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I'M DOWN WITH "IKIGAI": PLEASURE PLUS SOCIAL VALUE

Updated: May 9


Living in a way that provides pleasure for me and value to those around me -- that's the definition of the Japanese word "ikigai". I learned that word in a short article by 80-year old author T.R. Reid in my latest AARP The Magazine.


Not that I'm that happy with that magazine. Most likely I will not renew my 20-year membership in this organization. I'm not down with the ways they cluelessly or carelessly perpetuate ageism in their articles and language. I rail against that in two of my poems (below) and I've written the editors time and again to protest, but they never respond or publish my letter or poem. And yes, I wrote them this time, too!


Still, the magazine sometimes provides food for thought - or words such as "ikigai". But the aforementioned author strangely focuses his entire article on only one-half of the definition he gives for the word, that is, "living a life of purpose." Pleasure is absent and he discusses only the many and useful ways he has kept busy after retirement. Those include contributing to non-profits, raising money, and working on political campaigns.


But the absence of pleasure smacks of our American society's unending need for industriousness and productivity, that is, more and more work with wheels spinning (toward what?) and less and less time to pursue and enjoy our passions and our pleasures. Poet Mary Oliver whom I just discovered, seems to agree that pleasure is important; see her lovely poem "Don't Hesitate": "If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don't hesitate. Give in to it..."


Pleasure - and being of service in life - are both what I enjoy now that I am retired, and of course, music and piano practice are primary among those. Sometimes my mornings go like those of my calmest, most reasonable kitty Prince, who hunkers down on the kitchen rug to catch the morning rays of spring and summer sun coming through a nearby window to warm his fur as he dozes peacefully.


What he does is sometimes what I do with my morning cup of coffee, sitting on the patio rocking gently in my chair, basking in the sun and listening to the birds or perhaps to a newly-discovered piece of music or performer who until just then, has escaped my attention. My latest discoveries include pianists Menachem Presser and Lukas Geniusas, and Chopin's Etude in C minor Op. 25 No. 12 (named by others the "Ocean" Etude) and the "Waterfall" Etude.


The bottom-line cause of departure over a year ago from lessons with one piano teacher was their relentless insistence on "productivity." It actually mattered little what provided the pathway to productivity, because I simply was and am not in a mood to be principally "productive" by any means in my pianistic journey.


In the end, for me, productivity takes second place to pleasure!


And as psychologist Dr. Phil of TV fame says, "I'm not going to waste time doing things that I don't really value or focus on things I don't really care about" (he's also quoted in my latest AARP The Magazine). Of course, from that proviso we both except paying taxes and washing our dishes.


I particularly value my support of and work with Groupmuse, the wonderful worker/owner collective of musicians who sponsor home and small venue concerts in many major US cities, including my own city. Groupmuse provides the best opportunity for me to express and live "ikigai" because it gives me personal pleasure to listen intently to music, to learn more about the pieces from the comments by the performer as you will hear below by Tin Yi Chelsea Wong (pictured right after the concert with guests enjoying refreshments and discussion with Chelsea). We love hosting concerts in a friendly social space for music-loving guests to enjoy superb instrumentalists or vocalists. We so appreciate our guests for helping provide more opportunities for local musicians to perform as we bring music for modest, voluntary donations up-close-and-personal to everyone, and offer opportunities to make new friends.


On April 28, my partner and I hosted our third such Groupmuse concert in our home, this time featuring an amazing local pianist, teacher, and inventor, Tin Yi Chelsea Wong. It was a special occasion because it was also the second birthday of the arrival in our home of my beloved piano, The Duchess! A perfect occasion to celebrate because we always make a Groupmuse concert into a party with balloons, theme-decorations, and special refreshments. As pictured above, I dressed up The Duchess with silk flowers and scarves since our theme was spring and flowers, and our refreshments featured mini-cupcakes with edible butterflies on top and lavender-infused nopal iced tea. Chelsea and I are pictured here with one of our guests.


Typically, Groupmuse musicians select a program from their repertoire, and Chelsea's ranges widely from classical to modern music. However, she graciously agreed to focus on lyrical, romantic pieces and end by playing my favorite Schumann song (yes, it was originally a lied), "Widmung" (video here).



Not only that, but Chelsea started her program with a stunning composition by Liszt, Ballade No 2 in B minor. It's an explosive - and lyrical - piece that I had never run across, compelling in part because based on the Greek myth of the doomed love affair between Hero and Leander, well explicated by Chelsea before beginning to play and as well by German piano teacher Henrik Kilhamm.



