Monthly Archives: February 2013

The permeable membrane of the English language

Apparently it’s ok to tell people to shut up now. If someone says something even mildly amazing, you can yell, “Shut UP!” Stacey London does it on What Not To Wear. I understand that it means “No way!”, but I’m still uncomfortable with this particular usage. I’m trying to prevent my children from picking up too much slang or disrespectful speech, even with their friends, because children don’t know when it’s appropriate and not appropriate. With friends, appropriate. With adults, not so much (slang!). I find it counterproductive when adults are too jocular with kids because they blur the line between “adult” and “friend” and encourage the children to be impertinent. I think kids should know the difference and adults should help them. That’s why we use “auntie” and “uncle” when the children address close friends. It’s disrespectful for kids to address adults by their first names. We use this mostly-Asian solution, using family titles as terms of respect, as opposed to family relationships. Anyone else we use “Mr.” and “Mrs.”  I know it’s more common for kids to use adults’ first names, but I think that what our society needs is more formality, not less. “Shut up!” is so informal that I’m really not comfortable saying that to people. But it’s becoming more and more common and one day I’ll tell my Grandmother to “Shut up!” and then the lengthy explanation and apology. It’s all about the inflexion, but I don’t know if Grandma would get that subtlety.

I understand how difficult it is to prevent certain words and expressions from entering one’s permanent lexicon. I’m still saying “dude” and I’ve been trying for ten years to eradicate this one word from my vocabulary. Very frustrating. I’m still using English expressions from my year in England and exposure to English friends. “Taking the piss” really doesn’t have a North American equivalent, but it doesn’t sound good in North America. (My mother-in-law hates the word “piss.”) Thank goodness that you cannot, I think by law, use “blimey” if you are not actually English or I’d be trying to delete that from my vocabulary also. When you want to delete curse words from  your vocabulary it’s handy to have substitutes and “blimey” would be great if it were possible here in Canada. But I don’t need anyone to tell me it’s not.

My mother always spoke very correctly, so when I was growing up, so did I. I was teased by my cousins for being ladylike, which they found prissy, so to counter this impression I picked up whatever vulgarity was going. I still tend to speak very casually to new acquaintances because I want to seem “approachable” – apparently I give an impression of unapproachability. It’s not intentional; like Ringo Starr, “it’s just me face” and the fact that I don’t like big parties. When I get emotional enough to forget myself, such as when angrily critiquing the series The Tudors, the hyper-articulate, precise language comes out again. The adoption of lowbrow language, however, as a long-term strategy, has its pros and cons, to say the least. Mostly cons. It’s very difficult to stop swearing once you’ve started, like smoking or colouring one’s hair. Not to mention, I’m one of those people who get excited when someone says “excape” instead of “escape” or “nucular” instead of “nuclear”. Hypocritical, I know.

I picked up “dude” and “buddy” from one of my sister’s boyfriends. He was a rave promoter and his comfort zone was about as far from my comfort zone as you can get, although he is a very good person. Even though my sister was at school in Australia he’d come by to help me do things like assemble Ikea furniture and would periodically insist on taking me out clubbing. I’m the kind of person who likes to be in bed by nine with a cuppa, and I don’t really drink, so it was a definite novelty and I enjoyed these excursions. It was certainly diverting and educational and yes, there’s a bit of sarcasm there. For my part, I gave him reading lists, cooked him the occasional healthy meal with vegetables, and tried to encourage him to clean up his language, which was execrable. Instead, I picked up his! The least of it was “buddy.” “Buddy” is actually a rare Canadianism, from Newfoundland, so how it found its way to British Columbia I don’t know, but it’s quite useful, if vulgar. Instead of saying “that guy” you just say “buddy,” as in “Buddy over there just stole my parking spot!” However, it’s not particularly refined language and I’m trying to clean up my act so I’m deleting “buddy” from my vocabulary. I’ll miss buddy.

