The last time I trimmed my fingernails I decided to take a few extra minutes to pamper my hands. I filed and buffed each nail, and then treated my hands to a tropical scented “scrub” using a concoction I received as a party favor at a baby shower four years ago - which tells you how often I perform anything other than basic maintenance.
I rinsed away the gritty granules from the scrub, soaked my hands in warm water, and then smothered them in thick Swedish hand cream. As I massaged the cream over the tops of each hand, I could feel tears coming to my eyes. "My little hands," I thought, suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude for all the things they do - they dance over piano keys and grip the handles of our Malmark bells. They translate my feelings onto paper in the letters I write my friend and put my thoughts into words through the keys on this computer. They prepare food for my family, and clean the home we live in. They light candles on dusky fall evening, and pour wine into glasses. They lovingly pat my dogs and tickle my grandson; they hold tight to my husband’s hand when we’re walking in our neighborhood or sitting side by side watching television.
I should do this more often, I thought, continuing to slather cream into the dry skin that soaked it up as quickly as it was applied. I should pamper my hands this way, try and keep them soft and unlined as long as possible. Cover them up with gloves when it’s cold, keep them out of hot water and harsh detergents.
I should appreciate them.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence then, with all this thinking about my hands, that I’ve been feeling a desire to use them, to make things with them. Beyond the normal, everyday things, I have this urge to DO something, to create something tangible. I long ago accepted the fact that needlework and I are not destined to be friends (the memories of my seventh grade sewing class are still too haunting to recall without twinges of horror); nor were any of my attempts at “art” much more successful. Still, this twitching in my fingers persists. What can I do with them?
The obvious answer for me is, of course, playing the piano. Before we moved into this house, I would plop down on the piano bench two or three times a day and noodle through some arrangements of pop songs or standards, scurry around with a little Mozart, bang out some Beethoven, or pour my heart into some Chopin.
In our old house, the baby grand piano sat right in the middle of the living room, and I passed it just about anytime I went anywhere in the house. But here - well, the piano is in the basement. And although our basement is finished and very nicely appointed, I only go there when I have a specific reason: to exercise, look for a book, use the printer, watch a movie on a rainy weekend afternoon. Play the piano.
So playing, rather than being something I did as a natural part of my everyday rhythm and routine, now must be something I do with specific determination. I must say to myself: I am going downstairs to play the piano. Not necessarily to Practice the Piano - which is distinct in my mind from Playing the Piano - but simply to Make Music.
Sounds easy, yes? But yet, I don’t do it. Or very rarely. There are always things calling me upstairs - laundry, or cooking, or dog walking, or reading. My desk and computer. I have let this other part of my creative life, this musical part, slip away, and I think the itch in my fingers these days is reminding me to reclaim it.
In one of the essays in Life In General, I wrote “I’ve always been drawn to the piano in the way I thought a true artist should be, feeling a physical need to play like a smoker needs a cigarette or an alcoholic needs a vodka tonic.” But with my piano hidden out of sight and my accompanist jobs gone, it’s as if I’ve been detoxed from my addiction.
Or maybe not. In this case, falling off the wagon could be a good thing. In addition to pampering my hands a little more often, I shall start listening to them too, paying attention to their call for action, their need to engage in creative play in a different genre.
I believe in the power of music for so many things: to improve my neurological function, to soothe my soul, to enhance my sensitivity, to inspire my overall creativity.
Why wouldn’t I want to make more of it?