A year ago, motivated primarily by a long-held desire to play the heartbreaking intros to slow country weepers, I took up the lap steel guitar. Having fooled around with regular guitars for decades and made little progress beyond the usual bluesy noodling, I decided to be more purposeful about this midlife project. So I found a teacher at the neighborhood music school, a jazz ace whose formidable chops and command of music theory more than made up for his lack of familiarity with country music. It was profoundly satisfying to be a student again, after all these years, and I learned a lot. He even got me playing a little jazz, another previously unfulfilled ambition of mine. So far, so good.
Well, the honeymoon’s over: I have an end-of-year recital coming up. It’s been roughly 38 years since my last recital, but I’ve surprised myself by effortlessly rediscovering my ability to conjure up a lowering cloud of dread. I’ve done enough public speaking to have gotten used to the attention of audiences, and this recital, especially, would seem to be no big deal at all: a half-dozen students playing a couple tunes each for a small, forgiving crowd. But there’s something about getting up in front of people with an instrument in my hand that recalls me with a nasty jolt to my 11-year-old self, shrinking from the horror of an approaching performance and wondering exactly how much it would hurt to slam my fingers in a drawer hard enough to convincingly injure myself.