Saturday, May 30, 2009

Busy Time

It's been a busy period with unusual events. The poetry reading was the first such evening I've attended in a great many years. It was an opportunity to meet many people from the school where Rachel works -- quit likable women. Possibly it will lead to being part of a poetry writing/reading group.

Last night we drove to Providence, Rhode Island. Rachel had a brief meeting to attend. We were especially glad Cory and Jason could come with us because the had never seen the Waterfire event that is a summer tourist draw to the renewed downtown area with it's landscaped and meandering river on which bonfires are lit for several blocks. The photograph above is somewhat digitally manipulated but gives some idea of the effect of the fire on the water. The gondola is a part of it as are a few other unlighted boats carrying passengers -- they are all silent.

However the event is not silent. There is piped music and there was also a jazz band with a woman singer a bit way from the river. There were street performers, mostly living statues and an origami artist. Of course there is a food tent and all along the river are may restaurants. We ate at in the near-by large mall and wandered the length of the lighted area. The night was very dark because of cloud cover but the weather was pleasant. Because it's early in the season and the day had been sprinkly, the crowd was not dense. Strolling along was very pleasant. Poor Rachel got the least enjoyable part which was driving home through patchy fog.

Today turned out to be very beautiful so Rachel and I went to Heritage Plantation in near-by Sandwich. The gardens are known especially for their rhododendruns and azeleas. The rhodies are in every possible color and many of them are large trees, not at all mere bushes. Wonderfully laid out paths lead through the garden which I supposed is a bit over 50 acres. It was a magical site today, wonderful vistas of color wherever we looked. In other seasons other flowers will bloom but none are a dramatically multitudinous as the rhodies. I have other photos of the flowers on my other blog also.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Reading Poetry

I'm not sure why this happened but I just read poetry in public at an event with which I have no real connection. It was poetry night for the charter high school where my daughter is a school secretary. She had agreed to read and she put forth my name as a reader also. Every other reader was a student, teacher or administrator of some sort. I did not belong. Well, what the hell? There I was with a poem of mine called "Marathon" about, of course, runners, and a poem of Symborska's because she is so wonderful. Everyone was most friendly and gracious beforehand.

I did not feel nervous, although I've read only once before in public. I knew the poem was all right, not personal but fairly strong as a statement, and easy to read. Symborska is also quite easy to read, her writing is so strong and immediate. But Rachel read first and she took her cue from some of the men who had been rather dramatic. She studied to be an actress and so read two poems, very humorously and with much charm and personality. That made me nervous. I have to follow that act with two okay poems? Well, one doesn't have a fit of second thoughts at the 11-9//10ths hour. So I read. I guess it was okay, that was enough. After all I didn't even belong there. But Symborska is strong and, though it could have been read bettter, it wasn't bad.

I remember former timss with stomach twisting, dry mouthed, knee knocking nervousness; that did not happen. I've spoken in front of much larger groups comfortably and have learned not to worry about embarrassing myself even if it's not perfect. So, okay.This is something we are lucky to know by the age of 70 -- alm9st 71. Life experience is wort something.

I met some nice and interesting people, that was the important part of the evening for me. What more can a new comer to a communiy want? To make some possible connections. Enough.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I didn't use to DO holidays

I don't DO holidays -- at least I didn't DO holidays in NYC. Ignoring them was a pleasure. Here I am in the land of men in aprons cooking hotdogs, hamburgers, chicken, women cutting watermelons into dozens of neat slices, chips and puffs and dips and salads. So much good clean fun -- these are seriously religious people who don't DO beer or wine let alone anything harder. But they are both good and nice people although a seriously competitive spirit erupts in croquet -- although no gloating by the winners.

