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I first started learning guitar in grade 12. We had a course we could take and get credit for as part of our high school diploma. My then boyfriend was also taking it and class was slightly uncomfortable once we broke up, but I enjoyed it regardless. I had a blast performing with the class. I was supposed to sing too, but singing performances and I are like that Buffy episode “Nightmares” where Willow ends up singing with Pavarotti and can’t utter a word only weird screechy noises… Yeah. Put me in a car with friends and I’m fine. Shower? You betcha. In a musical or band performing in front of people. Nope. Unless I’m just one of the choir and not alone. I did make it through an O’ Canada performance with only two other people one time in high school, though. All our strongest choir members were at another performance and the football team needed singers. Us three thought there would be more, but nope. I’m off on a tangent again, aren’t I? The point I was trying to get to was that my learning of guitar was put on hold, not because of the failed relationship, but because it hurt my fingers too damned much to play the thing.
I hadn’t built calluses yet.
Calluses are a pain in the ass. There’s no way around it. You have to play until it hurts and play a little bit passed that, but not so far passed it that your fingers bleed. Bloody fingertips mean cut fingers and downtime from playing while they heal. We don’t want downtime because we need to build our calluses.
I’m to the point now where I can play for a whole hour before it hurts. My calluses are coming along. Those fingertips feel almost like leather.
They’re frail, though. I have to play every night to ensure they get strong.
I’m not sure what the writing equivalent to calluses is in this digital age. Few people write by hand enough to get writer’s bump today. But I’m not talking about a physical callus. Could it be learning to accept rejection? We build up a tolerance to it and it hurts less each time we are told no. Perhaps it is learning to edit? We get better at killing our darlings as we collect experience. But that may only be some of us. I know I’ve begun asking myself what I’m aiming to accomplish with a sentence, paragraph, or chapter and I’m getting better at cutting when it isn’t accomplishing the objective.
Perhaps calluses are really just visible experience markers and as we write more, we can see the progress in the quality of the words on the page. In which case, we should challenge ourselves with stories that make us uncomfortable to write. Stories that push our own boundaries and force us to reach for something beyond our current skill level.
I know, at one point, I was playing guitar and it was all just noise. Now it sounds a lot more like the song I’m playing. I’m not playing with the recordings yet or at the right speed. I’m going to soon, though. In fact, my guitar teacher gave us special versions of the songs we wanted to play that used easier chords because we couldn’t play the advanced ones at the time. If I had the time and the cash, I’d take more lessons from her. She was pretty cool and skilled.
In writing, my work last year felt like a mess of scenes that didn’t necessarily link together. Now it’s got a flow and looks like a novel. There are things like foreshadowing. There are climaxes and there is setup, etc. There’s more to do to make it the best it can be but it’s coming along really well.
I’ve now been playing guitar for over a year. Lately, I play every day. Sometimes only a song or two. Other times I lose track of how long I’ve been playing and suddenly it’s bedtime. I used to have to stop after a short amount of time. Especially songs that used my ring and pinky fingers as those are often on the two thinnest strings. The strings that hurt the most. Now, those fingers have the thickest calluses. They have come farther than my other fingers.
In martial arts, I began barely able to hold the sword in the right direction. Which was the blade’s edge again? Swinging it straight down the center line was hard to do. Harder still was the horizontal cut. Sensei would say things that had deep meaning to someone who wasn’t me. I eventually got the basics to a level that we can now build on the physical skill as well as the mental understanding. Each class I learn something. Often Sensei told me about it last year or perhaps even the year before, but I am only able to understand it now.
Calluses are a mark of experience and while I have a long way to go before I can be called good, I’m moving in the right direction.
I’m targeting my fitness callus next. There will be extra challenges for me with food allergies, exercise-induced asthma, and tendon pain. I discovered I was already in the right weight range for my height and frame size, so my current goal is to tone. I made up my own HIIT routine to help focus on the areas that I use in martial arts. What I enjoy about HIIT is that it is scaleable and you always just do your best. Instead of counting the amount of pushups you did, you just give it everything you have for the duration. I never feel like I suck because I did 20 instead of 25 of something. However, my original goal of doing HIIT twice per week was ambitious because my fitness callus had not been built.
I’m also working on my French callus. Language learning works well a little bit each day. Too much and you overwhelm your brain. Besides, you didn’t learn your first language that way. You saw a thing you wanted and mom or dad told you the name of it. You gradually learned to then describe its appearance, texture, etc. Then you learned to speak full sentences instead of fragments. They were simple at first. “Clifford is a big, red dog.” It’s easy to put too much pressure on oneself to know something after a short amount of time. So I immerse myself a little at a time. I get a library book in French and work through it with a dictionary nearby. I don’t use translation app because that doesn’t force me to use my brain and map the neural connections that will build the callus.
And there’s the geocaching callus. Currently, I have a high DNF rate (Did Not Find) and it’s frustrating. I’ll keep trying, though. I know it’ll get easier at some point. I installed a GPS app on my phone to hopefully get a little closer to the caches than a 13-foot range. After that, it’s honing other skills. I have to train myself to see the single grain of white rice in the salt shaker.
Whatever you’re working on in life, you’ll face tough parts and you have to push through it to build those calluses. Challenges help us build calluses and prepare us for greater things ahead.
Oh, here’s my 7.5-minute HIIT workout in case you’re interested. I just modified one that I found online so it was more martial arts focused. Change the time as needed to scale it to you:
30s Jumping Jacks
30s Push Ups
30s Punches (alternating left and right)
30s Jumping Jacks
30s Side Kicks (alternating left and right)
30s Front Kicks (alternating left and right)
30s Push Ups
60s Obliques (30s each side)
30s Leg Raises
30s Stretches (or as long as it takes you to stretch things out)