Two nights ago, I found pieces of an unfinished loosely fictionalized memoir about my life on my computer. I was sixteen when I wrote it. My name in the pieces is Fern. I guess I thought that was a really cool name. I actually still kind of like it. People always ask me what I did every day, as an unschooler. And I never really remember. When I read this stuff, I got a better idea. So I thought I’d share. Also, you can think about how much I’ve improved as a person and a writer since than, and be impressed. Or think about how little I’ve changed and wonder what that says about me.
Here it is (at least some of it):
My only piano student is seven-years-old. Her name is Eve. I like the name Eve and I’ve also found symbolism there, because she’s my first student and Eve was the first woman. Stretching it slightly, I admit, but I always do. Eve is playing “In the Canoe,” and she’s singing the words they have under the notes. Her voice is really tiny. All of her is tiny. I tell her to put her hand over mine and feel the hand position. She does. I say, “We are strong pianists. We have strong fingers. Wimpy fingers aren’t allowed.” She smiles a little, concentrating. I can’t help thinking, even though I’m her teacher and I’m supposed to be all encouraging, that her hands are just too small. There’s no way this kid can play. A single key could fit two or three of her skinny brown fingers.
“Come back in a couple years,” I think.
“Your turn!” I say in my teacher voice. She really buys it, this teacher stuff. I can’t believe I sound like this. Nice, grownup, but so cheesy!
“Ok,” she says cheerfully, and plops her hand down on the keys, a complete wimp hand. No knuckles to be seen.
“Hmm,” I say carefully. “Is that a strong hand?” I get the feeling she thinks it’s quite strong enough for her, but she shakes her head slowly, responding to my tone.
“How can you make it strong?”
She lifts her elbow several inches, giving her form a sort of crooked, broken look.
I try to remember being seven. Eve has the longest eyelashes I’ve ever seen. I rearrange her hand.
“That’s confusing for me,” she says. I stare at her blankly a moment.
“Oh? How come?”
“It just is because my hand is different from that and in the canoe piece…” her voice fades to an earnest mumble. I nod understandingly.
“I see, well, let’s try again.” I remember instantly that my own teacher told me never to use the word “try” in lessons, because it alludes to the possibility of failure, and creates an atmosphere of testing. Instead, I’m supposed to say “play.”
I’m tired. I begin to doubt my own ability to play the piano, and teaching feels suddenly beyond me. Luckily, the lesson is almost over.
“That went faster,” Eve says at the end. I must’ve been boring last time. I’m filled with guilt. Who gave me the right to teach this child? I’m shaping her first, her lasting, musical impressions! I’ll probably screw her up so bad she’ll never want to see a keyboard again. She’ll probably have nightmares about maniacally grinning Steinway grands, bent on destroying her, crushing her delicate little bones beneath their gleaming black mass.
I write half a poem about normal people who are only normal because they go to school every day, and they only have teachers, not mentors, and they don’t even know they’re locked up. I can’t write more then a page before my words sound like incoherent shouting. Mom has brought up the debate team on numerous occasions. Ha. I can count the number of times I’ve thought before speaking on one hand. And most of them happened when I was about to cry and had to choose quick words that wouldn’t emphasize it.
Mom suggests in a steely tone that I work on geometry. Geometry is the bane of my existence. So, naturally, I am not overly eager to rush off and study it. I point firmly at my poetry notebook. (I always write poems before I type them, they flow better that way.) She points even more firmly in the direction of my bedroom door, which she is standing just inside. I decide to interpret this how I like. Possibly she is reminding me to shut my door, so that the noise of my brothers’ rather violent chess game downstairs does not disturb my poetic meditations. Or perhaps she feels I must very soon have some nourishment from the kitchen. A bagel with cream cheese and whitefish spread to sustain me in my musings.
“GEOMETRY,” she clarifies in a mighty voice.
“Alright, alright,” I moan, feeling as though I must look truly pitiful. I know better then to count on arousing her sympathy. I heave myself to my feet and stumble from the room. She follows, humming.
Before signing on to my geometry program (the only school work I do on the computer), I check my email. Someone is offering me a “free credit report.” Geometry calls. An obnoxious, demonic laugh sort of call, but one that must be obeyed. I open the program and stare at proofs for 45 minutes, write the course teacher another pleading letter, and go practice Rachmaninoff.
(I painted a lot back then)
I bake scones and paint a picture of a fiery angel woman with gold wings and a fierce scowl. I scowl fiercely too while I paint. Mom hasn’t asked about geometry yet. I sneak downstairs in my painting overalls and into the office where the computer is. I check my email. There are two messages. The first is from Ella, one of my favorite friends. She’s in college and her head hurts and she says that my boyfriend Drew is incredibly cool a bunch of times because he called her to see how she was doing. She tells me yet again that I’m shockingly lucky to have a guy that nice. I agree that it’s really nice to have your guy and your best friend be good friends. I’ve never been jealous or anything. Ella also says she got into a funky girl band and they’re doing old rock. She’s happy, even though her head hurts. The second offers me a “free credit report.”
A cry of “dinner!” is taken up throughout the house and I go to investigate.
To be continued…