Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Thank You SO Much For Reading This part II

Welcome back. Thanks for stopping by.


This is from a good article in the Times. 
Margaret Fuller was not the best writer in the brat-pack of transcendentalists that came out of New England in the mid nineteenth century, but she knew the truth that history and literature books have yet to admit: that transcendentalism was, at its core, a movement for women, and she chose to use it as the guiding light in her life, which, of course, was not easy.

Despite the fact that she spent a great deal of time with prominent male authors of the period (who all loved and hated her in equal measure), she remained a single woman. She was like them: brilliant, quick-witted, philosophical and probing. (I omitted my first oxford comma. I’m trying it out.) Emerson longed for her company. Nathaniel Hawthorne was obsessed with her and kept killing her in his stories. What else can one do who has found a woman with an intellect as strong, if not stronger, than his own? He couldn’t marry her. That would be ridiculous.

She had been raised by her father as if she had been a son. He taught her classical history, languages, sciences, art, law….friggin law. By the time she was old enough to go to school, she had already received quite an education. Thus, her parents decided to send her to finishing school instead….how to be a girl school, which she naturally hated. Imagine being a kid with so much knowledge and drive, passion and gumption, and being told that you would be better off never using it and trying to be some other person entirely. If I were to be physically ripped in half, I think that pain would probably come close to representing what it feels like.  By the time she was old enough, she started experiencing what she described in her writing as “headaches,” but what was more than likely depression.

I read on a poster at my psychiatrist’s office that women are more likely to suffer from depression than men. Some of it is attributed to hormonal changes, and that is certainly a harsh reality of being a woman. Hormones make a monster of me, when I let them. There was a time in history when women did not understand their bodies (menstrual cycle) because it was illegal to teach them. It wasn’t too long ago in the early TWENTIETH CENTURY. Sometimes the only thing that keeps me going is being able to understand and monitor the rise and fall of my own terrifying hormonal changes. Knowledge is power, after all, if not also a curse.

Yes, much of the depression suffered by women is definitely caused by nature, but there is another aspect of it that the poster did address very briefly: social stressors are much heavier amongst women. We are hard on each other. Like I said before, patriarchy is not about men subjugating women. It’s a state of mind, a world view, to which we all fall victim.

Somehow, we all continue to hold each other to the same standards that the media, which is to say, the most marketable mirror of society, sets out for us, the life path that “civilized” human beings have deemed acceptable for women. Margaret Fuller saw it well over a century ago, and she wrote about it in her astonishingly (but also understandingly) underrated answer to Emerson’s Nature: Woman in the Nineteenth Century.

I only suggest reading this if you like rereading because you aren’t going to follow it the first or even the second time. It’s a mish-mash of ideas that Fuller wrestled with her entire life. It’s a conglomeration of possibilities that women in America still haven’t fully realized. It’s hard. Is what I’m saying.

In 1843, She published a short version of her ideas in a literary journal that she edited with Emerson and other transcendentalists: The Dial. She called it “The Great Lawsuit. Man versus Men: Woman versus Women.” It was just a few pages. Her second draft, filling about 100 pages in my Norton Critical Edition, she published in 1844. I could drown you in brilliant thoughts that I’ve gleaned from the (seemingly) bajillions of times I’ve read it, but I’ll try to focus on my point.

Fuller answered her dear friend Emerson’s call to all American men to return to nature with her uniquely feminine philosophy: the true nature of humanity is both masculine and feminine. She called it a radical dualism and believed that all human beings share equally in the same traits, and that these traits are constantly passing in and out of each other. The problem, she stated, was not that man was disunited with nature, but that man was disunited with his nature. (That’s basically straight from my own thesis, with a little bloggy talk spin on it, which I won’t cite unless you think you might be dropping by the library at the University of Memphis sometime soon to check it out. PM me.)

