The Piano Incident

When I was eight, my mother wanted to show off my piano playing skills to her friend. She wanted me to play the grade 2 exam piece I had just learned. I did not feel entirely sure of it, so wanted to play the grade 1 exam piece I knew well. I insisted, and ended up weeping uncontrollably and humiliated for it.

In September 2009, having told this story to selected hearers with all the emotion of the shamed, weeping eight year old, ending with “She didn’t understand!” I suddenly realised, oh, right. She didn’t understand. She did not get the depth of my objection. It seemed all the pain of the memory left me, and I forgave my mother, or better, accepted her. She had done her best. She had not been superhuman.

On Saturday 25th, I saw it differently. The child was not particularly heroic- my mother wanted me to take a risk of getting the notes wrong, and I did not- but I knew my desire and insisted on it, and I felt my feelings and expressed them. These are things I have great difficulty with now. I remembered the piece I wanted to play. I still have it, though not the other one. It is by Thomas Dunhill, who wrote a great deal of educational piano music at different levels. It is grade 1, and I see the tricky bits- a chord staccato pianissimo? I have the muscle memory, though I have not played it for decades- I have to pull my hands in, as they were not full grown and I automatically stretch further than I would now, to play a sixth.

What if I could be like that child- knowing my desire and feelings, insisting, now?

On Friday night, I awoke in a panic. Normally waking in the night I am bored. I have taught myself to think of familiar, boring things, but I was thinking of the media anti-trans onslaught and of my recovery from M- after brief hatred, and making her words bless me, I hate the fact that I am thinking of her so much. On Saturday morning, I had a panic attack. Normally my anxiety is unconscious, but I felt it. I tried to hold it down: that is what causes the panic attack. If I am to be conscious, I will have to bear the anxiety. The alternative is numbing out.

Eye contact exercise. I am with someone I liked last week, and I wonder if I am merely a mirror to others’ feelings, echoing them to keep myself safe and invisible. My judgment is harsh: I am just a whore, having no self. Then the idea that could make me a “permission slip”, letting others be who they are. Another says that is her way to avoid her own feelings. Three interpretations- how could I know? Perhaps all are true. I want to put others at ease and connect with them.

We share on a topic, and as Jamie says my creative self can just come up with the words. I am surprised at my creativity. What I say sounds prepared to me, with beginning, middle, and end, and it was spontaneous. It is easier to create like that than to create for a purpose or to speak from the heart to communicate what I need to another human, but this playfulness pleases me. I contain playfulness and anxiety and will judge neither.

My intention when I refused to play the more difficult piece on the piano was to keep myself safe, and now that desire has taken over my life.

I would like not to be judging and fighting myself. And now I am sitting with and accepting my pain, exhaustion and perplexity. There is no need to think, or find a solution.

A desire

“they all adore you (rightly)” he said. I treasure such comments, I need to, as I hold myself in contempt. She suggested I speak from the part that is contemptuous, so I did. I want to lessen the contempt. I do not deserve it.

I played Romance sans paroles, Fauré, to them, and told the story. It is one of my myths. Aged about 16, I got this piece for my grade 7 exam, and went through it, playing parts hands separately, noting which bars were tricky, until I came to the end. I sketched out that chord progression, and it moved me to tears. I was an unpopular boy, withdrawn yet arrogant, immature for my age, sure boys did not cry and insecure about my masculinity (well, yeah). And they said the piece is beautiful and it seems well played, but the sound quality kept fading in and out.

I thought it was something about zoom’s mic settings, but zooming with Louise I changed the settings and she still said the sound was coming in and out. I pulled the piano away from the wall, to put the laptop mic close to the speakers, and it still did not work.

T suggested getting a microphone. But the headphone jack is just that, it won’t take a mic. Well, she said, they plug into USB ports. She started looking them up on Amazon. They can be as cheap as £3, but she got one for £17. I don’t want another cheap microphone, and I don’t want to spend £20 on playing the piano once to the LG.

This morning I realised I do. That Beethoven adagio is gorgeous. Getting it in performance level even informally for LG would be difficult. My muscles are rusty, my brain pathways overgrown. Trying my various bits of equipment- an ethernet cable, an amp, even headphones I could place directly over the microphone on the laptop- and various zoom settings to see what produced the best results, which involves getting a friend to listen, is complex.

And- this is something I really want to do, that seems difficult yet achievable. Now, I do what I want: I want to hide away, so I hide away; I want to blog, so my presence is visible around the world through my words- 202 countries and territories so far. I wanted new pyjamas, as my last pair had holes along the seams, so I got them. I want to do wordles and scroll facebook, and so I do, and all these desires fuel my self-contempt. Beside these, playing the adagio to the LG is something I do not find contemptible.

