For those who haven’t heard of him, I’ll introduce you. The Piano Man, as he’s known, is an unidentified man who was found wandering the streets of Sheerness, Kent in England in April of this year. Wearing a soaking wet suit and tie, he appears to be suffering from some kind of dissociative disorder, perhaps amnesia, and he doesn’t speak. When offered a pen and paper by the staff of the hospital to which he was taken, he sketched a grand piano.
To date, he hasn’t been identified (although he was at different times thought to be a French street musician and a Czechoslovakian drummer, theories which were decidedly hampered by both men having turned up in the media to say, “Not me, I’m afraid.”), and he hasn’t spoken a word, choosing instead to express himself by playing the piano—everything from The Beatles to Tchaikovsky.
I suppose there are many people attracted to the mystery, and although that’s part of my interest in The Piano Man, it’s more than that. I’m also drawn by memory.
I took piano lessons when I was young, and was told I’d never be a virtuoso because I have small hands. It was a correct assessment; I’m not very good at all at the classics, as it turns out. I struggle to reach an octave chord, and though I would love to play Rachmaninov, it will never be; he had a hand span that would be the envy of any NBA player. For many years, I didn’t play much at all.
At university, navigating year three of the bad years, and running low on excuses to offer concerned professors who wondered why I regularly showed up to class with cuts and bruises, I wandered down to the basement of the student union one night and found, shoved in a closet behind a cobwebbed ping-pong table, an old and dilapidated upright piano. I dragged it out into the room, and sat down in front of it, running my hands over its chipped keys. After a moment, I started to play. It wasn’t Rachmaninov; it wasn’t even Billy Joel. I closed my eyes and listened to the music as if someone else were playing it, letting my hands do whatever they wanted to do. It was a glorious sound, and the size of my hands didn’t matter.
I spent a lot of time alone with that piano that year. Perhaps a bit like The Piano Man, I found it the only conduit for expressing that which lingered inside me and refused to come out any other way. It’s not a unique story at all; anyone who’s seen Shine or The Piano or watched Tori Amos writhing on her piano bench knows that. But there’s a reason there aren’t stories about tambourines or oboes the way there are about pianos; they are soulful in a way that makes them a perfect partner for a lost soul.
I play songs in my sleep even now, tapping out chords on the headboard or across Mr. Shakes’ back. And my small hands, a hindrance to my playing others’ compositions, were a gift in the end; they help me write my own music, still with my eyes closed, letting my hands do whatever they want to do.
I’ve realized I have to do the same thing with blogging. I’ve had a few moments lately where I’ve doubted whether all the blogging in the world of a smalltime, amateur blogger, or even a sizable group of smalltime, amateur bloggers (and a few big guns), can make much of a difference. It began with fleeting thoughts, easily dismissed, but then they started to linger, and by last weekend, the doubt hung on me like a rain-soaked cloak. A day off, a visit with friends, a reconnection with someone who was once a very good friend and, as it turns out, still is, helped rejuvenate me a bit and set my mind back to the task at hand. It didn’t eradicate the doubt, but it gave me the energy to work through it.
It’s difficult to be passionate about something over which one has no control, no matter the particular passion or the circumstances that inform the feelings of powerless. Such difficulty is universal; I imagine no one escapes this life without having suffered the pain of futility at one time or another, except perhaps for the most deliberately apathetic, or the very stupid, who cannot discern a specific ineffectuality from the rest of their frustrating existence.
I am overwhelmed sometimes by the things that need to change, and overcome with the sense that I am helpless to make a difference, in spite of my desire to do so. But I’ve found that when that creeping sense comes calling, I can shoo it away in much the same way I have before, substituting one keyboard for another. So you must forgive me if sometimes I close my eyes and let my hands search out the keys on my desktop as they will. They may tap out an unusual piece like this now and then, but they’ve served me well before, finding a way to tug out of me that which ties me in knots, and I need to let them do it again.