Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Identity crisis

I woke up yesterday morning (yes, it was really still morning!) to the news that I am not who I thought I was.

Which is kind of a strange place to be, really.  You construct all the stories about who you are around the stories you've been given.  So when you learn that the stories you've been given weren't true, what happens to your stories?

Now... anyone who knows me is already aware of just how much of my early life was based upon stories that turned out to be brilliantly-woven lies, and I've spent the latter half of my life trying to dig myself out from under all the B.S. that had been piled up on top of me.  So you're probably asking yourselves now: "why is she surprised?  Doesn't she do this all the time?  What's the difference?"

Well, the difference is that this wasn't really a lie -- just misinformation, or misinterpretation.  And the new story, the truth, is backed up by science.  Genetic testing, to be exact.

You see, my mother was adopted.  And while she has never particularly wished to open up the kettle of possibly-stinky fish of meeting her birth mother, not knowing anything about her ancestry or family health history has left a considerably large hole in her personal story.

It doesn't help that my mother was adopted by a Tyrannical Nutbar.  (No, that's not a clinical definition, but I'm sure 9 out of 10 clinicians would agree with my diagnosis!)  The Children's Aid must have been desperate for adoptive parents at the time, because I cannot see anyone honestly believing my grandmother had a nurturing bone in her body.  (While I may complain about my mother's own severe lack of parenting skills, she certainly came a long way from her own upbringing, I'll give her that!  Probably via her Dad, who was a very warm and caring person, but couldn't hold his own against the Tyrannical Nutbar he married, and neither divorce nor murder were legal in those days.)

So when my mother, at age four, arrived in the home of the Tyrannical Nutbar, she had to change her name, sever all ties with the foster family she adored, and was not even allowed to talk about her previous foster families.  A few years later, my mother unknowingly came across her adoption papers -- Gramma ripped them out of her hands before the information could even register, and destroyed all the copies.  My mother's history was permanently erased.

Fast forward to her marrying into a family of avid genealogists (and a smattering of Tyrannical Nutbars as well) who could trace all the generations back to Bonnie Prince Charlie, and she truly became the Mystery Meat.  And of course everyone had their own theories of where she "must" be from.  Her almond eyes, her olive-y skin, her high cheekbones -- all these became "proof" of whatever exotic tale someone felt like coming up with.

In the early '90s, once she had severed all ties with the Tyrannical Nutbar for once and for all, Mom decided to see if she could get a little more information about who she was and where she came from.  There wasn't much in the records -- certainly none of the health information she really wanted -- but she did learn her mother's name, as well as her own (Carolyn Louise), that she had a younger sister still living with the mother at that time (she had actually been given up so the mother could look after the cute new baby -- charming, eh?), and they both lived with the grandmother.  The father was not named, but was listed as living locally, in good health and a Native Canadian.

So... we had a tiny bit of information.  Not much to go on, but... we had an area of the province and a bit of ancestry.  I went and did a bunch of research on what Native populations were concentrated in the area, and searched for physical similarities.  When my sister went up to NWT for a research project she was thrilled to discover that her "turtle nose", which nobody had ever been able to place, was an Inuit nose, and a beautiful one at that.

So... we must be Inuit!  Silly 1940s CAS workers, they couldn't tell the difference between Innu and Inuit, obviously...  We were obviously 1/4 Native, with at least 1/8 being ever so obviously Inuit.  Of course, upon knowing this information, our "Native" friends saw the resemblances, took us under their wings, and shared their stories.

This discovery also started to make a number of other things clear.  Like: why the Tyrannical Nutbar forbade my mother from using red crayons.  After all, Gramma was also a fierce racist (she would get off the elevator when the black university professor would come on, because she didn't want him to rape her and chop her up into pieces and hide her in the trunk of her car like he'd done to that other woman -- when the police discovered it was a young white guy who did all that, she simply left out the last part of that sentence), and there was nothing she hated more than those redskins.  (Other than the brownskins or yellowskins or... anyone other than United Empire Loyalists, basically.)  Her freaking out over Mom's passion for horses (all those Indians ride horses, right?) and insistence that she only ride English saddle.  Her unexplained joy when my hair came in curly.  And my sister's came in blonde.