I am so conscious of this desire. I will work at it. (The inner gaslighter tells me I won’t, and if I do I won’t succeed, but I don’t entirely believe that.) It would not be a great thing, but it would be something. It is a thing I want to do that is clearly not contemptible. Realising that, I wept, suddenly conscious of my unbearable agony.

Now I’ve got to listen to you talking

I start playing the piano, and wonder why I stopped. This is really beautiful. And then-

Oh No! The Difficult bit!

Ah. That’s why I stopped playing. But then I go back to it, and decide slowing it down and getting the notes then trying to speed it up can’t do me that much harm. It’s Metamorphosis by Philip Glass. It is hypnotic. It is up to me to make it expressive, and the difficult bit, in part two, is scintillating. My muscles are out of practice, and my wrist hurts a bit. Strengthen that fourth finger! I might- play for a few minutes, frequently in the day; explore the rest of the parts; hear it on Youtube to get another’s ideas of expressiveness.

And then after I have an emotion, and it is so intense I do not know what it is, just feel the intensity. Something I cannot admit to myself. I do not want to go outside because I do not want to respond to beauty, and be noticed. Even if it were Delight, the intensity of the feeling is painful.

There is the experience, of the beauty, wonder and difficulty, and the direct communication from the composer’s soul of music new to me, and then there is the Internet. Twenty years ago we could both read the same story in The Guardian, on paper, and have our own ideas about it, but now there is the Comments thread, where I see your disagreement pungently expressed- lol just listen to yourself!- then anxiously note how many upvotes the comment and reply each get. Trans excluders get lots more votes than trans women.

You can’t completely no-platform anyone, because someone wants to read what they say- this blog has had 321,333 page views in 2011-2018- and wordpress, youtube and other platforms are available, where you can say it at great length- this blog had 2532 posts in the same period. When a man got a pet dog to respond to the command “Seig Heil” and one much viler by raising its right paw, and posted it on Youtube, he was convicted for “gross offence” under the Communications Act. He stated he only wanted seven friends who follow his channel to see it, but it went viral. Now his channel has grown from eight to 389,726 subscribers. At the trial, Ephraim Borowski, director of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, said joking about the Holocaust normalised antisemitism.

Offensive content gets views. It is like a chimp throwing excrement, piquing the interest of bored children at the zoo.

I took the title from this post from a line by Louis CK of such stunning cruelty and vileness I do not want to quote it. It’s here, if you really must. The wanker used to do left-wing comedy, but having admitted to getting his dick out in company and wanking into a pot-plant, he may think that he won’t get that audience, so is doing right-wing shockery instead. The bit I’ve quoted, though, is true. I saw Star Wars Ep VII on the telly recently, and had avoided spoilers because I did not care that much, so one of the deaths was quite shocking, but anything I do care about I will see things that offend me- all those comments on Brexit and trans issues on the Guardian. I could just go to places on facebook where my views on trans will be affirmed. Pug Salute Man has built up his audience from people actively seeking out offence, probably of groups they despise, and if he disparages Jews he will attract antisemites.

There are various disparaging terms for objecting to such stuff, and my favourite is “Pearl-clutching”- the elderly lady in pearls is shocked, and if you are too you are no more resilient, aware or worldly-wise than she is. An alternative is turning away in weary disgust, but I remain perturbed at all those angry, self-righteous people, and what they might do together if someone wielded their common resentment for destructive ends- like the Brexit vote, perhaps. There is much more political engagement, and most of it is angry, frustrated and divisive, of people hurling their comments at each other and winding each other up, or reassuring their look-alikes that their anger against trans, affirmative action, Remoaners, whatever, is just and true. It’s as if there used to be just septic tanks processing each individual household’s sewage, but now a sewer takes it all into the common river.

The Right encourages disgust and derision at their opponents, but that is not open to me. Louis CK meant that quote in bitter contempt. No, he’s not going to listen to anyone who does not echo him. I mean it in utter sincerity. I must listen in order to understand, and somehow remain unbesmirched by the sewer flood.

This evening I will enjoy Luther on the telly. It’s a police drama, but the murders are long-drawn out, involving torture and sadism, and the wicked kill on a whim. The policeman breaks all the rules because the killer must be stopped. It’s the fifth series, and as The Guardian said, you get the feeling that the cast are really enjoying themselves. Perhaps it helps us with political life on the internet, which might keep me in a febrile state of constant emotional arousal, hoping for likes and page-views, enraged about something which happened in Airdrie. Oh, that’s just normal. My responses are deadened, so that I can be aware of greater vileness and remain functional. It must not mean that I am drawn into the vileness myself. I must retain my capacity for empathy, or I am diminished.

