Sunday Brunch: Kite and String

Kite and String

Sunday Brunch With Melissa Bartell


“What is it like,” I asked my husband earlier this weekend, “being married to someone with a creative personality?”

“Well,” he answered slowly (but then, he does most things both slowly and methodically), “it’s never boring.”

“That was very diplomatic,” I told him. “But not terribly helpful.”

Kite and StringHe pointed out that since he was in the process of hanging all the clean laundry that doesn’t get folded, he was being helpful enough for one day. “Anyway,” he added, “you keep telling me I suck at multitasking.”

“Well,” I responded. “You do.”  Then I turned on my heel and left the room, fighting not to laugh.

Last month, Fuzzy (that’s my nickname for him, though his real identity isn’t a secret) and I celebrated our twenty-first wedding anniversary. Our celebration was tame – we went out for breakfast – which may seem like nothing, but a lot of our first dates involved breakfast food, so it was appropriate for us.

Besides, we bought each other our big gifts – VIP tickets to Dallas Comic Con in June – back in February. Going to cons is something we both enjoy, and we’re comfortable enough in our mutual geekiness that we’re not embarrassed about it.

If you’d asked me, when I was seven, if I was ever going to get married I would have giggled and blushed and admitted that I had a crush on Shaun Cassidy, who was known to me, then, as Joe Hardy on the Hardy Boys television show.

If you’d asked me the same question when I was twelve, I would have glowered at you, and insisted I was never, ever getting married, but on the off-chance that I did we would have separate apartments. (Sometimes, I’m not sure that was a bad idea.)

I was never the girl who dreamed about getting married, had her wedding planned before she could construct complete sentences, or gushed over brides and babies.

At nineteen, I had this romantic notion of being a contemporary version of a foreign correspondent, traveling all over the world, sending thick, vivid letters back home, and having a succession of brooding, artsy lovers.

That didn’t happen, but I did date a musician for a while when I was twenty-one. He was older. And he was a mess. But every relationship teaches you something, and I came away from that experience with a great appreciation for jazz and blues and The Great American Songbook.

From the beginning, our relationship – Fuzzy’s and mine – was uniquely ours. We met online in a time when nobody was doing that, and the world wide web… wasn’t. We started planning a proper wedding only to realize we didn’t want to deal with the fuss, or our family’s differing religious and political views, or the fact that I’d just moved from California to South Dakota to be with him, and didn’t have a job (or health insurance) yet.

We eloped on a chilly Friday in March, in the courthouse where Laura and Almanzo Wilder’s marriage was registered (I was a life-long Laura fan, and became more of one when, on my first visit to South Dakota, the drive to the family farm took us, not only down the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historical Highway, but past DeSmet – the actual “Little Town” on the prairie.)

My mother refused to talk to me for a month after I told her, but then she sent us a box with some great gifts, and a check… and months after that, she threw us a fantastic party where we had a re-commitment ceremony in her front yard, and a pot-luck reception featuring a smoked turkey and the traditional wedding foods from several of her friends’ cultures of origin, in the back yard.

Holding HandsOver the years, our marriage has gone through several changes. For a while I made more money than Fuzzy, but he was proud of me for that, even though he often worried about the number of hours I spent at work. For the last decade, he’s been the primary wage-earner, and while he won’t admit it, I think there’s a part of him that secretly likes being able to be the provider.

Sometimes, I’ve worked at an office while he got to spend a couple days a week at home, and sometimes he’s worked over an hour away while I could walk to work. Today, we both work from home (which is why there are only two of us plus four dogs living in our five-bedroom house – we each need our own office), but he travels for work, and every so often I travel without him for one reason or another.

There are also things that have never changed: we’re both nocturnal, more likely to see dawn because we haven’t been to bed than because we just woke up; we still make each other laugh at least once a day; we both sleep better when we’re curled up together in the center of our bed (dogs permitting) than on separate sides.

I drink coffee, and he drinks warm orange soda. He wears shoes to the beach, and I’m barefoot as much as possible. I double the amount of walnuts in anything I bake because he loves them, and he brings me flowers every time he goes grocery shopping. I’m a Star Trek fan to the depths of my soul, while he prefers Star Wars, and he’s a Marvel guy while I’m a DC girl, but, at the end of the day, whatever we have works.

He still flirts with me, at home, in public, everywhere.

I still can’t get enough of his kisses, or his singing voice.

If there are times when his somewhat introverted, often pedantic, stoic, engineer self makes me feel like I’m actually married to the android Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, I’m certain that my tendency to bounce from topic to topic, change my accent on a whim, and wander around the house talking to myself as I work out lines of dialogue for an audio drama I’m in, or a story I’m writing, makes him feel like he’s married to Sibyl.

So, what is it like for my sweet, loyal, list-following, spreadsheet-loving husband to be married to someone who has a creative personality? Here’s how I described our relationship to my friend Caroline (in Sweden) a few days ago – and how I describe us to most people:

I’m kind of like a kite – flying around doing all sorts of things – writing, improv, music, voice acting, podcasting – letting the wind take me where it will, and he’s the string, giving me enough room to fly, but still keeping me anchored to the earth.

Kite and String.

Me and Fuzzy.

Twenty-one years.

It isn’t always perfect, but at the same time, it totally is.

Kite and String Copyright: altomedia / 123RF Stock Photo
Holding Hands Copyright: worapong / 123RF Stock Photo


About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa A. BartellMelissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Sunday Brunch: Guitar Journey

Sunday Brunch With Melissa Bartell

There’s something magical about walking into a store that sells musical instruments, even if you’re not a musician. Maybe it’s because all the wire and wood, all the skins and snares, represent more than just the instruments they compose, but the music they will eventually produce. Maybe it’s because bows and sticks and mallets and pics whisper to the most innocent, childlike, fun-loving parts of our brains, telling us, no – urging us –  just to play.

