Gone Looking

I guess it started with the shooting of Michael Brown. Maybe before then. But some time over the past 4 years, I lost America. It’s like I had a lover, then discovered a bunch of dark secrets and needed to process. I had to figure out if I was still in love. And if that love was worth sticking it out.

I have a friend who said he had the same problem. I think there’s a lot of white people in this country who feel like the America they were told existed wasn’t real. And now we’re “woke”, we don’t know how to feel any more. We were lied to, cheated on, and now we’re lost.

Ever since our conversation, I’ve thought a lot about this country, but not abut our written history. Not about the white people who made it a country. I’ve thought about the land. It’s beautiful. The few places humans haven’t ravaged are still inspiringly beautiful. Breathtakingly so. 

I’m currently on a solo vacation to Maine, where I had never before traveled. I drove the entire way from St. Louis, MO. And there were places that moved me to exclamations of wonder as I drove past. Unerring, random beauty. 

As I was driving, Simon & Garfunkel sang “They’ve all gone to look for America”. And I felt I had found it. Not in the documents and buildings. Not in the monuments and borders. Not in the pioneers or the native peoples. Not even in the changing leaves of New England.

I found America in my heart. Where it’s always been. 



Random Imaginary Conversation 

I found out today that I didn’t get a job for which I had a very good interview a few days ago. Before that, I was thinking what I would do with the extra income: buy a new couch; purchase some much-needed (really wanted) audio gear; donate to charity; pay regular bills without stress; buy fancy groceries like kale and fish and citrus. 

And then I thought, “Hey! I could consider dating! Someone besides myself! A man person!” My brother was confused at this statement. It’s the guy who does all the paying and whatever. But here’s the thing. I have always firmly believed that when it comes to dating, the person who asks does all the “traditional male” date things. So I haven’t considered asking anyone out because I feel like I should be able to comfortabley purchase toilet paper for myself before considering buying dinner and a movie for some hypothetical guy.

I can’t help but feel that, given the likely age range of my dating pool, I would need to explain this point of view to Man. So I had an imaginary conversation.

Me: Hello, Man. Would you perhaps be free this weekend for a date with yours truly?

Man: Sure! I have wanted nothing else my whole life!

Me: Thank you, kind sir. I feel I should offer some brief explanation of my intentions. As I am asking for the pleasure of your company, I will pick you up in my car, take you to an eating establishment of my choice, but with consideration to your taste/health/food lifestyle in mind, and pay the tab. If you are cold, I will offer my sweater. If we encounter a puddle, I will offer my coat as dry option for your dainty feet. I fully expect you to partake in my fries and half of my dessert when you’re too shy to order your own. Then I will return you to your home and walk you to the door. 

Man: So…will I be expected to put out?

Me: Only if you want a phone call the next day.

I think it’s a good thing I didn’t get the job. I would definitely ruin any potential anything with my overt formality, awkwardness, and bluntness. And all the fucking swearing. 

There Will Be Swearing.



30 Percent

I read a quote by Herbie Hancock once: you only perform 30% as well as you practice. It’s an insight into share with all my students, especially when they’re preparing for a performance. Somehow, though, I never really owned the statement for myself. I always performed exactly as well as I practiced. My playing never decreased in performance. I should have realized years ago that I wasn’t practicing correctly. Not to my best. I wasn’t being my best even when I was alone and in the perfect setting.

But over the past year I’ve really pushed my practicing. I’ve played better than I considered possible. I opened doors in my mind, and it’s lead me to some wonderful results. To myself, in my own mind, I was in a state of understanding of my own performing that I never thought I would achieve. So I decided I needed to play for other people, and I scheduled a mini concert in my home – and on Facebook live – so I could do so. 

For too many years, I haven’t had any musicians in my life that I didn’t train. I had only ever performed my own music for friends, family, and students. I’ve always enjoyed sharing my music, but because of the way my life – and my life choices – has gone, the only feedback I ever received was positive. “That was cool!” and “I love it!” were the basic gist of it. 

