Yesterday morning I awoke in a shuttered suite, bathed in pastels, sunshine leaking through the cracks, and when I flung open the curtains (averting my bleary eyes) I saw pristine white boats preparing for a day of fishing in a calm ocean. And I finally put my head back down again in my darkened New York apartment, lulled by "Manhattan waves": the rush of cars up and down Broadway.
Both places had clutter in common. It is amazing; no matter how spacious and sumptuous the hotel room, it seems I react to it like an artist to a blank canvas: I must fill it, or die trying. From the bed yesterday morning, I could see sneakers, dress shoes, socks, shirts, boxer shorts, etcetera laying a trail into the distance, until they reached the living area, where leftover cheese, crackers, and fruit took up the slack: a clump of Boursin here, a used red wine glass there, the wrapper of the crackers placed "just so" on the floor next the coffee table. It was a composition! I had replaced the sanitary perfection of the suite with my native, magnificent disorder, and in record time! Is there a market for this sort of art?
There must be a Latin saying along the lines of "If it is there, it will be consumed." (Perhaps in Spanish: "the tapas will always be gone by evening"?) This hotel was certainly a marvel of consumption. I was not blameless; I fell in with the herd; I ached to consume every inch of my room, every lotion in the bathroom, and in a fit of pique over my $34 room service charge for oatmeal, coffee, and juice, I shoved all the unused toiletry items into my suitcase. (Needless to say, I do not recommend this resort for my more frugal friends). The room service bills were like veritable poems of greed, an endless tally of fees and surcharges which you would hopefully forget about on the beach, in the sunshine.
And I did; I opted against practicing (using the trusty "when in Rome" excuse) and ambled to the beach with nothing other than my shades and my Moleskine notebook (in which I wrote nothing). There I cell phoned my friends, who were amused and/or jealous (my intended effect). I ordered a mango frozen beverage. Then I sat, and baked, and tried to imagine Beethoven. I am not kidding. Actually, I think it was Beethoven (that dead European jerk) who wouldn't leave me in peace. Phrases from the "Spring" Sonata (which I was supposed to play that evening--a piece for which I have never had a totally natural affection) kept popping into my head (how will you play me tonight? don't you owe me something?), and then, when I tried to ignore them, more imperious phrases from the last Piano Sonata (Op. 111) attacked at will. In front of my eyes, the world's most perfect surfer girl and boy settled themselves on chairs to tan (though they were spread perfectly with brown, as if to demonstrate the very Platonic form of "tan"), pulling off shirts, stretching their lithe bodies, with almost comical languor--it was like an Abercrombie & Fitch poster--and while I was observing this, sweating profusely, attempting to appear like I naturally "belonged" here on the beach, like the crabs and the jellyfish, the dotted opening phrase of Op. 111 kept jarring my brain awake:
Could Beethoven have written that piece, here on the beach? I imagined him sitting there, in his shades, with sheafs of manuscript paper, his brow knitting with anger and anxiety, getting ready to notate that first, shocking diminished seventh chord ... when suddenly a 17-year-old girl in a tight, becoming shirt comes up and says "may I take your drink order?" Would he scream at her, tell her to go away? Or would he crumple up the manuscript and have a daiquiri? And could you imagine the surfer boy and girl listening intently to the variations of Op. 111, following them to their transcendental conclusion? No; Op. 111 and the beach are irreconcilable.
Problems basically have two categories of solutions, either to hold on harder (concentrate, buck up, pull up your bootstraps, put your nose to the grindstone), or to let go (release your tension, get some perspective, some sleep, some peace of mind). A lot of my work these days at the piano is directed at increased attention, sending my brain more intently and constantly to the tips of my fingers, trying to keep track of both hands, make them lively, active, willed. And the music I play rewards this attention, richly... I realized on the beach how difficult it was to let my attention wander completely, to "let go," how strong the boundary was between practicing and tanning (as strong as that between Beethoven and surfer chick). I was so used to paying attention; I could even feel myself bringing concentration to bear on my relaxation. I wondered if lying by the pool or ocean, drinking daiquiris and reading People magazine, slathering lotion and eating quesadillas... well, is that really the ideal way to let go? It seems to be a societally recognized method; Florida is one vast spigot through which Americans drain their anxieties. The pool was mobbed with reddened relaxers.
And so, on I theorized... I won't say I didn't enjoy my time at the beach, but I enjoyed the evening performance much more. The release of acting, of creating a phrase more or less the way I wanted (in the "Spring" Sonata which had molested me earlier)--it felt enormous, true, complete. But that's me. Probably I just need to learn how to relax. But in the meantime, I better go practice.