Archive for the ‘Braille’ category

Courtly Dances: Courante

March 2, 2009

Today, we had snow–not much, but enough that my two students who come down out of the Helderburgs to study canceled because of bad road conditions.

So, I took a glass of hot, sweet tea downstairs and set about learning some Bach, particularly the Courante from the fifth English Suite.

It’s a much more lighthearted dance than the preceding Allemande, which gave me fits because of all its chromaticism.

I learned the first half of the Courante and thought very seriously about trying for the whole thing. I read through the left hand part for the second half, even looking to see how many pages it took up in Braille.

But with the struggle for the Allemande fresh in my mind, I thought better of it. My mind conjured up an image of a greedy snake who tries to swallow an entire mouse in one gulp. It’s certainly possible, but, like that snake, I might be rendered mentally immobile for some time and get stuck trying uncomfortably to digest what I’d taken in, all the while making ugly sounds and floundering around in confusion.

No, better to wait, even if only until tomorrow morning.


Half Steps and Whole Steps

March 1, 2009

Frederic Chopin lived from March 1, 1810 to October 17, 1849. He is recognized as one of the giants of pianism, and his playing and composing impact the art even today.

Chopin was a master of smaller-scale works, and most of his output was for solo piano. He was equally at home making grand and dramatic musical statements as well as small and intimate ones.

Drawing on the traditions of great keyboard player-composers of previous generations, particularly Bach and Mozart, he developed his own unique approach to melodic writing. His melodies in and of themselves are often minimal in character, and taken out of context, they appear to not even be melodies at all–more akin to kernels or seeds than full-bloom creations.

However, he mastered the art of using ornamentation–trills, scales, arpeggios, sequences of notes played “outside of time”–and these elements are what create the momentum that allows the melodic kernel to soar.

Next year is the 200th anniversary of Chopin’s birth. As a pianist, I am keenly aware of history and the heritage I am drawing on when I play. Up until now, while people said I had the talent, I did not have the mindset to play at a world-class level. I couldn’t imagine myself taking a year to study a recital program–I was afraid of boredom, but, perhaps to a greater extent, I was afraid of the weaknesses in my own technique that would be revealed if I focused so intensely for such a long period on such a small repertoire.

As my technique has gotten stronger and my ability and desire to play expressively have increased, my desire to apply that type of single-mindedness to practice has also grown.

So, when the idea for a Chopin lecture-recital pairing for 2010 came in the middle of the night earlier this winter, I didn’t dismiss it out of hand. I played with it, considering how I could illustrate Chopin’s evolution as a composer.

The program took shape fairly quickly:

Bach: English Suite No. 5 in E Minor, BWV 810

Mozart: Sonata in B-Flat, K. 281

Chopin: Preludes, Op. 28

I’d heard someone play the complete preludes on a recital when I was in college and always dreamed of doing it myself. But, while I started a few times, I was quickly deterred and discouraged, lacking the technique and the discipline to tackle such challenges as Prelude No. 3 (an all-16th-note left hand that required equal parts speed, smoothness and dynamic shaping); and I never even looked at No. 8 (if 16th notes were beyond what I could do, then 32nds were even further beyond my capacity).

But, as the saying goes, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. So, I have begun, taking half steps and whole steps as my mind and hands are able to find a way.

My most recent victory was to finish the fiendishly chromatic Allemande from the Bach suite. The first half was learned easily enough, but it wasn’t until the third attempt that I was able to hold the final few measures of the second half in memory from one practice session to the next.

I still often catch myself wondering how I’m going to accomplish what I’ve set out to do, especially since, as is often the case when we take an opportunity presented by the universe and run with it, the project has grown into a mission to play the program at least once in all fifty states.

Yes, it’s about Chopin, but it’s also about raising awareness of the fact that a blind person can play at the highest level, of showing the world that Braille music is a viable tool for independence, and taking listeners on a journey they might not otherwise embark on.

I could have done an all-Chopin program, and I’m sure many pianists will. The B Minor sonata is on my “must play” list, but not until my technique has grown even further.

In the twenty-four preludes, Chopin put all the different aspects of pianism in miniature form. For me, this is a journey of education. I’m allowing the pieces to teach me how to play, how to produce effects I once only dreamed of being able to achieve. Already, No. 8 has shown me that, by keeping the fingers close to the keys, you can bring out a melodic line and surround it with swirling notes that sound as if they have just blown in on a strong west wind.

Some days, I leave the piano exhausted, unsure how I will learn everything I need to if I want to play this program. I listen to the CD I’ve made of the recital pieces (Schiff on Bach, Uchida on Mozart, Polini on Chopin). With each listening, the music gets absorbed a little deeper into my being, and when I return to the keyboard, things that seemed insurmountable the night before make a little more sense. Even if I don’t have the whole solution, I may have the first step, enough to make my way through two more measures.

This coming Thursday, I will give the first semi-public performance of the prelude from Bach’s English Suite No. 5, the piece that will open the program next year. I will be playing for a meeting of the Etude Club of Schenectady. It is a group for women musicians who gather each month to play for one another. For me, the meetings and the performance opportunities they present are an impetus to bring a piece to the highest level possible, at least given the short time it’s been since I first began working on it.

Throughout the next year, I will set several such performance milestones for myself. For me, these are important because they will compel me to have things finished and in a coherent musical form in time to present them convincingly to an audience.

But by this date next year, I will be unveiling the first full-length public presentation of my program. More than ever before, I know that I can play this at a level of musicality and polish that I never could have in the past. I also am beginning to believe the people who have said all along that I am a great player, with something unique to present. I am beginning to understand that I should be heard by more than just family and friends. And, at long last, my heart is returning to my music, and my voice is no longer content to sing in just a whisper.

Teaching Moments

October 30, 2008

“Education is the manifestation of perfection already in man.”—Swami Vivekananda

What do our words and actions teach others? What do we learn by observing the words and actions of others?

You don’t have to be a “teacher” in order to educate someone. You do it by being who you are, indelibly shaped by your experiences and guided by your beliefs.

There are plenty of obvious examples of this. Parents show their children how to tie shoes, make sandwiches, drive cars and balance checkbooks. They sign kids up for piano lessons, dance or martial arts classes, religious instruction, sports clinics or art camp, and tutoring in preparation for college.

But what are you teaching others simply by going through life? When you have a brief conversation with a fellow passenger on a train, or stand in front of someone in the grocery store checkout line, the opportunities for being observed are countless. Whether it’s to notice the book you’re carrying on that train, or the different vegetables you’ve got in your cart, these can spark curiosity and encourage exploration, expansion of another person’s horizons.

We each hold unique knowledge that only we can pass on. Stories, songs, images, ideas—these are the vehicles for learning that humanity has relied upon for millennia. They will change as our society changes, to fit the needs and desires each generation has with regard to how they communicate and understand. (If you need an illustration of this, just consider the difference between sending messages with pigeons and sending them via e-mail, or hearing a village monk play a flute after a three-day pilgrimage as opposed to choosing from among ten thousand songs by pressing a button on your MP3 player.)

Each time we are presented with new information, we are also presented with a choice. Do we wish to further our knowledge and incorporate new material into our reality, or do we want to remain where we are?

To deny anyone this choice by restricting their exposure to education or limiting their access to it is one of the gravest disservices imaginable. For someone to say, for instance, that you can’t learn to read because you’re a girl or because you’re black or because you’re blind and can’t use print books like everyone else or because you can’t pay to attend a fancy school or because no one else in your family has ever done it before or because your parents work in a particular profession or worship in a certain way … These ideas may seem to make perfect sense to those who hold them, but from the outside looking in, they don’t.

Perhaps I’m thinking about this a lot since today, I will take sixteen boxes of Braille books to the post office and send them to a pastor in a very rural part of Malawi, a country in central Africa that is arguably one of the poorest places on earth. I’ve been sending books to this pastor since 2001. Where he lives, there’s no running water, no electricity. There are no services for people with disabilities, including the blind. In many cases, rather than going to school, they are sent out to beg by their families.

