CONTRIBUTOR SPOTLIGHT: INTERVIEW WITH
Rappahannock Review Nonfiction Editors: We’re interested in the metaphors in this piece. “I’m sorry, can I start over?” recurs in the narrative; at what point in your process did this particular phrase emerge?
Nora Almeida: In this piece, I wanted to explore how identity is shaped by idealism and nostalgia and how the past, present, and future get tangled up. Val’s attempts to re-do (and perfect) her wedding, my dad’s desire to be the kind of guy who owns a piano, and the image I maintain of myself as a pianist are all fantasies that we’re trying to impose on reality. The phrase, “I’m sorry, can I start over?” works to underscore our inability to reconcile the real and imagined, and our inability to fully let go of the past. Obviously, this phrase is also naturalistic–performers think and say it all the time. In the essay the phrase also has a rhetorical function; it allows for a kind of shift in the narrative, for the essay to change course.
RR: Val’s mother is such a brief but interesting character. Can you discuss how you see her literary function in “Pianos.”
NA: Val’s mother is like all of the pianos in the piece–she represents the intrusion of a reality that can’t be imagined differently. Her inability to remember negates the nostalgia that preoccupies everyone else.
RR: What role does the passage of time play in your piece?
NA: I’m obsessed with time and the imagination. These invisible, abstract forces have the power shape who we are, what we do, and what we think is possible. Of course, in the essay everyone is obsessed with stopping time and starting over. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to end the piece with a literal suspension of time–the piano hanging between failure and possibility, forever.
RR: We’d love to hear about the evolution of this piece. Did you plan on including all the sections—the lessons with Val, her background, your dad buying the piano, your encounter with a piano on the street, your purchase of a keyboard—or did you decide to add some of them later in the process?
NA: I initially started a version of this essay a couple of years ago. It was structured differently then and it didn’t include all of the sections that are in the final version. In that early draft, I knew I wanted to explore the difference between the idea of playing the piano and actually playing as a way of articulating tensions between the past, present, and future. I initially organized the piece into three sections that corresponded to parts of a piano lesson: the first part was located in the present and was about the idea of playing the piano, the second part was the section about Val and my memories of our actual lessons, and the third part was about the failure to reconcile the idea of playing the piano with the actual lesson. In the rewrite, I decided to include more of the present (or recent past) so the sections about the keyboard and the piano on the street were added. I also realized that using the different pianos to organize the essay was more effective that trying to use the artificial frame of a three-part lesson to structure the piece and so moved a few things around.
RR: Has your keyboard proved to be a good creative outlet or is it still an unwanted house guest?
NA: I feel guilty whenever I look at it. Once in a while, I’ll pick out a few notes but it’s still in unwanted house-guest territory for sure.
Nora Almeida’s work in Issue 5.2: