In the spring of my senior year of highschool, I decided to learn the banjo. Last night I was sitting down, going through some old videos I had made of myself playing in the infant years of my banjo “career.” In the two years that have followed since then, I have made quite a bit of progress on the instrument, with much of that thanks to all the vacant time at home during the lockdown. But, really, my extremely limited progress is besides the point. As I was looking through the old clips of myself painfully plucking through basic melodies that they use to teach folks to play, I thought to myself now, “Why in the world did I decide to learn to play this thing?” It’s always sort of fun when you ask a question to yourself to which you don’t know the answer right off the bat. I remember that I had a couple of Amazon gift cards saved from over the years and a whole lot of free time during my last semester of high school. So, I got online to browse around, trying to find something with which I could maybe fill a little bit of my empty hours. I looked through the Amazon “Best Deals” tab and ended up spotting a cheaply made banjo which was within my budget. I went for it.
Now, my free time I had back then and the little Amazon allowance explain why I bought the silly banjo. But that doesn’t totally explain why I decided to learn how to play it over the course of two years and can barely go a day without touching one now. I laid down to try and think about this the other night. More than anything, I found it odd that I either didn’t know why I had invested so much of my time into something or had forgotten my original sentiment surrounding the pursuit altogether. Closing my eyes, I thought back to the moment and, all of the sudden, boom. I remembered. This might sound obscure, but I experienced a brief moment of distress which I felt before I had even thought about buying the banjo. A flashing, random and nonetheless scary thought crossed across my mind, “What if I lose my eyesight someday?”
I had been sitting at my desk and realized what an enormous proportion of my creative outlets relied on just the act of seeing. I enjoyed doodling, writing and sometimes even painting when I needed to take a few breaths away from technology.
By increasing my ability to make music … I have given myself a greater sense of security against the unknown.”
These art forms were really the only three outlets which I had in my arsenal where I actually produced some sort of creative product by the end. For whatever reason, it was all of a sudden very spooky for me to think that if, God forbid, an owl were to scoop out my eyes or even if I just woke up one day to an expansive, incurable darkness, that I would be without any sort of creative outlet in which I could express myself in an unaltered fashion as I had before. I felt unprepared and extraordinarily vulnerable, realizing how much I deeply depended on a singular sense for so much of my creative relief and expression.
So, I suppose that’s why I have stuck with the banjo up until now. By increasing my ability to make music using my ears, I have given myself a greater sense of security against the unknown. If my eyes go, then at least I’ll have music and if my ears go, then hopefully I’ll still have my eyes to see.
Today, the coronavirus pandemic has shown us all how quickly things can change in what feels like the blink of an eye. One is reminded to consider whether or not there are parts of our lives which are vulnerably concentrated on one element. Questions arise such as, “What would happen if we were suddenly stripped of that area of dependence?” And, “How can we live our lives to protect the parts of ourselves which are most critical to our shared humanity as we all delve into the future?”
My largest piece of advice in regards to those questions is that individuals should not be afraid to push themselves past their own limits which are oftentimes completely self-constructed. My younger self surely never would have imagined myself as a banjo player. You, too, can go beyond your own limits if you only convince yourself it is necessary.