Tales of a wandering lesbian


There are things my parents have given me that I recognize every day.  My hands look exactly like my mother’s, and I see my dad’s mannerisms when I’m doing any type of business.

There are other things that sneak up on me.  Things that surprise me and make me grateful for what I’ve been given.  I know how to eat healthily.  I value good sentence structure.  And I recognize the benefit of physical activity.  I’m reminded of these things sporadically when I read a really badly written book or feel my body respond well to exercise.

Right now, I’m in Portland, housesitting for some friends.  In their living room, they have something that I grew up with – a piano.  Yesterday, when I walked in, it called to me like an old friend inviting me over to chat.  Like an old friend, I remembered some things, and forgot others.  I knew some of the things we used to chat about, and started through familiar territory, plunking out the first few bars of “The Entertainer”, something I used to play at parties and on dilapidated uprights everywhere.

I knew where my hands started; how the black keys felt on the sides of my fingers.  I remembered how to start.

I could feel my little, French great-grandmother sitting on the bench beside me, encouraging as she sang her songs.  She loved playing, but her hands were so small they couldn’t reach even a full octave.  She played anyway.

As the melody died away into a cacophony of unintended dissonance and hurried corrections, I reached up to open the beginner book on the music stand.  Working through the little book with the big notes, I smiled and laughed.  I played piano for years as a kid and then flute in high-school and college, as well as a plethora of other instruments, so I was able to read the top line of the music immediately.  The bass line was a challenge, though.  It took a full 5 minutes for me to remember all the mnemonic phrases that would help me identify the notes.

I’ve done this before, started over with the piano – on trips to my parent’s house, trying to re-learn Christmas songs.  It’s always been vaguely frustrating, trying to recreate something I used to have so fully; something that used to feel so natural.  It was like every missed-note was a confirmation that I wasn’t meant to be a musician, raising doubts;  taunting with unexpected sounds.  But over the last couple of days, I find myself gravitating toward the piano, the little upright that is so at odds with the perfectly tuned grand that I learned on, welcoming the learning that comes with rediscovery.

And I’m grateful.  I don’t need to start where I left off.  I don’t actually want to.  I remember how to start, and for now, that’s enough.  Actually, it’s more than enough.  It’s a beautiful, beautiful gift.

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February 10, 2010   2 Comments