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Female Guitarist Seeks Sanity and Life Balance

guitar closeup

Gina ticked the box "female guitarist" with her right thumb. She was standing in her garage with her guitar draped around her neck, her left hand on the fretboard, her right hand cradling her phone.

She scrolled down a bit further and ticked the box "female singer-songwriter."

Next to the heading "Day Job" she ticked the box "scientific or technical."

With a sigh she noticed that there was no heading or checkbox for the most important question: was Gina happy?

She set down her phone. Then with one swift strum, she hit a giant distorted chord on her guitar — so loud that it made the garage windows rattle.

Not a Girl

I'm not a girl

in the sense of the word.

Not a girl!

But that's all that you see.

Let me have dreams

beyond Barbies and things.

Not a girl!

In this wicked man's world.

"Not a Girl"

— Gina Hodgson

"...wicked man's woooooorld," Gina's voice cracked as she screamed out the final line above the screeching of her guitar.

She was lucky that any sound at all could find its way out of her throat, as she had been out here in the garage hacking away at this song for the better part of four hours without any real break.

Still she wasn't remotely satisfied with any of the many lyrics which she had scrawled on the crumpled pages of the battered spiral notebook. The guitar part was fine; one that she had been carrying around and nursing in her head for a few months now. It was just the words which weren't coming in quite the shape that she wanted.

She wanted a way to express what she was truly feeling. A way to pour her insides out to the world of the outside.

She hurt.

She hurt, but that was just the start of it really. To say that she hurt was merely just a scratch on the surface. It was like saying "the universe is big." Yes, the universe is big, but the word "big" doesn't quite do justice to the scale being referred to.

But how to relay all of that — the pain, the anger, the depression the. . . whatever it was, in words? In music?

She was a songwriter — a female singer-songwriter as she had just confirmed on her profile — so as a songwriter she should be able to put what she was feeling into words. Into music.

Some way other than just making her guitar louder or more distorted. Some way other than just to scream until her tattered throat was shredded. Some way other than giving in to the urge to either destroy everything in sight or to lay down and sleep all day every day.

There must be some other way.

She had tried many different ways to ameliorate the pain. Beer had been one of the first, but it just hadn't worked out with her and beer.

Another more promising attempt had been yoga. The yoga videos all looked so soothing, with beautiful people serenely stretching on beaches or mountaintops accompanied only by the gentle sounds of the breeze and pan flute music.

But much like with the beer experiment, yoga hadn't really worked out for her. The hurt always came back. And when It did she found herself drifting back to the one constant companion in her life: her guitar.

She was a guitar player — a female guitarist, as she had also just confirmed in her profile — and the thing that she was drawn to when she felt this way was her lifelong companion with its accompanying distortion pedal and very, very loud amplifier.


The Guitarist's Mom / The Engineer's Mom

With a tap of her foot, Gina switched off the distortion pedal. The small box on the floor, which turned the sound of a guitar from pretty into raw, was foot-activated because, of course, guitarists have their hands full.

As she set the guitar down on its stand near the amplifier, small whorls of feedback began their screeching crescendo — each sound wave colliding with the next with the debris of the collisions piling up to fill the air with a high-pitched squeal — until she reached down and flipped the power switch to ‘off."

A sudden loud "pop!" was followed by several exponentially dying echoes of the pop — the exact opposite of the maniacal building of the feedback — then silence.

Check out the novel!

More Stories of Musicians

“Female Guitarist Seeks Sanity and Life Balance” is a non-Hollywood story, a short story set in the world inspired by the novel non-Hollywood — a world of independent filmmakers, indie rockers and aspiring actors. If you like this story, please check out non-Hollywood on Amazon. (and maybe one of Neal's other books, such as Political Music Club or The 33rd Year

Gina picked up a towel and patted the hours of sweat from her emaciated-looking face and the edges of her choppy black hair. She was 24 years old, but something in her eyes gave a different impression. Those eyes were old.

Gina turned to her left and pressed the button which lifted up the huge door of the three-car garage. As the door rose, she could feel the cool breeze rushing in to overtake the thirsty staleness of the garage.

Her father had built the detached garage so he could get away from the house to work on his vintage automobiles in peace. He had constructed his own personal retreat. Now his only child had claimed that retreat as her own, cramming an amplifier and rows of effects pedals between his two favorite automobiles.

Gina picked up the spiral notebook and an empty 32-once water bottle, which was plastered with stickers from hiking gear companies and indie bands, and started toward the house. Crossing through the immaculately trimmed grass, Gina squinted into the harsh daylight sun. She entered the kitchen through the sliding doors and immediately headed for the kitchen sink.

"Oh Regina, I thought you might be here," said Mrs. Hodgson as she entered the kitchen with a chipper smile upon her face, "I didn't hear that noise coming from the garage."