Another hard-to-erase vulgarity: when I lived in Malaysia, we had friends from all over the world, one of the best things about being an expat. One set of particularly good friends were from Kentucky and Tennessee, so of course we picked up “y’all” which I figure is basically equivalent to the French “vous”, which translates to the plural pronoun “you.” There is no English equivalent unless you’re a Southerner. It’s taken me about ten years to eradicate “y’all” from my vocabulary and I have to say, I miss it. When you are talking to a group of people in the northern 70% of North America, you have to make an extra indication as to whom you’re speaking. I moved to England directly after Malaysia, so of course I was saying “y’all” to the English, to their amused disgust, whilst I picked up words like “whilst” and “gobsmacked.” Say “gobsmacked” in a North American accent, deadpan, with a touch of irony. Funny, right?

The other thing I noticed whilst in England (see how hard it is to give up words?) was that the higher up the social ladder you are, the more freely you curse. Mind you, right at the bottom of that ladder the cursing is equally abundant. In the middle, where people are still striving for upwards class advancement, people are super-careful about their language, it’s like a hallmark of the lower- to middle-classes. I guess at the top and bottom you just don’t care. Although it has to be said that cursing is more common in England (they say words we really do not say and you know which words I’m talking about) and people don’t seem bothered by it the way we are here in North America.  (This is anecdotal observation, not statistical, so I could be wrong, but this is what I observed.) I should have stayed in England and applied to become an aristocrat (there’s a form) because I can’t seem to stop swearing. I generally blame this on my father, or the rave promoter, but maybe I can I blame it on reincarnation, like the people who travel back to their past lives via hypnotism and start speaking Polish, or 11th-century Greek. I travel back to my past life as a salty-tongued English countess via the pain of a stubbed toe or the trauma of bad drivers. I revert to my past self and out comes the f-word, usually in the present continuous tense with “bloody” on one side and “hell” on the other. It’s a powerful phrase, what can I say. Why that makes us feel better, I don’t know but I think there are studies showing this is true. Still, I’m working on it. I’m auditioning substitutes, methadone curses, like Steve Carell in Evan Almighty shouting, “Mmmmmotherfathersisterbrother!” when he bangs his thumb with a hammer. This is how words like “shoot” came into usage. “Darn” when you’re mad. “Double-darn” when you’re really mad! Are these pale substitutes effective? Do they alleviate pain and frustration? Sadly, no. There’s nothing like the real thing. Sugar, nicotine, butter, heroin, profanity. Take “shoot.” It forces the mouth to form a “u” shape, whereas the original keeps the teeth gritted as they should be when uttering a curse. You can’t say “shoot” through gritted teeth. Try it. Try saying “darn” without feeling like a cowpoke. “Double darn” and you’re Gomer Pyle (unless you manage to inject enough irony into it). Oh well. But like methadone these toothless curses serve a purpose, to wean people like me off the terrible words of power we cannot seem to stop uttering. And don’t get me started on the invocation of deities. Jesus doesn’t know where I left my keys but I call His name anyway when I can’t find them. Yelling “God!” when you’re frustrated probably just calls His attention to your bad behaviour. I’m not religious, but it’s funny how Holy-Mary-Mother-of-God comes to my lips when I’m exasperated.

Anecdote: I was driving with a child in the car and a driver nipped ahead of me, cutting me off, then proceeded to drive 40k in a 50k zone. Why do people do that? I started saying, “Gah I hate – ‘” then cut myself off because I could feel the f-word rising up and wanted to quell it. From behind me a little voice said, “It’s ok to say ‘hate’ when somebody’s driving bad, Mama.” I was surprised: “Oh, really? ‘Hate’ is ok?” Little voice: “Yes.” (or “Yeth.”) So I drove for a minute and then the little voice spoke again: “Also ‘asshole.’ That’s ok too.” Um, okay! Thanks for the licence! Because I was really hating that asshole for cutting me off and driving so slow and it was nice to know I could express myself accordingly. But I know, I know. We had to have a talk about that and I promised myself, again, that I would stop swearing.

