December 22nd, 2007 :: Ordinary Days
“Do you think it would help if I got two calendars?’ I ask Matt. We are at Borders, and I am making my annual visit to the calendar aisle. Matt looks at me rather exasperatedly. If rolling eyes made a sound, he would be making it.
The yearly calendar expedition is somewhat of a joke, for as far back as I can remember I have been unsuccessful at keeping a calendar. The calendar that I need, no one designs. I need one that allows me to view the month as a whole, fulfilling that strong need of mine to see the bird’s eye view of my schedule, but that allows me significant room to jot notes into individual days. I need it small enough to transport easily, but big enough to make me feel that the days might expand at my command. I want pretty pictures. I need random blank space to jot down miscellaneous thoughts that don’t have a deadline or even a date attached, but will of their own accord provide the thread through my weeks and months. I don’t need the days to be divided into neat hours, like birds on a fence, because I never structure my life that carefully. My life is already overly organized by regular appointments or, more specifically, by lessons and rehearsals. I don’t need to write down that I see Ellie on Mondays at eight in the morning, or that George comes at 3:30 on Thursdays. What I need to write down are the extras: the extra lessons or rehearsals or doctors appointments or coffee dates with friends that fill out the rest of my hours. There aren’t many extras in a week, filled already to capacity with my work life, but still I need somewhere to write these things down.
Some years, I have bought a blank book and created by own calendar, which only made me the object of ridicule when I would take it out in front of colleagues and friends.
Last year I tried one of those monthly calendars that hang on the wall with pictures of cats sunning in the Greek islands. At the very least, I thought it would make me happy to look at these photos. It has, but it hasn’t solved my scheduling problems, because the calendar stays at home, while I often need to make appointments when I am out in the world. Countless times I have gotten home, gone to write down some lunch or hair appointment and found that I was already busy on that date and had to start over. Hence the thinking that maybe two calendars would solve the problem. One monthly calendar with pretty pictures of the Greek islands (I do like the Greek islands….), and a smaller one organized by weeks to carry with me, but with enough space to write down things as I need to. With this plan, I’d also need to carry a blank sketchbook, not for sketching, but to scribble down miscellaneous things as they come to me: grocery lists, phone calls to make, the opening sentence of an essay. It’s all very complicated, and evidence from years past tells me that this new plan may be futile. Chances are that, come March, I will once again be flying by the seat of my pants.
It is not only my annual visit to the calendar aisle that marks this time of year, but also hundreds of other small things. With the leaves gone and the trees bare, every night at 5:00 I can now see the mountains turn the Sandia (watermelon) pink of their name. Teaching in the late afternoon, I wait for this moment of color before I pull the curtains shut by the piano. It bookmarks my day in a comforting way, and reminds me that there is a great big world beyond the small slice of my existence. Like in so many places around the country, it’s been unseasonably warm this fall, my students wearing shorts deep into November. Even last week Laurie arrived for her early morning lesson in shorts. “Aren’t you cold?” I asked, shivering at the sight of her. “You know what climate we live in, don’t you?” “We live in the desert,” she announced with a “who knows? Anything is possible around here” tone in her voice. It is true. Anything is possible.
But today it is cold and raining, a cozy day for staying indoors. For the first time in recent history, December isn’t the mad rush to the finish line it usually is. I have no more recitals this year, and I’m not playing juries, liberating huge chunks of time and energy. True, there are the extra gigs here and there: religious services of various stripes, Christmas parties and the like, but these require no preparation: just throw on a pretty dress and go. When I was commenting to a good friend about the sudden empty hours in my schedule, Julianne asked, “So you’re on the downhill side of the semester?” “No,” I responded with glee in my voice, “I am on the other side. It’s not the downhill side, it is off the hill completely.”
Matt is less quick to give me any credit for the wisdom or good judgment I might have shown in arranging the more relaxed schedule I now find myself in. Several weeks back, we were returning home from a recital I had played. “I might have had another recital to play tomorrow night,” I said to Matt. “Wasn’t it smart of me to turn that down?” “Smart in that taking the gig would have been proof of insanity, sure,” he responded.
I don’t care. As I sit here with holiday music on my stereo, a cookie jar full of gingerbread at my side (thank God for students with mothers who bake!), and a whole half an hour to call my own, I feel a sudden deep contentment. The house is decorated as much as it will be this year. I have stars hanging from every arch and window. Pots of forced paperwhites just this week have begun blooming, filling the air with their subtle fragrance. Glass icicles drip across the fireplace, chandelier, and French doors. There are wreaths on the windows, and I’ve hung tiny white lights outside around all the doors and inside across the mantle and around the kitchen window. In between lessons, I plug in lights, causing one high school student to say, “Amy, I love coming to your house. It’s like a winter wonderland.” However, compared to most of the world, we don’t do much—even our gift giving is minimal. I realize that in confessing this, I am owning up to something that makes me Ebenezer Scrooge, but there it is. In a society where we all have way too much stuff, it is a small act of rebellion not to add to the over-consumption of the season.
