Notebook exercise # 4

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Write a love letter to someone you do not know.

Dear child playing the piano behind the closed door,

I can’t hear your voice, only your teacher’s, and she accompanies your ragged efforts with a determined tone, as if her words will pull from you the correct notes and rhythms. I stand and casually walk past the closed door, peeping through the narrow rectangle of glass, into a room that isn’t exactly how I would have imagined it: larger, and with more light. It has always sounded like you are playing in a dark closet. I glimpse you in this stolen way. You are older than I’d imagined, a young teen with hair cropped short into a pageboy cut; you might even be a boy rather than a girl, as I’d assumed. How can I write a love letter to someone I cannot see?

I sit again, and listen intently to the music you are making with your fingers. You keep a patient beat, hesitating as you try to read the notes you have failed to practice at home. I know this sonatina, by Muzio Clemente, one of my favourites as a young musician. You start, you pause, you try again. You have a dogged patience to your persistence, a haphazard understanding of what you’re trying to achieve, but a willingness to go on.

As I turn the page, you lose the beat altogether, and your teacher steps in to direct you, her tone not patience but not unkind. She sings along. She claps. She makes counting noises to pull you onward, and for a little stretch, here, it is only her, and you pause as if unable to continue. The song seems to grow longer and longer, and I wonder if you will ever finish it. You were wearing a white and grey t-shirt on this hot day, your face bent away from the door, as you perched on the piano bench and watched your teacher gaze at your music, which she was holding in her hands. On a chair nearby, your school backpack.

You have reached a form of conclusion, though I’m not sure it’s yet the end, and your hands crash out two chords — smash, smash — after which you continue on, your fingers chopping at the keys, dragging yourself toward the end, which requires a trill to complete. “And that’s a sharp,” the teacher reminds you, and you try to trill a second time, then stagger into the real end, the one we’ve all been waiting for.

You whack at the finishing chords. They are not the correct chords.

“What key are you in right now?” asks your teacher, and you are forced to backtrack, to begin to take another crack at this ending, again.

Have you practiced this song, this week? Are you sight reading the notes and hoping the teacher won’t notice? What are your expectations for yourself? Do you enjoy playing the piano? Does this song speak to you, or is it like a truculent closed mouth, a turned head, an impenetrable mystery whose meaning is contained behind the closed door, and which even your teacher cannot illuminate for you, though she tries, a scene you might remember when you’re older, much older, with some fondness, and, even, then, regret.

xo, Carrie

The wild writers are coming to town
Sequencing exercise # 1: The boy on the swing

4 Comments

  1. It dawned on me that writing a letter to someone I do not know would probably end up being a letter to myself without my meaning it to.
    To not do this must be one of the skills I need to possess if I want to write fiction.
    “How can I write a love letter to someone I cannot see?” Exactly. Brilliant exercise.

    Reply
  2. I can only write letters to people I cannot see now.
    🙂
    This whole thing kind of reminded me of my violin lesson, just yesterday.

    Reply
    • I love this comment, Kerry! I’ve been meaning to tell you for a long time, since you made it. I take my sight for granted — it was such a good exercise for me to write about someone I couldn’t see, physically, and to realize that I could still “see” that person, in other ways.

      Reply
  3. Love this. May have to try it out with my class!

    Reply

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