I’ve always wanted to be That Guy at parties who busts out an acoustic guitar and plays Wonderwall six times in a row. Yes, I want to be That Guy. I want to annoy the shit out of you while your girlfriend waves her flickering lighter and sits on my knee. (Is having someone sit on your knee while playing guitar even physically possible?) I want to croon creepy love songs into a tape recorder and put them up on the Internet and become a creepy-tape-recorded-love-song-singing-Internet-sensation with a fake Internet name that’s just initials or two cities, like Dayton Phoenix. When I mention a song and someone asks me how that one goes, I want to sing the chorus to them, loud and on key, and then I want to keep singing, just a little too long until everyone in some public place is looking at me, and maybe a few people clap or whoop after I’m done. And then those people go home and they say to their boyfriend/girlfriend/zefriend, tears shining in the corners of their eyes, “I heard the most amazing thing at the supermarket/Laundromat/coffee shop today. This woman was singing ‘Superstar’ and it was beautiful.” I want to steal the spotlight away from you at your birthday party when I hold that last “to youuuu” for thirty seconds without taking a breath. I want a goddamn show off talent.
You know what’s terrible about writing? No one wants to hear it. There isn’t any impromptu-Wonderwall-performance equivalent for writers. Sure, your writer friends might host get-togethers in their two-flats with Everclear spiked cider and a makeshift podium in the living room for you to stand at and read three pages of your short story. Maybe you’ll even get into a legitimate reading with a real stage and a microphone that works 43% of the time (but never more than 43% of the time from my experience at readings) and people will throw down a couple of bucks for a cover and beer with the intention of listening to some writing. But these are grim events. Everyone’s already a little too drunk by the time you go up, and they’re laughing at the part where your character finds out she has cancer instead of that really funny joke she (read: you) made on page two. And that’s if they’re even listening by the time you get to the cancer part. They’re probably waiting in line for the bathroom where your boyfriend, who was so super proud of you two hours ago when the reading started, is now puking up Everclear spiked cider. (Seriously, why do we keep making this stuff? It never ends well.)
Writing was not my dream. This is what happened when I hit rock bottom and realized I wasn’t really very good at anything, but hey, my high school English teacher kind of liked me. I was going to be a world famous musician. Maybe a concert flautist, maybe a singer in an all-girl punk band—it didn’t really matter how I got there, but after reading one too many YA novels about adolescent girls penning songs in their bedrooms, being discovered by a Relatable Adult record manager, and skyrocketing to fame overnight, I knew that path was the right path for me.
And god help me, I tried. In fourth grade, I took up and dropped the flute, though I’m reasonably confident I can still play “Hot Cross Buns”. In fifth grade, I auditioned for the middle school talent show with my friend, Deanna, and got in. Or rather, Deanna got in, because she could play piano well, and I rode behind on her coattails as her accompanying “singer.” The song? “Hero” by Mariah Carey. You can’t fault me for lacking ambition, but I should mention here if you were to chart my vocal range on a graph, it would look like the heart monitor of a flatlining ICU patient. A parent-recorded video of the event shows me trembling next to the piano, barely audible, then halfway through the song, even less audible. I don’t know if my nerves got worse or they turned down the mic, but if I had to guess, it was probably the latter.
In high school, armed with my reasonably priced starter Fender guitar, my best childhood friend (who to her credit, did not abandon our friendship immediately after this lesson) attempted to teach me “Smoke on the Water”. I was three months into my expensive weekly guitar lessons, and I’d yet to master “Debaser”.
“This is easier than that,” she said. “This is literally the easiest song in the universe. A toddler could play this song on guitar.” She played it twice, slowly, coaching, “G, B, C…” as she moved her fingers.
She handed the guitar back to me. Nothing stuck except my slow raw fingers on all the wrong strings. For three hours we practiced four chords, and I still have no idea how to play any of them. My guitar drifted into the storage section of the basement, never to be seen again.
I briefly flirted with the idea of learning harmonica, and received one as a fifteenth birthday present, in the midst of my Bob-Dylan-is-everything (JK-Conor-Oberst-is-also-kind-of-everything) phase. I think my parents were both mildly disappointed (they bought it) and deeply relieved (I was awful and showed no signs of improvement) when I gave it up two weeks later. I did ask for a drum set for the next birthday, but they’d learned to be wary by then, and refused.
So, with no talent or drive to continue the pursuit of my true dream, I started calling the depressing song lyrics in my journal poems, and fell back on the financially and socially fruitless dream of writing. And because of this fallback plan, I will never get to name an all-girl punk band “Bertha’s Attic” (unless it’s fictional). And I will never get to stage dive into the sturdy arms of an Amazonian woman. And I will forever sit bitterly and hiss in a corner when That Guy pulls out his guitar at the party. But, I will say, the fall back plan doesn’t totally suck.
Cassie Sheets is a writer, zine maker, and feminist. She enjoys making 30-second crafts, can sort of sew on buttons, and is currently responsible for the fates of two succulents. You can find her other work in Broad! and Hair Trigger.
Filed under: Opinion