Life in Lockdown

Learning to play the guitar in a pandemic

research fellow in the school of theology, philosophy and music, dublin city university

My new guitar arrived today, corralled by cardboard, suffocated in styrofoam. This isn’t how it was supposed to go, you know.

I had a guitar lined up for my fieldwork. Had it lined up a year ago, a girly-pink Daisy Rock hanging on the wall of a friend’s studio. Not my colour, but the price was right. Instead, separated from the Daisy Rock by an ocean, I browsed a website. Disembodied. I realised how woefully unprepared I was for this task, with no one to guide me, no way to see the guitars in person. I nearly bought a left-handed model by accident – a close call. I somehow managed to bumble my way into a decent purchase; it has since been approved by my brother, the rock star.

I watched the UPS delivery tracker the same way I should have been watching the notifications for my flights: When will it get here? Will there be a delay?

If all had gone as planned, I would be flying to the US next week. Well, you know how that goes. I’m hardly the only person grounded by travel bans, answering questions about my fieldwork – my job – with a ‘delayed indefinitely’. It sucks though.

Fieldwork deferred, with no definite end date, feels like a bit of an identity crisis. I am, after all, an anthro-pologist. I do research with people. It’s one of the things I love about my job and my chosen career. While I fully believe in, and support, more social-distancing-friendly fieldwork – virtual research, online interviews – it is still deeply disappointing that my much-planned-for, in-person fieldwork, a project years in the making, has been put on hold. Ordering the guitar felt a bit like admitting defeat.

And so instead I am doing what everyone else is doing right now – learning online, alone, with an amp that plugs into a pair of headphones so as not to disturb my neighbours, or my long-suffering husband in the other room of our tiny apartment. Instead of being guided by a teacher, I am watching short videos of people I’ve never met – and never will meet – explaining string names and fret numbers to thousands of people they can’t see. Instead of rehearsing and performing with a band, I hum twenty-second pop song choruses under my breath to ensure my hand-washing is up to code. My chorus of choice is that to Queen’s ‘Save Me’ – a bit of black humour for days when humour is needed to get by.

This isn’t how it was supposed to go, but like everyone else right now, I am improvising.

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