Compliments are nice. Some people think they’re enough, that sending positive words of encouragement and affirmations are all that’s warranted. But I needed more. I needed people who listen like me, who understand music like me (or better) to be 100% honest about the 30% I could offer. I needed musicians.

Over the past year I’ve finally done what I should have done in college and since: I’ve worked towards creating and growing my relationships with more members of the music community in my town. I invited many of those lovely people to my concert thing, hoping that some would show up – or watch online – and listen to what I had to share. And more than anything, I hoped I would get critique. Something, anything, that would tell me how I could be better.

I’ve insisted to everyone, my whole musical life, as often as possible, that I needed criticism. It’s fine to have people tell me what is good. I need more. I need to be told where I’m not good enough. And ideally, ideas on how to improve. My exact phrase, when I try to get this point across, is, “I thrive on criticism.” It’s more true than most people I’ve known have seemed to understand. 

Tonight, that changed. A dear friend, whose musicianship I greatly admire, attended my concert this past Sunday. And this evening he gave me ACTUAL FEEDBACK. That criticism I’ve desperately needed to hear ever since college ended and I had no professors nor peers to give opinions. Someone finally understood. 

Now I have direction. Goals. Aspirations. A realistic path to take. I’ve always suspected I could get here. Over the past year, I’ve learned to see that it’s possible.

And tonight, because of a friend who gets me, I have an idea of how to find my way to the path to getting there. A way to get my practicing to the place where 30% is pretty damn good. I don’t care that it’ll take time. I don’t care that I’m not there yet. I don’t even care that I may not get there. I only care about the path. The journey.

And the friend who cares enough to help me find it. I wish there were words to express how important this is to me. I guess a silly blog post will have to do.



Waiting On Whatever

I was about five years old when I learned this song off one of those old records of children’s songs:

Have patience, have patience. Don’t be in such a hurry

When you are impatient, you only start to worry.

Remember, remember, that God has patience, too.

And think of all the times when others have to wait on you.

I was about 13 or so. I had been babysitting my 2-year-old niece, Sarah, and was frustrated and upset. Mom did her best to calm me down. “Maybe you’re supposed to learn patience.” And few years later, after a frustrating lesson with one of my first students, his mom called to complain about my behavior. After getting off the phone, I talked with my mom, upset at letting my frustration in the lesson get to me. Again, Mom comforted me. “You just need to learn to be more patient.”

I’ve had many issues in my life with being patient. The first, and simplest step for me, was patience with people. I desperately wanted to be a good teacher, and I quickly learned how to give people their time. That was easy for me.

I was always impatient with time, though. Things didn’t happen quickly enough, I had to wait for important things, or to find out if they were important. I always thought about the next thing, and I always wanted it to happen NOW. It led to a lot of anxiety and tension in my work life and home life. 

The thing is, for most of my life I simply accepted this type of impatience from myself. I had made a concerted effort to be patient with other people, and it paid off. But until a year ago, I never tried to change my hatred of the slow passage of time. I never before tried to relax and let time be time and not worry and stress about “next”.

That changed. For reasons of which I’m not entirely sure, I adopted a mantra of sorts: this doesn’t matter; you can’t make anything happen or control anything except yourself, and then only if you haven’t had any tequila; things will happen when or if they happen; chill. And it worked, oddly enough. Yeah, I have to remind myself from time to time. Yes, I still get anxious for “next” occasionally. But the reminders are needed less often, the anxiety rarely makes its unwelcome appearance. But mostly…mostly I just chill. 

I feel a bit like I’m only letting my life happen. Sometimes I feel like I should be living more intentionally. People my age have plans and futures to contemplate. I should be more prepared or whatever. 

But I’m happier like this. Watching my life unfold like a television series. Not a Netflix Original; no marathoning this bitch. My music is growing in ways I hadn’t imagined. I wasn’t giving myself enough credit. I wasn’t giving myself enough time.

