BY ELAINE KLAASSEN
If I were to rank different activities in the order of physical difficulty, that is, the amount of effort required, from the most difficult to the easiest, it would look like this:
1) giving birth
2) emerging from the ocean not having drowned
3) playing Chopin Etudes
4) putting on fitted sheets
5) getting up in the morning
We’re alive. Everything takes effort. You have to breathe.
When I was giving birth to my second child, her dad said the sweat was flying off my face like in a cartoon.
What happened at the ocean at least only took a few minutes, as opposed to the hours and hours of giving birth.
The Mediterranean Sea was relatively calm the day I went in. There were lots of people in the water, bouncing around and rolling in the waves. They seemed to be enjoying themselves. I walked in up to my ankles at first. Then I thought it seemed OK so I went in a little farther. I’m not used to the ocean. When I was in the water up to my waist my feet sank into very soft sand—up to my knees, and I was immobilized. Was it quick sand? It was like wet cement but softer. I saw a large wave approaching. How do I get out of this? I asked myself. Soon to be immersed, I wondered when to breathe. Somehow I managed to extricate my legs from the very soft sand and was able to move a couple of inches toward the shore. But then another wave covered me and pushed me down. I tried crawling along the bottom in the water. I couldn’t call for help because it seemed ludicrous that I should need help. How could it be that everyone else was having a good time and I was drowning? I was mortified. And, I was pretty scared.
When I got myself to what seemed to be the shoreline I used every ounce of strength in my body, I truly gave it everything I had, kind of like giving birth, or maybe like being born, I don’t remember, to get myself into an upright standing position so I could emerge from the water.
Thankfully you don’t risk your life to play a Chopin etude, but you do bring your entire self to it. The thrill is incomparable. I didn’t play the piano for a long time. But now I’m playing again. I missed the physical joy of it, the exuberance, the difficulty, the challenge. I try to write music within the range of what I can do at this point.
Now, fitted sheets are not in the same category. The thrill is relatively small, but the sheets ARE very difficult— like the last time I was putting one on, I wondered how many more years I could keep this up. And oddly, my friend Michael, who’s younger, said the same thing to me a few days later. “How much longer will I be able to do this?”
Getting up every day and figuring out what to wear and what to eat and just maintaining your physical life is not that bad, unless you’re depressed. Then it takes all the effort you can possibly make.
We do what we can, not what we can’t, wandering around, falling down and getting up, tripping over ourselves, repeating ourselves …
I have been writing music with parallel narratives for about 30 years. I performed my third set of pieces with narratives last fall, Piano Stories III. There were 10 of them and Southside Pride is publishing one a month until they are done. This piece was recorded by Mark Klaassen and performed by myself on piano.