(Wo)Man in the Mirror

There are many things I miss about living in NYC. One of those things is my commute. That may sound strange, especially in the car culture of North East Ohio. You have to remember, NYC is not a car culture — far from it. My commute was by bus, subway, or commuter train, and I was able to get a lot done. Over the years I got really good at putting on a full face of make up. I also graded a ton of papers, wrote a lot, studied a lot of scores, and knitted several hats and scarves. In fact, there were times when other folks commuting on a schedule similar to mine would comment on the progress of my knitting. Commuting was not wasted time, it was some of the most productive time of my day.

Now commuting is very different. I can’t knit and drive. I can’t read or grade papers and drive. While I’ve seen other drivers doing it, I can’t put on make up and drive (seriously, ladies?). The only thing I can do to calm my nerves and keep my road rage at bay is to listen to music. My iPod has become my co-pilot.

I have extremely eclectic taste in music. As a classically trained performing musician, I am extremely fond of symphonies, concertos, and chamber music. I also like music from around the world: Irish fiddle, Klezmer, Russian Orthodox church music, to name a few. I love popular music: everything from the show tunes of Gershwin, Porter, and Sondheim to the fantastically hip fusion of the Dave Matthews Band. Music is my life’s blood, my nourishment, and (in some ways) my religion. Nothing else (legal) in the world can transport so many people to so many different places and express everything from joy to despair. I consider myself blessed to be a musician. It has been a gift in my life.

So, you can imagine that my car rides are full of music. I tend to go on binges. I wore a grove in my Adele cd, 21. Then I played The Cars to death (“Here she comes again…”). The Police (“Don’t Stand So Close to Me”), Sting (“Seven Days is all she wrote”), and now my latest earwig — Michael Jackson. Michael takes me right back to my childhood, back to The Jackson 5 on television in those bell bottoms and news boy hats. Michael Jackson was this amazing little kid who could out sing and out dance all of his brothers. He was a star who stood out, even among the immense talent his brothers brought to the table. Michael was everything. His fans got to watch him grow up before their very eyes. He went from I’ll Be There (“Just look over your shoulders, honey”) to Dancin’ Machine — and THE ROBOT! And then came the solo albums, especially the early collaborations with Quincy Jones. Off the Wall, Thriller, Bad — works of pure artistic pop genius. That’s what I listen to in my car these days. It makes dealing with the insanity of driving in North East Ohio tolerable, but only barely.

There are very few songs I skip, especially on Thriller. Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’, Thriller, Beat It, Billie Jean, Human Nature, Pretty Young Thing (I will NOT make an ironic comment here, no matter how sorely I may be tempted…). I could hear them 100 times each today and still be dying to hear them again tomorrow morning. I was less familiar with Bad, which came out when I was in a decidedly anti-Michael Jackson phase (ill conceived, I know), but I’ve gotten to know that album better over the last few years. Of all the songs, my favorite — by a long shot — is Man In The Mirror.

I’m gonna make a change
For once in my life
Gonna feel real good, gonna make a difference
Gonna make it right

It starts so simply. You may not even know what the song’s about until the second part of the verse when he explicitly talks about the homeless. But that opening hooks you. “I’m gonna make a change” — who doesn’t relate to that? How does that change happen? He tells you: “That’s why I’m starting with me. I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways. No message could’ve been any clearer: if you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change.”

It’s so damn simple. I’ve been surrounded by this concept for years. Oberlin had a slogan that I love: “Think one person can change the world? So do we.” The Serenity Prayer talks about change: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” “It’s been a long time coming, but I know a change gonna come.” Change is hard, but change is inevitable. The hardest part is figuring out what needs to change, and then changing.

Even at the beginning of Joss Stone’s album, “Introducing Joss Stone” (which I had the pleasure of playing on), Vinny Jones talks about change: “I see change, I embody change… but the truth is, you gotta have the balls to change.”

In the last six years, change has played a pivotal role in my family’s life. We picked up and moved from NYC to Oberlin, OH, where my husband changed jobs and my kids changed schools. My life in particular has been marked by change — my hair, my weight, my career, my sobriety. At 40, I walked away from life as I knew it into an unknown life that I could not control. Change was, as I said before, inevitable.

