It’s only the first time once

Last year, I went to a chamber music workshop and it changed my life.  I had the kind of honest-to-goodness, light-bulb-over-the-head, tomorrow-is-a-new-day experience you hear about on Oprah.  I came back using words like “transcendent”, “revelatory” and “epiphanic.”  I’m not even sure epiphanic is a word, but I used it with great conviction, so no one called me on it.

For the entirety of the workshop, all I wanted to do was play music.  Between rehearsal, sight-reading, practicing and talking with other musicians, I don’t think I slept but for a few hours–even then I had headphones on, learning by osmosis.  At the recital that caps off the weekend, I looked at the members of my quintet and thought “remember this moment.” Afterwards, I couldn’t stop thanking my coaches for showing me the light. I’m surprised they didn’t take out a restraining order.  I can be sort of intense.

So when they announced this year’s workshop, I had my application and check in before the day was out.

I just got back.  It was a great experience.  Not earth shattering, or axis shifting.  Instructive, confidence building, fun, yes, but the heavens didn’t open up and the angels didn’t sing.

Last year, I was new to the workshop–in fact, new to playing chamber music.  I was more than a little intimidated. Unlike orchestral playing, in chamber music you’re very exposed.

To prepare, I signed on to study with a violinist I admired.  It was instrumental (no pun intended) in getting me ready to go, but it also illuminated just how much my technique was lacking. But there was more to it than that.  Not only was I insecure about my musicianship, I was insecure about a lot of elements of my life.  I was ripe for an epiphany–or a nervous breakdown.

Since then, I’ve come a long way.  The grasshopper is still studying with the master, and I’ve logged many hours with a bow in my right hand.  I’ve played in a few ensembles, both as the lead and as the wing man.  I have a clear vision of my place in the musical world, and what I’d like to accomplish. I’ve also cleared up some of the issues that clouded the rest of my life.  I entered the workshop at a very different place compared to last year.

On Saturday, the evening before the recital, rather than staying up all night sight-reading and practicing, I shared a few bottles of wine with a rowdy table of storytellers, capped it off with a quiet conversation with friends, and went to bed at a decent hour.

I woke up the next day looking forward to the concert.  No jitters.  No anxiety.  I wasn’t let down, but it was just so …. different from the last time around.

My quintet rehearsed one last time, and we bickered about tempo, and who wasn’t coming in where they were supposed to be.  I looked around the circle at their faces, these really wonderful people I shared this experience with, just as I had before.  And I thought, “remember this moment.”  And the light bulb went on.

Last time everything was so new.  It was all about me.  My abilities, my performance, my experience.  This time, it was about my ensemble.  About us.  How we related to each other.  How we settled conflict.  How we worked together.  It wasn’t earth shattering, but it was really, really great.  I realized that it was the perfect bookend for the year, the culmination of everything that last year’s workshop set in motion.

It was a capital-M moment masquerading as a lower-case-m moment.  I could never repeat the experience of last year–it’s only the first time once.  Closing the circle was the best way to set the stage for the next leg of the journey–maybe that will begin at the next workshop.  I already know I’ll be back.  I accidentally left two concert stands behind in our practice space.  The workshop director told me she’d hold them for me until next year, so I haven’t scared them off yet.

Have you had capital-M moments you might have overlooked?

p.s. For those of you still wondering, my son’s bathroom door is still closed.  The wasp lives on.

Words by J.B. Everett

Photograph by Kenneth McFarland

Yeah, Whatever

My son is a teen.  Therefore, he has an answer for everything.  It usually begins with the word “but,” and it’s usually in response to some suggestion I’ve made that will make whatever he’s doing easier.  A suggestion he will tell me is impractical, impossible, or inconvenient.

The amount of circular logic he’ll use to reject common sense amazes me.   I want to stop him from talking and ask, “You don’t really believe that load of hooey you’re giving me, do you?”  But I don’t, because I know this is just part of the process.  He’s finding his own way.

Still, it’s difficult to be dismissed so easily.  I spent so many years being the answer to everything. Hungry?  Cookies coming right up. Hurt your knee?  In the boo-boo bunny bag..  Having trouble with story problems?  I’m all over that puppy.  It was reassuring as a parent to know that I could make his world better.  It’s my job, right?

To make matters worse, before I was a mother, I was in the fixing business.  Companies hire consultants to swoop in and make problems go away. We were machines designed to systematically crush obstacles with process. I was good at it. They even called me the wizard.

When my son comes to me with a problem, my instinct is to dissect it, turn it over, break it into components, put it in a Gantt chart and assign responsibilities.  All he wants me to do, however, is listen, so I bite my lip and sit on my hands. It’s all I can do not to draw him a map.  Then he could avoid this well-worn mistake and make a new, novel one instead.  But if he did, he wouldn’t learn from it.  Sometimes you’ve got to fail in order to grow, and I’d rather have him figure out how to deal with it now.  So I’ll offer advice when he asks for it, and only occasionally when he doesn’t.  I try to save the unsolicited advice for really special occasions.  Frankly, I’m not too good at receiving it myself.  Just ask my mother.

So instead of holding my son’s hand while he crosses the street, I let him go on his own. If he’s about to walk into a tar pit, I’ll calmly say “You might want to consider where you’re going“, and he’ll probably walk right in without looking back.  When he comes back, he’ll complain about the muck on his clothes, and leave them on the floor of his room.  It takes everything I have not to say I told you so, but in exchange for my silence he does his own laundry.

