Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Piano, insomnia

When I was in high school, I finished all of my requirements except for one English class halfway through my senior year. Since I decided not to go down the Engineering road, this meant that I was in the middle of a bunch of very difficult and essentially useless classes. I somehow managed to con a guidance counselor to let me drop almost all of my classes and exchange them for a lot of fluff. This was a dream come true for me, since I had a serious case of senioritis. I hated my home situation, I hated my home town, and I was under the impression that when I got the hell out of there and went to college, women would be falling from the sky and I’d be recognized as some kind of cult genius for my advanced abilities.

This meant that my schedule consisted of a pre-calc class and a writing class. I had some kind of computer III course, but the teacher gave me all of the assignments in the first week, and I handed them back complete the next day. That hour of the day was spent writing a sport scheduling program, and trying to beat whatever was the hot new chess program for the Apple II back in 1989. My mechanical drawing III class was also humorous, because I was the only student. All of the advanced drafting classes met at the same time, and it was a big rumble of gossip, goofing off, and inside jokes. We did some CAD work, but we did a lot more goading and screwing around. I also got two study halls; I spent one reading every fucking book in the library from A to Z, and the other one working in the school theatre, painting scenery and hanging lights.

But the cool addition to my schedule was piano class. The school just started teaching this, and I was lucky to sneak in, since there were only about a dozen seats. I always wanted to learn to play a musical instrument, and this class started at the beginning. Everyone sat at their own digital keyboard with headphones and learned how to read music, play chords, and poke away at various five-finger melodies in C. It was a small class, so the teacher worked with us a lot and we got to practive every day. I even dumped a hundred dollars on a cheap Casio for home so I could practice more.

I got up to speed pretty fast, and once we got to the point where both of our hands were doing different things, we got to pick music out of a few beginner’s fake books and work on different stuff of our own. One of my big projects was hammering out a watered down rendition of Beethoven’s 9th, rewritten for the beginner who has never left C. I’d never heard the real thing – the closest I got to classical music back then was Cliff Burton’s bass solo on the first Metallica album. But I spent a lot of time at it, and got it to a recognizable state. Ten years later, I think I could at least play the first few notes of it if I was in a piano store and wanted to piss off the salesman.

The anticlimax to this whole story is that I was listening to Ludwig Von and his ninth this morning. It wasn’t anything special, just a German knock-off that came in a super-duper-every-classical-recording-ever boxed set. But it was all-digital, and sounded tight. And within the symphony performance were the same notes I’d hammered out on that Casio all those years before. And it made me think of that final semester, probably my best of those 13 years of school, where I had fun and got ready to leave for the first time. It’s corny, but these are the kind of weird tricks my mind plays.

I slept last night. It’s more of an art than a skill to me. I could sleep all day, every day, especially if it’s cold like today. It’s only about 50 outside, but with the gloom and the clouds and the darkness, it’s nice to envelop myself in the covers and stay there, thinking and waiting for sleep. I can tell when I’m about to fall asleep, because my internal monologue becomes irrational and disjointed. I start thinking about multiplication tariffs and drag-and-drop garden plants and secret, transdimensional tunnels and classes I need to study for even though I graduated from college almost four years ago. It’s a nice feeling of confusion, though, and it’s why this insomnia bothers me so much. The self-conversation doesn’t slow – it becomes more of a manic frenzy as I keep looking at the clock. I try to put myself elsewhere and imagine that I’m sleeping somewhere else, like the bridge of the International Space Station, or at Marie’s, with her next to me, Henrey sleeping on my feet, and Mungo sitting on my head or trying to stand on my chest. Eventually I get to sleep, but it’s satisfying when it takes no effort, and the dreams are decent.

I’ve had a lot of weird dreams lately, probably related to the insomnia. The other day, my sister was barbequeing with David Letterman, and instead of his usual schtick, he was talking very solemly and offering her all of this advice and inspiration. They both graduated from Ball State – maybe that was it. I also had a dream that I somehow convinced a bunch of people that I held the patent for fluorescent lights, but when I tried to use it as a physics project, I got busted. Last night I was with my friend Virginia in a national forest that had been turned into a large, refrigerated greenhouse. Elevators and tram cars snaked through miles of tulips and carnations. We were talking about filming some kind of video where various trucks filled with colored chalk would dump the powder on a giant salt flat, weaving and manuvering in some choreographed fashion while a camera truck drove in front of them, and Joe Satriani played guitar. The thing is that these dreams are far more detailed than I can now remember, and I wish I could write all of this stuff down when I woke up.

Lunch is almost over, and I need to find a bunch of art for my January 20 page. I better split.