Leftovers - For this week’s writing challenge, shake the dust off something — a clothing item, a post draft, a toy — you haven’t touched in ages, but can’t bring yourself to throw away.
I started playing the piano when I was four and by the time I finished high school, I played pretty well. Well enough to impress a few people, mostly those who weren’t schooled in the finer points of classical music.
I followed through by majoring in music at college where I learned how deficient my music education had been. I had a lot of feeling for music and a deep, abiding love for it. What was missing was solid technique and high-end sight-reading skills. By the end of my sophomore year, it was obvious to everyone — especially me — that my future as a classical pianist would never happen. Being almost good enough in classical piano is not good enough. And so I moved on.
The grand piano my parents gave me was too big for the living room of our first house as well as for the much bigger second house. I gave it a bedroom in our first house, but had no place for it in the colonial we bought next.
I reluctantly sold my piano.
Life happened. I moved to Israel, lived there 9 years, moved back to the states. Moved seven more times in two years. Then, Garry and I married and settled down.
I missed having a piano. Whenever I was in a house with a piano, I would sit and play. Probably that’s why Garry bought me a beautiful electronic piano for my birthday 23 years ago. A tidy little instrument with a big sound and a full 88 key keyboard, it fits snugly under the dining room window and never needs tuning.
I have played it, forgotten it, then rediscovered it over and over during the decades since it became part of my life.
A couple of years ago, I began to practice again, only to discover that after just a few minutes, shooting pains made me stop. It was arthritis in my hands. I have arthritis almost everywhere and it had gotten worse. Gotten so severe I wouldn’t be able to play unless I had surgery to remove some of the calcification. But other stuff got in the way of getting my hands fixed. The surgery never happened.
The piano lives in front of the dining room window. It needs a more thorough cleaning thank I’ve been able to give it. Sometimes, I swear, I hear it softly calling me. I feel guilty when I look at it. It deserves better than to sit alone gathering dust.
I could sell it, I suppose. But many generations of electronic instruments have come and gone. By modern standards, the piano is almost antique. I don’t think it would be worth much on the market. In any case, why should I sell it when it’s so easy to keep?
If I sold it, I’d never own another. Though I don’t play now, maybe I’ll get my hands fixed one of these days. Then I could play again and my piano will be waiting under the window, bright with sunshine.
You never know. Sometimes life surprises you.
Strike a Chord – Do you play an instrument? Is there a musical instrument whose sound you find particularly pleasing? Tell us about your experience with the instrument of your choice.
My mother believed that children needed not just food and a roof over their heads. We also needed culture. Books. Ballet. Music. Which included playing an instrument.
She had grown up poor on the Lower East Side where so many immigrant groups settled after passing through Ellis Island. They didn’t have much. A tiny flat, two adults and six kids. And a piano.
No one knew where the piano came from, but it seemed to have always been there. There was no money for lessons, but my mother taught herself to play. Not brilliantly, but well enough to bang out a tune and sing along.
When she and my father bought the house in which I grew up, a piano was the first major purchase. First a Baldwin spinet which fit neatly in a corner of the living room.
Eventually, I outgrew the spinet and for my 14th birthday, I got a Steinway living room grand.
Some of my best memories of childhood are little me, sitting on the piano bench with my mother as she sang. Mom sang all the time. Sang, hummed. Half the songs I know I learned because my mother sang them. I don’t think she realized she was singing. It was just her way.
When I was four, my brother was deemed least likely to succeed at playing an instrument. He wasn’t completely tone-deaf, but close. I, on the other hand, could pick out his lessons with two fingers, even though I was tiny and my feet swung, unable to get near the pedals. My piano teacher (formerly my brother’s piano teacher) said “Let him go play stickball. I want her.”
And so began my musical career.
I was a small child. Thin, short, buck-toothed, wildly curly hair. Not a particularly pretty girl. I improved some with age, but classical beauty was never mine. The piano did not care. If I could hit the right keys, it would sing for me. There was no admittance fee to the world of music other than hard work. If you had it in your heart and hands, the piano was yours.
