Friday, May 29, 2009


Last week, I went camping with M. M brought my violin down from RM, as I had accidentally left it there and somewhat needed it for teaching violin lessons.

At some point, the presence of the violin leaked out, and as I dreaded, it was suggested that I play. After putting this notion off with the edict that I do-not-play-in-front-of-people (I am very, very shy about performing), it was further suggested that I take the opportunity to get over my Fear.

Now I was at a precipice. Part of me wanted to play, but a larger part of me was sweating and shaking (my bowels too, my bowels are very reactive to stress) at the prospect. For one, I only know one song by heart (further evidence of my lack of expectation or intent to play in front of People), and for another, I could, and mostly would, get so nervous that I would tremble while I was playing and Greatly Fuck it Up.

When I was in a youth symphony during high school, which was overborne by a domineering, baton-flicking German man whom we all feared and at the same time strangled ourselves to please (forget impressing), we were sometimes called out in front of the whole 80+ group to play a pass on our own. In other words, we were randomly and at will subject to the stuff of which heart attacks are made, regardless of age. Dr. Conductor had smelled a rat, and he wanted to find it. Sour notes, even one, during practice, were not allowed. Under this pressure and scrutiny, you were hardly able to play up to your own capability. I remember one girl became so perclempt(?) that she sounded as if she couldn't breathe, had some sort of nervous stroke, and ran from the (too warm) orchestra pit in tears.

When I am by myself, I have a whole lot more confidence and can play freely, can even sway while playing like some of the more pretentious (okay, all) virtuosos do.

To end this part of the story, I did play for the group around the camp fire, and afterwards they did not throw me or my instrument into said fire, so I guess that was a good sign.

When I got back from camping, I did my violin lessons. The music school is contained within an old downtown theater. I had some down time between lessons, which I used to go to the bathroom. On the way to the bathroom, you pass double doors that open up to the highest point at the back of the theater that looks down on the stage. For some reason, I felt a pull to go look. The theater was dark, but the stage was dimly lit. I looked down at the stage, over all the darkened seats, the special high-rise boxes to either side where the rich people get to sit (where, really, I don't see that they're at any viewing advantage point, they can see the performer's scalps, but I'd rather see their faces). I started meditating on the concept of performance, of what it feels like to be a performer, what kind of spirit it is that a performer has.

One thing was sure for me: I am not a performer. I do not have that spirit at all.

Why? Partly because that just isn't my gift, isn't my natural instinct or way of being. It isn't me. And I'm okay with that, sort of, or - not really. Generally, we are who we are by the age of, say, five, and all the tall adults who stand around us in a circle and observe us recognize exactly what and who we are as well. I'm pretty sure britney spears was Britney Spears as soon as she could tie her shoes.

That, though - the fact that our personalities, styles and modes of being are apparent very shortly out of the womb - leads to where I get angry. I've always been bothered by the fact that, because I was molested at such a young age (around 4), I don't really know who or how I might've been if I hadn't been sexually abused before I could even be for a little while. I have a feeling that I might've been more adventurous, more brave, more assertive, more free, just more. Fear and worry and doubt and negativity and holding back might not've been such a problem in my life. Or maybe it would've, who knows? Sexual abuse wasn't the only trauma in my life, there was on-going stuff as well. I know that we're all shaped by the stuff that happens in our lives, and that no one is safe from hurt and pain, and that I don't have to stay the way I am, I can learn and grow and expand, but it just makes me damn angry that, for me, I'm handicapped trying to climb the mountain. My pack is weighed down a little heavier - also a little lighter, there's worse that happens to people - than some.

Anyway, back to the stage. As I was looking down over the darkened seats, at the stage, I noticed off to the side, where you could see back stage through an open partition, a fuzzy little apparition that I thought at first was a dog, but then I stared at it and it didn't move, so I dismissed it as some sort of sawhorse-like prop. I went back to my thoughts, then it barked. It was moving and barking, and there was another one laying down and starting to bark. They had seen me, and they were sending up an alert. Were they scared of me?

When I got to my notebook and pen, I free wrote a list: stage, performance, dog, fear, competence, ability, confidence, perfection, good enough, audience, judgement, enjoyment, acceptance, friendship, expectations, grace, perspective, expert, better than.

When I was sitting on the back of M's car at camp, others were at the showers and I was toying around with a song at a distance where (I thought) I wasn't heard, M made the point that I could pretty much play what I want, make shit up, and no one would know the difference; only an expert would know if I made a mistake. But I told myself (did I say it out loud?) that it doesn't take someone being an expert for them to know when they've heard terribly awful crap, and even if they're friends I treat them as critics. The fact is that, though I first started learning when I was 11, and I'm 29 now, so that makes 18 years, I haven't practiced very much along the way and I know that I'm not as good as I should/could be. I've never been as good as I should/could be.

I expect perfection, or at least near-perfection, of myself, and sometimes I displace that on others; I expect them to expect perfection. I expect them to expect Something Great, and I'm afraid to disappoint them and further crush my self-esteem/steam. I compare (really, contrast) myself with others, for example the other teachers at the music school where I teach now, and find myself lacking. But maybe other people aren't that hard on me. I don't know.

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