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Sunday, August 04, 2013

July is Piano Camp Month

This started out as an imaginative description of the first two weeks of July. I'm not so sure what it is anymore, but it's more than the sum of notes I scrawled during those two weeks.  I haven't attempted a work of creative nonfiction of this magnitude since my writing class back in 2005ish. And yes, it's best to approach this as being more creative than otherwise.

July is Piano Camp Month

I don't attend the camp, mind you; I schedule it, and am physically on site, and dream and breathe piano camp for its duration. This two-week project (along with the weeks preceding it) is a test of all kinds of resilience. Because I've passed this test successfully (dare I say brilliantly? no, too vain) in the past (or at least it appears so on the surface), I get to re-experience the magic every year.

Initially, it's like one of those logic puzzles where you're given a number of clues, from which you're supposed to work out who bet on which horse in a race and which horse won and what colour of hat everyone wore.  Except there are 70 students (and counting), a dozen teachers, a fluctuating number of classes, and a worryingly small number of spaces. The clues unfold slowly, over the course of a few weeks, with key clues being withheld until the deadline is almost upon you. And you actually have to solve it (I may very well be alone in this, but when I get a little stumped on a logic puzzle, I flip the page and start a new one. Unfinished things bother me, so I might put a random solution in. I do this with Sudoku, too, if I find I've made an error somewhere and don't feel like retracing my steps; I just fill in numbers and move on). And perhaps the worst part of all is that once you complete the puzzle and show everybody the results, you invariably get a dozen messages modifying the clues you originally worked with. If you were to graph it, you'd need several extra dimensions (one of them dedicated entirely to frustration). But I had done it before, I approached it again, and all was ready for July 1st.

The next part of the project is the camp itself, which doesn't actually take place where I work. I'm given a reading room as office space, though it's ill-equipped: no computer, no phone, no ethernet jack (which wouldn't be a problem if I wasn't working with my teenaged laptop, who sports a stylish floppy drive but doesn't do that wireless thing laptops are doing nowadays), and the photocopiers I can use are way the hell across campus.

Being there is a little like what I imagine solitary confinement might be like. Once in a while someone comes to interrogate you, but the rest of the time you are alone, sitting in a chair whose design is based not on comfort but rather on the most cost-effective way of outfitting an entire campus with objects physically capable of being sat upon. Each interrogator has a unique approach on how best to break you (it really seemed deliberate, too). Some bring emotion into the room knowing that, in the arbitrary way that those with power decide these things, we're more likely to accommodate troublesome creatures. Some know that honey is more tempting than vinegar, and keep their manner sugary while managing to lace in enough toxic passive aggression to fell a rhino.

It eventually (actually, quickly) becomes too much effort to even care. I don't game much anymore, but all I could think was I am at 90 stacks of Seething Anger, and pretty soon somebody's going to get 1-shot.

Left alone with only my own rabid thoughts and the muffled sound of people being irritating, my thoughts tend to become increasingly black until I have to convey them to my notebook so that I won't forget all the things that enrage me.

For someone who clings to rare happy moments of social interaction like sunbeams in a wasteland eternally menaced by storms, there's a very real toll to having every single instance of human contact for two weeks be negative. As in, it's not just two weeks of extra-strength unhappiness; it's two weeks that trigger a storm that takes tremendous effort and time to break. Or maybe it's two weeks that deal the deathblow to the fragile sunshiney peace that I've worked so hard to build. I guess it amounts to the same thing.

Feigning appreciation enrages me, but I do it anyway. How were you to know that I'd be at the absolute end of my rope? How could anybody know that by this point my heart would be so stonily cold that this gesture makes no imprint at all? And yet, when the teachers stop in to give their farewells and best wishes, I get a little (a very little) verklempt in a "you guys are truly beautiful people" sort of way (not in a "gosh don't you wish we could stay here for another week day minute" sort of way).

The final blow comes when summer school ends and it's back to work in the office, with the ringing phones and the random passersby and the people. All the people. Little kids and elderly concert-goers, staff and customers, people who are a sight for sore eyes and people who induce a cringe just by walking in the door. People who call our number as if it were the peanut butter hotline (why peanut butter? who knows. who do you call with your general questions about life?). Plus I've been out of the loop for two weeks, and have even less answers than usual. By some twisted Pavlovian conditioning, I've become accustomed to an intense solitude where almost every person to approach me will leave me with a little more despair. Back at work, I can feel panic rise when the phone rings. I can feel anger literally burning me inside, and I have to get out for clear air to quench it, however slightly. I'm consumed by resentment, and I can't even say for sure why I'm resentful, only that it's aimed at just about everybody, including—maybe especially—myself.