"Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent."
Arthur Conan Doyle
The Complete Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
I’ve recently accustomed myself to writing down a different age, because that time of the year has come as swiftly as the last one.
Dad has always expressed his opinion of birthdays, and it seems I’ve adopted the sentiment: it’s only an ordinary day. No different from any other. Apart from the fact that some distant time in the past, I was welcomed into the world.
(Although I must remark that friends take an extra effort to make the annual celebration special, and I do appreciate them.)
The question remains. Why do birthdays seem like such a big deal? If a friend sends you a page long message, does that bump him higher in your rank of friends? If a family member can’t shimmy out of a meeting for your birthday dinner, does it mean he might as well be estranged?
The logical answer (and the gracious one) is ‘of course not.’ Just because it is someone’s birthday, it doesn’t mean that the sun is obligated to circle around them.
Of course not.
Make no mistake, I’m not completely against birthdays. I think the idea of celebrating someone’s life is fantastic! I enjoy greeting people and making them feel like they are special entities in this harsh world—which they are…But I can’t help but feel that birthdays seem arbitrary in the greater scheme of things.
Birthdays are meant to be landmarks of a person’s existence. You’ve been on this earth for fifty years! Congratulations! You must have lived a great deal--there is the assumption.
Perhaps the longer one exists on this earth, the more he lives.
Though there may be a correlation between existing and living, there is no implied causation of such. (Got that from an old latin quip, in case you were wondering.) Our lives are not measured by the number of days we spend sprawled out on our beds doing absolutely nothing, rather they are measured by the number of days we’re actually living.
This is not to say that spending time indoors is not living—I myself do not frequent parties or social gatherings.
Often times, we are so fixated on some intangible future or some singular time in the future that we forget to live in the present.
CS Lewis’ character Susan Pevensie, for example, was said to have ‘wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she’ll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that age. Her whole idea is to race to the silliest time of one’s life as quickly as she can and then stop there as long as she can.’
Susan did ‘grow up,’ literally, but she didn’t see the whole life picture. Likewise, there are years we wish to whisk past thinking that we’d love the next chapter more than our present. The clock, unfortunately, only goes one way. We can never reclaim the minutes lost.
So, what does it mean to live? (What a heavy question.) I suppose it varies from person to person since we are different people…So I can’t really answer that for anyone…But there’s something common in a well spent life. A well spent life has a person waking up every single morning passionate about something. Something worth living for. Perhaps that is what it means to live.
You should find that something.
As for myself?
I think I’ve found it.
Rather, I think I’ve found Him.
There are other projects I love putting my mind to, but I’ve got a King I’m passionate about, and if nothing else, it’s enough.
So there, I’m another year older, and hopefully, my year has accumulated to days well spent. I hope that my time here on earth add up to more than just years. I hope they add up to something worthwhile. I hope this sort of life is what my colleagues and acquaintances celebrate on my birthday.
Dad nudged my shoulder until I pried my eyes open.
“Don’t you have violin lessons?” he asked.
I nodded, my body still drowsy from sleep.
“It’s nine thirty,” Dad admonished. He shoved me over in an attempt to wake me up. Waking me up was not an easy feat. “Come on, get up.”
My mind obeyed his request, but my body was not as eager. When I finally extracted myself from bed, my mind was a ticking time bomb filled with doubt. What if I was complete rubbish? What if my tutor thought I was rubbish? What have I gotten myself into?
When my violin teacher arrived, I had just emerged from the shower. I’d attempted to scrub away the apprehensions I had woken with, but all that came off was dead skin and dirt.
He will hence forth be known to this blog as Mr L.
I grabbed my violin and raced down the stairs.
Mr L sat on the couch with a slight hunch that could have been mistaken as a slouch. His legs, wrapped in loose slacks, were crossed. His thin hair was gelled back neatly, and when he smiled, his eyes wrinkled behind his rectangular spectacles.
“Hi,” he said mildly, standing to extend a veiny hand.“You must be Danielle.”
“Yes sir,” I shook his hand and noted that he just about matched my height. “You must be Mr L.”
He took the delicate instrument from its black casing, releasing the sweet woody smell of rosin in the process, and began plucking the strings. Creases formed between his brow. It was so off tune. After turning the pegs a few times, Mr L ceased plucking and wedged the violin under his chin. He drew the bow across the strings, creating a rich melody that reminded me of honey. I stood before him in awe, my eyes wide as his fingers pranced across the fingerboard with ease. He varied his pace until he was playing a quirky tune that resembled the theme song of BBC’s Sherlock.
Satisfied, Mr L lowered the bow.
“It has a nice sound,” he remarked, lifting his chin from the chin rest ever so slightly. “Not brilliant, but it has a nice sound. You’re lucky to have it.”
Pride filled my chest. My violin (although brandless and China made) had a nice sound.
We chattered for a few minutes, as new acquaintances often do, before he set the instrument gently on the coffee table and took a clear book from his leather bag.
“For our first lesson,” he said gently, “repeat after me. I.”
“I,” I said, straightening my back and allowing the words to roll of my tongue.
“Must never ever,” he clasped his hands behind his back.
“Must never ever.”
“Rest a violin.”
“Rest a violin.”
“On a seat.”
