growing up, self-acceptance

Rewriting History

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“…contrary to what you may have heard or learned, the past is not done and it is not over, it’s still in process, which is another way of saying that when it’s critiqued, analyzed, it yields new information about itself. The past is already changing as it is being reexamined, as it is being listened to for deeper resonances. Actually it can be more liberating than any imagined future if you are willing to identify its evasions, its distortions, its lies, and are willing to unleash its secrets. “

Toni Morrison at Wellesley 2004

My mother spent a lot of time during the last years of her life sifting thru memories, looking for insight and clues to the meaning of events that had affected her; trying to understand, to make sense of it all.  I find myself doing the same thing these days – and am comforted by Toni Morrison’s commencement speech to Wellesley College 2004, where she rails against “adults being exoticized into eternal juvenilia” and “cultural vapidity” that appears to only have become more rampant in the past 13 years.  

I confess that in the past I’ve been quite critical of people who rewrite history; I’ve judged them as being guilty of denial, of being delusional, of sugarcoating reality. I used to wonder about this aspect of Christian Science when I was an active student – sure, it was helpful to reframe troubling scenarios in a more spiritual context, but wasn’t that cheating somehow?

I believed “what’s done is done” and there was no way to fix the mistakes I’d made in the past. But upon further reflection, I’m coming to see the wisdom of reframing what happened and the choices I’ve made. For one thing, it helps me to (re)view the past with compassion and kindness, towards myself and everyone else.  I now don’t think it’s too Pollyanna-ish to look for the benefits of any given scenario, and many things that happen can hold just such hidden blessings, if we’re patient and motivated to identify them.

Nobody has the exact memory that you have. What is now known is not all of what you are capable of knowing. You are your own stories and therefore free…

Toni Morrison @ Wellesley 2004

One of my biggest regrets was my relationship with an early boyfriend who turned out to be emotionally damaged and eventually became mentally ill. I met him when I was 17 and didn’t recognize the warning signs that anything was “off” about him. But over the few months we were seeing one another, I became alarmed at his fits of rage that erupted at random times for unknown reasons. The night he grabbed my arm violently leaving a nasty bruise, I knew that I had to break up with him. Initially he seemed to take it well, but then he began stalking me at school and broke into my home when my roommate and I were away. He’d become downright creepy, seemingly overnight. It wasn’t safe to love him any more.

The stalking continued without direct confrontation for 2½ years – I’d catch sight of his red scarf across the street or feel eyes on me when I was working in a practice room, but we never interacted. Then after I graduated, he disappeared, only to resurface a few years later by showing up unexpectedly and uninvited at my apartment door. The building doorman had to threaten to call the cops to get him to leave, and entreaties from both of my parents and their lawyers for him to stop stalking me were unsuccessful. I felt sufficiently scared at that point to take legal action to get him to leave me alone, which he managed to do for another few years.

But then he began writing letters. In spite of being reminded that 10 years had elapsed since the relationship had ended and being informed that I was now a married woman, he continued to send letters demanding me to return to him. Year after year after year, no matter where we moved, the letters would follow us. We contacted the Postal Inspectors and after they investigated and interviewed him, their legal advisors told us that he was disturbed and receiving psychiatric help, that he was harmless and should “get a pass”, to just discard the letters, since there was nothing they could do to get him to stop writing and sending them. So for many years, that’s what we did.

Over time the letters became more and more offensive, as he scribbled his rage and hateful comments on the exterior of the envelopes, making the most outrageous claims, (his version of rewriting history) and blaming me for everything bad that had ever happened to him. I began to think of the letters as “Hate Mail from Hartford” and saw myself as a victim as their delivery continued unabated. Some days I could handle it, but other times I felt overwhelmed and oppressed.

The toll this took was rather like Chinese water torture; while the mental dread was much worse than the actual pain inflicted, it also didn’t help that the authorities were dismissive of my complaints. After all, I was “only” receiving non-stop written verbal abuse from an obviously delusional man – how bad could it be, really? Compared to former boyfriends who went after their exes with guns and online revenge porn, nasty letters are pretty small potatoes.

Still, I wondered what the hell I had ever done to deserve this ceaseless abuse; as I recalled, I had treated him sweetly during the time we were dating. And I wasn’t cruel or insulting when I ended it; I had never made any promises of exclusivity or for a future together, and it just didn’t make sense to me that he was so fixated on a brief casual relationship that had ended so long ago.