Above is a video recording of Chelsea playing my favorite part all the way to the end. It begins when the tenor voice comes in with the heart-rending and tragic principal melodic theme. My heart lept when I heard it, I immediately sensed it was special, and I hit the "record" button on my iPhone. Because I did not record all of Chelsea's performance, I also recommend listening to my favorite YouTube interpretation of the entire piece by a long-time favorite pianist, Nelson Freire, who has the most delicate touch! It's a slowly-paced version with aching tension and a wide range of dynamics. The tenor voice comes at 10.28 minutes into Freire's performance. A different interpretation is that of another of my favorite pianists, Claudio Arrau where the tenor voice comes in at 9.06.


Of course, The Duchess went into almost terminal shock from having to perform the bars containing the original theme of Leander's challenging and torturous swim to the island where his paramour Hero lived; you'll hear that theme in the first few bars and throughout Lizst's composition. As Bruce, my composer friend, asked me later, "Are her legs still shaking from that experience?"


Truth be told, not a leg, but one candelabra sitting to a side of the score holder trembled from time to time during Chelsea's powerful exposition of the piece, and I could not hold back some tears! And another truth to be told is that, sadly, The Duchess was not sufficiently sized to adequately take on and fairly present this piece; a nine-foot concert grand would have been far more suitable (would love to have heard that famed Hamburg Steinway growl in the bass of a concert-sized piano!) - but then, I would have missed hearing this magnificent Liszt composition and may have never discovered it at all.


Thank you Chelsea, for the amazing gifts you gave that afternoon to our guests and to my partner and me. May you live long and prosper in developing your burgeoning creativity and be well rewarded for your kindness in sharing your talents and music love with all of us that afternoon!

***

This and the next poem are from the Advance Reader's Copy Vol III "Poetic Musings"); readers sought, so if interested, please reply: rhapsody.dmb@gmail.com!)


THIS ALONE WOULD MAKE ONE TIRED! 

 

I think I’m about to get tired and “old”

from society’s age prejudice!

I read that 76 is an “advanced” state

In AARP’s Bulletin, no less.

 

I guess that’s better than a few years ago

when I just about fell over

to read a reporter’s clear implication

that I should be pushing clover.

 

About a crime committed, she said,

when an “elderly” person was attacked,

yet the victim was 54-years of age

and a mere youngster at that.

 

Perhaps I should amend my book’s back cover

to stress the remarkable feat

that I restarted piano lessons once again

as an “elderly” person–so neat!

 

So I deserve a Piano Medal of Honor

for persisting in expressing myself

after re-finding music at my “advanced” stage?

Should I already be on the shelf?

 

So when do we “age” and what should we expect

when as “seniors” we feel quite young?

We’ve bitten the bullet and made a contribution,

but not seen for the good we’ve done.

 

Bury not your head in the sands of youth;

your time will come for sure.

Speak up against prejudice that seems never to have

a solution or a probable cure!



WHY NOT?

 

Am I "spry?"* One might say.

Miriam Webster puts it a similar way:

“(especially of an old person) active; lively:

‘he ...look(ed) spry and active...into his eighties.’”

 

Why reserve this word for our senior cohort,

if we’re readily defined by other words?

Why not just “active; lively” and energetic,

or would I be too much like a heretic?

 

Why consider it unusual if I want to sky dive,

or take ballet lessons or even skin dive?

Why must I be defined by what causes pain

but not pursue where the most joy I’ll gain?

 

Why must I contain my loudest laugh,

or not want to try out for the next spacecraft?

Why not take up lessons on a smart piano,

or decide to go trekking in the snow?

 

Why not wear lingerie of the provocative kind,

and pursue romance in the wintertime?

Why not learn Greek, or try a sauna co-ed,

take up archery, or become a redhead?

 

Why not go for Number One

on a Bucket List replete with fun?

Why simmer down rather than opening up,

and look outward from our half-full cup?

_______

*I am at best disheartened by continually reading

stereotyping language quoted in this poem, found in

AARP The Magazine, this time in referring to an active

81-year old lady; see "Unnatural Causes" about

do-nothing law enforcement and senior living facility

administrators in response to 22 serial killings of

women residents (by Lise Olsen, 12/22-1/23).  


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