Not content with this outcome and knowing that, like every other human being, the blind and disabled have dignity, are respectable, and, most importantly, can learn and want to learn. So, he has gone from village to village and organized true grassroots groups of these people, teaching them to garden, to cook. Women who are blind have learned to cook. The Braille books have been passed from one person to another to another. Now, instead of one person reading them and discarding them, they may get read by twenty people, maybe more. Each person who touches the pages gains knowledge they didn’t have before and sees into a part of the world they never could have imagined before.

Once that’s done, I’ll go back to my “regular” job of teaching piano. It doesn’t matter to me whether you are five or seventy-five. All I need in order to teach you is your desire to learn. It is a great privilege to watch students of all ages, from all kinds of backgrounds, discovering an expressive art form. Teaching, for me, is about passing on the things I think are precious–art, knowledge, belief in the innate power of the human spirit to rise above challenging circumstances–that inspires me to teach. These gifts shouldn’t die with me. I have a responsibility to pass them to others, whether they are in generations younger than me or those who began life before I did.

Even writing is a form of teaching, and I’ve learned more, I think, from the various blogs I’ve visited than I have from any other aspect of the Internet. Perhaps this hasn’t been “pure” knowledge, as in verifiable facts. But the sheer volume of possibilities to catch a glimpse of the world through someone else’s eyes is unparalleled anywhere on earth.

You can only give people the chance to choose. You can’t force them to follow your logic. For every person who chooses to change, there is one who refuses and remains in their current situation. To judge one as “better” than the other is easy, especially if we believe strongly in the advantages of one way over the other.

Today, I’ll be helped by many people. The woman who drives me to the post office has grandchildren of her own. What will I learn from her as we talk, laugh, carry boxes, maybe share a cup of tea? What will I absorb during my piano lessons, and who am I to say the “wisdom” of a 7-year-old is more or less valuable than that of a 12-year-old or an adult? That’s a judgment I refuse to make.

Judgment is, in its own way, a lack of education. If we can’t accept the endless array of humanity around us without a basic level of universal respect regardless of differing viewpoints, then what does that teach others about us? More importantly, what does that teach us about ourselves?

The House That Ruth Built

September 23, 2008

The first game played at Yankee Stadium took place on April 18, 1923. The last, barring some miracle, was played Sunday, September 21, 2008. Between those times, 151,959,005 people have attended baseball games at “the house that Ruth built”.

The ceremonies Sunday were full of pomp as well as class, as such things usually are. There were plenty of emotions, too, as the bittersweetness of the situation affected players, coaches, spectators, broadcasters, and those watching at home or listening on the radio absorbed a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

There were classic moments for the famous members of the current Yankees roster (Mariano Rivera throwing the last pitch of the last game, or Johnny Damon’s three-run homer). But legend says that Yankee Stadium is also the place where even a relatively unlikely and unknown person can take their place in history. All you needed to see was the reaction Jose Molina got for his two-run homer later in the game.

I listened to the game on the radio at home. To me, this is the best way to take in a game. Baseball is a sport that is somewhat removed from the 21st century. Wooden bats are still used, and games are played at the rhythm of pitchers throwing, fielders catches, runners circling the bases. And, except for teams playing in domes, the games are still subject to the laws and inconveniences of nature, whether its rain or snow or swarms of gnats.

They called the stadium “the house that Ruth built”. On a personal level, I will never be able to say that I set foot in it.

But I have my own house that my own Ruth, my godmother, built, or at least helped to build.

When I was growing up, I took piano lessons. But my family wasn’t wealthy. My godmother never had children of her own, but she made strong and long-lasting connections with her extended family. She was a cousin of my grandfather and became one of my grandmother’s best friends. She also generously supported my piano studies, sending checks each month with the simple notation “Joy” in the memo.

Music then gave me joy and continues to give it daily. For her, it was a joy to be able to see another human being discovering a dream and, through her contributions, further that dream.

Money is not the end, but it is a means. It is not the goal, but it makes achieving a goal much easier when you have it. Ruth spent her money helping me, but more importantly, she showed me by example that the truest riches are the connections we make with other people.

Over and over, my own life has been blessed by interactions that most people would call unlikely. In 2000, I began corresponding in Braille with a blind pastor in the central African country of Malawi. What started as a few letters has grown, and over the years, we have sent hundreds of boxes of Braille books to him. He, in turn, has passed the books to any other blind person who wants to read them. In a country where there is no library for the blind, these books have brought the world to the fingertips of many who otherwise would not have dreamed of touching anything further than their own experiences.