The sun was high and hot in the late afternoon and by the time the cookies and coffee appeared the shadows were chilly and out came the hoodie sweatshirts. This was the essence of American "good life", everyone attractive, soft voiced and polite. For my taste it went a bit over twhen the minister whose home we were at, related that he ha only smoked a cigarette once in his life when he was six and his eight year old brother was afraid to try it so got the innocent babe to take a couple of puffs, which made him very sick and which his mother happened to witness and gave him a serious spanking. Likewise, he only once said a curse word -- "and that was the worst one" said he, but didn't say which. And again Mom heard him, told him what it meant and why he must never use it again -- and he hasn't. "If you hear anything more about me it's all untrue," said he. I don't remember the possibly ironic, possibly slightly insulting, apparently not humorous remark that escape my uncensored lips. Any man somewhere in the middle of life who has only those two "sins" to confess to is either lying or insufferably priggish and unimaginative as well. I suppose whatever I said - I honestly don't remember, it was relatively mild like "well, there's certainly a lot one could make up" -- got immediately repressed as all negativity seems to be.

I guess I'm hopelessly subversive for the only reasonably interesting conversation I had was with a woman who has done long mission stints in Southern China. I said I deeply dislike the Chinese government especially for their treatment of Tibet. She did not defend the Chinese government but also seemed unaware that they take a dim view of Christians, not quite on a par with the Falun Gong. Real politics seemed not to figure into life. I guess I forgot about the goody-two shoes life a long time ago. Yes, indeedy-di, we aren't in the gritty Big City among these well kept houses and the family-size vehicles.

Oh, I guess I was even a bit more subversive when I asked about a much advertised local event called Fugawi weekend, which includes a sailboat race and a gala -- all to rsise money for charity. I assumed others had heard how or why some group chose that name. A couple people said to me with perfectly straight faces that it was the name of an Indian tribe. "You haven't heard the joke?" I asked. Well, one guy had but he supposed there was a real Fugawi tribe. This level of innocent boggles my mind -- to the extent that I Googled the word and found that the only Fugawi Tribe is a motorcycle group -- which makes sense. At any rate there are apparently elsewhere in this almost lily-white community some people who know the joke and think it good fun to have a Fugawi weekend festival for a good cause. I hope someday to meeting someone who knows the origin or orignator of the local event.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Summer Season

Traffic has become a steady stream. Enough locals are in that stream to maintain the local kindness of stopping for pedestrians who want to cross the street. This is just the beginning, when the weather is really warm traffic will crawl. Suddenly the many outdoor tables of the Main Street restaurants are busy instead of being forlornly empty as they were a few days ago.

Walking Molly on the beach late Friday afternoon the air was sweatshirt cool and the wind came in inexhaustible gust so strong grains of sand struck bare body parts like tiny bullets. Molly's thick coat protected her, she loped down the sand with all her doggy enthusiasm for being off leash. The shell tree stood festooned as usual but winter's gales had covered the ground at its foot with shards of broken shells. The wiccans or elves or local ecology worshipers had replaced the broken ones. This tree is always numinous to come upon -- here in buttoned up preppy-dom it speaks to something shaggier and freer in the spirit of the place. Some white beach roses are blooming. They have red and pink cousins all along the dunes but only the white were out so far as we saw. They had that heartily delicate [a true oxymoron] scent. When I decided to photograph them, having just passed the shell tree and its magical aura, I said to the gusty wind -- not commandingly or even with any intent -- "stop. Be still. Stop a minute." And it did. Rachel was impressed.

Hereafter permit stickers will be needed for the parking lots and, except very, very early in the morning, Molly will have to be on leash. Gradually the water will get warmer and locals -- except for those under 16 -- will cede the beaches to the summer people from midmorning to evening. Sunrise is usually too early but 7:00 or 7:30 isn't, and sunset is a wonderful time. These are good times for my tiny patio too so I welcome the season and don't worry too much about trusting my life to strangers in murderous vehicles when I cross the street.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Vintage Reading

Memoirs of a Mountaineer, Helvellyn to Himalaya, by F. Spenser Chapman was discovered at a used book section of a thrift store for a couple of dollars. In fact, the named book is the shorter of two books it contained, the second, Lhasa: The Holy City, I read some time ago. Because I enjoyed Chapman's very simple and rather naive style I bought this book and am now rereading [which I very rarely do] the Lhasa part.