I tried to rise above it; to take the higher view, to forgive him and see him bathed in white light. Since I feared him and resented his pervasive presence in my life, I couldn’t bring myself to actually love him, but I prayed for his healing. For decades I had shredded his letters or tossed them into the trash. On the advice of a shaman, I’d even tried burning them at the mailbox, so as not to allow their negative energy into the house.  I marked them “Return To Sender” and “Refused” and sent them back, reasoning that this was his bad juju and I didn’t have to accept it – and then he stopped putting his return address on the envelopes, so I couldn’t even do that. I felt more and more trapped.

One day on the way from the mailbox to the trashcan I noticed he had progressed to making death threats, which alarmed me enough to recontact the police and the Postal Inspectors. But follow-up with them yielded disappointing results; restraining orders would prove ineffective and the USPS didn’t want to get any more involved with him.  Turns out there had been many complaints about him from many quarters, as he was still writing to psychiatrists, nurses and caregivers who had retired and even died. He’d been cagey in his assaults-by-mail to everyone who had ever tried to help him over the past 47 years and avoided breaking the law, at least to the extent that the district attorney didn’t consider it to be worth prosecuting him. He was intractable and adamantine in his conviction that he’d been “done wrong” by anyone he’d ever met (especially me!) and we were all apparently going to hear about it forever.

To have an apparently unsolvable problem like this is something I’d never wish on anyone.  But in the course of all this drama, recently a couple of things fell into place for me:

I made the decision to see his letters impersonally – as “junk mail” instead of “Hate Mail from Hartford”. No one rails at receiving junk mail, after all – it’s just a fact of life, like robocalls, spam in your email inbox and commercials on TV. You just toss it in the recycling pile (after blacking out any identifying information), just like you push the mute button when that annoying ad comes on for the umpteenth time in the middle of your favorite show. It’s nothing personal. No drama. That helped some.

And then I came across the following:

I have breathed my way through so many people I felt wronged by; through so many situations I couldn’t change. Sometimes while doing this I have breathed in acceptance and breathed out love. Sometimes I’ve breathed in gratitude and breathed out forgiveness. Sometimes I haven’t been able to muster anything beyond the breath itself, my mind forced bland with nothing but the desire to be free of sorrow and rage.”

– Cheryl Strayed in her book Tiny Beautiful Things

Reading this passage the other day is what finally unfroze my heart re. this guy who’s been stalking me all these years. I realized that because of his abuse, I’d been partially adopting his version of the story on some level, instead of fully embracing what I knew from my own experience to be true. I understand that it’s not safe to be in touch with him now, I have no interest in his circumstances and it’s not my job to fix him. But I did love him back in 1970, the best I knew how, until it became unsafe to do so. I don’t need to deny that I loved him then to feel safe now.

“Although you will never fully know or successfully manipulate the characters who surface or disrupt your plot, you can respect the ones who do by paying them close attention and doing them justice. The theme you choose may change or simply elude you, but being your own story means you can always choose the tone.”

Toni Morrison at Wellesley 2004

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learning, music biz, self-acceptance

Career Advice 101

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Since I grew up craving to hear stories about how other musicians had succeeded in “the biz”, I always assumed that younger musicians and students might someday take an interest in my career trajectory. Alas, I haven’t had many opportunities to share my experience with very many over the years and as time passes and technology changes everything, my music biz life seems to be less and less relevant to anyone. Which is a shame, since it still fascinates me!  🙂

That said, my adventures were what they were, and I think I’ve learned a few things that aren’t totally outdated and actually apply to “the real world” as well as the music biz.

  • Having the desire and skills are necessary, but developing relationships with other people is absolutely essential. Nothing else will take its place. It really is “who you know” and who knows you and what you can do.
  • It helps to be a member of the clan – whether that’s ethnic, gender, age, education, sexual orientation, religion or whatever else sets you apart from the crowd.   Be aware of where you’re already included and exploit the hell out of it!

Believe me – Scientologists look out for other Scientologists and Berklee alumni look out for fellow Berklee alumni. “Birds of a feather” hire one another.

  • The music biz, like life, is not a meritocracy. (just look who’s occupying the White House these days!) Don’t waste time and energy bemoaning the unfairness of stupid music being championed as “great” – even those stars whose careers have withstood the test of time have to keep paying their publicists to stay in the public eye.
  • Once you’ve identified a gig/persona/objective you really want, stop asking for validation from your friends, family and mentors and just do it!

Upon graduation, I wanted to become a female Aaron Copland. When I recognized that I was more interested in songwriting, I did everything I could to write pop songs. A couple years later I was introduced to the jingle business and began pursuing that. Over time I began to build a sample reel, and when I was offered a full-time gig arranging music for advertising in Chicago, I didn’t consult with my teacher Hale Smith on the decision, as I thought he would probably not approve. By that time I was hell-bent on jingles and did not want any dissenting opinions on my next move!

  • You can only be who you are. It doesn’t pay to try to be anyone else. Your essential nature is what it is, and while you can strive to become “more outgoing”, for example, or “to have a tougher hide”, you’ll always be fighting your innate nature, and that’s exhausting in the long haul.
  • Listen to the “experts” but ultimately follow your own self-knowledge about your identity. Other people can point out your strengths and encourage you to consider new ideas but no one knows better than you do who you really are.

In the 70s I forced myself to make cold calls to get performing gigs, and I did manage to connect with a few booking agents, but they had their own agendas and were constantly trying to fit me into their idea of who I should be and what I should be doing – i.e. the booker who mistook my being heavy as an opportunity to get me to be a piano-playing Totie Fields– as if 25 extra pounds magically made me a comedian and not a musician!  She told me repeatedly how she could have booked me a lot more gigs if only I was funny, but at 22 years old, I took myself MUCH too seriously to fit into that mold – even if making people laugh is ultimately more rewarding than singing and playing the piano!

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FUNNY Totie Fields

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SERIOUS Marilyn Harris

 

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self-acceptance

Embracing Limbo

No… not THAT kind of Limbo!?!  🙂

Jeff Foster was nice enough to send me the following in today’s email:

“Whatever it is, stop trying to figure it out now.
Let it remain unresolved a little while.
Stop trying to fast-forward to the ‘answer’ scene in the movie of your life;
trust the present scene of ‘no answer yet’.
Allow the question itself space to breathe and be fertilised.
Relax into the mysterious ground of Now.”

 

I’ve been in limbo professionally for quite some time; while I still think of myself as a songwriter and musician, I haven’t composed any new songs for many-a-moon and my piano-playing gigs have dried up substantially from earlier years. At times I’ve despaired that I might not have anything more to say, musically at least.

But I’m learning to trust myself because every time I’ve tried to force the issue, the results have been disappointing. Call me lazy if you like, but for the time being, I’m letting it be what it is, which is: Limbo (an intermediate, transitional, or midway state or place).

 

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music biz, self-acceptance

Being “In The Room”

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Last week I had occasion to observe an audition for a college band director. My initial impression of the candidate confused me; while he was well-groomed, well-dressed and carried himself in a professional manner, I sensed something slightly “off” about him beyond what might have been attributed to nervousness. His beat patterns were clear and he appeared to have mastered the outward authority of conducting, but his “vibe” somehow didn’t register as authentic – it felt a bit like he was “phoning it in”. After a few moments, I saw what it was: he was so busy trying to look good that he wasn’t actually there in the room!

Bearing in mind that I never studied music education in college and didn’t have the language to clearly articulate what I found troubling, I still knew that something didn’t feel right;  I repeatedly noticed that when he asked the band to go back and replay a certain section, he didn’t say anything about what he thought was wrong nor provide suggestions what the musicians might change to make it better. Consequently, nothing improved. He didn’t bother to stop the band and start again when their entrances were raggedy, and there were other details about the players’ attention and posture to which he seemed oblivious, not to mention musical nuances. While he physically occupied the space on the podium, instead of actually being there in the room with everyone else, he seemed to be projecting an image of what he thought a band director should look like, showing off for the video camera that was recording the rehearsal. I got the sense he was playing the part of Conductor.

I began to feel concern for the students in the band, should this director be chosen for the position; would he be able to get past himself, would there be “room” enough for them to exist, for their problems to be addressed, or would the maintenance of his self-image displace their education?

I know what it’s like to audition for a gig and how nerve-wracking it can be to interview for a new position, so I can empathize with however much anxiety he may have felt that day. But I also know how necessary it is to show up for life, no matter how scared I am.  I have to risk being seen, risk becoming known, and I’ve learned it isn’t any good to sell other people on an idea of who I might be, only to have them become disenchanted when I can’t measure up to that idea. I have to show up and actually be “in the room” to connect with other people.

