Another Seemingly Good Idea

I sat down to write about the continuing challenges I face in moving, string by string, from fumbling low level almost intermediate guitar player to solidly middling level almost intermediate guitar player when I realize that I’ve used “middling” rather than mid-level, which is the more appropriate term, because I’m never sure if “mid dash level” is more correct than “midlevel”.

I’ll get to the guitar thing at some point, but the more immediate issue has to do what I like to call the “Brain Inadequate to the Multiplying Jobs at Hand” conundrum, an ever-present (ever present?) logjam of lightly related thoughts that appear simultaneously, most of which arrive unbidden. Let’s begin by admitting that we have no idea what thoughts actually are, how they form themselves, or why they not only appear at a particular moment but appear with a particular level of intensity. The idea of writing about guitar impasse came to me after I had I fumbled through another set of exercises before taking the garbage bin to the end of the driveway, happening to remember both the day on which garbage is collected and the day in which I currently write. I won’t go into the array of garbage related missed opportunities which assailed me as I tried to remember whether I ought to leave the gate open or closed so the dogs would not get loose, a difficult choice to sort out as I could not remember whether the dogs were inside or out, but did at the same time remember when an open gate had allowed our doddering old frequently hallucinating dog to wander down our driveway and out into the coldest December night on record.

More than enough there, even without the arrival of the afternoon’s brain music, a lilting rendition of “That’s Amore” taking the place of the Princeton fight song:

“Rah, Tiger. Sis. Boom. Bah.

And locomotives by the score.

We will fight with a vim

that is dead sure to win.

For Old Nassau.”

Did I go to Princeton? I did not? Did anyone in my family or emotional cohort go to Princeton? Still no. Had I put head to pillow the preceding night after having thought about Princeton in the last seventy days? I had not.

Where these tunes come from I cannot say. I am equally unable to explain why they leave me, or why the next unrequested toe-tapping tune settles in for the remainder of the day. The original guitar related article began to nibble at the edge of conscious thought again even as I was forced to recall the weary resignation of my immediate family, doomed to hear whatever mumbled fragment of the brain music playlist is hummed throughout the day. All parties within earshot are injured by this obscure outer constellation of brain spasm, and the relentless propagation of unrelated thought continues.

About the guitar, or roundaboutly attached to the guitar issue, are the observable corporal and intellectual limitations at play in the performance of most tasks for me, including a syndrome probably attached to virtual blindness in my left eye, present since early childhood, which has made my ability to back a car into a tight parking space or to pack a suitcase a dicey proposition. I’m never quickly sure of left/right, east/west, and have a terrifying inability to attach one sort of temporal identity with another, frequently being aware of an appointment on the 4th of the month, but not recognizing Tuesday as the same event. The study of math and science has been tortuous because non verbal abstractions are bedeviling: scientific notation, the organization of subatomic particles, the relative size of fractions, geometric and trigonometric identities, proportion, the calculation of planetary orbits — all literally inconceivable for me. I’m also dyscalculic; numbers don’t stand still, making ordinary tasks, such as filling out forms of any complexity likely to need a third and fourth check to avoid disaster

Yes, yes. Puzzling and annoying to be sure, but the guitar?

A guitar is a physical object, but, like a chessboard (all games requiring the ability to “see” the relationship between objects moving in space and time are not available to this brain), the guitar’s fretboard, although stationary, creates a universe of melodic possibilities based on pressure brought to strings of particular pitch placed in particular order. That’s good news, of course; otherwise my guitar would essentially be a drum. The problem comes in my ability to translate a simple observed configuration into the placement of my fingers. I don’t dance for the same reason, because I can’t translate an instructor’s movements into commands to my own feet. Their left is irresistibly my left, if you see what I mean. They say “two steps to the right,” but I see two steps to the left. I get it, but by the time I’ve figured that one out, they’re off to the next step, assuming that I can keep track of commands once again taking place somewhere between imagining and moving in physical space.

In order to follow instruction in movement, I could stand behind the instructor who would have to perform with elaborate exaggeration and in slow motion, a posture which in mastering the guitar would demand an instructor capable of partial invisibility, eliminating their obstructive body so that I could see only the hands configured as my own should be.

All of this started out as a reflection on the opportunities a pandemic has provided an aspiring guitarist to improve, but that modest ambition was almost immediately hijacked by my conviction that anything we know about mentation we discover when thought doesn’t really work. Scientists capable of abstract speculation can jump in here at any point. I am spectacularly incapable of linking impaired vision with impaired conceptualization of nonverbal entities, but I’m pretty sure the old adage in computer science — “garbage in/ garbage out” — applies in this case.

OK, I’m a little better as a guitarist after a year of isolated practice, pretty good at rhythm and occasionally able to reproduce something close to a melody I’ve had in mind. The calendrical mix-ups haven’t mattered much as I have had very few appointments. Regrettable experience and some measure of maturity have convinced me not to attempt to file taxes on my own. I still tend to think of uphill as north and downhill as south, so I’ve left map reading to others better equipped to handle the process.

I do think quite a bit about thinking, which in a season of isolation hasn’t done much harm. Oh, and the tune bubbling up as I write?

“I Love Bananas Because They Have No Bones.”

Apparently a broken brain still can’t fix a broken brain.

I’m the author of four novels and America’s Best Kept College Secrets, a retired teacher of the humanities, eclectic reader, and prisoner of popular culture.

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