How do we solve the problem? Well, that’s the hardest part. Here’s the proposition, in sexy block quote form: 

It is for that which is the birthright of every being capable to receive it, --the freedom, the religious, the intelligent freedom of the universe, to use its means; to learn its secret as far as nature has enabled them, with God alone for their guide and their judge. Ye cannot believe it, men; but the only reason why women ever assume what is more appropriate to you (not farting out loud -me), is because you prevent them from finding out what is fit for themselves. Were they free, were they wise fully to develop the strength and beauty of woman; they would never wish to be men, or man-like...Tremble not before the free man, but before the slave who has chains to break. (36)

The quote sits on the only page I chose to dog-ear in my copy. Simply put, women behave the way they do because they are not allowed to discover any other way to behave. If women were given the freedom to explore their own passions and desires outside the confines of social structure and expectation, they might discover a spirit greater than could ever be imagined.

The same is true for men. We are, all of us, too often at the mercy of our own world-view, but there are steps we can take to stretch our minds further, to defend ourselves from stagnation and ruination. We can continue to explore, with open minds and hearts, the only thing that matters: truth. To discover what it means to be alive outside the lines, and to venture further.

I would like to hear Neil Degrasse Tyson say that out loud.

Margaret Fuller went on to become a front page columnist for The New York Tribune, to be renowned as a journalist, thinker, and critic. When she left the country at age 36 to cover the inevitable revolution in Italy, she became the first female foreign correspondent. She met her husband and had a child while in Italy all of whom tragically drowned in the wreck of the ship aboard which she was returning home, the Elizabeth.

In 2006, she cracked my brain open and left it up to me sew up my skin to protect my bigger brain by creating a skin like cover. That’s all still in the works.

Now I say, “Okay Fuller, I’m going to stop resisting living. I’m going to do the hard things. I’m going to find out what it means to be me...to be a woman.”

As I go, I want to share it with other people, partially because my narcissism demands it, but also because I want to help other people crack open their own brains. Then maybe, together, we can sew this weird skin-like cover to protect our new bigger brains.

Too far? Did I lose you with the skin-like protectant brain cover metaphor? Are you wondering why you’re still reading?

Consider the coming posts my exploration, my changing of the channels on the radio in search of something familiar. I’d like to explore the voices of women through my own voice. Margaret Fuller was the first woman’s voice that I recognized calling me to action. I may never hear it or meet her, but according to Edgar Allan Poe, “her personal character and her printed book are merely one and the same thing. We get access to her soul as directly from one as from the other,” (quoted in my thesis). Her editor at The New York Tribune, Horace Greeley, said of her process, “she never asked how this would sound, nor whether that would do...but simply ‘Is it truth? Is it such as the public should know?’ and if her judgement answered, ‘yes,’ she uttered it” (also in my thesis).

I don’t 100% trust my judgement for whether things are such as the public should know, but I also don’t 100% trust my ability to trust myself. I’m working on that.

Until then, join me in my quest to find the voices of women so that I might, in turn, hopefully, find and trust my own voice.

My thesis is entitled: The Sovereign Self: Margaret Fuller's Woman in the Nineteenth Century. I actually don't have a copy that I can find digitally saved or online. I'm in the process of typing it out, but it's been almost ten years, and I keep finding mistakes that need correcting....so I'm rewriting it, in essence.

If you need a list of my sources, I'm happy to send it over to you...meanie.

Oh....and this: 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Thank You SO Much for Reading This part I

Now let's talk about America.

I took a class in graduate school at the University of Memphis (AF) on Ralph Waldo Emerson. The first day our professor explained that we would almost exclusively be talking about reading the works of Emerson with a little bit of Thoreau and a touch of Whitman along the way, and if that sounded like a death rattle to anyone, they had a whole week to drop the class. Then we were dismissed. I think maybe one person dropped, but the rest of us, obsessed with excavating and gluttons for punishment, arrived bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to the next meeting.

If you consider yourself to be an explorer, bitten by the bug of wanderlust, I encourage you to read Emerson’s Nature. It’s difficult and sweeping, but it will change the way you see yourself within the context of patriotism. It will make you love America again. Emerson wrote the American philosophy. He said he was going to do it, and then he did it, and he was revered for it. When he was too old to even speak, crowds would gather at universities, and he would be rolled out in a wheelchair so that the people could just look at him.

