On Damage

I told That Person everything. About the three other guys, I told him the entire truth. I was expecting him to break up with me. Say “enough is enough, I can’t take you anymore.” But he didn’t. He stayed on the phone. I’m naked and vulnerable and it feels good to finally be able to be like that.

He’s called me “not worthy of this earth,” “inhuman,” “a walking vagina, open to any and all passerby” and tons of other names like that. I needed to reach the bottom of myself, to feel like a shell of a human. He was making sure I knew the damage I’d done. And I’ll be with him every second he needs help and support. I want to be only his. Finally.

March 9, 2013

On Disintegration (again)

The Disintegration Loops

What Untitled (and I) was listening to while he studied for his bio final and I wrote in my journal. I’m listening to the disintegration Loop No. 1 now. Something huge that has been drawn out and zoomed in on and taken apart and so has slowly, or quickly, become so much less than what it was but something as beautiful, if not more perfect, something so far from what it was. A part of that. Disintegration is only the description of a state of being and not of a certain process. Disintegration. Humans know of it. So well, we live it.

I think I am not sad about leaving our relationship to rest because we knew it from the beginning and it was all a comfortable process of disintegration, constant reshifting to fall into the place where something was lost or expanded, constant settling and lifting and feeling and pulling away. We both knew and did what we needed and learned what we did not know we needed. We felt what we did not know we could feel. But we orchestrated this through the chaos. This was a transitional relationship for both of us, in Untitled’s words. This was a spectacular, tragic, hopeful partnership that is not over, will never be over, but which will only continue disintegrating and teaching about the intricacies of create, and caring for someone.

Disintegration does not equal destruction. It only means that something is slowly changing into something else. A large orchestral piece blown up into its smallest part, slowed down, stretched out, and repeated, to create a magnificent and expansive and true song that imitates sunset colors and oil pastels and watercolors and waves and salt on the tongue and means whatever you really need it to mean. It just does.

My romantic relationship with Untitled does not feel like a separate event in my life. It was me, it was just me and he flowed through as he did and I was still me doing things and I am still me doing things and he is still here.

Disintegration (v) –
to break apart into many small parts or pieces
to break or decompose into constituent elements, parts, or small particles
to destroy the unity or integrity of
to undergo a change in composition

To undergo a change in composition.

July 28, 2015

On Radiohead

When I listen to Radiohead, all I hear is entitled white men. There’s more to it, though. A mix of styles, of politics, of fragmentation. The double-sidedness of technology. Fear and paranoia in a society that is increasingly focused away from family and towards globalization.

I know it’s not the man’s fault that he is entitled. But it is his responsibility to recognize that. We are tired of hearing white men whine in music.

August 20, 2014

On Mothering

If I could change one thing
I would
smack that cigarette out
of your calloused hands
Hold
a plastic bag over your head,
then
lift if off so
you can feel
free again.

If I could change one thing
I would throw your crisp pack,
Marlboros, into the fire
and I
would replace the fumes with kisses
breath life into your mouth
a mother bird feeding her
weak child

did you know you are weak?
do you face that every day?
you are a coward
only
a product of our unforgiving society

how else
would you relate?
how else.

those tortured sinners,
nestled
side by side in flimsy cardboard.
bars of a jail cell, white and perfect.
hideous. beautiful.
are they home to you?
are you sure
your home is
where you want
to end up

Let me be your home.

April 9, 2014

On Fate

Yesterday I was thinking “I can’t help but believe in fate.” Today I am realizing that there is no fate. Only an endless stream of tiny decisions that I make. And a few other factors.

January 11, 2014

On Bad and Good

Bad Things:
social awkwardness and anxiety
non-assertiveness teaching piano lessons
slacking off at work
staying up late
indecisiveness
stubbornness
I hide some truths in stubborn fantasies
addicted to checking my phone

January 5, 2014


Good Things:
practicing a lot and focused
Tuesdays with Morrie (the book)
spending times with friends and making plans
an older associate asked me for proposal writing tips today!! 🙂
my little jar of marmalade in my stocking
laughing photoshoot with Maya
learning 3 piano pieces at once
hugging my dad
writing down my dreams
walking to work and going to start running
playing music
watching chick flicks
remember about the box I gave to That Boy
being with family
finding anchors

January 6, 2014

On Basil

Basil on my windowsill. I finally got some. I love how the light hits and plays with the leaves, makes them more green in places and bright. They make me feel how rainbows make me feel. I have been following up on jobs and I am unfortunately underprepared for a job audition to be the pianist in a church tomorrow. I have been practicing hymn sightreading but I have been so frantic, spread thin, that I haven’t practiced my prepared piece as much as I should have, and now it is insecure and anemic.

