When I was ten my parents enrolled me in piano lessons, and I enjoyed them. I know this, because I read about it in my diaries. There are several of them sitting on the bottom shelf in my old bedroom, filled largely with empty pages; it seems I’ve been honing the art of procrastination from an early age. My eyes scanned the sparse entries and I was greeted with a telling picture of my younger self:
“Diary is just such a dull name. As if you were just some old book.”
“Piano lessons were just too fun to go by as fast as they did.”
Oh goodness. The girl who penned those lines might be saddened to hear that nothing ever came of the piano lessons; I believe I gave up after the first recital. Several failed attempts at other instruments followed. In elementary school I played the ukulele for a year, and then the flute. I went to guitar lessons for several years after that. I vaguely recall the period of weekly singing classes and my first musical role in our summer camp’s production of the Wizard of Oz. I played the Tin Man. After two years of terrible results at the local karate studio, I began dancing. Though I loved it, I also took up the discipline a decade too late, and shared the stage at my first performance with girls not much older than ten.
None of it stuck. I can’t read music anymore. My voice is reserved for singing along badly in noisy bars, and I suspect I possess no rhythm to speak of. I still own a guitar, but I can only play one song: Dust in the Wind.
I am no performer; that much is clear. I don’t consider myself an artist. I’m terrible when put on the spot. Even short presentations make me nervous. My heart beats too fast. My voice often breaks.
Sharing prose is almost as scary.
The writing is the easy part. The pages belong to me and I can sit alone with the words for hours until I know they are arranged just so. Then, after I have read the lines a hundred times, I will feel the same unsettling pang in the pit of my stomach.
I ask if what I’ve created is good enough.
Each time I return to the blank page I work at it a little harder. I detect doubt and choose to ignore the discomfort. I keep writing. I’ve been at this since I was a child penning silly lines in unfinished diaries, and there is immense joy imbued in the act. I have long understood that even if no one read these pages I would keep filling them, and this would be enough.
There are weeks when my job and routine crowd out what precious space I should reserve for writing, and I forget the words for a while. I forget until I’m walking home after dark, drowning out the noise of the city with a favourite song, and it hits me. A mess of scattered thoughts forms the faintest outline and my fingers are hungry for a pen and paper.
I barely scratch the surface. The outlines fade, or are lost altogether. I am tempted to stop trying – to put it aside as I did all the other pursuits of my childhood.
I was never any good at playing the piano. I was never a great performer. If writing is my craft, then I am in desperate need of practice. Though the yearning is near constant, I only pick it up in my spare time.
I am in awe of the ones that make a life from what they love. Did they doubt, as I do, in their ability to create something worthwhile?
I dream of constructing, as they have, works that enrich the ordinary with beauty and meaning.
I read so that I might be shaken by the brilliance of prose for the umpteenth time. I place a tag on the page so that the lines won’t be lost, as mine so often are. I play the song again and I am no less moved than I was the first time I heard it. The lyrics are a vehicle for a memory that becomes corporeal just long enough to reduce the distance between present and past to a single verse.
A song casts the shadow of an elephant drinking at sunset on the white wall in front of me. A poem re-read suddenly takes on the weight of a final embrace. The words on the page – the melody echoing in an empty apartment – they are another means of holding onto moments that might have otherwise slipped away.
The day ends and I accept that my words are still far from perfect. Too troubled to sleep, I play a familiar song. I imagine it was written for an old lover, but when I hear her sing, she tells a story of any longing that makes it impossible to set aside that which feeds us. Sometimes it is a person that tugs at the heart. Sometimes it is a mountain that must be climbed. Sometimes it is an instrument that cannot be put down. Tonight it is a blank page asking to be filled with words.
Once it grabs you, there is no use in letting go.
“I remember that time you told me you said love is touching souls.
Surely you touched mine.
‘Cause part of you pours out of me in these lines from time to time.”
– Joni Mitchell