Sitting with my family, eating Sunday dinner (in the South that means the noon meal; the evening meal is supper), there is a knock at the door. Being an eager eleven year old, I jump up from the table and run to see who has come by at this time of day on a Sunday. Opening the door I see the friendly face of Earl Warren.
Earl was a song leader at the church where my dad preached. He didn’t know how to give a simple smile. His entire face beamed when he spoke to you; eyes twinkling, teeth shining (one of them sporting a gold cap), and dimples that ran from his ear lobes to the corners of his mouth.
“Hello,” he says loudly.
My dad recognizes Earl’s voice and, rising from the table, calls to him, “Come on in Earl!”
Stepping through the door, Earl pats me on the head with his large hand. It’s then that I notice he seems to be hiding something behind his back with his other hand.
I hear his and daddy’s voices but couldn’t tell you what they were saying. I was too curious about what was behind his back. Then I hear Earl say, “I brought this by for David.”
Kneeling on one knee so that we are eye to eye, Earl winks at daddy. Then from behind his back he pulls a guitar and says to me, “I brought this for you to have.”
I am stunned. The only musical instrument that’s ever been in our home is a gigantic upright piano that my sister plays. I’ve never even seen a guitar up close.
Earl cradles the guitar on his knee, places three thick fingers on the strings and strums. A pleasant chord resonates through the room.
Seeing my grin, he says, “My daddy gave this to me when I was about your age. I figured I ought to pass it on. I don’t play it anymore.”
There was a rule in our house that you don’t accept gifts that weren’t connected to a birthday or holiday. We were taught to say, “Thank you, but I can’t accept it.” I suppose that was all about not being treated like a charity case. Having grown up the son of a sharecropper during the depression had that kind of effect on people like my dad.
But I WANTED this gift! A guitar! I knew nothing about one but knew I had to have it. Pinched between my “want” and my “raising,” I look silently at my dad.
He looked at Earl. “That’s a fine looking ‘git-tire’ Earl.” (As good a speaker as my dad was, “guitar” always came out that way.) “But that seems like too much.”
“Now listen, Willie,” Earl counters, “this is something I want to do. It needs to be used.”
Daddy wavers for a moment and then nods. “Alright then. What do you say, David?”
I cannot believe this is happening to me. “Thank you Mr. Warren!” I gush.
And that was the beginning of a lifetime of playing guitar and singing. Mel Bay guitar books became as familiar to me as the Bible. Throughout high school, college and into adulthood I played solo and with groups. For over twenty years I played with a group of friends called The Danny Martin Band.
And then, about ten years ago, an unusual form of arthritis (psoriatic arthritis) attacked my left index finger. Both the top and middle joints became essentially fused along with permanent swelling. No matter how hard I tried, it became impossible to play the guitar.
There wasn’t even enough strength to play simple bar chords. I considered trying to learn to play left-handed, but that would require a new guitar. Plus that seemed too big a stretch for me to try.
When my friends got together to play, all I could do was sing.
I became frustrated, angry and depressed about it.
But after about a year and a half of wallowing in self-pity I saw a video of a man playing a guitar who’d had three of his fingers cut off just below the second joint. It was amazing to see!
I kicked myself. “Quit feeling sorry for yourself,” I said.
It occurred to me that if anybody should be able to figure out how to play a guitar with three fingers (middle, ring and pinky), I should. So I set out to do that very thing.
All those preset neuropathways in my brain from thirty years of playing were resistant to the change. But I persevered, ultimately to the point I wasn’t embarrassed by how it sounded and I could keep up on the fast changing songs.
December 3, 2010, I found myself suddenly out of a job for the first time since I started patching blacktop roads at the age of fourteen for the city of Rainbow City, Alabama. I’d never been at such a crossroad and was a little uncertain what to do.
After a couple of days to recover from the emotional blow, I made an action plan. I wrote a column of all possibilities for employment I could think of. In the column beside that I wrote down the date that I sent out a letter/resume/email or made a phone call. Then the third column I left blank to record the responses.
Soon the responses began coming in. Usually it began with a “thank you for your interest” that was soon followed by that dreaded conjunction “but.”
I began filling the last column with a date followed by the word “rejected.”
But after looking at that word and feeling the defeated aftertaste if left in my chest, I crossed out “rejected” and wrote “not interested at this time.”
Currently I’ve been sending out book proposals to literary agents, hoping to interest one of them in representing me. The reports you’ve heard about how daunting a task that is are very real. I read that the author of “The Hunger Games” was rejected by sixty literary agents before someone agreed to take them on as a client.
I haven’t gotten one single “rejection” letter. What I have gotten are lots of people who “declined the opportunity.” How unfortunate for them!
I don’t know what you are discouraged about today, what roadblock you feel you’ve run into, or how defeated you may feel. I want to encourage you to turn those negatives wrong-side-out. Stand them on their heads. Put a different spin on them – a positive spin. Put a different frame around the picture you are looking at. Change your perspective. (The technical term for all this is “cognitive restructuring.”)
It may sound childish or silly, but it really does work. You’ll feel lightened by the positive energy rather than sluggish with your belly full of all that negativity.