(What prompted all this? you also ask, rolling your eyes. Well, last week, my youngest daughter needed some protection for her guitar as she took it to another city where she works, and, of course, it was good old dad to the rescue, volunteering The Ancient Case --- battered, dusty and well-used though it is --- for one more job. Hmm. I’m sure there’s some kind of literary parallel/comparison to be made to me somewhere in that image… but think I’ll forego that particular exercise today, thanks very much.)
Anyway, he said dismissively. The Ancient Case and any possible associated metaphysical analogy isn’t really today’s point. It’s the guitar, dude, and by extension, Childhood Choices We Make.
You see, my sister was heavily into ballet and other forms of dance When We Were Very Young. She was out --- well, it seemed pretty much every single night, though I’m sure if I asked her now, she’d accuse me of an overactive imagination (imagine that!). But she was at dance lessons a helluva lot. And I wasn’t --- not that I particularly wanted to be, I might add. No, no, for starters, in the so-called Wonder Years of the 1960s/70s, boys taking lessons in ballet and tap and so on required either a very special kind of courage, or at least an extraordinary ability not to give a tinker’s damn about what the world (read: mostly, their Neanderthal male confreres) thought about them. I didn’t have either that courage or that sensibility… besides, I wasn’t particularly interested in dance, anyway.
But I think, somewhere along the way, it must have occurred to my egalitarian parents that, in the spirit of equality, or at least equivalence, I should be offered the opportunity to do… well, something. Something out of the house, some kind of creative endeavour. So I recall my mother taking me downtown to look at a couple of places: a judo studio, and a music conservatory. Yeah, I know, I know. For the life of me, I cannot imagine how those two diametrically opposed endeavours figured on her list, but every once in a while, my sainted mother would do inexplicable, quirky things like that, God rest her soul, so there we were.
Now, I’ve written a time or six about how I was… well, a fairly quiet, intense… introverted… okay, nerdy… kind of kid in my youth. I’m a Myers-Briggs INTJ, so that shouldn’t really come as any great surprise --- though I’ve mellowed a lot over the lo, entirely too many years since my childhood, as We All Tend To Do, and a 34-year career as a secondary school teacher further smoothed off a lot of those sharp introvert edges. But to this day, I can’t fathom how my mother thought at that time that taking judo lessons would fit in well with either my worldview or my life philosophy: we toured the facility, and it appeared, to my horrified gaze at least, that it was heavily populated by the same kind of previously mentioned savage Neanderthal kids I spent much of my time avoiding/keeping-a-wary-eye-on at school. Did I really want to throw myself into that particular lions’ den? Well, that was a damned silly question: unlike Daniel of the aforementioned literary reference, I was under no illusions flights of angels would rush in to protect me. So I casually responded to my mother that no, thanks, we were done there and more than ready to move on.
The conservatory of music was, as you might imagine, a pretty different milieu --- kind of a Rivendell to the judo studio’s Mordor, speaking of literary references. And the man who’d be my instructor was a gentle, soft-spoken type with probably some introvert tendencies of his own. It was no contest, really --- perhaps there was something of a path-of-least-resistance kind of vibe at work --- and so, for the next three or four years, until high school commitments and increasing practice requirements for the guitar as I progressed up the skill level prompted me to abandon the project, I had a private half-hour classical guitar lesson every week, and also was required to practice each day for at least half an hour. I say “required to practice” because it was a chore. I did practice (most mothers are good at guilting their children into doing the right thing --- a survival tactic, I think --- but mine had an absolute gift for it) but never went one minute beyond the stipulated 30. I enjoyed classical guitar, in a mild sort of way, and was fairly proficient (though I loathed, with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns, the terrifying required public concert performances)… but overall, it was no burning passion, and without that spark waiting to flare into brilliant flame… well, as we all know, that kind of creative endeavour is destined to be stillborn. No, my creative passions, it turned out, lay elsewhere. (Three guesses, and the first two don’t count.)
But it’s led me to wonder, in an abstract way, how things would’ve turned out had I summoned my courage and agreed to take lessons at that judo studio. Would it have given me a sense of self-confidence I didn’t --- and wouldn’t --- possess for years? Or would it have turned me into one of those savage Neanderthals I so despised?
Ah well. Yep, The Childhood Choices We Make… AKA The Road Not Taken, I guess.
Of a sort.