Desires

Posted: March 29, 2014 in Uncategorized

I want.

I want to do whatever it is that makes me happy. Inspired. Loved. Appreciated. What would that be?

I am all about music of all shades these days. Just about anything steeped in heart and joy will bring me instantly to tears. I watched Kathleen Turner breaking down talented high school kids as part of the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts’ YoungArts program Masterclass a few weeks ago and I was watching and yelling at it like bros watching a March Madness game at the bar, coaching right along with her and I’ll be damned if I wasn’t right with her in the advice and instruction she gave.

It inspired me. I’m nobody famous, but goddammit, I know what I’m talking about when it comes to performance. One of my best friend’s kid is in her second year as a ballet dancer at a fine arts boarding school hundreds of miles away. As her daughter has advanced in the arts, she turns to me more and more as an experienced voice on matters of the arts that escape her. She invited me to watch a stream of the school’s latest performance and as I watched intently, I saw exactly what her weaknesses were through a musical lens: she’s a beautiful dancer with the ability to make the most breathtaking lines and curves, but her corps work is, to put it bluntly, sloppy as hell. Her youth and a growth spurt (she’s nearly six feet tall in her pointe shoes) are working against her right now, but she’s lucky enough to a) know it and b) be in the right place to get the technique instruction she needs to understand how to become the ensemble instead of an individual member of a group.

I want to do this. I want to give what I know. I can help, I promise. I fly when those I teach and coach fly. I fly when they get something. When I challenge them to be part of a complex relationship with me that embodies both judgment and trust. It’s just another way for me to tell a story.

Perhaps this is also due in part to a run of success at my church gig. We gave a rare concert a few months ago and the solo and trio work I for which I was responsible was not, in my opinion, of my desired oeuvre. I’m a liricio spinto, Puccini/Verdi kind of girl and this was early 17th century Baroque/Renaissance polychoral stuff. But if the choirmaster had faith in me, then so be it. Once I stopped being terrified and became a part of it, the sounds that spun out of me from the loft felt like all kinds of magic. He is still uncharacteristically over the moon about that performance, to the point where he just dropped quartet work from Schütz on me for Easter. I’m still terrified, to the point where I asked him why me and not one of the other voices usually more appropriate for this style. Which gave him the opportunity to be effusive about the previous performance again. I think he has all kinds of new ideas for me. It’s as if after 6 or 7 years, he’s discovered a resource he didn’t know he had. And while this is a huge stylistic challenge for me at this late stage in my vocal development, I have the comfort of knowing that he believes in me.

The music realm of my life is more important to me that ever, because the little ball of fuckery that my day job has become constantly challenges my perceptions of my skills, experience, and talent. It is a complex web of politics and poor management to the point where the extremely talented tiny team of which I am a member is shrinking as fortunate folks find ways to successfully exit, stage left. My previously mentioned friend will be the first to make a permanent exit and I have feelers out to hopefully be the next who frees themselves from this Island of Misfit Toys. It’s like she opened a door we’ve all been pushing against and now we’re all actively and publicly (at least to each other) seeking different opportunities within the organization. We all wailed “TAKE US WITH YOU” right in front of her cube yesterday. The hardest part is we want to be together because we are a fantastic team. We even like hanging out with each other, as evidenced by our post-Christmas shindig that we were finally able to schedule for tonight. We’re all very different from one another demographically and in life experiences, but we mesh happily nonetheless.

I’m in some of the best shape I’ve been in my life since my high school jock days since I’ve been hitting the gym regularly for the past couple of years, I’m delighting in my weight training and boot camp work with my patient and talented trainer and although while I love what my arms have become, guns this size aren’t exactly amenable to everyday business wear! Note to self: need a gig where it won’t matter and folks won’t be taken aback by my athletic form. My final health challenge is to adjust my diet to the point where the cinnamon rolls ’round my middle take a hike.

I want. I long for all the parts of my life to yield joy.

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Women and sport. Such a long and conflicted history. But a few things have come to bear of late on which I must rant a wee bit.

