Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A wee change...

...well, maybe not so wee.  Closer to "we".

The more observant of you will note that I've changed the title and description of this blog.  Some changes are a-coming.  I'm not quite ready to unveil the full details, but...

There is a PROJECT in the works.  It's big, it's scary, it will probably engulf most of my spare (?!?) time.  But I need to do it.  My wretched sleep and dream patterns need me to do it (yes, the nightmares are back -- they're apparently mad at me for procrastinating on this project, after we struck a deal!), and after a late-night conversation with a beloved friend, I believe it will do a whole world of good for people stuck where I was ten, twenty, thirty, fo... [shh!] years ago.

So... there ya go.  I'm committed.  Until I get committed...  ;-)

Monday, February 27, 2012

You can never go back (phew!)

My high school is having its 100th anniversary this May, and I signed on to be a part of the gala concert at Roy Thomson Hall.

As many people have asked me since -- WHY?  Why would you want to go to a high school reunion?  High school is an ugly memory for many people, and I'm no exception.

And yet...

The music program at my high school was one of the few things that kept me (relatively) sane, and definitely the only thing that kept me in school.  Oh sure, high school itself was the same angst-ridden, pimply-faced den-of-zero-self-esteem for me as it was for many, but... those hours when I got to hide behind my cello (and there were many) were the hours when I started to feel like I actually belonged somewhere, that I fit in with something, that I was actually OK at something.

Of course, this was all still haunted by the not-dead-yet spectre of my grandfather.  Which managed to keep me from believing in myself fully, and made me doubt myself fully, while sort of thinking I might be OK... but not really.

For starters, I wasn't even supposed to go to North Toronto -- I was out of district (if I'd lived across the street I would have been in district, but the dividing line kept me out).  But North Toronto had the best string program at the time, and I really wanted to be there.  There was a waiting list to get in, partially determined by musical ability, based on an audition.  Meanwhile, my best friend's mother -- who also wanted both of us to get in to NT, as Ali lived on the wrong side of the street, too -- did her usual "I'll fight for my children, whatever it takes" routine (oh, what a great honourary mother to have!) and went in for a private meeting with the Principal.  Very soon after, Ali and I both learned we'd been accepted -- thank you, Jane!

She did let it slip later, however, that one of her tactics was to declare that I was Don Wright's granddaughter, so any music program worth its salt would be begging to have me.

Not because of me.  Because of my grandfather.

So... was I in because of merit, or because of my ancestry?  This question haunted me throughout both my high school and university years.  The name opened many doors for me, gave me many opportunities, let me get away with missing a rehearsal or two when others were kicked out for less than 100% attendance.

I was chosen to be principal cellist of the junior orchestra in grade 9 -- was that because I was good, or because I was Don Wright's Granddaughter?  I was chosen as our school's music delegate for the Ontario Student Leadership Course -- in my incredible shyness, I didn't see how I could possibly be considered a leader in anything, so assumed it was because of my grandfather.  I was principal of the senior orchestra in grades 12 and 13, but always felt like a phoney, like I shouldn't be there, when there were so many other talented musicians who didn't have family pull.

I was proud of my accomplishments, but forever suspicious of them.  This combined with my family's assertions that I would never be able to "make it" in the same way as he had led to some very conflicted feelings toward music, cello, me.  (Fortunately, I eventually got over it -- especially once learning what a B.S. assertion it was!)

And so, I found myself waking up at 6:30 on Saturday morning (yes, really!) and heading down the highway to Toronto.  I had been dithering for weeks whether I really wanted to go through with this, but... did it anyhow.  I met up with a snowstorm about halfway down, and started to seriously question the decision again.  Fortunately, I had made an appointment at the Sound Post for later that afternoon, otherwise I would probably have chickened out and driven right back up the highway.