And then there’s something real, like Metamorphosis, and I am overwhelmed by its beauty.

Winging it

Presenter on Radio 4 said how he looked at Melvyn Bragg, say, or Stephen Fry, and they seemed effortless; and he always felt he was “winging it”. So this programme is about “winging it”, how he wants to be in control but is not, never is quite sure what he is doing, works at the pitch of his ability wondering when he will be “found out”. Many people feel like that, perhaps even Melvyn Bragg!

I hated him. I did not want to listen. I want to be in control too, which I have achieved, in a sense, in my living room, and I so envy him, an entertainer on the radio, doing that shtick. I would go back to ithe programme, not as a challenge, to correct my error, but to reassure myself. It is alright, really. (Most of) my fears are phantoms. The actual threats, I might not fear or perceive at all.

The phantoms are great in my mind, terrifying, making me cry-
I epilated this morning, and thought of the psychiatrist: “How did you feel when you started to grow body hair?”
I felt relieved: I might appear normal-

Sense and effort may work on the piano. I have not played it this year, and found that I had to play the C major scale hands separately to get the fingering right. But I saw the film Byzantium on the telly- the protagonists two ethical female vampires hunted through a seaside town- and the younger plays the Adagio from Beethoven’s sonata op.2 no.3, which fits the film perfectly. It is a bit twisted, and the harmony ramps up the emotional tension while the slow, measured regular demisemiquavers refuse to release it. I had never played it. I thought it a Bach prelude at first, perhaps “smeared when wet”, and when the credits rolled I got it out. I am in love with it. It is so beautiful.

Anyway. There is only one right note, and it must be hit squarely. You play a single bar over and over again, hands separately then together, and when you string the bars together if you hit a wrong note you go back over that bar and get it right. You practise, I read, until you cannot hit a wrong note. Then, you can play the piece, speak feeling with and through it. That fits the pedantic testing of each foothold before placing weight on it.

So much has gone wrong! Blithe trust in the ability of the air to support my wings when it has not-

Cezanne, rocks


Why don’t I meditate? That moment in the evening when I repetitively check blog statistics and facebook rather than kneeling. I know if I stop it, and kneel, I will sleep far better, and carry on scrolling-

I have been kneeling in my ritual space, on and off, for years, but rarely regularly. Whatever it is- opening my chakras, counting breaths, reciting my affirmation- it is all good, and I know that. Why don’t I do it?

Because kneeling, I touch reality. Humankind cannot bear very much reality. I leave the facebook fug, where something pleases or irritates me but not much, not affecting me, and face my feelings about my own life and day. Real feelings frighten me.

And those real feelings work for my good. However difficult.

It may be beneficial to turn to meditation earlier, when I have the mental strength to overcome my initial resistance, or turn my attention to the blessing as well as the work of it.


Why do I not practise the piano?

On Saturday, I went through the music on H’s piano, and played those pieces I knew- not well, because I have not played them for ages, but sort-of. Possibly, it is because it is a real piano rather than a digital one: my digital piano has weighted keys, authentic sound, three pedals, but has a dinky little loudspeaker rather than a huge iron frame which vibrates in sympathy when I cough at a certain pitch, or to which I vibrate in sympathy as I play. That Romance sans Paroles by FaurĂ©: I will always remember picking through it, before I learned it, and how the chord progression at the end moved me to tears. I was so far from tears and my femininity then, in my teens.

The wrong notes creep in, and they irk me. It is too much work to maintain a piece playably. I do not want to just bash through it. Yet on someone else’s piano, I bash away, affecting not to care.


My friend visited, and told a story, a memory of which he is proud and happy, which he had told me twice before. I told him I had heard it, and he just stopped. It took telling him I had heard it to realise that I should not have. The feeling it evokes in him is delightful to him. I can allow that feeling and enjoy sharing it.

Margaret Macdonald, Queen of Clubs

The idea of a piano

Boldini, Mary DonovanIn my teens, I found my voice pitched in a particular way could elicit vibration in sympathy from the strings of my piano. This completely delighted me, no matter how often I did it. The object was more than an object. It had a personality, and I had a relationship with it. I would wrestle with it. Because the syncopation was so alien to the ways my hands had gone together before, I spent a week on the first four bars of the Maple Leaf Rag, but learned Joplin more quickly afterwards. Then I learned the Pathétique  sonata, and thundered away, and though the tremolo often made my left wrist ache I kept it up until the muscles developed. I have played it to Mark Owen on his piano, and (yes I know a name-dropping story is less good if you have to explain who the person is) he is a member of Take That.

