Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)

I’ve always wanted to be the kind of person who plays guitar. Not in an annoying way, where I bring it out at parties and try to impress people but only irk them instead. I want to play the guitar in a badass way, where someone’s like, “I am having a rock and roll emergency and I need an amazing guitar player, STAT!”

And I’m all humble and unassuming. “Uh, I play a little guitar.”

And they’re like, “Well, I don’t know… You’re a girl and you don’t look like much, but I guess you can play me a song just for laughs.” And then I pick up the guitar and play a face-melting riff of my own composition and the other person is totally blown away, and signs me to a record label instantly, and also feels really bad about being so sexist. You know. That kind of thing.

This will no longer be a video game. It will be my nickname.

This will no longer be a video game. It will be my nickname.

So when my dad gave me a guitar that he didn’t want anymore, I was pretty excited. I unzipped the case and only bumped the instrument into a table and my own body parts a couple of times when I put the strap over my head. I’m gonna play this guitar so well that people who hear me practicing will think Jimmy Hendrix and Carlos Santana had the world’s most soulful lovechild, I thought.

“This is a G chord,” my dad said.

“Easy,” I said, and then tried to do what he was doing. But none of the tendons in my hand were on board with this plan, and my fingertips didn’t know what hit them. And when I strummed, nothing good came out. I was somehow simultaneously pressing too hard and not pressing hard enough.

“No, no. Move your hand this way. Your fingers are touching the other strings,” my dad said. I tried to do what he was doing, but I’m 97% sure that no human has ever been able to move their hand that way without selling their soul at a crossroad and/or dislocating a few important joints.

And with that, my rockstar dreams were dead. I wanted to pick up the guitar and instantly be able to school B.B. King. I wanted Clapton-like skill without having ever practiced once. Is that too much to ask?

This attitude is mostly rooted in laziness, but I’m also spoiled. I know a dyslexic physicist whose wife told me that he struggled with every subject in school. She said that when he got to theoretical physics, it wasn’t any more difficult than anything else he’d tried to do up to that point so he wasn’t phased. I’d like to approach challenges that way. But since a few things in life have come easily to me, I get really, really frustrated when I have to put in more effort. And by more effort, I mean any effort at all.

For example, I breezed through reading and writing assignments as a kid, but 15 years ago my parents spent one terrible summer trying to teach me fractions and I still want to throw a temper tantrum when I think about them.

Why would you invert and multiply to DIVIDE? IT MAKES NO SENSE.

Why would you invert and multiply to divide? IT MAKES NO SENSE.

I’ve heard you can’t get to Carnegie Hall without practice, practice, practice. I’ve even heard practice makes perfect and I crave perfection. Intellectually, I understand that it will take thousands upon thousands of hours to really learn a skill. But every time I try to learn something new, I’m convinced that none of this applies to me. Surely the universe will make an exception for me.

Things I’ve Tried at Least Two Whole Times and Yet Have Not Mastered

1. Playing an instrument. One of these days I’m going to sit down at the piano I never play and suddenly be Elton John, but with even better glasses. It’s going to happen, I know it.

2. Playing sports. I’m sure it’s only that I haven’t found my sport yet. I’m probably a curling prodigy.

3. Becoming fluent in another language. I studied Spanish for years and I was pretty good at it! And then I quit! But only because I stopped being interested in it and certainly not because it started to get difficult!

4. Gardening. I really seem like the kind of person who could grow plants, you know?

5. Drawing. You simply put lines down on paper until you have a perfectly recognizable image. So simple!

6. Cooking. You just make it up as you go, right?

That’s only the beginning of a list that could go on and on. There are a million things I wish I could do without really trying. I wish I could identify birds by their calls. I wish I could start conversations with strangers at parties. I wish I could understand theoretical physics — or any physics, for that matter.

I wish I understood physics well enough to know if I just made an inadvertent joke about matter.

I wish I understood physics well enough to know if I just made an inadvertent joke about matter.

It’s totally illogical to believe that everything will be a breeze for me because the list of things I truly have mastered is much shorter.

Things I’ve Mastered or Can Do Correctly at Least 80% of the Time

1. Sleeping.

2. Blinking.

If anything, I should believe that learning new skills will be difficult, time-consuming, and painful, because most of the time it has been. It shouldn’t be a big, hurtful surprise every time I’m not a wunderkind. I should stop making excuses and giving up just because things get a little tricky.

So I’m getting my guitar out and I’m going to try again. I’m going to get so good that people will name guitars after me. I’m going to be on blacklight posters 50 years after my death. And I’m going to start tomorrow because my fingers kind of hurt from typing this, and I haven’t done any hand stretches, and I’m pretty sure it’s out of tune anyway.


  1. Angela Bensted

    I need to read your posts more often. Resolving now not to skim past when you arrive in my inbox. Also, I think you can expand your list of 80 percent right to include word craft.

