As a child, there were many ways in which I felt different, a square peg.

My brother Mike taught me how to read when I was 3 or 4 years old. The rhythm and rhyme of Dr. Seuss books surely made sparks in my young brain.

In first grade, I was in a second-grade reading class. The second-grade teacher would come and get me and I would leave my classroom. The thing is, I didn't feel proud, special or "better." I just felt different. It got a little worse. Every Friday morning at 10:10, I was collected by the speech therapist, who worked with me to conquer a lisp and what they used to call a "Boston R." Then I got glasses. Bifocals. This was grade school.

But I was about to find a friend.

My eldest brother, John, had a guitar. When he was not home, I had a rendezvous with his Yamaha, teaching myself how to play by looking through his songbooks with the little chord diagrams.

A guitar from Musicland was my gift at Christmas. It was crap, but it felt like a $5,000 instrument to me. I had a constant companion and just in time.

As teenagers, we all went through the same crushes, heartaches and infatuations, but mine were about other females. I did not know what a homosexual was, but I knew to keep it secret. I had no language to understand who I was. There were no books that talked about people like me. The worst words one boy could use against another were "faggot" or "queer." But the words "gay" or "lesbian?" They didn't exist.

My guitar went with me everywhere. I met Karla and Wendy. They played guitar. They didn't fit in anywhere, either. I began turning my own private, precious feelings into songs.

I was in an alternative program in high school that had its own reading list. I would finish a book, meet with my adviser, Mary Skoy, and recite what the book was about. She'd interrupt. "Why do you think the author used that word? Is there another word that would've worked as well?" A 20-minute discussion about one word followed. I thought she was insane. But it was Mary who introduced me to the weight, the feeling, the rhythm of words.

The guitar, humor, poetry, songwriting - art saves lives. It saves old people, middle-aged people, dying people, confused people, children and, yes, art saves teenagers.

I will always be a square peg. The guitar and writing will always be constant companions.

Ann Reed is a singer/songwriter who makes her home in Minneapolis.

Ann Reed recommends these books with a women-and-music theme, plus one that's not music-related:
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
A View From A Broad by Bette Midler
Accordion Crimes by Annie Proulx
The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather
Six of One by Rita Mae Brown

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