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Thursday, 6 April 2017

Air Guitar is a Thing of the Past, and the Loss of Pepper

When I was fourteen years old, I saw this really cool-looking guitar in a music store in Edmonton. I was living with my mother and step-father, which was sort of odd for me since I'd lived most of my life with my (very abusive) grandparents. (Don't let the semi-positive change fool you--they weren't the greatest people to be raised by either.) We spent a fair bit of time in this mall for the couple of years I actually spent living with them, and every trip found us visiting the music store. My step-father played guitar, though not particularly well, and we always ended up getting new instruments like a banjo, a harmonica, I'm pretty sure there was a tambourine in there somewhere, and then we got a really nice electronic piano. It was one of the first that were touch-sensitive like a real piano, and it played really nicely. Full set of keys, you name it. I had spent much of my younger years, from the age of four and up, taking piano lessons, and I had competed and performed in a wide variety of places, so pianos were nothing new to me. A guitar, though...that was what all the cool kids played.

Somehow I knew, when I saw that guitar hanging from the hooks, that my mother and step-father would be getting that for me for my fifteenth birthday. I saw my step-father ask to see it, and then he played around on it a little bit. Maybe it was the fact that it was a copy of a B.C. Rich Warlock, which has a very distinctive shape, that assured me he couldn't possibly be looking at it for his own collection. Case in point:
B.C. Rich Warlock
As you can see, it's not exactly the kind of guitar that would appeal to conservative step-fathers. Mind you, the one he was looking at was a copy, with a very odd brand name, called Series A. It looked almost identical to the above image, except mine had a whammy bar...or tremolo bridge, if you want to use the technical name.

And so, along comes my fifteenth birthday, and surprise surprise, I got the guitar as a gift. Now, it had been $200 in the store, so part of me was surprised they would spend that much money, and yet I still somehow knew that guitar was coming my way. I was ecstatic. I could finally feel like one of the cool kids. (I had been very unpopular in the small town I grew up in, but when I moved to Edmonton I was actually very popular, except the scars from being bullied could never allow me to believe I really was cool.)

Now, as wonderful as the moment of receiving the guitar was, it could not overcome the disappointment I felt when I couldn't play the damn thing well. I had played my step-father's electric guitar and done fairly well with it, but with this guitar I could do nothing about the horrendous rattle I got from pretty much every chord. I mean, I already have short fingers and small hands, so playing guitar is more challenging for me at the best of times. On the plus side, I've got pretty strong hands from playing piano and typing my whole life (I started writing on an electric typewriter when I was twelve, rather than four like when I started playing piano, but that's still a lot of my life). Having a guitar that rattled the way it did completely ruined any enjoyment I had when I learned all the notes for the melody guitar of Breaking the Law by Judas Priest (I had the official book, but that was really the only song I wanted to play, despite them being my favourite band).

I thought things would get better when I bought myself a small Peavey amp, since less of the rattle would come through the amp. It helped a little, except that I always played at night, when I was awake, which meant keeping the volume down. No matter how much quieter an electric is when it's not plugged in, when you're parents are across the hall from you it's still too loud, so even listening on headphones wouldn't have worked for me.

Eventually I just gave up on the whole thing and sold the guitar, not picking up another one for a few years. A friend of mine had a limited edition Gibson of some sort, however. After some time spent searching online, I think it might have been an M III, because that's the only body shape I've found that makes sense. More than twenty years ago that guitar was worth at least two grand, which tells you what it might cost today. The point is, I picked up her guitar and found out I actually had a little bit of skill. It was a huge shock to me. I sounded like I was playing real music. Damn!

Not being able to afford several thousand dollars for a guitar, however, meant I just let the whole thing go for a couple of decades. Every once in a while someone would have a guitar and I would play on it a little bit, but I never quite got the enthusiasm back. Until a few weeks ago.

My fiancé has at least five guitars, and ever since he moved in they've just been sitting there when he wasn't playing them. He handed me one of the acoustics one time, and I fiddled for an hour or so, but my nails were too long, and my fingertips got sore right away. Again I put it down and didn't touch another guitar for months. Finally I tried his Fender Strat, which wasn't bad at all, and then he had me try his Japanese-made SG (one of the ones with the thicker neck join so they don't break, among other improvements to the original SG). That's when I knew I could really pick it up again. Despite the fact that I preferred the body style and aesthetic of the Fender, I liked the action on the SG much more, and that's what really counts when you're trying really, really hard to play barre chords.

As a side note, barre is spelled three different ways, and they're all correct when referring to guitar chords. Go figure. Bar, barr, and barre. Yet we wonder why people can't freakin' spell! Same word, same meaning, same pronunciation, but three different spellings. English is stupid.

Anyhoo. Suddenly I was practicing for hours every single day for weeks. My fingers were damn near bleeding, and hitting something with my fingertips was pretty painful for a while. They're actually still sensitive, despite the rather impressive calluses I have now. The funny thing is, I still have a lot of surface numbness from my accident last summer on half of my left hand, so I'm not sure what made me decide to make my fingertips numb, too, but suddenly I could not stop playing the damn guitar.

