Sunday, September 23, 2012

I want

Desire is an interesting thing, isn't it?
A couple of years ago, I thought it would be better of myself to eliminate the phrase "I want" from my vocabulary. It hasn't been easy.
Then, I thought better to modify the usage, instead of saying "I want a new motorcycle", or "I want the latest smart phone", I would limit the usage to things like "I want to do five more sit-ups", or "I want to make my wife breakfast". These are real, actionable items that improve life and living, not detract from it with accumulation of meaningless, un-necessary stuff.
But the question comes at the drawing of that line, how does one set goals and eliminate desire at the same time? Isn't the wish to eliminate desire a desire in and of itself? Wierd huh?
I recently (20 days ago in fact) started a quest to earn myself a Firefly banjo ukulele with a walnut neck and hardwood fretboard. The thing is, when the Firefly banjo-uke came out I wanted one, but I was starting to work on my "can't say 'I want'" philosophy, so I couldn't get one. Besides, it would just hang there on the wall next to my unplayed bass, so there was good reason not to buy it.
Recently (about 20 days ago in fact) I started working on Summer Reading 2013. I know, it's pretty early, but Flash Gordon just wasn't moving for me and I was still high on Summer Reading 2012, so I looked up the theme for next year and found it to be: "Dig into Reading". I decided on a story I really love, The Fantastic Mr. Fox. I started out making a drawing to represent the show, a fox, a few scrolly banners with text, and a banjo. A banjo? What was the banjo doing there? I don't know, it just fit.
So I started thnking about that banjo. So many great old-time fiddle tunes would work well with FMF, played during the digging and chases and such like that, things like Turkey in the Straw and the Chicken Reel. But how to play them? I have a tin-can banjo I built when I started learning about music. It's actually a very playable baritone uke. I could strum it and play the melody on harmonica - I already play a bunch of fiddle tunes that way, including Turkey in the Straw, and this is the way I usually work, but I want more - I want to learn more and different styles of ukulele playing, I want to do the melody and the chords on the banjo, I want it to be simpler in equipment, I want it to be richer in musicianship and musicality. That's a lot to want.
So, I thought, "I should get the Firefly banjo uke?"
Here's where things get a little difficult, I'm not supposed to "want" things. I thought, "Just get the darn thing, you can afford it." But, that's a problem in and of itself. Back in the day I would've worked extra shifts, saved money, took on side-jobs. It wouldv'e taken at least a month to get together an extra couple of hundred bucks. In the end, I would've either given up, thus indicating that I didn't really want the banjo,  or I would've earned the banjo and I would appreciate it that much more.
So I devised a system to get the banjo I "wanted" by earning it.
A banjo ukulele is tuned, strung and plays the same as a regular ukulele, so I don't need a banjo uke to learn to play banjo ukulele and I've got a couple of soprano ukes that I can work with.
So I did what I do whenever I'm making myself do something for a number of days, I made check boxes in my notebook, thirty of them in fact. And I started to teach myself to play clawhammer style ukulele. I won't get into the details of clawhammer style playing here, suffice it to say that it's a style of banjo playing that is used ofr old-timey music and that happens to work very well on one other instrument, besides the banjo, the ukulele.
So, now I've created some very explicit conditions. I can get a banjo uke if I practice clawhammer style playing for thirty days, without fail, if I miss even a single day I can't get it. Period.
Today is day twenty, and the one thing, more than anything else that has kept me going, is not the desire for the banjo, but the fact that I've posted my progress on Facebook every day. I started on day 4, just as a lark, and didn't post a day 5, but by days 6 and 7 I realized that people were reading the posts and I had developed a system of accountability.
In all, I think this raises more questions than it answers. Am I eliminating simple desire for the uke by forcing myself to learn/earn it first? Is this the good kind of "I want"? Or, am I just tricking myself to get something I want?
I don't know the answers to these things, I just know that, as a person, I'm not finished yet, and this is somethig I can do that will hopefully help me finish well.
If you want to follow my progress, "friend" me on Facebook.