I used to play the piano long after my parents went to bed. It was a digital upright with a headphone jack, so I could pound away and all anyone else could hear was the hollow atonal thunks of the keys. I liked to change the octaves and the volume and the speed for emphasis. No song could be too emotional. It was my little universe under the painting of the stormy ocean.
Like a lot of people in my precise micro-generation, I spent a lot of my time on AOL Instant Messenger back in those days. My screen name was iheartmypiano.
Then I went away to college, and after college my roommates hated the idea of having a piano lest drunk people keep the whole house awake with it, and then I went to law school, and I say all this to excuse myself for giving it up.
They say emotions are stored in the body. I had never heard this until about two years ago, and now I probably hear it once a week. It’s a very on-trend idea. The first time someone asked me where I felt that in my body I thought they were nuts. I feel emotions in my head, of course, where my brain lives. But it turns out this is not exactly true, and your body has a lot of information and it is the only way “you” ever experience anything in the world, no matter how logical or brainy you fancy yourself, and it needs to discharge emotions because if you button them up and shove them down for years on end (as I am genetically predisposed to do) you may literally make yourself sick.
For that reason and many others, I’ve gotten back into the piano. I play at least a few minutes a night. It’s one of the only times that I can guarantee I’m not looking at a screen during this screen-dependent pandemic.
The piano works different parts of the brain than my screens do. It’s physical. It stretches the skin between my fingers. It’s logical. It’s math. It’s trivia as I remember which sharps go with which key. It’s hand-eye coordination. It’s emotion.
It’s paying attention, which is to say, it’s being alive.
Over the years men have been competitive with me about it, which I find odd. Men who don’t play it tell me how to play it better or that I should not play it at all as it is a dumb instrument.
And maybe it’s their voices I hear when I play, because that’s when my inner critic gets loud in a way that she doesn’t when I cook or work out or do my job or write for fun or see my body. I hear voices as I work my way through the sheet music. You’re so hesitating. It always sounds like….duh……..duh….. And how can you say you love something you never do? And I play anyway.
For a heavy stationary instrument it’s an amazing teleportation device. It lets me be anywhere I want in time or space. As I play Anthem I’m floating over the lake at twilight like the geese and ducks that vee over the dam in winter. Or I’m driving down some treelined parkway in my hometown. Or I’m inside a grassy lea in some film I’ve seen a thousand times. I’m anywhere home.
I haven’t tried astral projection proper, because who has the time?, but I think this is somewhat similar.
When I stand up my lower back pops like nothing else and if I believed just a little more in somatics I’d go ah, what a release.