Apart from the swearing thing, a lot of my usage comes from British influence, mostly books. Obviously. There are reasons, it’s not affectation like Madonna suddenly adopting an accent. I don’t call cigarettes “fags”, and I don’t say “reckon”, but when I say “cuppa” you know it’s tea because we don’t drink coffee around here. I don’t say anything that might confuse people, like “jumper” or “cooker” or “boot and bonnet.” There’s no gain in that. But I say “flat” because “apartment” is a longer word. I say “you’re meant to” instead of “you’re supposed to” because that’s shorter too. I love “not a bother on her” although I don’t know if that’s English or Irish. Being Canadian, we’re sort of straddling the line between American usage and British usage anyway, so I figure my usage goes under the radar. Also, many British expressions sound funny when you say them in an American accent but really deadpan or with inflected quotation marks. See above, gobsmacked.

Obviously globalization has had significant impact on the English language: “kawaii”, the Japanese word for “cute,” is in fairly common use here in Vancouver. When you hear people whose English is their second language speak, you can hear the slang that comes from all over the English-speaking world. Our Japanese chefs say “no worries” which I think they got from me – and I got it from living in Australia although I could have acquired it from watching Crocodile Dundee or hanging out with Aussie surfers, like everyone else. It sounds super-funny in a Japanese accent.

The flexibility of the English language allows me to adopt words that I find useful and convenient to my daily speech and that assist in my ability to express myself. Other languages have words that express concepts that are universal, yet have no English equivalents. The German “schadenfreude” – the pleasure one gets from the misfortune of others – is a classic! My favourites come from my frequent exposure to Japanese: “shoganai” means roughly, “it can’t be helped” or “what are you going to do?” in the face of adversity. It’s fatalistic, stoic, philosophical – so Japanese, but it’s a great expression, the equivalent of the French shrug, although the two have their differences in that the Japanese one is a kind of cheerful “oh well!” whereas the French one (in my experience) is a gloomy “Oui, we’re out of bread, so what.” “Gaman” is a concept based on perseverance, fighting, working hard. “Ganbatte!” means “Go for it!” “Otsukare” partners with “ganban” and means “Good work, you’ve been working hard!” Isn’t that nice? Another favourite is “genki” which means energetic, healthy, happy – a combination of all three and the possession of which helps with the ganban and the shoganai. Obviously I don’t use these words with those who are unfamiliar with them, but within our household and in our business, they are very useful. The girls are taking French Immersion and I’m pretty sure I’ll be adding French expressions to my vocabulary. Already we use  “Voila!” (here it is! but it sounds better in French and really facetious in an English context when said with a self-mocking expression); “c’est bon” which just means “good” but we use it because it sounds funny, especially when you pop the “bon”, and “n’importe quoi” (it doesn’t matter, it’s not important) which we use because it sounds better than “whatever”. Most Canadians use the French we have (severely limited for the most part) with more than a touch of facetiousness and sarcasm, because a) otherwise it’s soooo pretentious, and b) it’s the only way we can pull it off with our terrible accents.

For better (emphasis or humour) or worse (laziness), my personal lexicon embraces profanity, foreign language, foreign expressions, vulgar expressions, outdated language, and I still think of myself as fairly well-spoken, and I think that goes for most of us. We English-speakers can understand English words in many accents (unlike French and Japanese and some tonal languages where if you don’t get it exactly right they pretend not to know what you’re talking about), we incorporate idioms from everywhere, we constantly invent new slang – it’s an amazing freedom of speech. I’m so glad I speak English! I can get away with this attitude: if it says what I want to say more accurately, or more efficiently, and if my audience understands me, I’m using it. C’est bon!

But not “dude.” That’s going, along with the cursing. Wish me luck, y’all!

