Resuming a practice after a week or more away is always hard, as many are no doubt realizing after the December holiday. This morning was the first time I spent any time at the piano for at least a week. I worked through all of the Rachmaninoff variations and then checked to see how the memory work was coming on the Bach Partita movements. If there was any progress, it was miniscule.
I cannot remember the last time I sat down to write anything besides this blog. I know enough to realize that inspiration comes from work and not the other way around. But there has been no time or energy.
Yesterday I returned to physical exercise—the stationary bike intervals—again, after a week off. And this afternoon, the pool. I must remember not to be too exacting of myself.
These are all good, repeated lessons in modesty and patience. The limitations of gravity, space, and time will always be there, and we play with them when and as best we can.
Recently I read that you can determine whether you are mainly an extravert or an introvert by what recharges you: being with people or being alone. While the holiday just past provided many wonderful moments with those I love, my well of energy is now just beginning to refill. I have learned to be patient and easy on myself while it does.
I finished The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham over the holiday, continuing some thoughts about amateurs which I began in previous posts. The character Tyler was attempting to write a song for his wife Beth, who had cancer. He succeeded in doing this, and, miraculously, she went into remission for over a year. When she eventually died (after a Christmas, coincidentally), he and another character, Liz, have this conversation (pp. 243-244):
“I’m done, though,” Tyler says.”I’m all done. It’s rough. I mean, I’m alone with the music now.”
She says, “What if that mattered less?”
“What is your whole life wasn’t about writing songs?”
“I don’t like the sound of that, frankly.”
“I don’t mean give it up. I mean, what if you were a man who’s living a life, and writing songs is part of it?”
He says, “Step away, devil.”
She laughs. She knows enough to laugh.
Liz says, “You thought you could write music that would save Beth’s life. Don’t you think so?”
“That would be delusions of grandeur.”
“Or it would be some kind of frankly very touching idea you’ve got that you can do more than human beings can actually do.”
I doubt that Tyler is alone in believing that, if art cannot actually lead the dead back to life (e.g. Orpheus and Eurydice—see my chapbook Rescue Mission elsewhere on this website: art by Leslie Xuereb), that it can at least heal. But the artist/healer must take care not to identify him/herself with the power that heals. I think this is what Liz suggests, above. What if I were not Poet or Musician, but “a [woman] who’s living life,” and writing poems and playing music is part of it?
One of Milwaukee’s current Poet Laureates, Jeff Poniewaz, died earlier this month. He was a man who lived a rich, full, active life in which poetry and music were huge elements. But he was also more, as are we all.
Probably it’s easier on some level to clothe ourselves, to fix our identities, with titles like Poet, Composer, Musician. But, like any title, these can come to pinch, demanding more than our one life can supply. It’s my belief that there is more to each life than one practice, one truth, one way of being. We may be drawn to one thing over another, and sometimes we live our our lives deeply exploring that one thing. But others of us live our lives as richly as we can, following our hearts as well as our noses.
If we are “meant” to do anything, pehaps that’s it. Why?
Perhaps there is no better answer than that suggested by the translation of Jeff’s last name: “Because.”