The book itself is a bit beat up, I think probably from age and neglect for only the cover is worn, the interior is pristine, with wonderful pictures like the ones seen above. The distinguished mustashed man is the 13th Dalai Lama. I can say like an old curmudgeon "They don't write books like this nowadays." It's true. Mountain climbing is a totally different undertaking these days. Chapman was first to climb Chumolari, a magnificent mountain on the Sikkim/Tibet border, 23,000 plus -- using no oxygen, wearing multiple layers of wool socks and sweaters, long before Gore-tex existed. He had no "expedition" really just one sherpa companion [not so different from Hillary on Everest twenty years later].

Best of all is Chapman, the writer. An orphan raised by pastors and apparently with enough money to go to private [what they call public] school and then to Cambridge where he learned roof climbing. A bit of a loner, like so many English writers of the past he wandered fields and England's small mountains and learned names of flowers and birds -- which no modern day writer seems able to throw into observations with the casual assurance of many former British writers -- we've lost touch with the natural world except those writers who take an ecological stance.

Chapman is proud of his mountain climbing but never brags or shows off, gives the local men their due -- in words, although they were paid very badly. He observes both the mountains and then life in Lhasa with a fresh and largely unprejudiced eye, though always taking British superiority for granted. He has not done a lot of research to make himself an expert, rather he simply relates what he did and saw and what happened around him. There is no gee-whiz, and no ponderousness. In short this is a very refreshing read. He had an ease with language and unpretentiousness that is a joy to read. I have no idea what kind of career or life he had after these Himalayan adventures in the mid-1930s. I sincerely hope it was a good life. He was a very likable individual.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Unique Place to Life

Many things about this little arm of land sticking out into the Atlantic like an arm reaching up toward Boston are unique. Right now I'm looking at a feature I've found unique -- the light in the sky in the late afternoon; it has a watery softness.

But that's chocolate in the photo. There's chocolate most places and this may be cornucopia shaped with various chocolate goodies spilling out but even that is not very remarkable. No, what's remarkable is that people like my daughter who has no political involvements and no "social" standing in what is probably the old establishment of the town of Hyannis, can carry to her grandson's graduation luncheon a chocolate centerpiece courtesy of "the Senator". Well, sort of. She did enjoy saying that and in a way it's true. A friend of hers works at the Kennedy compound and occasionally, after various social events, has to dispose of overages such as too many chocolate cornucopias. So, in this case the friend asked Rachel if she could find a use for it. We indulged in the only okay chocolate [standards get higher in such circumstances] and muttered "Our tax dollars at work." Which may not have been fair, it may have been paid for out of Kennedy deep pockets.

When I walked to the post office yesterday morning, this still being pre-vacation time, the only place in the center of town that showed a bustle of people and activity was the small museum to JFK. Ourside is a nice bronze statue that is a bit smaller than life size. I don't understand why it wasn't made life size. It wouldn't have required much more bronze. Certainly he was a bit taller than approximately five foot. tall.]

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Brandeis Graduation

For a variety of reasons I've never been to a college graduation ceremony until today when I went with my daughter and her husband to see their son, Joel, graduate from Brandeis. I expected familial pride and a lot of sitting listening to boring reading of names and honors. That was part of it but also fascinating people watching -- it was a BIG event in a big gym. Happily, a wonderfully varied and lengthy musical background accompanied marching in and settling down before the event -- everything from Handel to ethnic to rock, arranged both tastefully and amusingly.

It's a given that the speaker will say the equivalent of seize the day and take a responsible role in the world and that this will be forgotten along with all else except maybe who the speaker was if prominent enough a personage. In this case the speaker was Newark, New Jersey's relatively young mayor, Cory Booker. He was a wonderful speaker, he told personal stories that will not soon be forgotten, he recited an entire Langston Hughes poem apparently from memory -- he seemed to not be using notes at all. It was, in fact, a beautifully crafted and delivered speech. I was afraid early on he was going to lift the Obama "Hope" slogan and batter it to death but he did not -- one mention and he moved on to responsibility and, indeed, the seize the day theme, and ended with love -- of self and others. I totally enjoyed it.