Today, I look at the woman in the mirror and I ask her to change her ways. I want to make the world a better place, and I know it starts with me. I do believe one person can change the world. I do believe that change begins with each man and woman looking in the mirror every morning. We each need to ask the person in the mirror to make a change today. That’s the only way we will ever fix this broken world and get anywhere near where humanity should be.

The end of the song is incredibly emotional for me. The gospel choir implores us, “Yeah, make that change!” as Michael riffs: “You got to start with yourself, brother”, “gotta make that change today”, and “you got to stand up and lift yourself up”. By the song’s end, I am fired up and ready to be that force for positive change in the world. I am inspired. I am lifted up. I am ready to make that change.

At those moments, I don’t miss my old commute quite as much. I’d look like a lunatic singing out loud with this song on the subway. In my car, I don’t care who sees me. What’s most important is that I get inspired to go in to work and be that change. That’s what looking in that mirror does for me.

Like Michael says at the very end of the song: “Make that change.”

I believe we all can.

Advertisement

Micro-aggressions

“But, I don’t think of you as being Black. You’re just Lisa!”

Yes. That’s been said to me, more than once by more than one person. And I’m supposed to smile and let it go. Heaven forbid I verbally challenge someone who is already challenged by my very existence. I don’t fit their understanding of what it means (to them) to be… you fill in the blank, so I’d better start explaining myself in a hurry. It is imperative that I make sense to them or else they won’t know what to do or say.

That simple phrase, “I don’t think of you as (again, fill in the blank)”, is not a compliment. Do you not think of me as Black because you like me but you don’t like Black people? Do I not look or act like the Black people you’re familiar with (like the criminals, gangsters, rappers, or welfare queens portrayed in the media)? Are you afraid that knowing me will cause you to have to readjust the way you see the world? Saying that you don’t think of me as Black, or anything else that makes you uncomfortable, says less about me and more about you. It tells me you live in a very insular world that doesn’t include people that aren’t like you. It tells me you’re afraid of certain groups of people. It tells me that you enjoy a certain feeling of superiority because you aren’t like “those people”. It tells me that you are not only ignorant, you are willfully ignorant. You don’t get it and you are totally okay with not getting it.

It also tells me that I’m the one who has to change or conform in order to be okay with you.

Why? Is that fair? I have to contract myself into a little box rather than your having to expand your understanding to get me, and that’s okay?

I’m not claiming to be perfect, not by a long shot. I have character flaws that are mine to deal with, but they come from my being human and not from my being Black, female, etc. There’s stuff I need to improve — just like there’s stuff you need to improve. We are connected by our humanity. In that, we are the same.

Perhaps it is naive of me to believe that the world is a better place because we are all different. I for one can’t imagine a world that is all one race, one gender, one religion. I love this beautiful world of ours because it is a many colored quilt. We are better for our differences, not worse. The variety within human existence should serve to broaden our acceptance and understanding, not to narrow it. I believe we are all God’s children. Perhaps we don’t all understand each other, but God understands us more deeply than we know ourselves. He draws no comparisons and sees no distinctions. He loves us perfectly and accepts us completely. We have much to learn from that example.

So why can’t we accept each other as we are? How can one group of people justify calling themselves correct and condemn everyone else to either a life of conformity or exile? Who are we to do that? It’s not a question of right or wrong, moral or immoral. It’s about being secure enough in ourselves to believe that there’s room for many points of view. It’s about not being threatened by the “other”.

When you tell me you don’t think of me as being Black, you deny a huge part of who I am. I am a Black woman raised by Black people. My experience of life has not been one of membership in a privileged majority. Even the most economically challenged and uneducated White person can enjoy the privilege of being White, while there are Black men with PhDs who still can’t get a cab in NYC or face violence or death at the hands of the police. Don’t get it twisted: I am a highly educated person, trained to play an instrument at a level achieved by only a very small percentage of the population. Yes, I speak like an educated person and not in some stereotype of Ebonics that you’ve seen on TV. As a Black woman, I have learned to live in and navigate the world of the so-called majority. As comic Dave Chappelle says, all Black people are fluent in two languages: hood and job interview. I am of two worlds by necessity. But I am a product of the people and culture that nurtured me.

