Cape Town - I haven’t gone back to guitar lessons. For the past three months, I have only glanced at my guitar as it leans against the bookshelf, gently weeping. There’s a dark patch on the bottom of the case. I think our old dog might have peed on it.
I bought the guitar last year in Bolivia. I watched the man who made it glue the final pieces together. He told me it was made from jacaranda, pronouncing it correctly: “Gggggakarranda.”
While I practiced saying “gggggakarranda” and poked around his tiny shop, feeling increasingly sore of throat and faintly Welsh, he tried to persuade me to buy a different guitar. It was dark blue with delicately carved flowers around the sound hole. It stared at me seductively, already planning our future: long romantic evenings, public displays of affection and lots of plucking.
“Not so much more money,” the man said.
He was right. If I forwent my daily ritual of three coffees at the local cafe, where I would watch American couples fighting, I could afford the beautiful blue guitar. I left with the plain jacaranda one. All it asked for was an occasional outing and some light stroking.
I played the guitar when I was younger, but was never formally taught. I did some busking and landed a weekly gig at a steak restaurant where I would play Barbra Streisand songs for customers with varying states of dental repair.
A crying man once gave me R100 while I was singing Memory. He might have been paying me to stop. Eventually, my guitar was stolen and I did stop. For 20 years.
A few months ago, weary of propping up washing and yoga mats, my jacaranda guitar spoke. “Por que me no tocas? No me te gustas?” it said, mostly in bass notes. I think it was asking me why I didn’t play, but it could have been asking about hovercrafts and eels. Either way, I felt bad, went online and found a guitar teacher.
At the first lesson, the teacher asked me to play something so he could gauge my proficiency. I didn’t want him to think I was old and having a midlife crisis, so I played a Radiohead song. He asked if it was Barbra Streisand and sent me home with pages of notes that looked like diagrams for air-traffic control. “You must practise every day,” he said.
I went every week for two months, and would sit in the waiting area with teenagers in skinny jeans stroking their guitars until they purred. I didn’t practice once because when I looked at the growing pile of pages I felt dizzy and a little air-sick. There were dots and dashes all over them; flocks of tadpoles and things with wings. I couldn’t understand why a sharp could also be a flat, or why the bottom string was called the top string, or how a person with a normal number of fingers was expected to play a barre chord.
Our old dog watched me struggling with a smug look on his face. “What did I tell you?” he seemed to say. “We don’t do new tricks. Better just to pee on it.”
I went away for two months and lied to my guitar teacher, telling him I would practice so much that by the time I returned I’d be signed to a record label. I used the back of my theory notes for writing shopping lists. Two of my neglected guitar strings snapped in anger.
I recently read a story about a grandmother who matriculated at the age of 66. She had dropped out of school in Grade 7 due to family problems and now needed a matric certificate to open a creche. She passed with flying colours. Mirar, my guitar hissed through its missing teeth. “Sos una huevona.” I think that means I am lazy, or a hovercraft full of eels, or a lazy hovercraft full of eels.
This week, I might dig out my guitar teacher’s number and book a lesson. Or I might just stop lying to myself and be content to faff about on the strings and sing Memory badly (but with much feeling). Because the truth is that being an old dog doing old-dog things - worrying about the paving, working two jobs to not worry about the paving, trying to not die of cancer and remembering to put the car keys on the counter and not in the fridge - makes it hard to reframe oneself.
All that extra work, on top of trying not to die, just feels overwhelming. But archery! Now, there’s a straightforward pursuit. Aim. Pull. Let go. And I wouldn’t hear a word the arrows said as they hurtled through the air.