I just lit my candles.

What I am right now:
1) teacher – I come alive when I’m with a student
2) seeker – applying for a searching for jobs, looking for houses with Chris
3) poet – collecting words and maybe stories in my brain, incubating them (I hope)
4) I absorb & smile when the sun is out
5) I say no to most offers or requests

$9.25 per half hour. That’s how much I would get paid to teach at That Music School Director’s school. She just sent me the position offer today. As opposed to $30 per half hour with private students. But it gives me a place to come to, it gives me a community, somewhere to learn from. My students will be able to prepare and perform in a recital.

My room is lived-in and dusty and there are rings on the windowsill, from mugs or the basil jar or the tiny flower pot. I’m glad I’m not moving away from Rochester. I can stay in familiarity, even when my classes are over and I’m not having stimulating intellectual discussions every day.

I think it might be time to move my bed off the floor, so I can practice sitting down at my keyboard.

Tomorrow I can respond to Aria, with questions and attempting to negotiate higher pay. I have an interview next week with Untitled Charter School, a new middle school opening up in Rochester. And the church interview tomorrow.

My phone tempts me sitting on the counter. Messages from Chris and, randomly an ex boyfriend, just this evening.

I am a woman but my gender doesn’t define me. We are all people and gender is fluid. I can ignore the position women are in in society, the positions I put myself in during my teen and early college years. But she is me – my past is my own past, not a disconnected chunk of something. I can forgive. I can – can I? Can I notice my reactions before they happen? So I don’t “yell” (or as I think of it, snap) at Chris?

Have I ever been able to do that? Notice my reactions? I think when I was young. Maybe before Untitled but I’m not sure. I may have not snapped, but instead felt sad or defeated before. Not made my needs known. I had no idea that you could tell people what you needed and then they might consider giving that to you. Now, I just feel this hot pressure and I feel it immediately lash out at whatever external causes the pressure. It’s like they’re not human anymore (the person who triggered me), but a threat, a force, a cold hard shoe pressing on my body. My empathy flees and my body says “ALERT. FIGHT. BAD.”

I think empathy is the biggest thing I wish I had more of right now.
Mom’s hurt makes me feel uncomfortable
Chris’ hurt makes me feel guilty
My friends’ hurt makes me feel angry

Empathy exists for my students, though, and somethings (often?) others.

I am getting tired and tired and this didn’t help much. So scattered. I should start practicing, so I can get this piece learned well & be musical.

April 4, 2019

On Clutter

Last Tuesday, I put the endless stacks of sheets into the closet. Finally. I’m resisting editing that sentence, even though I know it’s a bad beginning. It’s really a bad sentence in general. But I’m resisting. I want to try writing this piece all at once, badly, just to get something out.

In November I did my one-blog-post-a-day challenge, and it was so fucking hard but it was so fruitful! By the end of the month, there were thirty pieces, all about different things, all written at varying levels of honesty. Almost all of them had something good hidden in them, a little gem, that I will use later. So that challenge was a success. But the problem with challenges is that when they’re over, you can let yourself off the hook. You can say “alright cool beans. I’m tired now. I’m gonna watch Netflix at night instead of forcing myself to pump out yet another blog post. Yay! Celebration! Sigh of relief!” And then you can lie to yourself and say “I’ll write one blog post a week, instead of once a day…but after I take a little break.”

So five months later, here I am! Back at it. Not doing a daily challenge this time, just writing regularly and putting stuff out there.

Just for the record – and fyi, “the record” is pretty much just my overactive need for approval and recognition, things that I mostly need from myself, that I almost never give myself, yay for therapy – I have been writing almost daily in my journal. The first evidence of journaling I have is from 2001 (I was six). My family went to visit my 20-something aunt in California. I remember feeling a strong urge to write in this sparkly purple journal she gifted me. It was so beautiful, so empty. It was waiting. At least I felt like it was. I wrote about seeing the elephant seals sunning themselves on the rocks by the ocean, my handwriting was big and loopy, and I felt this weird satisfaction from being able to write something down in a little book all my own. I liked that nobody but me would ever see it, so I could write whatever I wanted.

