by Bella Ishanyan and Emma Zhang, Editors-in-Chief
One, two, three, four, one two, three, four…
“If you don’t count out loud, you’re never going to be able to get it right. If you keep playing like this, you aren’t going to stand a chance during competition next month.”
“One, two, three, four, one, two, three, four….” I slurrily muttered to the ticking of the metronome, but in vain — my fingers tangled up among one another as they frantically tried to match the speed of my counting. I struck an incorrect chord and quickly dropped my hands to my lap in surrender, avoiding my piano teacher’s disappointment stricken gaze.
“What are you doing? Do you think you can stop playing whenever you want?” she said as she grabbed my hands and aggressively threw them back onto the keys. “You need to get it perfect.”
I tried again, but the key fell flat on every other measure as I focused on tempo and neglected the accuracy of the notes. Despite my efforts to hold it in, one, two tears fell from my eyes and landed on the white ivories of the Steinway.
I’ve played piano my whole life, and not once did I ever feel that my fingers could embody the graceful dance that was classical music. No. Rather, my fingers simply moved from key to key in an undignified sprawl that felt more like a crew of novice square dancers, merely attempting to make their way across the barn floor.
And so I made it my mission to embody that grace.
Even years after I quit competitive piano, I can still hear the tick, tick, ticking of the metronome, reminding me that there is always a new note to be played, always something that needs to be done. The world will continue to spin, and in order to succeed, I must perfect my means of matching its speed.
I let myself mature under the guise that by learning to control every element of my life, I would be able to methodically set myself up for success. Anything within reach was susceptible to my incessant scrutiny: the result of a constant search to organize my life within measures and around mistakes, the ledger lines confining any opportunity for flexibility.
However, the older I have grown, the harder it’s gotten to maintain a steady rhythm. Life’s persistent demands pull me to and fro, ruining my perfectly crafted sequence of events.
I have learned to satiate my ever-growing desire for control with whiteboards and calendars, but oftentimes the only rhythm I have been able to find in my life is the tempo with which I bounce my knee.
And so I dishearteningly conclude this desk, not to enthusiastically announce leaping progress toward retiring my obsession, but to instead utilize this opportunity to synthesize my thoughts on the matter. Ironic, isn’t it?
On the drive up to Canada, my parents announced we were taking a surprise detour to Niagara Falls; like any sane nine-year-old, I broke down in tears.
It wasn’t about the destination, of course, but rather the fact that the trip was utterly spontaneous. As the designated family vacation planner for as long as I could remember, I couldn’t fathom how we could enjoy the trip without my time-stamped itineraries and trusty spreadsheets.
But this excursion wasn’t a podcast episode I could amp up to two-times speed, nor was it a “yes, and” improvisation game I could opt out of every drama class. Just like the currents of the falls, I had to go with the flow.
Thus, what was supposed to be a joyous weekend getaway became two of the most stressful days of my life. Trudging along the weathered boardwalk in a plastic yellow poncho, I cupped my hands to catch the falling mist, droplets of water at the mercy of gravity.
It was only when my fingertips began to prune from the moisture that I unclamped my hands to let go of my mini pool. As the water dribbled out, the familiar boxy arrays of my Google calendar swirled out of my hands and through the gaps in the planks, tumbling into the murky depths of Lake Ontario.
For someone who can’t swim, I’ve always had an unusual fascination with water: liquid is the only state of matter with a definite volume but no fixed shape. It wasn’t until I stopped attempting to mold bricks of water to fit into the Jenga stack of my life that I accepted the Laws of Entropy, inevitable disorder shattering the geometric control I had chased my entire life.
Some things, like family vacations, simply cannot be checked off like a mere task. The more I tried to inorganically control every aspect of my life, the more exponentially taxing it was on myself and those around me.
I’ve since learned to make peace with the Laws of Entropy rather than running from it: it is the natural tendency of things to lose order.
Years later, there is a lot more on my mind than meticulously planned Niagara Falls vacations, and my to-do lists go far beyond the task of organizing gummy bears by color. It’s safe to say my parents have never tried to surprise me with a spontaneous vacation again, and I still reign as the official family trip planner.
Yet, if I’ve learned anything from Niagara Falls, it’s that I will never be able to catch all the water in the world with my own bare hands.