November 27th, 2006
One of my favorite New Yorker articles is an essay called "Bumping into Charlie Ravioli" by Adam Gopnik. In it, he tells the story of his three-year-old daughter, Olivia, and her imaginary friend Charlie Ravioli. There is something unusual about Olivia's relationship with Charlie, however, for she doesn't play with Charlie, like most small children do with their pretend friends. Instead, she only calls Charlie on the phone to make plans, or bumps into Charlie on the street, or shares a cab with Charlie and grabs a coffee. No playing. Gopnik uses this illustration to demonstrate how busy New Yorkers are (and Americans in general) and how, as a result, our relationships and friendships have deteriorated to the point where we only talk about getting together, but we no longer have any meaningful conversations or time with one another.
Guilty as charged, I'm afraid. I'm tired of being so busy–racing from one recital program to another, waking up at 5AM to face yet another daunting pile of music to learn, teaching not only my normal load of lessons, but trying to schedule all the extras–the students who schedule lessons as needed, and all the additional coachings and rehearsals I am asked to do. In the last month, I have hosted my students' fall recital, played three recitals (including a partial solo recital in Texas), and taught two Saturdays of group performance classes. Just last weekend I hosted a cocktail party for the state piano convention and spent a long frantic day cleaning house, making lumenaria to line the courtyard and sidewalk, and arranging food and drink. I monitored piano auditions. I can't remember the last day off I had. This is hamster season–I feel like I am living on a treadmill of work and more work.
But more than being tired of being busy, I am tired of talking about how busy I am. I am tired of myself and my schedule. I am tired of not having anything new to think about or anything witty or interesting to contribute to conversations around me. I haven't been able to do anything requiring any real creativity or introspection for weeks, which means I avoid the computer and any pretense of writing. This makes me ashamed and irritable, even while I know I can't squeeze another minute from my schedule. I know I am a better person, a better friend, a better sister and daughter, wife and human being when I am not stretched so thin. And yet, I continue to make the very choices that stretch my life to a breaking point.
A friend had a baby two months ago. She lives here in Albuquerque. I have not yet seen the baby.
Another friend's boyfriend died of cancer last month. Other than a few hurried phone messages, I haven't been in real touch.
These are the kinds of behaviors that make me squirm. I am not really that self-absorbed, too-busy person that I have been masquerading as these last few months. Yet I know, as Annie Dillard says, that how we live our days is how we live our lives. It's this minute and the next and the one after that, that makes up the evidence of our lives, not the self we may claim to be.
Even in my marriage I find too many examples of Charlie Ravioli-inspired behavior. "Can we meet for lunch this week?" Matt asks. "Let me look at my schedule." I respond and then can't squeeze him in. "Do we have Saturday free? Saturday morning? Saturday afternoon? Something?" Matt pleads. "I have group lessons until 1PM, then a rehearsal till 4. I think I might have an hour between 4:30 and 5:30, but I really need to return those three phone calls I have been putting off this week before I leave for my recital tonight. Maybe next weekend."
Maybe after that recital. Or after this commitment.. Or when I have learned the Brahms. Maybe after that program is under my fingers. What I really want to say is, "OK, I'll waste some time on you." But that part of me that cannot give less than 125% to my work stops me.
A high school student came into her lesson for the fourth time in a row apologizing for her busy week. "That's why I haven't practiced," she claimed. "I just had a really busy week." "You have a really busy life," I responded impatiently. "As soon as you figure that out and claim that truth, you'll be in a better position to decide whether or not you can handle piano lessons."
Suddenly, I stopped. If I only changed a few words I have just given myself a much- needed ultimatum: Get in or get out, Amy. Either make some hard choices about your commitments that will allow you to live the life and be the person you think you are OR admit that this busy, harried, hurried person is who you are and stop feeling guilty about who you aren't.
"Hey, Charlie Ravioli, when can I see you?' Matt asks. I haven't answered yet. However, I'm seriously considering the question.
