Does anyone ever feel like self-awareness is exactly the same as a proudly worn cape made of still moist turds? I chose my life when I was four. I grew up attending Chicago Symphony performances and had older friends who played various instruments. By the time I was four, I was sold on violin. I couldn’t get through a performance without filling my eyes and soul with the gleaming wood and glittering strings and soaring, damn near tangible, sounds that embraced the stage and hall. I told my folks that I wanted to play violin, and commitment was promptly explained to me in the following manner:
Music is not something you try like new shoes or a potluck dish. Music is a culture that you must be prepared to respect, even if you decide it isn’t for you. You cannot love music when it is convenient. You love music the way you love yourself: when it is inconvenient, when it is quiet and there is nothing else, when everything about your world and your stability is gone or questionable. You love music like you love an adventure you didn’t know you needed.
I was told that if I was sure a year later, then I could start lessons. I started violin lessons when I was five. And I learned what it meant to study music.
My teacher used to ask me, all the time, ‘do you like what you hear?’ after I’d played something. It’s a technique I adore using with kids; learning to hear what you are doing to your fiddle is a weird thing that is only sometimes easy. I think we get so caught up in thinking our way through a piece (hand position! Arm height! Less pressure! More pressure! Count! Save your bow! Omg key signature what are you doing), that listening and reacting can become a secondary practice, if that. And the reframing question [do you like what you hear?] is so simple and direct that it is impossible to avoid ownership. I grew up with perpetual demands on my self-awareness.
I entered the tapestry of adulthood believing that this, this horseman with taloned spurs and breath like Satan’s post kimchi farts, rode all of us to quality riddled heights we would never dream of not wanting for even a second. I was excited. The chats I’d had with my violinist friends in master classes and after school were all tainted with the cautiousness of competition and fear of failure. Now that we’re all adults, we can be real about our actual selves, yes?
And, for the most part, yes; this is wonderfully, exquisitely, true. I have had the amazing fortune to sit, work, and study, with people who are extraordinary, not just because of their skill and experience, but because of their humanity and their humility. Their self-awareness, and their willingness to ignore the screeching squall of eggshell ego in order to be real with me and either my breathless success, or my current lack of (whatever it was that happened to be missing at the time). It’s a harsh mantle. The cloak of awareness doesn’t fold gently around your soft spots; it is coarse and heavy and there is no clasp. You must hold it to your chafed shoulders until you cannot remember what the sun feels like across your neck. And then you must continue to hold it because your shoulders without that cloak are like time without seconds.
When I look at people who will not wear this shitty, belligerent, cape, I wonder if they have figured something out about life that the rest of us missed. They’re largely happy; they don’t worry about silly things like playing in rests or offending their boss with a weird comment. They pull smiles out of failed phrases and spend mere seconds harping on the day, whereas the rest of us faceplant into scotches, therapy, and vigorous exercise (AHAHA Netflix. Whatever). These peeps are on to something, maybe, with their unfettered oblivion and fleeting glimpses of repercussions. Who volunteers to wear a weighted cloak of unrelenting responsibility when just as much (or as little) happens without it?
I guess my penchant for BDSM really is a lifestyle thing. Maybe my career will sum total exactly the way a cloak-free dillhole’s would, but the sum total I sleep with at night, the life that lives in my heart and my passion, and needs my effort like drugs that will never be legal, will not let me retire the shroud. I cannot give up my turd-woven cloak. And James can smile at me all he wants from his negligible key signature and his drool inducing remarks; I’m not joining that club. I was a giant nerd in high school and oblivion sounds boring. Fuck off.