Pacifying Pastimes

What brings me catharsis is stress-inducing. Video games bring me to seat’s edge, spewing nonsensical words that can only be considered cursing because my kids are there and if they’re not, then it’s lots of shits fucks and motherfuckers when I battle against one of the many bosses in Hyrule’s bestiary or struggle at Mario or Luigi’s castle. And when did Super Mario Bros games become so difficult? Am I aging out?

At semester’s end, I’ll turn to my month’s neglected digital piano and sit down and play scales. Up and down through the circle of fifths. Then: Scarlatti. Arpeggiated chords from right hand to left to right have my five chunky fingers flailing over each other and resulting in notes so sorry I pucker. “Shit.” Then, again, and good, then mistake and “Goddamnit sonofabitch!” Until I go through it and through it until it’s water smooth again. It’s fine. Piano’s a beautiful instrument. Scarlatti’s an excellent composer, not as celebrated as Bach but celebrated nonetheless. Then, when I’m satisfied with whatever sonata I tripped through, I get out Beethoven or Chopin. Worse yet, Schumann. And it’s like I’m inching through the Super Mario World post-Nintendo’s Game Cube period. I just don’t know what I’m doing!

Photo credit: T. Wilson, outdoor rehearsal 2020

Viola is a hobby that keeps me grounded and calm. I don’t know how. I play in a community orchestra and consider each rehearsal as a weekly dose of calmness. I don’t know why. I crack nervous jokes throughout rehearsal, worry constantly that I am playing out of tune, and squint at the ever-shrinking music notes in front of me. Really, the notes get smaller each year! Also, have you seen the viola? It’s a huge instrument that weighs one metric ton and somehow, you’re supposed to hold it between your shoulder and neck with one hand, while pulling a horse-haired bow across the thick, deep strings with the other. By the end of rehearsal, I feel like I’ve been carrying an obese albatross around the globe.

And the viola does not make sense as an instrument. Ask anyone who knows anything about the beast, and they’d tell you that logically, considering the sound it produces and the way it is tuned, it should be a lot bigger than it is. My instrument, a normal adult viola at 16-inches body(not including the finger board) should be 20 inches if it was acoustically correct. No one can play a 20 inch viola. At that point, just get a cello. Also, people who are under 5’5” shouldn’t play viola and I am well under 5’5”.

So after rehearsal, I go home with a sore back, sore shoulders, and sore hands and a dented ego, only to look forward to doing it again the following week.

The last hobby on my list of ways I can relax is reading. Yes, reading novels and memoir is a way to escape your own life. Perfect! No playing out of tune, no unbeatable bosses or mini-games, no holding up a giant Medieval piece of wood and steel for two hours, Just a book! But did I tell you that I teach college-level English and review books? No matter the text I pick up, I find myself thinking about how I’d teach it or how I’d review it, if asked.

Well, there’s always sleep.

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