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Game of Thrones and fantasy literature, especially LOTR

A couple of years ago my sister told me to read Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin. She promised me I’d love it. So I downloaded it onto my Reader – there was a 4-book set and the fifth newest book, yay – and there it stayed for well over a year. I didn’t know anything about it except that it was fantasy literature and I was mildly deterred by that knowledge – sometimes fantasy can be hard to deal with. You have to suspend disbelief to enter a whole new world, complete with mythology, history, speech patterns, languages, names. It’s a lot. In my experience, the best fantasy literature uses known culture as a framework on which to drape the imaginary world. This facilitates acceptance and understanding so that you don’t confuse people with too much new stuff. Like bizarre names, for instance. The toughest fantasy lit takes you FAR from your frame of reference and usually thrusts upon the reader too many new nouns, usually names. The Silmarillion comes to mind. Interestingly, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are very grounded in western idioms, which make them accessible, yet Tolkein goes nuts in his other books and even though there’s still a discernible Celtic influence (fantasy authors love the Gaelic), he falls victim to his love of linguistics and it’s a veritable avalanche of names and languages. People who love LOTR and The Hobbit try The Silmarillion and are usually defeated by it, me included. I will say, I love LOTR and the Narnia series. I’m one of those people who periodically re-read LOTR and sat there in the movie saying things like, “That didn’t happen in the book.” I also love Ruth Nichols’ books A Walk Between the Worlds and The Marrow of the Earth which you can’t even get anymore except from but they are wonderful.  Lian Hearn has done an amazing job with his (her? – Hearn is a pseudonym) Across the Nightingale Floor series which is a similar parallel-world fantasy based on Japanese history, geography, and legend. Again, there is a grounding, a familiarity which makes the fantasy world easier to understand and care about. I’m also enjoying fantasy literature that is located on earth, but incorporates magic and fantasy, such as Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and Lev Grossman’s books The Magicians and The Magician King. Fantasy, and we didn’t even have to leave Earth. Well, we do in the Grossman books, but still. (I hear there’s a third book coming out, yay!)

Generally though, I’ve found that most fantasy literature omits aspects of life that prevent the “world” from becoming fully realized. Lord of the Rings in particular, has a simplicity that helps the narrative flow and makes the plot easy to understand. Its simplicity conveys powerful emotion and the reader becomes vested in the outcome. But let’s face it, Middle-Earth is not a fully functioning world. There is a lot missing. Religion, for example. There is no religion whatsoever, institutionalized or otherwise. What do the hobbits believe in, besides gardening, pipes and beer? There’s no hobbit deity? No hobbit church? That’s odd. What do they do when tragedy strikes? When bad things happen, many people need to believe in a benevolent deity in order to get through the pain and survive. We need to believe that someone is looking out for us, that justice will be served in the next world, because it clearly isn’t being served in this one. We need to have some belief in an afterlife. We need to believe that we’ll be reunited with loved ones, and that the inexplicable phenomena that occur in the world are designed by a deity who may be harsh but loves us anyway and is just teaching us a lesson. Maybe. Well, I don’t, but lots do and it’s fine, I’m not criticizing. But what’s up with the hobbits? Are they just so down-to-earth and practical – and, frankly, dull – that they don’t look to a god to help them when times get rough?  They are very English so maybe the stiff upper lip is good enough, but it’s hard to believe. Often the simpler the folk, the more they need religion to explain the inexplicable. Which brings me to the Rohirrim. Remember, the people with the horse culture who inhabit the steppes and are essentially Saxons, except without the Horse God which seems like a big omission. They don’t seem like a very literate people, so you’d think superstition would be rampant, no? Apparently not. The elves are practically gods already, and seem to be held in some reverence or superstitious fear by the other inhabitants of Middle-Earth. They’re pretty godlike already. Smart, gorgeous, immortal, kind of detached about stuff the rest of us care deeply about. The end of the world is imminent but they’re all going to emigrate to some sort of Elysium overseas, no worries. The most goddess-like character in the whole book is Galadriel, who definitely comes across as powerfully divine. Yet she isn’t worshiped as a goddess and even rejects the opportunity when offered the Ring. Remember when she roars, “All will love me, and despair!” Awesome. But ultimately she’s not interested. So definitely no religion, even when there are ready-made gods available, if unwilling, for worship.  Interesting. I think the introduction of religion was dismissed as distracting to the overall story.

