The Gradual Art of Quitting and Feeling Okay About It

Megan Houston Sager
Feb 9, 2020 · 4 min read

Shifting my perspective on a long-standing dream

Photo by Clint McKoy on Unsplash

So, this is how it ends, I thought to myself, when my son asked me if he could bring my guitar back with him to school. Winter break was nearly over and in three short weeks he’d admittedly made more strides than I ever had over the course of a decade. Any guitar callouses I’d earned were long gone.

“Sure” I replied. Any slight pause was me just trying to keep my voice neutral. I hadn’t picked up the guitar in years. What was there to even think about?

My husband had bought it for me when I was in my mid-thirties, a blur of a decade with my four kids in their neediest stages. A guitar signaled hope that there was still time to pursue my own passions and I did try to play it for a while — I even had a small guitar group — but my playing never got off the ground in any real way. The most recent decade had left it abandoned as if it were a living room painting of sorts, unhung, in the corner. A decoration for the only purpose of reminding me about possibility, or conversely, my inaction.

I almost felt a sense of relief when he asked — or at least the possibility of future relief — from the guilt I felt at not becoming a guitar player. It was such a good guitar. A present from my husband, he had researched them, bought me the best one, and this really felt like too much pressure from the get-go. Not that I’m blaming him.

I don’t even remember how the fiasco of acquiring the guitar came about. Though I am sure I said, probably in passing, “I’d love to learn the guitar,” it was supposed to be shorthand for “wouldn’t it be sooo amazing if I could sit around playing the guitar like our friends at family camp and sing songs from the sixties and feel so groovy and relaxed instead of sort of uptight like I am, making sure the kids aren’t eating too many chips before dinner?” I didn’t go into all that, it would have been too complicated, and so I ended up with a guitar because my husband is a man of action where I am a person who fantasizes aloud about things I never really expect to come to pass. And that’s how I also came to acquire a cat and tabletop painting easel and also backyard chickens and an outdoor heater for the treehouse because I said one cold, autumn afternoon “I wish I had a heater up there so I could write where it is quiet all winter.” It might also be why we have so many kids.

The origin of all my yearning was probably set off by Paula on the Magic Garden television show from the 1970’s. To be like her! She had long silky hair, sat on the garden swing while singing along to her guitar. Her smile let me know the world was okay. My child love for her distilled itself into the sound of guitar playing ever since; someone, anyone, strumming, and I am irretrievably pulled into their orbit.

“Sure, take it back with you,” I say again to my son to confirm I am serious. And then he says,

“Great, you sure?” and I say yes, again, and then

“Let me go find all that sheet music I bought” and he says,

“Honestly, I won’t need it because everything’s online.”

We were nearly late for the train on the day that he took the guitar. We were stuck at a red light when we heard the train’s whistle floating across the three-lane highway. The only way for him to make it would be to get out right then and run.

“Go,” I say, and he opened his door, then the backseat one, grabbed his duffel, then the guitar and crossed the street with seconds to spare. The guitar, my son, disappeared past the metal chain link fence and the light turned green, I turned down a side road, did a K-turn, then went back home.

He texts me in the ensuing weeks, words that stab me a little because I’m not yet over it.

How long did it take you to develop callouses


I think it needs new strings

Found this great website JustinGuitar.

Was it because it needed new strings that I failed? I wonder only briefly, assuaged in the knowledge that it is being put to good use and for that I should be grateful.

When he brings it back over long holiday breaks, I listen to him play, am lulled by the sound. At one point, he handed it to me.

“Try it with the new strings.”

I give a halfhearted strum; I am trying to keep a clean break-up. I hand it back.

And listen some more.

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Megan Houston Sager

Written by

Teacher, writer, mother, maker. I have a story about that.

The Startup

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Megan Houston Sager

Written by

Teacher, writer, mother, maker. I have a story about that.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +785K followers.

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