I like that people ask me if I'm playing any guitar these days, even if the answer that I have to give is not a happy one. Friends & colleagues know what a major thing it's been in my life, and to look at me at the recent MLA meeting in Chicago, you might've thought that maybe I'm improving enough to be back at it.
Alas, no. I don't have enough flexibility, agility or acuity in my fingers. I do keep the '72 Thinline in my study and try to pick it up for 10 minutes a day. I can form most of the chords -- I just can't move between them with any dexterity. It's good therapy for my hands.
In the last couple of months my hands have improved to the point where I'm typing using all my fingers again. Things are trending in the right direction. But it is oh so slow.
Most frustrating is the inability to walk unassisted. For short distances I can get by with the walking stick Josie named Mr. Whiskers. For Chicago we brought the folding wheelchair we've dubbed Lightnin' McQueen. I can also use it as a walker and was able to make my way around the conference hotel and the exhibit hall on my own. My legs tire easily so I can't go for too long, but we were pretty happy with what I was able to manage.
The prognosis remains maddeningly uncertain. We don't know how much permanent nerve damage has been done. The inflammation probably started as much as two years ago, so we can assume it's pretty extensive. On the other hand, the mysteries of neuroplasticity have my neurons creatively seeking new pathways to get the messages accurately from the brain to the muscles in my hands, legs and hips. These days I do feel more connection to many of those muscles than I did for a long time. And then there's the muscles themselves. After so long with limited mobility the muscles are weak, but still undamaged. So I see the physical therapist every two or three weeks and I exercise daily. I've several different routines that I do in 10 or 15 minute blocks for a total of 20 to 45 minutes a day. If the Cytoxan continues to reduce the inflammation and the exercise continues to strengthen the muscles, it is perfectly conceivable that I will again walk unassisted and be back to playing guitar.
In the meantime, there are other ways to make music. Several months ago I discovered a recording I'd made of me playing guitar and singing "Little Black Car." It was from several years ago when I was experimenting with a new little recorder. I'd pulled the track into iTunes where it got buried in my 18,000+ item library and I forgot about it. When it resurfaced, I sent it off to the band. Mr TomCat recorded a bass track to go with it and Dook sent me a drum track. I pulled the pieces into GarageBand and came up with a reasonably serviceable mix. I sent it to RedMolly who was acting as dj for the Armadillo Ball and we surprised Tambourine Grrl with it. I wrote it for her 20 years ago, back when I was still living in St. Louis and making the long drive to Birmingham and back to see her. I introduced it at the Ball as I always did when I played it live, telling the story of that long drive and my passion for the girl at the end of it. "...and so, since I was playing in a country-punk band, I wrote a song about my car."
Hobbled I may be, but not so much as to stop me from arranging to play that song for her.
Next up, I want to talk the band into working on our version of "Wagon Wheel." I love our harmonies on that one. I'm fooling around with the harmonica. And I can still sing.