A couple years ago, an island friend relayed a quote that has stuck with me, by one of the famous Neils (Neals), either Gaiman or Stephenson. The Internet cannot help me here. In any case, the quote: “Words are magic.”
The way it was explained to me: Imagine you want coffee. And you say aloud, “I’m going to get coffee.” And then you go get coffee. The coffee is in your hand. You drink the coffee.
It’s magic. You thought an intention, as little words in your head. You said those words aloud, like a wizard intoning a spell. And then: Coffee in your hand.
I heard this little quote and I thought, neat. And then I noticed it playing out in my life. It started with goal setting. I began writing down goals. I used to suck at goals. This turns out to be common amongst people who have lived through trauma, as I have. Goal sucking. So I swallowed my pride (so much pride) and read articles on goals. I learned about SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-based.) I began setting SMART goals. Almost all of them have come to fruition.
*Side note. If you want to deep dive on word-magic, this Radiolab episode on language blew my mind out of my face. Did you know that much of what we call thinking would be impossible without language? Discuss.
And so this winter, when I was in the midst of moving to my new apartment, I thought, for funsies, to summon some magicks. I summoned the North wind, an orca sigh, a river otter fart, and posted on Facebook that I was looking for a piano.
I’ve always wanted a piano, ever since I left my childhood home, and my mother’s piano. I love pianos. I don’t say that lightly. I love pianos. I love playing pianos. When people say, Evan, why don’t you get an electric piano, I say back, Friend, why don’t you get an electric wife.
I love pianos. Real pianos. Made of wood and metal and fake ivory. A proper piano is like a person: Individual, temperamental, moody, beautiful. Playing a proper piano is like playing with a sentient being. Playing an electric piano is like making love over Zoom.*
*For more electric vs. acoustic piano analogies, see my recent New York Times op-ed on the subject.
So I summoned the unholy Facebook magicks and friends began tagging me on free piano listings. It turns out there are plenty of free pianos on my island. I think I found four in my short search.
This is probably because on Orcas it costs a fortune to move or dispose of anything (we have the most expensive garbage rates in the state, for instance). As a result it is not uncommon for rentals or homes to come fully furnished.
And also, buyer beware. Most small pianos are junk. Small pianos, or spinets, were popularized in the 1930s. They were designed for convenience rather than playability. They have an inferior action to all other pianos, which means they play worse and they sound worse. They are also generally mass manufactured, which means the components are inferior and the pianos are difficult and costly to repair or tune. In general, the price of repair or tuning far exceeds the value of the piano. So, most small pianos are junk.
Performance grade pianos are on the other end of the spectrum. They’re handcrafted to be beautiful, durable, long-lived instruments. I’ve played a few in my life, notably some very memorable Steinway concert grands, which is like saying, I’ve ridden a few race horses in my life. Danced with a few prima ballerinas. You know, memorable.
I’d love to have one, but new, these pianos start around $50,000 and easily surpass $100,000. I saw a full custom brand in Arizona selling grand pianos for $250,000. Even used they can be eye-wateringly expensive. And like buying a boat or an Italian car, pre-purchase inspections are a must. Repair costs can soar into the thousands. Parts come from expensive places like Germany. And moving a concert grand requires professional movers and bags of money.
So free and wee it had to be.
Anyway, back to the magic. A friend forwarded me a listing by a woman who wanted someone to longterm piano-sit her piano. The piano was here on island. Yes, it was little, but it looked nice. And relatively easy to move. The woman was a musician, which struck me as a hopeful sign. In a few short messages, she agreed to lend me the piano, for free.*
*Also PS this strikes me as very, very Orcas. Where else to people just hand off heirloom instruments to each other?
But. I hate moving. I hate moving heavy things because I’m not a heavy person. But most of all I hate, hate, hate asking for help. Because help is people. And I’m, broadly speaking, afraid of people.
I have good reasons for being afraid of people, which stem back to early childhood, but in recent years it has occurred to me that I cannot be a happy human being if I am afraid of my own kind.
So with some hesitation I cast another spell on Facebook. I asked if possibly, maybe, anyone would help me MOVE A GODDAMN PIANO. I fully assumed the answer would be no.
Instead, to my utter astonishment, about 8 people came forward. Some were close island buddies. Others were friends of friends, farther out acquaintances, friendly faces from around town.
Honestly, my first reaction was WHY?! Why do you want to help me move a piano? Do you not understand that piano moving is widely known to be the biggest pain in the ass in the ass-paining realm of moving? Do you have me confused for the 14th Dalai Lama, or some other super wonderful human being whom people would readily move a piano for? I’m just Evan, I’m not that great. I don’t even meditate. Not regularly anyway.
So I overcame my astonishment, recruited four willing friends, rented a U-Haul, and drove in a caravan to a far-flung cottage. I’d never lifted anything as heavy as a piano, and I was not looking forward to it. I have a lower back that I like and would like to use into old age.
But, astonishment number two: It’s not hard to move a small piano with five people. We could lift it off the ground without too much difficulty. It was easier than moving a couch. And then I got to do my favorite thing, which is drive a strange vehicle, in this case, a 15-foot box van. I slalomed through our winding, hilly, narrow roads, rowing the column shifter between gears, caressing the brake pedal, mindful of the 500-pound baby in the back.
And then, my friends and I moved the piano the short distance from my parking lot into my apartment. And without incident, or loss of limb, I summoned a piano into my home, after wanting one for 20 years. All it took was some magic. Word magic. Oh, and a bunch of people. A bunch of kind, giving, lovely people. They’re not so scary after all.*
*Thank you: Christine, Joe, Liz, Cameron, & Jeff.
So there’s the word magic, the stating of intentions, the sharing of intentions. And then there’s the people magic. That a 500-pound music machine can be moved 20 miles by a bunch of bipedal apes working in unison. Why? I’m not sure. I think maybe magic…or love.