When I was in middle school in South Carolina, I had not yet quite figured out how a girl was supposed to act (still haven’t). I was (and still am, for all intents and purposes) a raging tomboy, more likely to climb trees and play football than hold tea parties and play dress up. So the semester when I had the option of choosing between gymnastics and weightlifting, I naturally chose the latter, only to find that I was one of two girls who had chosen so. It didn’t matter to me, all that mattered was that I could out-lift most everyone who had made the same choice. The following semester, we could choose between wrestling and dance. No contest. But oddly enough when the time came, I was routed to dance. Why? Because it wasn’t appropriate for a young lady to have that kind of contact with boys. It was dangerous. Unseemly. Frowned upon. It was the early 1980s.

Yesterday, I read about Maddy Baxter. It is roughly 30 years later. She is 12 and plays as a starting defensive tackle for the sixth grade team of her private christian school in Georgia. Starting. That means she’s better at it than most anyone else on the team. First string. First chair. My 12 year old self is insane with jealousy. “Middle school girls play girls’ sports and middle school boys play boys’ sports,” said the school in a statement. A school official told Maddy’s mother that boys have lustful thoughts and might think of her daughter in an impure way. Maddy has been dismissed from the team.

Boys will have lustful thoughts. They might even have them about Maddy. Girls will also have lustful thoughts. Why do people seem to miss this all the time? You want to try to make some babies, you better hope she has a lustful thought or six. Maybe that’s one reason why there seem to be a great many boys running around making babies. Some girls aren’t wise to what lustful thoughts are, haven’t been schooled. And by the time they know, it’s too late.

The WNBA draft happened in April and as expected, Skylar Diggins of Notre Dame went very high, third in the first round. I was reading an article about her fabulous self in the New York Times the month before because reading sports writing is one of my very favorite things. I was enjoying myself until

Most afternoons, Diggins hung out at the recreation center where [her father] worked and ran through his drills, sometimes for six hours at a time.Then [her mother] would take Diggins shopping, or to get their hair and nails done. She could look pretty and play basketball, her mother said.

This annoyed me. It was a great article and the above quote stopped me cold. Yes, Skylar Diggins is quite pretty. Yes, she’s a monster on the court. And perhaps even yes, she grew up with the girl gene that directs the love/hate relationship that women have with beautification, if you will. I don’t dispute any of that. But what makes me sizzle is the attitude of a mother who wouldn’t see her daughter any other way except in her own image.

On the other hand, the more I learn about the expected first pick of the first round, the more warm fuzzies I get. Brittney Griner. I admit it publicly: I am a fan. I probably made squee noises when I got my ESPN Magazine in the mail with her on the cover, her serpent friend wound ’round her. I’m holding my breath hoping that it doesn’t all zoom to her head and make her fall down. It can happen to anyone and I’m hoping that everything she’s handled will keep this from handling her.

Because everything will certainly try to.

Hit me with your best shot

Posted: June 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

I had a very unexpected moment of OH YES a few days ago. It’s been kicking around in my head ever since, so I suppose I ought to put fingers to keys on it

First, a bit of background. I’m an ex-jock. My poor mother who expected a girl with tea parties and Barbie dolls got instead a tomboy who wanted nothing more than to climb trees, creek hike, and wrestle, among other things of that ilk. I prided myself on my strength and would go all out to prove that I wasn’t weak and couldn’t be easily overcome. I eventually learned that I needed to compartmentalize these leanings into areas where it would be found acceptable. In middle school we were allowed to choose which sections of phys ed we wanted to take each quarter and without fail, I would choose weightlifting when it was offered. It caused a bit of a ripple, but they allowed me to do so until my last year…when boy hormones finally caught up with the girls. I agree now, as new testosterone and a buxom sexually active girl (often the only one of 2 females in the stuffy room with no windows that had that smell weight rooms no longer have) do not tend to mix well. They weren’t equipped for that risk and frankly, neither was I. So I discovered then that my talent was for volleyball where I could turn my strength into a blazing serve, my persistence to an all-out scramble to keep the ball in play, and my will to remain unbeaten into a vertical leap that stunned opposing attackers. I couldn’t spike for shit, but I could leap like a fool for a block of an oncoming spike and my dinks were legendary. I couldn’t time my own offense, but I could read the shit out of the opposing team’s. I played all four years of high school and a bit of college. An injury slowed me down and I focused on music.