It is amusing to me that folks think that I am some sort of anomaly. Nope. There are tons of other folks like me, more than you would think. We read Shakespeare and enjoy the creative and scientific disciplines, but we also enjoy the ways and traditions of our people. I love Beethoven and Brahms and Bach, but I also really love Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” and Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power”. I have a Masters degree from Juilliard, but I can still appreciate the creative artistry of Usher, Pharrell, and Beyonce. I love ballet. I love Klezmer. I love African dance. I love the music, art, and scholarship of the whole world because I am a citizen of the world. My vision is broad and all encompassing and none of it frightens or threatens me.

I only fear evil, and that can be found anywhere at any time. There is no one culture or tradition with a monopoly on evil.

So, don’t tell me you don’t think of me as Black. It only makes you look bad. Expand the way you think to include all that you don’t understand. Believe in people, not in stereotypes. Look for the good in everyone, but don’t look for everyone to be like you in order to be good. Embrace me as your sister and don’t ask me to be anyone other than who I am. Don’t try to “figure me out”. Just accept me and love me. It’s just that simple.

Mary, Michael, and Edith

Last night, I did not do a blog entry because I was completely exhausted and in desperate need of sleep. An email I got late last night kept me from getting that sleep, unfortunately. I’m not sure this entry will be in English or gibberish, but I’ll give it a shot.

This is what I would have written last night:

Today (11/5/14) is my aunt Mary Ann’s birthday. Even though I call her my aunt, Mary Ann and I have always been more like sisters than aunt and niece. My grandmother (who isn’t even biologically my grandmother, but that’s a REALLY big and complicated story!) adopted Mary Ann when she was a baby. Mary Ann was the child of my grandmother’s niece (confused yet?) who was unable to care for a baby at the time. So, Mary Ann joined the family as younger sister to my dad (20 years older) and my uncle Vincent (9 years older). I asked her once when I was about 4 or so if I should call her “aunt”. At 13, she shut me down pretty quickly. Mary Ann was an aunt, but not an aunt — a relative, but not a relative. Despite what the relationship looked like “on paper”, we maintained a really close bond that is still going strong.

As a small child, I thought that Mary Ann was the most beautiful girl in the world. Anyone from a black (yeah, I still say black, because African American is so awkward sometimes) family knows that there are often issues surrounding color that have their roots in slavery’s “house nigger” and “field nigger” divide. (N.B. If you are bothered by the word nigger, please understand that its use is not the same for blacks and non-blacks. That is a conversation for another time, but it is a word that will appear within a certain context in my writings from time to time. It is not meant to shock or cause debate. Please read everything rather than being repulsed by a single word.) I was a light skinned kid which brought with it the taunts of so-called friends and family alike: lite brite, high yellow, uppity, etc. Mary Ann is the most luscious shade of dark chocolate. I wanted that gorgeous dark skin! My family, on the other hand, made sure to remind her every day that she was ugly and unworthy because she was dark. Light skin and “good” hair (holy shit, I HATE that term!) made me the favored child. Mary Ann, by all rights, should have hated my guts. Instead, she loved and cherished me like no one else in our family did. We shared a bond no one else understood, and there was a lot of time and energy put into breaking it.

Epic. Fail.

I once alluded to the fact that I saw more violence in a day than Law & Order showed in an entire season. It’s true. A lot of that violence was right in my own home. I’d rather not share too much about that out of respect for my relatives, but I will say that an inordinately high percentage of that violence was directed toward Mary Ann. I used to cry when I heard, or sometimes saw, Mary Ann get her ass beat. Even after it was over, I was an inconsolable mess. How could anyone want to hurt my beautiful beloved Mary Ann? What could possibly deserve such a beating?