I wrote a year later in that journal that I thought my best friend’s father, Les, was “brainwashing my dad.” I think I had never seen my dad agree with anyone before, and the fact that he was nodding along to what Les was saying was shocking to me. I was genuinely angry and afraid for my dad, and I wrote about those feelings in my journal. A “boiling hot feeling” spread through my body. I thought my dad would lose himself completely if he acknowledged any more of Les’ opinions. It wasn’t that Les’ opinions were scary or wrong. It was that I was terrified seeing my dad accept anyone else’s perspective as valid. It wasn’t normal.

To be fair, I had also just watched the Scooby Doo live action movie where everyone gets possessed and lose control of their bodies, so the fear of being brainwashed was pretty present in my mind.

Then there was my fourth grade teacher. Mr. Baker saw the writer in me immediately, and made it his mission to nurture that identity. He was a writer, and actually encouraged all of his fourth grade students to keep their own journals, and read pieces to the class. Pretty much all I remember of fourth grade was writing writing writing. Every single day, my best friend Sophia and I would be the last to leave the classroom. We were either the most disorganized, or the least concerned about getting out, or the most chatty, or a combination of all three, and Mr. Baker would ALWAYS send us off with a hearty “don’t forget to write!” Every singled afternoon. It stuck. I’ve kept a consistent journal since fourth grade, without fail. So. Much. Material. So. Many. Ridiculous. Stories. So. Much. Processing. I fucking love it.

And since this was originally supposed to be about clutter, I’ll just quickly describe the clutter around me in my office. I did finally put the linens away in my closet. About 8 months ago, I took them out of the closet to organize them into piles – this piles is the towels, this pile is the winter sheets, this pile is the summer sheets, etc. Very exciting. The problem was, once I organized them, I didn’t have shelves to put them on. There are not shelves in the closet, because my partner and I just haven’t had time yet to build them. So I just put the individual piles on this big white IKEA chair that we got from my parents, and left it at that. It was easy to find each thing, at least, but it was terrible because my office was basically one big linen closet all winter.

Last week I decided enough was enough. I was putting the linens back in the closet, organized, shelves or no shelves.

There’s still clutter, though. In the right corner I have all of our house documents, including our deed and other important things, in a folder waiting to be filed, along with piles of music books, a broom for cleaning the upstairs bathroom, CDs that Chris and I have no intention of listening to, paintbrushes, paints, empty photo albums, empty binders, empty journals, and a collection of old calendars from my middle school years.

In the left corner of my office sits a desk that I found on the side of the road in Vermont and toted back to Rochester. Chris and I painted it this awesome eggplant color, and now it’s covered with art magazines that are “weighing down” a collage I made a couple years ago that got a bit curled from our move. There’s also a huge prickly pear cactus that we repotted recently, thinking it would do it some good to have space, only to find that repotting it was a huge mistake. So now it’s in rehab on the purple desk. Then there’s my little blue paper organizer that holds folders of receipts and checks. It’s kind of teetering on a pile of art magazines, just barely staying up. Then there’s piles of envelopes and stamps, also perched on top of the art magazines, that I use to send poetry to my patrons. Then there’s a pile of paper of various thicknesses and colors that I use for art and poetry. And to top it all off, I have a pile of piano teaching materials sitting on top of the art paper pile.

It’s all very overwhelming once I start writing it down. But the thing is, I’m doing the best I can. I actually keep our house pretty well organized. I actually look around me with a fond amusement. I think it’s delightful how messy and in-use my office is. Eventually I’ll create zones and more shelves and blah blah blah. But for now, this is what it is. This is where I’m at. And that’s okay.

The most important shelf in my office is my journal shelf. I have all of my journals, from 2001 to the present, lined up on that shelf. My history, my healing, my process, my trauma, my experiences, my family, my friends, my pain and joys, my core and my wanderings, everything is in those journals. Most of them look different. Most of them I received as gifts. All of them I love and cherish.

On Secrets

I want to give you the full picture I promised.

You have to understand that the full picture isn’t pretty, and does not seem conducive with making money, or receiving more support from the general public. But, I think it’s important to tell the truth somewhere. And since I can’t tell it on social media (I lose followers, shed likes, and lose engagement if my posts are not sunny and hopeful and perfect), I will share it with you here.

Let me back up and set the scene. I’m lying on an ugly couch in my beautiful home, cozy in a big, hooded sweatshirt from the University of Rochester, with a hot water bottle and my cat curled up at my feet. I am safe. I am panicking. There are too many people I have not called back, too many emails I have ignored and let slip into the dank muck of internet memory, too many songs I have not yet recorded, and too many opportunities I have been unable to pay attention to. I am panicking because I am not enough. Or rather, I believe I am not enough.

