When I was growing up in Northeastern Ohio, one of our favorite things to do in the summer was visit Cedar Point Amusement Park. Cedar Point is still known for its classic wooden roller-coaster, The Blue Streak. I think I was seven or eight years – old when my Dad first took me on the infamous roller-coaster and I remember being very eager to take the ride. Dad and I stood in line and waited for a car all to ourselves. I remember not having to wait very long and climbing into the car then pulling a big black metal safety bar down across our laps. There were no harnesses or seatbelts just a black metal bar that locked down in front of you.
The Blue steak is a gravity driven coaster and part of the thrill is the anticipation created by the first 78 foot climb to the top. As we approached the apex and prepared for the 72 foot drop, my Dad and most of the folks in front of us joyfully threw both hands into the air. Being an impressionable young lad and quite cooperative, I too threw my hands into the air. As soon as the coaster headed on its plunge downward, I remember the feelings of weightlessness and terror. I had apparently found a way around the black metal safety bar and was about to fly right out of the Blue Steak. If not for the quick thinking of my father grabbing me and pulling me back down into the seat, I may not have lived through my first roller-coaster ride.
I did not enjoy the rest of the experience or the rest of the day for that matter. I was very upset and embarrassed from all the additional humidity I had created – crying and wetting my pants. From that day on, I swore off roller coasters and was petrified to even think about them. As I grew up, I did everything I could to avoid coasters and amusement parks. I was the guy walking out through the chicken line, sitting at the exit waiting for his friends and even faking illness to get out of a roller-coaster road trip.
My fear of roller coasters was based on a freak childhood experience that happened a long time ago. However, the fear of it happening again was burned into my brain and paralyzed that part of my social life for years. Big deal right?
You know how they say life changes when you have kids? Well it does and one of the things it changes is your ability to hide behind your fears when your child wants to enjoy themselves at the amusement park. Try explaining to your young son or daughter that you are afraid to ride a roller coaster. So weeks before a family outing to a well-known amusement park, I decided to address my fear of the roller coaster.
I have always been a big proponent of visualization and was first exposed to the technique by Howard Roberts through his music sight reading instruction. Howard’s technique for reading music in the studio was to play it in your head a few times before you ever picked up your instrument. So I set out on a marathon roller-coaster visualization tour. I would sit quietly in a room and visualize myself standing in line, getting into the car, pulling down the bar, ascending the first peak and riding the entire ride safely time and time again.
I preformed this exercise more times than I care to admit. To make a long story short, I overcame my fear of riding rollercoasters long enough to indulge my children at the amusement park. Am I still afraid of roller-coaster? You bet I am but the fear is manageable and not paralyzing.
Why all the emphasis on overcoming fears? Guitar building is full of freak experiences. Just the intrinsic nature of the material we work with can throw a successful build into unpredictable chaos. Try bending and breaking a highly figured piece of maple into a tight cutaway or drilling holes for tail piece bushings into a one of a kind figured top and finding the spacing is off because the drill bit wandered. These are just a couple examples of Gremlins that have popped up while I have worked with wood and tools. Paralyzing fear can lead to maintaining the status quo. As builders and people, we should never be afraid to stretch the limits and question the familiar. Fear can get in the way of creativity, innovation, productivity and most of all fun! I read a quote once from an unknown source that went something like this “Never be afraid to try something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark, professionals built the Titanic.”