Death and Taxes and Procrastination

A podcast I listened to recently considered the ways that procrastination benefited creative thought.  I might have called it “marinating” instead, but the process is the same.  Flickering ideas come and go, never quite landing, but somehow manage to grow in scope during these periods of procrastination.

As I said, procrastination works well for creative problem-solving.  Not a good idea for your taxes, unless you plan to get creative with those, and impossible with death of course. One of the things I had procrastinated on was writing a post about planning your funeral. Following the death of my well-loved 95 year old father-in-law, that seemed like a great idea, but it never jelled. You should go ahead and plan it anyway though!

I’ve enjoyed the discipline of writing for a blog (nearly) every week for the past 12 years,  but am feeling a need to step away for a while. Not from writing, just from this format.  People in different parts of my life keep telling me to write a book, and while a book might not emerge, I have most definitely procrastinated taking this idea seriously and am hereby committing to write with more intention, if perhaps less purpose. The other night I awoke from a dream that was telling me something important, and for the first time I took the leap of writing down an idea that was percolating up from deep within during the middle of the night. My beautiful blue suede-covered journal stays nearer to me these days, and what looks like nonsense on the page at the moment just might be transfigured.

We’ll see what comes of it, but I’m giving myself six months to explore things that might have been marinating for years now.

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Here are some of the things that have been feeding my imagination these days:

Upcoming concerts:

  • Sunday, March 1 at 2:30 – a program with Furia Flamenco.  Very fun!
  • Saturday, March 7 at 7:00 – a house concert with Karin Kelleher playing sonatas for piano and violin by Grieg and Beethoven, raising money for Manna Food Bank.  Contact me if you are interested in attending. (and another one on April 18)
  • Tuesday, March 24 at 12:10 – bassoonist Cindy Gady and I are putting together a program of meditative music to accompany walking the labyrinth at Church of the Epiphany. Read more.
  • Not a concert, but a chance to make music with a wonderful group of singers in residence at St. David’s Cathedral in Wales during August

And books…so many great books are part of my life.  At the moment I have three books in rotation:  a second reading of The Overstory by Richard Powers, listening to On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, and then this week I had to add Philip Kennicott’s new memoir, Counterpoint, after hearing him speak about it. His book explores family, playing the piano, Bach and The Goldberg Variations. Except for the abusive mother part, it’s the book I would have so wished I could write.

There is much that is ugly about our world right now, and while that has probably always been true, the ugliness seems more pervasive, more oppressive than I can remember. What Vuong manages to do in his extended letter to his mother – which reads more as a poem – is to see beauty in between and around all the pain he experiences.  I don’t know if being able to describe the sordid, heartbreaking parts of life with such glorious waves of prose worthy of someone named Ocean works to deny what should be harrowing to read, but the books and music and people I turn to again and again are not an escape into beauty, but rather have clarifying and redemptive powers for me as I wade through all those thoughts that I’ve procrastinated writing about.  After I get our taxes done, and before I die.

Check in with me in six months and we’ll see if creativity does indeed emerge from procrastination.  Until then, peace, my friends.

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Another Lesson from Beethoven

Has anyone ever asked you to do something that is just simply impossible? Let’s fly to the moon kind of impossible? Do you greet that request with a wondering attitude – how could I help make this happen?  Or an immediate reality check – are you crazy?  

Beethoven asks the impossible of pianists with some frequency.  The piano is a percussion instrument – a hammer inside the piano strikes a group of strings which vibrate as long as the dampers are held off the strings by the pedal. Without benefit of a violinist’s bow or an oboist’s breath, once a note is played on the piano, it’s done. Decay is the only option. Or is it?

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Beethoven regularly puts a crescendo sign on a held note or chord – and that is simply impossible to do on the piano. Hmm, how can we make this happen?  One of my teachers years ago suggested that I should hear the note getting louder in my head and by some form of alchemy the crescendo would be communicated to the listener. That works for me. Perhaps there is an element of body language or a long drawn breath that keeps the player involved with the note in a way that at least suggests it is growing in sound and connecting to whatever follows. Sometimes Beethoven even marks a crescendo and a decrescendo on the same note or chord. Okay, that really is just crazy. Or is it?

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I find it best to do as Beethoven commands, or to at least attempt the impossible. Paying attention to the little markings in his music is the way in to his genius. Think of all the things we believe in, but can’t see – love, the mind, friendship, atoms, intuition. Beethoven helps me believe in a crescendo that can’t really exist, and that’s a beautiful first step into a world where all things are possible.

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