What We Do After the Mistake

When the pianist asked the writer to turn pages, the writer was more than willing.

He straightened his back. He buttoned his blazer. He strode to the piano. And he flubbed the first turn.

What comes next is the part I always lean in for. Just what will a person do after the mistake?

I should say, too, this writer was no weekend poet. Here was a Man of Letters who wrote for Big Name magazines. He’d been anthologized, lionized, maybe even plagiarized. And people had paid good money to see him read and the pianist play this evening.

But I wouldn’t have to lean in for what the Man of Letters did after his mistake. Because this writer, whose literary awards and anthologies meant nothing at the piano, threw his whole self into page-turning.

He mouthed the melody – “ba-da-BOM.” He tapped out the rhythm with his fingers and foot. He raised and lowered his eyebrows to the music. He swiveled his head from page to piano, piano to page. He crouched over that Steinway like a lion trying in earnest to figure out when he was supposed to pounce.

And I sat in awe of this writer.

He could’ve affected indifference or distraction, gone to that only half-alive place where mistakes aren’t real mistakes because he wasn’t really trying. People would still anthologize him and lionize him if he did that.

But he didn’t. He hurled himself into that raw place, that vulnerable place of a person reaching beyond his own grasp – where the muscles stretch and the heart pumps and the mind is alerter than alert because, well, it hasn’t been here before.

It was like watching someone grow right in front of you. Which is not so different from watching someone be totally alive right in front of you. The writer might not have known how to turn pages, but he knew how to live.

And after the piece ended, after the whole evening was over, I headed out into the night thinking, That. That is what I want to do after a mistake.

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