So, even after being beaten half to death, Mary Ann would come and comfort me. She would do the funniest (I mean, really damn funny!) impression of Lily Tomlin’s character Edith Adams (I’m showing my age now… who remembers Edith Adams?). She would start in on that impression and slowly my tears would fade into peals of laughter. Without fail. No one made me laugh like Mary Ann. I wanted to be just like her.

My family did NOT want me to be anything like her. She was demonized by them for reasons I really can’t understand, even 40 years later. This is the kind of sick family pathology that psychologists get their PhDs on. I wish someone would explain this crap to me.

Some of my absolute favorite memories of Mary Ann involve music and dancing. She had an amazing singing voice and she could dance like someone on the Soul Train line (OMG, Soul Train… a moment of silence for the late great Don Cornelius, please). My Uncle Vincent was also an amazing dancer. If I can dance at all (which lots of folks say I can), it’s because I spent hours in rapt awe watching these two tear up the dance floor. They were amazing and inspiring, and these were the bright spots in a very scary and unsure childhood. These are the moments I hang on to.

I remember when Michael Jackson (another moment of silence, please) released his first solo album, Off the Wall. Mary Ann ran out to get a copy. She loved Michael Jackson! They were only about a year apart in age, so she was convinced they’d be married one day (no snide comments, okay…?). I ran downstairs to join her in the living room at my grandma’s house. There was a big old stereo console in one corner, more furniture than sound equipment as we think of it these days. I remember the album cover. I remember the centerfold. I remember the socks! I remember the sound as the needle touched the vinyl for the very first time and my life and hers were never the same. C’mon, y’all. Don’t act like you don’t know what I mean. You remember what the first track on that album is…

Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough! The force has got a lot of power. It makes me feel like… OOH!

To this day, I can’t hear that song without remembering the ecstatic dance Mary Ann did that very first time she heard it. I have always maintained that there are a few absolutely perfect songs in the world: Something, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Shout, Flashlight (y’all feel me, right?). Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough is at the top of that list. Michael’s vocals and Quincy Jones’ production? Shut the front door! That shit is relevant, funky, and fabulous to this day — almost 40 years later. I dare you to find better arrangements than Quincy’s on that album and the two he did with Michael after that.

Go ahead. I’ll wait…

I didn’t think so.

So, flash forward to June 2009 when Michael’s great talent faded into his untimely death (I still get choked up thinking about that day). The very minute I heard the news, who did I call? Yep, you can probably guess that my Mary Ann got the first call. We shared that tragedy together and reminisced about all those dance sessions in Grandma’s living room, where we really did wear a groove in the floor. We talked about the late 70s and what life was like before Mary Ann had my cousin Vincent and moved out of my Grandma’s house. Once she was gone, life was harder for me. There was no longer that bright beacon of love and hope. My Mary Ann had moved on, gotten married to her husband James (an amazing man who loves her down to the ground), and had begun a family of her own.

Lots of life has happened since then. “Little Vincent”, who my husband once carried on his back across Tappan Square here in Oberlin, is now nearly 36 years old and big and strong enough to almost carry my husband! My cousin Melissa is nearly 30. I’ve been married close to 23 years and my kids are inching up on 17 and 12. Grandma’s gone now. So’s my dad. Mary Ann and her family are pretty much my last connections to my childhood home in North Philly. Little Lisa is little no more. I’m about to celebrate my 25th college reunion.

Time has flown. I’m edging up on 50 and Mary Ann on 60. Where did those years go?

No matter where they went or what happened in between then and now, Mary Ann still makes me laugh like no one else. I still think she is one of the most beautiful women in the world. Period. She’s built like an African fertility goddess, for crying out loud! And that skin is still the deepest, darkest chocolate. She still looks the same after all these years, and she says I do too (black don’t crack, honey…). We are still like sisters, and she’ll still do her Edith Adams impression for me if I ask her to.

On your birthday, my most marvelous Mary Ann, I want to wish you many more years of happiness and joy, and in the words of Mr. Don Cornelius himself — peace, love, and SOUL. I hope we grow old and keep keeping it real together for a long time to come. I will always love you. Always.

