My Father’s Guitars

I’ve been thinking about my father a lot in the past week and I’ve been handling his death a lot better than I thought I would. It’s been the little things that have made the loss feel more real. Moments where I pick up the phone to call him and I realize I can’t.

Even though there was often silence between us I loved working with him. I loved going to guitar shows and talking with the other dealers. It was a great time to just sit with him and admire the music we both enjoyed. He never tried to make us be like him, he always supported what we wanted to do and never pressured us to take up guitar like him, but I could see how happy it made him when I would pick up a guitar at work and clumsily strum a few chords. It made him happy, and it made me happy, and while I will never been as good as he was it makes me happy to have been able to share that with him.

Keeping busy has helped. I’ve been helping my mother go through his things, mainly his guitars. He owned a guitar store, so of course he bought and sold them all the time, but he also had a lot of guitars in his personal collection. Some of these were investments (he treated guitars like other people treat stocks), some he just thought were cool (he had sooo many vintage Peaveys), some were built for him by his late friend and luthier Rodger Bennedict, others he had bought because he wanted to give them to my brothers and me one day.

Once we’ve had some time to process the loss, my brothers and I will go through the collection and decide who gets what, but in the meantime the guitar I will be playing is one that my dad gave me years ago.

When I was born my dad bought me a guitar, and he did the same for my brothers. He bought each of us a Seagull and held on to them until we were ready to have them. He actually tried to give it to me several times in the past few years but I never accepted it. When I lived in the dorms I didn’t feel safe taking it with me. I didn’t want someone to get drunk at a party and try playing it and I worried I wouldn’t be able to keep it humidified properly. But now my dad is gone and I have an apartment where I know it will be safe. So I took it, and it’s what I’ve been playing the last few days.

I really can’t overstate what great condition the guitar is in. The stickers were still on it until a few days ago. For those who don’t know, Seagull is a brand of guitars made in Canada under the Godin umbrella. All of their lines are phenomenal, but Seagulls always held a special place in my father’s store. Every customer who came in looking for an upgrade had a seagull thrust into their hands. My dad loved them, and he bought three of them, one in 1995, one in 1997, and another in 2000 for my brothers and me.

For twenty-five years this guitar has been waiting in storage for me to pick it up and I really cannot understate how incredibly well-preserved it is. You see, guitars are very particular, solid top guitars especially. The strings place a massive strain on the instrument, over time the neck of the guitar can warp and the bridge can start to pull away. And if the wood dries out the top can begin to crack. For this reason, guitar stores and guitar players work hard to keep their instruments properly humidified. And if the are going to be stored without being played the strings are often loosened or taken off completely.

My dad was always better at giving advice than following it. This guitar was stored in exactly the way it shouldn’t have been and it is pristine. The neck is nearly perfectly straight and the spruce tops looks brand new. All it needed was a new set of strings. You could hand me this guitar and tell me it came out of the factory yesterday and I would believe you. It’s really amazing how well built it is.

Once this all shakes out I’m going to come away with a lot of guitars. But this guitar, the first gift he ever gave me, is one I will treasure always.

Becoming Comfortable with Failure

If you have ever taken music lessons you know what failure is like. For an hour each week you’re stuck in a room alone with your teacher while they constantly interrupt your playing, make you repeat the same few measures over and over again, and tell you that you haven’t made enough progress that week. None of it’s personal, or at least it shouldn’t be, they’re hard on you because it’s their job to help you identify your weak points and help you get better.

Ideally, the same is true for group meetings in graduate school. Though many PI’s like to make their criticisms personal, the real purpose of group meeting is to identify what needs to be fixed and where to go next.

The same is true for writing. Now, I am not a published author, but I do write a lot. Short stories, blog posts, research papers, research proposals, fellowship applications. I like to think I’m reasonably good at it.

The most important thing about writing, just like music and research, is to accept that you might have made mistakes at it and work to fix them. Mistakes, poor word choices, terrible plots, all of them can be fixed as long as you actually write it down first. Don’t worry about how it sounds or reads in the moment, just write and plan to fix it later. If you never write, you’ll never finish.

It’s also important to realize that everyone needs an editor. It can be easy to take edits personally, but remember that an editor is just trying to help you. The meaning of your writing might seem obvious to you but that is because you wrote it. A saying or turn of phrase might make perfect sense to you but might not be as commonly understood as you thought. Other edits might be because you and your editor just have a different style.

Most importantly, the project you’re working on now doesn’t need to be your magnum opus. It’s enough to finish the project and take what you learned from it and apply it to your next one. The longer you work at something the better you will get, and you will always look back on your past work and think of how much better you could have made it. Doing the best you can now will allow you to do even better late.

So rather than worrying about perfection, worry about done.

If you like content like this and want to see more, give me a follow on twitter or consider buying me a coffee. Or…you could check out my new one-page rpg game on itch.io!