My new student Alexis is six years old, directive– bossy actually–and bright. She walks into the house in high-heeled sandals, and swathed in layers of leggings, dresses, and sweaters. She comes into the house talking about the dog she saw on the way to my house. She tells me what she has done in the week past. She tells me what we are going to do today at her lesson.
We sit together at the piano and I try to find a way into her energy so as to match it, and divert it to a place we can inhabit together. She is just learning to read middle C and treble G. We manage to get past the dreary business of playing middle C 18 times so as to experience it in quarter notes, half notes, and whole notes (crotchet, minim, breve to my British friends. To my American readers, isn’t that interesting that all this time on the other side of the world people have been calling quarter notes crotchets?) We manage to locate treble G. I turn the page. Finally something mildly interesting: playing C and G together.
“Oh, this is fun,” I say.
I show her how to play C and G with her thumb and pinkie. She tries it.
“How is that fun?” she demands.
“Busted,” I think. “Well, listen. It sounds like a car horn,” I say.
I play C and G together over and over. Honk, honk, honk. I honk it an octave higher.
“This sounds even more like a car horn,” I say.
Alex tries it. She listens. “No, it sounds more like a car horn down here.”
She’s intrigued. Temporarily.
Alexis plays the keys like she’s swatting flies. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. She appears resistant to the suggestion of any other technique. She’s going to flail on those keys until she decides it would work better to soften her fingers a little. I’ll be waiting for her.
I am familiar with the insistence of doing it my way. I have it. My neighbor Gwen who knows something about just about everything has it. All the really interesting people have it. Gwen has lately acquired a halo so it isn’t just Alexis that floats my mind across the street to her. It’s the persistent glow emanating from her house.
A couple of months ago, Gwen got a huge flat screen TV, which I like to call The Plasma to differentiate it from her old flat TV screen, which she gave to me. Just up and gave it to me. Our mutual handyman, Matt carried it into my living room and hooked it up. He moved the large CRT television that Gwen had also given me from the front room into the bedroom, and took the tiny TV that had belonged to my father out to the street. I put a free sign on it and it was gone in 12 hours. Now I have what feels like a movie theater screen in my house and what feels like a sister rather than a neighbor across the street.
After Matt had hooked everything up, Gwen swept in with the remote, eager to show me all its features. Well, maybe not eager. Gwen and I have different styles. Gwen is used to doing, not talking about what she’s doing. I am used to fumbling, whining, figuring out what I can on my own, and finally formulating one or two questions to get the rest of the information I need. And I am highly susceptible to over-stimulation and too much information at one time. We have learned over the years to divert our energies to places that we can inhabit together.
Gwen pushed buttons on the remote and showed me, talking in half sentences, how I could find the menu and change the picture to wide or panoramic screen. I grabbed the remote one inch before I tipped into overload.
“OK,” I said. “Let me try.”
I pushed buttons.
“No, not that one,” Gwen said. “You have to. . . here, give it back.”
“No, let me do this.”
“But you’re not doing what I said.”
Right there something crystallized. Something about me I had never thought about. “Gwen,” I recall that I spoke slowly as the realization was dawning. “That’s what I do. I do the opposite of what you say and I fumble around until I get to whatever you said to do. That’s how I learn.”
Gwen acquired sister status when she gave me the TV. She got the halo a few days ago when she got my wireless connection to finally work. She emailed me: “Is there a time you are going to be out of the way for fifteen minutes so I can do this?”
That made me smile. I try to “help” when Gwen’s doing things for me. I don’t know whether the impulse comes from guilt or gratitude for her generosity. I do know that “help” doesn’t help: “What’s that icon there? Maybe that’s what you need. Try that link. That sounds like what you’re looking for. What’s that thing for? Can I make you a cup of tea?”
So I gave Gwen a wide berth and she achieved a wireless connection for me. Last night she brought an HDMI cable over and showed me how to hook it up so I can throw my computer screen up on the flat screen. There was the home page of my web site on the television. Really, it’s like living across the street from a magician!
Now I can stream videos. I can catch up to my friends Susan and Mike, not to mention Gwen, and probably everyone else in the world who incidentally also own Smart phones, and who get to watch all kinds of things I can only hope to see once or twice a week if I can get the disc from Netflix or the library. As I relax after all this excitment, I am grateful–not for the first time–for my neighbor, and I’m really curious about what shoes Alexis will have on next week.