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A beautiful rendition of a set of piano keys
I think Dostoevsky said it best when he wrote,

“The whole work of man really seems to consist in nothing but proving to himself every minute that he is a man and not a piano-key!”

And although it has been one of my absolute favorite quotes of all time, I don’t think I understood what it meant fully until…nah, who am I kidding, I still don’t get it all the way. But that’s okay, I feel like. I have the rest of my life to unravel this mystery and basically the only thing stopping me from completing the construction of my time machine and just visiting Mr. Feodor himself is the fact that I don’t own a sweet trench coat–that’s right, I started working on it a long time ago, but then had to stop after my mom called me down to clean the kitchen. I mean, who in their right mind would travel thousands of miles across time, showing up in a pair of skinny jeans and a T-shirt they bought at the GAP, and say,

“Sup F-Dog? My name’s Brad, what’s hopping? C’mon, hollah at yo boy!”

First of all, it is vital that said traveler blends in as seamlessly as humanly possible. I mean, if they were smart, they at the very least would have to be wearing a large Russian hat and a thick frock coat, and then maybe right underneath, a T-shirt that reads:

“I ❤ Slavophiles”

And if the great Dostoevsky deems you worthy (he does this with a sudden *hmph* and a flick of his wrist), then the fun, yes the real fun, my friends, begins.

He would invite you into his humble abode. And at the door you would wipe your feet and take off your shoes; maybe even leave them right outside on the mat. And by the time you were back inside, the water would already be hot. Don’t ask me how, it’s Dostoevsky’s doing. You would think that having electrically heated appliances would kind of create these expectations for how quickly water should boil, but no, he’s already figured out the complete secrets of boiling water and making tea without it all. In fact, he’s even light years ahead of us in those fields of study.

But you eagerly shoot out your sore limbs (weary from travel) and spurt out,


and he looks at you reassuringly; he already knows why you’ve come. And just gives a slight nod that to you seems to say,

“After tea, my son. After tea.”

And then you just sip the tea with him. Lemon and Chamomile, your favorite. But how did he know?….. Don’t even ask, he’s freakin Dostoevsky, alright? He just knows. And after his cup lacks life and yours is still living, he doesn’t say a word. You are mystified at how quickly he downed his tea when it was that blazing hot. He merely gets up from his wooden chair and walks silently across the room to a writing desk. You are still mystified at how quickly he downed his tea when it was that blazing hot. A parchment lies flat against the table, pinned to the tabletop by the weight of a pen. Seriously though, how did he drink that so fast? I mean, that tea was pretty stinkin’ hot, right? Your cup is still nearly full. He picks up the pen, and as if guided by instinct, begins to scribble all over it. Nothing in particular, not to you anyway. He just scribbles. And after a while he stops, holding it up to the light as if expecting you to see something. You nod your head, even though this piece of paper is clearly beyond you. Behind the thin page you can barely make out his face as he says,

“You want to know what I meant?”

Of course you are nodding. He continues, this time he lowers it to his chin.

“Have you got the answer yet?”

You shake your head “no”. He lowers it even more; now to his chest.

“How about now?”

You’re still lost. But you’re not about to show it, and so you nod. His eyes perk up, but then drop with a grave thud.

A shattered self-portrait of Dostevsky

“I don’t think you’re following me.”

He lets go of the paper and slowly it feathers to the ground. You watch in horror as the paper climbs down an air staircase.

“Don’t you see it now?”

And you still don’t. You’re mad that you don’t. What is he trying to prove? You burst out,

“I DON’T GET IT, okay? I don’t get it!”

His eyes fold, and when they open, they’re softer somehow.

“All that was there, were scribbles on paper. Quit thinking about my scribbles, and start writing some scribbles of your own.”

You bend down slowly, and pick up the scribbled piece of paper. The scribbles bend up and dance through each other as the ink smears in tangles across the parchment, with little twists and turns and a couple of loops, and for the first time you know how it feels to be both a man and a piano key. You look up and he’s gone. You’re no longer in 19th century Russia, but with your face flat against the tabletop, holding a parchment of scribbles.