Our story was finally complete.  We had a full story, which we were happy to share, finally, with anyone who asked.

We all build our stories -- and other people's stories -- on the stories we've been given.

Last month, Mom sent a blood sample to a company in the US that will test your DNA and give you a full report of the genetic markers present -- giving a wealth of information about health history and possibilities, as well as pinpointing your DNA history, i.e., who your ancestors are.  Depending on the population, and how isolated they may or may not have been, they can trace some people back to particular villages, depending on the genetic markers found.  Mom very much wanted to have a better picture of her health and what to look out for in her aging years -- but she was also hoping (or maybe I'm just projecting) to be able to pinpoint which Native population she belonged to.

Her results came yesterday morning.  She was like a kid in a candy store, finally having the information she'd longed for for decades upon decades.  She was so excited, this former English teacher forgot her spelling, and hurriedly typed away at me about the discoveries about her gnome history.

Gnome history?!?!?  You mean genetic testing has proven we're descended from a hitherto-thought-to-be-mythical species of grumpy little people?  Should I get a pointy hat?  No wonder I like the colour red and goose-down pillows and get crabby when people walk across my bridge!

Oh... no... genome history.  We're not Gnomes.  Damn...

As it turns out, though, we're not Native North Americans, either.  Not one single genetic marker to anchor us to North America, let alone a particular Native population.

So... I guess those 1940s CAS workers meant "native" as in: his parents had been born here; not as in: traceable back for many generations.  Of course, one line was traceable back to the super-early settlers of Newfoundland, so perhaps the CAS workers mistook that population for Native?  Who knows... maybe the birth mother wasn't sure who the father was and just took her best guess.  Back to Mystery Meat (excuse the raunchy pun!).

So the cheekbones and eyes that my friends alternately swore were Nish or Innu, and the extra layer of belly fat that I blamed on my Inuit genes (they actually have an extra layer written in to their genetic code) have nothing to do with this land whatsoever.  I ain't from around here.

My mother's ancestry comes almost completely from the Basques of north-central Spain and south-western France.  It was a mountainous region (west end of the Pyrenees and stretching down to the coast of Biscay) and cut off from the effects of all the other migrations, so has remained fairly insular genetically.  It is one of the oldest peoples of Europe -- originally pastoral in the mountainous terrain, but then they became seafaring as they ran out of space.  They were among the first to reach North America, and settled mainly in Newfoundland (Port Aux Basques).

So... this doesn't explain my belly fat (damn!), but... it does explain my passion for mountains, sea, and a good Rioja (I've never met a bad Rioja -- of course, her genes also show a predilection for alcoholism, so between her and my father, I'm pretty much screwed in that department!).

And it means I have to take a fresh look at my stories.  Why the heck DID the Tyrannical Nutbar forbid Mom from using red crayons?  Where DOES my sister's turtle-nose come from?  WTF is with this belly fat?

Where's my Rioja?

"We make up our stories by looking at clouds
And nobody bothers to say it out loud
'Cause they don't think very much about it."
                                              - Susan Latimer

Oh, and P.S.

Found a poem I've been searching for since high school -- which was... oh... maybe a couple of years ago???

I remembered the first three lines, and have been searching in poetry books all over the place, worried I might have made it up, but... FOUND IT!!!  On a whim, while procrastinating via Google.

The poet's name is Langston Hughes, who was apparently from Missouri.  The poem, as I suspected, is called "Dreams":

     Hold fast to dreams
     For if dreams die
     Life is a broken-winged bird
     That cannot fly.
     Hold fast to dreams
     For when dreams go
     Life is a barren field
     Frozen with snow.

On a day when the world has gone into flash-freeze... I'm so glad I found this poem again!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

How can I miss you when you won't go away?

OK, be careful what you ask for, right?