What about the economy of Middle-Earth? A certain amount of trade is inferred but it is of severely limited scope. Goods from the Shire make it across Middle-Earth, at least as far as Saruman’s domain, but other than that we don’t get a sense of an economy, of trade, and how that economy is impacted by war. What about agriculture, besides the hobby-farm type popular in the Shire? In the movies, the absence of farming communities makes for a stark and dramatic landscape, but what do these people eat? In the battle of Gondor, you have the walled city and then just barren land all around? No way – that would be inhabited and farmed and full of shops and businesses thriving because of their proximity to the city – in the real world. But in Middle Earth? Nothing, not even refugees. What about small business? Entrepreneurship? There’s one inn, at Bree, but that’s it. Barliman is the sole businessman. There’s no big business either, obviously. There must be industry somewhere, because the hobbits’ houses have glass and metal features to them, but not only is there no sense of it, but the evils of industry in the Shire are shown as a warning to Frodo as what will happen should he fail in his quest. So clearly the ideal is the pastoral life. There isn’t even a sense of a basic social structure like the serf system of medieval Europe. The Shire has agriculture but no serfs and obviously no machinery. Elsewhere, there’s the lord, or king, and everyone follows the lord, usually to war, but there is no politics, none of the alliance-building and ulterior motives, the double-crossing and secret pacts that characterize human political systems in practice. There are no powerful families or groups that need to be bought or appeased, or threatened, into compliance with the lord’s agenda. Again, more streamlining.

I mean, I get it. That stuff can detract from your story, and it can be kind of boring. We prefer the struggles of princesses, and magical beings, and prophecies being fulfilled. We love that stuff. But it can make fantasy a somewhat thin genre. The standards of good fiction just don’t get fulfilled in a lot of fantasy literature, that’s all I’m saying.

For instance: how many fully realized characters do we enjoy in LOTR? Frodo, Sam….that’s about it, and I’m being generous with Sam. The hobbits in general are a pretty plain and unimaginative people, essentially cultural philistines. I mean, nobody even reads, except Bilbo, and he’s regarded as an odd bird. (I relate to that.) Gandalf, maybe? The obsessed Smeagol? Character depth comes from internal struggle, with the growth of the person, with revelations of the character’s history to give insight into the character’s motivations. There’s not a lot of that in LOTR, even for the major characters. You can’t get away with that in conventional literature!

The big thing in LOTR is choices. Frodo’s choice to carry on with the destruction of the Ring, Arwen’s choice to marry Aragorn and live as a mortal queen, Smeagol’s choice to betray Frodo, Sam’s choice to take up the Ring and keep on truckin’. And the consequences thereof. But all the other characters are very basic or else just cannon fodder. Orcs? What do they want, really? Just to kill and destroy? Are they just puppets? I can’t believe that. What is their motivation? Roman soldiers were promised land, farms, in return for their service. What are Orcs promised? I don’t see orcs farming. Sauron is just an evil entity, the burning eye in the sky. Destroy, destroy, ya da da. All he wants is to kill everyone in Middle Earth and preside over the blasted landscape? Sounds like a partay! Come on. Even North Korean dictators take a break from the evil to enjoy a good movie now and then. And most evil monomaniacs are interested in personal gain so they can buy Lamborghinis and Loire chateaux and hire celebrities to attend their birthday parties. It’s not like Sauron’s after riches that he can squirrel away in a Middle-Earth Switzerland so that he can send his kids to Middle-Earth Eton and go gambling in the Middle-Earth Macau – although I’d like to see that. (Can’t you just see Sauron at a party at Hef’s mansion?) He’s just a force of darkness with apparently no pleasures in life. Sad, really. Poor Sauron.

