Sep 10, 2020
There are a lot of reasons to play guitar. But maybe the best one is just because. It's easy to forget why you started, or to be so aware of all you yet hope to accomplish that you find little enjoyment in what you already know. But I've been rereading Elizabeth Gilbert's vibrant and encouraging book on creativity, Big Magic, and this passage made me laugh out loud:
"Perhaps creativity's greatest mercy is this: By completely absorbing our attention for a short and magical spell, it can relieve us temporarily from the dreadful burden of being who we are. Best of all, at the end of your creative adventure, you have a souvenir – something that you made, something to remind you forever of your brief but transformative encounter with inspiration."
It was the part about souvenirs that got me. I think this is why I like writing songs, making up instrumentals, being able to jot down what I do, and making my own recordings, however primitive. For all I know, it's the same part of my disposition that once took as much pleasure in the physicality of the LPs I owned as in the music itself, but there is something satisfying about realizing, "Hey, I've written X number of songs since April!" Being able to sit and play guitar on the porch is an ephemeral pleasure, like a conversation with a good friend or making the perfect grilled cheese. Life's better with regular doses of the ephemeral, no question. But once in a while, those moments yield a memento – a photograph, a letter, a thrift store shirt – that, years later, still evokes the ephemeral in nearly inexplicable ways.
Theorists like to talk about music as the most ephemeral of the arts – it takes place in time, you can't see or touch it, and so on. Maybe that's why the tunesmithing part of it feels so satisfying – you do come away with something tangible, at least some of the time. Of course, you wind up making a lot of crap, too – the equivalent of lopsided pottery or popsicle-stick mayhem. But hey, if it filled an hour or two with goofy pleasure and there was bug juice and cookies afterwards, who cares?
I don't know, offhand, how seriously you take your playing – if you do it strictly for fun, are a past or present professional, or somewhere in between. But I will say, while there's great pleasure to be had in ever striving for improvement – something I admittedly spend a lot of oxygen on around here – there's likewise much to be said for making what you can with the tools you currently possess. If you've got an hour or two in the next week, make something. If you're lucky, it will take you elsewhere for a spell, and when you get back, you'll have a souvenir. Glue and sparkles optional.