I fell in love with Emerson for the first time in tenth grade after reading only brief snippets of his essay “Self Reliance” and a few poems. I scribbled “To be great is to be misunderstood,” and “Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string,” on bathroom walls at rock and roll shows. I watched Dead Poets Society a million times, and a million times I cried whenever I heard someone say “Oh captain, my captain.” Emerson encouraged me to be me, ridiculous and rude, gentle and gigantic, beautiful and terrible, because that was also the story of America.

Studying Emerson in graduate school was inspiring and illuminating. He too grew old and callous, and he too had many shortcomings. Learning everything about a hero is like learning everything about your father. He could make everything okay, pick you up and make you fly like Superman when you were a little girl, but he was also a human being, and, just as you would in your twenties...and thirties, he made a few bad decisions.

Nevertheless, Emerson inspired Americans, young and old, and continues to inspire. He inspired me to begin to dig deeper. He kept talking about all these things that men should be doing in America. He envisioned a new nation whose art and literature were not inspired by the past, rather, they were inspired by the future of a country free of British rule. He told men to go out into the woods, of which there was an abundance at the time, to reconnect with this land that we now inhabited, and to draw from it the language of a new way of living. By philosophizing the problem, “the reason why the world lacks unity, and lies broken in heaps, is because [this is a terrible grammatical error, but that’s how he said it, i.e. sic] man is disunited with himself.” He said that in his ground breaking essay Nature, which was, in turn, his solutionizing.

I was in love. He was so right, and I’d always known it. I immediately imagined him alive today, and we totally made out. Then, later, as is often the case, I started to wonder if maybe I had jumped the gun by throwing myself at him right away. I mean, he was saying all this stuff about going off into the woods to regain a concept of what it means to be...a man.

It was 1830s or 40s-ish U.S.A., and men had ample opportunities to explore and engage with the new continent, but women couldn’t connect on a visceral level with Emerson’s ideas because they were not free to strike out on their own. How could half the population of a burgeoning nation transcend if they lived at the behest of the other half. They lived to serve men. Is what I’m saying. It was legal to lock your wife in your room and beat her for being disobedient (for another hundred years). If a woman never married, she lived on the good graces of family members that did marry, as she could have nothing of her own. Thanks, Emerson. Thanks for getting me all excited about stuff you did not even mean for me.

Luckily (or unluckily) my prof told me to read me some Margaret Fuller. The rest, my friends, is history.

Okay. Please come back tomorrow, and I will post part II. Until then:

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Try to Follow Along

Just Yes. 
I feel like I had a pretty eclectic musical upbringing. I started out being heavily influenced by the founders of Rock n Roll and Pop Rock (AKA the oldies station my parents liked). Then, the 80s digitized my fancy into the age of electronica, and the 90s, while destroying Rock N Roll forever, will always have a special place in my heart. Never mind the fact that I just listened to the oldies, The Monkees, and EVERYTHING NKOTB up until about eighth grade when I heard Rubber Soul for the first time.

I used my allowance a few months earlier to buy The Cranberries Everybody Else is Doing it So Why Can’t We? on tape, received The Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream and Pearl Jam’s Ten for Christmas on tape as well, but Rubber Soul was the first compact disc that I bought. Many more Beatles CDs would drain me of my allowance, including my all time favorite: Revolver that I originally had on tape from my parent’s collection along with the glorious White Album. Ugh, and that epic roundup of songs at the end of Abbey Road, the last album The Beatles every recorded (not released, look it up), makes me feel everything I've ever felt (The Beatles became available on Spotify for Christmas, and it's the only thing I'll ever need).

Much Better. 
An ocean of music would touch my life between then and now, but one thing always remained the same. I was always searching for a connection to a part of myself that wasn't always easy to find on the radio.

