I believe in having an adaptive mindset.
The year was 1993, and I was a longhaired 15-year high school freshman who had a deep desire to learn how to play the guitar. When I had asked my parents if they would purchase a guitar for me, I was quickly reminded with the list of prior items I had asked them to buy. The chemistry kit sat untouched, riddled in dust, next to the architecture kit in the corner of my bedroom. My Casio keyboard hid under my bed. The lonely wood burning kit was exiled to the dampness of the basement with boxes of unfinished car models as its roommates. ”We bought you all of these things you had asked for, but you never followed through. You always give up. Your mother and I aren’t wasting our money on a guitar”, my father said. But that didn’t stop me. In fact I think it may have motivated me, not to prove them wrong but to prove myself correct.
Like most high school freshmen, I had very little money of my own. My mother suggested that if I really wanted a guitar, I should buy one for myself. I began delivering newspapers. The pay was minimal, but the subscribers gave me tips. I saved my crumbs. One day, as I was slinging newspapers from my BMX, I passed a yard sale. My eyes focused in on a cherry red knock off Stratocaster that was sitting amongst a mishmash of miscellaneous second hand items on the table. “How much you want for the guitar”, I asked.
“Twenty Bucks”, the man replied.
I cranked the pedals like the cops were chasing me, threw my bike on the front lawn, ran in the front door of my house, jolted up the stairs, and retrieved a wad of one dollar bills from a coffee can under my bed. At the speed of light, I sped back to the yard sale and made the transaction. I finally owned a guitar.
I went from struggling to play the opening riff of “Come as You Are” by Nirvana, to wearing my headphones while playing along with their entire Nevermind album. This progress did not come without sacrifice. When my friends were hanging out after school, I was slinging newspapers to earn money for more guitar based literature and a new acoustic guitar. When they were going to the movies or partying in the woods, I was studying all I could about the guitar.
At the time, I couldn’t afford to take formal guitar lessons. I purchased guitar magazines at the local newsstand, checked out books from the library, learned how to string the guitar, tune the guitar, and how to read tablature. I spent hours upon hours reading chord graphs and mimicking the finger placement on the fret board. The skin on my fingertips blistered and callused over. I was an awful guitar player, but determined. I watched concerts on VHS tapes and would pause, rewind, and replay the video so I could study the guitarists’ finger placement and strumming techniques. Single strummed notes evolved to become chords, chords had become songs, and guitar had become my life.
I started to write my own songs and lyrics and collaborated with other musicians. I was no longer practicing by myself, but with others. Hours spent alone in my bedroom tediously practicing chords and scales evolved into hours spent refining those skills to later be utilized to create music with friends. We wrote 8 songs, 3 of which we performed on PBS channel 12 in Philadelphia. In my senior year of high school my friends and I performed in a benefit concert that we organized to raise money for The Ricky Orsino Art Scholarship, named after our late friend Ricky Orsino, a very talented artist and drummer who had passed away suddenly from an aneurysm.
In more recent years, I have resourced the Internet to learn how to fix my clothes dryer, rebuild a carburetor, grow a vegetable garden, install some electrical sockets and a ceiling fan, and the list of other examples continues to go on. Hard work, dedication, and determination pay off exponentially when combined with a self-driven curiosity and hunger for knowledge. By teaching myself how to do something that I had no prior knowledge of, the building blocks for self-confidence and self-esteem sprouted in me. For the first time in my life I had followed through, I didn’t give up; I pushed forward. I proved to myself that I could accomplish what I set out to do. I taught myself how to play the guitar. And in my sophomore year of high school, on Christmas morning, my parents surprised me with the gift of an electric guitar. I believe in having an adaptive mindset.