Blogging is, or ought to be, a highly personal medium. This blog is about how age and longevity shape our lives, our families and our communities. These forces also shape personal experience.
A couple of years ago I picked up a guitar that I had neglected for nearly twenty years. I’d bought it in the flush of youth but my timing was off. I was a medical resident and had a baby who just learned to pull up to a stand. In the competition between long hours in the hospital and a little boy who needed attention from Dad, the guitar never stood a chance.
The guitar was dusty and badly out of tune.
I tuned the instrument and then tried to remember the couple of chords I’d learned so many years before. I started playing. It felt good.
I found a good teacher and, at Christmas, I bought Jude a mandolin. I had a vague notion that we might learn to play a song together. Before that could happen, however, we would both have to spend a prolonged period at the stage of pure, bumbling, clueless beginning.
I can’t thing of a better antidote to the smug self-satisfaction that so often creeps into the lives of those of us who are middle aged. As the months went by, Jude and I discovered that we enjoyed working on our music together. We began to listen to music with more intention and purpose. We decided to start a band.
OK, so it’s a band with just two people but it’s our band. We named ourselves “Hot KoKo” and we practiced almost everyday that I was home. I started taking singing lessons and we started singing together. Before too long we knew half a dozen songs.
Yesterday afternoon I was talking on the phone with my sister in law and she told me that a local bar was having an open mike night.
Tuesday Open Mic – Bring your instruments and join us for open mic at Giving Tree Cafe. Sign up is at 8:45 and music begins at 9 pm. Arrive early to insure your chance to perform 3 songs or 15 minutes worth of material. All performances are welcome, from music to poetry, stand up comedy to interpretative dance, Giving Tree Cafe’s open mic welcomes all. 9 pm to midnight.
Here is the thing. I have spoken in front of crowds as large as 7,000 people. I have given speeches on four continents. I am very comfortable on stage and in public. But this was different. This was new. This was scary.
We arrived at the Giving Tree Cafe and found a crowd of about 25 to 30 people. The night’s first act finished and we were up. I introduced Hot KoKo and we played. This was the first time we had ever played or sang in public. I felt like the world was rushing by, like all of our neurons were firing madly. At the end of the tune, (we played “Catfish John”) people clapped and cheered.
It was so cool.
The old old age made little room for new beginnings. The new old age embraces but does not require them. Last night Hot KoKo “played- out” and Jude and I experienced the world as if it was new to us. This, it seems to me, is one of the tricks involved in getting the most out of every stage of life. A willingness to embrace the “beginner’s mind” keeps the world (and our minds) fresh and interesting.
We’ll be taking our musical career to a new level this weekend when we depart for the Eden Alternative International Conference. While we are there, Hot KoKo will hit the stage for the second time, this time in front of an audience of 500 people.
We’ll let you know how it goes.