I am not a music critic. I am not a professional musician. I studied the piano a harsh total of two years and quit because I never played a recital. I kept fighting with my parents about practicing because I failed to see the point. Then, I played the flute from the seventh grade through my senior year in high school because I was considerably good at it and able to prove it on occasion. I continued lessons a few years beyond in college, where I also took voice lessons. Then, I played flute with a couple of garage bands in Memphis in the early 2000s, helped found and direct a musical improvisation team in Atlanta around 2010, and now I play mostly guitar for myself while I occasionally bust out the flute. And I sing Karaoke. I love Karaoke.

Yeah. That's me down there. 
I am an enjoyer of music. I appreciate music, not only for the color it brings to my life but also for the skill and effort that it requires to create. I am struck repeatedly with the quality of the effort The Beatles as a unit produced in the 60s. Just as Shakespeare is always relevant because of his appeal to the larger part of humanity, The Beatles have made a place for themselves in the annals of music history by blending effort with ingenuity to create something that connects everyone (I first spelled "annals" as "anals" which was clearly wrong but fun to write).

It takes a great deal out of a person to connect on a universal level. Art that speaks to everyone reflects the heart of humanity. Music expresses that which cannot be expressed entirely through words. Don’t take any part of that for granted. Music is the language we all understand (you can’t say math is that because I don’t understand a damn thing about math), even if...especially if we cannot find words to fully express how much it affects us. 

As I continued my search (and as Pandora and Spotify became a thing that made music more accessible), I began to be struck with the music I would find, and the way it would affect me. I was looking for, you probably guessed it, women's voices.

Damn right. 
One might argue that women’s voices do not represent the whole of humanity, and I would rebuttal that jerk in the face with the back of my hand. I wouldn’t do that. I try not to be violent. I would, however, remind him or her (him) that the same is true of men’s voices. Yet, look through history and you will find more male voices than female voices. Why? I’ll be honest. Probably because of the patriarchy and how men, especially white european men (sorry dad) have used it to subjugate anyone they deemed “other.”

I bet I know what you’re thinking. It sounds like I hate men. I don't, entirely. Not every man is voluntarily a soldier for patriarchy because a majority of men are not even aware of its effect on the way they see the world. Neither is every woman a soldier of feminism. Many women are unwittingly...and some very wittingly...patriarchal in their own views of the rest of humanity.

Weren’t we talking about music….and The Beatles? Yes, we were, but I want to travel back to the magical world of “I am paying for this Master’s degree, and I intend to use it.” I’ll begin with a question.

Case in point. 
What does it mean to be a man? Yes, that is a loaded question. The answer is much more than I could fit into the pages of a book. Literature and art have done a decent job of asking and answering. Patriarchy has been the guiding philosophy for millennia. There are countless books, poems, paintings, plays, films, and historical accounts to witness to the experience of man.

Ever heard of a little work called “Hamlet?” Shakespeare, like a resounding symbol, casts the most repeated question that has ever been posed, “What a piece of work is a man!” Then, he kills everyone. I think it speaks for itself.  

The world of art and literature could have stopped there, but it continued to pose and attempt to answer the same age-old query. Despite this, there are still many men who feel as though they don’t fit into the stratification of their own gender. It’s important to remember that Patriarchy is not about specifically male domination. In the words of Buffy Summers as “the first” in the epic feminist final season of the cult classic Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “It’s about power,” and I don’t think every man in America is obsessed with power. The Patriarchy works in mysterious ways.

Feminism, on the other hand, is about equality. Don’t be afraid of the term because it shares with the word “feminine.” Equality cannot exist until the scales are balanced, and that feat can only be accomplished if and when women (and men, to be honest) are allowed to discover for themselves what femininity (and masculinity) truly means outside of the confines of the patriarchal world view. You know what I mean........Vern?

At the moment, what we know of the female experience is limited to what our society will allow, and our society is still very much under the guise of the patriarchy. Things are changing. That is clear. Women of different shapes, sizes, ethnicities, economic backgrounds, and abilities are beginning to speak loud enough to be heard over the din of popular culture. Their voices represent a larger picture of humanity that has rarely been allowed to make it to the surface.

