Friday, January 21, 2011

Resurrecting Old Talents

One of the best things so far about living at my in-laws’ house is that they own a real piano. I hadn’t realized how much I missed it.

I’ve played every day this week, and instead of just playing the easy things, I’ve pulled out my old classical books. I feel like the old man in a cd by our friend Marvin Payne called “The Planemaker.” The old man, when he tries to pick up his tools after years of disuse, exclaims, “I don’t understand! It used to be so easy.”

Playing classical music used to be much easier for me, but I’m getting better, and by the time I leave here I might even be able to play my old competition songs again.

One of my favorite piano books, which has quickly become a favorite of Ryan’s dad and brother as well, is the book I bought in China. It wasn’t a random purchase; I went to the music store looking for a book with certain songs, songs my mom played when I was growing up, from a book she’d bought in Taiwan.

Funnily enough, the composer (actually, I’m not sure if he writes them or is just a pianist) isn’t Chinese. He’s French. But the Asians love him.

I played my first Richard Clayderman song when I was eleven. I remember mom coming in several times to tell me to play the notes evenly first, and then I could play them quickly. I protested that I was playing “with feeling.”

Those songs were my older brother’s favorites, and he’d ask me to play them when he did his math homework. I also got to play one at a recital when I was twelve—the only performance piece I ever chose myself.

My life has changed a lot since those days, but playing those songs makes me feel like a pianist again, and for just a few minutes I remember what it felt like to have my biggest concern be whether or not I had practiced my two hours that day. These days I’m lucky to get ten minutes, but I appreciate them much more.

I'm still working on playing the notes evenly. But there's definitely feeling.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sitting at His Feet

Last night we sat at the feet of my father-in-law. I mean that quite literally—Ryan and I sat beside each other on the floor with our backs against the uneven spines on the bookcase while his dad read to us.

It was past midnight. Cimorene was asleep downstairs, and Ryan and I were enjoying the freedom of just wandering around the house (those who are parents will understand the reluctance to go to bed and end those quiet moments after the child is asleep; even though you’re exhausted, you feel like your own person for awhile).

We followed Dad into the study, talking, and I started glancing through the books on his shelf. A casual mention of a title was all it took.

“Have you ever read Thurber? No? Well, you’ll have to read this one. Here, let me find a really good one.”

Thus it began. We sat at his feet as he read to us from “Fables for Our Time.” We learned about a moth who wants to fly to a star, and so he doesn’t get burned flying around lamps like the rest of his family. Another was about a man who sees a unicorn, and his wife plots to have him committed, but when the police and psychiatrist come, they end up taking her instead, because the man denies having seen it, and so he lives happily ever after.

After one of the stories, I glanced up at the books behind me and said, “Word Studies? What’s that one?”

That’s when the real teaching started.

My father-in-law is a teacher. He has a Doctorate of Education degree, and he has taught college-level religion courses for the last 30 years.

Word Studies turned out to be a study on the New Testament, with the original Greek next to the King James text. Dad flipped to a favorite section and showed us how the book worked, flipping to the back to show us the longer translation for a passage which made much more sense in Greek than in the King James translation. He started talking about how that related to this passage, and that related to this…

The result was that I felt alive, in a way I hadn’t since I left school a month ago. I’ve gotten bogged down in the last few weeks with diapers, the fact that I haven’t slept, and my daughter’s newly developed separation anxiety. I’ve been feeling grey and lost; I wasn’t accomplishing anything, I wasn’t moving forward in any way, I was simply existing—and in my in-law’s basement, no less.

But sitting at the feet of my father-in-law made me realize what a great chance I have these couple months while we’re in limbo. Ryan’s dad, as well as having a wealth of knowledge in his mind, has an enormous library, both of which he’s eager to share. I’ve now started reading At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald, as well as that collection of James Thurber’s stories. I should probably pick up some Dickens along the way (I’ve never actually read any), and I’m determined to finally read a Steinbeck (probably Travels With Charley; I’ve heard it’s not too depressing. My father-in-law also recommended Sweet Thursday).

I’m plotting ways to get Dad talking—I need to come up with some thought-provoking questions—and I’m feeling much less worried about the next couple months. Even if I still haven’t slept.