Monthly Archives: March 2014

Chords

It was my grandma who wanted me to become a musician. I don’t recall a time when I wasn’t one. I have always loved to play, to sing. It’s just a form of being for me. I could never be a music major though; I lack that sort of dedication.

The first time I sat at an organ, I was seven years old. I’m not sure who was more apprehensive—me, or the eighty year old teacher that I had no clue how to talk to. I have absolutely no recollection of that first lesson beyond the memory that her house smelled like cats. My house also smelled like cats, so it really wasn’t that bad. I may not fully remember that first teacher, but I do remember what she taught me—chords. 

Chords are the fundamental basis for everything in music. Basic chords contain three or more notes that play together in harmony. Each letter of the musical alphabet from A to G has a wide variety of accompanying chords. Major to minor, sharp to flat, augmented to diminished, fifths, sevenths…the possibilities of chord creation are endless. Knowing the things from an early age not only gave me an ear for music and very good pitch, it allowed me to play basically any song with little effort. Knowing chords gave me a strong musical foundation that I have always been able to fall back on.

*

Before your class, I had never heard of CNF. I signed up for it because it was required for the major, and because it was writing, and because I didn’t know. I honestly didn’t know what the course was. And it scared me. A lot. You broke my box in so many ways, and you made me a completely different writer. I discovered that I could write that which I couldn’t talk about, and that I could be heard while not being heard. I’m not sure I would have gone to grad school before that class. Or even thought about it, really. Because who goes to grad school to be a writer? Writers. Was I a writer? Before? I’m not sure.

“I don’t want to go to grad school anymore.” I slid the book that we had just finished discussing back towards my backpack.

“Why not?” N frowned, closing her own copy of the book.

“Because I’m not sure I can afford it. Because I don’t know how to choose. Because I don’t know if what I want is what I’m supposed to want. What I want and what I should do are two totally different things.”

“Well, what do you want?” N asked.

“New York,” I replied, without hesitation.  “For reals.”

“What is it that you like about it?”

I thought about this for a moment. “I like that they talk to me.” When she looked at me strangely, I continued, “Well, what I mean is…they aren’t so institutionally. I know who my advisor is; I’ve talked to her. I’ve been able to connect with other students. They signed me up for their social network. I feel like they are very open and friendly. Like what I have here. And I know that I am totally that student who needs a rock…”

“Surprise,” she interrupted. “Because I didn’t know that.”

“Ha ha,” I answered dryly.

“I get it. We have a rapport.  You want that somewhere else.”

“Yeah. I guess. I wish I could know who all of my advisors were. I feel like that’s a thing for me. New York is giving that to me.”

“The thing is, you don’t always know that you’ll have a specific advisor. Sometimes there are program advisors, or general advisors. You may not have one specific person until you are picking who to work with on your thesis. And even then, you might not get who you want. It depends on how many other people request that person, how that person might work with you, et cetera.”

“Yeah,” I replied, ever so eloquently. I stared at the computer screen, at the website I had pulled up.

“You also need to consider where you’re coming out of, the type of writing that the area is producing, what’s coming out. What’s being published.”

“They sent me a list of all the things from last year. The publications.”

“From graduates?”

“Graduates and current students. And a few professors.”

She thought for a moment before saying, “You can’t do something you’ll regret. If you think this is it, then you go. But you can’t get this far and then just not go to grad school because you’re scared. You need to make your own choices.”

The greatest thing I learned from you is that I can write. There isn’t necessarily one formula, one right answer, one right way to do it. There’s a lot of different things, different ways, and writing can fill a space inside.

I don’t know how to do these things, to pick a grad school, to set out on my own, to be this person I have become apart from him. I want to quit. I make excuses. It’s too expensive. I have the cat. I won’t have anywhere to live. I don’t know how to do this.

I will fail.

“Should I continue on or turn back? I wonder, though I knew my answer. I could feel it lodged in my gut: of course I was continuing on. I’d worked too hard to get here to do otherwise.” 