Patriarchy promotes the subjugation of those who do not fall in line with the reigning power structure and are, therefore, considered to be the weaker parties. Feminism, on the other hand, champions diversity. Equality demands diversity, and in our diverse world, democracy cannot exist without equality.

So, yeah, let’s talk about America...but Next time.

I'm struggling with my sad brain this week, folks, but this post makes me happy, and the next one will too, I hope.

Monday, January 11, 2016


I visited the lake district with Liam the summer of 2007. His America-hating Rome-loving grandmother drove us to our campsite after we spent a couple of nights at her home in Carlisle. I read the last Harry Potter book in the warm grass of her garden, and Liam took me to my first very local football match where he told me about the lyrics "panic on the streets of Carlisle" in regards to the old Smith's song. We walked home, boozy from the pints through a cow pasture as quietly and calmly as possible, but the cows still took note and slowly began to follow us to the "kissing gate" that separated them from the dirt road.

On our way to the glacial hills of the district, as I gaped at the breathtaking scenery, Liam's grandmother asked me, "is there any place you can go walking in America?" I glanced into the backseat at Liam who smiled and rolled his eyes.

"Of course," I responded, "Lots of places. It just depends on what you're looking for and how far you're willing to travel."

We camped just beyond a large pasture of sheep who kept me up at night with their less than comforting "baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahs." The tent was small, and the wind raged the first night; thus, between the bleating of the sheep, the flapping of the tent fabric, and my boyfriend's farting (I had met my match), I slept very little.

I started my period the next morning, and we headed out from the campsite to scale Helvellyn.

It's a well known range in the lake district, I would later discover at a bar in Dahlonega, GA. I had just moved to town, was dipping my toes in the bar scene, and had chosen a seat next to a gentleman with an English accent. The topic of conversation eventually got around to places I'd visited in England and finally to Helvellyn. He seemed quite impressed that I had hiked the mountain, especially via striding edge, but I, of course, downplayed my adventure by explaining, in detail, the number of tears I shed in front of all of the United Kingdom that day as I climbed the rock face to the final peak of the trail.

I had cramps for the first five hours of our six and a half hour hike. I couldn't walk them off. Despite the pain, I enjoyed the views, the sheep and goats along the way, and the companionship of Liam, who had taught me so much about taking the time to soak up the world around me...by walking.

I believe this little glacial "pond" is called Red Tarn

All the while, I knew striding edge was coming up, and though I tried to convince myself it would not be as bad as it looked from far away (it looked like people were walking a tightrope), I knew it was going to be pretty hard.

Liam described the landscape to me, how it had formed, and what makes a glacial lake. We ate fruit and prosciutto while livestock watched and waited for scraps. We passed Englishman after Englishman clad in waterproof walking gear, rosy cheeks and all.

I would explain to you how it all works, the science of it, but that has never been my forte. Instead, I'll just keep to what I know best: the emotional roller coaster on which I was forced by the breathtaking landscape and difficulty level "high" climbs.

The beginning of Striding Edge 
It's called Striding Edge because...well...."walking" it is like striding the edge of the mountain. I bent down a few times to hold on as I made my way across the narrow path leading to the final summit. I had a headache like you wouldn't believe, and I was sweating bullets and freezing, but I stood up at one point and looked out to my left to behold nothing but lakes and peaks as far as I could see. I'm not sure if I was actually looking west, but I imagined I was, and I pictured home and all my friends waving to me from the eastern coast of the United States.

I had Liam take a picture of my lovely mug at the end of Striding Edge
As soon as we finished striding the edge of the damn mountain, we faced the final ascent to the top of Helvellyn. The trail eventually ended, and there was nothing but rock, straight up, all the way to the top. So I started crying like a baby.

Through hiccups and tears, I asked Liam if he could please encourage me and not laugh at me as he climbed behind me. I also asked him to hold my butt in case I lost my footing. He was a little uncomfortable, to say the least, having to climb behind a weeping American with his hand groping her butt, but he obliged like a champ as what seemed like hoards of spry Brits climbed down past us with looks of bemused pity. I was a snotty wreck. I HAD CRAMPS. AND A HEADACHE.