One of the first things I did was print off the sheet music for a David Bowie song that makes my guy emotional, because he thinks of me when he hears it. It's Wild is the Wind, and believe me, even after weeks of practicing it I still suck at it. The weird chords in that song are a serious pain in the ass for someone with small hands. From a C to a Cmaj9, and from an Am to an Am/G, are the two most vivid difficulties I've had with it. Every time my fiancé was out of the house, I was practicing that song. I have printed dozens of other songs, but I hid that one, hoping one day to surprise him.

You see, I had decided I was going to record that song for him for our anniversary present, which is exactly what I did. I laid down a track for the so-called drums by using a program called Stagelight. Now, I can actually play the drums, but I don't happen to have any so I was stuck using fake ones. I just used a closed hat for a nice ticking sound in the background, so that I could keep time properly. Then I laid down a rhythm guitar track with just chord strums. I finally laid down a melody track with a fairly intense bit of picking throughout the song, but based strictly on the chord shapes. The last track was the vocals, and let me tell you, that was a serious pain in the ass. How the hell is someone supposed to sound good while singing off-key? Never mind the weird off-timing of the singing, and then the long stretches without any vocals at all, right in the middle of the verses and the chorus.

Long story short, I finished the recording the afternoon of our anniversary, after finally having to kick my fiancé out of the house to get it done (such nice behaviour for our anniversary, I know). I wasn't even with him when he heard it the first time, because I sent it to him through Facebook as a PM. He did, however, react rather emotionally to it, so it was a gift that came off well. I played it for him later on my headphones so he could get the full gist of it, and again he was quite emotional about it. I guess you could say he liked it.

Just in case, however, I had already made plans to take him out for dinner. I'm hopeful, not stupid. We had a really good time for our anniversary. What did he do for me, aside from simply being the most wonderful man I've ever known throughout our entire relationship? Well, he got us tickets for a fundraiser dinner that we thought was going to be on our anniversary, but turned out to be on another date. It's for a cafe we go to where you can buy buttons that people can use to pay for food if they can't afford a meal, or even just for coffee to keep warm in the winter. We used to go there together a lot when it was warmer and I wasn't in hibernation mode, and he goes there quite a bit on his own. As soon as I saw the event, I thought it would be a great thing for our anniversary. He bought the tickets on the spot. So, basically we'll have taken each other out for dinner two consecutive weekends. For me, especially in winter, leaving the house two weekends in a row is pretty much unheard of, but my guy is worth it.

I haven't stopped playing guitar, even though one of my biggest incentives was learning to play well enough to record that song. I do take a day or two off now and then, but I keep printing off new songs to learn, which keeps my interest level high. There's no shortage of music I like, so I look forward to learning a lot of songs.

My ADD really shows itself when I practice, though. I'll play a few licks of Metallica's One, veer off to Blink 182's Adam's Song (which, if you know both songs, you'll realize they are enough alike to be confusing when you're learning both at the same time, even though I don't drop the tuning for Adam's Song), play Dan Seals' Everything that Glitters for a bit, add Iron Maiden's Wasted Years, and then bounce back to my old stand-by, Judas Priest's Breaking the Law. There's some Dwight Yoakam in there, with his version of Suspicious Minds, a whole bunch of Martina McBride, etc. I have a collection of 59 songs that I like so far. Most of which I can play at least some of the fingering parts, if not all, and I can generally play all of the chords now. Barre chords still give me trouble, especially getting my fingers in the position to start, but I'm improving.

I still need a lot of improvement, but I've become damn stubborn about it. Okay, I'm always stubborn, but I wasn't specifically stubborn about learning to play guitar, as evidence by my quitting all those years ago. Now I put in an unbelievably amount of time practicing.

How's the book coming along, you ask? Uh, okay, that's kind of another story. Book three is on its third iteration, but it's not too bad. At least it's way better than it was, plot-wise, and for the third draft I stopped repeating myself and pontificating...I think. Part of the reason I'm writing this blog post, actually, is to get myself back in the habit of typing something out. Believe me, you really can regain momentum if you just start writing something...anything.

I did have one major issue that was making it hard for me to write, understandably. One of my ferrets died very unexpectedly, and honestly it's still killing me. Not only am I grieving for him, despite it being nearly five months after his death, but I modeled one of the ferrets in my books after him. It was Pepper that we lost, on December 8th, and Pickle is his counterpart in the book. Having to write a scene with Pickle/Pepper in it was killing me. And there's the stuff I wrote while he was dying. I knew he was sick, and was waiting for the vet to be able to see him. I was trying to keep busy. That part will probably not make it into the book, because I started writing a new version entirely, but I can't bear to delete it. Normally I have no problem ridding myself of writing that I've rejected as being crap, but in this case I'm keeping it. Just like I'm keeping the small Pepsi bottle Pepper last chewed on as a fantastically noisy chew toy. I don't care if that makes me weird. I'm okay with being weird.