Ram Dass  wasn’t kidding when he wrote his book “Be Here Now“.  There’s really no other place to be. There’s really no other time than now.

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politics, self-acceptance

Redbook Magazine 3/2016

I had occasion to page through last month’s Redbook while waiting for my car to get an oil change, and was struck by the messages that pervaded not only the advertising but also the editorial copy. Here’s what I saw:

“You’re OLD!” (or you at least LOOK old!  So FIX it, already!)

“You’re FAT!” (or at least heavier than you should be. Shape up, fer cryin’ out loud!)

“You’re just not attractive enough! You need THESE clothes, THIS haircut, THAT makeup!”

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No matter HOW drab and ordinary! ‘Cause what YOU’RE wearing just ain’t cuttin’ it!

“You will most likely DIE from cancer!”

“Now, Julianne Hough – SHE has a life worth living! Be like her!”

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You, too, can be KICKY! Go ahead! Be KICKY!!

“You’re too stupid to manage your money!”

“You complain too much! Knock it OFF, already!”

“Your house looks drab and dated! You need to redecorate!” (something more kicky!)

“Never mind how expensive it is, or whether you can actually AFFORD to go – your whole family NEEDS to visit DisneyWorld! NOW!!”

“You should cook complicated dishes and eat indulgently, meanwhile miraculously maintaing a slender figure, because otherwise? You’re a LOSER!”

I felt the entire issue had been written by Donald Trump.

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learning, self-acceptance

Worth Defending

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The oncologist had given my father a 3-4 month prognosis, and even without treatment, he lasted for almost 10. Mark and I had just bought our first house in L.A. and he was commuting to Chicago, spending half the time away from home, working feverishly and the other half recovering from travel and having overextended himself.  I called my dad every other day and traveled to NYC to see him and be with family whenever I could but basically had to stay home with our 4 dogs most of the time.

My 3 sisters and mother all lived in or near Manhattan and they met for weekly powwows to discuss my father’s condition, their emotional fallout and to comfort one another. After 6 months of this, in spite of visits, letters and phone calls, I began to feel a bit left out and in need of support for myself, so I began weekly therapy sessions at a hospice group in Pasadena. While I didn’t feel exactly excluded from my family, I did feel alone, especially as my dad lingered on well past his projected expiration date and my sisters and mom became more exhausted by the stresses of caring for him and their own emotions. 2,500 miles away, what could I do? Not much as it turned out. We were all doing the best we could but it was increasingly difficult. At a certain point my therapist suggested I take self-defense classes, to literally protect the boundaries I needed to feel safe.

At first I signed up for a Learning Annex class: Self-Defense for Women. There were 30 of us in the first class, and we got to punch and kick bags and it was even kinda fun! By the 3rd class, though, more than half the students had dropped out, and it was increasingly clear that I was not going to get the empowerment I had come for – not from this instructor! Fortunately a friend shared her experiences with Model Mugging.

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I had to do some research to find them, but it was well worth the effort. In one weekend of intensive instruction, I learned several basic strategies for self-defense, and, most importantly, the attitude that I was worth defending! (as we all are!!)  Knowing that I literally “had it in me” to fight back against physical attack empowered me to defend myself from psychic and emotional attacks; to actually experience how it felt in my body to connect blows, to yell, “NO!” and protect myself. All of the Model Mugging students got what we’d come for – the will to survive and the confidence that we could and would fight back against an aggressor.  It may get a bit complicated when that aggressor is your own flesh and blood, but I think it’s even more essential to maintain boundaries with our loved ones under stressful circumstances – just because you love them and they’re in pain doesn’t give them the right to abuse you!

The final exam at the Learning Annex happened a week after my Model Mugging training, and of the 8 remaining students, I was the only one who was able to successfully escape from the instructor. Even though I was the most out-of-shape, unathletic and oldest student, I was the only one who breathed deeply and verbalized “NO!” as I was striking back, and the only one who actually hurt the instructor enough to make him stop coming after me! (and was he surprised!!?!)

I’ve been very fortunate to have lived in relatively safe neighborhoods most of my life – the only actual physical attack I’ve had to fend off was an unleashed Doberman who wanted a bite of my knee while I was out jogging – and super-loud “NO!” was enough to stop him long enough for me to escape unscathed.

Women are taught to be submissive in our culture – to avoid defending ourselves, which leads to many of us feeling disempowered on more than just the physical front.  I needed reminding on a visceral level that I was worth saving – and to learn that I could muster the power to defend myself.