Plus, nobody told me that I was going to have to do this. I hate being surprised, and I hate it even more when the surprise leaves me underprepared. I'm sure if I had known what was coming, I would have been able to bolster my emotions and my strength. I'm sure I wouldn't have made a fool of myself by crying like an infant on what most "locals" would call a "walk," but, then again, I'll never really know if that would have been the case. I had to take the trail as it came to me.

Oh the life parallels. They just keep grabbing me by the butt.

When we finally got to the top, and I, with a boost from behind, pulled myself up over the edge (it probably wasn't that drastic, but it sure felt like it at the end of five hours of walking and climbing), Liam immediately spun me around and warned me not to read the stone that memorialized the first climbers, I think because one of them had fallen to his death.

It was cold and windy, and my head still hurt like nothing I'd felt before, but I was done climbing up, it felt amazing, and I laughed almost all the way down the mountain.

We went "down tha pub" for dinner, and I rewarded myself with a roast and potatoes covered in gravy as well as a side of Yorkshire pudding, which I also covered in gravy. The tent was going to be warm with farts that night.

Walking back to the campsite, my legs wobbly from the hike and the pints, my belly warm with gravy and potatoes, I saw a lamb bounding and flopping about around its mother. I had never seen a lamb before outside of pictures, and it was precious, excited by the prospects of its own legs.

That's how I felt, all of a sudden. I was excited by the prospect of what else I could do. My legs had just helped me up and down one of the most difficult hikes in England. Sure, I cried like a baby, kicking and screaming as it is forced into the world from the warm comfort of the womb, and sometimes I still cry like that, but that's life, isn't it? Nobody can really tell you how hard it will be. Adults can shake their heads and sigh when a twenty-something says "I'm invincible," but they cannot prepare him or her for the struggles that lie ahead.

It's good to be excited by the prospects and certainly better than being terrified of them.

So, life, I see your struggles, and I raise you the strength of my own legs. Keep in mind I know nothing about poker, but I've climbed some peaks in my lifetime, and I know that I always get to laugh down the other side....and eat mashed potatoes.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Yer Doin' It Wrong

I played the flute for a good ten years of my life. I chose the flute in seventh grade, partly because I was having trouble deciding between it and the oboe, but there had been a kick ass flute solo (probably done on a synthesizer) in a Guns 'N Roses song that summer (maybe you've heard it, November Rain), and my friend Shanda had grabbed my hand and thrust it into the air when Mr. Lumpkin asked if anyone wanted to play the flute. I joined, that day, a small mix of petite girls with pale faces and quiet dispositions. SSSOOOOO me, right?

I took to it very quickly, fell madly in love with the time it gave me, alone in my room, away from my thoughts. I used to subconsciously "dance" while I played. My instructor told me she thought I would fly away flapping my elbows around. I never noticed it. I never noticed anything while I was playing the flute, for a short while.

I played a Yamaha with a silver head, silver plated body, open holes, and a "b flat foot" (mad street cred).

Oh, and I was good.

I won first chair in the second band at all region when I was in eighth grade, which was exciting, but not as good as my predecessors had done. I knew that because people told me, my teachers, my parents, other band members, the older boys in band that used to flirt with me, the mouthy flautist.

Look at my PANTS?!?!?!?!!?
The next year I made first chair first band, and I didn't think I had a chance. I had flubbed the hell out of my scales audition, had a huge tantrum with my instrument while rehearsing that very scale (A major, bastard) earlier in the week, and spent an hour in the corner of the bathroom crying, NAY, weeping about my sub par audition. I hugged my knees to my chest, hiccuped--it was that awful hiccuping cry--and tried to calm myself from the terror of facing the world as a failure.

I convinced myself that I probably just got first chair because the girl who was supposed to "beat" me had mono, and while she did audition, she hadn't been able to devote all of her love to her instrument. She was devoting most of it to her boyfriend...CLEARLY.

But I did score a 111.54 out of 115.

