Yesterday I found myself at my parents house with a few minutes to spare before we headed to dinner and a hankering to play some Christmas carols, and so I started digging through the sheet music that lives in a cabinet in the living room.
I found the old Whitney Houston sheet music I asked for one year for Christmas, along with an old Joan Baez song book that probably belonged to my mother. Deeper down I found Jacques Brel, "Softly, As I Leave You," old violin practice books, and then, buried beneath Phantom of the Opera and The Carpenters was my favorite of them all: the 1988 Chartbusters song book of "the hits of today," its cover missing and its pages worn. I did not attempt Billy Ocean's "Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car." I did not attempt "Tell It To My Heart" or "Devil Inside." Instead, I sat down and began to sight read the one song I remembered best: Aerosmith's "Angel."
My fingers dragged through the notes. I lingered way too long on certain chords on my way to reading the next one. I was the piano playing equivalent of a stutterer, struggling to get chords out like words. Awkward and embarrassed. Falling down stairs. From the other room, I could hear J sigh.
I'm not telling this story to lament over my lapsed piano skills. Instead, it made me think about two things. First, how when we were young it was okay to do things you were unsure of, like struggle your way through a piece of sheet music, but as we get older, the expectation of success looms too large over our heads (have you read Danielle's piece yet? if not, why ever not?). You should know how to do this by now. You should be accomplished. But why should we bow to that expectation? It's okay to try the things you're not very good at, or think you might not be very good at. Of course it is. As I my lumbering fingers found each note, it didn't sound perfect, but every once in a while (*beat* don't make it tough, I'll put away my pride...) I hit them just fine and the song was mine to sing.
And the other thing: I was going to feign embarrassment over sitting at a piano in my parents' house, playing sheet music from 1988. But I'm really proud of this. It made me laugh. It made me remember all of the stupid things I loved in 7th grade, like sheet music, or the London Fog men's fedora I wore to orientation, or baseball cards, or doing the running man; they all made me so happy. They didn't make me popular: they made me happy.
This is the part about nostalgia that I find the most comforting and misunderstood: it doesn't matter what it is that makes you happy, or makes you laugh, or makes you cry. The thing is not the thing. It doesn't matter where it turns up when you're 36 and bored and come across something that makes you laugh remembering what it felt like to be 12 and terrified that you weren't ever going to feel the emotion they were singing about in that song, terrified that loneliness and heartache were what love was going to be like. It only matters that when you hear that song, or when you find yourself hacking your way through it on a piano you haven't played in years, picturing yourself young and naive and wearing a London Fog fedora as you strut into a gym full of pre-teens: that you always laugh, that you always smile.
That you laugh until you cry as you sing it: ba-ee-ay-ee-bay...
© Zan McQuade. All rights reserved.