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learning, self-acceptance

GroupOn, GroupOff

It’s been well established that I LOVE a bargain, so naturally my curiosity is piqued by GroupOn and Living Social offers, which allow people to treat themselves in a fashion they can’t normally afford. Over the years I’ve tried a 2-hr. pool/billiards+drink deal (FUN!), a whole body seaweed wrap (MESSY!), acupuncture, facials, massages, new-to-me restaurants, carpet cleaning services, haircuts, hypnosis, dental cleanings, and I’ve purchased a battery-run skin brush, some Bed-Of-Nails acupressure pillows, gifts for loved ones… you get the picture. A few didn’t work out at all: Biosphere II, a shish-kabob restaurant (I hadn’t bothered to check the Yelp reviews) and the Tequila Factory – WAY the heck out of town on the Native American reservation inside the smoky casino – and unexpectedly closed when we finally got there!

The worst was the Air Duct cleaning offer, where 2 young guys showed up; one who began tramping around the house looking at the ceiling (casing the house??) while the other had me pinned in the kitchen with a bait-&-switch, since he had no intention of providing the service I’d paid for. I felt vulnerable with the dogs penned up across the house in my office and Mark away on business, and truly breathed a sigh of relief when the duo finally departed.  (I was able to get a refund from Living Social but the experience was a bit harrowing.)

One day I decided to treat myself, so I bought a $35 Groupon offer for an ionic foot bath

 

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with reflexology treatment and heaven knows what else. I’d been curious about this procedure since Mark has had such good results with using Kinoki pads every night and Ionic foot baths are supposed to be like Kinoki pads on steroids.

Dee was 10 minutes late for our appointment but then she gave me a complete tour of the facilities. I began to feel a bit hinky about things when she proudly showed off ALL of the “toys” she has for various treatments – from the Chi Machine
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to the SoQi bed
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to the DermaKinetics machine

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to the infra-red sauna…

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gizmo after gizmo, room after room for all the various treatment modalities she espouses. Dee personally provides facials, massages, BioTouch, EFT, ear coning, anti-aging LED light therapy, dermal rolling, aromatherapy, microdermabrasion, micro planing, galvanic current, wraps, peels; you-name-it, she does it!  (Made me think of the old saying, let’s just throw enough $%&T at the wall and maybe something will stick?)

She sat me in an electric massage chair (you know, where bars and rollers in the back move up and down and around), placed an infrared belt on my stomach, gave me a cup of alkalinized water and put my feet in the tub of warm water.  She told me NOT to wiggle my toes so that she could diagnose my ailments from the murky water when we were done. Then she proceeded to educate me about weight loss and why diets don’t work (hint: it’s because you don’t DETOX at the same time, so the toxins have nowhere to go, so you regain the lost weight to contain the toxins, so that your body will stay in “balance.” And all this time I thought it was due to going back to your previous way of eating that had got you fat in the first place?) After 45 minutes or so, the water looked like a very ugly, scummy pond, with slime floating on the top. Dee observed that the GREEN scum indicated that my liver was detoxing and the PURPLE scum had come from my pancreas and the BROWN from my gallbladder.  (I didn’t have the heart to tell her that my gallbladder had been removed 15 years before.)

After cleaning the scum off, my feet got to soak in some nice clean water, got rubbed for 5 minutes each with her specially homemade scrub, and then dried and powdered with her special magic powder.  All this while she explained how I’d need at least 10 sessions more of this treatment, (5 weeks at 2x/week), to see any real change. She also talked about the wonders of ISAGENIX, which I recalled is a MLM (multi-level marketing) diet-shake company.   Hmmmm….

When I got home, I flashed back to an experience I’d had 21 years ago, right after Mark and I moved back to L.A.  We’d met a composer and his wife, who had been inordinately friendly to me – as in, she was my NEW BEST FRIEND!!!  I found out why after meeting with her for what was supposed to be a coffee date but which turned out to be a MLM telephone company meeting 30 miles away with a whole slew of her fellow salespeople.  When I told her that I’d switch to her phone company but had no intention of imposing on my friends and family to get them to do likewise… pffft!  That was the end of our budding friendship!

Dee gave me the exact same vibe.

So – anybody want to hazard a guess on whether I’ll ever return for my much needed, very-expensive detoxing ala dear Dee?

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