I get an awful lot of sympathy.
I’m never seen without either my rollator or my powerchair, except maybe in the shower (yes, I went there, but you did first, and shame on you for that), and any sort of assistance apparatus always elicits a few “poor thing” glances from time to time. Don’t think for a second that I don’t ever use this to my advantage; pity, much more than flattery, will get you everywhere.
Occasionally the topic of my disability comes up in conversation. I don’t mind, really; I know people are curious, I’m happy to educate people about my condition, and I don’t find it the least bit rude if someone says, “So how come you’re in a wheelchair?” Kids can be the funniest; not long ago a very young girl saw me rolling around outside the building with my feet unclad, gasped, and said: “You’re not wearing any shoes!” To which I replied, “Yes, but it’s not like I’m going to step on something, now, is it?” Her jaw dropped, she stared at me for what seemed like an hour, and then she ran off to find her mom without another word.
The more candid and open conversationalists will often say something to the effect of “I just can’t imagine having to deal with what you go through every day,” or even “I was diagnosed with fill-in-the-blank a few years back, and it’s tough, but it’s nothing compared with your struggle I’m sure”. I have my replies distilled down into easy-to-digest soundbites and homespun homilies for the sake of brevity in conversation (I get to be verbose here, in my blog; lucky you); there’s “Everyone has a handicap; mine’s just more obvious than most”, or “Don’t let my struggles make yours seem less significant; if I have a $10 bill and you have a five spot, my ten doesn’t make your five worth any less than it was before”, and my old favorite, intoned to those who want to know how in the world someone in my position manages everyday tasks: “You just do it however you do it.”
For instance, I’ve learned to do a lot of things left-handed – a feat I was sure was impossible 10 short years ago. I now use a fork and spoon, a computer mouse, a toothbrush, toilet tissue, and my smartphone and TV remote entirely southpaw now, and I’ve also begun to use a pen that way. I even use my left thumb for the space bar sometimes. Other things have changed as well, such as always having to sit to use the restroom regardless of the particulars of the task at hand, and of course, needing to use a pick instead of plucking the strings with my fingers.
This last point is the topic of this blog.
There is still (and always will be, I’m afraid) a part of me that loathes using a pick when I play my bass. I MISS using my fingers; I miss the tone, sound, feel (tactile as well as musical), and convenience. And so I have spent countless hours looking for the most “fingers-like” picks in terms of tone – hours that could have been spent practicing instead.
I also spend a lot of time beating myself up over the fact that I have to use a pick.
This weekend I was asked to play in a large church in the local metropolis. This was my third time up on that stage, and many of the churchgoers are now accustomed to occasionally seeing the guy zooming around on his powerchair with a bass balanced on his feet. Between sermons, I was chatting with a very nice woman about my issues, and at one point she said, “I just don’t know how you do it – I don’t know WHAT I’d do if I were in your situation!”
I replied with a version of what I’ve said several dozen times over the last decade: You find a way to get done what you need to get done if you want to get it done badly enough. And how you get it done isn’t nearly as important as following the Nike principle: Just Do It. And when you do it, you “do it however you do it.” Method takes a back seat to accomplishment and achievement, as it should almost all the time. Pollyanna would approve for sure.
Not long after I began the drive home, I recalled the conversation, and hoped that I’d imparted some words of wisdom that she found useful.
Instead, I felt a Voice inside me (not the first time this has happened, oh no) that said: take your own advice and apply it to how you play your bass these days.
WHAT!? But… NO! That picking-bassist nonsense is… well, just that: NONSENSE! I know these days I have to do it that way, but C’MON, God! We both know I’d chuck those picks in a heartbeat if I had my fingers back. It’s INFERIOR, I tell You!
do it anyway. your words are wise; now it’s time to put your money where your mouth is. show ‘em. heck, show yourself while you’re at it.
Oh, MAAAAANNNN… You’re not telling me I’m never ever going to get my fingers back, are You?
i said no such thing, but that’s beside the point. you strive to inspire as an instructor; now you can inspire as an artist with a disability.
But nobody’s going to take me seriously when they find out I’m a pick player!…..
bobby vega… cody wright… chris squire…
Yeah, but THOSE guys are…
carol kaye… justin chancellor… tommy shannon…
Well, sure, but –
paul mccartney… graham maby… jason newsted…
Okay, okay, I guess I get the –
matt freeman… anthony jackson…
OKAY OKAY OKAY! JEEZU –
Oops… sorry about that.
no worries, i saw it coming.
Well, thanks. Ummm… should I pray about this, do You think?
you mean this isn’t direct enough communication for you? do what you feel led to do, but i already know what you’re going to do about your bass playing.
Yeah… good point. Thanks for that.
hey, i’m here to help…
And so, the process of reconciling my physical and musical experiences has begun. It’s time to own the fact that even though there are things I can’t do anymore, there are NEW things I can do BECAUSE I use a pick. It’s time to focus on my pick-using bass heroes and learn to emulate them as best I can, so that I can filter all of that through my bass-playing self and become ME all over again, but with a new twist. It’s time to bring a new sound into the bass tone library, for me as well as for those who hear me play. And it’s time to get off my own @$$, both figuratively AND literally. I will wield a pick with pride, stop longing for what I can’t do anymore, and learn NEW things that I CAN do with what I have. After all, the music is still inside me, and it must be unleashed upon the world… regardless of the method.
And thanks, God, for letting me STILL be a bass player.