Thought Trafficking


Nook and cranny
October 9, 2012, 12:09 am
Filed under: music, Toronto | Tags: , , ,

The summer winds down, reels in. I’ve probably written before about how much I love fall in Eastern/Central/Upper Canada (designation depends on your point of view).

This fall, I invite strangers into my (now tiny) living room two days a week to teach them piano. I am delighted and puzzled by my own choices: delighted by the schedule, by the things I must now read, by taking regular lessons again, and puzzled because since I was a teenager I figured that this was the easy way out, that if nothing else, this was the back-up plan, not the success. So is this the joy and enlightenment that comes with giving up, or is this a reversion to some kind of basic programming that includes regular trips to buy puffy stickers?

If nothing else, I will remember the last few months as a period in which I read a lot of books on child rearing and discipline. In a 1/2 hour piano lesson, I find that there are generally three levels to which a student corresponds: slacker, steady progress, or overachiever. Each of these has its own challenges and rewards, and I can structure my lesson plans around these personalities. What no one, ever, anywhere prepared me for was surly, hormonal teenage girls. Forget pedagogy; the only thing I think about during that half hour is the virtue of staying calm and not giving in to how much a want to scream. They have two primary powers in a lesson setting: first, to contradict everything I say, no matter if that contradiction contradicts one of their previous statements. Second, to sincerely believe that everyone in the world is actively working against their happiness. Too many scales? I hate them. Too few scales? I think that they are stupid. Too much to practice? Everyone gives them too much work, they have no free time. Too little to practice? I’m making them sit on the bench with nothing to do. And the advice that I’m getting from my favourite teachers is only this: be extra, extra nice to these kids. Do everything in my power to forge a bond. Come up with a way to do it before I wear down my molars grating my teeth. I practice this for half an hour with each, per week.

I prefer this direct, one-on-one, approach better than the larger university classes I’ve been a TA for. It’s harder to justify piano lessons as a savvy life choice, as piano is not yet considered a pre-requisite for a decent job. Your lesson time and office hours are the same thing. I can ask parents flat-out if they think it is worthwhile to keep paying for lessons for a student who is uninterested or mailing it in. My job is fostering a relationship to the instrument, in simplest terms. Maybe I can relate more easily to this curriculum.

In more personal news, I seem to be catching up on all of the reading I should have done between 2001 and 2005. Wasted youth?

If you are reading this, please suggest books to read as the days get shorter.



Spring Fever
March 21, 2012, 3:10 pm
Filed under: Reading, Toronto, Uncategorized | Tags: ,

The urge to write here always strikes in the spring. The sun comes out, the grass is warm enough for sitting on, I dig out my password for this blog. Inevitable.

Lots of things have happened since last June, many of them nice, some of them difficult. I am in between readings watching the neighbourhood’s muscular black squirrels shimmy up trees.

I turned 27 a few weeks ago. I thought I would be more uncomfortable with that than I am. Time is moving faster than I expect, faster and faster every year, but the people and the experiences I gain so much more than make up for it.  In a certain sense, however, I am aware of living on borrowed time: we are already experiencing highs of 25C or more during the day, here comes summer and the trees have been caught without their leaves on. 

With daylight savings, what Joan Didion (and surely others) calls the blue nights have returned, now there is ample time to enjoy the evening, enjoy being north, or northish. In the sky these nights, Venus and Jupiter are aligned to the west, and opposite them, Mars is visible to the east (or southeast). This is visible from my city balcony, Jupiter and Venus particularly bright and huge. I can remember as a child visiting that I loved Toronto’s sunsets.

And now, since I apparently like to post poetry here, and since I don’t want to type up all of Charles Wright’s “Homage to Paul Cézanne,” here is Lisa Olstein, from her collection Radio Crackling, Radio Gone. Here is what I like: the colour blue, the idea of God as an absence we feel, an absence we need to search out, or a book we open. I like unrhymed couplets, especially the enjambments straddling the gaps. I also like reading all of this while picturing a bear and a man.

Man Feeding Bear an Ear of Corn

What we need is an allegory.

What we want is a parable.

What we remember is a face,

movement of hands like wings.

If God is an absence, what’s missing

is blue. If God is a book, its pages

are blue. Doorways appear green.

Night is a small patch in the distance

where everything swirls inviting–

a place, from this distance, you might like

to stay for a while. An arm extends

an ear to an arm extended.

If you have a hand, place it over your heart.

This necklace will not be mistaken for its chain.

One last thing before I go, from Agamben’s The Open: Man and Animal, from the chapter called “Tick”:

He then draws the sole conclusion that ‘without a living subject, time cannot exist.’ But what becomes of the tick and its world in this state of suspension that lasts eighteen years? How is it possible for a living being that consists entirely in its relationship with the environment to survive in absolute deprivation of that environment? And what sense does it make to speak of “waiting” without time and without world? (47)

Waiting loses its meaning without time. But what constitutes a living subject? The chapter on the tick confused me most, and interested me most, because it describes the way in which we can attempt to conceptualize the tick’s relationship with the world. More than that, thought, I wondered how limited our own perceptions, our own relations with the world, are. This is, of course, not a new thought. We do not know it is blue that is missing, blue that we are looking for, if we’ve never gone looking, yes, but if we find it, we can’t even be sure of really, really seeing blue. “Everything that is readable with the eyes is not everything”–Arvo Pärt.



A Signal
May 16, 2011, 2:20 am
Filed under: between times, living, married life, outside, Toronto, wanderlust

It has truly been a long time.

I felt like I should write something because it has been a long time, and because there is rain outside that hungry little plants are drinking up. There were three marigolds up yesterday, ten this morning, twelve this afternoon. In the face of such fecundity, I ought to be able to offer a few words. Lots of things have changed since last February, but lots of things remain the same. For instance, I have learned to crochet and sew in the last 6 months, but I still haven’t finished knitting that massive green blanket. On the whole, then, there is balance.

The most frequent topic of discussion in our household (that was something I couldn’t have said last February!) has lately been “the future.” More specifically, what does it mean to know what you want? what does it mean to have direction? and what does it mean to be happy? I am, on the whole, very happy with intermittent periods of stress to help me appreciate that happiness. But if I have one design, I have six: I want to stay in a big city where I can walk everywhere; I want to live on a farm; I want to teach far away; I want to move closer to family. A few years ago, Jane correctly observed that it sucks more to have lots of good options. When there’s a bad option, or several, there is generally a clearer indication of which option you have to take at the time. I can’t remember if she was talking about ice cream or about life choices.

To come: something about living in Toronto; something about working as a doula/working at being a doula; something about things I’ve been making; a picture of that moose I wrote about in the last post.

Also, because I am ridiculously proud of the balcony garden that Basit and I planted a week ago, I have added a page called “Garden Journal.” I will try to confine my superlatives about Toronto soil and climate to that area.