I got my first guitar at the age of 13. Throughout my high school years, it grew as an extension of myself. I pushed through the pain of bruised and calloused fingers, the humiliation of being a beginner when my friends were already so good at it, and the discouragement when I couldn’t play a difficult song. Yet as a result, I felt proud of what I could do with this meager $100 instrument that was too small for me and had a buzzing noise. It acted as an emotional outlet for me during the trials of broken friendships, loneliness and the academic pressures of high school. I cried with my guitar, sang my heart out with my guitar and established an identity with my guitar.
So it was strange that when I went to college, weeks would pass and I wouldn’t come close to touching my guitar.
I brought it to Berkeley, of course, but playing became more difficult when I had roommates. Back at home, I would play in the dark until the moon was high up in the sky and shining through the window in my room; at UC Berkeley, I had to stop so that my friends could get a good night’s sleep for their classes. It didn’t help that I felt insecure about singing or playing, because rarely was I ever alone, and my housemate played music so I didn’t want to get in the way of her practice time. And with classes constantly knocking at my brain, I would use the time that I did have alone as a time to study quietly.
Quickly, emotions became pent up. I still had special moments when I found myself having the propensity to play and the environment to do so, but it got to a point where I could no longer rely on it as an outlet to pour out my sentiments.
The void left by it grew. So naturally, I felt myself searching for other things to untangle the immense messiness of my emotions. And in that, I found that writing really helped. Journaling, writing fiction and dabbling — unsuccessfully — in poetry. Now, I’m going to complete the journalism minor next summer. The passion that I had didn’t completely fizzle out — it just transformed into something else, and that was OK.
But, I realized that it wasn’t just guitar. The same thing happened when the friends that knew me in high school weren’t there to listen to and understand me, when the frequent bike rides around nature back in my hometown were replaced with the polluted streets of Telegraph Avenue. My life as I knew it and the person I identified as were thrown into the whirlwind of a new place far away from home. Back home where I could find escape, friends who understood me and things that I was familiar with — I found none of that here. I ran away from the thought that the mental image of who I am would shatter. The self-worth I found for myself in the things that I was good at and the people that I loved just couldn’t exist here.
But on the contrary — and to my great surprise — I did end up finding friends who understood me, but in a different way. As for identity, I learned so much more about myself when I learned to open up to others about who I was.
My passion for guitar shouldn’t have been kept in isolation, it’s something that I should have been willing to share with others. I joined my housemate who played guitar and piano. And besides her, I could also have joined organizations. Once I found people to jam with — I even jammed with my housemates who also loved music — I realized that guitar could still grow as an extension of myself in new and beautiful ways with other people. I didn’t have to put down guitar like I thought, but in that process I found so much more.
I found that I could write, discover new prospects of creativity and meet new people who I could continue to explore life with.
Passion, I realized, is something that’s constantly shape-shifting into something bigger, not just the person I was with a guitar. And especially, passion is not something that gets put down. The disappointment had felt huge because, for some time, I had nothing else to use as a creative outlet. Change is what I had to open up to, and it had to start with accepting that I am not tethered to my hometown, to the people from back then or to who I was before coming to college.
“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the fall semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at @dailycalopinion.