"Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it's better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring."
--- Marilyn Monroe
It’s a long story how it all happened, but last week something special came into my life. And it came in the form of a child-sized guitar. I can hardly believe that it’s meant to be anything other than a toy, but it has six steel strings which follow the same tuning of a regular guitar; what’s more, I can hardly believe that it’s for children, because if one of those six steel strings gets wound too tightly - well, let’s just say it’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye.
When I first had this guitar in my hands, I took out my tuning fork (which I keep in my purse - you never know when you’re going to need an A) and tuned it up. Then I strummed a G-major chord.
The trouble was, unlike a regular guitar, when I pressed down onthe first fret it resulted in not quite a whole-step interval, instead of what should have been a half-step. It was like what one of my former choir directors used to refer to as not sharp nor flat, rather, “G-crack.”
Then I figured, if this instrument, this toy, this .... thing was indeed made for children, then perhaps I shouldn’t be pressing down so hard on the strings (since children’s fingers have not yet developed the strength). This was indeed a factor leading to better intonation, but by lightly pressing on the string, the sound was muffled and not sustainable. What to do?
Well, for starters, don’t take this little guitar so seriously! It is obviously flawed. It is not meant to perform in the conventional way.
Why I didn’t realize the importance of that message right then and there is a mystery to me, but I’m thankful to have recognized it now, seven days after creating the “grahamophone bad guitar channel” series on YouTube.
I never set out to create this monster, nor would it ever have occurred to me to do what I did, had it not been for several factors lining up simultaneously:
I was in the possession of a kid-sized guitar.
My Internet access was down for four days.
I am currently in between jobs and thusly have what some might consider to be too much time on my hands.
I happen to be a creative person with a quirky, yet intelligent sense of humor.
The fourth factor is the one that often gets me into trouble professionally - many people don’t quite know what to do with me. But mostly, I stumble over my own desire for perfection. When I was lucky enough to be employed full-time, I got into several spats with my superiors over the type of work they were giving me. What with all the screaming I did in the office trying to convince them that I was perfect, it was a wonder they didn’t believe my voice to be big enough for certain roles. I was feeling artistically (thereby creatively) impeded, and they were just downright annoyed, understandably.
Like my little guitar, despite being tuned to perfection, if you play it in a conventional way and expect conventional results, you’re going to be disappointed. The flaws do not lie in the tuning, rather in the mechanics. My problem was not a musical flaw, but rather a lack of skill in crisis management. (Then again, I was hired for the former, not the latter, but let’s let bygones be bygones, shall we?)
Luckily for the little guitar, it fell into my hands - someone whose imagination is expansive enough to recognize its potential and turn it into its own guitar hero. The same applied to me. Shortly after being fired from my aforementioned job, a new employer entrusted me with the very same role I would have been singing had I kept my former position. Not only was I worthy of this role, but with each performance, I got better and better. I was by no means perfect - in some places I would push too hard, forcing my voice - dare I say it? - out of tune, but I was always heard. The applause at the end of the evening, accompanied with the director’s compliment, “It’s like Verdi wrote it for you,” was enough to convince me that I was perfect enough.
During the rehearsal period for that show, I once got really frustrated with the conductor who was being especially picky with me. “I make mistakes, too!” I whined. “No,” he replied. “You should avoid them.” He was right, perfectly aware of the standard I set for myself.
You should always do your best, and not make lazy mistakes, but you should never deny yourself your imperfections - your right to be absolutely flawsome.
As for the little guitar, I love it. For some reason, I can completely let loose and be nowhere near perfect, yet with perfect results. The feeling seems to be mutual. I embrace its flaws. In fact, if you don’t cringe while listening to grahamophone’s bad guitar channel, you’re either tone-deaf, or I’ve done something wrong.
Be patient and you will find those who accept and cherish you for who you are -- strengths, foibles and all.
In parting, a few more words of wisdom from Marilyn Monroe:
"I'm selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best."
Tune in (or tune out) next time to the Grahamophone!