Because, you see, the final patience lesson had to wait until I learned patience with time: I needed to be patient with myself. I always expected too much from myself while simultaneously expecting that I wouldn’t be able to do so. But I stopped expecting things. I stopped having any preconceived notions about what I  should be doing and gave myself time to let what I could be doing shine. And my could keeps improving. 

I’ve heard it said that if life keeps challenging you in certain ways, it means you still need to learn that lesson. Patience is my lesson. I’m getting closer to understanding it all the time.



Magic Music

I recently gave up having a television in my room. I thought it would maybe make me want to go out amongst the peoples of Earth instead of hang out alone in my room and bingewatching like an angsty preteen. Instead I hang out in my room listening to music alone in my room like an angsty preteen.
I love finding new music. Or new-to-me music. It’s exciting to find out what I’ve been missing or to hear how other people are getting their musical voices out there. I love it.
But sometimes, sometimes I fall in love. Sometimes I find a new thing that makes my stomach flip and my heart race. I get lost in it, like falling into your lover’s eyes.
Wow. That was overtly verbose. But really, it is like that. I can’t get the music out of my head, and I don’t want to. It makes me giddy and happy, and not because the music itself is trying to communicate “happy”. The sounds themselves, the vibrations. It raises me up.
It gives me hope. Not in anything or anyone in particular. Just a general hopefulness, a feeling that it’s all gonna work out in the end. And that I’m going to be fine.
As long as I keep renewing my Tidal subscription.



My Aspiration

My hair and I have not always gotten along. I tried different styles, cuts, and products. I changed the color, from extreme red to blackest black. I used hair dryers, straighteners, and accessories to try and help it decide to cooperate. Sometimes it did. Often it did not. All in all, good hair days and bad, I was generally satisfied with my hair. It never made a great impact on my life; it was merely a nuisance I had to worry about, and I was always able to put it out of my mind.

A few years ago, I gave up. I decided to stop forcing my hair to do what I thought I wanted. I stopped contemplating which cut I wanted next, which color. I even gave up dying it for a while. Mostly due to the idea that I could never have the hair I truly wanted, it seemed most pertinent to make no decisions at all. I just let it be.

As long as I can remember, I wanted long, curly hair. I wanted it to blow behind me in a strong breeze. I wanted to braid it at night like Laura Ingalls. I wanted it slightly frizzy, kinda shiny, and most of all LONG. I didn’t want to have to brush it (brushing out tangles gives me painful chills sometimes). It was a silly dream, like the little girls who dreamed of becoming princesses. And, as I saw it, unrealistic.

A funny thing happened when I stopped caring so much. By leaving my hair alone, it started to look good. I had to get it trimmed occasionally (split ends are no one’s friend), but I never changed the shape. The curls that had spent years trying to show themselves started to spring up in a more predictable way.

Whenever someone asked if I was planning to cut my hair, I thought about it a moment with real consideration and answered, “Nope. I decided to let my hair do its own thing.” I was beginning to think of, and refer to, my hair as a separate entity from myself. It got in moods, I scolded it for getting in my eyes and mouth when the windows were down in the car. I found a hairdresser who cut it dry, because it’s better for curls; found that out from her, and man was she right! Most importantly, I left it alone. I didn’t allow myself to get impatient with its progress. I let it do its thing.

I absolutely love my hair now. It hangs almost to my waist. It’s got these cool spirally curls all over. It’s frizzy and shiny. On days when I’m feeling unpretty, I look at my hair and am in awe.

It’s exactly what I always wanted. I left it alone. I stopped trying to tell it what it needed to be. I relinquished control. And I was rewarded with a dream I had never even considered possible. A silly dream. But not, as I know after years of patience and allowing things to happen as they might, unrealistic.