Taking it to the Woodshed

I first heard the term “woodshed” with regard to music when I was about 11.  For those who don’t know, woodshedding a piece of music means to practice it and learn it.  Here in Oberlin, the Woodshed is the name of a local music studio where Kevin Jones and Aidan Plank teach music lessons, host jam sessions, and provide access to musical education and performances to the community.  Many kids in the area come to the Woodshed to study guitar, banjo, bass guitar, drums, and keyboards among other instruments (I once saw a friend of mine taking a dulcimer lesson!).  Even adults in Oberlin come to the Woodshed to take lessons and (perhaps) realize long held dreams of playing like a pop star.  Clearly, the Woodshed is a community staple and asset, giving so much to so many.

Why, you may ask, am I providing the Woodshed with such glowing praise and free publicity?  It’s simple, really.  My son takes lessons from Kevin Jones, and today was my little man’s first recital.  While most folks wouldn’t consider this a reason to write a blog entry, I do.

My son Iain is autistic, as I have shared in previous blog entries.  Iain was diagnosed with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) at age 5, after having been evaluated as a child with PDD-NOS (pervasive developmental disorder — not otherwise specified) at age 3.  He has been evaluated and re-evaluated many times over the years.  We have told many things about what Iain’s limitations are and what he would never do.  We have been encouraged to “mourn” the child we thought we had.  We were told our son would never be what folks consider “normal”.  Essentially, we were encouraged to give up on Iain and treat him like an invalid.

I wasn’t buying it.  These psychologists and neurologists may know about autism, but they did not know my son.  I knew him from the beginning of his life, and I had seen him grow and develop like any neuro-typical child until he was two and a half.  Right around that time, Iain’s development slowed down and he began to have trouble focusing and making eye contact.  While he never regressed, it was apparent that something was going on that needed medical attention.  John and I endured years of not knowing exactly what what was happening with our son, fearing that he would be lost to us forever and locked in his own world.  We spent hours every week dealing with the NYC Board of Education and its bureaucratic bullshit — just to get our son into kindergarten.  In New York, Iain would have been doomed to an education that was spent segregated from neuro-typical students.  He would have been put together with other students (almost exclusively all male) with the same communication impairments as him.  There would have been no contact with kids who not just like him, so there would be no true glimpse into the “real world” for him.

While I was afraid of how our move to Ohio would effect him, Iain was able to go to “regular” school for the first time.  He has been mainstreamed since entering kindergarten.  The school district provides him with a paraprofessional to help him negotiate his way through the school day, and with small group instruction in reading and math.  In this atmosphere, included with all the other kids, Iain has thrived and grown.  He is able to do what all the other kids do.  Yes, he is different.  Iain sees the world in his own unique way, but he is funny, loving, and sweet.  He has friends.  He is a cub scout.  He swims and rides horses, and he loves art.

About 15 months ago, Iain asked for drum lessons.  I was worried about his ability to focus and commit to music as a discipline.  Focus is a big challenge for him, and I was torn between hoping music lessons would help and worrying that he wouldn’t be able to do them.  A close friend of mine studies with Kevin, as does his son.  I met Kevin and spoke with him about Iain’s special needs.  Kevin seemed up to the challenge and we started the lessons in June of 2011.

As always, I worried about Iain and how he was doing.  Something inside me has always worried that folks would treat him like he was slow or stupid.  I have always worried about whether or not he was in the realm of “normal” like the other kids.  Perhaps this is not healthy for me or for Iain, but I truly believe that he will live up or down to whatever is expected of him.  If he fails, fine.  I’ll help him learn to accept failure.  But he’ll never know what he’s capable of if folks pity the handicapped kid rather than pushing the kid who’s different.  So I push him.  Hard.  He’s never failed to amaze me with his intelligence and talent.