The next summer, my dad and I were perusing the used piccolos at this warehouse collective somewhere in midtown Memphis. It was right before I started driving, so I can't remember exactly where it was, nor do I remember if it's still there. I hated the piccolo. I got it, I understood the impact of that particular register of woodwind on the depth of the music, but I just...didn't GET it, ya know?

There was a lady standing by, listening to me switch back and forth between the piccolo and some of the more expensive flutes. She had leathery tanned skin and frizzy blonde curly hair. She asked me if I was taking lessons with anyone...from where she stood...at a distance. She was wearing one of those broom stick skirts (of course, I probably was too...at that time in my life). My dad stepped in as I answered her. She smiled and rolled her eyes at my answer.

"I know her. She's good...but she can't teach you everything."

She approached my dad with her hand outstretched, a card in it.

"If you want her to learn the whole instrument and its purpose, I can teach her jazz."

"She's happy where she is I think, but thank you," my dad replied to her.

We laughed about it later. JAZZ. HA! What good was THAT going to do me at all-state auditions? I watched her as she drove out of the parking lot in her beat up 86 Honda, struggled to roll the manual window down on the passenger side, and lit a cigarette.

The next few years led me further and further from the flute. I still held onto the idea, went to master classes, went to see the amazing artists that my private flute instructor was able to bring to Memphis. She organized a flute festival and sent me to North Texas to study alongside a dozen other mouthy floutists with one of the most intense and effective flute instructors I have ever met (she made me cry once, in front of everyone). And, yes, I went to "flute camp."

When I came back from camp, my instructor told me I had my sound back, but I knew that I hadn't gotten that thing back, that part of me that was able to completely let go while I played. I couldn't relax, and I couldn't win. I couldn't audition. I became impossibly mortified of being in a room full of judges behind a screen. I told an instructor at a master class once that I might be able to play the song better if the entire audience weren't looking at me, so she made them get up and turn around. I played, and she told me it was all in my head.

My instructor recommended anxiety medication, my parents: therapy. My church recommended prayer.

There was this movement of thought that happened a while ago (if you really wanna know, you can always look things up) called structuralism. It saw (sees) everything as a structure built by society through language to define reality...which means that what we think is reality isn't really because we created the language that defines our reality...so it's our perception of reality...and....also......There was this psychoanalyst that came out of this movement named Lacan who philosophized that the moment we, as humans, learn language, we become separated from reality, and we spend the rest of our lives trying to get back to that place where nothing was defined and everything was me and my mom, and I was my mom and my mom was me and the bed and my food and everything. Nothing existed outside of me until I defined it as such.

Except I let other people define it for me...most of us do the same.

That other place, where nothing exists, that's the place I lost. That's the place to which I've spent the rest of my life trying to return.

When I think about it, I sometimes wonder if perhaps taking that woman up on her offer to teach me jazz would have made a difference. I wonder if escaping from all the exercises and metronomes and contests would have led me back to the quiet existence of just me...and the music.

I think about it when I hear jazz, and it sounds so free. I know that anything can be killed, that there are aspiring jazz musicians who struggle to live up to the standards the world has set for them. I know what happens when you forget why you came into the room in the first place, what happens when you let go of what matters for what you THINK matters.

There is nothing so difficult as life in a box. There is nothing so soul sucking as drowning in comparisons.

I was too scared to go to school for music because I didn't want anyone to tell me that I was doing it wrong.

I still have that trepidation with all of my art. My art is my soul, even the most ridiculous parts of my art...s. I take medication and go to therapy all to find and free that part of me I lost when I started to let the world define my terms. I'm trying to define my own terms now. Finally. Please don't tell me I'm doing it wrong.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Through the Mountain

I'm not looking back at 2015. I refuse. I lived 2015 in a dizzy, present, terrified state. I let the winter, incidents of perceived failure, and regret lure me into a tunnel of depression I hope never to see again. It's a tall order. I know. But that is my resolution for 2016. Let me explain.

