“Chopin’s Music is about Regret. Put More Regret into the Melody.”

May 29, 2012 § 2 Comments

That’s something my piano professor, Dr. Namji Kim, used to tell me. She was right.

This May I finally listened to the recording of my senior piano recital, which I performed in 2009. I didn’t have the courage to listen to it before now. The first piece, Chopin’s Nocturne in Eb Major, came on through my headphones. There were tears. It’s been a long time. What I felt in that performance derived from my experiences up to that moment. What I feel listening to it 2.5 years later is compounded by my experiences since then.

In February I came across Sophie Blackall’s book, Missed Connections, a compilation of her wonderful illustrations of the most hilarious and moving posts she has found on Missed Connections in New York. (You can check out a preview of her book here.) This is one of my favorite stories:

The Whale at Coney Island
– M4M – 69

A young friend of mine recently acquainted me with the intricacies of Missed Connections, and I have decided to try to find you one final time.

Many years ago, we were friends and teachers together in New York City. Perhaps we could have been lovers too, but we were not. We used to take trips to Coney Island, especially during the spring, when we would stroll hand in hand, until our palms got too sweaty, along the boardwalk, and take refuge in the cool darkness of the aquarium. We liked to visit the whale best. One spring, it arrived from its winter home (in Florida? I can’t remember) pregnant. Everyone at the aquarium was very excited – a baby beluga whale was going to be born in New York City! You insisted that we not miss the birth, so every day after class, and on both Saturday and Sunday, we would takethe D train all the way from Harlem to Coney Island.

We got there one Saturday as the aquarium opened and there was a sign posted to the glass tank. The baby beluga had been born dead. The mother, the sign read, was recovering but would be fine. We read the sign in shock and watched the single beluga whale in her tank. She was circling slowly. Neither of us could speak. Suddenly, without warning, the beluga started to throw herself against the wall of the tank. Trainers came and ushered us out. We sat on a bench outside, and suddenly I felt tears running down my face. You saw, turned my face towards yours, and kissed me. We had never kissed before, and I let my lips linger on yours for a second before I stood up and walked towards the ocean.

It was too much – the whale, the death, the kiss – and I wasn’t ready.

Forgive me — I don’t think I ever understood what an emptiness you would create when you left and I realized that that kiss on Coney Island was the first and the last.

Are you out there, dear friend?

If so, please respond. I think of you, and have thought of you often, all of these years.

Sophie writes in her introduction,

In an effort to understand the Missed Connections better, I found myself sorting them into categories. There is the standard formula, which states the location, the time, a brief description of the person sighted, and a regret at not making contact.

There are the ones written to a known person, which deviate from the formula, but this person is usually inaccessible…

“I am trying to track down a long lost love of a dear friend. My friend was in a very bad car accident in his 20’s that made him unable to use one hand. He had a son with this ‘drop dead gorgeous’ jewish woman in NY about 40 years ago. They lived together before it was status quo. They loved each other, but he says they were destructive, so he left. But he never forgot her, or his son. I promised I would try to find the woman or her son. He knows neither one may want to see him. This man is the closest thing I have to a father. I am proud to be his friend, and I think he is worth knowing, even now.”

I think what makes Sophie’s illustrations of chance meetings and stolen moments on the subway so charming is that people are forced to include the little details we don’t often get to hear, the details that can identify one person out of the millions. Details about how they were drawn to someone because of their scrabble tattoo, the way they knitted so nimbly, that they were wearing a shirt with horses on it and that a man with admirably scruffy hair twirled her into a waltz in the middle of a NYC street. Even so, I am most drawn to the searchers who are looking for someone they have known well in the past. The long-lost dear friend or former partner holds more weight in my memory. There is more at stake. The Whale at Coney Island has stuck with me since I read it months ago. It’s a beautiful story and plea. I am also moved by the appeal of the friend in the second one, that “This man is the closest thing I have to a father… he is worth knowing, even now.”

And yet, they are bittersweet, not only because we are not sure if they’ll be answered, but also because I wonder if things will work out even if they are answered. These people have had years to idealize. What are either of them expecting from their search? That the other will accept them back, that they can pick up where they left off? That the other person hasn’t replaced them and begun to live content in their present reality? And if they have, shouldn’t we wish that for them?

I wonder how we can expect that we know what we want, now, when we’re removed from the other and influenced by loneliness. As though now suddenly if we could only see that person we’d be happy. That we’d be content and the old patterns would evaporate into something perfectly good. What is this in us that can’t let go? Why the persistent curiosity about what things might have been like, what kind of tea that person drinks these days, what they do when it’s rainy out, and whether they’ve dismissed us. Haven’t we proven we’re not trustworthy? Are we “worth knowing, even now”?

I recently read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. Most of the main characters struggle with regret and letting go:

It’s the tragedy of loving. You can’t love anything more than something you miss.

I regret that it takes a life to learn how to live, Oskar. Because if I were able to live again, I would do things differently.
I would change my life.
I would kiss my piano teacher, even if he laughed at me.
I would jump with Mary on the bed, even if I made a fool of myself.
I would send out ugly photographs, thousands of them.

Again in Incredibly Loud, the main character speaks with a man who was never on good terms with his father. When his father realized he was dying, he began to write letters to nearly everyone he had known. Many were very moving and vulnerable. However, to his son’s surprise, the letter he received did not attempt to make any reconciliation or show any emotion. It was a logistical letter, to get affairs in order:

“You were disappointed?” “I was angry” “I’m sorry” “No, there’s nothing to be sorry for. I thought about it. I thought about it all the time. My father told me where he’d left things, and what he wanted taken care of. He was responsible. He was good. It’s easy to be emotional. You can always make a scene. Remember me eight months ago? That was

He was responsible. He was good. It’s easy to be emotional. You can always make a scene.

Maybe the missed connections searchers are brave. Or, maybe loving something you miss is the illusion. Maybe those who have a shred of true care left for the other’s well-being are the ones with the courage to leave that person alone, to resist the urge to make pretty speeches and let them move on in peace. Maybe that is the good and true thing to do. As Greg Watson says in his poem “Now,” to have, from a distance, a certain contentment, to be…

…happy, to have kissed
your mouth with the force of language,

to have spoken your name at all.

Whatever the answer is, whatever we feel after the fact, we have all made choices that brought us to where we are. It’s difficult to remember why, but I think the truth is, we chose.

Guest post by Anna Marie.


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§ 2 Responses to “Chopin’s Music is about Regret. Put More Regret into the Melody.”

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