I progressed quickly, though I was never technically as good as I needed to be. I was a good interpreter, but not a great performer. The biggest problem were my hands. Tiny hands. To this day, I can barely reach a 9th with either hand. Most classical music was written by men. With big hands. From day one, I was at a disadvantage unless I was playing “small music” which fit into my little paws. My favorite composers were Chopin and Beethoven, but I had to pick pieces to find those my hands could manage.
Beethoven’s “Sonata Pathetique” was my performance piece. It was a loud piece, one of the few that made the family shut up and listen. I never got used to being asked to perform, then having all the aunts engage in a lively discussion while I played. It’s a family thing, I suppose.
I never fully conquered Beethoven, though I got close. My hands were small and I lacked the physical strength to take over the piano. It was a struggle. I didn’t notice I was struggling until I got to the Grieg piano sonata in e minor Op 7. When I was a kid, it had yet to be recorded. My teacher thought I was the one to do it.
NOTE: In the preceding performance by Glenn Gould, you hear only the first movement of this sonata. There are three more movements, totaling 28 pages of music. I actually like the later movements best. Glenn played everything too fast, including this piece.
I never worked so hard in my life as I did on that sonata. I practiced until I thought my hands would fall off and every once in a while, I managed to get it right. It was a big piece of music. After months of trying, I knew I would be almost good enough to perform that piece.
I majored in music at college for the first few years, but it wasn’t happening. Almost good enough in classical piano equals not good enough. Because for me, it was piano or nothing — and I didn’t have it — it was over. I moved on.
I still have a piano. An electronic one. The arthritis in my hands has stopped me from playing, probably forever. Still, music, especially classical music, is embedded in my heart and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Thoughts on your true colors by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog
“You with the sad eyes
Don’t be discouraged
Oh I realize It’s hard to take courage…”
It’s hard to grew up with the perception that you are different from everyone else, even if it is not really so. When you do not know much about the outside world, the world inside you can make you sad. “Why am I not like everyone else?” you may wonder.
“Why am I so different?” Thoughts like this can lead to sadness. Even though you try to act happy on the outside, your eyes might give you away. There is no way to know that being different is not necessarily wrong when your emotions are telling you otherwise. Worse yet, other people are telling you that different is wrong, even if only in an indirect way.
“Cut it out.”
“Be a man.”
“Why can’t you be more like your brother, cousin, sister, uncle, ____(fill in the blank.)”
“Don’t you like sports?”
“Don’t be a sissy.”
“Only a queer would wear that shirt, pants, shoes, ____(fill in the blank).”
Some seem hard-wired to accept the criticism as they grow up. They look like everything just rolls right off of them. They smile while they hurt. You may think, “Every kid is teased as he grows up. It’s just part of life.” Yes, we all get teased, but some of us are different from the majority … and can’t cope with the teasing.
“In a world full of people
You can lose sight of it all
And the darkness inside you
Can make you feel so small…”
With a limited view of the world, and lack of experience dealing with the emotions tossed your way, you can feel small, insignificant, different. And different seems bad when you are trying to find your way. What is inside you has dark colors and no glow.
“Dear god,” you may silently cry in the loneliness of a dark room just down the hall from the regular people, “please make me like everyone else.” The prayer might be repeated until you are empty of tears and they no longer wash down your face.
“But I see your true colors shining through
I see your true colors and that’s why I love you…”
If you are different, but not in a bad or destructive way, unlike the majority, you need someone to reach out and tell you it’s all right. Someone, anyone, needs to explain that different can be okay. Each can possess unique characteristics that make them special, important, creative, fun. And everyone is worthy of love.
“So don’t be afraid to let them show: your true colors…”
Encouragement is needed to let friends, neighbors, and especially young ones know that each has his own gift. We can’t all be the same. We can’t all do the same things. There is nothing wrong with singing a different tune, being a different kind of person. Diversity can be strength. All the pieces can come together to form a perfect picture. When all the colors are put alongside each other, they can bring everyone joy.
“True colors are beautiful like a rainbow.”
If all this seems a bit cryptic, then let’s just say it is tough to grow up different and hiding who you are. The song “True Colors” has taken on a rather symbolic meaning in some circles since it was first recorded by Cyndi Lauper. Contrary to what some belief, it was not written by Lauper and was in fact the only song on her True Colors album she did not have a hand in writing. Nevertheless, it resonated with her and years later she co-founded the True Colors Fund to wipe out LGBT youth homelessness.
