I had my second piano lesson yesterday. I have always wanted to play the piano and somehow I have finally gotten around to it after four months of procrastinating. Now I know why I was procrastinating, for nothing is as bracing in quite the same way as the experience of being a complete beginner: This is the middle C. This is a quarter note. When do I get to play ‘Big Chief’ by Professor Longhair? I can clearly forget about ‘Big Chief’ for the foreseeable future. Right now, ‘Twinkle, Twinkle’ looms large on the horizon. This ‘learning to crawl’ mode has been further sharpened by the fact that my teacher, whom I found through an auction raising money for my son’s future nursery school (we bid highest for the lessons), takes a kind of tai chi approach to playing the piano. As in: let’s spend fifteen minutes discussing exactly how my thumb strikes a key, any key, and how my entire body moves when I do this. While I can appreciate this zen of piano, slowing down to such a grindingly minute scale of experience is … not easy. It seems the slower we go, the more loudly every cell in my body is screaming, “Just show me how to play Professor Longhair, goddamn it!” This experience in humility set the tone for the entire day, making me both grateful and uncomfortable. Grateful because I was, in spite of myself, more patient, taken down to the texture of the piano key, somehow anchored in the molecular structure of it. Uncomfortable because I was, in spite of myself, more patient, anchored in the molecular structure of matter.
When my agent called and told me, again, about the on-going, protracted negotiations with Miramax for my next film, and the various insults we suffered in terms of being asked to give up certain creative controls and certain monies (jousting that is par for the course), I was able to say, in all honesty, that it didn’t sound that bad to me. I felt temporarily free of the ugly, driving, gnashing, devouring energy of the media business, which has a way of flying above patience and the density of matter.
I stayed away from the phone and resumed my research for the new film, a period thriller. While reading William Leach’s “Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture,” I came across this amazingly prescient 1901 writing by French cleric Charles Wagner, so fitting for filmmakers, the movie business, ‘Slate,’ and the media society:
“To emerge from obscurity, to be in the public eye, to make one’s self talked of–some people are so consumed with this desire that we are justified in declaring them attacked with an itch for publicity. The abuse of showing everything, or rather, putting everything on exhibition; the growing incapacity to appreciate that which chooses to remain hidden. … One sometimes wonders if society will not end by transforming itself into a great fair, with each one beating his drum in front of his tent.”
Piano lessons for everybody right away, I say. And no record deals.