Yesterday I had that moment all aspiring writers have. “Why I am doing this? Am I even any good? Am I just indulging myself? Should I even bother sharing my work?”
I allowed myself some time to reflect on this, to ask the question without a furious search for the right answer. Instead I remembered an image from my childhood, my piano, and I started to write…
I never thought I was ever any good at playing the piano. I had inadvertently heard from a fellow student that, whilst I was technically good, my teacher didn’t feel I played with any heart. I remember that being the first major criticism, albeit second-hand, that I had received from anyone other than my parents and it bored into me, right into my ten-year old tummy.
My piano teacher was always so kind. Focussed too, she would stare down at me through her bi-focals with their silver chain, never with any harshness though, just pure determination to help her students improve. She was always so patient with me, knowing when to nudge a little bit sharper when needed. “Imagine the orange, Kirstie, keep your fingers curled around that orange” (My little fingers would always try and flatten, a real no-no for piano skills) To hear that this lovely, sweet woman thought this about me was a true moment of dis-illusion. I felt that first fizzle of humiliation as the experience started to dissolve my shell and expose the vulnerable young girl struggling with her confidence and place in the world.
It didn’t even occur to me then or even later that this fellow student, so collegiate at the time, might actually not be telling the truth, or more dastardly that that, may have been trying to deliberately hurt me. Maybe she saw me as competition? Maybe she wanted my time-slot? Maybe I was just there, a willing participant in her battle with her own abilities and confidence, an easy target. Of course, I didn’t have the capacity yet to think of such subterfuge and psychological processes so I believed her story and from then, I was no good. Wooden and emotionless.
If anything I felt the opposite was true. I made plenty of mistakes, my positioning was never great having never really mastered holding that imaginary orange. When I played my best was when I became lost, where I ceased to be aware of myself and allowed the notes on the page to become the beautiful resonant sounds they were meant to be. In these moments I was fulfilled. I gave myself over to the composer be it Brahms, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, classic musicians of classical music. My fingers found the keys under their guidance. I became a channel and just let go.
As I grew older my interest in technical achievement disappeared and that piano, its cherry wood, slightly chipped keyboard with broken left pedal, became my sanctuary. Playing with these musty old composers became my teenage strategy for dealing with the stresses of school-life – the endless falling in and falling out of friendships mostly but not exclusively related to boys each other fancied, fights with my Dad as his heroic image began to fade, being unkissed at 15, being utterly confounded by Physics and getting my first bad grades – the experiences that terrify and scar our adolescent minds which we trivialise when adulthood re-patterns our frame of reference.
I melted into my carefully created world of classical music. Clementi’s Sonatina in C, Fingals Cave, the Moonlight Sonata, for a moment in time they all took me on their wings. Even now the opening notes of Fingal’s Cave sends me straight back there, amongst the dark, faintly dangerous rocks surrounding the warrior’s cave. I hold my breath preparing for the awe that awaits as the piece gathers pace and the waves begin to crash. I have no conscious memory of the notes I played just the journey they took me on, took me away from, that allowed me space to be.
Sadly, and I am so incredibly sad now to admit this, I lost interest in my piano and my musical guides and by age 18 I had moved away both literally and figuratively to other adventures. By 26 I gave away my precious piano citing my reason as the increasing pain from the recently diagnosed fibromyalgia. I claimed that it was too upsetting to keep my piano around when my fingers burnt around the keys, so I had it taken away. The moment it was loaded onto a white, unassuming van something inside me dipped below the horizon and did not return. I convinced myself it was the right decision yet could not shake a feeling of quiet grief. On some as of then inaccessible level I knew I was giving away more than a thing of wood and string, I was giving away the connection to the most important spiritual experience of my life, a communion with a Divine energy that had never managed to touch me in Church (where I had been told it was supposed to).
I haven’t played a piano since then. I may have tinkled and tapped on some keys now and then but for most of my adult life I traded one keyboard for another. The finger positioning and undulating movement of my fingertips were consigned to HR reports, emails and procedures. I would even volunteer to do additional typing for colleagues as it would be a way of connecting to that echo of the past for me but there was no music, just the click of the keys, rhythmic but without melody.
Yet this unfortunate tale has a hopeful change in key now, or even a new movement with a different tempo, as I have found it again! That feeling, the flow, the dissolution of self that takes me away and creates space in the now. The composer that speaks through me now is my connection with the Divine, forged through years of meditation, opening of the heart and mind and person healing, and that Divine is the Divine in me, the Divine we can all access. Our spirit, our higher self, our soul, however you choose to define it, that unerring, enduring sense of alignment with everything, the All-that-there-is. For a while I had this through my piano, now my instrument has changed. It is the pen, the screen, the keyboard now that provides my sanctuary and deepens my conversation with my true Self.
I am a writer now because I write, and I write because when I do I am whole. I feel the power we all have within us to dig out wisdom from forgotten times, to tell our stories, to provoke, challenge, to share, to create. Being technically good, just as before, does not interest me. This is not for your likes or some honour or award, this is for me, my spirit and the spirit in all of us.
I am that teenager again sitting at her beloved piano. A willing channel, waiting to play…