Round two in as many weeks of got-the-house-to-myself, as Don heads over to Gabriola (without me, waaaahhh) to do the final master of his new solo CD with our friend Graemme at Zen Mastering.  (Love the name!)

It would have been nice to have a few more days before doing the happy dance.  Not quite so happy.  Yes, it's nice to be by myself, as always, but... I'm actually missing him this time.

Stupid Lyssy... you're not supposed to miss him.

Maybe it's just selfish -- after all, he's in the place we love, and I'm here, in the place I like a lot, but can no longer flourish in.  My sister asked if he was going to look at real estate while in Victoria... no time.  Which is good, because then I'd be REALLY jealous!

Feeling a tremendous urge to create, to collaborate, and so few opportunities around here.  Unless you count the "this would be great exposure!" crap, which I'm about 30 years too old to be fooled by.  (I have refrained from responding to an e-mail that came in last night, with that exact request... I'm trying to find a polite way to say no.  Still trying...)

He's in the land of people I want to collaborate with, collaborating with one of the guys I'd like to collaborate with.  Staying for two nights at The Haven, where life and people are beautiful.

And I'm feeling sorry for myself, in my Rudolph pyjamas and messy office.  Having accomplished a whole bunch today, dealt with a great deal of emotional upheaval (more on that tomorrow, I just don't have the energy to explain tonight), but... still missing him.

Damn.  So much for being 100% independent.

Stupid Lyssy... you're not supposed to miss him.

What happened to the happy dance?  There's supposed to be a happy dance...

Over and out,
Two Left Feet Lyssy

Monday, January 16, 2012

The stuff in between

Just back from the Orillia Folk Society - BaDAS/S DIY Music Weekend, a gathering of the clan.

A few new faces each year, several folks I see regularly, but many who I only see at this annual event.  Many song circles, a few workshops (led by DIY participants, hence the moniker), tons of community, and perhaps a tasty adult beverage or two.  A wide variety of tastes, experiences and abilities, from the three full-time pros (Don, Ray Dillard and myself), to music lovers who will take any opportunity to learn something new, to "weekend warriors", to folks who just want to jam and have fun, to a small handful who just want to sit back and listen and soak it all in.

I learned and observed much this weekend.  First of all, that 2011 kicked the crap out of a lot of people -- more accidents, illnesses, deaths, etc., than I've heard reported any other year.  Second, that these people kicked back, and are moving forward in grace and joy.  So -- a toast to the end of 2011 for all of us, and a toast to 2012 swinging us all to the opposite side of the pendulum of life (OK, maybe we should wait until my liver recovers...).

The other great thing about seeing people every year is noticing the good stuff that's changed.  There were three young guys who joined us for the first time last year, and had such a good time hanging out with all us old farts that they actually came back.  :-)  All three of them have been a part of the Mariposa Songwriters Club, a group of young'uns under the mentorship of Aaron Howes, who has obviously been doing a fantastic job with this group.  They've grown so much in the past year (I'm talking musically, they're in their 20s and past the growth-spurt stage!), gained confidence and skills and... tremendous musicality.

Last year, guitarist Chris Thompson already had the technique and the drive and the creativity, but this year, the musicality and confidence had bloomed beautifully.  While still employing the zippy effects and percussive techniques, his new compositions were filled with much more lyricism and harmonic movement than flashy technical tricks.  There's a new maturity there, much more than a year's worth.  Aaron Mangoff, whose voice and songwriting had impressed everyone last year as well, has gained a new poise as well as confidence in his guitar playing.  He and Tyler Knight were venturing much more into trying out lead parts in the jams and song circles -- and did so with such taste and sensitivity, they put some of the older-and-should-know-better folks to shame.  Tyler has completely exploded into and embraced his musicality -- I was blown away by his accompaniments, but also by his songs (last year, he played mostly covers), which dug incredibly deep and pulled out some gorgeous gems.

All three have such a great sense of musicality, sensitivity (same thing, really, I'm just repeating it for those who might forget such notions), respect (ditto) poise and confidence.  They're at an age where it would be easy to get stuck in the testosterone-y it's-all-about-what-I-can-do-to-impress-people mode, but they're so very obviously All About the MUSIC.  They're going to go places, I'm sure.  I love these guys, search them out and you'll love them too!!!