I read the Cheryl Strayed quote again, and again. And then once more for good measure. Because N is right. It is me. I have worked too hard to give up and go nowhere. Just because I am scared. Just because I am a little lost.

Where I am now is my foundation, and I don’t know how to leave that.  I don’t know how to give it up.

I’m scared.

I’ve been hurt a lot, and I’ve wasted a LOT of my life. I’ve let time pass and leave me behind and I don’t want to let that happen anymore—I don’t want to spend more time doing things for other people, or doing things that I don’t LOVE. And I love this.

*

The hardest piano piece I remember learning to play when I was a kid was “Fur Elise.” I liked sitting down and just playing, and that wasn’t a piece I could simply sit down and play. I didn’t want to practice; I didn’t want to put in the work that would be required of me to accomplish the piece. I wanted to quit. There was an A minor seventh chord that I didn’t understand. I didn’t want to fail.

I had a strong foundation with chords. So I figured them out. And I can still play “Fur Elise” today. There was a large payoff for the work I put in. I can play many things that are harder than “Fur Elise,” and many things that are easier. Because I put the time in. Because I figured it out. Because that foundation didn’t need to be given up. It stayed with me; I built on it.

This too, I will figure out, I will build on. Because I have a strong foundation now, and because I am not willing to walk away.

I can still play that A minor seventh chord to this day.

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Only Motion

I see you, often.

I look at myself in the mirror; my heart beats in an effort to escape my chest. I want to escape me too, but I can’t. Breathe in. Out. Rinse. Repeat.

I touch the steering wheel of my car and it feels cold under my slick palms. The sun is up; I have places to be. But I find I can’t move. Some days it is hard just to get in, to admit how close you were. Are. It’s hard to admit a very real struggle, a solid weight that sticks inside of me and refuses to let go. There are more ups than downs on some days, more downs than ups on others. The bad outweighs the good too frequently. I think that it will always suck, that I will never be okay. That I will never be over you. I will always drag this shadow behind me.

It starts with the fingers. Always the fingers. That’s how I know it’s coming, when I feel his fingers. Caressing me. Moving up my arm like a spider. Next the feeling of his mouth on my ear. The feeling of his breath blowing inside. I know that if I don’t do something, it will get worse. I will get lost.

I see you, often. On the stairs, on campus. Down the hall. In the Subway line, ordering a pizza. In the parking lot, getting into a truck. In the grocery store, picking out the perfect carton of eggs.  There is a certain verisimilitude to your form—your face, your hair, the way that you stand. But then when you turn, it isn’t you. You don’t see me. You never did, really. But I see your face, everywhere. On the mailman, on the librarian, on the kid who sits across from me in Arthurian Lit. You are everywhere to me, but I am nowhere to you. Nothing. I imagine where you are now, what you are doing. I wonder if you ever think of what you did.

Remember the plan, I tell myself. Remember what it’s for, why you are still moving forward. The only thing to do is ride it out. Ride it out. Ride it out. Wait for it to stop hurting. Wait to not be scared. Remember that I am safe, that I am real. That though it feels like drowning, it’s not. It’s not.

At night, there is a scepter that haunts me sometimes, the ghost of you. Words and emotions and feelings that have no place and no home. They weave in and out of my blankets, through the pillows, into the nightlight and out into the void. There is a gaping wound somewhere that I can’t see, a wound that tries to heal and then rips open again, and again, and again. Little things. A sound, a touch. I imagine it like a scab, something that hardens and then gets ripped away just when it is about to heal. I imagine that it will never heal, that it will bleed forever. I am afraid to believe in good things I know are within reach.

Your words echo and warp, twist in my head and mix with my own words. I’m not worthy. I don’t deserve this, any of this. I should try harder. I should be okay, just be okay, all the time. Never not okay. I should count the good things and be grateful to be alive, but I can’t right now, I can’t see that when I see you. Your fingers. Your eyes.