Grandson, Joel, seemed very mature and confident -- he leaves for Washington tomorrow to take up a government job -- and to at least minimally furnish an apartment from Ikea and with kitchen and bathroom necessities we took with us for him. On the few occasions we've had a chance to talk in the last couple of years he's clearly got an education in world events, Arabic, Middle Eastern studies, philosophy, history his majors and minors. He's won many honors as a debater which has given him a self-confident air that is mature. I've always been attracted to smart, articulate people, so he makes me very happy and proud.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Nature Girl -- moi

Poet Mary Oliver, whose work I enjoy very, very much, wrote in her poem "Summer Day", "I don't know exactly what praying is/ but I know how to pay attention". I have not had a great deal of opportunity to pay attention to wild life in the last good many years. But I discovered something today about the Canadian goose that could well be my alarm clock because it seems to arrive on the lawn outside my window about 5:00 in the morning, honking loudly as he lands. I thought a bit about where he spends the night and decided it must be on one of the nearby ponds. Being on or very near water is probably a goose's best defense against predators such as dogs or foxes. I doubt there are any foxes around. And all the dogs seem to be owned and usually leashed, although I suppose any passable size community may have some strays. Be that as it may, the goose's instinct probably tells it to spend a night afloat or close enough to escape if need be -- and of course he can fly.

I'm becoming fond of Sir Goose, who had two companions later in the day. But the fact I noticed to my surprise as I was watching him while I was at my sewing table, is that when he is standing in the grass and for whatever goosey reason decides to honk for a while, every time he honks, his tail wags up and down. It really does, I watched quite a while. Later when he took off into the air, honking -- for he seems not to take off or land without honking -- so far as I could tell in what was then the early evening mist or fog that dropped like a veil from the low sky, his tail did not wag as he soared noisily upward. Those are my avian notes for the day.

No, I don't plan to become a birder. However I was gratified that Harriet at Overseas Adventure Travels had solicited notes from travelers for her newsletter and published the letter I wrote her. I said, in summary, that my African adventures was greatly enhanced by having a roommate who was a birder and who became excited about seeing several kinds of storks, as just one example of the many birds she introduced me to because of her love for all the winged creatures of central Africa. One of my favorites was the Egyptian goose, of which there were many. As I think I've written I felt a particular thrill that they looked exactly like the ones on a papyrus copy of a tomb painting from nearly four millennia ago. Let's hear a happy hurrah for the good old goose.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The "Girls"

There are funny throw-backs in families. My mother had a special passion for photos of generations of the family. Rachel seems to have some of the same sensibility. She suggestd this three-generation mother's day photo. It's my photographic debut exhibiting the disastrous hair cut that resulted from stopping in a cheap-o Super-Cuts one day when I had been working hard packing and was very tired. I closed my eyes a few minutes while having my hair "trimmed" -- I don't think I feel asleep but I was spaced out -- and when I opened my eyes, I had been scalped. I had the haircut of a little boy. "You said short," said the hair dresser. But I was only talking about the part at the back of my neck. Well -- it can't be glued back on but it will grow. I think it does make me look a bit distinctive. But it doesn't feel like "me" whatever, whoever "me" may be. It's growing -- a little. By summer's end I should be more normal.

Cori, my granddaughter, has a very good photographer's eye and imagination. I've seen several pictures she's taken of simple things we all see, but she sees them freshly and photographs them. She also has a fun imagination for photos she's in. The one above cracks me up every time I see it. Cori and her mother were at an orchard and pumpkin patch farm last fall. They climbed on this tractor and had Jason, Cori's husband, take a picture of them looking like heroines of the Russian Revolution. You've seen the posters, here's the 2008 version.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Piano Playing - IV

I wrote about my mother's influence in my piano history but my father was thoroughly supportive. The dollar a week for my lessons meant the same to both. How inexpensive that sounds. But it wasn't. It was not a sacrifice, but I had to become an adult before I understood how poor my family -- and indeed most people in the area -- were. We did not want for basic things but we did not have a lot either. Beyond the lessons and the piano itself they gave me an extremely valuable gift.