I should also mention that Tyler's creative passions are also in the realm of videographer -- he owns District Media & Design here in Orillia, and has put together some terrific videos for local musicians.  This guy oozes creativity.  :-)  In fact, he put together a five-minute down-and-dirty video of The Brights playing with our friend Ray Dillard "backstage" at DIY: The Brights with Ray Dillard.  Browse around his YouTube site, because there are a number of video projects he's done available there.  Don's going to hire him to do some songs from his upcoming solo album, too.

But back to DIY.

The other people who blew me away were Noreen Sullivan and Mary Bennet (no websites, sorry).  More examples of musicality at its finest!  They're more in the doing-it-for-fun-but-won't-pass-up-a-gig-if-asked category, but their duo work is simply beautiful, and certainly of professional-if-they-felt-like-it quality.  Their voices blend so nicely, and they've worked out some lovely arrangements.  But even when you take them out of their "comfort zone" of working together, the harmonies and accompaniments they ad libbed over people's songs in the circles were just as tasteful and simply-beautifully-perfect.

Another guy to impress me -- well, he'd already impressed me, and I see him on a regular basis, but it was good to be reminded -- was Roy Hickling.  His songwriting just gets better and better.  Yes, he is a friend and a client, but no, he didn't pay me to say this -- and I won't be invoicing him for it, either.  ;-)

What all of these people I mentioned understand and embrace is that music is not the notes -- it's the stuff in between the notes.  Yes, I go on about this ad nauseam, but that's because not everyone is listening yet.  :-)  These people are wonderful examples of how amazing it is when the Music is there, in between all the other stuff.

My very favourite compliment -- and self-conscious, oh-please-don't-let-me-cry-now moment -- of the weekend was when Mary H. and Peter K. were talking with Ray about the workshop he was going to give on musical tension and release.  Mary's eyes shone and she said "oh, that's what Alyssa's so natural at!"  Peter jumped in and started talking about how it's so nice to play with me or just to listen to me accompanying others, because I know where to place the notes and when to stay out of the way.  And then I turned red and tried not to cry as they waxed poetic over my sensitivity.  Sure it's nice to get compliments about my technical proficiency, and be reminded I don't suck, but... THOSE are the types of compliments I ADORE.  The ones that have nothing to do with the number of notes I play, but how I play them.  Because the Music is not the notes.  The Music is the heart in between the notes.  The Music is what makes Mary's eyes light up, what touches Peter, what makes complete strangers go away from a concert and feel they've been part of something.

And this is what I saw, heard and felt in all the people who made an impression on me this weekend.  The stuff between the notes.  The heart, the soul, the spirit, the Music.  Notes can be learned.  Music has to be nurtured.  And once you can let go of the notes and put in the spirit, you'll be touching people you don't even know of, and you will make them feel they've been part of something.  Whether you pursue it professionally or simply for the sheer joy of it, you will be A Musician.

All-in-all, a great musical weekend.  Do check out everyone's websites I mentioned -- and search around for those without links, because other people have posted videos and bios of them.  These people are Musicians.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Doin' the Happy Dance

Got the house to myself, doin' the happy dance...  Don's off to Jersey to do a re-mix of his solo CD, so I have four days and three nights of being alone!

Although, this time, it's REALLY alone.  One cat died mid-December, the last died Friday.  Unless you count the ghost who occasionally makes an appearance in our dining room, I am really and truly alone, for the first time in... well, I guess it was January, 1993 when my first cat, Evinrude, joined me in my one-bedroom and very blue (it looked like someone had shaken a 7-11 slushie all over the walls) Kingston apartment.

So... this is the first time, in almost exactly nineteen years, that I don't have to look after another being's needs, or even take another being's needs into consideration.

My Happy Dance is getting downright ecstatic.

Not that I don't miss my husband or my cats, but... WAHOOOO!!!!!

This is what freedom feels like.

