particularly worried about whether this will happen — which is a good thing, because I have pretty much no influence over any of it. I do hope that they pursue their interests and dreams without worrying about what the other will think, but I’m not naïve enough to imagine that their choices won’t influence each other. If anything, I hope they have fun with and support each other, and that they don’t feel the need to hide their fledgling passions from each other.

I’d love to play with my brother one day, even though the thought of picking up a guitar within a mile radius of him terrifies me. So I’ll keep practicin’, keep processin’ my feelings through the strings, and maybe one day, we’ll jam.

But not now.

 

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