A Sign at My Favorite Downtown Bar:
“It does not matter whether the glass is half full or half empty. There is clearly space for more wine.”
In the current issue of The New Yorker, a cartoon of a waitress talking with a client, who has his hand-held high-tech device. She says, “‘The Wi-Fi password is ‘Don’t call me sweetie.'” (In the South, it would be the client who risks being offended by “sweetie.”)
At intermission of a play at Chapel Hill, a beautiful woman, dressed to the nines, enters the men’s restroom. (She’s just following the new inane, spiteful, unenforceable state law that says trangender people must use the restroom of the gender on their birth certificates.)
At a local restaurant, a girl in second grade tells the server that while they wait, she’ll be doing homework.
“Homework?” he said. “You’re so smart you’ll go right through that in no time.”
The mother said, “There’s so much. I don’t believe what schools are expecting of second graders today.”
“But we get to practice sight words. I like that. We have a lot of sight words to practice, and it’s fun,” said the little girl.
The mother continued, “The amount of homework this year is ridiculous. Following sight word practice will be something to read and questions to answer.”
“And the story is really good. We will finish it in class tomorrow.”
“And math!” said the mother. How can anyone expect a child to do a worksheet each night?”
“And we’re starting new operations,” said the girl. “It’s fun.”
(I remember when my peers and I complained about homework and parents supported the teachers and schools.)
Quotations from Some Recent Readings:
“Individuality is the only gateway to spiritual potential and blessing. . . . If you live the life you love, you will receive shelter. New and blessings. Sometimes the great famine of blessing in and around us derives from the fact that we are not living the life we love, rather we are living the life that is expected of us. We have fallen out of rhythm with the secret signature and light of our own nature.” (John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom)
“. . . [love] was neither a state of grace nor an illusion; he saw it as a human act of becoming, a condition that was invented and modified movement by movement and day by day, by the will and the intelligence and the heart.” (John Williams, Stoner)
“Lord help the world if everybody took to doing the right thing!” (George Bernard Shaw, Mrs. Warren’s Profession)
“Let the timid tiptoe through the way where the paler blossoms grow; my feet shall be where the redder roses grow, though they bear long thorns, sharp and piercing, thick among them.” (Sean O’Casey, Red Roses for Me)
Reasons To Read Each Work:
John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom. HarperPerennial, 1997. There are statements of wisdom, eloquently stated.
John Williams, Stoner. New York Review Books, 2003. In this novel, published in 1965, we meet the most manipulative, emotionally frustrated, neurotic, mean-spirited character I’ve encountered in fiction, William Stoner’s wife, Edith. The book is a well-written novel of the life of a college English teacher.
George Bernard Shaw, Mrs. Warren’s Profession. In Six Great Modern Plays, Dell, 1956. This play, from 1898, presents a memorable young woman, the daughter of a prostitute, who because of her integrity, self-confidence, and independence rejects toxic family and social relationships.
Sean O’Casey, Red Roses for Me. In Six Great Modern Plays, Dell, 1956. In this play, from 1942, we have conflicts between workers and owners, Catholics and Protestants, nationalists and independents. We have a noble hero in the character of Ayamonn Breydon. The speeches are lyrical and moving.
Remembering Hortense. Hortense Wiggs Wilkins, December 29, 1932 – April 5, 2016.
From my first piano lesson, when I was in third grade, Hortense shared her love and knowledge of music. Her knowledge of sound pedagogy was enhanced by the sharing of the joy of each step in reading and playing. She encouraged by good humor, quiet encouragement, and interest in the student.
She treated my questions, ideas and attempts with respect and gentle guidance:
“When do I get to stop counting?” (She smiled and said, “You’ll always count. Every who plays does.”)
“Since the song says Bicycle Bill goes faster and faster and faster, can I play it that way?” (“No, you have to keep a steady tempo. Later in lessons, you’ll see how the composer will tell you when you can speed up or slow down for that effect.”)
“How do you know how long to hold the fermata?” (“Let’s try different times. . . No, that’s too long! . . . Yes, that’s about right. You have to trust your feeling.”)
“Why do I have to play these chords and inversions?” (“They add good effects. Let’s play them loud. . . now soft . . . now crescendo . . . now decrescendo. Listen to those nice, big sounds! You’ll apply them to your playing soon.”
She taught assiduously each of the pieces in the first three instructional books by Eckstein, and after I memorized each, “played by heart,” as she said, I moved quickly and securely to the next step. The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn. She expressed happiness with my fast progress. Her instruction at each step was secure: correct posture and hand position, attention to phrasing and dynamics, accurate rhythm. I was learning thoroughly the basics without its being a burden; she made all of the complexities part of the joy of learning.
At the beginning of the third year of lessons, she gave me an anthology of Baroque, Classical, and Romantic pieces “just as the composer wrote them, no arrangements that you’ve been playing.” I learned easier pieces of Bach, Beethoven, Schumann, Schubert, Burgmuller, and Heller, learned and played them with zest. Hortense allowed me to stretch musical wings and fly, impelled by her enthusiasm and shared interest.
At the end of that year of lessons, she and her family moved to another city, and I had to change teachers. The news was a heartbreak. Though I was eleven years old and a boy and not supposed to cry, I wept for the better part of a summer afternoon hurt and bitter tears. I wanted no other teacher.
Of course, I continued, working with other fine instructors through elementary school, high school, college years, and into my adult life.
I smile when I recall my first three piano teachers, there in Smithfield, each with muse-like, classical names.
Here in my mind and spirit they now abide: Flora, Olivia, and Hortense, these three; but the greatest of these is Hortense.