Thursday, May 6, 2010

Separating this from that

I suppose I should state my intentions.

My husband (he shall be called "Alaska"), upon reading my first blog entry, said "Aren't you worried people are going to think this is a blog about your high school marching band?" (I wasn't.) But still, I thought if even he was confused after 3.5 years of sharing an NYC life-cubicle with me, I couldn't expect any more of those readers who may only know me from 140-character proclamations, undergrad, or an occasional social encounter.

So why have I invited you here?

There's a Russian folk tale that I originally came across many years ago, through the gorgeously rich storytelling of Clarissa Pinkola Est├ęs. The gist of the story is familiar: the young girl (Vasalisa) is taken captive by an old hag (Baba Yaga), who threatens to kill her unless she completes a series of impossible tasks. A couple of the tasks demanded by Baba Yaga can be boiled down to "separating this from that." Impossible thises from thats. Like, "If you don't separate this massive mound of poppy seeds from that mountain of dirt by tomorrow morning, I will eat you." (Ringing a bell with any lawyers out there? Sorry, low blow. I'm sure your job is great.)

Anyway, I recently realized that I have been separating THIS from THAT for several years now. It started out in a massive mound of "I like music" in a mountain of "I don't want to be a delusional failure and/or a drain on society" and the bottom line is this: I sing, and I write words and music. I can't help it. I can't stop it. When I ignore it, squish it, or stuff it into my trunk and dump it in the East River, it may go silent for a little while but it just keeps coming back.

And so, this past January I finally said, "Uncle." UNCLE! UNCLE! UNCLE! You win. I surrender. I will take the energy I've used attempting to destroy my greatest desires and talents, and I will use it to fuel them instead. I registered for a songwriting course at NYU, finished it off with the first public performance of one of my songs, and I'm in touch with a reasonably priced demo-producer in Nashville about getting some tracks down. I'm having meetings, I'm investigating the process of producing albums, I'm exploring options for all different kinds of lessons, I'm taking gigs on horn, keys, and voice.

So this is where you come in. The most recent realization that I've come to, that took me more than 15 years to get, is this: what I like about music is the people. I don't like being on a stage alone, I like to make music with people! And I don't like stuffing my songs into boxes full of journals, I want to make music for people! And, wow, when you write the word "people" enough times it starts to look like an alien! (Nevermind.)

Back to stating my intentions: despite every effort to the contrary, I am built to sing and write both words and music. Songs have been writing themselves in my head for years. Now I am moving forward to get the words and music out of my head and into the world; I am finding the place where my "deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." (Hat tip to Rachel Zylstra and Paul Rock for those words this week.) I am not sure whether success or failure is the more frightening possibility, but I now know and (am beginning to) accept that it doesn't matter.

And, PSA, knowing is half the battle.


  1. You've done the right thing: nothing on earth is more fun than the collaborative process of writing songs and hearing them performed. And, just because it is so much fun, people go on doing it forever - you don't get too many 90 year old dancers (well okay, Merce Cunningham) but you don't have to go too far to find ancient lyricists, composers and singers. Because nobody ever, ever wants to stop - and as addictions go, it's not half bad!

  2. Maybe take a look at The Happiness Project, if you haven't already. It's not directly on point, but it's a quick read - and it may give you some ideas and encouragement in this quest of turning dreams into reality. AND it's available to be borrowed from the Brooklyn Public Library. How cool is that? ;)