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It would be incorrect to say that I never learned to play the piano. I did, for a period of time, take piano lessons at the St. Christopher’s Rectory with Sister Mary Margaret, an elderly nun who called me Angela & smelled like dementia & soup. She was mostly deaf & prone to wandering the halls of rectory, pausing occasionally to wrench back from Death her last glowing embers of life before scuttling off to fetch herself a bit of hard candy. This was the same nun who had once given piano lessons to my aunts &, before them, Jesus. I feared her.

Sister Mary Margaret was less concerned with my musical progress than she was with my technique. I received pairs of tennis balls with instructions to gently cup them for thirty minutes a day, noting the shape of my hands as I did so. This, I was told, was the proper way to play the piano & I would never get anywhere until I learned this basic form. & so, once a week, I would ride my bicycle to the rectory, grinning when the Sister opened the door with a dusty “ANNgelahhh!” & squeeze my tennis balls until, at the end of 45 minutes, I was rewarded with a butterscotch disc.

My attendance at these lessons was not so great, though by default I developed a much better understanding of the Reformation. I also learned the most important thing I could have learned for any subsequent endeavor: I am not talented. Musically, that is. Twitchy & anxious, I’m not what you would call “smooth”. Think Steve Buchemi with cuter shoes. Mind you, this has never stopped me from pursuing music. Guitar, flute, two solid teenage years of spikey haired punk rock – all culled from the same mad love but crushed when confronted with harsh brutality of real life.

The point of all this is that when Greg assigned me the task of learning either Elton John’s “Your Song” or a little ditty like “Chopsticks”, I dove for the former. As my piano education consisted of a nun who told me to squeeze her balls, I had made a poor choice. “Your Song” turned out to be one of the most complex pop pieces I could have tackled. Not even video tutorials like this one were helpful, since every time I had to move my fingers I needed to pause, remind myself where middle C was located, & reposition accordingly for the next chord.

There is a sad, pleading sound a piano makes when it knows it’s being abused, a sound so piercing & desperate that it rides on a higher plane than normal ears can hear. It is a sound audible only to those with true musical talent which, when heard, fills them with a cold void of humanity the likes of which are only felt when puppies are kicked or when bad things happen to Morgan Freeman. It is a wretched, unholy thing & I knew, for the sake of myself & all that was good & pure, I could not play this song.

Unwilling to abandon the assignment, I revamped it, taking an ad hoc course in Elton history with specific attention to his second-ever hit, “Your Song”. I decided to create a small slice-of-life illustration, one which is neither particularly good or funny, detailing how I think the October morning “Your Song” was penned may have started out. You can see it here, if you like. It’s my first public foray into illustration, so I ask you to bear with me when Bernie Taupin ages dramatically from frame to frame.

In 1989, I decided that I would have my name changed to Serena as soon as was legally possible, a decision fueled by what was, at the time, a fierce and unshakable love for Dino-Riders. From 1991 to 2007 I vowed to complete all homework assignments as soon as they were received (excepting 1993, when I swore daily that I would love my fourth grade crush, Bernie Brown, forever & ever, always, no matter what, including old age, baldness & inexplicable passions for violent sports). If you graduated with me in 2002 I probably promised you I would totally KIT because you were 2cool24get. In 2006 I swore that I would never, ever, ever again allow my hair to be cut short. & in May of 2008, on my 24th birthday, I swore that I would complete all twenty-four of the tasks I had put myself to in a timely & entertaining matter.

Things have not gone entirely as planned.

As folk are wont to do at the beginning of a new year, I’m taking stock in the year since past. I’ve allowed other endeavors to take priority over my creative projects, & subsequently let 12×2 fall to the wayside over & over. Unwilling to admit defeat & reluctant to hide behind another “catch-up”, I am using this new year to make two resolutions: first, to be a little less hard on myself. Not in a “I am awesome, & I have the right to bone out” sort of way, but in in “I will stop beating myself up when things do not go exactly according to plan” sort of way. Life will continue to get in my way, & I would be smart to learn to work with it rather than feel overwhelmed by its persistence.

My other resolution is, quite simply, to keep my resolutions. Sounds silly, I know, but as time has shown this will be the biggest challenge for me.  & though not all of my forgotten declarations are true losses (Bernie Brown, where are you now?), I think working on my stick-to-it-tiveness for a little bit can’t hurt.

That being said, I am still (yes. still.) reading War & Peace. I’m documenting this assignment by summarizing each of the five books – you can read those here. I’ve also scooted back Sarah Mitchell‘s haiku assignment, starting on January 1st & finishing at the end of this month. Those can be read here. Greg’s Ballad Assignment is still a work in progress, & though I have completed the actual reading of The Gospel (as assigned by Professor Kristin Larson), how to properly document this endeavor is something I’m still thinking over.

Hey. It’s a new year, folks. Things are lookin’ good.

So. I’m reading War & Peace.

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It’s, well, a really big honkin’ book, filled with very intense things, like war, & peace, & the most unusual placement of vowels that I’ve ever had to deal with. Tolstoy uses French at whim, in spite of the fact through most of the book the French are trying to kill the Russians, & it is generally assumed that all readers have a full working knowledge of pop-culture during the Napoleonic-era, including (but not limited to): turns of phrase; lengths of overcoats; fabrics of bags in which embroidery might be transported, & number of skirts to be worn at formal events (because, apparently, before Valley Girls twirled their hair, Russian princesses fluffed their petticoats).

I opted for Tolstoy’s War & Peace over Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past out of convenience: W&P was available at Barnes & Noble in one complete tome, while RoTP required the purchase of a multi-volume set. I’d rather deal with one tree-razing behemoth of a novel than lug about three of them. While I was checking out, the clerk & I made predictable banter (Him: “Oh, a little light reading?!” Me: “Oh, you know. Just something to tide me over till the next Pynchon.”), which was all well & good until, after passing on plastic, I discovered that my new book was too big to fit in my messenger bag. Har har to you too, 157 other New Yorkers who felt compelled to make the same “light reading” remark on the subway ride home.

Though I’m only sixteen chapters in on the first book, the outrageously long introduction (replete with timeline of Tolstoy’s life, timeline of the Napoleonic Wars, maps of Napoleon’s invasion & retreat of Russia, & one drawing of the spectacularly bearded author himself*) makes it look as though I’ve put a significant dent in the work – WHICH IS A LIE. At 58 pages, I’m only 5.2% of the way through the book. That’s like thinking you’ve really gotten into an Eagles reunion concert when the opening act is still just tuning up. The hacking through it can occasionally be a challenge – W&P is not subway reading. When the text on your page looks like a swarm of angry bees, losing your place is not hard. There is, however, something remarkably satisfying about turning each page, knowing that yes, I’ve read it, yes, I even understood it. Maybe that sounds a little haughty for the simple reading of a book, but I can tell you that all the Klosterman in the world hasn’t provided that sort of satisfaction, & I doubt it ever will.

*rigorous searching of the internet turned up
no nicknames, zero sobriquets, and nary a
nom de plume. internets, you have failed me.