After my last unsuccessful attempt to counsel my son, I called my mother and apologized.  I was exactly the same way at his age–probably worse (see the above note regarding my inability to receive unsolicited advice).  I can only hope my son is a faster learner than I am.

I told her, “You are so much smarter now than you were when I was a teenager.”

Funny,” she said. “I was thinking exactly the same thing about you.”

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by Robyn Kalda

When One Door Closes

MOM!”  It was about as urgent as a teenage boy is willing to sound.  But I’m writing.

MOM!”  I hear it again, so I leave my office and run upstairs to find out what’s got my son riled up.  He’s standing in the hallway outside of his bathroom.  He points to the skylight and I see it–a wasp the size of a hummingbird.  I could swear that I heard it cackling.

It’s up too high to reach even with the vacuum attachment, the ladder is hard to get up the stairs, and I have no idea where to find the bug spray.  On top of it all, I’m allergic to wasps, and I just don’t have the time to deal with it at the moment.

So I close the bathroom door.  I tell my son to use mine for now, and when his Dad gets home to let him know that “tag, he’s it.”  I start back downstairs and my son says, “Really?  That’s all you’re going to do. Close the door?  I could have done that myself.”

Exactly.

It happens every day.  I go to my office, sit down, start to type… and I’m interrupted.  It’s like my keyboard emits a signal that only my son or husband can hear, that says, now would be a good time to discuss why the Patriots should have won the Superbowl.

Poof.  The idea is gone.  Sure, I can strike the flint again and set the tinder aflame.  But it’s not the same spark.  I can’t help but wonder what might have been.

So why do I let it happen?  Why does my family think that it’s okay to interrupt when I’m working?  It’s not that they aren’t supportive.  They are.  And I don’t underestimate the value of that support, especially when, in business terms, I’m  a non-performing asset.

The blame goes to the very top of the org chart. It’s my own fault for setting the expectation that I’m available.  I have always worried about making everyone happy, twisted myself into a pretzel to be sure everyone had what they needed.  I’ve shown through my actions, time and time again, that I valued their needs over my own.  I can’t blame them for taking me at my word.  I’m very convincing.

But things have changed.  I’ve changed.  I’ve put dynamite to the dam, and now that the water is flowing, it will go where it wants.

So what do I have to do to show them otherwise? That I’m not available at the moment, but I still love them as always.  I’m still the same wife, the same mother.  I still see them as irreplaceable and invaluable, but not right now.

And in one of those moments of clarity while pondering the terrifically complicated, the simple answer emerges.

All I have to do is close the door.  They know it will open again soon enough.

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about my son’s bathroom.  My husband’s in charge of that one.

 

Photograph by Wim Vandenbussche

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

In my next life, I want to be my son’s cat, Hunter.

I have two cats, but Sasha, my other cat, is nervous and fearful and spends her day hiding under my bed.  She comes out when I sit down to write and climbs up my shoulder to knead.  When she hits skin, she starts to purr. People at the gym never ask questions, although I suspect they think my life is far more interesting than it really is. For all of her idiosyncrasies, Sasha is my cat, and I love her to pieces.  But I envy  Hunter.

Hunter is chubby and he doesn’t care.  He has the happy paunch of a neutered male, the cat equivalent of a beer gut.  He’s oblivious to it, often unabashedly rolling on his back for a belly rub.  He presents it to you like he can grant you three wishes.  If you don’t comply, he tucks his head between his paws–look how cute I am. If that doesn’t work, he swipes at you, claws extended.  Ignore me at your own risk.

He sleeps whenever he wants, wherever he wants.  If it’s on the stairway, the middle of the hallway, the sink, my pillow, its all good.  I find him in the strangest locations, as if he’s walking from one place to another and decides, I must sleep now.  He doesn’t bother asking if it’s okay by anyone else, or wonder whether he should move to a less troublesome spot.  He just looks at you and blinks. Excuse me, but some of us are sleeping.  I actually apologize.

He gets food and water every day without having to cook, clean up or even ask for his dinner (although he’ll stand by the bowl knowing very well he’s already been fed.)  I clean his litter box, his furballs, and the hair he leaves across every surface he touches.  Come to think of it, he’s a lot like my son.

I’ve had moments of great understanding with dogs, looked deep into their eyes and seen the wisdom of the ages.  They are better listeners than most people, but they invade my personal space to sniff, lick anything that interests them followed by my face, and beg to be walked, even if it’s cold and rainy.  They are too high maintenance for me.  Although I love the notion of a devoted companion–someone to adore me unconditionally–I would tire of their demands.  I know I should like dogs better than cats, but I don’t.

I suppose writers need to be cats, to some extent.  We need to sit back, observe, soak in the details like that little patch of sunlight Hunter seems to find even though it changes spots every few hours.  We have to believe we have important insight, that people need to hear our innermost thoughts (I write this blog, for heaven’s sake.)  So we lay out our vulnerabilities for everyone to see, even though we still may be difficult to truly know.  There are a lot of people living inside my head, most of whom aren’t me, yet are, and when I write, I put them on and take them off like costumes without even realizing it. It makes it hard for people to look into my eyes and see a clear picture.

Confused?  Sometimes.  But my imaginary life always been my refuge and greatest entertainment, and like a sleeping cat, it comes to me at unpredictable and inconvenient times.  When it does, I drop everything and write.  And loving me is not always easy, as I vacillate between being emotionally and physically reclusive and climbing in your lap. I am a self-centered being.  I am a cat.  Guess I don’t have to wait for my next life.

Although I will never, and I mean, never, ask you to rub my belly.  Consider it a promise.