Thursday I was at the office picnic. Did not want to be there. While standing in the food line, I heard the telltale sound of skin hitting ball leather-pmp…pmp…pmp-and I turned my head towards the sound. One of the admins from upstairs who looked like a player (6’2 and lean) was bumping a ball and was shortly joined by a shorter woman who instantly revealed herself to be a setter; she must’ve heard the call, too. I couldn’t stand it. I deserted my colleague in the food line-“I’m sorry, I just have to do this”-and covered the setter from behind, completely freaking her out when she crashed into me as she was backpedaling. I apologized and they widened the space to let me in. I’d forgotten how much I dug the burn of forearms recently ball-smacked.

After lunch and the scheduled team building were finished, a game was begun where the net had been erected.

Oh, man. I still got it.

I’m 42 years old and I schooled punks almost half my age. And I haven’t played in years. I even spiked and that is so not in my repertoire…at least it wasn’t. After a particularly vicious cross-court pound, the kid on the other side of the net looked at me wide-eyed and said “oh, okay..respect due..” I didn’t even front like I wasn’t in the moment and responded with something that communicated YES. BELIEVE THAT. I’ve also apparently developed a jump serve. Who knew? I have no idea if I did that before or not, but I certainly don’t remember it being that way.-stands up to check- No. I didn’t have that before. It seems that I can now track the ball in an offensive fashion. Thoughts on how that’s come to be are for another whole post.

We stopped about 3/4 through the second game (played to 21) because someone went crashing into the ropes and yanked the poles out of the ground on one side. Some still wanted to play, but most of us took that and the lack of water as a sign that it was time to fold. We’d been playing almost an hour in the direct beating sun of Southern summer, plus my thumb which I’d broken several weeks ago is still healing.

It was fantastic. I texted my trainer and with no guilt at all smugly told her I’d been playing in the sun for an hour and wouldn’t be seeing her that evening. I believe she was pleased to have me cancel on her because I’d already worked out. I was still so high that I managed to swim the length of the pool at the end of this morning’s workout; something I haven’t attempted in nearly equally as long.

There just might be something to this whole getting fit thing…

The Anointing

Posted: February 25, 2012 in Family, Music
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I’m not a huge Whitney Houston fan, but I was curious about what would come of the funeral so I tuned into the web to have a look last Saturday.

I wasn’t prepared. I wasn’t prepared to be instantly transported to the church I grew up in. People got schooled in Black Church 101 whether they liked it or not. The first wide shot took me right back to South Carolina, circa 1975. While I wasn’t raised in the Baptist denomination, in my experience there isn’t a great deal of difference between the experience in a majority of black churches. And as something of a disclaimer, I’ve said before, I’ll say it again: due to my experiences growing up in the church, I consider myself agnostic, yet very attuned to spirituality. Pulitzer Prize winning composer Ned Rorem said it best. When asked how he, an unrepentant atheist could pen some of the most amazing tunes set to the psalms of David (which I have sung and adore), he replied “I have faith in the faith of others.”

There were so many tiny things that the average viewer wouldn’t pick up on if they hadn’t been raised in a church like that. Little tells that they probably either didn’t notice or went “WTF?” if they did. Did you notice how Pastor Winans would stand thisclose to someone who was singing at the lectern? While that would be intrusive and cause to call security in any other setting, here it means “I support you. I admire you. I am testifying with you.” The little speeches that the singers would indulge themselves in prior to letting it fly? Also considered testifying, sharing the message, entreating the congregation to hop in the car and take this ride together.The little ladies turned out in their starched white nurse’s dresses and tiny white caps, standing ever at the ready the entire time in case someone from the family needed assistance because they had become overcome by emotion or the spirit.

When you’re singing in a church and the spirit moves you and everyone within earshot to a place you can’t otherwise reach or even describe, it’s called “the anointing.” You have been anointed in the spirit and have become a mere mouthpiece, a vessel for a message that is no longer your own. I try to sing this way all of the time and sometimes it becomes a detriment to the music and my technique itself, but that doesn’t really matter in the moment because I am no longer myself. I am the message, the story.

