The Lies We Tell Ourselves

A few months ago, I blogged about getting hit by a car as a pedestrian in a parking lot near the end of November, injuring my left wrist, arm, and shoulder. This accident happened after I’d signed up (and paid) for mandolin lessons at the Center for Irish Music. I decided to attend the first lesson anyway. I hoped to keep moving, unlike with the other injuries in my 40s (there have been more than a few). I’ve discovered lack of movement results in other kinds of harm on top of the initial injury.

At the first lesson, I was surprised to discover I’d be learning the traditional Irish way–by ear, with no music. I’ve always told myself I can’t learn by ear. I had a difficult time even memorizing my piano recital pieces back in the day. I’ve also spent a lifetime telling myself I’m incapable of learning a stringed instrument (yes, I know a piano is technically a stringed instrument). I felt like a pre-faiulre after leaving that first lesson with a recording of an Irish polka, played by my instructor, Todd Menton (of Boiled in Lead) from which I was supposed to learn the tune. I was sure I’d be returning my lovely rented mandolin and seeking a mercy refund the following week when I showed up completely unable to play the polka.

But I tried anyway. I listened and watched Todd’s fingers on the string. I listened and played a few notes. I got those down, then I listened and played a few more. Somehow, note by note, I discovered I could learn to play by ear. I returned to my second lesson ready to play the polka.

I learned a jig in the month of December and then, started in on a reel. I think it helped that I recognized the underlying structure of these Irish tunes from all the years I’d watched my daughter train and perform as an Irish Step Dancer.

At the end of December, I fell on the ice and the tendon of my right thumb separated from the bone (or something like that); I was put in a splint for a few weeks. Fortunately, the bulk of this happened over the holiday break. In mid-January, I gradually built up the strength to pick with my right thumb and index finger again.

While my life temporarily went to pieces following the death of my ex-husband, I felt encouraged by how I’d inched my way towards healing in one small area.

In February, I learned a slip jig–my favorite of the Irish tunes and the only form original to Ireland (not imported from Poland or England or Scotland). In March, just before the craziness of Covid-19 (and just before we started figuring out lessons via Zoom), Todd sent me home with a recording of a hornpipe. I am going to put a video of me out here playing that hornpipe, not because I’ve reached anything close to perfection. I put it out here only to encourage you to challenge the lies you’ve been telling yourself all these years.

My very imperfect rendering of Little Stack of Wheat, an Irish hornpipe