We can probably all agree that caves are really cool. I remember properly learning of the existence of caves in Coach Dixon's Earth Science class in 8th grade; although, I was always aware of their existence. We watched a National Geographic video in class (a pretty typical occurrence) that presented not only the scientific information but also the historical information on caves in America.

Long after I passed Coach Dixon's class with flying colors, I went caving in Cumberland Caverns with some friends. We ate pot brownies and made shadow puppets on the stone walls after crawling through the cave's hidden tunnels and rooms. For one minute as I lay on my back looking up at the rocks above me, I was seized with the terror that the rocks might come crashing down upon us at any slight movement of the earth we rested upon (paranoia, a pesky side effect of brownies). My brain jumped in quickly and reminded me that, "no, these thoughts are useless," and I let the terror float off into the cavernous darkness. I slept on the floor of the cave that night, dreaming of pink clouds and snoring like a rhinoceros...or an adorable pug.

A few years later, I stumbled upon a cave in the woods in Dahlonega, Georgia (over by the old distillery, you know the one if you live there). I want to know how many terrifying stories one needs to hear about the dangers of going into a cave alone to remove the inherent desire to do just that when one finds a cave in real life. This cave wasn't exactly uncharted or anything, but I did not have the right shoes for the kind of wading an exploration would have required. I still thought about it for a moment.

Floyd Collins
The National Geographic video we watched in Coach Dixon's class featured a brief summary of the story of Floyd Collins through narration, old newspapers, photographs, and sketches of the drama of his imprisonment and death at the hands of our cavernous earth. I hate sketches of past events. Sketch artists are always given license to intensify the drama of situations...especially in National Geographic movies. I saw the terrified face of Floyd Collins intricately sketched every night when I closed my eyes. That's all I knew of Collins, that he explored the darkest corners of earth and that he died, terrified, at the hands of his own lust for a full and glorious life.

While living in Dahlonega and teaching at the university, I tried to convince my theatre students to do the musical version of Floyd Collins' story because it would be an easy set and gorgeous music. It wasn't exactly a known show, however, and putting together a straight play seemed a lot easier and less horrifying than trying to throw together a musically complicated show with myself as the only paid member of the ensemble. Plus, there's a lot of really weird yodeling pieces in that musical.

The tragic outcome
I suppose I wanted to do the show because I was obsessed with the idea that this blank faced historic figure who died so tragically inspired someone else to write such beautiful songs of redemption. With the commemoration of his life in musical form, the image I had of Floyd Collins' contorted and frightened face could relax into peace and beauty.

When I walked into the darkness of depression, I knew I shouldn't have, but I wanted to see where it would lead...at least a very small part of me did, like that flicker of intense curiosity that I always feel at the mouth of a cave. Floyd Collins worked alone. I worked alone, but for far too long. Floyd Collins was trying to find a new entrance to the cave, and I too have been searching for another path...through my life (ooooooooh sparkles of dreamy realization).

I walked through the mountain of my life, surrounded by the demons of my own darkness and searched the images of my past for clues as to which tunnel to climb through to find the way out all while the terror that the earth above me could come crashing down and bury me alive continued to grow to the point at which I could barely stand on my own.

Then, with a lantern, my mother and my father came after me, found me, and began the task of helping me find a way out. They always do that because that's what parents do. They showed me the light at the end.

The nation watched the story of Floyd Collins, as best they could at the time, and an army of locals dug furiously to try to get him out. So too did my chosen family, my friends, notice my drowning and reach out to remind me that I'm not alone, that I'm never alone.

Thus, for 2016, I'm going to focus on that light, and I'm not going to look back without a rope around my waste and someone to talk me and walk me through the darkness. It's not because I'm not afraid any more. I'm terrified. But I don't want to be afraid any more.

I'll never forget crawling through a tunnel in the cave back in Tennessee with my head lamp scraping the rocky floor, and coming to a small opening large enough for one person to stand up at a time. I cast my light along the shimmering walls around me. Rock formations, dripping from the ceiling of the opening shone like diamonds.

I want to see further. I want to see what's in the light, and I want to share it.