Waiheke, Aotearoa New Zealand

January 24, 2021

Strung.

This week, on a gut feel after watching a random video online, I did something I'd never have expected: I bought a guitar on the internet.

Growing up, music was a big part of my life. My sister plays the French Horn professionally, and I was a pretty decent baritone saxophonist. But for the most part, I stopped making music when I graduated high school, and other than some wistful afternoons, haven't thought too much about it.

The guitar arrived in a trapezoidal cardboard box, left by my temperamental mail courier partway up the drive. I brought it in, set it down, cut the box open.

Back when I first went to university, my head was all over the place. I triple majored in poetry, computer science, and molecular biology. I'd sketched out a dream as a teenager: write computer programs that solved molecular biology problems, while publishing poetry and playing in a jazz group on the side. Tradeoffs and the time pressures of adult life were still well beyond my grasp.

Black. Glossy black with silver frets, and a soundhole ringed with a design that echoed the Papago and Pima patterns I was surrounded by as a kid. I picked it up, hands immediately comfortable. Reached for the strings.

My first semester in college went really well. Good grades. Making friends. But in the second month of my second semester, depression hit. I didn't know that then, didn't even know what depression was. I stopped going to class. Lost my scholarship. Got a credit card, paid rent with the cash advance, and got a job at a 24-hour copy shop, working the overnight shift.

Strum. I plucked the closest string - and the instant my fingertip left, I was taken. It wasn't just the sound. It was the felt experience, the resonance of the note echoing through the body into leg, through my fingertips up on the fretboard. The world got quiet, and I felt a sense of settled, of peace that it's been a long time since I've known. It's been years since I've experienced a moment that was magic. But this - on a hunch and sight unseen, no less - was it.

I wonder sometimes, how my life would have turned out, if I'd known what depression was, then. If 15-years-later me could have sent a copy of my book back through the time-travel postal service. I have been immensely lucky. There have been narrow misses that would have put me on a much different, much darker life path. There were so many people who gave me a chance even though I hadn't earned it. And I'm deeply whole, and deeply grateful about how my life's turned out.

But there, caught in the resonance, the overtones rising from the chord, melting, bending in the air, was something so delicate that in the churn to survive after dropping out, I'd forgotten it.

I can make music.

Have a melodious week,

-Steven

p.s. The best thing I saw all week was this mind-blowing performance by musical group Snarky Puppy. I'm like six years late to the party here, but if you've missed it too, please enjoy. :)

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