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My Life

Strumming Through Grief

A brand new guitar, some super happy thoughts, and getting through the pain of loss all in one.

My first guitar, an acoustic Fender I dubbed “Boo Radley,” was a Hanukkah present from my mother when I was about 14 or so. My parents encouraged me to play, but I didn’t really start until I took lessons up at Midland when I was 15. I play by ear, mostly because I suck at reading music, and I’m a bit of a Bob Dylan/Joni Mitchell/Indigo Girls kinda player. I believe I placed Closer to Fine at graduation. No, I was not an out lesbian at the time. Boo is a good guitar, if small and has a semi-broken bridge saddle that I compensate for by putting paper or foam under the high E string. Otherwise it slides off.

My second guitar my wife bought me. It’s a Martin Backpacker and she got it for the first anniversary of us living together. I love it. It’s tiny and portable. It’s traveled around the US with me. I just call it “The Backpacker” and there are only two real flaws to it. First, the sound is nice but not really rich. Instead it’s a thin, high pitched, kind of sound. The other issue is that it’s rough action. It’s fine for simple songs, but I can’t do anything complex. I also can’t really do solid picking patterns because it’s so compact.

Last week I was at WordCamp US and one of my best friends (in or out of WP) decided we needed to have band practice. No, we don’t have a band, but we have people who love music. So we all trucked out to murder central the middle of nowhere, rented some instruments, and had the most fun ever.

As we got back to our hotel after and were watching Batwoman, I was fiddling on my phone thinking how much more fun would it be to not have to play that mushy action electric? And my eyes drifted to the entry level acoustic electric D-X2E from Martin.

Yes, that Martin.

Yes, I’m a little bit of a snob.

But y’all. I played a Martin, on loan, for 3 months one summer. It was heaven on my fingers. The action was smooth without being mushy, the tone is rich and whole and vibrant, and the pitch matches where I can sing perfectly. And where my wife can sing, for the record.

Today my friend Joost bought me that guitar.

A Martin D-X2E Acoustic Electric Guitar with a blue hippie strap.
The New Guitar

He didn’t have to, and I went through the stages of entitlement because this is not a cheapo guitar. It’s not the most expensive Martin on the block, but it’s more than an iPhone (which I still haven’t upgraded past the 8 anyway). It’s money he could give away to people in need, to charity, etc etc and instead he gave it to me.

It’s really hard to accept expensive gifts sometimes. I mean, I was prepared to sock away money in bits and bobs and use my Hanukkah Gelt to buy this. And I’m always worried someone’s going to look at say things like “Aha, Chris bought her an Echo, CLEARLY she will be more inclined to be kinder to him about his [whatever].” I was talking to my friend Cami about those things, because she and I both feel uncomfortable (and won’t) enter contests at WordCamps because of the appearance of wrongdoing. We can’t just be beyond reproach, we have to look like we are at all times.

Lemme tell you, it’s exhausting.

I’ve refunded over $100 in 2019 alone for people who send me a ‘thanks for reviewing my plugin’ gift. I know it’s well intentioned, but if I accept it, someone could say I was bribed. At the same time, I’ve accepted a box of Thin Mints from my friend George who put “This is not a bribe” on it (by box I mean a case — it was shared). I accept Smarties (Canadian) from friends. I go out to dinner and let people pay. The difference is that when people I know, and have known for a long time, extend a friendly hand, it’s very clear on both our parts what this is.

It’s friendship.

A friend doesn’t send me a $5 thank you. They buy me a cup of my favourite coffee, or that book I put on my wish list, or ask if I’m okay at a WordCamp. And once in a while they dip in and say “You should enjoy music.”

Okay so why did I say grief?

Besides being as useful as nipples on a snake at work right now, I tuned the guitar and played a couple easy songs. I did the intro to “Strange Fire” (that E to A(9) slide is just attractive to me) and my wife sang with me. Then I worked and took a break by playing the Indigo Girls version of “Romeo & Juliet” using my new capo. More work. A meeting. Then “Southland in the Springtime.”

Right at the first chorus it hit me.

Dad’s dead.

He won’t tease me about “Power of Two” being mathematically incorrect.

He won’t ask me what did I name this new guitar?

He won’t make his “Hmmm hmmm hmmm” sound when we talk about Bob Dylan and which version of “Tangled Up In Blue” is better.

He won’t remind me that my mom liked “All Along the Watchtower” and I should practice it.

He won’t call me to laugh happily after I record myself playing “Carey” and send it to him.

I wasn’t able to finish the song.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m super happy and I keep picking up the guitar every break I get and strumming a little. I love this instrument. It sounds like heaven.

Me being super happy and hugging my new guitar.
See? I’m super excited!

But yeah, I miss Dad right now. I’m still going to practice.

In fact, I think it’s time to play Ripple.