The composition assignment in the studio this week is to take a favorite book and write music for a scene, or a character, or the emotional arc of the story. As a result of this assignment, I’ve gotten to hear about a lot of favorite books. I love this.

It’s gotten me thinking about my favorite books: A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner, East of Eden by John Steinbeck, The Time of Our Singing by Richard Powers. Or about favorite authors generally: Louise Penny, Adam Gopnik, Julia Cameron, Natalie Goldberg, Chaim Potok, Willa Cather, Julia Glass . . . I recently read The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe, a memoir about the author reading books with his mother, who was dying of cancer. The two of them are voracious and eclectic readers. There account of doing so is lovely, and life affirming, and has shamed me into reading more. I have, right at this moment, a pile of books sitting next to my coffee table that I reserved from the library after reading about them in Schwalbe’s memoir.

Truth is I’ve needed this kind of inspiration lately. I’ve been in a bit of a funk. There are probably ten thousand reasons for this, none of them that earth-shattering or even that interesting, but the common theme might be related to the feeling that much like Sisyphus, I spend all day every day pushing a pebble up a mountain (Yes, Sisyphus may have been pushing a boulder, but mine is more like a pebble.). It is a small, small pebble. It is a big, big mountain. There is often a headwind I struggle against and rarely a tailwind giving me a friendly shove forward. For the most part, I do this pebble pushing in insolation. I practice, I swim my laps, I go to yoga classes, I garden, I meditate, I write, I teach my lessons. There is no one holding the space for me. There is no office to go to or friendly, competitive colleagues to generate some motivation or accountability. Deadlines or goals are self-imposed, as is the discipline needed to keep showing up. Sometimes after six hours of working on my own projects and practices I find myself thinking: I still have five hours of teaching ahead of me today. Five. Hours. I manage it, of course I do, but sometimes the mountain feels especially steep and the top so, so far off in the distance.

And then, last week, this happened:

Tuesday night I was teaching Celia. Celia is an eighth-grader who has been in my studio since she was six years old. She is, in fact, the second child in a family of four kids, all of whom take lessons with me. I love this family.

Celia comes to piano at 7:15PM, my last lesson on Tuesdays. I was tired and nursing my funk by counting the minutes until I’d be done for the day. Matt was in the kitchen cooking dinner, the cats were out and about: Godiva sitting on my teaching chair, Yun-Sun sitting on the back of an overstuffed chair surveying the scene.

“Amy,” Celia said to me, completely out of the blue. “You have a nice life. You get to make your own schedule. You have two sweet cats, and somebody who cooks you dinner. You have a nice life.”

I was startled out of my self-absorbed pity. So startled I did not (could not) respond.

The next day, this happened:

It was Mitchell’s lesson, also my last lesson of the day. Repeat scene from the night before concerning my self-pitying thoughts about my long day, Oh the mountain is so, so steep and the pebble so, so small. I am so, so tired…

Mitchell is a seventh-grader. I have known Mitchell since before he was born, as I also taught his two older sisters who are now in college. I cannot imagine the studio without the cornerstones of Celia and Mitchell’s families. Mitchell says to me:

“Amy, how long do you teach every day?”

“About five hours.” Five. Hours. I am thinking to myself.

“That’s a long time,” he said. Before I could agree, he goes on:

“But you love it so much. It’s super fun for you, right? So the time goes fast.”

Immediately, I think two thoughts.

Number one: I am SO glad he thinks I love it SO much and that it is super fun for me.

Number two: Oh yeah, I DO love it so much and it IS super fun for me. In fact, there is no other way I’d rather spend my time.

Wow.

My favorite book of all time might be Selma by Jutta Bauer. It is a tiny children’s book about a dog who asks a wise ram, “What is happiness?” In response, the ram tells the story of Selma the sheep. Every day Selma eats some grass, plays with her children, exercises in the afternoon and has a chat with Mrs. Miller (a formidable-looking vulture) before she goes to sleep. When asked what she would do if she had more time, she says that she would eat some grass and play with her children and exercise in the afternoon and have a chat with Mrs. Miller before she went to sleep. When asked what she would do if she won a million dollars, she says that she would eat some grass and play with her children and exercise in the afternoon and have a chat with Mrs. Miller before she went to sleep.

What would I do if I had more time? I would practice and write and garden and meditate and do yoga and swim laps and teach my lessons and pet my cats and have a chat with Matt every night before I fall asleep.

What would I do if I won a million dollars? I would practice and write and garden and meditate and do yoga and swim laps and teach my lessons and pet my cats and have a chat with Matt every night before I fall asleep.

This is the definition of happiness. Our pebbles. Our mountains.