There wasn’t a speaker or singer at that pulpit that didn’t at least catch a whiff of that feeling. My heart was so huge, it felt like it was going to burst from my throat when Kevin Costner shared his memories. I don’t particularly care overmuch for Donnie McClurkin’s voice but his rendition of “Stand” was a sermon in and of itself that I couldn’t ignore or diss. That is what the anointing can do. And who knew Tyler Perry could preach? Whatever I may think of the man and his movies, I could not deny that he was truly in the spirit that day. Stevie Wonder just flat out killed. His voice has held up amazingly over the years and this day was no exception. When he transitioned into “Love’s in Need of Love Today”, I was just sitting there with my jaw hanging. Seriously, he sounds even better than he did when he released this on “Songs In The Key of Life” (1976). The other thing that made my jaw hang, literally stopped me in my tracks was when I heard Dionne Warwick announce that R. Kelly was about to share. R. Kelly?? Seriously? But never mind, because he was in the moment, too, had to give him his props. Probably like many in the church itself, I didn’t even notice at first that we hadn’t even made it to the eulogy until hour three of the service. And Pastor Winans hit upon one of the main reasons that I indeed, have become agnostic: “Sometimes, we are believers behaving badly”, he mused. Outside of all of that, I think the most dramatic moment for me was when the bearers hoisted her casket into the air and onto their shoulders. Maybe its just me, but until you know the feeling of it being someone you love in that box, you just can’t know how it blazes through you, the feeling that this is it, this is truly the end.  When the rifles exploded over my father’s grave, I felt the exact same storm inside and the cries from the people in the church echoed that. It is the sound of a heart breaking.

No matter what I think about Whitney Houston, her death brought people the world over together to share in some of the most amazing music I have heard in a very, very long time. I feel like I have much more to say inspired by these feelings, but that will come another day.

Reach out and touch…

Posted: January 4, 2012 in Uncategorized

I spend a bit of time commuting so that’s often when spontaneous rumination occurs. Yesterday on the way to work the topic of my last post started banging around in my head and I think I’ve identified at least part of my problem.

Like kids, I just want contact, to connect. I think it’s why I’m good with teaching kids of that spongy adolescent age, because I completely understand and empathize with that need for personal recognition and acceptance, or to put it succinctly, touch. Whether it’s mental touch or physical touch matters not, there just must be touch. I think we forget that feeling as we grow older. It’s why we reflexively gasp when we hear about boys being allegedly molested and sexually assaulted and wonder how in the hell did it happen, why couldn’t the kid just run? It’s because you don’t remember what it was like to have someone-anyone-see you, really see you and touch you. And by the time the kid realizes that it’s the wrong kind of touch, it’s too late. But that’s a tangent, please excuse me.

I want friends like I had in college. I want to be able to spend hours with someone alternately shooting the shit and puzzling over the latest mind twist no matter the topic (I call for a resurrection of the salon, please. I’ll happily host the inaugural event). I want access to friends the way I am willing to give access. The same kind of access that one usually only grants family or personal assistants: 24/7, you just call out my name and I’ll be there. Damn if James and Carole didn’t have it right. Why am I considered weird or strange for wanting this? Why does this make others want to say to me ‘oh, grow the hell up, you’re not in college anymore’? Why does being a grown up mean you have to stop reaching out and learning?

I am in an intensely introspective period at present. There is a great deal rattling around in my head these days and it would most likely help a bit to get some of it out.

As I was explaining to a good friend earlier today, I find myself mulling over perception, that is, specifically how I am perceived. Some may ask “why do you care what people think of you?” but from my vantage point, perception is a bit of a different beast and it is especially important in my professional world where in any case it actually does matter what people think of you. I explained to my friend that I am often perceived as intimidating, which he disavowed vehemently even as he admitted that we’d never actually worked in a professional setting together. I explained further.

You know how we are together, especially as fellow musicians? Rapid fire, always on, so much to say our mouths can barely keep up? Laughing, loud and randomly libertine? No holds barred, put everything on the table? Boundless energy trumped only by equally insatiable curiosity? “Ohhhh,” he says. “Right.” At my workplace, I’m an effusive talking thinker surrounded by introverted policy wonks and similarly situated academics. I am the person who will stop a room by simply asking “Well, why?” When asked the classic interview question “are you a big picture person or task oriented” I will respond that I can’t be task-oriented unless I know what the big picture is. I can’t satisfactorily put together a piece of a project unless I have the big picture inspiration for it. And that desire to know can apparently often manifest itself in such a way as to be intimidating. My friend agreed, saying that he could recall my fact finding mode as tinged with annoyance.