I’m Gen W. So I assume my parents (may they rest in peace) were Gen V, which generation is pretty much gone. My generation — aka The Baby Boomers — have become … trumpets and drumroll … The Older Generation.
This is so weird. I was always the youngest kid in my class, the wunderkind, mature for my age. Now I’m just mature. Or at least old. I don’t know about mature. I think I’m still a kid wrapped in a messed-up body. When I look in a mirror, I don’t see the me I am. I see a composite of all the mes I’ve ever been.
Gen X, my son’s group, are now in their late 30s and early to mid 40s. What an odd bunch they are. So many of them grew up convinced they were destined — and deserving — of everything. Some of them got the message that to achieve that glorious destiny, you had to work. A bunch of them, including my kid, didn’t clearly hear that part of the message … or, having heard it, felt they were exempt. Probably my fault. Everything is my fault, right?
I provided a good example. I worked hard and long. The kid’s father worked obsessively. All the adults these Gen X-ers knew as they were growing up worked long hours. We collectively believed in education and work. It would redeem us. We were willing to serve our time as grunts before expecting to be promoted. Yet I remember hearing my son say “I don’t want to waste my life working all the time like you, my father and Garry.” Say what? That was when I knew we had a serious disconnect. Garry was insulted. I was too but hey, he’s my kid. I can’t stay mad.
Well, he’s sorry now. A lot more than a dollar short and many years late. The “success will come because I want it” didn’t work out and belated quick-fix education became worthless when the economy collapsed. I tried to warn him. I have friends with similar kids. We all tried.
As for Gen Y, my granddaughter’s age group? They think it’s all about their personal happiness. They are entitled to a stress-free life. Anyone who forces them to do anything which doesn’t give them immediate satisfaction is a bully or an abuser. Not to put too fine a point on it, but they are clueless. It’s scary the nonsense they believe.
Clueless or not, reality will bite them in the ass. We will pass away. So will their parents. They won’t be able to run to mom for comfort when the mean boss tells them they have to work weekends. Or find themselves working a lifetime of minimum wage jobs and living in grinding poverty.
It makes me sad. There are so many who are doomed to disappointment and failure because they don’t get it. It must have been me, us, our generation. We wanted to help them have a good life but somehow omitted the connection to achievement through personal effort and dedication.
Who knew it would backfire in such an awful way?
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- GEN X VS. GEN ALPHA | DANDELION’S DEN
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- Talking ‘Bout Yer Generation | The Shotgun Girls
- Learning from my 4-year-old | A mom’s blog
My mother hated housework. She did it only under compulsion and had a terrible attitude. She was also a dreadful cook and hostile. The kind of cook who tosses food on the table, glares at you, daring you to say anything other than “Thank you Mom” while choking on overcooked veggies and overdone meat.
I’m pretty sure she wasn’t entirely sold on the motherhood thing either. But having birthed three of us, she did the best she could. Nurturing didn’t come naturally to her, though she made an effort. Her mother hadn’t been much of a nurturer either. It was an apology in the form of a story. I understood.
On the up side, she was a fantastic mentor. She loved books, she loved learning. She an infinite curiosity about how things worked, history and art. She loved movies, laughter and trips to Manhattan, which we called The City. It was just a subway ride away.
As soon as I was old enough to have a conversation, we talked. Not like a little kid and a mom, but like friends. She told me stories. About growing up on the Lower East Side when horses and carts were common and cars were rare. How, when she was little, she lived at the library. If she stayed after dark, she’d run all the way home because she thought the moon was chasing her.
Mom grew up doing pretty much as she pleased. In turn, she let me do pretty much as I pleased. Freedom and a passion for knowledge were her gifts to me. Wonderful gifts that have lasted a lifetime.
Some of my happiest memories were the two of us walking through Manhattan arm-in-arm. Like pals. Buying roasted chestnuts from the vendor in front of the library. Sitting on the steps in the shadow of the lions, peeling chestnuts and talking. Going to the ballet, which was Balanchine’s company. That was one of the great things about growing up in New York — how accessible the arts were.
Our local ballet company was Balanchine. Our local opera was the Met. If we wanted to see a show, we went to Broadway. We had the New York Philharmonic, Carnegie Hall, the Guggenheim. And back then, museums were free and the rest was easily affordable, even for a kid on a tiny allowance.