The cold water poured into the plastic container. Gina's eyes were buried in the notebook of lyrics. She didn't bother to lift up her eyes in acknowledgment of her mother's presence.

What good would it have done? The two women had ceased to be able to communicate beyond a purely functional level years ago. Only Mrs. Hodgson had yet to realize the fact.

Her mother was one of the multitude of people who amazed Gina; constantly amazed her. Because her mother and the others of her ilk somehow didn't seem to feel the pain of life. They merely went on with life as if there were nothing wrong with the very fact of life itself.

How incredible!

Gina would simply marvel at just how in the world these people were able to pull off that incredible trick. Did those others not feel the pain, or did they simply choose to ignore it?

Had they won a monumental personal battle? Had they, by sheer force of will come to grips with the completely obvious notion that there was absolutely no use in railing against life when life didn't particularly care if you railed against it?

Or were they just too blind or too stupid to see the clear torture involved in merely existing; in having self-awareness? And if that was the case, if they were simply blind or stupid, did that make them better off than she, or worse?

"I was just wondering Sweetie," chirped Mrs. Hodgson, "if you had come to any decision yet?"

Gina sighed heavily, then plunged her sweating head beneath the running faucet and took a large gulp of water from the crystal flow.

Mrs. Hodgson' smile didn't falter, "I take it then, that you haven't come to any decision?"

Gina rolled her head to the side and the cool water streamed across her cheek. It was odd, the feeling caused by water running across a person's hot skin. Twin sensations of a blissful return to the sea and a panic of drowning, all caused by a relatively minor flow of water.

She ducked her hair beneath the faucet and let the water spill down and across her face. After a few moments, she shut off the water and ran a hand through her hair, sweeping the bulk of the water into the sink. The rest trickled down her neck and down her dress, causing a shiver as the cool moisture met the sweating skin. Perhaps there was something about the human body being composed chiefly of water which made the sensation of contact with water so intimate.

Through eyes blurry with water, Gina saw her mother watching her. And once again, Gina saw the vision of a woman who seemed to breeze through life without any fear of it. Was her mom unaware that to possess life was also to possess death? Or did she simply choose to ignore that unpleasant fact? The woman liked to say that she had given Gina life, but had she ever stopped to think that she had also given her daughter death?

"So," began Mrs. Hodgson again, "No decision?"

"No, mother," Gina answered in a flat tone of voice, "Not yet."

"Well, that's okee-dokee. I just wondered if you had decided yet. I'm not trying to rush you," said Mrs. Hodgson in a tone which certainly suggested that she was indeed rushing her daughter, "Of course you do realize that you can't wait forever, don't you?"

"Yes mother," Gina responded. She capped the water bottle and headed again for the garage, wishing, once again, that she had been born stupid, unable to form the logical thought sequences which ultimately led her to pain.

Maybe if she had been lucky enough to have been born with a low IQ then she would have been happy.

Lyrics Are Like Confessions

Gina returned to the garage and placed her water bottle on the hood of her father's 1962 Corvair convertible. She put the battered notebook down on the hood beside the bottle, unmindful of any scratch the notebook's small metal rings might leave.

She flipped through the several pages of notes she had made for this song and wondered again why it simply was not clicking. She supposed again that it was something about that undefinable hurt that ripped through her chest. Perhaps, like the universe, it was just much too huge to be able to set down in a few lines.

Perhaps even to seriously attempt such a task would lead one to ruin?

This seemed to be a task that the great artists had attempted. And for which they were doomed.

woman songwriter writing a song

What was it about intelligence, she wondered, that made it so emotionally devastating? In her experience she had found that the few truly intelligent people who she knew of were also truly sad. There was something about the ability to think deeply which allowed the thinker to uncover so many blatantly depressing little tidbits about existence.

Sure, she had met people who considered themselves to be both smart and happy, but these were generally not the people who Gina considered to be intelligent. These were the people who studied hard so that they could get straight A's in school but in the process hadn't learned a damn thing. These were the people who got to give the little valedictorian speeches and then scurry off to their successful careers as Executive Vice-Presidents of Who Really Gives a Shit.

But Gina felt that what these people possessed was not true intelligence, but rather a knack for optimally playing within whatever system in which they found themselves. On the other hand, the people whom Gina had considered truly intelligent were those who were capable of thinking beyond whatever system they were trapped in. These rare individuals were the prized ones, and these rare ones almost always seemed doomed.

Her fingertips felt raw as she placed them on the frets of the guitar once more. She knew better than to keep playing beyond the point of pain, but she couldn't stop herself. She needed to get this out of her system.

As she struck the first chord of the song, a pleasant sound came out of the amp; a soothing, mellow guitar tone. She grimaced at the sound and stomped on the distortion pedal, shredding the pretty chord into the kind of monster which she required.

