When asked how he would teach someone to play the piano, jazz great Theolonius Monk said that he would take them for a walk around Central Park and make them listen to the sounds. I love this answer -- as a teacher of writing for many years, I'm always struggling with what to say to make students understand the process, a process that becomes more mysterious and incomprehensible to me with each passing year, much like Mr. Monk's brilliant compositions. He's not, as they say, for all taste, but what he does is something so beautiful and horrible that nobody else does it half so well. I once saw a documentary about his life -- he wasn't much of a talker, had a reputation for being moody and difficult. But he managed to keep a wife and a mistress, and they got along fine and even sat together at his funeral. His wife said merely that Thelonius was a bit too much for one woman to handle, that she was glad to get some help with his moods and needs and strange ways.
The only thing I remember about the mistress is that she lived in a penthouse in New York with twenty-seven cats. It wasn't a small place, but it wasn't large either, and twenty-seven cats -- dear sweet Jesus! I've never been one for normal arrangements, but I can't imagine all those kitties and their evil little ways. You could never get away from them! On a bad day, that's what writing is like -- all these distractions and miseries heaped on one another, demanding that you attend to them. You can't quiet your mind, but luckily you can drink later and complain to friends that the writing is not going well. It helps if you hold your hand against your head and look down. That might get you a free shot of something. But if you really want to work, take a walk around and start looking at people. You can pretend that Theolonius is with you as your teacher and it wouldn't be that much different than if he were alive. He hardly ever said anything. His band listened intently when he spoke, so rare was the event. And you can always go to his mistress' penthouse and write about the cats. Sometimes that's the best you can hope for.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"All art is a prayer for a new image." Charles Simic
Drinking short story collection suggestion: Bear and His Daughters Robert Stone
Benedictions and Maledictions
45 Days until The Sopranos airs!