I admit I skipped school, but I spent my stolen time at the New York Public Library, deep in the stacks looking for interesting stuff about Louis XIV (I had a thing about Louis). Or I stole away to spend a day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Cloisters. I never had to worry about getting nicked for playing hooky. Cops didn’t look for kids at libraries or museums.
I didn’t get a lot of hugs, but I got Annabelle for my fifth birthday, tons of books and a Steinway grand piano for my 14th birthday.
Mothering comes in many shapes and sizes. Because of her, I am me. Thanks Mom.
When I was in my late twenties, we had a couple of friends who were in their 50s. One day I asked Betty at what point she felt “grown up.” By then, I was working full-time as a writer. I never worked professionally as anything else — I was always an editor, writer or both. I was raising a son, taking care of a home and had been married for more than ten years (married at 18).
Betty looked at me and said “I’ll let you know.”
When I was a child, I wondered when I would feel grown up. Through all my working years, I never entirely lost the feeling I was only pretending to be an adult. I did adult things, had adult responsibilities. I was a mother, in charge of making my son into a responsible citizen … but I felt like a child wondering when the world would discover I was a fraud.
It turned out getting older and having a child made me responsible, but it didn’t make me mature. I continued to wait for someone to see through me and realize I was really just a kid, playing adult games.
Now, I’m a senior citizen. We live on social security and pensions and barely scrape by. How ironic that we finally feel grown up. I don’t know exactly when it happened. It just slipped by and I never noticed. It took getting old to get it done. Now, finally, we have no one to depend but each other. More of our lives are behind us than ahead of us. We no long feel like frauds, pretending to know what we are doing. We actually know what we are doing and we don’t like a lot of it.
What comes with the package? We are impatient with the angst of the young. I listen and try not to show my restlessness, try not to say what I’m thinking, which is “Oh puleeze! Get over it. Move on!” I have zero interest in gossip, fashion, current trends in anything other than history or philosophy. I’m still interested in politics, but my perspective is very different. I’m far more cynical than I ever imagined possible.
I like my dogs better than most people. I don’t miss parties and don’t worry about being popular. The only people whose opinions matter to me are my few really good friends and some of my family.
I am not anyone I recognize anymore, but you couldn’t pay me to be young again. I would love the body and physical health of youth, but not the brain. Yikes. Imagine suffering through high school again! Root canal sounds better!
I grew up in a very old house. It started — sometime in the late 1800s — as a 4-room bungalow with an attic. At some point, the attic was turned into an apartment with one bedroom, a living room and a kitchen. Tiny. There was also a miniscule balcony where perhaps one person could stand and gaze out over the countryside. Downstairs just grew from the original four rooms to seven, all added on to one side of the house or another. There was no order or reason to the design. Eventually, the dining room had no windows having been enclosed by added rooms on all sides.
After my parents bought the place, it was under constant renovation for years. I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t being remodeled.There was always a project. One year, bad planning and a slow-moving contractor left us without a wall in the dining room through the long, freezing New York winter. We all wore overcoats from November till April when finally, the new room was added. Apparently they couldn’t pour the cement foundation for the addition in freezing weather.
With all this renovation going on, you’d think they’d have put in a modern heating system at some point, but they didn’t. It was an old converted coal burner. The radiators were antique cast iron relics from the turn of the century. Maybe older than that.
The old furnace barely heated the first floor and for all practical purposes, the second story was unheated. I was cold in that house. I developed a peculiar love-hate relationship with bathing. I loved being in a bathtub full of hot water. It was the only time I was completely warm. But getting in or out of the tub was awful. The bathroom was frigid and I was a tiny, skinny little kid. Bony. The kind of kid that in a Jewish family is always being urged to eat. Another story for another time.
Even today, I have trouble convincing myself to get wet. I have a knee-jerk reaction on a visceral level. Getting wet means being chilled to the bone. After I get started, I’m fine… but getting started requires some strange head games.
It’s odd how unconscious memories live on in our bodies. I have physical memories that elude my conscious brain. There are many reasons for this and a lot of things I can’t remember are best left forgotten. But this one thing … I remembered it.
I had a very cold childhood. In so many ways.