One day a salesman appeared at our door. He had surely been given their name and address by Janette, the teacher. He was selling the Shirmer Music Library, a set of nine bound books of music for the piano. $50 remains in my mind but if it was only that, it was an amazing bargain. It must have been about 1950. $50 would have been a big gift to me, a serious dent in the month's finances. I don't remember a discussion although I'm sure there was one and I think my father made the final decision. The set of books was purchased. It has been a treasure trove; it has given me more hours of pleasure than any other gift I've ever had, I still have it and still use it. From it's pages, I learned both the music [which was not simplified although the opera transcriptions are not difficult] and I became acquainted with a variety of musicians I would not have became learned about otherwise. One of the books was full of the kind of moderately difficult, but musically light "concert" pieces young women played at home to impressed family and potential beaux.

Books 1 and 2 contain "classical" music up to the 20th century but stopping with Rachmaninoff and a few others who were born in the 19th century. The third book has lighter "classics", one book is all waltzes and other dances, one is all opera transcription, another is largely vocal music, including some sacred music. Book 9 is an afterthought with pieces that probably should have been in the other books.

At the time it was a bargain considering the prices of sheet music; today it is priceless. I still cannot play everything in these books -- some I'm not interested in playing but only a little. As I write I look across the room at those books that I've had 60 or more years and I cannot begin to calculate all that the music in them has meant to me, not just to play but to hear in concerts, on records, on the radio. These were better than any encyclopedia would have been. They were surly the best gift anyone ever bought for me.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Different lifestyle

When I was growing up nothing was more boring than family gatherings. As an adult I have not been a big family event person although I believe in marking the important points, weddings, graduations, funerals, births, of course. Being here, now, very close to Rachel who is far more a "family" person than I, clearly I'm going to be drawn into a more family oriented life. This is not a bad thing -- just different, an adjustment, not a difficult adjustment but worth noting.

Today is Mother's Day and Rachel had decided we should have a croquet afternoon in her backyard, we being her family, with Cori and husband Jason, and Joel, down from Boston -- but without Noah who had to work in the pizza place which he does on weekends. It was to be a high tea kind of event. So I made cucumber sandwiches and salmon [lox] sandwiches in proper triangles, and she made fruit salad and tea and had brownies. Best of all the weather cooperated wonderfully, it was sunny all day and warm -- breezy but the yard is somewhat sheltered. As my mother-in-law used to write in letters, copying it, of course, from society pages of small town newspapers, "A good time was had by all." Hackneyed vintage cliche, but we enjoyed the croquet game.

I remember playing croquet in the yard of the house we lived in until I was 10 and not after that. So it's fair to say I haven't played croquet for 60 years. I was not a star. But I don't take games very seriously and am never competitive -- except sometimes playing Scrabble. It was very nice to be in a secluded backyard with a group of people who are all related, with blossoming trees and plantings all around the edge. And to eat a lovely light meal and sit around and talk and also take pictures. Cori took the above picture with the automatic setting of her camera and then immediately emailed it to me. We all look happy although the guys are somewhat swalloed up by cheery tree blossoms. I look pretty happy entering a new phase of life -- in fact, it's good.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Piano Playing - III

[Clara Weick Schuman - a most amazing pianist and woman]

In the book I'm still reading, Wilson, says the question that started his piano playing and his research into the neurobiology of music making was "How can she play so fast?" about his daughter at her recital. My father's question was, "How can you find the right keys?" Wilson writes much about the brain and music but so far and from future chapter titles, doesn't deal with that question. Anyone who does a repetitive manual job probably uses the same mental abilities. Typists, for instance, may have soinernalized the QUERTY keyboard that they can't say where a certain letter is but their fingers know. Also like the speed the speed of piano playing, typists too [I've typed nearly as long as played the piano] have certain letter sequences "in" their fingers. Pianists have turns and trills, scales and arpeggios "in" their fingers. Likewise to type "the" or "and" or "ing" does not require thought.

