Years ago my dad taught me to play the guitar.
“Use your pinky on D, Lee, then your first finger can get both the B and the E.”
“ Daaad. I can’t do that. My fingers just don’t bend that way.”
But he’d always try. “Barre the bottom three.” “Reach over the top with your thumb.” Finger acrobatics I could never do.
And though it annoyed me, there was a simple solution: Avoid any song with any chord that I could not play. It’s a strategy that has always worked. Except…
I love to play and sing Hallelujah, by Leonard Cohen.
In that song, there are three places I knowingly strike the wrong chord because my finger just doesn’t bend that way. I’ve played it wrong for years.
Then a month ago, it suddenly started to bother me. Over and over I’d hear a G where there shouldn’t be one, and each time it seemed to grow louder. Finally, I heard what that G was trying to say: Seriously? You’re not even going to try??
“Grrrr.” I thought. “Arrrgh.” I scrunched up my face and my fists and my shoulders and neck in this way that I do the moment before it’s finally time to let something go. Ok! Fine. And then I tried. Pinky finger on the D, pointer on the B and E.
It was awkward and it sounded like crap. But I did it again. And again. And again and again until one month later, wouldn’t you know it, my finger did bend that way, and I played the perfect chord. Hallelujah.
And this has helped me settle on a theme for 2016.
For me, historically, Can’t = Can’t. It may look casual on the surface, like “Meh, I just don’t feel like it.” But underneath, Can’t = Quit.
Can’t = STOP!
Can’t = PRIVATE PROPERTY! TRESPASSING ILLEGAL! BEWARE OF DOG AND FAILURE AND DISAPPOINTMENT AND HUMILIATION! TURN BACK NOW OR BE TOWED AND SHOT AND CHASED AND EATEN!
So this year I’m trying out a new equation:
Can’t = Try.
And Try equals a lot of things, including asking for help, trying again, or figuring out another way. But whatever happens, it does not equal giving up.
Because you know what? Some of the best songs in life are the ones with the hardest chords.
And I, for one, do not want to spend the next fifty years playing Puff, the Magic Dragon.