It's been tough getting back into it, despite the book itself being pretty damned exciting. I'm enthusiastic about it, but I'm a horrible procrastinator. Especially when something is painful for me to do. This book is now inextricably tied with the death of my much-loved ferret, and every moment of writing is something I kind of have to grit my teeth through, so I've been avoiding it. I'm about a quarter of the way done the final book in the trilogy. There will most likely be other books that will tie in to this series, but they will be separate trilogies on their own if I choose to go ahead with them. After all, a trilogy is meant to tell the full story arc. Tacking more books onto the end wouldn't work very well, since there shouldn't be any more loose ends to tie up after this one is done.

Shortly after Pepper died, I also got very sick. I was down for about a month if I remember correctly. I spent days in a blurry state of mind, with almost no voice, a horribly sore throat, dizziness, etc. Not a lot of fun. I stayed away from my future step-son because I didn't want him getting sick. I would try to carry on a conversation with my fiancé or daughter, and it wouldn't last long before my voice gave out again. Sometimes uttering a single sentence was too much for me. I'm pretty sure it was strep throat, though I didn't bother going to the doctor for it. A lot of people I knew got really sick, too, and they sure as hell didn't catch it from me. Hard to catch something from someone in another country, and nearly all my friends are people I know on Facebook. I'm not the most social of people when it comes to the in-person thing. It's actually kind of a miracle I met my fiancé, but then we did meet on Facebook.

I'm not sure if I mentioned my accident in any of my blog posts either, though I know there haven't been many of them. When I mentioned not having much feeling in my left hand, there's a good reason. The reason? I'm a freaking klutz. I made a couple of over-easy eggs for my fiancé because he was hungry and he doesn't react well to the lowered blood sugar (he gets really absent-minded and confused, plus frustrated and irritated). I didn't want to send him off to the kitchen to cook something for himself in that state of mind, so I decided to make breakfast. The problem is, I was hungry, too, which means my hypoglycemia can decide to kick in rather fiercely and I start to freak out a bit. I was carrying the eggs back to our bedroom when my toe caught on a box. I am completely incapable of regaining my balance these days, and so I fell right into his plate of eggs. Scared the shit out of my daughter, who was also in the living room at the time, and my fiancé came tearing out of the bedroom to see what happened.

I didn't think it was that bad, though the plate had broken. Of course, I hadn't seen the blood yet, and the numbness in my hand seemed a normal reaction to a falling injury. It wouldn't be the first time a body part had gone temporarily numb on me like that. So, my fiancé helped me to the bedroom and got his first aid kit. After seeing the wound on my wrist, I felt more than a little sick. I knew then that there was nerve damage. We went to a clinic, I got some stitches, and then I was sent home after being told I'd be contacted by the plastic surgeon, who may or may not do surgery on me. About a month later I was getting surgery. Apparently the nerve was trying to regrow through a neuroma (a tumour caused by trauma in my case), which explained why I was getting an electrical zapping/zinging sensation whenever the injured area was touched. I had a partial cast on it for a couple of weeks. I was supposed to be able to type, though I really couldn't because it was covering the palm of my hand.

I know, I know...all these excuses! It does seem like this book has been jinxed right from the beginning. Admittedly, I took quite a bit of time off when my fiancé and I started dating, and then moved in together. I figured, after putting out three books in less than a year (one being the anthology I edited and wrote short stories for), that I deserved a bit of a break. Apparently life thought I needed a much longer one. Life is really starting to piss me off. Now I'm obsessive about playing the guitar, and have gone back to playing a lot of computer games, and my sleep schedule is way out of whack.

I also have to adjust for the fact that I'm sharing my bedroom/work space with someone (yes, that someone is my fiancé). I'm just not used to that. I was single for eight years. Happily single. I was not expecting to find someone so amazingly perfect for me. Yet, he basically works freelance as a paralegal, and he was driving for Uber (which wasn't really worth it financially), so he's around almost all the time. Wonderful for us as a couple, but not so great for my self-discipline when it comes to my writing. He would happily give me all the time in the world to write, but I miss him too damn much when he's gone. I mean, yesterday he was only gone while I was sleeping, and I still missed him! We're truly sickeningly sweet and affectionate with one another.

However, the other day I finally started cracking a bit. As much as I love my time with him, I'm very much an isolationist. Even when I don't notice it, that need to be alone starts to build up. When I need my space, I really need my space. I turn into a bitch, where I have to protect him from me. What I need is actual, inviolable work space, where I absolutely cannot be bothered while I'm in that space. The moment someone walks in the bedroom, I'm distracted from what I'm doing. Or if I'm lying on the bed, just plotting out things for the book, he may not realize I'm actually working, and so he starts saying something to me. Believe me, he isn't the kind of guy who would knowingly do that, so he feels horrible about it, but without a sign attached to me that says, "I'm working," there's no way for him to know that's what I'm doing.

We'll figure it out. After all, writers are pretty creative, so if there's a solution out there, I'm sure I'll find it. I just need to think of it like I do in my books. A problem to be solved. Of course, holding up a sign while I'm doing that might be a good idea.