The piano keyboard is larger, of course, and organ keyboards are astonishingly complex -- and require pedal use skills too. Musicians learn these things and never have to think about them. I've long ago stopped thinking about putting my thumb on middle C as I first learned nor do I think where my hands go on a typewriter or computer keyboard unless it's a new one with a slightly different configuration.

However all the physiology in Wilson's book is beginning to bore me. I'm skipping through much of it but taking to heart his insistence that music uses many sectors of the brain and it is not exclusively a right brain activity. All humans have the brain skills to make music, largely it's a matter of practice. And practice is just what I have to do now to regain skills I've lost. I am self-consciously aware that my neighbors can hear me so when I stop and go over and over difficult passages, I play very softly. There's a Schubert Arpeggio that is, like so much of his music, breathtakingly beautiful in places [when played correctly] but his writing is so full of incidental sharps and flats it has to be worked out carefully. The sound has to become a part of what I expect as I play. And I have to know where the musical line is going in each of the variations.

A friend, Ellen, has a keyboard in her small NYC apartment which she can play using earphones so only she hears it. That was a very wise choice; I wish I had thought of it some time ago. But I've got an ordinary piano and life-long self-consciousness about my musical shortcomings. I've always known how little I know. After studying with Wayne as an adult, I am even more aware of all I don't know and that I will never be a good pianist, just a competent one who can make herself very, very happy went melodies like so much of Schubert and Mozart actually are produced by my fingers.

AA consolation I am aware most people know less than I do about how these pieces of music are supposed to sound. Most people are easily impressed by others skills when it's something they are not proficient at. So most of my accidental audience are somewhat ignorant of my incompetence and I'm sure they are also living their lives and not paying close attention. So I tell myself: get over it already! Aren't I too old to be a shrinking violet?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Piano Playing - II

We lived in rural Southeastern Indiana. At the time this photo of my mother with me and my little brother was taken the tiny farm house had no electricity or phone, no running water and my father had horses instead of a tractor. They had waited out the worst of the Depression to get married.

My mother would probably have liked to have had a career -- although that word was not used much back then -- a job would have been fine, especially writing for a newspaper. That never happened. Like many women, being a good wife and mother was her career. She took mothering seriously. Raising a daughter meant providing at least some things she did not have and that she considered necessary for a well rounded woman. Piano playing was, perhaps, the creme de la creme. She was not very musical, my father had sawed at a fiddle but that soon dropped by the wayside.

Somehow they acquired a big old upright piano during my sixth year. Prosperity was beginning to come to the farmlands -- not much prosperity but enough that I didn't know how poor we were until much later when I had an adult perspective. No one around us had much more than we and no one had even heard of television so we weren't exposed to a richer way of life. What we saw in movies was all fantasy and magazines too. Still electrification had come and so had a telephone. Dad had sold the horses, the piano teacher in town, who began me in the first John Thompson piano book. I still remember the words of the simple first song that could be played with the right hand alone, thumb on middle C. "Off I go to music land, training ear and eye and hand."

Mom set the precedent. When I was lazy and didn't practice toward spring of that year she said, "No more lessons until you're ready to do it right." Within two years I was ready to learn although I didn't want to go back to Mrs. Creech because she had a Downs syndrome son who was large and gentle but whose difference frightened me. I didn't tell anyone because I knew it was shameful to feel that way about him.

So I went to Janette, whose last name I have forgotten, once a week for a dollar a lesson, in the next town. I worked my way through the John Thompson books. By the time I was twelve I was competent enough to play the piano at the tiny country church we attended which had only a small spinet piano on which an older woman thumped out the tried and true Baptist hymns. She was not always well and I was pressed into replacing her. The Sunday School superintendent understood I was scared but no one else in the congregation could play the piano. He told me each week what hymns would be s sung next Sunday and I took the hymnal home and practiced them all week along with my lesson.