Kevin pushes Iain too, and he pushes me.  Kevin pushes me to let Iain go and do things for himself.  He has very kindly and gently asked me to back off of my vigilence and let him be Iain’s teacher.  As a teacher myself, I know he’s right.  As a tiger mom, I needed to hear him tell me it was okay to let my baby go.  So I watch Kevin work with my son, and I watch the magic happen.  Kevin is so patient, but firm at the same time.  He holds Iain to a high standard while still acknowledging his quirks.  He once took away Iain’s favorite part of the lesson — playing the drums — because Iain had been so unfocused and uncooperative during the keyboard portion of the lesson.  I didn’t mind at all.  It showed me the respect Kevin had for my son.  He knew Iain could do better and he chose to discipline him rather than coddle him.  He made Iain deal with the consequences of his actions like any good teacher would do.  While this might have angered another parent, it couldn’t have made me happier.  Kevin saw my son, not his handicaps or differences.  He saw what I saw and he challenged my boy.  The next week, Iain snapped to it.  Mission accomplished.

Today, Iain got up on stage at the Woodshed and played his first recital.  He paid attention, focused, and performed admirably at the drumset.  As I stood there taking a video, my heart swelled with pride.  There was my boy doing something I’d been told he wouldn’t do.  He was, once again, defying the odds and proving wrong every naysayer who’d written him off.  I fought back tears as I watched my baby have yet another victory over the disorder he has that doesn’t have him.  He was right there in the moment with Kevin — smiling, laughing, and having a great time.  He was not only in the world with the rest of us, he was giving us all something that made our world a little brighter.  He was sharing his talent and hard work with us.

At the end, he clearly enjoyed the applause.  He even took a bow — the cutest one I’d ever seen.  He left the stage beaming.  John, Imani, and I were all proud of him, but (more importantly) he was proud of himself.  Perhaps no one else in the room knew how huge this was for Iain, but John and I knew.  We truly knew how special this was.

I cannot thank Kevin enough for his patience and kindness toward my son.  The Woodshed is a blessing in the lives of so many folks because of what Kevin gives to all of his students.  We are grateful for the special blessing it is in our Iain’s life.  We are happy to take it to the Woodshed, week after week, and to get better and better every day.

Fixing a Hole

One of my all time favorite Beatles songs is “Fixing a Hole” from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  I am especially fond of the lyric, “I’m taking the time for a number of things that weren’t important yesterday.”  It is such a hopeful and forward thinking line implying that there is always tomorrow, always another chance to grow and change.  It is high time I took some time for things that weren’t important yesterday.

Over the last three months, I’ve gone from a really fit and happy person, to a flabbier version of myself.  I’ve gained more than 10 pounds of the 40-odd I’d lost since moving here.  I’ve stopped exercising on a consistent basis, and that has made all the difference.  I’ve also started eating far too much and too many of the wrong foods.  I need to set a better example for my kids, but — more importantly — I need to go back to the level of care that I took of myself, for myself.  Somewhere in the mix of the last 3 months, I lost my healthy focus on me.  It’s not about narcissism or being selfish or self centered.  It’s about loving me first so that I have something to give others.  I need to return to that.

It couldn’t hurt my attitude any to do that.  Lately, I’ve been in a funk that I’ve tried like hell to drag myself out of.  I’ve been stressed out about all sorts of things going on, and annoyed as hell about every little thing.  Mind you, sometimes I’m totally justified in being annoyed — like when my son removes all of the cords plugged into the power strip in the office just so he can take the netbook into the living room, or when my adolescent daughter expects me to read her mind and know things she hasn’t told me.  Being a mom is stressful under the best of circumstances.  From my previous posts one can deduce that our situation is not always the best.  Sometimes I forget what a blessing my kids are and I get really pissed.  I know I’m neither the first nor the only mama to do that, but I hate it when I do.

Like many with addictive personalities, I sometimes lose sight of the joy in front of me to pursue the adventures I can only imagine.  In short, I forget to stop and smell the roses.  I miss my long runs and the precious solitude they provided.  I could turn my attention away from my daily stresses toward the beautiful scenery around me: fields of corn and soybeans, bright sunshine or light snow, wood smoke or dewy flowers.  I miss the sun on my back in good weather, and the snowflakes plastered to my eyebrows and eyelashes during the picturesque Oberlin winters.  I miss taking the spin classes my friend Stori leads.  No one kicks my ass like her!  I miss swimming laps, trying my best to get stronger and improve my technique.  I swam a mile once.  I didn’t even realize that was an accomplishment until I told folks I’d done it.  I need to get back to those simple pleasures in my life.

