Close reading of Beethoven

We are in that tricky interstice between school year and summer plans. The children alternately delight in and chafe against this lack of structure, and today was my turn in the chafing dish. Luckily, we’re visiting family, and I signed up Young A for a couple of swim lessons in the hopes of getting him more comfortable in the water before camp starts. He’s a tough nut to crack, there’s clearly something that bothers him about swimming, but he won’t just tell anyone about it.

Young J came to the pool with us today, and while Young A had his lesson, he swam around and I think dropped his habit of swimming with fingers pinching his nose. So that was a breakthrough. In the car on the way back, I got Young A to at least agree to tell his swim teacher why he’s not comfortable, if he absolutely can’t participate. We’ll see. I think that lack of easy access to water, combined with our failure to prioritize swimming as a skill, are both at play here. (Depending on how in need of self-criticism I may be at a given moment, one or the other factor looms larger.)

Last night, after the kids were in bed, and I wanted nothing more than to go to sleep myself, but couldn’t due to timing of taking my meds two hours after eating, I sat down at my mom’s piano. A lot of the music I studied during my twelve year piano career lives here, and last night I found myself going back to a Beethoven sonata I had played in a competition in high school. The way I played it last night was a total mess. But my parents were kind, as always (and from another room, the wrong notes are less apparent, especially with the dishwasher on). I found myself fascinated with the annotations on the score, which mostly came from my long-suffering teacher, Mrs H. I didn’t exactly take her teaching seriously, not for years. I don’t know how she or I stood it. I used to record my lessons, at her request, but I rarely listened to the recordings, because of all the lectures that awaited me on playback. The silence after her asking me if I really wanted to be there (I did; I didn’t). And those dollar signs — her last-ditch attempt at a semi-fun way to get me to correct some repeated errors in the Beethoven. If I didn’t correct them by the date in question, I’d have to pay her a fine. I don’t remember how much the fine was, but I must have shaped up somehow. I played the sonata at the German Embassy sometime in high school, and received an Honorable Mention. That must have been a Pyrrhic victory for Mrs H, with the teeth-gnashing she’d gone through to produce it. (May Mrs H rest in peace.)

Recently a couple of cosmic signs have made me realize I’ve probably got to get back to the writing I’ve been neglecting for years now, the mode of expression that was my first love — poetry. It has surely been nice to have the much broader readership that writing autobiographical nonfiction in prose affords. I know those of you who follow this blog might find it difficult to follow me if I were to start posting poems here (and if I were to publish them here, I pretty much couldn’t send them out anywhere else). 

So I’ll have to unfold some secret temporal fold-out in the center of the book of my life, one I haven’t gotten to yet and which may require a letter opener to slit open, and do more than one kind of writing. My writing here has taught me a lot, and I know it has conveyed a lot, and it may have (and still may) help/ed people who have been or are or will be in my boat, cancerwise.

But my life story has many, many notes, it has passages I am still trying to get right, it has dynamics that need finessing. So I need to start practicing again. And even listen to the uncomfortable silence that follows the difficult questions.


I flew on the good news of my scans to New Mexico. It was a memorable, exhausting week. We rode the rapids, we rode on horseback, we hiked, and to cap it off, we immersed ourselves in art.

It was hard to come back, and not only because our flight deposited us at midnight at LaGuardia Airport, which is hell on earth these days due to construction. It was hard to say goodbye to a fantastical volcanic landscape we’d fallen quickly in love with, to delicious spicy food, to sunshine without humidity.

Also, hard to return because it’s the time of year that everything overturns, for us and for the kids. There are less than two weeks left in the school year. The kids sense this and they start freaking out right about now. Not only restless energy, although there is that. There is also the fear of the unknowns of summer, magnified this year because they are both leaving home for the first time: Young J for a whole month, Young A for two weeks. They’ll be at the same place, which I’d like to think will be a comfort, but the way they’ve been lashing out at each other lately, it’s hard to be sure. What if Young A is in the throes of homesickness and goes for a hug and Young J refuses? (Actually, their dynamic tells me the opposite is more likely.) I can’t possibly control things like that, but I’m allowing myself to be heartbroken in advance if it does come to pass. (And I’ll be much relieved when it doesn’t.)

I have some work, so that should hopefully keep me occupied and out of trouble while the kids are away. J and I may take a short trip, but we haven’t yet made any plans. The task of acquiring and labeling 20 pairs of underwear and socks each for the boys is too daunting for me to think beyond it.

But the last label will get slapped on the last pair of underpants, the suitcases will get zipped up, and the boys will occupy a space separate from us for a time that will probably feel simultaneously endless, and not quite long enough. Just like our recent vacation. Just like life — whether it is allowed a dénouement at a typical pace, or whether it slips by more quickly, like those last grains of sand in the hourglass, getting pulled through in a hurry.

One last shameless plug for our cancer immunotherapy fundraiser: the walk is this weekend. We’d love your support. Thank you.