I pounced on this. Yes! That’s exactly what I’m talking about! The Man Unit even went so far as to describe it as “dripping with disdain for those less intelligent than you.” But when I’m in that moment, there is no disdain, there is no annoyance unless it is with myself for being in a place of ignorance. There is not one iota of my being when I’m learning that should be putting out that sort of negative feeling, so what is it? Is it an absence of self? Because I have the switch set to ‘off’, does that mean I am the Inquisition when I have stripped me of what makes me myself? This is where I struggle.

But my friend brought up another point of view that I had yet to consider or introduce to the matter: the point of race. Consider how black women function in the workplace, he posited. Consider how they are treated and…perceived. Consider what they have been forced to give up. I sat back and considered this. I don’t have any immediate role models of black women in business from my youth. My mother was mostly a SAHM, save for a few stints volunteering on military bases where we lived and time with the local United Way info hotline until they moved from the Rolodex to computers and she refused to learn to type. We didn’t live close enough to anyone else in the family who might have set useful examples, nor was I that familiar with the women at my parents’ church to learn. Funny, if I’d known how shark infested the uncharted waters I was about to navigate actually were, I’d probably have been terrified. Ah, the confidence of youth and ignorance.

I’m still no closer to figuring this out, how to serve myself to the world, but this adds a dimension that I need to mull at length. I do have a mentor at work, a black woman who happens to be the deputy of my division and I’m considering having this discussion with her. That will be somewhat difficult as her schedule is a nightmare and I also have been pulling back on the time I spend in other people’s faces running my mouth either about project development or the latest injustice visited upon my branch mates by our brilliant micromanaging supervisor with the marked lack of emotional intelligence. Mainly because I abhor being that person that people try to hide from when they see you coming because all you do is bitch. I try not to, I really try to see all sides of things, but when I pop my head into the deputy’s office only to say hello and she opens with an intense “How are things over there?’, it’s hard to hold back. I managed to keep my yap shut in an emergency meeting last month that I truncated an annual leave day to attend and by the end of the topic discussion, the division director stared at me and said “What are your thoughts? You’ve been unusually quiet.” Which I saw as something of a personal victory, even as it was somewhat bewildering to the tiny me inside that’s still 12 as in “someone smarter and more experienced than me actually wants to hear what I think about something?”

What does this all boil down to? In short, I want to develop a reputation where colleagues are delighted to work with me, not frightened or annoyed. How can get what I need and be productive/successful in collaborative professional non-music settings without sacrificing who I am? I suppose that I’ve gotten some of the hard work out of the way because I know who I am and what I want.

Ahead lies the path. Read more. Write more. Speak less.

I talk to myself

Posted: August 28, 2011 in Uncategorized

I was nominated to take part in leadership development training at my latest gig.  Apparently it’s the kind of class that you can only be nominated for, you can’t just sign up on your own.  I guess I should be proud or pleased, but I was nominated by my supervisor and my relationship and perception of her is an entirely separate post which may never happen.

So, it’s a three week course, spread out over three months. At the very beginning and then again at the end, we were treated to sessions led by the former dean of the program, a lifelong learner and leadership expert; basically a first-class professional thinker.  The man reference Latin roots of words so often that it was absolutely no surprise when he revealed that his bachelor’s was in Latin (which I actually said out loud). The good doctor took self-examination to a level heretofore unexplored by pretty much everyone in the class.  I think the responses to the in-class exercises he required of us ranged from my “no judgement ’til I’m sure” approach to “I did NOT come here for therapy” responses, and that was just in my group of five alone.

One of the writing assignment exercises he asked of us for the final week was to read a particular leadership book and then write a response according to the questions he put forth.  The book, which I shall not name here, was in my opinion mostly middle-aged white guy drivel.  I was not alone in my assessment of such and because I recognized the good doctor as the receptive thinker he was, I had no problem saying as much in class when he asked for our thoughts on the book.  Part of this story involves me sharing the essay, so here it is, in its entirety.

