Thursday, January 14, 2010

Where is the Fence?

Last month my next door neighbor made a special point to stop by to tell
me that the fence between our houses needed to be replaced. As he is a
practical guy, he came armed with a solution to this problem about which I
had been blissfully unaware up until then. Apparently, the fence dates
back to the 1960's and has provided an extensive feast for termites during
the intervening years. He proposed that we split the cost of materials,
and he would make sure that the work gets done satisfactorily. As the plan
did not require that I provide manual labor or use power tools it all
seemed like a great idea.

By the way, the thing about power tools is that I play and teach the piano
for a living. I made the decision a few years back that I really ought to
forgo using anything that might jeopardize the viability of my hands. I
remember shaking hands with more than one carpenter or high school
industrial arts teacher who was missing a phalange or two. The encounter
always included some entertaining story about fingers, saws and the
resultant disfigurement. So anything that demands the use of circular
saws, hedge trimmers or even some office paper cutters is just not open
for discussion for me anymore. I simply will not use them.

Oh yeah, about the fence. . . So the old fence came down about two weeks
ago and there are optimistic signs that its replacement will manifest
itself before long. The most telling of these signs was the appearance of
a large Home Depot truck last week that delivered a very large pile of
lumber. The pile seems to be about the right size and density to plausibly
constitute the raw elements of a new fence. A few days later some very
deep holes were dug at evenly spaced intervals along the property line.
And now a vertical post has been anchored with cement in each of the
holes, so I live in hope.

The point of all of this is that the presence or absence of the fence
would ordinarily be of negligible consequence to me. I probably would
never have given it a second thought, except I have dogs. Yes, two dogs
who are rather mature and quite set in their ways. Removing the fence put
them absolutely over the edge. Now these two have been coconspirators for
years as they have plotted and schemed to break out from the incarceration
of our back yard. In past years we have been summoned to retrieve them on
more than one occasion from the city's Animal Control Department because
they were picked up by the dog catcher while they were out on the town
carousing. When the fence came down all of this changed.

With the fence removed, the absence of a physical boundary seems to feel
dangerous to the dogs. They spend odd periods during the day in restless
fits, pacing frantically and panting heavily. For the first few days they
were up in the middle of the night barking because they wanted to check
what might be lurking into their territory. They seem to resent the fact I
now go out into the yard to supervise their outdoor time and it took some
doing to convince them the world was really going to continue turning
despite the missing fence.

Watching my goofy dogs go neurotic over the missing fence prompted me to
wonder about my own reaction to changes in structure and routine. At the
start of this New Year I am making some radical changes in my work
patterns and habits. In place of my usual load of teaching and
administrative work, I am spending the next few months rehearsing,
performing, researching and writing. How well am I adapting to these
changes in my boundaries? Do I really prefer more defined and limited

Throughout my professional life I have been blessed with an
unimaginable amount of autonomy about what, when and how I work. Honestly,
I cannot imagine myself living any other way, but I also know that I have
imposed fences of my own making around what I think of as possible,
probable or worthwhile. In the past year I have learned that much of what
I have seen through the lens of "I can't" or "That won't work" is really
just a story that is made up in my own mind. So I ask you as I ask myself,
where is the fence around your yard these days?

Posted via email from pkpiano's posterous

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