I’m starting to regret ever telling Randy Davis that I wanted to relearn the mandolin.

I mentioned it to him on the airwaves one day. I also included it in a list of things I wanted to do during quarantine, but it is far easier to ignore myself than it is to have to answer to someone else. That list is on the dry erase board on my refrigerator so I see it constantly, but the more I see it, the less I read it.

It’s like the sticker, courtesy of Publix, that I put on the window of the kitchen door to remind myself to take my own bags to the store. It might have worked once, maybe twice, but now I don’t even see it, and if I do notice it, it is usually at a time that it isn’t useful, just guilt-inducing.

Every week, when I see Randy for our Monday radio show on WLAQ, he asks me if I played the mandolin since we last talked, and I have to tell him no. I could kick myself each week because all I’d have to do is remember to take it down off the wall and play it for a bit each evening, but I don’t. There are always other things to do.

I really do want to get back to playing it, but it is hard. It hurts my fingers, it is frustrating to sound so rusty and awkward while I try and relearn the chords. You see, I was never really great at it in the first place, and nothing sounds worse than hearing every infraction bounce off the walls while you sit alone in your house.

Back in the ’80s I was singing with a girl that lived in my college dorm, and I taught myself how to pick out a fun little mandolin riff from the beginning of a song by a somewhat obscure country rockabilly duo that I loved, The O’Kanes. The song was called “Just Loving You” and I loved the lyrics.

If I could be anyone that I wanted to be

I’d be me just loving you

If I could go anywhere see what I wanted to see

I’d see me just loving you

All I knew at the time, was that if I could be anyone that I wanted to be, I’d be me, just playing that mandolin and singing my song. Staci and I would sit on the front porch of our dorm with her guitar, sometimes with my mandolin, and sing our hearts out. She’d write songs, I’d find the harmony, and we loved every minute of it.

We went on to perform a few times in public, but after college she moved back home to Columbus and, even with the best of intentions, we rarely got together again. Years afterwards, she decided to record the stuff she had written and I drove down to provide the harmonies in the studio. It was so strange, because it just didn’t feel the same all those years later. It’s fun to listen to the CD she produced, but it’s more fun to remember the sound of that time on the porch, pouring ourselves into the creation of our sound.

That’s kind of how it is with the mandolin now, it just doesn’t feel the same. And, Hansel & Gretel are a terrible audience, much less partners ready to jump in with a harmony at just the right time.

How do you generate the magic that fuels a labor of love? Or, can you? Is the entire point just having the magical ingredients fall into place when you least expect them?

I’ve had the good fortune of getting to work out with Bob Moss in the last few weeks, and just Thursday we were talking about the importance of figuring out the thing that you love most to do, and making that your vocation. He talked about how much he enjoys working with people and helping them improve themselves physically, but how it also leads to emotional and spiritual growth, too.

The love he feels for what he does comes through in an infectious way and it really does impact you beyond the physical workout. I look forward to being stronger and more svelte, but I am mostly enjoying the satisfaction of knowing that I am doing something good for myself, and accomplishing a goal twice a week.

Now, if I can just find that sense of satisfaction with the mandolin!

Of course, my first mistake was announcing my intentions to Randy and our radio audience. It seems like that should give me the motivation I need, doesn’t it? Randy and others are expecting me to make progress, so that should hold me accountable, right? Kind of like sharing your New Year’s resolutions, your friends’ expectations and encouragement should help you stick to it, or so we think.

Well, it turns out that such sharing, in fact, has the exact opposite effect. Several years ago a study done on a group of psychology students showed that when you announce your goals and others hear them, it actually triggers a sense of completion in your brain that is counterproductive to the initiative needed to actually complete it. In other words, if you tell other people you are going to do something, your brain believes that you have already done it, and your incentive goes away.

That kind of stinks, if you ask me. But, if it is true, I need to change my story.

So, here I am, announcing to Randy and whomever cares to listen, that I will NOT be playing the mandolin again, so don’t even think about asking me about it!

That feels better.

Now that I’ve reached the end of this labor of love that is writing this column, what is the next one that I can pick up?

Hmmm, that mandolin sure is looking pretty over there. Maybe I’ll try it out, but don’t tell anyone.

Monica Sheppard is a freelance graphic designer, beekeeper, mother and community supporter living in Rome.

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