a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
Written in the style of Lorrie Moore.
When you’re in first grade, your mom will tell you to pick an instrument. “To be a well rounded person, you shouldn’t just be good at school, you should have skills in other areas of life too," your mom will say. You will only be, like, six or seven years old, so you won’t really get it. You’ll just shrug your shoulders and hope that being a well rounded person doesn’t include playing sports too. Off the top of your head, you pick the violin because you don’t want to play something you have to blow into.
Your mom will find an instructor, an old man named Dan who does house lessons. Dan says that in order to play the violin, you should learn to play the piano first because it will be easier in the long run, so your parents buy you your own keyboard. Every Wednesday, at 6:00, Dan will come over to teach you to play piano. At first, you will be so happy. You’ll think it’s so cool that Dan is teaching you to play songs. During the holidays, you play ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’. On your little sister’s birthday, you play ‘Happy Birthday’ on your keyboard as everyone sings to her. Dan tells you that “you should be practicing your songs everyday, multiple times." You try your best, but it’s hard for you to use both hands on the keyboard and coordinate them with each other. You’ll be frustrated. Six-year-old you doesn’t know the meaning of persistence yet. In fact, you’ll be so frustrated that you give up practicing at all, even the songs like ‘Yankee Doodle’ which will end up being the only song you remember in the future. Dan says you’re ready to start playing the violin anyway. Thank God.
You’ll have your last lesson with Dan, and then your parents will enroll you in a music academy that’s not only near your house, but right next to an ice cream shop. Your dad will buy you a scoop of mint chocolate chip after every weekly lesson, and that will be your favorite part about the violin lessons, along with your new teacher, Miss Olga, a tall Russian lady with an accent that makes you giggle.
By this time, you are eight years old, and you have earned your very first violin. You’ll feel a little awkward about it, but Miss Olga will make you forget about it. She won’t teach you the logistics of tuning a violin or how to replace the strings, but she will make you laugh and compliment you on your clothing choices, which in reality will be very ugly. At one of your first recitals, you will be expected to memorize the sheet music. It will be a very short piece, but you will have stage fright, and in the middle of the recital, you will forget all the notes and stand there like an idiot and pray to God and beg him to make you invisible and Miss Olga will get up on stage with her violin and start playing with you and save the day. She will tell you that the glasses you start to wear in third grade are beautiful even though you think they make your ears look big. Miss Olga will teach you how to be confident in your playing abilities and in yourself at the same time. The violin will come much easier to you than the piano but you’ll still be mediocre.
Miss Olga will tell you every week in her Russian accent, “Sweetie, you need to practice your songs. Your counting is always off, you always finish faster than you’re supposed to. You play with clarity and your pitch is always right, but there’s no rhythm."
She will try to motivate you and you will try your best and practice sometimes, but only the songs you like, never the ones you actually need improvement on. When you practice in front of your family, they won’t be able to tell that you just played a violin version of Lady Gaga’s ‘Applause’.
Later you’re with a new instructor, Ron.
You live in a new town, new faces, new classes, so obviously, new teachers. Ron is different from Miss Olga. You will think he is gay, but find out you are very wrong. Ron wants you to sit at the very edge of your chair when you are playing the violin, so close to his chair that your knees touch. “This is to avoid slouching,” he says.
He will seem kind of strange to you. He will start off every class with some stretches. Roll your neck back, roll your neck back, the basic stuff. One week, the day after your fourteenth birthday, you will have a hard time stretching because you are sore from dancing at your party. He will say, “Rough night, huh? Want a massage?” You will shake your head no, but he will massage your neck anyway. Ron is weird in other ways too. When you do accidentally slouch, he won’t just tell you to stop slouching, he’ll put his hand right where your bra is and adjust your back for you. He will notice when you get a haircut and tell you that he thought your long hair made you more attractive. He will compliment how your legs look in your new jeans. Whenever you play a song nicely, he will put his hand on your thigh and congratulate you, inching higher with every new piece. You will start to purposely mess up how you play. You won’t say anything even if you think you should, because you won’t want to be that girl.
On the ride to the grocery store, you will tell your dad about Ron. He will immediately unenroll you from the academy, but it won’t feel like a relief. Nobody will ask how you are, but it’s okay. You won’t expect them to.
Your sister will start piano lessons at the same academy, but your dad will make sure she doesn’t get placed with Ron. In just a month, she will be much better than you ever were with a year of lessons. Her hands know just how to move at just the right time.
Sometimes your mom will bring it up. “Your sister plays piano so beautifully. Why don’t you get back into music?” You will try, occasionally. Sometimes when family members come to visit, they will ask my sister to play for them. She will sit at your keyboard, now hers, and play a soothing melody.
They will ask you if you can play. You will shyly reply with “I can play Yankee Doodle”. And then you will play Yankee Doodle and they will say “how nice” and clap awkwardly. Some might ask, “Didn’t you used to play the violin?”
You just say, “Oh no, I don’t do that anymore."
* = Editors' Choice work
Unless otherwise noted, all pictures used are open-source images in the public domain.