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 a distance. She was wearing one of those broom stick skirts (of course, I probably was 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 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.

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