I pick up my guitar, finger its strings. They are wound up, an old set that has vibrated through hours upon hours of song. I have been playing guitar for so long that it has become an extra limb for me.
My guitar, my extra limb. This reminds me of Oliver Sack’s essay about the man who kept falling out of bed. He had a neurological disorder, a perceptual disconnect. He couldn’t recognize his leg as his own, so every night he’d wake up to find this strange limb in bed with him. Horrified, he’d throw this phantom limb – his leg – out of bed and himself with it.
Sometimes I feel that disconnect with the guitar, chucking it from my proverbial bed (and me along with it) in the middle of my darkest hour. Despite the fact that I have been playing it for about half my life, there are still times I approach the guitar as if it were a stranger – a new acquaintance that I must be polite to, but not expend too much trust on even though it has shown me nothing but loyalty throughout the years.
Maybe it is because at the time when I was growing into adulthood, you did not see women playing guitar much (happily I don’t think that’s the case anymore). To pick one up was considered an act of defiance to the female role, either that or it was just “genetically impossible” for chicks to play the axe like guys could. Our job was to sing pretty. Add to that the house where I grew up: classical was king, piano was the shit, and to pick up the guitar was to enact rebellion towards my family – especially my father. A scary proposition.
I want to be loved, who doesn’t? Inherent in each act of rebellion is the risk that you will be cast out, become a ghost to the machine. Sometimes it seems safer to stay snug as a bug, be quiet and be nice.
I am pleased that I chose to befriend the guitar – even though it scared me at first to give air to my words, my poetry, my opinions. I am proud of myself. The decision to play guitar was entirely for me. It became my independence. Time and again, I picked myself and my guitar up off the floor and made music that saved me.
The guitar has been there for me over the years when I was lonely. I could always sing by myself, give myself comfort. I have even fallen asleep with my guitar next to me in bed. Not a phantom limb, the real thing right there beside me.