I'm not a horrible person, really I'm not.  Don recognizes that the happy dance has nothing to do with him and everything to do with me.

You see, I'm an introvert -- a needle-firmly-entrenched-in-the-extreme-pole-of-introversion introvert.  I NEED my alone time, or I become a nervous wreck.

Not only am I an introvert, I am an emotional sponge with horrible boundaries issues.  Growing up with parents who needed me to be their parent, who, it became obvious by the time I was three, would inevitably die or be sent to an institution if I didn't identify and anticipate their every need and forsake my own to satisfy theirs -- well, I've been pretty much hard-wired to know people's needs before they even know what they are.  And if I'm not absolutely, positively, one-hundred-percent centred (read the above paragraph about needing my alone time!), I am also hard-wired to dump my own needs and look after everyone else's.

If I'm grounded, centred and relaxed, I can sometimes catch myself before it happens.  But -- as my sister-friend Ali commented last night -- the past year has not had a single lull for me.  I have been in emergency-fixer-upper, problem-solver, here-let-me-look-after-that-for-you mode since October, 2010.  There has been no hope of being grounded, centred or relaxed.

It wasn't so bad when Don was still working at the fire hall.  Then, I knew there were seven 24-hour shifts (plus errands and driving time) every four weeks when I would have the house to myself.  And yes, there are days when I regret encouraging him to follow his heart and leave the job he was no longer enjoying...

He tries, he really does try to give me my space and alone time, but... in this year-plus of total frazzlement, I don't think he completely understands that in order to give me that true space and alone-time, he has to either leave the house for an extended period of time, or hold perfectly still and silent and not breathe for an extended period of time.

This is part of the reason why we're looking for a house with either an out-building or a soundproofed basement apartment.

Because in this old house, no matter where he is, I can hear him breathing.  Not to mention moving, or listening to music, or creating music, or... well, all those various things (such as respiration) that Don has to do in order to be Don.

If I'm meditating, for instance, and I hear him shuffling around in the kitchen, "man-looking" for something... my concentration is gone in a split-second, and before I can stop myself, I'm shouting out the exact location of the thing I already know he's looking for.

Pathetic, really.

My creative process requires total silence and no interruptions.  Don's creative process involves spending the day noodling on the guitar and seeing what sticks.  These two processes are completely incompatible.  He's told me to tell him when I need him to be quiet, but... I never know when something will sneak into the silence, so the answer to "when should I be silent?" is really: always.  Which, of course, is not possible or desirable.  Hence the need for an out-building.  And an out-building with no intercom, because another part of his creative process is the need to talk it out with me instantly.  Which... again... Totally Incompatible.  (I keep telling him he's got to know I love him, because otherwise I'd never tolerate living with another human being!!!)

A few years ago, when I was playing an extended run in Prince Edward County, I was offered an apartment for a weekend, to get away from my friendly yet multitudinous billet hosts.  The woman who owned it had her own house, but kept this apartment as a personal getaway.

I have been fantasizing about having such an apartment ever since.

Because, much as I try, much as Don tries... remember that television ad that said "the years before five last the rest of their lives"?  They weren't just whistlin' Dixie, people!!!  Hard-wired is hard-wired.  It may be possible to short-circuit every once in a while, and continue to work on tricks to overcome my hard-wiring, but... I don't think I'm ever going to be able to get rid of it completely, let alone to a point where I can stop keeping a vigilant eye out for my own knee-jerk.

Apartment, out-building, panic room... I'm afraid at least one of these is necessary, especially in such busy years.  Or, perhaps, some really good earplugs.  :-)

In the meantime, though, I'm going to happy-dance my way through four days and three nights of silent, solitary bliss.  Don't even think about calling me to make sure I'm not lonely!  I ain't gonna answer.  :-)

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy New Year!

I have never been so happy to see the end of a year.

I know, I know, relish the time you have, but... honestly, I didn't have TIME to relish the time I had in 2011.  The year of chaos.  Yes, much of the chaos was good chaos, but I'd be happy for a little bit of calm.  Maybe even a lot of a bit of calm.  :-)

New Year's Resolutions?

