Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | September 15, 2011

First Position Deja Vu

So we’re back at it on one hand, and over with it on another.

Time comes when you realize you’re going about things all wrong and it’s time to reboot. I’ve been involved with iron horses since I was a kid. Always a fan of steam engines and the Fireballs worn by the Western Maryland Railway in particular, my interests expanded wider and wider to enjoy just about anything. Yes, I have my limits: Cog railways, mineshaft cars, and oddball looking things just never did it. But run up against a real live steam engine like the Norfolk & Western 1218 Class A – “The Mercedes of Steam”, and you’ve come up with your first encounter with a living breathing machine. Nothing could be cooler.

Well, as a guy who grew up with a model railroader for a Dad, I’ve built four “layouts” over thirty years and have to admit I’ve never gotten them as far as I’d like. Typically, my eyes have always been more ambitious than my hands. But my hands have done plenty. Now it’s time to realize that in the time left to me, I’d just rather go about this differently. So it’s going to be out and off with whole collection of “stuff”. As I discovered the straw that breaks the camel’s back in moving my Dad out of his house last year, it turns out we model railroaders are the quintessential packrats. As a hobby that developed in the 1930’s, the lore and legend attaches to the notion that you can make something out of nothing. Folks like to tell stories about the models built out of spare parts, sticks and glue. Not sure how much of it is true or at least true in the last twenty years, but these legends keep everyone saving strings, beat up models and just trash on the odd chance you might need it some day.  It’s crazy. My Dad even had two or three piles of oven dried dirt in his basement… on the floor. Yep. And I can remember cooking dirt over at his house many, many years ago while my Mom rolled her eyes.

So after we added his stuff to my stuff… I literally started screaming, “I can’t do this any more.” It’s overwhelming. And yes, there are half measures. But I’m done. I want a clean basement, I want to get rid of all this “stuff” and I want less and less… and especially less clutter. The one thing I know is that I just ain’t spending all my time doing this anymore either… so that makes it easy.

Only it’s not. The way I’ve always found to stop something is to start something. You can’t really just drop and run, because if you’ve ever been tied up in something, you have too much emotional baggage. So you have to find a way to make it less about what you don’t want to do, and more about what you do, and then let the old be seen as standing in the way. Then it begins to get easier and easier to move the old out. And so that’s where I am. And of course, it’s taken over a year to get here.

Part of getting here really and fairly has followed a somewhat surprising course I wouldn’t have expected, but I’m quite happy with. For one, my time is beginning to get more and more involved in Outreach stuff. No, I’m not a do-gooder. Fact is, I remember at my pre-Ortho church the Outreach folks were what we used to look at as “the truly committed”. Yeah. They were beyond the pale and usually full-time social workers. So while I may be beyond-the-pale, I’m not nearly as committed as I should be. Only it seems increasingly of interest. Not sure I can tell you why, though it does have something to do with that whole three question bit, and it won’t kill me. No, it literally won’t because I try to be on the lookout for things that are fun to do, too, or can be made fun. More on that another time.

But that’s only part of the story. The rest is that one of the other interests I took up way back when was that whole man-guitar thing. Like most, I played at guitar in high school and college but never took it very far. When my best friend died, I vowed to change that as a sort of prayer in his memory. And so for five years I took lessons and was really serious. Of course, your attention and interests have a way of taking over on their own, and you lose sight of how you got in the game sometimes. And I did. I had a great recital or two – especially the one with my son where we both screwed up and laughed at ourselves and our nervousness, and then started over and got ‘er done! That is one of my very favorite memories as a Dad, and yes, it was I who screwed up and then wrecked where he was. We just weren’t that good. But it was a great experience.

And so it comes that over the course of the last year adding back into my daily prayers all those close ones who have died has brought this memory back. And so I am recommitting myself to this because as the Spanish monks wrote who first managed to receive a blessing for developing the guitar and its music, the voice of the instrument is indeed like the angels, and if you listen closely it’s intensity captures something of our fervent prayers. Yes, that’s far too pretentious and claims far too much, but for a discipline whose players have taught me much about the spiritual life, it remains a good complement.

I’d stopped playing when a neck injury seemed to impact my positioning as well as the coordination in my right hand, but now with a recent lower back injury (both are not bad nor debilitating otherwise), the neck doesn’t seem to be an issue, and the right hand’s pretty much healed. Heck, I don’t even think ’bout it. So we’re talking about retraining almost as if I were starting over again. And yet the mind has a way of picking up where you were and the heightened awareness I hope means that this time I may have undone enough of what I’d learned wrong in the interim, that I can now learn correctly as if it were the first time. Like controlling those bothersome overtones.

A piece I’d begun back then but remains on the “to do” list is this one by Augustin Barrios Mangore (Julia Florida) here played by Ricardo Havenstein (couldn’t find John Williams’s in Youtube):

For those unfamiliar, Barrios was from Paraguay… the small nation where the harp is the national instrument. You can hear it in the music. There are those who suggest Ricardo’s version sounds hopeless. He does keep a softer tone, where my preferred recording by John Williams’s has a touch melancholy, but where the warmth and comparatively more robust bass notes don’t lead you toward thinking in terms of hopelessness. I know I didn’t, but then I don’t go there anyway. With an Edith Piaf piece, yes, my wife asked me to stop playing years ago because it was too sad sounding… so I can see it… but not here. And I’ll be sneaking that Edit Piaf piece back in when I get the chance…. ’cause I’m that kind of guy? Nah. Because it’s beautiful. Remember: We’re Orthodox…. tears are wonderful in an odd way.

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