There is a hawk that glides over the road on my drive home. I don’t see its wings flap, not once, as I drive down the highway. It simply glides over the road, eyes forward, passing over life. That’s how I am—my life passing by beneath while I glide overhead. Unable to touch it. Unable to connect with anything. Unable to voice when I get lost because I am so happy for the moments when I’m not lost that it’s hard to admit the fall. I am in this phase now of moving forward, yet thinking about the past. Because in reality, there is no forward. There is only motion. The past is always with me. You are always with me.

I see you, often.

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On Rejection

I have come to the conclusion that one is never as adept at handling rejection as one thinks they are.  Case and point: after a year of waiting and building up and getting excited and then frustrated, the piece I consider to be my best piece, the one that I feel really shows who I am as a writer, was declined today.  I think that, after this long, I really thought it would be accepted.  I thought I was actually a writer.   

They liked my piece, but there wasn’t a fit for it—at least that’s what they told me.  It was the most glorious soft rejection of a work that I have ever read, but it would have felt better had they declined it outright.  Saying how close I came makes it all the worse.  The piece is me.  So therefore, in my head, there is no fit for me.  This rejection makes me wonder about everything, about whether there is a niche for writing like mine.  Writing that opens life up wide and bares the soul and displays the darkness for everyone to see.  Writing that is honest.  Memoir.  This is what I want to write.  I like to think that I’m good at this.  But I wasn’t good enough this time.  I wasn’t good enough to find a home.   

I want to do this with the rest of my life, write.  But if this is all I can write, if there is no place for this kind of writing, if I can’t figure out how to make it work, then I am wasting time.  I have screwed up.  I have made the wrong choices.  People tell me rejection will make stronger, and yes, while that may be true, it also sucks.  It especially sucks for this piece. 

This is the piece that helped me sort out my head, that gave life to the lifeless.  

This is the piece that got me into grad school. 

This is the piece that really made me a writer

So I thought. 

But it wasn’t good enough.  Right now, it doesn’t matter to me that I can write well.  It doesn’t matter that I’m smart; it doesn’t matter that I got into grad school.  What matters is that this one piece, this piece I love, this piece that means everything to me, didn’t make the cut.  And I, who thought I was getting skilled at handling rejection, don’t even know how to handle that.  This rejection feels deeply, deeply personal where other rejections of my work have not.  Like I will never even get out of the gate, because my best work is not enough to help me fly.  Like I will always fall.  

I got to hear Cheryl Strayed speak last week, and I would consider that to be one of the greater defining moments of my life.  One of the things she said that really stuck with me was: “I was me in a hard time of my life and the I was me learning how to be in a new time of my life.  You can fuck up your life and then be okay again, to accept into your heart the real thing you don’t want to accept.  To live.  To thrive.”  Writing has been my way of accepting, of living.  And I wonder, a lot lately, if I’m making the right choice.  If I’m good enough.  If I can hack it; if I can handle.  I wonder if I will ever get my moment, that moment where I know, or if it will always be this way.

Do I want to be a writer?  Do I want to take this risk?  Do I want to be on this path for the rest of my life?

More over, CAN I be a writer?  Not just a writer on paper, a person who writes, but a WRITER?  Today, I don’t know how to answer that question.

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Elements

The periodic table is made up of singular elements. A lot of them. When those elements bond together, they become compound elements. Compound elements cannot exist without all of their pieces; water cannot exist without two oxygen and one hydrogen. On their own, hydrogen and oxygen molecules simply exist. But together, they are something every living creature needs for survival. 

English, and this convention, have been a bonding experience for me in that way. I’ve existed on my own for a long time.  But it’s simply been existing.  I always thought of myself as small, as knowing nothing.  I never gave myself credit for my ideas or thought they were worth anything. And now I am part of something greater, something that is bigger than I am. Something I was meant to be a part of all along. The small but mighty Parkside English program might be unknown, but it is amazing. My professors are awesome. I know literature, I know theory, I know how to have a brain and I know how to use it.  The greatest lesson I learned this week was that, because I know literature, I have a place in this world.  I may not know everything, but my college has given me all of the tools and the knowledge that I need to be successful. To go out. To bond.  

At this convention, I became water. 

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