Erin's Everyday Thoughts

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Squeezebox

I've officially started to teach myself to play the accordion. In the fall, I brought from my parent's house an old accordion that they'd had for a while. I'm not sure exactly where it came from, but I'll have to ask the next time I'm visiting. I'll also have to take a picture of it to post here. It is a beautiful cream with a design of tiny flowers. It has keys, cream-colored buttons, bellows, worn leather straps. It looks very well loved, and the sound is still pretty good. (A few of the chords are a little sketchy but most seem fine.)

I'm excited to learn a new instrument, and I've chosen the accordion for a few reasons.

First off, I have one.

Second, I used to play piano but never felt I'd ever be really "good" at it. Proficient, perhaps. But I always felt it was more of a struggle for me to learn than others I knew growing up who also played piano. It's possible that I'm not quite coordinated enough to play the more difficult pieces that I always longed to play. I still want to play around with the piano, but I think there is a limit to how good I could get. With the accordion, I do not feel the same limitation. (At least, not yet.) The combination of melody with chord seems very natural to me. (Perhaps because I used to play melodies with chords on a church organ when I was in high school but didn't have the time or talent--it took me a while to learn songs, I really had to practice--to learn all of the "actual parts" for 5 songs per week. Simple melody with chord always came fairly easily.)

Third, I think accordions are funny instruments. Funny in a good way. They seem unusual like bagpipes or platypuses. I like that.

Fourth (and perhaps most importantly), my grandma used to play accordion. (In fact, we can still get her to pull her accordion out every so often.) I've always liked the idea of passing down knowledge from generation to generation, and I fully intend (once I've gotten the basics down a bit) to bring my accordion to her and ask for some pointers. And one day I'll play the Beer Barrel Polka (what she generally plays for us) in a way that will make her proud!

I've practiced twice so far, and one of the funniest parts has been Phoebe the dog's reaction to my playing. I tried to ease her in at first. I played piano for a few minutes (since she'd heard that), and she was fine. She sat near my feet and listened. As soon as I picked up the accordion, though, she was interested. What was this thing that I was strapping onto my chest? Her tail was wagging. She had to smell it. I think she even licked it once or twice. And then when I started playing, her demeanor changed. She looked at me in such a way that said--"Erin, why?" Her eyes were large, her tail stopped. What was I doing to her? As I continued to play, she started to pace nervously around the room. After a while, it got to such a breaking point that she let out a half-howl, half-whine that to me said, "I just can't take anymore." So shortly after, I let her off the hook and stopped practicing. (Not, however, without explaining to her that she was going to have to learn to get along with the accordion.)

I'll keep you posted on my progress as I go along. Right now "Way Down Upon the Swanee River" is all I've got. (And it's excrutiatingly slow when I play it.) But I will continue to learn.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

On Being Genuine

I’ve been thinking lately about relationships—loves, friendships, family ties. In each of these, the thing I strive for most is to be genuine. Right now, this word is one of the most intriguing and important to me. I decided to look it up to understand its literal dimensions first.

gen·u·ine [jen-yoo-in] –adjective
1. possessing the claimed or attributed character, quality, or origin; not counterfeit; authentic; real: genuine sympathy; a genuine antique.
2. properly so called: a genuine case of smallpox.
3. free from pretense, affectation, or hypocrisy; sincere: a genuine person.
4. descended from the original stock; pure in breed: a genuine Celtic people.

The genuine I’d like to achieve comes through in each of these but most strongly in definition #3. “Free of pretence, affectation, or hypocrisy; [and another word for which I have a strong affection] sincere.”

I also did a quote search to see what’s been said on the subject. I didn’t come up with a lot, but I did think these three were interesting:

“I’m afraid of losing my obscurity. Genuineness only thrives in the dark. Like celery.” --Aldous Huxley

“Never idealize others. They will never live up to your expectations. Don’t over-analyse your relationships. Stop playing games. A growing relationship can only be nurtured by genuineness.” --Leo F. Buscaglia

(and this one isn’t really about genuineness at all, but I found it in my search and liked it)

“When genuine passion moves you, say what you’ve got to say, and say it hot.”
--D.H. Lawrence

I think there are several levels to being genuine. (And I'm presenting these here purely as my current thoughts on the subject.) The first involves being true to yourself; the second being genuine when interacting with others; and the third nourishing genuineness in others.