I spent this morning with a friend, packing boxes and taking them to the post office to begin their long journey to Malawi. Sometimes, these trips, the packing and labeling, and the gathering of books from various sources is a real annoyance. Over the years, people who have started to work with me with great enthusiasm have fallen by the wayside as they got involved with other things or just decided they’d had enough.

Sometimes, it’s hard to keep going when it seems that you aren’t getting any visible, tangible results for your efforts.

At times like that, or especially after I’ve done a large shipment like I did this morning, I stop for a moment and just think. I know how much I anticipate receiving books I’ve ordered in Braille in the mail. I look forward to holding them, reading them, opening my mind to the frontiers they lay before me that I wouldn’t otherwise get to explore.

If I, who live in a country with the best library service for the blind in the world, feel this way, how must it be for the children and adults in Malawi? There is no electricity or running water in the district where these books go. There are few, if any, good roads. Blind people are lucky if they have the chance to go to school. They spend their days begging, or sitting at home because they don’t have a way to travel by themselves.

This is not to imply that they are incapable, just that the opportunities we take for granted are far beyond them. The arrival of new books for them is like Christmas morning for a child, full of the possibility of surprise and delight.

Book by book, box by box, I am continuing the legacy my godmother started when she made it possible for me to study an art that would have been out of reach otherwise. In my own way, I am adding to “the house that Ruth built”. For some in Malawi, it may be just the foundation they need to enable them to begin reaching for their own dream.

September Song

September 11, 2008

I feel the slow turn of the seasons as the nights become cooler and more still. Our house, though it sits along a busy road that is used by many people as a convenient shortcut between two cities, is surrounded by woods, so in spring and summer, we are serenaded by tree frogs, crickets and cicadas, not to mention many birds.

These days, the katydid chorus is diminishing. Soon enough, I will be hearing the first lonely callings of geese winging their way wherever it is they go. The wind will carry sharp hints of woodsmoke and the rustle of dry leaves.

These days, I, like the wild geese, feel the pull of elsewhere deep within myself, even as my home becomes a warm refuge after walks with the dogs. I look back over my life and its memories and lessons, thankful for the bittersweet tapestry they have become.

But I also look forward, yearning to add to my experiences. I find myself savoring the connections I have forged among family and friends, looking for ways to store up their treasure and even increase it before the long winter months of darkness and cold.

These days, I find myself turning over other kinds of leaves, the kinds that are in my journals. I don’t always reread passages, but I do take comfort in the substance of the books in my hands. Of course, I understand how ephemeral they are, nothing more than Braille dots on heavy paper. But they have the power to remind me of times past, rekindle emotions and reawaken the certainty that indeed, the events of my life didn’t pass me by unnoticed and unremarked.

Soon enough, the earth will be bound by snow and ice. Mornings will steal into my house under cover of darkness, the sun a fugitive low on the horizon. Every evening, it will dip back into darkness with little of the fanfare and trumpeting of summer sunsets.

I dream of journeys and discoveries, new songs and old stories passed from one voice to another.

How will it begin?

The Universe Holds Its Breath

September 9, 2008

For many people, dreams are what go on behind closed eyes while we’re sleeping, forgotten when we’ve awakened and gotten back to the real business of daily life. That’s one interpretation, and a valid one, backed up by the ever-evolving science of brain imaging.

But there’s another meaning to dreams. They are the stuff that we spend our lives pursuing, wide awake, devoting moments stolen here and there, or days, or even decades to achieving, depending on our choices. Call it destiny, or God’s Plan, or your “chosen path” if you like, but every person has it buried within him or herself, waiting to be unlocked.

Yesterday, I read Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist”. I’d bought the book in Braille months ago, and I set it aside, waiting for the “perfect time” to read it.

Earlier in the year, my 16-year-old sister said she was reading it.

“Oh, I’ve got that book,” I said, excited. “How is it?”

“Pretty good,” she said, which is high praise coming from a teenager. I made a mental note to check it out, and sooner rather than later.

I kept my word, dipping into the first paragraph and skimming some of the blurbs on the jacket.