I don't remember a conversation at home but I think my parents were proud of me. I was at first nervous enough to feel my mouth go dry, my breath shallow and my palms sweaty, When I heard myself play a wrong note I wanted to crawl inside the piano and disappear. But the congregation sang loudly -- and mostly badly but with enthusiasm. And they told me how good it was I was there to play for them. Surely my mother knew that she was giving me an important lesson in self-confidence and in responsibility to a community, to share what talents one had. Eventually I understood how badly I had played -- the left hand usually hit it's keys a split second after the right. I do remember my mother saying playing the piano would make me popular. It didn't. But it gave me much, much more important things. More about that in the future.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Piano Playing

]The Mozart family]

As often happens when a subject is on my mind, a book appeared. Not magically, really. I suppose I bought it at the thrift store but I don't remember doing so and in my move I don't remember handling it although surely it was in the handfuls I packed and unpacked from and onto my to-read shelves. I've been thinking of piano playing and yesterday my eyes fell on Frank R. Wilson's 1987 paperback, Tone Dead and All Thumbs? A book about learning to make music in mid-life. Wilson, a neurologist, says he watched his daughter at a piano recital and became so jealous of her ability he decided to take piano lessons himself. He also researched the brain/small muscle interactions which he likens to any athletic ability and which I think he's going to say, if maintained into age, will keep the brain young.

Even before my move I promised myself about an hour a day of piano playing and I have attempted to do so. Like Wilson I took piano lessons as an adult, but unlike him, I had already had lessons from 6 to 16. When both my daughters found teenage activities far more interesting than piano practice and the teacher found his time too valuable to waste on indifferent students, I let them stop and asked him to teach he real music and decent technique both of which I knew I lacked. In fact, when I first played for him his remark was "Okay, we'll start with the C major scale." You can't get more basic than that. I had dexterity and read music easily, I had historical and biographical musical knowledge but I had bad habits, was basically tone deaf with only the minimal talent Wilson says all human beings have. I knew how little I knew. Wayne and I had a lovely collaboration for 4 or 5 years. I was able to play 3/4ths of Schubert's "Wanderer Fantasy" when I had to leave -- of which I'm quite proud and most of which facility I have lost.

In the 30 years since then I have played sporadically, certainly not with discipline. I know a fair amount of the facility can be regained, slowly, patiently. If it should keep my brain young that would be a very welcome perk. Making something musical happen is reward enough. For now, however, I am embarrassed by my stumbling fingers, the sour notes, the pauses, repeats. I met neighbors in the hallway and discovered that not only the nearest can hear me but one woman who lives down at the end of the hall can hear me too -- the place has particle board walls - and ceilings too for I hear my upstairs neighbor's footsteps all too clearly, which means they hear my piano too.

What to do? I am determined to continue playing/practicing because I know the proficiency is possible. Perhaps I will never again play "The Wanderer" but there is SO much music. For now, I am choosing to play nice soft, melodic music that surely none of my neighbors can complain of except if they are musical enough to be badly bothered by sour notes and I hope the walls at least muffle some of that. I assume they won't cringe if I plod through Chopin's Waltz in a minor, or Schubert's Stanchen, or delicate early Mozart or Beethoven sonatas and maybe some favorite opera transcriptions. If I'm interrupting a soap opera well ... so be it.

We are approaching Mother's Day so in my next installment I will explain how a farmer's daughter in a home only recently electrified had the privilege of a rackety upright piano and lessons on it.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Adjustments, Large and Small

[A rainbow because it is a symbol of changing weather, thus of all change. This one was in Hwange Park in Zimbabwe after a shower at dawn.]

