Glimpsing into the world of retirement, I mentally listed ways in which I might challenge myself and seek new adventures in learning. I like to be a step ahead and set goals and look at the calendar weeks, months in advance.
These attributes or shall I say “habits” of looking at past, present and future all in one gulp made me good at what I did professionally. I fashioned myself a crystal ball gazer in a silly plumed hat trying to anticipate various outcomes. Of course these are, in theory, desirable assets to possess in the work place, but as anyone knows even the best man-made plans are subject to change or dissolution. Man plans; God laughs is a saying that I am fond of. Because no matter how much I plan, I understand that control is an illusion and I am surrendered to that and okay with letting go of expectations. It is said in 12 Steps that an expectation is a resentment waiting to happen. It’s taken me awhile to get this and I work at it every day. There also is the advantage of having “mellowed with age.” 😀
I turned my crystal ball gazing propensity in towards myself and asked what would keep me mentally engaged (in addition to my blog)? I needed to insert something else that would be challenging in this newly retired life such as picking up a musical instrument or learning a new language. I knew it would be an adventure at the very least to watch if or how the “universe might respond.” I’ve been lucky. When I had a desire to paint, the teacher appeared. When I had a desire to learn deeper levels of yoga philosophy, the teacher appeared. When I sought to earn a yoga teaching certificate that emphasized a therapeutic approach, the perfect teacher appeared. When life felt like it was spiraling out of control after my Father’s death, the healing 12 Step program of Alanon and its wonderful members appeared to help put me back on terra firma.
So when I set a goal of exploring the world of the ukulele, you guessed it. The teacher appeared!
I don’t mean to imply that things have come easily; they have not. I’ve had to apply myself rigorously and with dedication each time I’ve wanted to learn something new. Skills, of course, were never just handed to me, but there was an exception: an ultra smooth swimming stroke that must have accompanied me through the birth canal – it wasn’t taught to me and it has inspired compliments right and left. People stop me at the pool to comment positively and someone once asked me if I were an Olympic swimmer. Ha, ha that made my day and I only mention this not to brag but to illustrate that we all have talents and some of these are innate and others we need to coax along.
For example, my mother can look at piano music and simply sit at the keyboard and play away but she can’t decipher the notes in front her. Her innate talent was passed onto my nephew who can play almost any instrument and composes his own music. I admire from afar and can only dream and wish.
The ukulele, I envisioned, would be the perfect indoor hobby to fritter away the time on smoldering summer afternoons in the Coachella Valley. How hard could learning ukulele be? What a small, sweet unassuming instrument! Four strings and that’s it! So how would I get started?
My husband and I happened to be at the golf range one day when he nudged me and pointed in the direction of a woman in a turquoise golf cart – she was someone we had played golf with 3 months prior. I did not want to bother her, but my husband elbowed me and I saw the look in his eye: “How are you going to make new friends if you don’t go out on a limb and engage with people?” Okay, I got the non-verbal message loud and clear from hubby and waved her down and we all got re-acquainted. And then she said the magic word: ukulele!
This lovely woman shared that besides her passion for golf, she had developed a new passion and had gone “crazy” buying various ukuleles, concert, tenor, electric, Hawaiian custom. Her eyes lit up as she talked about her new “madness”. I mentioned that it was something I thought about pursuing and asked her if I could get on the ukulele mailing list and she said, sure! Great, step one in my plan of finding a ukulele connection checked off the list.
Before I knew it, I was sitting in someone’s home and the teacher put a ukulele in my arms and adjusted the strap. I was sitting with a mixed group of beginners and intermediate/advanced students. The ukulele teacher had retired from teaching music to kids in the Pacific Northwest and now she was ready to bring her considerable skills to a new population, a 55+ community. And lucky for the residents that we got this talented lady because she is quite the one woman stick of dynamite: teaching, administrating, lobbying for practice space, joking, admonishing, repeating, encouraging, wise-cracking. I have great admiration for her and all that she has given to others of herself. She is sharing her joy and talents.
So I sat patiently and tried to learn a few basic chords, but WAIT, this wasn’t so easy! What the heck? This felt like a wee bit of torture. I must have had a look of helplessness and frustration on my face because the hostess took pity on me and came over to encourage me and demonstrate how to curl the fingers just so and get them up on their tippy-tops. Did each string make a sound? No? You are not pinching down on the string with enough finger strength. What about the nails on my left hand? Too long; they are holding you back. Gotta cut them short!
I did my best and then the beginner hour was over and it was time to devote attention to the players at the intermediate level. I had already tried to keep up with a song or two and my nervous system was now a bit jostled and disturbed. I figured it was time to make my exit and let the advanced players rock on without my discordant additions to their more melodious efforts. I thanked the teacher and hostess and made a beeline for the door…as quickly as I could.
