Stay on the horse

I’m always impressed by artists in one medium who can excel in another medium as well. This recording by Philip Glass (Spotify link) has got me thinking about playing the piano again.

I’m not sure why I’m drawn to this so particularly. I’m pretty sure it’s in a minor key, and I’ve always felt more like a minor than a major; there’s something sort of conditional about the minor keys, like they’re getting away with something and they’re trying to keep you guessing which way they’re going to go next.

Sounds kind of like writing, to me.

I don’t have access to a piano at the moment, but in grad school I got to play nearly every day on a pretty nice grand piano (that would quickly go out of tune because people would leave the windows near it open all night; cold and humidity? Not a good combination for pianos). I took lessons from my friend Anita, a wonderful PhD music education student, and I miss that (and her, and lots of people from grad school). At that time, I knew writers who were musicians, architects who were painters, and musicians and scientists who were painters and musicians and poets, and I pretty much envied them all—and at the same time felt like this one-trick pony who could sort of string words together and make them fake sense.

The thing I’ve realized is I’m not a one-trick pony, though. I’ve played piano off and on since I was about eight; it’s just that I never stuck with it or had the consistent opportunity to do so (pianos are, after all, a) big, and b) expensive). Likewise, I was able to get out of gym classes in high school and keep taking art instead, something I continued to do when I got to college where I took drawing and ceramics classes. I had a drawing instructor ask me once, “Why aren’t you an art major?” And I had to stop and think about it. Why wasn’t I?

In the end, I think it was arbitrary. If you want to learn something, if you want to get good at it, you’ve got to keep doing it. I didn’t start out making decent ceramics or drawing recognizable faces, but I stuck with it long enough to become competent. Same with the piano. When I was eight, I played long enough to reach the point where I’d start playing the teacher accompaniment, because her part was always the most fun. But then I’d stop for a while—in this case, “a while” being seven years—and I’d lose that competence.

True confession: I don’t know how to ride a horse, so maybe I shouldn’t be using this analogy. I’ve only been on a horse once that I can remember. They’re beautiful animals, and I’d love to know how to ride. But I’d have to spend a lot of time on horseback, I think, to accomplish that.

I haven’t even stuck with writing consistently since I started. There were years in my twenties, when I was just out of college and trying to make a living, where I didn’t sit down at the keyboard or pick up the pen to work on stories. It is, however, the thing I’ve stuck with the most consistently, for the longest time, throughout my life. (The other things I’ve stuck with most consistently are running, Star Trek, and beer, but at least two of those don’t count, and the other one I do mostly out of adrenaline and spite.) It’s the horse I’ve ridden the longest.

If you want to get good at something, stay on the horse.