So much for BBC’s Sherlock, I thought to myself before repeating, “On a seat.”
“Lest anyone sit on it.”
“Lest anyone sit on it.”
Reciting it felt like being inducted into an exclusive brotherhood. Part of me was tempted to ‘solemnly swear I was up to no good,’ but my sensibilities reminded me to tone down my internal abnormal.
“Alright,” he clapped his hands and handed me a book. “Hold this between your right thumb and middle finger…”
“Is this for the bow, Mr L?” I asked, taking the book by two fingers, and holding it away from me as if it were poisoned.
“Why, yes, yes, it is,” he said, his smile widening.
While we tackled the different finger positions, Mr L told comical anecdotes.
“If you ever go to Italy,” he said, “buy a violin. If you go to France, buy a bow.
“I once had a student who went to France and bought a violin, and then to Italy and bought a bow,” he shook his head and chuckled before instructing me to prop the violin underneath my chin. “Let’s proceed to playing notes.”
My hands dampened at the thought of reading notes. Though we’d learned all about it as far back as grade school, I could never make sense of the blackened little circles on music sheets. Here Mr L proved an excellent tutor. He related the notes with finger positions from zero to four, making it easier for me to comprehend the spots on the page.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that the lesson was not as technical as I feared. In fact, the experience was enjoyable. There was a unique sort of elegance to learning the violin. It was like a brook of piney water flowing gently down a mossy bank.
The designated hour elapsed too soon, but it was time to part. Mr L packed up his clear book and I paid him his dues. Mom, cued by the sudden absence of scratching strings, emerged from the kitchen with a smile. The two adults engaged each other in lively conversation.
“How often should she be practicing?” Mom asked, eyeing me like a hawk.
“Twenty minutes in the morning, and twenty in the evening would be best,” he said, standing.
“You’d better practice,” Mom joked.
I accompanied him to the door, and watched his figure disappear down the street.
Perhaps I should learn the theme song to Sherlock.
Although, that would be getting ahead of myself.
I fiddled with my seatbelt as Mich pulled out of the tight parking space. The streetlights flickered, causing the near empty street to take on an orange glow.
Mich had found this cozy parking slot someways past her campus, but the main road was not as pleasant. When we turned the corner, we found ourselves caught in a wide net of cars, all too eager for the stoplight to turn green.
“I don’t know what exactly I like about it,” I said, fixing my eyes on the dashboard, and dropping my hands to my lap. I bit my lip and tried to ignore the boys’ animated conversation in the backseat. “I just find the violin enchanting.” I gave her a quick glance in an attempt to read her expression.
She held the steering wheel lightly, listening intently even as she drove. “Well, you never know, maybe God’s put that desire in you for a reason.”
For what purpose He had done so (whether or not He had done so still proves a mystery to me) was beyond me. Too many nights had I laid under the covers pondering Mich’s statement. I wondered whether my motivation was simply a fleeting fancy. Perhaps I had romanticized the idea of the task in my head, choosing to ignore the difficulties of learning an instrument at such a late age. Perhaps my attempt at the violin was a fool’s endeavor, even when pursued merely as a hobby. Perhaps I'd been unduly influenced by Sherlock Holmes, who, unlike myself, was a genius of sorts.
Despite my reservations, the itch to produce an illustrious melody did not fade. In fact, I scoured the internet, searching for violin teachers in a desperate attempt to turn my dream into a reality.
Three nights ago, I asked Dad about it right before he left the house.
“Why don’t you just learn how to play the harmonica?” he replied candidly. My brother threw his head back in laughter. I threw my hands into the air. That wasn’t a proper answer.
I’ve lived with Dad for almost nineteen years, but there are still times when I can’t distinguish his tone. I hoped he was joking.
Dad poked his head into my room later that night, commanding me to go to bed. I jumped at the opportunity.
“Dad, about the violin lessons…”
“Yeah?” he feigned ignorance. I silently prayed for a miracle.
“Will you allow me to go through with it?”
I examined Dad’s face in the dark.
He wrinkled his features, squinting at me. “You’re going to disturb the whole house with your violin?”
“I won’t play at night,” I offered.
For a moment, he winced, and I was certain he would say no. I did, after all, posses a fickle mind, subject to strange whims and urges. I resigned myself to my fate. Then, he turned thoughtful.
“If you can’t play something decent within a month, then forget about continuing.”
My spirit soared. Dad had given his implied permission! There was still the matter of the fine print, but it was a necessary brushstroke in the greater masterpiece. He only wanted decent progress, as any parent would. Whether or not I could fulfill his condition, I would see when the time came.
That time would come at precisely ten o’clock tomorrow.
I can hardly contain myself.
“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”
This blog is my own attempt at finding the right words. I wish untold stories were easier expressed, but as it is, the almost right word comes more often than the right word.
The trouble lies in crossing the threshold between revolting writing and prolific writing. The deep chasm is a tricky one to cross, and I’ve observed that in an attempt to conquer it, some writers find themselves plummeting into depressive states.
I myself have found the sensation hard to bear.
It is not a fall I am willing to make another time around.
The only remedy I have found effective to bad writing is critique and continuous writing. There’s no escaping it. So, I shall be using this platform to hone my skill, and to share my stories.
With that said, I guess we begin.