I started playing the piano when I was a little girl and kept at it throughout my childhood. True to my personality, I (usually) took my lessons seriously, and I got better and better, as is typically the case when one practises—turns out that all those motivational posters are right. By the time I began attending university, I was ready to teach part-time; these lessons, roles now reversed, were a source of both extra income and great joy.
When I moved across the country and into student residence, I was overwhelmed by the work required by my graduate program and didn’t have ready access to a piano. I’d occasionally track one down and play for an hour or two, but not consistently, and not in the way I once had.
After my husband and I got our own place, he surprised me with a keyboard with weighted keys as a birthday gift. Sitting down to play it, I realized almost immediately that he’d facilitated my ability to nurture a core part of myself that, without stopping to think about it, I’d been critically neglecting. Thanks, Husband.
And yet, since I’ve developed epilepsy, I’ve let those keys grow dustier and dustier. My partially justified excuses are complex but include the following: 1) my medications give me brain fog, and now that I take so many of them that my blister pack is like its own little pharmacy, I notice some issues related to fine-motor skills; 2) I’ve had multiple concussions, which require rest and blah blah blah for proper recovery; 3) I’m sometimes too busy temporarily wallowing in the self-pity that comes with a long-term chronic illness to play a prelude. Prelude to what? More seizures? #jklifeisawesome
My surgery last January, with the resultant brain injury, which brought further problems with cognition, coordination, etc., marked the beginning of another phase in my relationship with the piano. Afraid to see what would happen if I attempted even the simplest melody, I thought it best to let the keyboard serve as a coatrack rather than allow it to confirm that my hands could no longer cooperate as they used to.
A few evenings ago, however, the lights on the Christmas tree were illuminated, I’d just eaten some stuffing (is this weird?), and I thought, “Why not.” I pulled out the A Charlie Brown Christmas songbook, opened it where it fell, and began sight-reading.
Perhaps it’ll shock no one but me that I could still do it (sight-read, that is). In any case, I’m pleased to report that due to my comically low self-expectations as I commenced this task, I blew myself away. Sure, I played much more slowly than I normally would, and my fingers stumbled here and there, but I often have trouble trying my shoelaces these days, so I was pretty happy with some jerky chords and awkward transitions.
I played a little yesterday, too, and for twenty minutes this morning. I’m trying to be gentle with myself, to remind myself that no longer avoiding the piano doesn’t need to = playing keys in a hypothetical band that I recently hypothetically formed with two of my nonhypothetical BFFs (but it could—hi fellow hypothetical bandmates and very real friends, if you’re reading this!).
In other words, I’m allowed to simply incorporate ten or twenty minutes of practising into my day, when I feel up to it. Finding ways to modify activities at which I formerly excelled, and attempting to accept that I can still do these activities, but using a different approach, has been one the biggest challenges of living with the conditions that I do. What I instinctively knew the other night, playing the piano for the first time in forever, and at a significantly lower level than before, is that what matters most to me is being able to experience joy without judging myself if I notice that, for instance, the me of now can’t produce arpeggios as fluently as pre-epilepsy/brain-injury me could. I’ve changed, but, at my core, I remain the same person, connected to my past, my passions, and my interests—and it isn’t necessary to sacrifice them because of circumstances beyond my control.