I think in order to hit levels two and three, you have to have explored level one. If you’re striving to be genuine, it must help to first figure out what you’re all about. What is real to you? What is true to you? How do you feel? How do you think? What moves you? What is right and wrong to you? I don’t think you have to have fast answers to all of these questions--maybe only to have thought about them. But I think the first step must be to be honest about yourself—emotionally, intellectually, morally. (And these "answers" will certainly change throughout your life!)

The next level then would be taking those ideas and ideals of self and showing them to the world through your interactions with others. I think this is where it gets tricky. This step takes real effort. (Not that the first one doesn’t.) I find especially in interactions where I don’t know someone very well, I tend to put on a persona that seems appropriate instead of always being genuinely me. I don’t think this is a bad thing; it may even be necessary in some cases. But I can only imagine a person feels most fulfilled when she is genuinely herself in as many situations as possible. Idle chit-chat. Small talk. Saying things just to say things. I think these can hurt strides toward genuineness. If you speak without thinking, you’re bound eventually to say something that you don’t really mean, something that you just think you should be saying, something that is not sincere.

I often associate thoughtfulness with genuineness, although I don’t think the two always go hand and hand. I once worked with a man who spoke slowly. I guess it was less speaking slowly and more pausing for long moments before he spoke. At first, this was hard to adjust to, and I wasn’t sure why it took him so long to respond in conversations. As I got to know him better, though, I realized each pause was full of thought. And each thing he said was exactly what he thought on a subject. How inspiring!

This is not to say that I think genuine conversation has to be serious conversation or slow and thoughtful conversation. I think that spontaneity, humor, quick-witted repertoire, can be just as genuine. It can show you into someone’s sense of humor, someone’s random thought patterns.

Back to it, though. The third level I see is nourishing genuineness in others. I think this can be done in a leading-by-example way (be genuine yourself) and also by showing appreciation for someone else’s sincerity.

As I want to be genuine in my life, I also want to be genuine in my writing. This is a topic for another day, though.

Here are my questions for you (and I’d love to hear thoughts):

1) What is the difference between being genuine and being honest?
2) How do you maintain genuineness in your life and in your writing?
3) Why in the world isn’t there a word “genuinity”? (I kept finding in writing this that I wanted to use this made-up word!)

And now, I am genuinely finished with this entry. :-)

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Books and More Books

Per Theresa's suggestion, here is the list of books I received for Christmas. I'm excited to read each: (appearing approximately in the order I received them)

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
The Best Book of Puns
A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie
Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie
Poetry as Survival by Gregory Orr
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Weight by Jeanette Winterson
The Tent by Margaret Atwood
Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood
Walden: 150th Anniversary Illustrated Edition by Thoreau (photos: Scot Miller)
Animals of the Ocean
Gifts by Ursula K. LeGuin

Over the holiday, I also acquired (by way of gift card or really good find):

The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler
The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd

I have a lot of reading ahead of me this year!

Did you receive or buy any good books over the holidays?

Monday, January 08, 2007

Queen of Mystery

This weekend, I indulged. I looked at the stack of new books I received for Christmas (my friends and family are the absolute best!), and instead of diving into something that would make me work a bit, I went straight for Agatha Christie. The book? Murder at the Vicarage.

There is a simple but ever present allure for me in Christie’s writing. I’ve read her since I was a child, and I never seem to get tired of her books. The mystery is not my general reading fare, but something about the way she tells a story keeps me reading her work. It’s a mystery, yes, but it’s also a thousand details about how people live. I think this is particularly true of her novels starring Miss Marple, an older woman who has an eye for detail and a nose for mystery and intrigue. When the police are dumbfounded, Miss Marple can put all of the small details together and come up with the answer.

It’s satisfying to me to see situations wrapped up so thoroughly. By the end of the novel, all is solved. And I’m almost always surprised by the outcome. (I’ve never been good at figuring out whodunit, or realizing the trick to “trick” movies—like The Sixth Sense.)

And I can never get this image out of my head: Agatha Christie, sitting at her writing desk, smiling the smile of someone who knows whodunit! Smiling the smile of someone sliding in clues to lead the reader along! I imagine her as one of the happiest writers.

(Side note: The new editions of her books being released are beautiful.)