This year, I made a mobile. My 91-year-old grandmother used to crochet white lacy angels and bells made out of thread. She is in poor health, her days of crocheting are long behind her, and the dozen angels and bells I have from her are showing signs of wear. They no longer stand up reliably, especially when faced with the challenge thrown by living with two curious cats. So this year, I decided to hang them off a mobile. When I mentioned this to Matt, he responded, “So, you’re telling me that in your spare time you are going to become an aerodynamic engineer and make mobiles?” It’s hard to make a mobile, I discovered, even after I found and bought the basic structure. But after hours of fussing, my mobile hangs above the piano, perfectly balanced and slowly spinning.
Unfortunately, I have never seen a craft project that didn’t look like fun. The only thing that keeps me from indulging more in the aisles of Michael’s is the fear that I will be labeled not “artistic,” but “crafty,” which makes me shudder. (It is a similar fear that makes me turn down a recently offered gift of a kitten: the fear I will be known only as the crazy woman with the cats.) But last weekend, my friend Lora and I, armed with a hot glue gun (a dangerous sight indeed), managed to decorate a wreath with dried cranberries and lights and hang it opposite the chile pepper wreath in the courtyard, thus fulfilling my crafty urges for another season.
In the studio, we are busy learning Christmas carol arrangements, students practicing more eagerly and willingly in this busy month than any other time. There seems to be a universal love of “Carol of the Bells,” which mystifies me. Even my most advanced student, who is working on a Beethoven sonata and the Gershwin Preludes, has a “Carol of the Bells” that he has arranged to his great satisfaction. “Have you come up with an opportunity for me to play ‘Carol of the Bells’ anywhere?” he asked me one week recently. “Because you know my version is awesome.” It is quite good, I must confess, an ad hoc arrangement stolen partly off some recording, I suspect, but nevertheless his work and creativity to put it together. In spite of his enthusiasm, however, I have not been racking my brain for performance opportunities for his “Carol of the Bells.” Clearly, next year I need to do so.
In the meantime, it is getting dark. Grey and cloudy today, the mountains won’t be turning pink this afternoon. Instead it is time to pull curtains, turn on lamps, plug in lights, welcoming another afternoon of teaching, complete with another arrangement of “Carol of the Bells.” Underneath me, the cats are curled up against the floorboard heaters, the tea kettle whistles on the stove. With pleasures big and small, we await the new year to come.
December 13th, 2007 :: Teaching Days
For a man whose home is also his wife’s place of business, my husband is generally good-humored. Although our house is not large enough to have a separate studio, the front part of the house opens into a sunroom, where students can wait before their lessons begin. The piano is situated in the front corner of the living room at the opposite end of the house from the television. After work, Matt can come into the house through the back door, start dinner, watch the news, or work on the computer and read while I finish up my evening lessons. Most of the time it works just fine.
And then there are other times, such as a weekend earlier this fall. Several times each semester I hold group performance classes, teaching on Friday afternoon and all morning on Saturday. These group sessions are chaotic at best, sending Matt screaming to the coffeehouse down the street. Once a month, I host a book group of local music teachers that meets on Friday mornings. “Does the book group ever travel?” Matt asks me sarcastically. It’s not that he minds the book group or the performance classes in theory, but Fridays and Saturdays are his days off. He likes to be at home, without other people, just he and I and the cats. He is, after all, an introvert.
To top off this rather full weekend, on this particular Sunday afternoon I scheduled a photo session at our house so I could finally get the pictures taken for my website. Matt has a very intense day on Sundays; services in the morning and rehearsals in the afternoon. In between he likes to come home, have lunch, drink coffee, read the paper, take a nap, and enjoy the quiet. It was on hearing of the upcoming photography session that Matt really lost it. “You mean, when I get home from church,” (i.e. this would be also called “work” for a full-time church musician), “there are going to be kids here and a photographer?
” “Uh-huh,” I responded sheepishly. “But you can still take a nap and read the paper. You just have to do it in the bedroom.” He was not pleased. He was so not pleased that I began plotting ways I was going to have to make it up to him.
Sunday afternoon arrived. My friend Jerome, a flutist I work with regularly and a terrific photographer, arrived with cameras, umbrellas, and lights. He began moving furniture, and taking pictures off the wall. When Matt got home from church, there were a dozen kids and their parents in the living-room-turned-photo-studio. I saw him come in the door, watched his eyes grow big in disbelief and then to my relief, he began laughing. “When I saw a damn photo shoot happening in the living room, the thing was so over the top it became hysterical,” he later told me. Bless him. Although I will schedule more carefully from this time forward, taking better care to avoid multiple activities in the house on the weekends, we survived with most of our good humor intact. God bless that man.
And the photos—Oh! the photos. Even Matt says they were worth it.
Photos 2 and 3 by Jerome Jim
Contact Amy Greer at: email@example.com