The end of the recapitulation is a moment of sublime darkness and catharsis.

My love of this is one of my greatest gifts from my father. As a toddler I listened to Jon Pertwee singing My Grandfather”s Clock and there was an old lady who swallowed a fly, and to the Emperor Concerto. I drove my mother mad with Couperin harpsichord music. I have just been listening to Beethoven’s piano concerto no. 4 in G major, and it has such full-hearted joy. I wept with it.

Ilya Repin, S.I. MenterPlaying became too much like hard work. Errors creep in, and I was disheartened from slowing down and picking a bar apart, when I had done so, so many times before. Now, it seems harder to learn a piece than in my teens. I have tried with a few, and given up.

This is such a wonderful, exalting experience. Why do I do it so little? I lose concentration and start ruminating, or I get upset, or I get a little bored, or there is a wonderful moment when the music speaks directly to me. Sometimes I follow the drama of it. There are familiar moments where I am with it completely. My sulking gets in the way. Perhaps it might motivate me out of my sulk.

Now, I shall listen to not Mahler or Shostakovich, but the Pastoral symphony. Self-improvement is all very well.


Idina WallaceThe Etude, opus 10 no. 3, made me sob wildly, prompting the woman on my left, though I did not know her, to put a consoling arm around my shoulder. It strives upwards, to a tonic chord topped with the third, then the striving recedes likes waves just as emotion does, ti, so, and then mi an octave lower. Possibly that MI, rather than doh or so, adds vulnerability.

We had not expected this, but it was ten years since the Foundling Hospital, just south of St Pancras station, became a museum and they celebrated with a brass band and chamber music, and they have regular concerts. Sometimes I resent the power of music to manipulate me like this, but had it not, it would have no interest either. James Brawn played a muscular programme including the Prokofiev toccata op.11, deafening at times.

I can play the Rachmaninov prelude Opus 3 no. 2, and have performed it: a woman told me that the Bells of Moscow motif Fa, Mi, LA made her think “Let, Me, Out!” but graciously she found my performance unobjectionable. Unfortunately, it takes me an hour or two, perhaps spread over a week, to bring up the mid section to speed, and if I just play it errors creep in: I find the effort to keep it performable disheartening, and give up. So I have hardly played my own piano this year, but fiddled about on H’s landlord’s, and the St Pancras piano. Something about loving to perform, perhaps, and needing an audience.

The sustain pedal of the piano at H’s was not working, and I got permission to take the front off and fiddle with it. There is a horizontal lever going from the pedal to the side of the piano, and the upright which should transfer its force to the mechanism had come away. I balanced the upright on the lever, and it worked for a time, but fell off; so I opened the piano again, and stuck the upright to the lever with masking tape. As I did this, I felt pure happiness.

I sat in the living room as H got ready. I noticed wrinkles in the rug, and twists in an elastic band round a box. That elastic band had just been put on any old how, rather than perpendicular to the edges and flat against the box. I picked up the box and straightened the elastic band, then smoothed the wrinkles in the rug. I felt pleasure again, along with irritation and embarrassment that I should want to do these things. What if anyone should find me out? Not “doing good“, exactly, but making the world more as I want it.

At the bus stop there was a woman with her arm round the shoulders of a man- it would normally be the other way round, and I felt irritation, envy, perhaps yearning.

St Pancras 14 6 14


File:Repin Portrait of Mrs Beatrice Levi.jpgI have not learned a new piece for years, but this Chopin waltz in A minor seems manageable. Perhaps I will play it for you, if I get it to a sufficient standard. It helps that it is so familiar: I have heard it many times, and its beauty echoes in my mind. Yet when I start to play it, hands separately, then hands together very slowly, I see what Chopin is doing, and individual chord progressions delight me. Then it is almost too much to play it at speed: there is too much going on, too much beauty.

In Meeting, I considered the fragility and strength, and beauty, of three daffodils. I have time, again, to see all the detail, which in days will be brown and cast onto a compost heap, and if it were not cut would do its task of fertilising and being fertilised, then change to something else. Parts of the waltz run in my mind.