No pretty stuff here. That most definitely was not allowed.

How can you ignore it?

Or do you not see it?

Why do you make me

feel so unnerved at...

"DAMNIT!" she cried, "that's not it." She took a deep breath, stared back down at the neck of her guitar, and started the sequence again.

How can you...

"NO! CHRIST!" she shouted and slammed her palm against the strings to stop the chord. The frustration was mounting. Perhaps she should stop for the night, or at least stop for a long break. An entire day spent in the heat of the garage had yielded only about half of a song; half of a usable song anyway. And in her frustration a disturbing thought suddenly leapt upon her from the darkness.


Check out the Novel non-Hollywood

“Female Guitarist Seeks Sanity and Life Balance” is a non-Hollywood story, a short story set in the world inspired by the novel non-Hollywood — a world of independent filmmakers, indie rockers and aspiring actors. If you like this story, please check out non-Hollywood on Amazon. (and maybe one of Neal's other books, such as Political Music Club or The 33rd Year

Perhaps, she thought suddenly, there was not this huge gap between her thoughts and the thoughts of her mother and those others who seemed contented with life. Perhaps these happy others felt exactly the same way as she, but were just very good at hiding it.

Perhaps "hiding it" was the key?

In fact, the more she thought of it the more she realized that she probably hid it pretty well herself.

During her internship she would show up in the office in the morning with her large cup of coffee and launch right into her work. Through the long hours at her tasks she did not exude pain; did not communicate the wretchedness in her soul; and, aside from her haircut, did not seem to be much different from anyone else at the office. Perhaps the world was filled with beings who managed their pain well, yet who nonetheless felt the gnawing pressure of living. And maybe they — just like her — spent their nights sleeplessly staring at the ceiling.


Life-Changing Proposals

As she unplugged the guitar, there was a knock at the side door of the garage. Through the translucent paper which covered the door's window, Gina could see the silhouette of her mother. "Oh Christ," Gina mumbled.

Mrs. Hodgson opened the door and peeked her head into the garage. "He's on the phone. He's called the home number again," she said.

Gina winced. "Does he know I'm here?"


"Can you tell him I'm not?"

Mrs. Hodgson frowned. "You're going to have to talk to him sometime Dear."

"Yes, I know. But not right now."

"But he keeps calling. I know it's not easy, but you have to make a decision."

"Not right now."

"All right," said Mrs. Hodgson as she turned and exited the garage.

Of course Gina knew that her mother was right. She would have to come to a decision about this fairly soon. But how could she? This was a decision that would affect the rest of her life. How could she be pushed into this with so little time to decide?

True, there were others in her age group who had already taken the plunge. But she had always pictured herself differently — living life by some other set of rules.

She remembered a time when she had been involved in a serious relationship. And when she had been with her partner she had felt something close to contentment. The horrible thoughts were held at bay, just barely beyond her consciousness.

All she had to do was to grab hold of that other human being in the dark and the pain would roll out like the tide; still in view, but no longer an immediate threat.

It was the time alone which allowed the tidal despair to roll back in and cover her. Perhaps, she thought, this was why people chose to bury themselves in relationships; bury themselves in television; bury themselves in hobbies; bury themselves in church activities: bury themselves in anything to escape the time alone with their thoughts. Time that would inevitably lead them to think about their despair. Thus, without the time, there was no despair.


She strummed a few more chords on the unplugged guitar and the starkness of the sound jumped out at her. In a way she wished that she could play the instrument without any amplification—this guitar, not an acoustic guitar which sounded sweet and girlie, but an unplugged electric guitar which sounded harsh and somehow untamed. She could picture herself playing someplace extremely quiet, such as a cave or a bomb shelter, where the quiet edginess of the unamplified strings could easily find its way out to an audience's ears.

 "He sounded pretty anxious that time."

woman rocks out

Startled at the voice, Gina looked up to see her mother standing in the doorway. She wasn't sure how the woman had managed to get there. Gina certainly hadn't heard her as she strummed the chords of her guitar. "Jesus mom, you startled me."

"I'm sorry. I just thought that you should know that he sounded anxious. You've already put this off for quite a while, and I'm sure he won't wait forever."

"Yes I know."

"It's now or never."

"Yes I know."

After an interminably long look — which Gina felt sure was intended to convince her to take a good look at herself — Mrs. Hodgson left the garage. Unfortunately her mother was right in this instance, Gina had put this off for quite a while, hadn't she? She could have done it a few years ago, instead she went on for a few more years of school. She had told herself that the Master's degree would make her more employable. And although that was probably the truth, it was not the reason that she had stayed in school for those extra years.

The truth was that she was stalling.

