Pretty cool stock image, huh?
In "Any Questions? with Jenny Owen Youngs," we hand the blogging reigns over to our friend and person who plays guitar in front of people, Jenny Owen Youngs. She will take your questions on life and love and music and life. (Did we say life already? We did.) Anyway, this week, Jenny got some questions from you nice folks about being friends with exes and learning to play guitar. Want to have your question answered by JOY? Submit one here. Here she is, ready to take your questions…
My ex girlfriend and I broke up after four and a half years together. I thought we were forever—looked at rings, etc. We had a rough two years (she found someone else a month after our breakup and I was upset) where we both said hurtful things to each other, and I apologized several times. But now I miss her (not in a romantic way) and want to see how she's doing. Can people who spent so much time investing in a life together ever be friends?
Hello there, friend. Before we advance to the answer portion of this, er, answer, let me first extend positive vibes of strength and warmth toward your formerly broken heart. Love is the craggy ocean cliff-base against which we must all hurl ourselves, like ceaseless waves, until we are inevitably made to shatter and weep. It’s dreadful! But it’s also a part of life, and look at you, soldiering on! Way to go, pal. Way to go.
The short answer to your question is: YES THIS IS POSSIBLE. I know plenty of people who have strong, meaningful relationships with their former lovers (yeah I said “lovers,” stop nitpicking and start holding my hair back because that was a terrible word choice and I’ve made myself ill). My wife’s very best friend in all the land was also, once upon a time, her first girlfriend. In fact, she even married us. To each other. They were able to transform their romantic relationship into a wonderful friendship. I’ve seen it with my own two eyes, so I feel comfortable saying there is scientific proof on planet earth that at least two people have accomplished what you’re interested in accomplishing.
It makes sense that you miss your ex. You probably didn’t date this girl for a bunch of years based solely on your desire to put your mouth on her mouth. You like-liked her not just for her makey-outey virtues (mouth etc.) but for her personality, her humor, her brain, and her heart. The foundation of any good romantic relationship is a strong friendship, and once the pain of heartbreak begins to fade, it’s natural to still feel your non-romantic feelings peeking up out of their prairie dog holes. You cared about this person. You still care about this person. This means you are human. That is great news (unless you are actually a Velociraptor who has learned to use a computer oh noooooo first the door handles and NOW THIS).
In my experience, the key factors for a successful romance-to-friendship transmogrification are time, maturity, openness… and of course your ex not being a wretched beastmonster. But since you dated her (and for so long!), let’s assume she is a delightful chinchilla of a human being, emotionally mature and open to communication. I urge you to reach out to her, be honest about your feelings, and make it clear up front that you’re not trying to win her back. Write her an email, or a letter, or a very long text message, or maybe call her on the phone and be like “Yo, I miss your brain and stuff, can we get a cup of seriously un-romantic coffee and talk like pals?!”
OMG your ex is super cute.
BUT LISTEN: There are oodles of variables involved, and every person on this planet is a beautiful and singular snowflake, with nooks, crannies, and personality quirks all their own. Your ex may not be ready for friendship now. She might not EVER be ready for friendship. There is only one way to find out! You must TALK TO HER. Just go into the situation armed with the knowledge that being friends with your ex is a totally rad thing to want, and if your ex responds coldly, it’s probably not about you, it’s about her. Ultimately, you only have power over your own actions, and you can only foster your own growth… not hers. Put the ball in her court and you’ll find out what’s up.
What advice would you give to someone just taking up learning the guitar?
YES! THIS IS SO EXCITING! I AM PUMPED FOR YOU! PLAYING GUITAR IS SO FUN!!!
Guitarists (and Taylor Swifts) have more fun. (Sweet photo via the OC Register,)
…Well actually, I think it starts out as kind of overwhelming and boring and pesky and a little painful. There are chords to learn, strumming to get comfortable with, song structure and some theory to wrangle… but trust me. It GETS fun. So my first piece of advice is: hang in there. You’re going to have to build up callouses on the fingers of your fretboard hand—that’s your left hand if you’re playing righty. Pressing those strings down can really hurt when you’re getting started, but take it from the voice of experience: if you stick with it, you’ll develop handy pads on your fingertips that will enable you to painlessly rip through “Stairway to Heaven” and “Enter: Sandman” without so much as an “Ow!”
Maybe you’re taking lessons from Guitar Lou down on Main Street, or maybe you’re just holed up in your bedroom figuring things out for yourself. Whichever route you’re on, I think the most practical thing you can do in order to work on all the elements of good guitar playing simultaneously is playing whole songs. But first, you’ll need to first familiarize yourself with some chords—open chords, barre chords, and power chords. Chords are usually the building blocks of a song, and if you’ve already been messing around with your guitar for a bit, you may have started to learn some of the go-to chords in first position (Dear sweet G Major! My beloved E minor! And so on). If this all sounds like Greek to you and you’re wondering what exactly a chord is, I’d suggest you pick up a book of guitar chords, or download a guitar app with chord charts, and cozy up to the Cs and Ds and F#s that your guitar was LITERALLY made to play.
Your cat will probably want to “help.”
Once you’ve begun memorizing the fingerings of various chords, try playing along with a song that you love. Some songs are better suited to this than others. You probably SHOULDN’T start with “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I think that “I Walk the Line” and “Ring of Fire” are great songs that use just a few open chords and are super fun to play. I personally cut my guitar teeth playing all the songs on Nirvana’s Nevermind and Green Day’s Dookie—lots of great power chord-based songs on those two records, and “Come As You Are” is a great example of a song that centers around a pick-y part, but isn’t overly complicated.
I’m an advocate for the “play along with records you love” approach because I feel like it’s pretty immersive and you’re working on everything at once: solidifying your chord knowledge, increasing your ability to shift from one chord to another with ease, improving the rhythmic feel of your strumming hand, getting familiar with song structure, and (the best part!) playing music you dig. It also requires you to hone what is arguably the most important part of musicianship no matter what instrument you play: your ability to listen.
Keep practicing, and I promise you will (at the very least) have some fun.
ALSO YOU HAVE THE POTENTIAL TO LOOK REALLY COOL:
Photo: Mark Runyon, ConcertTour.org
My last piece of advice to you: under no circumstances should you play a guitar with more than one neck.
Damn it, Kaia.
Jenny Owen Youngs is a Brooklyn-based musician and you can find her on Twitter - @jennyowenyoungs