As a self-described loner, the number of friends I have can be counted on one hand. Most of them are loners too, a few even more reclusive than I am. They are all artists of one kind or another. Their eye, hand and spirit are usually mucking around in what they are making, the instruments they are playing or what they are reading and writing. It takes a lot to go it alone. They share an insistent curiosity that seeks out what sparks their interest, incapable of just letting it lie there.
G. said about me once, “the difference between you and other people is that you pull the trigger.” I guess he’s right. My father was like that too (“My father, myself“.) When he decided to make all of our living room furniture from scratch, he taught himself how to do it. One of our neighbors wrote to me when he died that she still remembers that about him and the simple maple furniture he made for our house. There was a wooden chair in the shape of a Mies van der Rohe chaise lounge that I wish one of us had saved.
During his African violet phase, our entire basement was suddenly filled with aisles of artificial growing lights and metal carts with layers of trays lined with potted flowers. It seemed like an odd choice of plant for him. Later, I remember that he also liked gloxinias and christmas cactus plants. When each “phase” was over, it clicked shut, just like that.
I wonder where these obsessive urges come from. I find myself doing the same thing sometimes. They feel like a binge to me. Whenever I come upon something that resonates with me, I feel it right away. It’s not just what appears on the surface but something else I feel a kinship with, an energy submerged within.
That’s the experience I had on Saturday night when G. and I watched a DVD about Margaret Leng Tan. Born in Singapore, she is a pianist living in Brooklyn who built a following through her performances playing John Cage’s compositions on pianos and on toy pianos. Her dedication to forging her own path and her sense of presence bowled me over. The energy of her performances, her large piano hands, her crisp haircut and the four dogs that kept her company stayed with me long after the documentary wound to a close.
The next day, I downloaded “The Art of the Toy Piano” on I-Tunes. I was glad to find the gorgeous blues-y Satie piece by Toby Twining played concurrently on piano and toy piano. I scrolled through twenty-four pages of toy pianos listed on eBay but didn’t see anything that compared favorably with her collection of eighteen toy pianos. I sat down at my piano and sightread the Beethoven sonata that Margaret adapted for Charles Schultz’s Peanuts character, Schroeder, that was featured in the film. I read about John Cage again. I took out “Wake Up and Cook”, a Buddhist cookbook which describes Cage’s preference for making brown rice the macrobiotic way with spring water that he drove miles to fetch in empty water jugs he brought from home.
I even wrote an e-letter to Margaret because I felt her life was so inspiring and poignant at the same time. Miraculously, she wrote back! She says she now has six dogs!
Take a look for yourself at http://margaretlengtan.com/.