I suppose I’m on some sort of journey. What kind of journey, I don’t yet know. All I know is that I ended up with a half-mental, half-physical list of habits, skills and/or accomplishments I want to master. It will probably end up being this great existential journey of self-discovery and -improvement that I will write a book about one day. Or, the journey will end up forgotten and I will stay the same. Un-discovered, un-improved and without a book deal.
I think it’s a reaction to change. Being a “twenty-something” means being in between childhood and adulthood. I want to be an adult, but I’m technically still in school and don’t know how to balance a check book. I’m not expected to be a child, but in some cases I’m not expected to be an adult either. I’m expected to be a “twenty-something.” Which means nothing.
Whatever the cause of my journey, “learn to play the mandolin” is one of the entries on my list. I’m not just learning. I’m teaching myself. It wouldn’t be existential if I didn’t teach myself.
The mandolin looks easy to play, at first. It is small, with only a few strings. I thought the smallness of the instrument would make learning easier for my small hands. I tuned the instrument and looked up YouTube videos that quickly taught me a few simple two-finger chords.
My fingers hurt. They ached and stung after only 20 minutes. I couldn’t touch anything without needles going through my forefinger. I looked, and angry, red blisters began forming on my fingertips. It wasn’t just my fingertips, though. My joints burned as I contorted my fingers and strained to reach strings I thought would be easy to reach.
I put the mandolin down.
Typing at work the next day was hard. The pain pulsed through my fingers with every period. And when I wasn’t touching anything, my fingers throbbed as if screaming at me Why did you do this to me? Don’t do this ever again. It hurts.
For a day or so, I did not pick up the mandolin. My fingers needed time to heal. I looked at the instrument, small and pretty. Dainty. I did not realize it could cause pain.
My drive to master this instrument, to make music, eventually lead me to pick up the mandolin again. I had to keep going, though my fingers screamed in protest.
I learned the major scale, new chords. And my fingers screamed. I learned a new method of strumming, and my fingers screamed.
I developed my first callus on my forefinger. My middle finger was not far behind. Soon, I’ll have a callus on my ring finger, too.
I also had to cut my fingernails. My long, girly fingernails are gone, replaced with stubby, short fingernails. The calluses look strange on my fingertips.
But it doesn’t hurt as badly, now. My fingers had to hurt before they built calluses, before they began hurting less. And now, I can make music. Halting, unsure music, but music nonetheless.
With every new callus the mandolin gives me, with every painful chord that serves to strengthens my fingertips, I make more music. I make better music.
One day I will make beautiful music. One day it won’t hurt. But first I have to endure the pain and build the calluses.
Il faut casser le noyau pour avoir l’amande,