So where am I going with this?  Game of Thrones, which rejects the tendencies of most fantasy literature and is so incredibly realistic that it blew my mind. Realpolitik! Changing allegiances, double crosses, spies, dark horses that come out of nowhere and mix it all up, new opportunities to complicate things…It’s brilliant. Complex human relationships. Real motivations. Conflicted characters. Characters who grow as people, learning and developing. Wow. Plus magic, dragons, supernatural beings and what have you just to make my cup runneth over. Competing religions! Sweet!

I don’t think you can get all this from just reading the first book. There is one character in the first book who seems irredeemably evil, but lo and behold, he gets to grow as a person and becomes a sympathetic character in the second book and thereafter. He’s not perfect – nobody is in GOT, that’s my point – but he develops a whole new facet to his character. Love it.

I’ve heard criticisms of GOT, about the violence against women in particular, and someone said something about “fake Welsh” which I thought was odd. GOT is definitely set in a European landscape. I don’t know how you can have a problem with that. It’s essentially England, but extended, so that the far south is almost Mediterranean in climate, and the far north is essentially Arctic. It’s medieval, time-wise, so I think that the level of violence is actually fairly consistent with that era. And it’s a time of war – violent by definition. The language is not chivalric language; it’s fairly rough but again I think it’s consistent with the “times,” so to speak. If anything these elements add verisimilitude to the story. Rape, looting, mayhem, bad language – it’s all part of war and not just medieval war either. So it’s distasteful but truthful and convincing.

Names of people, places and things are fairly straightforward and not tongue-twistingly complex, so it’s easy to keep track of who’s who, although there are so many relevant characters that when you start a new chapter sometimes you have to read for a while before you figure out who it is you’re reading about. Often they’re concerned with mundane matters such as food, shelter, warmth, the basics of survival in wartime. It’s quite amazing to have such realism built into a fantasy series. You see the impact of war on a countryside. Byproducts of war such as famine and disease are present. There are refugees! War needs financing – bankers show up to call in loans. All the trickle-down effects of war are felt in GOT.

Characterization: unlike the orcs and elves in LOTR, it’s not always easy to tell who is “good” and who “bad” – these are not stormtroopers in white armour. Ugly does  not equal evil. Even the idea of “good” and “bad” is not clear – good people do bad things, for their own reasons, and vice versa. I always liked Ken Follett’s spy novels because he always explained why the bad guys did what they did, so you could understand their motivation. I love that. I hate the evil-for-evil’s-sake bad guy. GOT is rich in this way; the characters grow and change and develop and surprise you, and it’s wonderful fun.

I first realized how involved I was with the series by my reaction when a major character was killed. I already knew that Martin does this – it’s part of the realism  that hooks you – but I was so shocked I had to put the book down and go do something else for a while. I had a physical reaction – sweaty, heart pounding, major anxiety – for a fictional character! I’m not going to spoil it here but I simply could not believe this character died. My expectations were conventional – that this character would last to the end. Not so! There are a lot of shockers like that in GOT. Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, Martin throws in a doozy of a plot twist or kills off someone important. There are also enough YAY moments so that you don’t get too depressed, thank goodness. There is religion, there is an economy – I love that there are bankers involved – there are different fairly fully-realized cultures that figure peripherally in the story and correspond roughly to Middle Eastern and Central Asian culture, and they have their own social structures and history and everything else.

At the core of the story is the Stark family and they are amazing, flawed and loveable characters. And I have to say, you cannot but care for these people. When I was in New York I was just starting the first book, and I saw in a market a t-shirt that had the Stark names on it: Robb, Sansa, Arya, Bran, Rickon (Jon Snow). And another one with their direwolves’ names: Greywind, Lady, Nymeria, Summer, Shaggydog, (Ghost). The ones in brackets were printed in a different colour to denote Jon Snow’s illegitimacy. See? Complex family relationships! Pets! I’m pretty cynical about fiction but I confess, it’s incredible how much I care about the characters in GOT. I kind of regret not picking up that t-shirt now. I’m not the “fan” type, but I love the dwarf Tyrion, I love the last princess of the Targaryens (you rock Dany!), I love the female knight Brienne of Tarth, I love the onion knight – you know who you are – and I’m even liking Jaime Lannister although I never thought I would. If you’re reading GOT you know what I’m talking about and you understand all this cheering and stomping.