Two competing ideals vie for attention in my mind:

  1. The artistic freedom I possess in my life makes the “suffering” worthwhile.
  2. I am supposed to be living the dream.

Here it is in a nutshell: my innate musical talent is a gift, and thus I am encouraged to work hard to share it with other people. I practice piano and voice, create arrangements in rehearsals with my band, promote my shows online, haul my keyboard and gear to small bars, give all of my raw energy and passion to performing with my band, collect a couple hundred bucks at the end of the night, distribute the money between band members, and finally drive home, depleted, to start over the next day. I also record my songs, collaborate with audio engineers, book future shows, and maintain a Patreon community.

This is fine. It works for someone who has more tolerance than me and who gets energy from being out. I am very sensitive to noise, though, as well as socializing and being out late at night. Being out depletes my energy.

Then there’s the “making a living” part, which tends to be important for staying alive. I spend 20-30 hours a week making my music career work, not including the hours I spend teaching. Due to my sensitive nervous system, I can play about 3 live shows a month, and leave with $50-$100 bucks in my pocket. I make about $160 a month from my patrons on Patreon. With this income, at the current New York minimum wage of $13.20 per hour, I get paid for only 8 hours of work each week.

Eight. Out of thirty. At minimum wage.

So. It’s becoming clear to me that I’m doing community service when I’m working on my music. Okay. That’s fine. Community service is wonderful. The question is, is it strengthening me or slowly killing me? Is it my fault? The eternal question for everything challenging in our lives.

I don’t have an answer, and don’t think the answer is truly important, but I can at least start to think it through.

Mostly, I just want to be alone and quiet. That desire makes me feel unloveable and broken, and it also makes me feel like a failure of a musician. What musician wants to be alone and quiet most of the time? Living the life of a musician, I am almost never alone, and quiet is not the goal, to say the least. I am rehearsing with my band, or creating relationships online with my fans, or performing for a crowd at a bar who is half listening, half talking, and half numbing the stress of daily life.

These necessary, day-to-day tasks push me far past my limit. I’m so far past my limit that I can’t bring myself to call the people I love back, respond to supportive messages from friends, clean my office properly, or consider new opportunities. I’m at a standstill, trapped in the commitments I’ve already made, but unable to function properly. This is all obvious to me. I can write it out and nod my head and go “yes, I am burnt out.” But it also seems absolutely ludicrous. It’s ridiculous to me that I have such a low tolerance for stimulation, for other people’s experiences, for being out in the world. It seems impossible. I must be capable of more. I just have to bully myself into being capable of more. At least that’s what I tell myself.

We always have to answer to someone, right? I answer to my audience. And until recently, I loved doing it. I reveled in their joy, their excitement. I absorbed their energy and called it mine. But now, when I go onstage, I notice a huge disconnect between how I’m feeling on the inside and how I present to my audience on the outside. I can never go onstage and use my audience for comfort. I can’t go on and say “today has been really fucking difficult and I need some love.” They use me for comfort, not the other way around; that’s how the agreement works. The person onstage provides a respite for the people offstage. I am vulnerable, soft, exhausted in front of my audience. I try to be myself. I try to be open. I hold so much space for them. I bleed myself dry in front of a crowd of people for a couple of hours. The problem is, I cannot hold the same space for myself. At least not at the dizzying rate it would take to counteract the depletion of resources caused by performing. If I can’t love myself, or give myself the space I need to thrive, then the rest means absolutely nothing.

My life force, or energy, or whatever you want to call it, is at an all-time low, and still I push myself to play one more show, to make one more Instagram post, to keep expanding my business. That’s where I’m at, in this precious moment on my ugly couch. That’s the truth. Is this what I’m working for?

I thought I was doing all of this to build a sustainable music career. Simple. If I could gain enough financial and physical support from my fans, then I could relax a little bit and my days would be like a well-oiled machine, rather than the scrabbling rat parade they are now. I work super hard in the present so that I can relax a bit in the future. Tour the world, play big stages, make steady money, hire a team of people to book my shows, run my social media accounts, and market my music. Focus only on the music, not on all the stuff surrounding it.

But.

It turns out I want to be cozy at home with my cats instead of touring the world with my band. So why am I really doing all of this?