Jobs for Guitarists, Just No Jobs As Guitarists

She held the guitar gently in her lap, as if cuddling a child. She liked the feel of the thing. It was a comfort to her in getting through this difficult thing called life. It was always there for her, unlike many of the people in her life. It was never judgmental and it was always ready to go whenever she was ready to go. For these reasons, she always treated it with respect. She had vowed long ago that there would never be a day in which an audience would see Gina Hodgson smashing her guitar on stage. That would be a sin. Like beating up your best friend.

But her best friend had also been an accomplice in the stalling of the last few years, hadn't it? And her best friend had been unable to help Gina find a way out of her pain, no matter how many hours they had spent screaming together.

The sky outside was turning an evening purple as she strummed a chord — an F sharp minor — and thought about her years of stalling — her years of schooling. After years of study, she had developed into a top-flight engineer. She had shown an amazing aptitude for it, despite the fact that none of her high school aptitude tests had suggested that aptitude.

For her, engineering was a sort of escape, a chance to send her brain off thinking in directions other than the painful territory. You could calculate stresses and review statistics on tensile strengths and for a time forget about everything else.

Although it sounded odd to say so, when pressed she had to admit that there was a subtle beauty to engineering.

She had spent the last several years in the study of engineering — structural engineering to be exact — and she couldn't deny that there was something about it which she did enjoy. The structural engineer was arguably the most important link in the design chain. For it was the structural engineer who made sure that whatever was being built would actually remain standing. All the beauty of the most ingenious architect's most artistic designs wouldn't matter if the beautiful structure collapsed into its own basement.

There was plenty of beauty in engineering, yet still, even that beauty couldn't possibly compare to the beauty of an F sharp minor chord strummed on an un-amplified guitar in the darkening evening.

So why had she decided to devote her college education, and thus, her life to engineering instead of to music? It wasn't because of the suggestions of her guidance counselor, despite the fact that the aforementioned guidance counselor believed that to be the case.

The term "guidance counselor" always struck her as funny — it seemed to invoke the image of a very wise person. The term said that here was someone who could glimpse at a higher truth than most and, like an oracle, would occasionally share some of that wisdom by offering some guidance to those less gifted mortals.

Gina had personally not seen evidence of that, but it was fun to think about.

So why had she made that choice for engineering? She had been playing the guitar since she was fourteen years old. She knew that was what she wanted to do. But she had also had that knack for engineering. It was a breeze for her. And a somewhat enjoyable breeze at that.

Or perhaps there was more of her mother in her than she cared to admit? Some part which needed to feel some security. And the thought of a high-paying day job—and one, let us not forget, that she did enjoy—seemed just too perfect for that part of her.

And now, despite the grim realities of post-educational employment, she had a job offer. A damned good offer. An offer that pretty much any recent college grad would jump at in a second.

And yet, despite having a great offer when most her age were facing very grim realities with post-educational employment, she had been ducking the caller.

Gina walked back over to the amp and plugged the guitar in once more. The F sharp minor now crunched out in a wall of distorted noise.

The Job Market in Denver

I can't decide

what kind of life I want to make for myself.

Just that I want to make it myself...

Gina trailed off. These lyrics didn't really seem to work either.

"Denver of all places," she muttered to herself. This perfect job offer was at a firm in which she had served an internship a few years ago… in Denver.

Not that she had anything against Denver. She thought it was a nice enough city. It's just that it was fifteen hundred miles away. Gina was in a band — a damned good band if she said so herself — and things had been finally starting to come together on that front when this unexpected job offer had thrown a wrench into the entire works.

The partners of the Denver engineering firm had been so impressed with her that they had made a point of telling her to look them up after she had completed her master's degree. And now that it was nearly complete, Ahmanson, one of the senior partners, had been calling her with an extremely good money offer. "We have to have you," he had said, "we don't even care what color your hair is."

Her hair — bleached white and spiky at the time of her internship — had caused a bit of a problem at the start. But as the time had passed, the members of the firm began to realize that hair color and technical acumen had little to do with one another.

She was good.

And now it had been a few weeks since the initial call, and as her mother had noted, they were becoming anxious.

No, the dream day job couldn't be here in town, or even within driving distance of town. It had to be fifteen hundred miles away in Denver. Hopes of getting a job in this area were pretty slim. A city this size had only a few firms, and those firms all had their quota of structural engineers. But here was this magical opportunity: in Denver.

And this magical opportunity had to be now, when the music was finally coming together. Finally, the band was coming together. Finally, a semblance of a music scene was coming together in her home city. So why now?

Because that's the way the world works.

When it works.

If it works...

Frustrated beyond words, Gina slammed her foot down upon the distortion pedal and deliberately brought the guitar right up to the face of the amplifier. In moments, her pained thoughts were drown in a beautiful squeal of guitar feedback which made the garage windows rattle.

~ • ~