I'm not a musician. My father and sister are both self-taught guitarists; my sister is very talented and majored in music.

I don't have the ear for it, I can't pick up music the way they both do. But I want to learn, and have made several abortive attempts over the years to pick up the guitar.

My first ever lesson was in Morocco while I was studying Arabic there. My non-English speaking instructor and I trekked to a little hole-in-the-wall music shop and bought the only guitar they had--a piece of shit produced in China. I learned the first few chords of "Stairway to Heaven" before I left Morocco. I didn't pick up a guitar again for almost 10 years.

When I was in Colorado, my landlord was a guitarist who had played since she was 13. I brought my dad's guitar back with me from a trip and she and I worked a little bit on some different chords and strumming. Still, I didn't practice enough and life sort of got in the way. My landlord was busy finishing up her degree and I was trying to not kill myself in my last six months in the military.

Here we are at take three. This time, I really mean it! I'm going to learn to play guitar. I love how it sounds, I love being able to reproduce classic rock, and I love how music brings people together.

Music can be about a lot of things, but for me, it's about community. It's about a shared experience between the people listening and the musician. It's about dancing, having a good time, letting your inhibitions go.

Part of collapsing now is to build and integrate with local communities. Music is a community creator--you set up playing a guitar somewhere around people and you'll almost instantly attract a crowd (it helps if you aren't looking for money). Need a place to stay that night? Some water? A ride? Carry a guitar case--it's less threatening than a grocery cart full of garbage bags. Keep your dirty socks in it if you have to. 

As part of my commitment to learning and doing as much as I can outside the traditional economy (because who knows what state it'll be in during and after collapse--I want to flex those muscles before I need them), I met up with a guy named Mark today in Portland. Mark and his wife, Maggie, are both music teachers with music education degrees and have a tiny-house like structure next to the house they are renting that they teach music classes out of.

The 30 minutes I spent with Mark today were the most helpful 30 minutes of music instruction I've yet received. His ability to clearly explain techniques and work with me on my form allowed me to pick up a couple new chords and get the main sets of several popular classic rock songs. I'm looking forward to following up with him a couple of weeks--after daily practice, of course!

In exchange for this lesson, I spent about 30 minutes with Maggie, talking to her about her garden and rain barrel plans. I'm going to try to hook her up with a day of volunteering at Gale's Meadow, where I volunteer once a week. I think that would be educational for her, and might help her get some seed starts as well. Maggie and Mark have substantial backyard space and even a bricked off raised section of their yard that they could do quite a lot with, so it will be interesting to work with Maggie as she attempts to turn all this potential space into a thriving garden.