I admit that for much of my life, I have been something of a navel-gazer.  I have kept journals in which I apparently talk to myself since I was twelve years old.  When the author wrote about retreat attendees taking copious notes and entreating them to speak to themselves, I realized that I have been doing this for years.  I took a class required during my freshman or sophomore year in college called “Western Tradition”, basically a western civilization survey.  At this small, rural school, instead of the usual block of core courses, everyone in the entire year was required to take the same class divided into sections taught by nearly every professor with meetings of the entire class happening monthly.  I was assigned to one of the literature professors the first semester and he asked that we keep a journal in which to jot down thoughts, comments or questions that we might have as we plowed through our daily reading assignments.  He would then collect them weekly, peruse them, assess their content via written comments, then return them to us.  Other students agonized over this activity.  What to say?  How to say it?  How much to say?  Am I just taking notes on content or…?  But for me, as soon as I heard the words “keep a journal”, I was immediately drawn to it.    I kept those notebooks, and every time I rediscover them, I am thoroughly entertained and eternally grateful to my professor Dr. P for giving us the opportunity to tell him who we were and to show us ourselves.

As we progressed through each week, we began a dialogue.  I would ask questions about what I had read and then answer my own questions as I forged ahead in the text.  I would question the writing style of the text’s authors.  My entries were short and contained snippets of wit, sarcasm and curiosity, all delivered with an extraordinary amount of chutzpah for teenager.  And he encouraged me in his notes.  From the very first page: “Okay, you’ve the general idea-speculate on your own a little.  You are perceptive and read critically.”  I think I may have been the only student losing my mind laughing as I read his comments upon the return of our journals each week, especially this entry:

Thursday 10-27 pp455-62: How’d the scientists of the time obtain corpses to study?  Without getting busted? Dr. P: nefariously. Sometimes they did them in the hospital where the deceased (w/out kin) had just passed away.  Otherwise, it was just anything they could dig up.

It was as if someone had invaded my mind and was happy with what he found there.

So I’ve never stopped.  Ceaselessly, I converse with myself and as I’ve aged, I try to listen with a more attuned ear than ever.  Even now, I only know a few things to be true about myself and what my purpose might be.  I strive to learn.  I can never know enough.  As long as I’m alive, I remain open to finding new balance in my life, beliefs and values.  In turn, I can’t deny that I have a strong affinity for sharing what I have learned with those around me if they believe that they might benefit from it.  A certain percentage of the time, I share in a traditional sense, answering questions, giving my opinion, etc.  But the rest of the time, I simply tell my stories by living.  There have been times when I have discovered that I shared a lesson with someone long after the actual contact we might have had, and that knowledge becomes a lesson to me as well.  Someone is always watching and usually, that someone is me.

So what season am I in currently?  I honestly didn’t know until I arrived at this point in the essay, but now?  I’d say early spring, definitely.  I’m fairly certain there are riots of renewal breathing faintly under the muck and wreck of the melting ice and snow.  I know from wrecking muck, having spent 6 years braving Michigan’s wilds.  But oh, when the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it delicate color arrived, it made the wait seem worth it.

Now, when I finished this in the wee hours, I knew exactly what I’d done.  I’d responded to the assignment to the letter, but I hadn’t really told him anything about myself, nothing truly personal.  And I’ll be damned if he didn’t call me on it.  To wit:

Thank you for your essay.  Self reflection is something you do on a regular basis through journaling.  I was intrigued by your last paragraph and wondered what are some of things you have learned from the experiences and questions you have asked yourself in your journal. You don’t share with the reader any part of your “story,”  except for your freshman college experience and the influence Professor P had on you.  Your “story” and how you frame and re-frame it is “who you are.”  To me, at least, leadership emerges out of people’s life stories.  That is where the purpose of our leadership and the passion with which we pursue that purpose comes from.  Is that true for you?

He engaged me in conversation about in class the next day and I confirmed that I had indeed attempted to evade capture, which he found mirthful.  I’ve been thinking on it for the past while since the class ended, ruminating that I don’t journal with anywhere near the frequency I once did, either privately or publicly and what I came up with was this: I don’t talk to myself anymore.  I’ve been journaling since I was 12; I still have my tiny diary from when I was 15. I transitioned from longhand to word processor in the mid- to late 90’s.  I have a box of class notebooks from undergrad and grad school that I can’t toss because almost without fail there will be pages with me talking to myself in them.

I think I need to start the conversation again.