  2. annemilia

    I just discovered your blog and now I have like a dozen tabs open with your older posts. I am considering reading everything you’ve ever written before I leave the house ( even though I I have a gazillion coursework deadlines *scream*). I might even skip lunch. And it’s all your fault!

    … for being hilarious I mean. I love how you’ve written (typed?) it all in beautiful, awesome lists. I love lists!

    Keep up the good work! :)

    P.S I completely understand the wunderkind thing. I’m still surprised I can’t speak Mandarin fluently or play the ukulele (and guitar, piano, violin)

  3. George

    Funny post. I think you could probably be very good at gardening and cooking without the same kind of practice that a musical instrument requires. But I could be very wrong…:)

  4. Miriam Joy

    This is literally me. Fortunately my parents started me off with musical instruments when I was too young to have reached the stage of having found everything easy — I was like five or six when I got my first violin, even if I didn’t learn to play it straight away — but whenever I try something new I basically give up. And maths was also one of those things that I did not get and thus did not like.

  5. shelldigger

    I’ve been playing guitar since I was 16, I refuse to do the math on how long that has been exactly, but suffice to say a LONG time. In the beginning there is much pain to endure. Fingers have to be taught to stretch, and it hurts. Barre chords are sinister devilish things that seem impossible at first. But you must fight the pain, get through those early barriers and it gets easier. When it starts coming to you, it turns into a desire you don’t want to let go of. It becomes addicting. I have like 6 guitars now spread out across the house, many amps, mic’s and recording devices, and 2 kids who I am proud to teach. Hang in there, it isn’t easy, but it is worth the effort.

    …and yeah, nobody likes the guy who just has to strum campfire songs at a party.

  6. Bea dM

    Go back to # 3 : try drawing again, but another way, there are lots of adult colouring books out there, so you get to skip the tough line-par-that-takes-practice t and just colour in the colours. Simple, and the gorgeous results make Picasso look like a beginner :)

  7. Melissa DeCarlo

    LOL! Love this!
    I’ve found that I’m pretty quick study for a lot of things (with the exception of math or anything even remotely sport-like) but I quickly plateau, as in I’d need to put in actual effort to get any better. I generally take that as my cue to move on to some other interest, which has resulted in me being okay at several things but really good at almost nothing. I’d rather think of myself as a “renaissance-(wo)man” but honestly “dabbler” probably describes me better.

  8. pegoleg

    Too funny. I’m glad I discovered your blog via today’s Daily Post article about being Freshly Pressed. I can so sympathize with your guilt at not replying to comments very often. But if you don’t reply to MY comment I’m gonna think you’re a stuck-up witch for sure.

  9. bikerchick57

    This is too funny! That big, green X/Y is giving me a panic attack. We are kindred spirits in that I also loved English and writing in high school, but failed miserably at geometry and algebra. I seem to remember that fractions were close behind. Keep going on that guitar! I picked up an acoustic guitar as a teenager and taught myself to play Greensleeves, but didn’t keep up with it. I should have asked the parents for guitar lessons, darnitall. At this point, I don’t think my hands and fingers could work any kind of magic, so I’ll stick with cooking, blogging, and telling others to “kiss my a**” in Spanish (the only Spanish I know besides 1-10). Oh, and congrats on the Daily Post feature. I’m glad they included you as I’ve found someone new to follow.

  10. integratedexpat

    My son took guitar lessons for a year and learned very little. Then he got Rocksmith on the X-Box and he’s never looked back. You can kill zombies on that game, it’s hilarious.

  11. Gunmetal Geisha

    I found myself getting more and more dismayed as I read because while you were being funny, I was very seriously nodding my head in agreement about all the things that made me mad because I couldn’t breeze through them, so I punished them by giving them up…

    (I laughed too, but I feel I should leave that part out for dramatic effect.)

  12. klyse3

    Oh my. So true. I cannot stand math for the life of me. Or practicing musical instruments. Or pretty much any hobby requiring skill. The only thing I do is read, which is a skill everyone learns in elementary school.

  13. BunKaryudo

    Your post made me laugh out loud. It reminded me of my own experiences when I got my first guitar at the tender age of 19. Funnily enough, I began with the G chord too. I was useless and it was painful, but looking back now, more than twenty years later, I’m very glad I stuck with it. I’ve since successfully mastered D, E, C and several barre chords and am planning to become a rock legend sometime in my mid-eighties. I’m looking forward to reading your next post. (Hey, maybe I could set it to music…)

  14. zilverka

    Damn, I can really relate to this. I have no patience whatsoever. I know I could do amazing things if I just practiced hard, if I persevered through years and years of setbacks and progress and more setbacks and tears and frustration and anger and despair. I know nothing comes easy. Yet I want it to and so I give up when it doesn’t happen soon enough. This is my most annoying personality trait. I’m 28 years old- PHYSICALLY. Mentally I’m like a 3 year old crying because I dropped my toy.

    Oh and I also think you should add writing to your list of things you’ve mastered.

  15. Pingback: What Are Words For? | Listful Thinking

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