I hadn’t been this nervous in 15 years. My stomach was turning, I could barely eat. You knew something was up because I’d gone quiet. I’m never quiet. From the look on my face, you’d have thought I was walking to my death. Instead, in just a few short hours, I would be making my ukulele showcase debut—as one-half of the appropriately named Hi-Strung. And I was coming undone.
I should rewind back a few weeks to explain something: Around Christmastime, there was a setback. Everyone and everything is fine now—and I have no plans to elaborate—but life tossed up a major challenge. With some added stress on top of that, I did what I usually do: Completely ignore it and become obsessed with something else. Previous coping mechanisms have included running, jewelry making, and Law & Order reruns. This time, it was the ukulele. I didn’t even possess the instrument yet, but I itched to get my hands on one, learned chords on my phone app, watched video after video on Youtube.
After finally buying my own uke, I practiced at least a half-hour every day, sometimes twice a day. I found uke websites and learned new songs. I even had aspirations of composing the ditties that had been rolling around in my head for decades. I grew more proficient by the minute, as if I became one with the ukulele. I wasn’t about to explore the reasons behind it. The subconscious is funny that way.
It was fortuitous, then, that I met a ukulele kindred at work. If not for Ruby and her diligence, I would never have performed at a ukulele jam, which ultimately led to our six-song set at a showcase—a showcase in which I would be soloing “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” by the Mamas and the Papas. I don’t sound like Mama Cass—no one does—so it’s understandable that my nerves were turned up to “11”. A mere sip of coffee could have sent me screaming down the hallway.
A friend of mine, who also happens to be a therapist, said, “It takes a minimum of six weeks to get over a crisis.” I’ve always had excellent timing. With the concert less than a day away, my mind, which had obsessed over the ukulele for over a month, was now switching back to address the crisis that started this whole thing. Suddenly, my uke skills were starting to crumble. My fingers couldn’t find the frets or strum in time. I was panicked; now was not the time for an epiphany.
By show time, I was a ball of nerves. The confident girl from two weeks earlier was nowhere in sight. Everyone is better than me, I told myself, everyone has been playing longer. I’m going to screw up.
That’s when I had my answer.
There are times when it pays to be perfect—playing Carnegie Hall, acting in a play. But at a showcase at a place called Maui Tacos, with a group of ukulele enthusiasts, getting a side of salsa to go with your nachos gets higher priority than musical perfection. I didn’t consciously screw up, but as Ruby and I started the opening chords to “Jolene”—a song we’d practiced many times before—I felt out of my body and couldn’t remember what came next. Thankfully, Ruby stopped us and I raised my hands in victory and told the audience that I was ecstatic to screw up because now I didn’t have to worry about doing that. The crowd even cheered with me. It helps when they’re drinking beer.
We went on to play the rest of the set—a rousing strum-along rendition of “You Are My Sunshine,” “Two of Us” by the Beatles, and a “Folsom Prison Blues” redux featuring Ben Mealer—without a hitch. Even my attempts to mimic Mama Cass weren’t half bad. The crowd—loaded with several friends and co-workers—was enthusiastic and gave us a warm ovation afterward. Of course, everyone else who played at the showcase was better and more talented than I was, but all my nervousness was a waste of energy—especially since the moment is now a blur to me.
Since then, I haven’t been playing so much, but I’ve been getting back to writing, something that suffered during the mini-crisis. I picked up the uke the other night and plunked my way through Bowie’s “Life on Mars,” which I consider the “Everest” of ukulele pieces. This whole experience has made me grateful for so many things, including my subconscious, which managed on its own to find a healthy outlet for stress. Whatever comes next, I’m certain we haven’t heard the last of Hi-Strung.
[Watch this space for video of the event. As of post time, no one knows how to upload a 3-minute video from an Android phone. If you’re techno-savvy, post in the comments or shoot me an email with instructions so I can make my parents and friends happy. Thanks. CD]