My neglected piano

I have a piano that lives in a corner of my living room, an electric Yamaha that I boughIMG_0667t from a friend a few years ago. I took lessons when I was a child but hadn’t touched a piano in years.

I signed up for lessons with a very patient woman who was willing to go in whatever direction I wanted to go—improving my sight reading, improvising, writing my own accompaniments to songs. But I quickly got frustrated and impatient.

Every now and then something would come together—I remember my glee at putting chords to Greensleeves. But most of the time I chafed at being such a beginner. At this stage in my life, I’m not good at beginner’s mind. I want to sit down and instantly have nimble fingers leaping over the keyboard. Unrealistic I know.

All this makes me think of writing. The need to get those mind fingers nimble, to start something, stop, try again and again. For some reason I’ve found this easier with writing, maybe because I know that on some level, all writing is practice.

And this leads me to think about flow—those moments when all else falls away and I’m just there immersed in whatever it is I’m doing. I’ve been there when I was writing, deep into the character I was creating or searching for the right word to make a poem sing, the image that will bring a scene alive. Time falls away and it’s just me and the computer. and the images in my mind and the words that appear on the screen. I’ve been there in the garden, covered head to toe with dirt, and at times in the pottery studio. I’ve been there when I’ve sung with others and the harmonies hit just right.

These moments of flow are precious and rare—too often my mind skitters and flits and I become too focused on product. The words don’t come, the pot I’m throwing collapses, the music goes off key, my fingers fumble and hit the wrong notes.

So how do I get to this place of flow? I remember my childhood bedroom under the eaves, with its long crawl space closet and a trunk filled with old clothes and hours spent playing dress-up.

Play. That’s what I need to remember. Play.

I don’t know where I’m going with this. Perhaps I’ll sit at the piano one of these evenings and noodle around, approach the piano keyboard the way I do my freewriting time. Play. See what happens.


I stand in the doorway and try to balance on one leg—first the right, then the left. I’ve been instructed to do this by the physical therapist who is helping me regain strength and balance after my hip replacement last fall. I breathe evenly, let go of the door frame, focus on one spot, and …wobble. Try again. And again and gradually a degree of stillness descends and I stand for 20 seconds, 30, more. I end by planting both my feet and standing tall with arms raised overhead breathing deeply and rooting into the ground.

How do I find that balance point internally? Pausing. Resting. I try to meditate and my mind flits and darts and swoops. Even my body won’t be still—I scratch my nose, shift my posture, stretch out my achy knee.

I go for a walk, try to still my mind and just notice, listen, see, smell, and for brief moments I’m there, in the moment. Signs of spring are everywhere. Sap buckets on the maple trees. Crocuses and snowdrops blooming. Trees beginning to show buds. Most of the snow is gone. Light lingers later in the day.

Home again, on the couch, computer in my lap, trying to write. The living room grows dark around me. The cat visits briefly, an ice pack chills my achy knee, I pause, let one moment flow into the next. No words for now.

stand in the doorway, balance, touch down, and balance again.