I've been looking forward to various changes and challenges but all adjustments fit into our days with the sense of Velcro pulling apart and being repositioned. The largest adjustments happen over time. The small ones must be fitted in and may become invisible soon. I have a mobility adjustment. This a car-centric country -- except in very big cities like NYC. So I cannot get on a bus or subway to go to a store. Some I can walk to and that's very fine, some I can walk to but then cannot carry home what I might purchase. A time will come when I must have a car. But for now I'm thinking bicycle. But don't have one yet. Also I have not yet mapped out in my mind interesting walks except to the town center. I can't decide to walk beside the river -- there is no river and the beach is a bit far [except if I have a bicycle]. So in fact, that's a big adjustment. It will take time.

A small adjustment I knew I would face is the bathtub. Knowing I was coming to a typical late 20th century tub that is barely more than a receptacle for the shower -- not the big, deep wonderful tub I had both in my NYC apartment and in the house I left before that, I took many long, lovely baths before I left. So now it will be showers like about 99% of Americans. A lost luxury -- like the fire places I left behind when I move to NYC. Losses. But there will be pluses too.

A big plus is a dishwasher and a disposal in the kitchen, which has more than enough cabinet space -- a luxury like the other closets I have which also are large and still have empty spots. It is easier, of course to adjust to the pluses than the minuses -- that must be a rule of human behavior. Comforts are so much more, well, comforting.

Like most people who leave an active job and find themselves with expanses of time, I am dealing with that adjustment. I've long had an agenda in mind that includes writing, exercise, piano playing, sewing, reading and a social life. I mentally gave myself until tomorrow to put my physical surroundings in order and as of tomorrow I'll try to fit those activities into my day. I've already begun the piano -- a pleasure I think I'll write about in another post. It's not that I"m a fine musician -- definitely not! -- but that it has always been a joy. Blogging, too, is writing so I feel I'm partly fulfilling my agenda. Reinstituting lifelong yoga which as been on hiatus for some time is also a pleasure but requires discipline. Yes, my whole agenda requires discipline but, indeed, I have practiced discipline most of my life, a good habit not to be broken. So life moves along, changing.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Things We Have

I can't help thinking more and more about the things we own and about sentimental attachements to them -- or not. Helen comment about the previous post here that perhaps we keep so many things because of fear. I think that is true for quite a few people. But I think it is sentiment for many as well, and the sense of familiarity. A rug I had for some 40 years was beautiful to me all that time, and I could not leave it behind in NYC, but here, a friend said it would be fine in his library and I was glad to give it to him because I felt it did not fit in my current situation -- which includes complete new carpeting throughout the apartment. Comes a time when sentiment fades like the pangs of a heartbreak. Letting go is not so hard. I think I gave away about 2000 books. I knew I was never going to read them again -- there are too many I want to read and new and more appear all the time and I truly do remember most of the ones I've read.

Perhaps this is a perception that comes with growing older, whatever fear was earlier no longer seems important in the same way the sentiment faded. In a forum of women who are partially my contemporaries some have mentioned moving to smaller homes or to RVs, and having to dispose of many possessions. They speak of a cleansing, a refreshing of perception. I think that is true. A lightness as one disposes of burdens of the past Less furniture to dust, fewer things to care for, tend to, look after. More time for the interior matters. Then too, energy is not as great so we want to use our energy in ways that are important to us. I actually have some bookshelves that hold only travel mementos! I treasure them. Perhaps when we are in an autumn of life we experience a different kind of spring when we unburden ourselves; it's not all dumping the dead leaves, it's a renewal as well. That's what this new move should be, another fresh start, a new garden to watch grow, different, of course, but change and growth. This is not the usual perception but it does not seen contradictory to me.

Thus the picture above, taken my last day in NYC when Rachel and I went to Riverside Park garden to eat our sandwiches beside the beautiful community garden that I've watch grow many dirferent years. And now, somewhat further north, I get to watch spring bursting out all over again -- the great patches of forsythia sunshine, the flowering trees, the patches of daffadils and narcissis. And this is only the beginning for every summer when I have visited I exclaimd over and over about the beauty of the flowers.