As blurbs go, this book is loaded. I’m not easily swayed by blurbs, but when you start seeing them from all over the world, and the words “life-changing,” “profound,” and “timeless” are being thrown around, I’m not sure whether to plunge in with even higher hopes or congratulate someone on really savvy marketing.

I grew up on a farm, raising goats. I had eleven brothers and sisters, and, by my own choices, I was always taking care of some two- or four-legged kid or other. I had a passion for goats, and a lot of what I learned about life I got in the barn. So, when a book starts with: “The boy’s name was Santiago. Dusk was falling as the boy arrived with his herd at an abandoned church.” … well, I’m in!

But, I didn’t do any more than dip into that first paragraph after my sister and I talked about the book. Sensing a good thing, I said to myself, “Oooh, I’ll save this for later,” kind of like a really good piece of chocolate you want to savor when the moment is just right, to treat yourself to something special.

Over the past year and a half, I’ve been hit with some profound lessons of the heart, all revolving around love, compassion, and how we express those things not only to ourselves but also to those who choose to walk beside us on life’s journey. I’ve lost people so dear to me that sometimes, going through a day without hearing them speak is my greatest challenge, and my heart aches because I don’t have the convenience and ease of their physical presence to reassure me and must hold on, by faith, to the knowledge that, now that they have slipped the bonds of this physical existence, they are without limitations and can be with everyone who held them dear, all the time, no matter how many of us there are or how far we’re scattered across the earth.

But I’ve gained friends whose love is more profound than anything I’ve ever experienced before. Any sooner, and I would not have been ready to receive it or understand what to do with it. Any later, perhaps, and my heart would have taken longer to open to it and blossom under its nurturing.

Anyway, yesterday, I picked up the book. When my grandmother was alive and I was a small girl, she read to me out loud often. It became something we treasured, and when she could no longer read for herself, we switched places and I’d bring my Braille book and read to her.

It was in these times that I began to learn just how powerful the spoken word can be, especially as an agent of comfort and sustenance. Even if you can’t be with someone physically, the sound of your voice can often provide the tangible thing that they take hold of and use to begin pulling themselves toward light and renewal.

It’s also just plain fun sharing good books with other people. So, I began reading “The Alchemist” on cassette so I could give it to one of my friends as a Christmas gift.

One other benefit of reading aloud: It forces you to pay attention. You don’t want to be stumbling over words or reading in a monotone that puts your listener to sleep. At the same time, at least for me, as a person who is always thirsty for new knowledge, I wasn’t about to read the book first to myself, then read it again onto tape. Once was enough.

At least that’s what I was thinking when I started reading yesterday morning. But by late evening, with the turn of the final page, I knew I was not only going to be revisiting this book more than once, but I was going to be passing it on to the people I knew might also be able to understand its message.

That message is deceptively simple, and as a consequence, either misunderstood or not even known by a majority of people. The message is this: Everyone has their own purpose or dream in life, which comes from the heart, that is a direct link to the soul of the universe (or God, if you like). We are put here to achieve this dream, and every day of our lives, we are presented with choices which can lead us further along the path to fulfilling it. When we are on this path, the whole universe conspires to help us reach our dream because that dream is in accord with the soul of the universe. Even though we will be tested along the way, the tests are simply lessons that strengthen us and prepare us for the moment when the dream is within our grasp. If we pay attention to our heart and to the signs laid out before us in our lives that point us on the way, then we can not fail.

It’s a good thing we don’t spend every day constantly receiving such profound wisdom, and we don’t put such huge significance on every single choice we make. If we did, our minds would explode and we would never get anywhere because we’d feel the impending weight of the consequence of choosing Cheerios instead of cornflakes for breakfast. But we do receive insights, flashes of intuition, and these provide the impetus for us to progress on our road to discovery.

I didn’t sleep much last night because I was relearning many of these truths for myself, and also because I was keenly aware of how, throughout my life, I have gradually been taught how to read the signs, not only for my own dream, but for the dreams of others.

For instance, how is it that a girl who grew up among the goats has gone on to make music that has reached across the world and, one by one, touched the hearts and souls of people whose language I don’t even speak?