Because I am terrified of failing. I’m terrified of not being enough. I’m terrified of letting go.

I have so many questions. As usual.

Why do I try to expand when I can’t yet handle the work I’m currently doing? Why am I trying to build this ‘strong foundation’ when I don’t want, or don’t think I can handle, the life of a touring musician? Is not wanting the same thing as not being able to? Is there a way to do this without martyring myself? Is there a way to do ANYTHING without martyring myself? My therapist tells me there is. She says I need to stop doing third grade work when I’m still in second grade (a clever reference to me skipping second grade as a kid) so that I can succeed instead of drown.

It’s true that I am drowning. In my own ambition. I am trapped in my own skewed sense of self and responsibility.

I’m not supposed to be telling anybody this. I’m supposed to keep up a rehearsed front, in which I am always excited and grateful to be doing what I’m doing, in which I’m always proud of my work, where I consistently advocate for myself with a smile on my face and a spring in my step. I’m exhausted from all the springing and the stepping. I don’t want to advocate for myself anymore. I don’t have the capacity to do it. I just don’t.

I’m actually sick right now, came down with a bad cold. I’ve been sick for days, but I refused to let myself rest until today. I had too many things to do, too many tasks to complete, too many people to answer to.

Why?

Because I can’t fail. But I can’t keep going like this, either.

On Creativity

So. I just finished this podcast episode. Like I literally just closed GarageBand (that I used to edit the audio) and send the file link to Ben Albert (who is using his marketing platform to promote my podcast). AND I AM REALIZING THAT I HAVEN’T BEEN TRULY PROUD OF SOMETHING I HAVE PUT OUT FOR A COUPLE OF YEARS!! UNTIL THIS VERY MOMENT. This is it. This is the one. This is The Project. If you want to listen to it, here it is.

My first conversation with @zahyiamusic was absolutely life-changing, and felt immensely nurturing and healing. We talked about letting go of perfection, appreciating the small stuff, and adjusting the “grind” to make life more joyful. I know we both came out of it feeling less alone, more understood, and more in touch with ourselves. The podcast episode is jam-packed with valuable reminders of our humanity. I have a new epiphany every time I re-listen to it, and think about her wisdom at least once a day now. For awhile now, I’ve sensed that my role as a teacher and “understander” of music/creativity fits my soul better than being in the spotlight myself. Of course I love performing for its catharsis & joy, but there’s something about the attentive silence of listening that makes my body feel right at home.

This is why I’m so excited about this new project, The Process Podcast. Not only does it align with my values and artistic journey (aka career), but it will help me explore Big Questions. It’s an incredible opportunity to listen to artists who are figuring Life out right along with me. Plus, I love that this is something I can give you that doesn’t cost anything and doesn’t demand anything from you except your open heart & ears.

With music, I always have a qualm about something when I release it – my vocals in this one spot weren’t perfect. The mixing cost too much and now I need to make that money back. But with this….. it feels perfectly imperfect. I feel genuinely excited to share it with the world on Wednesday. I have such a good humming feeling in my body about it. I know it’s true to me. I know it will resonate with people. And now I get to share it with you, my patrons! That makes me feel happy.

The podcast has been months in the making. Ben Albert posted on Facebook awhile back asking if anybody was interested in starting a podcast to take over for his long-standing Rochester Groovecast podcast. I read the post, and kept scrolling, thinking “I probably don’t have time for another project.”

But… I kept coming back to the post in my mind. I turned it over and over in my mind. I felt the excitement at the prospect of creating a podcast. I thought about how, in the past year or so, I listen to podcasts much more (by a long shot) than I do music. I thought about how much value I get from the podcasts I listen to regularly. And I just could not resist. It felt right. I sent Ben a message. 

Months, many meetings, an amazing interview with my first podcast guest, and lots of hours editing later, here we are.

You all know me. I’m a creative human – a musician, writer, artist, and teacher. I have Big Questions. How do we build a creative life? What keeps us going? What does our daily process tell us about ourselves? I genuinely just want to talk to other artists about how they do life. I’m working with Rochester Groovecast (by artistic community pillar @realbenalbert) to make this podcast the most valuable, most genuine project I’ve worked on in a long time.

Every month, I’ll have honest conversations with various artists that reveal the strength, challenges, purpose, vulnerability and joy of living a creative life. This is a place for people to feel less alone, and to gather inspiration for our own lives.

The podcast is complete. If you want to listen, here it is. Please enjoy. I am definitely enjoying myself making it. 🙂