I miss the days when I could practice 5 or 6 hours a day.  I loved practicing that much and hearing the results.  I discovered so much about myself as a musician in those long practice sessions.  I was transported to another place.  It was heavenly.

Then again, there’s always this blog.  I love to write and this blog provided me with the opportunity to do that.  Mostly, I do it for me, but I do enjoy getting feedback from friends.  What I really love is knowing that I’ve written something that resonates with other folks.  I’ve worn many hats in my life: daughter, student, musician, performer, teacher, wife, lover, mother… whew!  And life’s not even close to being over — I hope.  There’s so much left I want to do, and I want to put it all in writing.

So here I am taking stock again.  Step 10.  Who am I?  What to I believe?  What kind of woman do I want to be?  Who do the people around me think I am?

“There are times when all the world’s asleep, the questions run so deep for such a simple man.  Won’t you please tell me what we’ve learned?  I know it sounds absurd.  Please, tell me who I am?

Supertramp, from the Logical Song.

Who do I want others to see?  The best Lisa I can be.  I am not, nor will I ever be, perfect.  I don’t want to be.  I want to love and be loved.  I want to be forgiven when I’m wrong.  I want to do for others and still do things for me.  I want to live.  I am alive and happy to be alive.

I want to smell every flower and enjoy every moment.  I’m taking the time for a number of things that weren’t important yesterday.  I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in and stops my mind from wandering where it will go.  That hole is getting smaller with every workout I get through, every note I play, and every word I type.

Getting so much better all the time 🙂

Why Mama Cries

Dear Baby Girl and Little Man,

Mama loves you so much.  I remember the two days I gave birth with great joy and happiness.  You two are my greatest works of art, my greatest moments of collaboration with God.  How else could I have created such amazing people!  What blessings you are!

Yes, I love you and I marvel at how you grow and change every day.  You are both so big now that it is almost impossible to imagine that you both began your lives inside my body.  It is so wonderful to see you spreading your wings and going out into the world, to see you develop your talents and interests.  I am so proud of both of you.

So, you may ask, why does Mama cry?

I cry because I will have no more babies.  That time is finished for me.  I loved having the two of you and I had hoped for more babies, but it was not to be.  As you grow and become your own people, I know that you will eventually leave our house to make your own way in the world.  As I was for you in the very beginning, I hope you will always know that I am your home, your comfort, and your refuge.  I am so glad that both of you still love to cuddle up on the sofa with me, and I hope you will for a long time to come.

I cry because you are going through challenges in life and I can’t take away the pain you feel.  Every tear you cry in anguish rips my heart out.  I want to stop whatever it is that’s hurting you, and I know that I can’t.  I’m powerless to help you with so many things, things you must go through to become strong adults.  I want to tell you that things will not always be this way and that you are tough and will survive.  I can see in your eyes the disbelief and skepticism.  Trust me, my loves, I have been where you are and I have cried those same tears of pain and anguish.  Life changes, and with those changes come new challenges that will make these seem small in comparison.  I hope that you know, deep in your hearts, that I will love you and be here for you no matter what may come — no matter what mistakes you make, or failures you face.  Your friends may come and go, but Mama will never leave you.  Mama never, ever let you fall.

I cry because I’m proud of you.  I cry because you are both so beautiful, inside and out.  I cry when you achieve things you’ve worked hard for.  I cry for you, my Little Man, because I was told by doctors and specialists that you would never do so many things.  I never believed it.  They did not know you like I do.  I know the secret hearts of both of my children.  I know your bright lights and darkest corners.  I know your fears and your dreams.  I know you may feel like you will crumble under the weight of the world, but I know you are fighters — and champions!  Every day you step out into the world and give your best effort, you win.  The only way to lose is not to play.