My hair has also done something for me that I never considered. It has shown me that it’s better to let go, to be patient, to let go of the things I can’t control. All it takes is a little maintenance and a lot of patience. Those things I can do.

I can be as amazing as my hair.



Passing It Over

It’s Passover time. Approximately. I just celebrated the holiday by creating my own seder plate from what I had around the house that could easily be interpreted as seder items. I got the salt water part perfect.

Every Passover, the youngest person present has four questions to ask, each with its given answer. Here they are:

  1. Q: On all nights we need not dip [our food] even once, on this night we do so twice.
    A: The salt water reminds us of tears shed during the years of slavery in Egypt. The act of dipping also signifies freedom, as the dipping of food represents luxury.
  2. Q: On all nights we eat chametz (“regular” bread) or matzah, and on this night only matzah.
    A: Matzah, being devoid of leavening, is the bread of the slaves and the poor. It also represents that the Hebrews had no time, due to their impending freedom, to allow their bread to rise.
  3. Q: On all nights we eat any kind of vegetables, tonight only bitter herbs.
    A: The bitterness of the vegetables serves to remind us of the bitterness of slavery.
  4. Q: On all nights we eat either sitting or reclining, and on this night we all recline.
    A: Reclining while eating is a symbol of the luxury of royalty.

I like the idea of remembering the bad times in order to better understand the good. Personally, I was not a literal slave. Genetically, my heritage has not been one of literal slavery. It’s taken me some time to figure out what these questions mean to me, what I can learn. I looked for, and found, the lesson.

  1. I’ve spent my adult life as a poor person. Financially, I’ve been a slave to circumstances I couldn’t change while continuing to contribute to the world in the best way I know how. I have cried countless tears in worry over my state in life, personal and financial. I cannot forget that. No matter how good my life is at moments, nor how it may improve in the future, I am only here, I am only me because of those tears. They have forced me to accept my present and work towards a better future. The good times have only been good precisely because of those tears. Otherwise, I doubt I would appreciate my life nearly as much.
  2. ¬†Again, to remember. To observe what poverty is, was, will be. Not merely to me, but to others with whom I share my life, and the others who share similar experiences. Also a good reminder that no matter how busy you are, no matter what you have going on, it’s important to eat. I may not have the food I want, I may not have the best options, but I still have food to eat. Many others do not, and I do what I can to alleviate their hunger in my own ways.
    Hunger comes in many forms, though. We can also hunger for companionship, time, meaning, and purpose. We can hunger for the things we really want to do, not merely the things we must. Hunger is simply our desperation for something better. And sometimes we run out of time while we’re chasing our satiation.
  3. Too many of use carry our bitterness around with us like armor. We can be so focused on the negatives, on the things that enslave us, that we forget to notice all the wonderful. But maybe we can restrict our bitterness. Not to forget; never in order to forget. Instead, rather than dwell on the negative, maybe we should set aside time to remember. When it’s pertinent, remember. When there is potential danger in letting the negative recur, remember. When life is so good that you start to feel invincible, remember. It’s not always smooth sailing, it’s rarely easy. Remember the bad times in order to avoid the same mistakes, remember them in order to appreciate the good times.
  4. Remember to take some time to chill. It’s all well and good to be focused and intentional, to keep your goals and ideals high. And it’s also important, whenever possible, to treat yourself to something nice. A good pair of pants, a night out, a vacation, a good book. No one should feel pressure, from within or without, to be constantly working. Luxury, relaxing, spending time with friends and family. These things are important. There’s no amount of stressing over an issue that cannot be at least somewhat alleviated by taking a moment just for yourself. It’s important.

This is what this holiday means to me, at least for now. As with all holidays and religious practices that involve interpretation, it will evolve. But the questions will remain the same. Not merely to Judaism, not merely to me, but to people everywhere. Remember the bad stuff and appreciate the good things in comparison.

Never forget. Never stop striving. Always find your best way. Don’t pass over life, but let the things you don’t need pass over you.