The Grief of Discovery

Gwyn and I were at the piano labeling chords in her lesson book; she’d just learned tonic and dominant, one and five and their corresponding Roman numerals. Because piano practice can be grueling, we do it before school when Gwyn’s most alert, but this also means an awful time crunch, so when Gwyn leapt from the bench to stand in front of the fireplace, I had little patience. She pointed at the clock on the mantel, a fancy one with Roman numerals. “Now I can read it!” she proclaimed, and told me it was 8:40. She had cracked the code.

Which was all so exciting she couldn’t practice, she wanted me to write one through a hundred and I started while Emily did her hair, but then I remembered why we use the Arabic system—Roman numerals are cumbersome, laborious, and there’s no way I could write a hundred before 8:50, when we needed to leave. “But you promised!” she wailed and a meltdown ensued, a full-fledged, stiff-bodied temper tantrum. I kissed a timely school arrival goodbye. (more…)

Walking On Air

When my partner Emily teaches a traditional circle dance to a group of newbies, they go through a predictable progression. First, they’re so uncomfortable they trip over their feet. They talk nervously, drawing attention away from their awkwardness. Sometimes they give up. But Emily’s a patient teacher and her dances are simple, ancient, and usually repetitive, so those who stick with it eventually fall into a pattern and begin enjoying themselves.

Then, if the dancer repeats these steps over weeks and months, he or she forgets the steps entirely and enters the dance. I’m not much of a dancer but even I have experienced my self-consciousness release into consciousness and then fall away entirely.

I’m interested in how this happens for writers, too. Seamus Heaney describes it as “walking on air”: “We must teach ourselves to walk on air against our better judgment.” (more…)