How is it that a young woman in Indonesia, who dreamed of becoming a piano teacher, happened to find me on the Internet and, over the course of five years, learned enough and persevered enough so that she is now a full-time music student?

How is it that a man who had spent his days trying to solve the computer problems of countless angry people left his job, went back to school, and achieved the desire he’d had since he was ten, namely, to become a healer?

And how do you explain to a woman, young or old, that, when they get on a bus in Minnesota, they will meet another person who will teach her some of the most profound lessons about life, love, honor and the pursuit of an art?

I used to think that love was something that bound people together. It does, but not in the way I’d imagined. True love sees the dream within each person and doesn’t hold them back.

True love sees more value in a person’s freedom to pursue and achieve their own dream, no matter where the pursuit leads, or what shape achievement and fulfillment take.

True love recognizes that, while physical proximity and the certainty of days going on, one after another, in their usual, unchanging way can be comforting, change is inevitable when we are striving to grow beyond who we are in each moment.

Many people will tell you that dreaming is a waste of time, the province of lazy people, fools and children. They’ll tell you it’s not productive, that being happy doing exactly what you are designed to be doing is so rare that you may as well give up and just get a real job, be responsible, and most of all, quit talking about fanciful ideas that go nowhere.

People will tell you that, if you dedicate your life to your dream, you’re obsessive, anti-social, selfish, wasting your talent.

We’ve been so conditioned by generations of this kind of thinking that, now, it’s rare to find people who can even hear what their hearts are telling them, and rarer still to find those who act on what they’ve heard.

When I was reading yesterday, I was forcefully reminded that, at least in my opinion, all the really great stories seem to start among the sheep and the goats. When God was looking for a king for Israel, He found him in Jesse’s youngest son, a small boy named David who spent his days playing his harp for sheep. David went on to compose some of the world’s most enduring poetry in the Psalms.

When angels wanted to announce the birth of Christ, they went first to shepherds keeping watch over their flocks in the middle of the night.

When a girl named Clara learned to walk despite what everyone else believed was impossible, she did it high in the mountains, surrounded by true friends and a few goats.

Santiago’s story, though the details are different, carries that same message, and I, too, hold it within my own heart.

The word “conspire” comes from roots that make its literal meaning “breathing together”. It’s a word that’s accumulated a lot of negative overtones, what with crazy conspiracy theories and such.

But last night, while I can’t remember any specific details of my own dreams, I do remember a few clear sensations. So many people, when presented with true love and the freedom it allows, are still paralyzed by fear, and they choose not to take another step. They think, “I’m too old,” or “I’m too busy,” or “I’m too tired,” or “No one will understand”.

True enough. Many people won’t understand, and this lack of understanding, especially when it comes from family, friends, or anyone else we love and value, is painful.

But the other thing that was clear last night was that, at this moment, for me and for anyone else who has heard their heart and chosen to follow their dream, the universe is holding its breath, waiting to see what we will do next and, based on our action, will respond with all the love that is at its core.

My dream is to be a great pianist and a great composer. Music is one of those truly universal languages, and whether I’m working on a piece for someone I know personally or someone across the ocean who doesn’t understand a single word of English, I know that, because I have learned to hear what the universe has to say to us, the music will be right, no matter how it sounds.

Whether I am standing up playing an electronic keyboard for a church service, or painstakingly learning notes for a technical exercise on my piano at home, or playing the music of a man who lived hundreds of years ago in front of a recital hall filled with people, I am also doing exactly what I was made to be doing.

So why am I sitting here now, using a totally different kind of keyboard, when I “should” be practicing?

Because the universe conspires. Just because you have a dream doesn’t mean that you won’t take side trips along the way. In Coelho’s book, Santiago the shepherd boy turns out to be quite an adept salesman of crystal. He didn’t throw away the chance to sell glassware because it wasn’t exactly his dream. In fact, it became part of the path, a stepping-stone that allowed him to gain invaluable knowledge and experience that he used later on his quest.

For whatever reason, I’ve been given a gift for words. I enjoy reading them, writing them, and many times, people enjoy reading the ones I’ve written. So, while it may appear, on the surface, that this blog has nothing to do with my dream, it does. The universe conspires … it holds its breath … what will I do next?

