This all began because of Alan. That and because of a need to save myself by changing my life.
But first, Alan.
Alan Rusbridger used to be the editor of the Guardian, which is a newspaper that I like.
I like it because it’s professional and sensible. I like it because it has a certain British sophistication to it, and I like British sophistication. Alan edited it. He was editing it when Wikileaks happened. And, during that time, he decided to get serious about playing the piano and learn Chopin’s G Minor ballade. And he decided to keep a journal documenting all of that. And then he turned it into a book called Play It Again, which I am currently reading and which has inspired me to get serious about the piano in my own way (unlike Alan, I’m not already even an amateur pianist as I begin my project), and also to document it and possibly turn it into a book.
I think this just might be possible because, though not a pianist, I am a classically trained musician. I have a degree in classical guitar performance which is of no real moment to piano playing other than in this way: I can read music. And that’s possibly enough because, though fiendishly difficult to master, the piano is quite intuitive to play. If you can read music, you can do it; simply press the key indicated in the score. If you were to hand me an oboe or a French horn, I wouldn’t have the first idea how to make it produce sound, let alone how to make it sound an intended sound. But the piano has no mystery to it. It’s just a matter of pushing the right buttons at the right time.
Of course, this is a gross oversimplification. There is a best way to push the buttons, and the coordination required to push multitudes of buttons in a precise order at certain times is extraordinary. But I have no delusions of ever becoming Simone Dinnerstein. Nor, in fact, do I have any delusions of ever becoming Alan Rusbridger. I’m just a guy who’s recently come into possession of an adequate upright piano and I want to take on something new because I’m feeling a bit staid. I want to explore something new. Have a kind of adventure, and playing the piano is like learning Spanish for me: something I’ve always wanted to do.
But, I’m not a pianist, and so the challenge is to find a piece of music that is on this side of easy, but that is also intellectually and emotionally satisfying. Such music is rare, Paul Hindemith’s advocacy for Gebrauchsmusik notwithstanding. But I believe I may have found just what I’m looking for in a suite of solo piano pieces by Kentuckian Rachel Grimes called Book of Leaves. I rather like these pieces. Many of them have quite a bit of space inside them. Like my favorite guitar music, the solo guitar works of Toru Takemitsu, they are rich with silences. In fact, Grimes offers the following advice with regard to learning these pieces: “Take your time, allow plenty of space for resonance, and enjoy the piano.”
That’s just the advice that I need right now. It sounds like what she’s really saying is come to the piano when you need a relaxing break from reality which, these days, is often because I am, in fact, stretched a little bit thin. And maybe even a little stressed. And maybe even a little bit depressed.
Which brings me to changing my life.
There was a time in my life (about thirteen years ago), when all I wanted to do was try cases. I wanted to defend poor people against the government and win. I did that for a while—well, not always the winning part, although sometimes. And then I began to hate it. If I’m honest, I fear that I’ve hated it for quite a long time.
This is no doubt due to the type of law that I choose to practice, which is indigent criminal defense, but I can’t be too hard on myself about that because it’s also the only type of law that I can bring myself to care about. It because it touches upon the grand themes of human fulfillment. At stake in my cases are the metaphysical concepts of justice, freedom, and equal treatment under the law. I like fighting for these things. I like the struggle.
But in practice, it’s been a disappointment because the American justice system cares so little about these things. Justice is rare as a unicorn. Why I was expecting differently from the most punitive nation on earth, I don’t know, but I did. I was naive, which is what a young person is supposed to be. But I’m not young anymore. Now, I just want out.
And I’m working toward that. I have plans to launch a podcast soon that, I hope, will be a stepping stone to my freedom. For now, though, I still make my way in the world and provide for my family by going to court and saying “Jaime Escuder on behalf of [pathetic person who is trapped and will soon be going to prison for far too long].”
But, my favorite mythical creature is the phoenix, because it regenerates itself. It begins itself anew.
At the birth of this country, Thomas Paine said that we have it in our power to begin the world over again. As with my country, so too with myself. I have it in my power to start again.
As I do so, I will have to find a way to cope with what awaits me, especially with what awaits me in federal court, where the quality of justice is particularly low.
And so, this is my tripartite project: learn Book of Leaves while transitioning away from the law by means of a podcast, and write about it. And do it all in the hope that it will result in something like healing.