I arrived home only to realize that I had left my personal chair and newcomer packet behind. My husband laughed and said “I knew you were going to forget the chair!” How did he know that? Well, I guess he knows me well enough after almost four decades together, ha ha.
I am glad I left those items behind though. It turned out to serve an important purpose. It allowed me to reach out to the hostess and at the same time, make a new friend and ask for one-on-one help. Had I not had her encouragement, I don’t know where I might have wound up. Not everyone stayed with it – I met a lady who decided it was not for her due to arthritic hands. Another had a bad shoulder and the ukulele strap aggravated it so she opted to not return. I have achy shoulders AND achy hands, too, but not severe enough to keep me from moving forward in the land of C and G scales, 12 Bar blues, sharp, major and minor notes in addition to the long list of multi-finger chords that seem to go on forever. Whew!
I discovered rather quickly that “it ain’t as easy as it looks!” Don’t judge a ukulele by its small, unassuming size. It is one tough little mother and it will try your patience! Proof of that is when I returned home after my introductory group lesson and sequestered myself in the den and began to practice. The sounds that came out of the room were those of a wounded animal and my husband called out, “Are you okay?”
OUCH! ACK! EEK! OOPS! DARN! POO! OH NO! HELP! NOT AGAIN! DAMN! OOH! RATS!!
You see, I was trying to get my fingers to do new things. My husband gave me an out: “If this is going to be a stressful hobby, perhaps it requires second thought.”
I wasn’t ready to give up yet!
I took advantage of private lessons to set me on a good track, and I practiced every day.
It became the most perfect hobby I could have ever have dreamed of. An hour or more would easily fly by when I practiced and there were plenty of online instruction videos to keep me occupied (thank you Cynthia Lin).
My ukulele torture became ukulele rapture.
Music has often soothed my ruffled feathers. I prefer music in yoga because it helps me to relax and if the right kind of music, can transport me into a state of mini bliss. Yet at the same time, I understand that yoga without a soundtrack can train a practitioner to keep their ear tuned for the more subtle inward sounds: the beat of the heart, pulsing of blood, the humming vibration of inhalation and exhalation, and ultimately the symphony of the spheres. I still remember swaying from side to side in a water aerobics class ecstatically enjoying an oldie but goodie song I hadn’t heard in ages, and proclaiming philosophically to a friend next to me, “Why do people take drugs to procure pleasant feelings; give me some wonderful music and I am simply swooning inside!”
Yet…trying to sing, strum and change chords on the ukulele all at once is really challenging for a beginner, but I’m getting more comfortable and knowledgeable with each passing day. It’s only been 10 weeks or so and it’s such a rejuvenating adventure, one that is so perfect for this stage of my life.
Science has also confirmed (what our wise grandmothers already knew) that busy hands and “admiring our own handiwork” affects our brain chemistry in a positive way – so knitting, painting, woodworking, building, embroidery, gardening, drawing, playing and creating music produce those feel good brain chemicals. Fingering the strings on the ukulele, though not easy, gives me great satisfaction when I succeed and produce a lovely sound. That’s my reward.
Another reward is witnessing the excitement of my grandchildren when they discover my ukulele perched in the corner of my living room. My 5 year old granddaughter came to visit, saw the ukulele, made a beeline for it and right before she was set to strum, she asked:
“Is it up, down, tap, or is it down, up, tap?”
More than a little surprised, I asked “where did you learn that?” From a video, she explained. She then informed me she had seen a ukulele at a local store and really wanted it. How could I resist? One by one, I am getting all the grandchildren ukuleles and planning on helping them get started with the fundamentals.
I am now a member of two ukulele groups, NorCal and SoCal, and these are the most joyful bunch of folks one could meet. I sat next to a woman who was a newbie like me and she was experiencing the same kind of joy I felt and for all the same reasons: a chance to learn, grow, meet people, exercise the brain, sing songs of all different eras and have fun. But when she had trouble fingering a chord, I took one look at her long manicured and painted nails, shook my head in a serious way and advised without hesitation:
GOTTA GET RID OF THOSE NAILS! 🤣
Stay the course, don’t give up, find that thing, place, person, inspiration that keeps you coming back, because finding interests and passions are not only good for the brain, they are good for the heart, good for the soul. Music, laughter, camaraderie are my drugs of choice and devoting time to “the uke” definitely feeds my soul .
And now you know why I have been absent from the blogging scene for the past 2 months – I was buried and immersed in ukulele madness! As I close this entry out, I hope that any challenges currently in your life become opportunities for growth and transformation. When it seems that nothing is going right, wait, be patient, positive and hopeful —-
Joy and rapture may be waiting right around the corner.
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