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My Ukulele

 

The one present I specifically asked for this year for my birthday was a ukulele, and my aunt, a musician, did the careful shopping for me. I was thinking of getting one of the 1-2-3 sets from Amazon, where the ukulele probably falls apart on the third use, but she made sure to get me a real one. I’ve had it on my wish list for years, but I couldn’t convince myself that it wasn’t frivolous and silly, especially because I have a guitar that I never use, but when Mom asked me what I wanted it was the first thing I could think of, well, second, behind a pony. I’ve always wanted a pony.

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“There will be no ponies in my house.”

The ukulele is very light and small and has a beautiful tone, so I’m hoping I’ll have some luck sticking to a practice schedule. The danger of feeling like a ne’er-do-well is still very high, but as long as I don’t watch videos of ukulele masters I can try to hold onto the idea that it’s a toy to play with, instead of a serious musical instrument that I have to master or give up immediately.

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Platypus is guarding my ukulele

I found a few YouTube videos for beginners, and I’m learning the chord charts and trying not to be too impatient with my clumsy fingers. I took piano lessons as a kid, so the transition to stringed instruments has been a little bit confusing for me. I had an electric keyboard for a while, trying to revisit my pianos lessons, but when it died I didn’t replace it, because it kept reminding me that I was not a musical genius, and that hurt my feelings.

I just want music to be fun, and a ukulele looks like fun to me. I also thought about a bongo drum for some reason, or maybe a harmonica. But not a tambourine. I hate tambourines. I’d love a Melodica, like the one Jon Batiste has on the Late Show with Steven Colbert. My grandmother had two when I was little, these tiny keyboards that you could pick up and blow into, and pretend you were making real music. But she kept telling me that I was playing it wrong, so maybe that’s a bad example.

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This is a Melodica, and not my picture

I’m not sure if the dogs will be interested in the ukulele or not. Cricket tried to play my guitar years back, but it scared the crap out of her when she strummed the strings with her paw. Wikipedia says that the word Ukulele roughly translates to “jumping flea” in Hawaiian, so hopefully that will keep the dogs away from it.

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“It has fleas?!!!”

I’m still hearing some muted and buzzing strings while I learn how to place my fingers for the chords, but it’s getting better. It’s not music yet, but it’s a step or two closer. I use a keyboard app on my phone to tune the strings at the beginning of each session, because I’ve been warned that the nylon strings of the ukulele go out of tune pretty quickly. I’ll need to buy an instrument case eventually, because I keep returning the ukulele to its original box, and that seems insensitive.

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my phone/tiny keyboard

I don’t have plans to join a ukulele band, if such a thing exists, but I wouldn’t mind playing it around the apartment and having the dogs follow me, like the pied piper. In which case I should probably have just re-learned how to play the recorder, much simpler and less painful for the fingers.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl.

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Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy (short for Isabel). Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes that it’s true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to an Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain, smart, funny, and looking for people she can trust, finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment.

Tai Chi

I have tried Tai Chi in the past and found it frustratingly slow and complicated and rage-inducing. But I’ve found that yoga encourages too much flexibility for my injury prone body of late, and I need to work on my balance and managing stress better, so I am trying Tai Chi again. It helps that I found five minute lessons on YouTube, with a very clear instructor (Leia Cohen). I like that she wears loose clothing instead of skin tight body suits like other exercise instructors, who seem to feel the need to advertise the effectiveness of their exercise routines, along with their clear genetic gifts.

Tai Chi is one of the only forms of exercise I’ve found that does not interest Cricket. Yoga inspired her to stretch and paw at me and bring me her toys. Sit ups and leg lifts were a clear signal that I wanted to scratch her back for twenty minutes at a time. But Tai Chi puts her to sleep.

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“I could use another blanket, Mommy.”

I had to stop the Tai Chi experiment for a couple of weeks while the two dogs (and the bird) were visiting. I was getting so much exercise from walking the dogs, and picking them up, and breaking up fights, but also it wasn’t safe to try to do Tai Chi in the living room with three small dogs weaving between my feet.

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There really wasn’t any room for me on that floor.

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Izzy did her version of Tai Chi with a banana chip.

But, a few days after they left, I started back up again, from the beginning, five minutes a day.

I’m not sure why it feels so difficult, or why five minutes seems like my limit. I’m not even sure if the limit is physical or emotional or spiritual. There’s physical pain involved in doing such slow movements, and being aware of each movement and how it feels in my body. There’s discomfort. Maybe that’s the more appropriate word for it. Tai Chi is supposed to be moving meditation, an attempt to center in the body and breath and find some calm. And maybe calm is uncomfortable for me, and attention to the body is uncomfortable.

All of my different aches and pains seem to get air time when I do Tai Chi, like a room full of senior citizens grumbling and groaning. I try to keep them on mute the rest of the time, with medication and distraction techniques, but Tai Chi seems to take me off mute.

My hope is that five minutes a day will lead me to ten minutes and eventually I will feel stronger and more centered, but I don’t know if this will work for me. All I can do is try.

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“You go ahead, Mommy. I’ll wait here.”