Thursday, July 5, 2012

As I Wish


Letting go is infectious.  I may have found something else in my life that needs jettisoning: my piano.

Let's start with my historical relationship with the instrument. I wanted to learn to play for what seemed like all of my childhood.  My pre-middle-school best friend took piano lessons, and I envied her.  I remember sitting beside her on the bench as she practiced, wishing that I could take lessons, too.  There was no money for such things in our family.  Besides, my friend was an only child.  All resources could be devoted to her edification.  I was the oldest of eight.  I wasn't very old at all before I was some of the resources devoted to the younger children, at least in part.

When I was able to take band in fourth grade, my first question was whether piano was one of the instruments available.  Of course, it was not.  Portable ones were the rule, so I chose clarinet instead.  I did not continue with it in middle school.  Obviously, my heart was not in it.  The piano was my true love, alas unrequited by virtue of enforced separation.

In late high school (I think), my father bought an organ as a family Christmas present.  It came with a few sessions of group lessons to get the buyer started.  I vaguely remember that I attended them, still wanting to play but only being teased with the merest beginner training.

My father bought this organ because he can play one, as well as the piano.  He learned as a child. It just now occurs to me to wonder why he didn't think to teach me to play.  It never occurred to me then.  I'm sure I didn't ask.  I was a wheel that did not squeak if at all possible.  I don't remember asking for lessons from anyone.  I knew that money was tight and that my dad was impatient (I take after him just a little). It never occurred to me to bring up what obviously couldn't be done.

In college, to fill hours, I took two semesters (I think--or was it quarters?) of class piano--group instruction again.  Here was my chance to learn to play at last, even if I did only have a tiny, tinny keyboard for home practice.  It was practically free--I was already paying for school--and they had practice pianos available.

In actuality, it was frustrating.  I wanted so badly to play, to be able to unlock the beautiful moodiness like that in the Chopin CD I listened to at the time.  Instead, I felt myself up against a barrier.  I'd sit at the keyboard trying to will my fingers to move simultaneously or, worse yet, syncopatedly.  My poor brain just couldn't seem to manage the multiplicity of piano playing.  Apparently, I was indeed never meant to be a multi-tasker.  At the end of my time in those classes, I still couldn't play.  Tired of the humiliation of locking up in front of the instructor, I let it go and focused on classes necessary to finish my degree.

As a young adult, my then husband's co-worker wanted to sell her piano.  I bought it.  I still have it, I have moved it three times, and I still don't know how to play it.  The last strong men who moved it complained more when they found out that I didn't know how to play the thing.  That was the first time I questioned, ever so briefly, my attachment to my piano.

I did try to make use of it in my one other stab at learning--using my husband's tuition waiver hours from the college where he works to take one semester of piano lessons from a professor.  It was again the same frustration and lack of progress, even though I had my own practice piano this time.

Currently, the piano--symbol of my thwarted longing--is taking up valuable space in what is supposed to be Dave's studio.  Recently, for the first time, I began to seriously wonder if I really need to keep it anymore.  It's all because of writing.

When I wrote about my pallor--I mean, my ivory skin--and my slender feet, I unearthed ideas about myself that needed to go.  The traits didn't change, but I felt differently about them after probing into the ideas and finding the thoughts behind them, conceptions so old that I'd ceased to notice what I was carrying around any more.  When I did, I found them releasable.  My piano may be one of those burdens.

For most all my conscious life, the piano has been one of the symbols of my wronged status, my lack.  It was tied up in the story of me as deprived, poor, unattended, missing things much desired.  It was all about what I didn't have, the emblem of wanting and not getting.

But I'm an adult now.  I'm responsible for my own life, no longer deprived or held back by anyone but me.  And more realistic, too.

Realistically, here are some other facts to consider.  I've tried--even if not whole heartedly, blocked by low self worth as I was--three times to learn to play my beloved instrument.  None of those attempts seemed to take.

One reason that I may be unsuited to it is the second fact, my irregular nature.  I can't even type well--and I've had those keys memorized since seventh grade.  I constantly hit wrong keys, backspace, and fume.  I have never been able to keep the steady, sure rhythm of a good keyboardist going. Heck, even my heart beat is irregular!  It's a mild arrhythmia, not even requiring treatment, but the point stands.  I'm uneven all the way through. Even singing in choir, I found myself fooled when I thought I could keep proper time without the steady beat of the director. Maybe I'm just too unsteady to be a pianist.

A more practical matter is that I'm vulnerable to tendonitis in my wrists. My inability to properly strike the keys--straight up and down like curved pistons, no reaching and splaying--causes further strain. My work and writing already require lots of keyboarding. Do I really need another hand intensive activity in my life?

But the biggest factor weighing on my mind right now is the questioning my recent writing has produced.  It has revealed that I've carried around sad, outdated ideas about myself that need to be changed.  They've been so much a ground-in part of my identity that I hadn't even noticed them.  When I did, they had to go.

For at least thirty five years I've wished I could play the piano.  So many times I've said exactly that. I have almost always been She Who Never Learned to Play the Piano, a label with an ache of lack in it. It's been part of my identity.  But does it have to be that way?

The newly opened door in my mind shows that no, it doesn't.  Just because I've fingered the baby grand shaped hole in my heart every time I've seen a piano in the past or heard someone play, doesn't mean that I have to now, just as I don't have to view my fair legs with distaste today because a few people in the past did.  I have the power to let go of hurts and move on.  The piano may be an anchor that needs pulling up. 

Of course, the alternative is that I could finally, with my new grown up powers of action, give myself the lessons I've thought I always wanted and check a big item off my life list. I haven't decided yet.  The great gift is that I can be more free in my thinking about it.  The grown up me may not need to play the piano.  It sure hasn't seemed to come naturally to me.  My longing to play may be as outdated as my view of my skin and feet--the child's dream, not the adult's.  I can choose whether this ache is a phantom pain or a true desire, and I have the power to do something about it either way, laying it down or taking it up, as I wish.

Somehow, the decision feels important.  I have felt the crossroads urgency and the old tenderness around the subject as I've written about it. Choosing what to do with this piano requires really knowing who I am and what I need.  Apparently I still have more to learn about both parts.  I also have faith that, with an open hand and heart, I will.

1 comment:

Dave Flora said...

You know...maybe there's someone local who could come to our house and give you lessons? Perhaps a college class is a bit too intimidating? You know, my cello is sitting right beside your piano. Maybe this is a good question for us both!