Maybe it’s because we know that when we’re sitting at a piano keyboard, stretching our arms out to get a violin ‘fitted,’ or cradling the curves of a cello against our bodies we’re not just considering the purchase of a musical instrument, we’re buying possibility.

I hadn’t been into an instrument shop in years, but last August, I recognized that it was finally time to follow through on a dream: after 31 years of cello, I was finally going to take the guitar journey I’d been flirting with, and never committing to, for years.

I was going to buy a guitar.

I started on the internet first, of course, researching types of guitars, and learning a bit about the instrument so that, at the very least, when I entered a brick and mortar store, I’d be able to speak intelligently.

My research taught me that I wanted a six-string acoustic guitar. My taste informed me that I wanted an instrument that would be good for folk music. My history with my cello, and the process of shopping for that told me that I wanted a guitar that had as much real wood as possible. Guitar HandsMy size – I’m exactly five feet tall and have fairly small hands – made a smaller instrument seem like the wiser choice. My budget dictated that I not spend more than $500 for my first guitar.

Armed with this information, recommendations from friends, and a few things I’d learned from a guitar blogger who also reviews instruments, I went to my local Guitar Center.

At first, I was a little daunted. Most of the people in the room were sporting visibly edgy looks – I saw piercings that surprised even me – and the vast majority were twenty-something males. I was expecting them to look at me, short, round, white, old (although I still get carded), hobbling because of a recent knee-injury, and not give me the time of day.

I was wrong of course, mostly because I’d forgotten the bond of musicians, the one that is just intrinsically there. It’s this little undercurrent that says I know you even if you’ve never met the other person, and even if you play drastically different instruments.

“I’ve played cello forever,” I said, “but I’ve always wanted to play the guitar.”

The long-haired sales clerk who sported a few very well-placed tattoos on his muscular arms and had the piercings in his ears filled with discs the diameter of quarters, smiled at me. “Okay, let me ask you some questions.”

And he did.

What kind of music did I want to play? Was I looking to record or just have an instrument to learn on. Had I tried any guitars already? Was there a make I had in mind? How much did I want to spend?

I answered his barrage of questions and he led me to a room full of guitars. “There really isn’t that big a difference between a ‘travel’ guitar like the Little Martin that Ed Sheeran uses and a full-size guitar, but those few millimeters can make a difference. Try some out, let me know if you have questions.”

My husband had come with me for support and consultation. Like me, Fuzzy is a musician, but not a guitarist. He’s not even a string player! His instruments are piano, trumpet, and accordion. (No, really, accordion.)

Still, it was nice to have someone there to help me lift the guitars off the racks, and give me an external opinion that wasn’t colored by my initial overwhelmedness – I mean, a room full of guitars – really.

I strummed about five guitars that day. Luna Safari I had no intention of buying one on the first outing unless I fell in love with it, and left pretty much thinking I’d be back in a week to get the solid spruce-top Little Martin. It was at the top of my price range, but Martin is a good brand and I liked the feel of it.

I’m glad I waited to buy it, though, because in the meantime, I discovered a brand called Luna, that specialized in guitars that were designed by, and marketed toward, women. The Luna guitars that I looked at online had everything the Little Martin had, but they were also pretty.

Obviously, what a guitar looks like does not affect its sound in the slightest, but when I bought my cello, I was able to customize it so that the fittings are rosewood, which gives it a more feminine look. Was it wrong, all things considered, to want my guitar to be sort of pretty and feminine also?

My next issue was that the spruce-top travel guitar Luna wanted was not in stock at any of the instrument shops near me. I could have ordered it from Zzounds (a company I highly recommend for recording gear), but even when you think you know what you want, you should never buy an instrument without trying it first.

I did more research, and finally, the day before my birthday, Fuzzy and I drove to the Guitar Center in Dallas (as opposed to the suburban branch I’d initially visited), where a man who was a dead-ringer for Anthony LaPaglia (back when he played Joe in Empire Records) greeted us.

“I know you don’t have the Luna I’m looking for,” I said. “But you have a Luna travel guitar that isn’t spruce-top and it will, at least, let me see how it feels.”

He showed me several smaller guitars, including a Baby Taylor, that was too pricey and not as pretty, and then I played the laminate Luna.

It sounded like a cigar box.

But it felt like I’d met an old friend.

(Just for fun, even though I’d just made my choice, I also played a cotton-candy pink Luna electric-acoustic, but I didn’t like it nearly as well, even though it looked cool.)

We went back to talk to not-actually-Anthony-LaPaglia and he said, “Oh, we can special order the model you want. If you have it delivered to your local store, there’s no shipping fee.”

Four days later, I was holding my Luna Safari Supreme in my hands, tuning it with an app I’d downloaded to my iPhone, and taking my first guitar lesson via a collection of YouTube videos. I haven’t started formal lessons with a live teacher yet – that will probably be this summer’s project – but I’m enjoying the challenge of learning a new instrument after all these years.

I’m also enjoying telling people about my guitar shopping experience, which is best summed up thusly: When I told not-actually-Anthony-LaPaglia that I’d played cello for decades and wanted to take up a new instrument, he looked at me like I was some kind of musical goddess.

“I tried the cello once, a long time ago,” he confessed. “I couldn’t figure it out. Dude… cello’s hard.”

I don’t remember what my response was, but I know that my journey with this guitar – with the wire and the wood, and learning a whole new way of using my hands and fingers, feeling this instrument become part of me – is only just beginning,   and I can’t wait to find out where it takes me next.

I mean, anything’s possible.

(Image credits: Guitar Player is from djoronimo / 123RF Stock Photo; Guitar Face is from Luna Guitars.)

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa A. BartellMelissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.