I cry because I miss the little things you used to do.  I cry because I know the things you do now will pass.  I cry because sometimes I am overwhelmed by the beauty of what you are and the promise of what you’ll become.  I cry tears of joy and tears of pain, tears of sacrifice and tears of selfless giving, tears of understanding and tears of frustration — and I wouldn’t trade a tear for a life without you both.  No matter what challenges you’ve brought to my life, I cannot imagine life without you.  The two of you made your Daddy and me a family, and you made our house a home.  I would not be the woman I am today if I weren’t your Mama.

Ever since you first spoke that simple word, Baby Girl, Mama has been the most beautiful word in the world to me.  It is the sweetest music to my ears.  Being your Mama is the one thing in the world I’m most proud of.  I can fail at everything else, but I will have lived a meaningful life if I succeed at loving you and raising you the best way I can.  I have no greater gift or more important job.  Everything else is a bonus.

If you see me cry again, don’t ask why.  Just know that I love you more than life itself, and that I look forward to crying at your graduations, weddings, etc. — and I look forward to the day you have kids of your own and can truly understand why I cry.  Then we can cry together because we share the secret joys and sorrows of parenthood.  I can’t wait for that day, but don’t hurry.  There’s plenty of time for that.

My babies, I love you so much.  You are worth every tear.

All my love,

Mama

Virgin Voyage!

Good evening!  This is my first attempt at blogging.  I’m not sure anyone will actually want to read what I write, but I wanted a place to put the detritus in my head — somewhere other than my trusty Facebook page.

I have been an Ohioan for 3 1/2 years now.  I’m slowly getting used to it, though I doubt that I will ever get over leaving the east coast.  I miss NYC terribly, but I know that coming to Ohio was the best move for my family.  My career is slowly making its way off the ground.  I’m teaching a lot and playing more and more the longer I’m here and the more folks I get to meet.  I will say this: folks in the music business here are really friendly and welcoming, which is not the experience I always had in New York.  The business in NYC is so tight and competitive.  Here, there is less to do and fewer opportunities for work, but folks are still always happy to see a new face.

Last night, I got to play a concert with Akron Symphony.  I had a lovely stand partner and the conductor was pretty good too.  It was a lovely experience (except for the late night drives back home to Oberlin from Akron!).  I hope that things will continue to pick up and that I can make more of a career/life for myself here.

At the beginning of our concert, we played Barber’s Adagio (commonly known as Adagio for Strings).  That piece never fails to move me.  There is a tremendous sense of longing, loneliness, pain, tenderness…  I understand it far better at (nearly) 44 than I did when I first heard it as a teenager.  Several of the pieces I’ve loved all my life hold an even more special meaning for me now that I’m older — and hopefully wiser!  Music has always been my outlet, my other language.  Music expressed for me the things I could not say and the pain I couldn’t share.  Music was my refuge and my strength.  It is still, but the stakes are somewhat higher now.

Today, in the car, I heard the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.  The words moved me to tears right then and there, even though I’ve played the piece hundreds of times!  My German is non-existent, but I know that Schiller wrote some of the most wonderful imagery of brotherhood and divine love — “this kiss is for all the world”.  Maybe it’s hormones, or lack of sleep this week (“it must be the heat, or some rare disease — la la la — or too much to eat, or maybe it’s fleas!”), but I find that I am susceptible to crying at the beauty of everything around me, from birds in flight overhead, to the sight of my children’s beautiful faces.  I’m learning to be thankful for everything around me and to enjoy each moment.  I thank God that I learned to do that now, rather than at the end of my life when it is nearly too late.

There’s hope for this sentimental old cynic yet, I think.  I hope so anyway…

That’s enough for a first entry, I think.  I hope to write more every day, but I make no promises.  There’s so much to write about: food, music, marriage, motherhood, running, aging, friendship, addiction, fear, loss…  The list is so long!  With all that to choose from, I hope I can write things that are interesting, entertaining, funny, tragic, and generally good to read.  I hope I can make someone smile, or help someone in need.  I just want to write.  I’ve always just wanted to write.

Let the games begin!