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Today is my 26th wedding anniversary.

I wasn't going to mention that, because the first reader of this column shares this anniversary with me and part of our deal is that she gets to amend and redact whatever she wants from this document for whatever reason she feels fit. There's a real chance that she might just reject the whole thing and make me go write something else, or else find an old column that will suffice for today, like we do when one of the syndicated comic strip creators tries to slip something too cute past our editors.

I even started writing another column, about how, after maybe breaking two or three guitar strings over 45 years, I recently broke three in an hour on three different guitars. There was a point to that column, which was that there was a reason I'd had this cluster of guitar strings break, and that it was because I was doing something different when I played guitar. I was trying to work into some sort of extended metaphor about the need to always be changing and adapting and that how sometimes breaking things is a sign that you're making progress.

You can't have a revolution without breaking some strings.

But I hope she doesn't go back and make me finish that column, even though I did spend a few hours researching the difference between ductile and tensile strength and what percent of its maximum tension each guitar string must be brought to to achieve the proper pitch in standard tuning. Turns out that the thinner strings that produce the higher notes are a lot more stressed than the relatively thicker strings that account for the bottom end. While you could probably tune the low E string on a guitar up several steps, maybe all the way to A, you might not even get the high E past F# before--pow-ping-watch-your-eye.

I might posit that I'm the higher-stressed string in this relationship, but that really wouldn't be fair. It would be more accurate to note that Karen is the stronger string, the one that can be tuned up and dropped, the one with more tonal range, but that metaphor isn't perfect either. She's 105 pounds, there's hardly any bass to her. And I'm not liable to break either.

I'm not superstitious, but I don't want to tempt my luck either. I've seen it happen, back in the days before we had Facebook and Instagram to humblebrag about our lives. I watched some people do it in columns like this one. Usually the too-good-to-be-true husband was a product of wishfulness and self-delusion. I've been really lucky for the past 26 years; nothing too bad has happened and I'd rather go home than anything else in the world. Let's leave it at that.

Still, I think maybe we might provide a decent example. We're still together because we work at it, because we understand that there is nothing guaranteed. We don't take each other or the future for granted, and we understand that change is inevitable. Nothing stays the same, and we have to be brave enough to be willing to try new things. (I paired a Bluetooth keyboard to our iPads; now we don't have to travel with a laptop.)

We have adventures. We work together. Karen reads everything I write. I read most everything she writes. She edits me. I sometimes make suggestions.

There is pushback--sometimes we have different ideas about the most effective way to communicate the idea at hand. I trust her and usually accede to her judgment, even when I disagree. She's usually right. I usually understand this later.

For some reason, our professional life does not bleed over too much into our personal life. Sometimes she'll catch me going quiet when we walk our dogs--almost always I am thinking about something I might write or have written--but I don't like to discuss these columns with her beforehand. Sometimes I hope to surprise her.

Sometimes she tells me to do better.

I trust her to tell me when something doesn't work. She trusts me not to hold her honesty against her.

We have done all right together.

We have built a house, a comfortable enough life. We have gone to foreign cities, awoken in strange rooms and walked all day with funny colored money in our pockets. We have interesting friends. We don't worry much about paying our bills. We sleep well, we get up early. Sometimes on Sunday afternoons we shoot pool.

And we have this work, honest work for which we are suited, and I can't imagine not doing it.

There is the idea that happiness is nothing but the temporary lifting of pain. I can understand that, for if I pay too close attention to it, I can feel the dull humming in my knees and an alarming pinch in my back. I know if I stared all day at the cable shows I would be miserable; there is plenty in the world to feel bad and angry about, perhaps even more to feel guilty about. Anyone with imagination can deem themselves a criminal, complicit in our broken world.

But I don't believe my world is broken, not when it has such wonders in it.

On these November mornings, sunlight bursts into our bedroom like a riot squad, haloing the fur of little dogs. The air is brisk and smoky fog rises from the river. The geese are gone, but we still see deer on our morning walks.


Philip Martin is a columnist and critic for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at and read his blog at

Editorial on 11/12/2019

Print Headline: PHILIP MARTIN: Breaking strings


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