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I Got Skills: And Some Wine

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If you could choose to be a master of any skill in the world, which skill would you pick? Good question, right? I’m still in a bit of a writing funk, having fallen into a vast vortex of nothingness, so I thought I would check out the Daily Prompt from WordPress. I like their question, so — what’s my answer?

I wonder if it’s cheating to pick a skill that people tell me I’ve already got.

Maybe this is supposed to be something to which I aspire. If it is an aspiration, then I’d like to be a brilliant creative writer: My words and I would become one, and my prose and poetry would conjure up vivid images and intense emotions and move my readers from laughter to tears in a matter of moments — and I would never, ever, fall into a vast vortex of nothingness.

Woman Writing Letter by Gerard ter Borch. Public Domain, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Woman Writing Letter by Gerard ter Borch. Public Domain, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

But meanwhile, back in reality, I will choose a skill that I’ve been told I already possess to some degree. Some call it a “welcoming spirit,” some tell me I’m “easy to talk to,” and some say I make them “feel at home.” Others say I make them laugh a lot. Or it could just be the wine.

Anyway, that’s the skill I want — to make people feel comfortable. Not a big deal, but it makes me happy to be relaxed and open with people, and that’s easier if they feel comfortable with me.

Dysfunctional Roots and Shoots

I developed this skill as a way of coping while growing up in an alcoholic home — if I could get people laughing, lighten the mood, relax the tension, then I might prevent the nightly dinner table dramas and arguments. The stakes were high, because if laughter failed, I would have to break the tension by spilling my milk, and then I’d get yelled at. 

As a child, this coping mechanism served me well, although as an adult it morphed into a desperate need to be loved and resulted in some pretty dysfunctional behaviors. But I’ve worked hard to rid myself of emotional baggage, and now I couldn’t care less what anyone thinks of me (yeah, right).

C’mon, Smile

I’ve also used the skill in a professional capacity. Having an easy-going, accessible personality came in handy when I was an environmental lobbyist on Capitol Hill. One of my secret personal goals was to get a staffer or member of Congress to laugh in the first five minutes of our meeting. Even if they were super-conservative, right-wing folks that I simply needed to cross off my list and from whom I had no chance of getting an environmental vote, I still wanted them to listen to my pitch. Putting them at ease was essential.

I’d probably make a good salesperson, except oh my God, talk about a vast vortex of nothingness.

Wanna Be Friends?

The skill I’m after is not the lobbyist’s insincere, slightly manipulative, chumminess. What I want to master is friendliness. Like comfy slippers or a purring cat, I just want to be a good friend. And I’ll bring the wine.

So – if you could choose a skill, what would it be?

Musical Spirit

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I chose the clarinet as my instrument in fifth grade because I wanted to be like my big sister Lannie. I remembered that she had played the clarinet. Only she didn’t. She had played the autoharp, which, being black and white, I mistook for a clarinet. Lannie was in college by then, anyway, and I doubt she was impressed.

Clarinet with a Boehm System.

Not an autoharp (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Autoharp

Musical Heritage

My mother was a lead soprano in college and wanted to sing professionally. Her mother wouldn’t allow it, because no daughter of hers was going to be a show girl. Maybe that was why Mom stopped singing, or maybe it was because she married my father and had us kids instead. She always loved music, though. She sang when she cooked, and she sang when she cleaned. She hummed when she mended our clothes. She would put on classical albums, and we would dance around our big Florida room.

Tickling the Ivories & Guzzling the Strawberry Hill

I started playing the piano to make my mother happy and in the hopes that my father would like it and stop drinking so much. I loved playing the piano, but wasn’t especially good at it. Still, I was better at that than at the clarinet. I didn’t much like playing the clarinet, even though Mom said that maybe one day I might march in the inaugural parade. I couldn’t bear to be seen in the high school marching band uniform, though, so I stopped playing when I was fifteen. Besides, I discovered boys and Boones Farm Strawberry Hill wine, which were way more interesting than band class.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Like a Rolling Stone

I sang in our church choir, too, and the leader was impressed with my voice. She called my mother in one afternoon to listen to me sing. She said I could hit a high B flat. Whatever that meant. I liked singing. But I also liked the boys and the wine, and I started smoking cigarettes to complete my image. I quit the choir. I quit the piano.

Led Zeppelin, Grateful Dead, Traffic, Steppenwolf. Drugs. Sex. You know, life in the seventies.

I got a guitar for Christmas when I was sixteen or seventeen, but never learned to play much more than Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone. I gave it to a long-ago boyfriend, I think, a guy I used to accompany to the bars where he played for tips.

My mother ended up getting dementia and accidentally sold our very valuable piano to some workman for a couple hundred bucks. It was the only thing I had ever told her I wanted after she was gone.

Oh well. Life, again. And death.

The Spirit Plays On

A few years ago, I got a used piano from my dear friend Brian – my former pastor, fellow environmental justice agitator, and a fine musician. The piano has a spirit all its own. My fingers also have a memory all their own. Although I struggle to read music – it’s been so long – my fingers recall the classical music I used to play for Mom and Dad. It’s miraculous, I think, as if there is this music running through my veins that I’m not even aware of.

New Year’s Eve, my buddy Lucky gave me his old, well-loved guitar. Guitar great Leo Kottke played it when he and Lucky were in the Navy together, about the time I discovered boys and Boones Farm. I’m going to get it re-stringed and maybe take some lessons.

It’s time to re-acquaint myself with making music. Not to emulate my cool big sister, and not because I want someone to pay attention or to love me. But because I have music in my genes, and it’s in my heart, and it makes my spirit whole.

 guitar 001

I wrote this post in response to the Daily Prompt Challenge. Thanks, WordPress, for the question:

What role does music play in your life?

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