November 10th, 2006
"Last night hooligans broke into the warehouse at Tulipworld." This was the opening sentence of an e-mail I received this morning. I am charmed on a number of levels. Mostly because they would use the word "hooligans"–a word not used often enough in my opinion. Imagine if our newscasters would start to refer to criminals as "hooligans." We might all start treating each other better. But as a result of this hooligan behavior, my hundred tulip bulbs, which were to be delivered to my doorstep next week straight from Holland, will be delayed. Planting tulip bulbs is a small fall touchstone in my otherwise hectic life, a chance to infuse my spring with a riot of color and beauty, but more than that an excuse to stop and do nothing more important than dig in the dirt for a few hours. It sounds like just the break my schedule needs.
Fall is my favorite time of year, but too many years it disappears in a whirl of lessons, recitals, and rehearsals. This year is no different, but I am determined not to come to January and wonder where all those bittersweet, crisp autumn days went. As I write this, we are in Taos for a couple of days. We are taking in the golden aspens and the cool weather, and we are escaping the annual balloon fiesta back in Albuquerque. We have been coming up here in October for three years now. It is beginning to feel like a tradition of sorts, something we don't have enough of after all the years of moving from place to place. I love Taos, overrun as it is with hippies and artists. I love the rounded, organic architecture and the way the light hits the mountains around the village. At this time of year the mountains are usually streaked with gold from the changing leaves, but this year it has been colder earlier and as a result, the colorful season is nearly behind us. Taos Mountain even has snow already. We are staying on the Plaza at the Taos Inn in an old, rustic room with a beamed ceiling so low that Matt can reach up and touch it. Last night we lit a fire in the fireplace. Tomorrow we return to our normal full lives, but for today, nothing is more demanding than deciding where to eat lunch. For 48 hours, time is standing still.
Fall in New Mexico is scented by the fragrance of roasted green chile. Last year, we plunged into the tradition and bought a half-bushel of mild green chile, which I then peeled and froze and used to make pots of green chile stew and green chile sauce for burritos and fajitas. Although a half-bushel seemed to be an overwhelming amount, it was gone by February, so this year we bought a full bushel of medium green chile and two weeks later returned for another half-bushel. It may still be gone by February. As we sat and waited for our bushel to be roasted Matt said, "Someday we may want to buy a freezer for the basement so we can have more green chile." Kids, we are not in Kansas anymore.
This is not the year for the new freezer, however big our appetites may be for green chile. We did, however, buy a new oven this fall after years of cooking on the oldest appliances on the planet. The new oven is black (very slimming, as Matt says) with a gas stove and a convection oven. Our food cooks perfectly evenly and very fast and we have used the new purchase as an excuse to fill our stomachs with cookies and pies and other baked goodies. Our old oven, which was still functional, was filthy with 25 years of grease and crud baked onto its surface (I tried on multiple occasions to clean it. Impossible.), we posted on Craig's list–an Internet community post-it board of sorts. Immediately we had multiple responses from people eager for a free oven however old. In the end, it went to an artist who was planning to use it as part of an art installation. That our ancient oven would be used as art amazes me, but does support my values about making art from the everyday, the ordinary. As the oven was being carted down the street, I found myself wondering, what other dirty, grimy parts of my life have I been discarding without seeing their potential?
It's a question worth pondering, especially when my days seem bursting with the overly familiar. The fall has settled down to its regular pattern of too many lesson, rehearsals and recitals, and I find myself not approaching my work with any wonderment or excitement, but too often with a dull, bored response. It shouldn't be this way. After all, my life is full of art and music–almost overwhelmingly so. I have the privilege of doing hands-on art-making–teaching, playing, rehearsing–nearly 10-12 hours a day. My life has almost none of the usual annoyances of commuting, meetings, and administrative headaches. I can, and do, ignore emails and phone messages for days on end. Some people are making art from ovens, and I, too often, forget to make art from all the art around me. It is a humbling reminder.
These days as I teach and practice, the sunshine outside is full of an invasion of white butterflies. They appeared several weeks ago and hundreds have stayed in our neighborhood, flirting and dancing in our yards. My attention is drawn to their playing, even when I should be focusing on my own playing. I have no idea where they came from, why they are here, or how long they are staying, but butterflies are the worst hooligans we are facing in our little world. I hope they return next spring in time for the tulips.
Contact Amy Greer at: email@example.com