I have the piano, Kate gets similar complete absorption in sewing, she says. Though that is not what I said: I said appreciation of beauty, not absorption, though I can get absorbed. And I could say, she gets the same appreciation of beauty, or sense of achievement, as probably she does, though she did not say it. Sue took her jacket off before meeting for worship, as she is intensely self-conscious of the noise and disturbance of it if she takes it off in meeting. But we can tolerate that much File:Andreyeva by Repin.jpgdisturbance, and if we cannot- I hear it and get irritated and am no longer as gathered as I ought to be, then I wasn’t doing it right to start with.

I would like the calm, contemplative, loving state, but I consider Fred Phelps, say: yes, intellectually I can accept that anger at him is not the right response, that it simply perpetuates the anger and hatred he channelled so publicly. Yet instead I feel relief at his death, and horror that there are more homophobes where he came from. Thinking of him makes me feel tired.

I did not quote all of Psalm 139. Here is the end of it:

O that you would kill the wicked, O God,
and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me—
those who speak of you maliciously,
and lift themselves up against you for evil!
Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
I hate them with perfect hatred;
I count them my enemies.
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

I hate them with perfect hatred. As I understand it, that is not what I am supposed to do. But perhaps I am supposed to do what I will do, and all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing is well.


George OrwellIt is the clichĂ© that most makes me grind my teeth. Seventy years after George Orwell attempted to eradicate cheap litotes with the sentence “a not unsmall dog chased a not unfrightened rabbit across a not ungreen field”, “It is…. that” makes me fall to my knees, sobbing Oh God!! NOOOO! WHY!!!!

From Prospect magazine: “It is Joanna Scanlan, as Catherine Dickens, who almost wordlessly conveys the true cruelties of Love”. “It is…who” adds nothing here. I first noticed it in my own writing. It is a way of providing emphasis to the subject of the sentence by making it the object of the verb to be. The trouble is that (pause- no, I have narrowly avoided it) this is a cheap way of emphasising, requiring no thought or creativity, and so it becomes addictive then omnipresent.

Just like Orwell’s cheap litotes. St Paul was a citizen of “no mean city”- the greatest in the World at the time- which carries a hint of menace, something to savour when you work it out. “Not un-” can be stuck in before any adjective.

File:Tolstoy, from Gallica.jpgI have hated the word “almost” since an adjudicator called my teenage performance of the Chopin C minor prelude “almost breathtaking”, offering me praise then snatching it away from under my nose. Either it is breathtaking or it is not. Prospect narrowly avoids that: one can indeed be almost wordless.

Listening in my mind to the rhythms of my sentences, I think of where to put the full stop, and where I can carry on the melody with a colon: for a colon inflects up, and a full stop irrevocably down. Too many colons: eg, here, ruin the effect. Psalms say the same thing twice, separated in English by a colon: saying it the second time, as lawyers often do, gets the idea over to more limited minds. One author I used to like made sentences longer than a page by making lists of clauses separated by semicolons. One Michael Moorcock novel had only one-clause sentences. They illustrated the closed-mindedness of the first-person narrator. It is tedious after a time.

“It is that,” agrees the Yorkshireman.

What clichés in writing set your teeth on edge?

Looking for an illustration- should I really use Orwell?- I started reading Clive James. He writes, Any successful style is a spell whose first victim is the wizard. Perhaps writers are better with our infelicities jerking you out of your mindless absorbing, so that readers question rather than idolise. But I could hardly wish that for myself.

Ludovico Einaudi

Here is my first Youtube video.

The z2H challenge is do something new. Mmm. I could do a video, but what of? Unless I pay for the video upgrade, I can only have a video here if I post it on youtube. A video here, I could just say hello, this is me and this is my voice, but not on Youtube, where I have no presence. I have nothing at the moment that I want to tell you about face to face, as it were. Piano it is, then.

This is with my own equipment, a DMC-TZ25 camera. If I started doing it seriously, I would consider getting a microphone, as the fidelity could be better. Windows Moviemaker should be able to shoot a film, but I can’t see how, and don’t have the button this otherwise helpful page indicates. There are downloads available, I might try them.

I am the performer here: it was important to have my head in the frame, though at its edge, and to wear a dress rather than jeans.

Performing I have nerves. I can usually play Giorni Dispari reasonably accurately, but make mistakes and perhaps rush a little for the video. I ended up with two almost-OK takes, plus aborted ones where I completely lost my way, or used the phone’s memory having lost my connector (actually I only thought I had) or realised half-way through that in thinking about other things, I had forgotten to put my hair on. I am unashamed of my body and my trans status- and I don’t want you seeing me wigless.

Oddly enough when I load to Youtube I can hear my videos, but not when playing them stored on my computer or on Dropbox.

What do you think? And, why would it take over two hours to upload a four minute video to Youtube?