I'm going to do my best to have more than just coffee for breakfast.  And I'm going to try to remember to brush my teeth before I go to bed.

Yup, that's it.  And it's kind of pathetic that I have to actually make resolutions about those two things, but... such has become my (lack of) habit.  Looking after myself has once again fallen by the wayside.

Eating breakfast and brushing my teeth are as big a promise as I'm going to allow myself to make.  Because the overarching big promise it to not expect so much of myself -- to not continuously set myself up for failure.

I thought I had figured this out last year when I promised to set myself only three goals per day.  Three ought to be manageable, right?  Well, they would be, if I picked reasonable goals.  My three daily chores tended to be more along the lines of "establish world peace" and "save the planet from environmental destruction" and "write a Pulitzer-prize-winning novel."  Which would leave me angry with myself at the end of each day, for failing to accomplish three simple tasks in a day...

Eating breakfast and brushing my teeth.  Easier to accomplish in a day.

Yes, looking after myself -- Extreme Self Care -- seems to be part of my resolutions every year.  This year, it isn't even that extreme, though!  Even the basics have flown out the window, with all that was happening in 2011.

OK, bonus resolution: I'm going to try and look decent in a bathing suit by May.  That is when my sister and I take our families to the BVIs to celebrate having survived all there was to survive in 2011.

There was so much unknown last year, so many last-minute changes of plans, so many last-minute emergencies... it feels very strange to be able to plan ahead for a vacation.  Five whole months in advance.  It's been a long time since we've been able to do that.  Heck, we missed celebrating our first anniversary, because family drama and cancer kept us from making any plans.  (We will make up for that this year!)

2011 began with a cancer scare (mine), was taken up with a cancer reality (Don's) and ended up with a cancer death (our littlest cat, Tough Cookie).  In the middle of all this were the final touches of a five-year battle against an evil little man who has spent the last several decades causing us great harm -- which of course has led to emotional regurgitation of the last several decades, and trying to put old hurts to bed one final time.  We had to cancel a tour with our friends Heather and Ben, because court and hospital appointments shifted around like acid-crazed silverfish, and we didn't know which end was up for months at a time.  We didn't know if we'd be able to keep our house, we didn't know how to keep our careers going with all the cancellations, we didn't know if keeping commitments would cost Don his life or if cancelling our commitments would cost us our future.

It was a whole year of not knowing.  Of waiting for other people or circumstances to decide what we would do any given day.  Of trying to trust our guts when we were having trouble keeping our guts still.  Of not making any plans.  Of not daring to dream about the future because we didn't know whether we'd have one.

And yet, in the middle of all this -- there were some pretty amazing adventures!  Perhaps it was the threat of death that made us leap where before we would have hesitated.  But man, we sure leaped!

I played in concert with Victor freaking Wooten (and he called ME a virtuoso!).  We both played in concert and wrote a song with Eric Bibb.  Don recorded a kick-ass solo CD (just waiting for final mix & master).  He met a long-lost cousin he never knew existed, until they ended up playing a duet together.  We did our first tour to BC and a second one including the other western provinces, and met some incredible new people -- many of whom are going to be close friends for a very long time.  We fought many dragons, confronted many demons.  Out of all the chaos, we were forced to face what we no longer had time for in our lives, and focus more clearly on what we did want in our lives.

And here we are in 2012, with all the chaos of 2011 behind us.  We are planning a vacation.  We are planning our anniversary.  We are planning how best to pursue all that we want and need from our lives.

First: calm, rest, quiet.  Then: eat breakfast, brush teeth.  This will, in all likelihood, be followed by chaos.  But it will be chaos of our own choosing.  Changes are coming.  We're no longer living under affect of our lives.  We are living our lives.  Making decisions.  Some of them are pretty huge.  And chaotic.  And pretty darned exciting.

Hello, 2012.  It's great to meet you.  So long and good riddance, 2011 -- but thank you so much for all you taught us.

Happy New Year, everyone!