Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Hank. And my heart.

It's Thanksgiving week! The storm last night cleared out the heaviness that humidity brings with it. I woke up at 4:45am and stood out on the back porch, listening, watching as rain finally fell with commitment. Ahhhh... and this morning it actually feels like Thanksgiving week.

I fell back asleep after the rain stopped, and woke up with a happy heart and a song in my head, as usual. Must mean it's time to tell Hank's story. He's been waiting patiently, but said today he was tired of being a B-Lister in my blogs. I guess at some point, they all want to be the star.

Hank. My Musical Chicken.

I was that child who preferred alone time. I spent hours sitting in the formal living room, rocking in the old green rocking chair, listening to my dad's 8-tracks and completely focusing on the music and what the lyrics meant. That was my retreat after a long day of kids' chatter and my need to maintain my personal space. I listened to Helen Reddy, Barbara Streisand, Tom T. Hall, Neil Diamond, Don Williams and Hank Williams, Sr. I listened to Simon and Garfunkel, Elvis, Elton John, and Olivia Newton John. I listened to whatever music my dad had collected. I was fortunate because he loves music. I started playing the piano when I was around 8, and what I really wanted to learn were pop songs... Christopher Cross' "Arthur's Theme", Joe Cocker's "Up Where We Belong" and Neil Diamond's "Forever in Blue Jeans." I learned Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" while my piano teacher was telling me to learn Bach and Mozart. "But what about Lionel Richie???" I would say. "You can't play anything really well until you learn the classics," she always replied. It's funny. I can still sit down and bang out "Up Where We Belong" and my dad still comes into the room singing, full of joy and nastalgia.

So today I want to say this to Madeline, my piano teacher, wherever you are: the pieces I learned ARE classics, right up there with Mozart. And sometimes they even tap into a deeper, more meaningful response than Bach ever could. And that's because we relate to it, Madeline. I'm so glad I listened to Hank back then, my musical chicken. He was tap dancing on my shoulder, whispering in my ear... "learn 'Easy Like Sunday Morning' so we can etch it in our memory forever and sing it in the shower for years to come."

Mind you, I understand now what I couldn't then, that I would be a much more accomplished piano player today if I had practiced scales everyday, held the tennis ball under my hands while playing like she asked me to, cut my nails way back so I could press down on the keys with the right part of my finger, and studied chords and key changes instead of album covers before going to bed. But that was my path with the piano lessons.

I heard a Bikram Yoga teacher once say in class that practicing Bikram Yoga was like playing scales on the piano everyday. You do the same thing, everyday, so that you can go out and play Mozart with your life. I loved that, and I say it often to my students. It makes sense to me. We practice the same 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises, working everything in the body, so that we can enjoy a higher quality of life, one that is pain free, and if we're lucky, our lives become a symphony of classical music, simply by practicing your scales, your yoga, one asana or chord at a time.

Tap...tap...tap... Hank, my musical chicken, had to be named and categorized so that I could stop the music that plays repeatedly in my brain. Afterall, meditation is something I crave, and Hank wants NOTHING to do with it. So now, before I meditate, I close my eyes, and imagine myself walking into the chicken coop, and I find little Hank, who's quite cute with his headphones and scrawny legs as he sits by his records, tapes, and now his coveted I-Tunes collection. I gently lift the headphones off of his tiny head, and I say "be quiet for a little while for me, okay Hank?" The first time I did it he squawked and squawked, "what about all the songs we love in the morning, Jamie?? I was going to play some old Paul Simon for us!" I looked at him with love and said, "give me this quiet time, and you can turn it back on later." Now when I come up to him, he just lays flat on his back in a state of dramatic surrender (Libby taught him that, I'm sure) with his hand lifted up high, handing over his tiny headphones without a struggle. We've built a trusting relationship the last few years. He knows his job is important. He knows I love music because he feels every cell in my body respond to it. But now he understands the need for quiet time. I think he actually enjoys it some, too. It gives him time to build new playlists.

When I was little, I made up songs and sang them in the car for my adoring fans, Brad and Libby. I remember once I was in the back seat sitting between them, singing and bumping my head against the seat to the beat in my head. They both put an arm out and pinned me to the seat and put their hands over my mouth. I KNOW I sang all the time, and it must've driven them crazy. I was a singer and a bumper. They went hand in hand for me, and bumping was the most calming, meditative thing I could ever do with myself, so I did it often. It put me in a trance. I'd sit in the living room, rocking or bumping, for hours while the music played. I remember telling my mom and dad when I was little that I was worried I might not find a husband who would let me bump since Brad and Libby hated it. I stopped bumping when I thought it wasn't cool anymore. But every now and then, when I'm in the car with someone and I'm totally relaxed, a song will come on that I love and I'll softly hum and bump my head against the seat. Who needs a time machine? I can shoot myself back to 1977 and I'm in my dad's Ford LTD again with Brad and Libby flanked on either side, while I'm rocking out to Glen Campbell. That's a fast track to sincere happiness.

So enough on bumping, Side Train Annie. What I'm saying here is that Hank sometimes dictates my ability to focus for several hours each day. Music can play so loudly in my head sometimes that I just can't make it stop unless I surrender and go turn on my I-pod for awhile. Music grabs me, and shifts my energy around if it's powerful enough. It makes life so much more beautiful. I must have thousands of songs stored in my memory, and Hank spins them all regularly. He lands on an old favorite sometimes, and keeps in the mix of 10 or so songs that he plays repeatedly. He'd make a great D.J. since he likes to hit the repeat button a lot.

Hank is special, too, because he knows when I need to hear a certain song that's supposed to trigger something in me. He sends me messages through songs. We communicate that way. This weekend, while in Wimberley, he kept playing Patty Griffin's "Let Him Fly" over and over for me. And sure enough, the hawks started stirring around in my heart again. Wimberley is where I found my heart on that fence post I was talking about last time. Here's a little more on her, and if you're lost, back up one post and read the beginning of my "Fence Post" story.


She had no way of knowing how long she'd been hanging on that fence post but she was high enough so that she struggled constantly with a thin layer of dust and an underlying current that made her feel vulnerable. She had a sense of wonder at the display of life in front of her, and the wildly beautiful sunsets she was constantly witnessing. She strained herself everyday, watching for those hawks. And they'd been watching her for quite awhile, too, as they lazily looped through the oaks and cedars, landing on much higher posts than hers, and peering down at her. She didn't know why I left her there, or when I would be back. She didn't panic because she knows, and has always known, that I come back. Time doesn't exist for her either, so her days blended together as she would once again watch the sun tuck itself inside the night, arranging a symphony of colors on it's way out. Nights were spent openly, and were a welcome relief to the dry, hot summer days. Mostly she felt sad because she knew I was far away from her again. There isn't much a heart can do to speed up her return when she's left hanging out on a fence post in the middle of the Hill Country. I felt her there for months, but didn't spend much time looking for her. I stayed busy and distracted, noticing from time to time that the hawks were circling much closer than they used to... ***

Play me a song, Hank. Let's get this day started. He stands up and sways side to side as he tosses aside Patty's "Let Him Fly" and picks up her "Heavenly Day" instead.

"Got no one on my shoulder
Bringing me fears
Got no clouds up above me
Bringing me tears
Got nothing to tell you
I got nothing much to say
Only I'm glad to be here with you
On this heavenly, heavenly day."

Happy Thanksgiving.