Mnemonic Devices

September 2, 2008

My grandmother was full of wisdom, and she passed much of it on to me. Not in the formal sense, but in the day-to-day, conversational way that many of the greatest lessons in life are given and received. We have to pay attention, otherwise we’ll miss them. Even then, with our eyes wide open, we often don’t realize what we’ve learned until much later, long after the person who taught us is gone.

My grandmother said I should take vitamins every day and keep a journal. I’d kept a journal off and on throughout childhood. But if I got angry or felt like I had too much stuff, even if the journal was a few years along, I’d throw it out, thinking in my convoluted teenage way that this act of defiance and destruction would hurt whoever or whatever I thought it was that was causing me such internal pain. But of course, internal pain is just one’s own emotional reaction to external events, and the only one I really ended up hurting was myself.

So in 2000, amid all the hype about the fact that, come January 1, the world as we knew it might come to an end, I started another journal.

Even with a move to an apartment, then to a house, it’s still growing. A few years ago, I mentioned to my grandmother that, because it was all in Braille, it was getting pretty big. She said if it ever outgrew its place in my home, she had a whole third floor in her house where I could store it. She figured that since it was in Braille, I could keep it there without worrying anyone would be able to read it.

My grandmother passed away last summer, and my journal is tucked in among the piano music that fills cabinets and shelves in my house. Rather than a straight journal, mine is more like an old-fashioned commonplace book. Poetry, quotations, recipes, lists, they all get copied in there if I find them to be something I think I might want to hold on to, revisit some day.

Funny, though, that while I look up information in the volumes from years past, I’ve rarely sat down and read extensively from the journal. In my searching for the occasional recipe, I’ll come across entries and read a few lines. Some are too painful, even after five years’ remove, and I don’t want to revisit the raw outpourings of my heart, now that I’ve at least started the process of covering over old wounds.

But also, I find that, at least for now, my memory gets triggered by things far simpler than a journal. For instance, my grandmother had a recipe for peach cake that she taught my mother, and then my mother taught her daughters. Two weeks ago, I decided to try a different recipe for peach cake that wasn’t my grandmother’s.

I didn’t have baking powder, so my husband assured me that I could just substitute baking soda, same measurements and all, no problem.

Well, the most charitable thing I can say about my peach cake was that, even if it didn’t taste very good going down, there was so much baking soda in it that you wouldn’t have to worry about getting indigestion. I’ll give it one more try with the proper ingredients some day, but I also can hear my grandmother, with a line she often used after she’d put down some incredible word in a Scrabble game: “There! Put that in your pipe and smoke it!”

Our hearts and minds go through life searching for things to hold on to, anchoring points that allow us to make sense of a vast world that often is beyond our understanding. Just when we let down our guard and begin to love, our hearts and minds begin to search for all those little things we experience that capture the feeling of that love.

They can be so random and hit us so unexpectedly–the scent of a particular perfume, the way light comes slanting through a window at a certain time of day in a certain season, a few phrases of music. Even though we know that all things pass away and we leave this world as empty-handed as we entered it, still we try to hold tight to the people we share our journey and pieces of our hearts with.

We think to ourselves, once the loving has begun, “Aha! Here it is at last!” And yet …

The things we hold on to often make little sense to us. Why, as a blind person, do I keep a few photographs of people and events that I will never see myself and rarely have the inclination or opportunity to show to other people? They are pictures I can certainly call up in my mind, even adding layers of what I remember being said. Still, it’s sometimes a reassurance to have something to hold in your hands, as if by touching it, you can prove beyond the tenuous mists that inhabit our minds that, yes, those events did really happen.

As a concert pianist, I am constantly asking my memory to hold vast amounts of information, to recall it at any moment and, note by note, to create the world of sound that I have as the ideal I spend my life working to attain. Once the note is struck and the melody fades into silence, the only thing remaining for me and for any listener will be the memory of it.

Our written records and sound recordings and photographs are nothing more than crutches. At the end of our days, we will be left alone with only our minds to carry what we know, what we have learned, what we have experienced, as we make our way into the next passage of our journey. It will be the sounds, sights, feelings, emotions, dreams and stories and songs that sustain us.