I played cello until I was 18. I took private lessons until I was 15. I met my first best friend at an orchestra camp. I met my second best friend in the viola section. I had a long-distance crush on a violinist at All-State. I played oldies at a retirement home so a woman with dementia could dance the jitterbug. Bach and Handel wore callouses in my fingers. I knew what it felt like to rub a bloody thumb back and forth on tungsten.
Today, during dinner, I thought about how long it’s been since I’ve touched an instrument. How every kid has a recorder and you’re only ever educated on centuries-old music. What happens when the lit beacons of old Western empires stop burning as bright? What happens when the kids grow up?
Coffee: Cafe Pajaro, Extra Dark Roast, Trader Joe’s Brand
The last day of five days vacation. I spent it – mostly – walking.
I took a hike in Hemlock Bluffs. It was a hot day, sticky enough to fix every little this-or-that to you. Sun, sweat, text-message chains. The trails were steep and set with wooden overlooks. There was red creek water, gray mayflies, blurry green. Cicadas held the woods like a defending army. I passed a lot of people on the trails but still felt alone.
I took a hike around the neighborhood. Familiar trails, still morning. Shade cut currents on the concrete and it was good to be swimming, even metaphorically. Mulch got in my shoes. Sticky steps. Life is full of reminders of the sun, sweat, text-message chains.
A kid on a back porch practices trumpet. School starts next week. I remember old days playing cello for parent-proud auditoriums. I’d practice in the bedroom, my floor was linoleum, paintings and bookbacks held their ears. For a few years I’d record myself on a black cassette player. I’d count flaws on the playbacks. On stage, I’d hide flaws in my cummerbund. Sticks in your tummy, reminders of everything waiting after the music: sun, sweat, text-message chains.
In 2018, you do a lot of living through fiber wire; the park might be all around you but you’re still dug in the airwaves, conversing electrically.
Currently Reading: LaRose, Louise Erdrich; FINISHED!! Will have a review soon
“No sound, once made, is ever truly lost. In electric clouds, all are safely trapped, and with a touch, if we find them, we can recapture those echoes of sad, forgotten wars, long summers, and sweet autumns.” – Ray Bradbury, Now and Forever
My hands hurt. I’ve been typing too much. Every time my hands hurt, I remember a big part of my life that’s not so big anymore: from 4th to 12th grade I played cello.
Music was something I wished I was better at from the minute I picked it up. That’s not to say I was bad. I took private lessons. In High School, I placed in All-State Orchestra twice, was first chair once. But the things I was good at didn’t excite me. I was technically sound. I could play what you put in front of me. More than that, I had a decent ear so I found good ways of expressing the songs. But every time I tried to come up with something original, I fell apart.
It’s something stuck in history, I guess. My mother was a musician. She’d never admit it, but she was good. I saw my hands in her hands. I saw the good parts, the way they could bring out a song, but also the bad: tension, stress, the need to be perfect; no wonder I gave myself tendonitis. I feel a similar drive when I’m writing, but there’s no performance with words: you cut, cut, cut the diamond, set it, give it away; you don’t have to deal with the wide-eyes in the concert hall.
The happiest thing I got from almost a decade playing cello was the people it brought me to. I met friends in middle school that saved me; I had a good teacher who truly believed in me; I found my first love, one-sided as it was, in a black-haired violinist at All-State. Music takes so much of you that it’s impossible not to stumble into what other people are spilling out. That part of the art is different than writing; these days, my happiest moments are home alone with Jack and a word doc.
Coffee: Cafe Pajaro Extra Dark Roast, Trader Joe’s Brand
I wanted to fry some tofu so I went to the Korean Grocery. I bought Chiankiang Vinegar and Shaoxing Cooking Wine. Both came in glass bottles with complicated labels. Medicine bottles, the kind you see in old-timey photos.
The grocery was busy. It’s always busy, even more so on a Sunday. I didn’t see any kids. Instead, I saw old faces, middle-aged faces, a couple young couples cuddling by racks of dried cuttlefish. It took a while to find the wine. I shared the aisle with an older Indian pair.
Leaving, the sun got hot but not too hot and I packed the bags in the car. I drove and got lost. I crossed one run of train tracks three separate times. There was a big field and half was fallow. At the head of the other half was a bright red gazebo with bright white signs hawking raspberries. Three cars pulled alongside. I considered buying some but my roommate was with me and she had places to be. We drove home.
And that was the day: moving, moving, moving, gradually. The creek outside’s risen after thunderstorms. It looks good when it’s full. The water is thick brown-green. Everything good and simple survives in the thick brown-green.
“I love grocery shopping when I’m home. That’s what makes me feel totally normal. I love both the idea of home as in being with my family and friends, and also the idea of exploration. I think those two are probably my great interests.” – Yo-Yo Ma