Game of Thrones: my favourite new fantasy series. My only concern is, I hear that the series will run to 8 or maybe even 10 books. Part of me is excited about that, but I hate waiting.

End note: I’m enjoying the TV series but does it need that much nudity? If I hear my kids even approaching I need to shut it off quickly because they tend to start new scenes with gratuitous sex. I don’t think it needs it but apparently it gets the husbands watching too so I guess that’s something.


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Beethoven, Schubert…and the tragedy of age

I’ve played the piano since I was 7 years old; I’ve kept it up, on and off, ever since. I love music, I particularly love making music on the piano. It seems like magic, to move your hands and have this great sound come out. Brilliant. Lately I’ve been going back to the piano in a big way; partly because I’m trying new pieces in an attempt to understand what it is like to learn new music, because my daughter is having to learn new pieces every week. I was being impatient with her, frustrated by hesitation and pauses in the music, but I started learning some new stuff and now I get it. I think there is a difference between Leila Fletcher and Beethoven but there is also a difference between 7 and 43, so it’s all relative. Now when she hears me pause at a difficult spot she shouts, “No holidays! TEMPO!” and thinks it’s great fun. It’s actually quite useful, though, and I’ve become more patient with her as a result.

The irony of all this (besides my 7-year old enjoying revenge) is that now that I appreciate playing (thanks Mom!) I am getting creaky and I don’t have a lot of time to practice. When I was a teenager I was supposed to be practicing two hours a day and considered it a prison sentence. The outrage! Shackled to the piano, the suffering. But now I take advantage of every lull in my day to sit down and practice a few more bars, trying to perfect this incredibly difficult music with my pre-arthritic hands, which throb after I’ve been playing for a long time, particularly the fifth fingers. It just feels so good when I get a passage right and can fit it into the song and play it through – it’s the best feeling.

What’s with Beethoven and all the octaves? I’m working on the Allegretto of Sonata 17 and I love it, but the octaves are a killer. When I’m diagnosed with arthritis I’m blaming Beethoven. I try to listen to recordings to help me along but the recording I have of this piece is by Glenn Gould who plays at breakneck speed and I think they must have transferred this at 78 rpm because there’s just no other explanation for it. If you cough, you miss it. He plays a 12-page sonata movement in about a minute and a half. It’s unreal! Yes, he was a genius and possibly autistic, but still. I’m exhausted after learning two pages at my snail’s tempo. I love Beethoven though; the inevitability of the music, the way it rolls along, pulsing, it could make your heart burst with the joy of it. Sorry, rhapsodizing.

I’m also working on Schubert’s Sonata in A Minor, D537. It’s a lovely piece and only about 5 pages which is a relief. It’s played in A Room With a View, one of my favorite movies, which is one of the reasons I decided to try it, because it’s already so familiar. The tempo of the recording I have (Seymour Lipkin) is a reasonable tempo so this sonata actually feels doable. That said, I haven’t got past the third page yet.

I’m playing a Schumann’s Kinderszenen piece (Schumann, so charming) and some music I downloaded from movie scores (The Painted Veil, River Waltz) – for dessert and to rest the fingers. Like stretching after a workout.

Unfortunately our budget only allows for one of us to have piano lessons so resources have already been allocated but – I wish I could have lessons. I also wish I could effectively convey this feeling to my daughter so she would appreciate the lessons she’s having now. Why must it always be hindsight?  Why must we learn these lessons so late in life? I wish I’d appreciated the energy and time of my youth, not to mention my fabulous teacher, when I had them. (And when someone else paid the bills! My parents never talked about how expensive the lessons were, so they’re better people than I am.) Not to sound doleful about it, as I know how lucky I am to have a piano and a bit of time to play it and fingers still relatively dextrous (for now), but regret is a tough pill to swallow. If only there was some way to impart these lessons to my children.


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