There is a sick, anxious feeling I always get when I'm on the 401 and approaching the Avenue Road / Yonge Street exits.  It grows as I get off the exit and drive through my old stomping grounds.  People often ask me why I don't move back to Toronto (especially now that we're considering moving to a different big city) -- the truth is, that's where I spent my years of terror, and I don't like being constantly reminded of it.  If I get this ill on a drive-by, how the hell would I live my life on a daily basis?  There's too much horror, too much sadness, too many reminders.  I don't need reminding, thank you very much, my stupid dreams are keeping me in the loop just fine.

Driving down Yonge Street, so much has changed -- the stores are different, it's more developed in some areas.  But the landmarks are still there.  The anxious buzzing reaches a crescendo as I pass Lytton... Craighurst... Briar Hill... St. Clements... and there are the lights for Broadway.  I turn left and enter the new parking garage that was promised in the directions to the new/old school, but have yet to see the school itself.

You see, the school I went to is no longer there.  They've torn down the old building and put up a new one, with condos above and storefronts on the Roehampton side, and a huge football field.  I've been curious to see it, although still trepidatious.

I go to the machine, buy my ticket, head back to the car.  "Alyssa!" someone shouts.  It's Alan, father of one of my former classmates, and fellow cello player -- we shared a cello teacher when I was in high school, and would often commiserate on who cried the most at the last lesson.  A very nice man, with a very nice family.  He (re-)introduces me to his wife and sister: "you know, Don Wright's granddaughter."

Ah yes, the Great and Powerful Oz himself...  my stomach does flip-flops... it's too late to run, now that I've been spotted.  Breathe... breathe... smile... he doesn't mean this in a bad way, he has no idea what battles you've been through at Oz's hand, or what fresh hells have been opened up in the last six years.  Breathe, breathe, smile, breathe, breathe, smile.  Brace yourself, because this is probably the first reference of many -- why didn't you consider this in the snowstorm, you silly twit?

We walk as a group out of the parking garage and towards the school.  I can see the north side of Broadway just fine, looking pretty much like it always had.  And then... holy mother of Zeus!  The school is nothing like the old building.  Nothing whatsoever.  The old anxiety-filled high school is gone.

I can feel my shoulders.  Sort of.

After a significant journey trying to find an open door, we venture inside.  Inside, it's a combination of old and new.  The old Ontario Scholars plaques have been transferred to the new walls.  There's a courtyard with the old bricks and arches.  The old Maytime Melodies photos are on the new walls (oh lordy, there's me with braces and helmet hair -- make the lambs stop screaming!).  It's kind of like a dreamworld, where the building you know is transformed into something else -- you know what it's supposed to be, but the details aren't correct.  A bit surreal.

And then it's into the music room, where a few familiar faces have already gathered.  Some closer to their old faces than others.  :-)  The old anxieties try to surface... I shouldn't be here, what if I let the truth slip out, what if somebody already knows my secrets?

Geez, Alyssa, you write and speak regularly about surviving childhood sexual abuse -- why are you suddenly afraid people will know your truth?

Right... ahem... yes.  They're allowed to know things now.  Not that it's really polite conversation at a high school reunion, of course, but... you don't have to freak out.

Yes, high school is an awkward time for the best of us.  I was not among the best of us.

Just before grade 9 began for me, my mother had finally told my father he was not allowed to come back to the house, because she had had enough.  Of course, she was still sending my sister and I for sleepovers at his new apartment, so I guess she didn't think we'd quite had enough...  Many secrets still had to be kept.  As well as haunting my musical life with the Toronto District School Board, my grandfather was busy trying to prove I was a liar about my father's abuse, and using his sleazy lawyer to basically try and crush us all into submission.  And by October, it had become apparent that my mother was involved with her psychologist, thus introducing sexual predator #2 into our I-thought-it-was-finally-going-to-be-happy home, as well as a whole other layer of secrets to worry about -- she knew enough, apparently, to know that it was unethical for a psychologist to sleep with (and later marry) his patient, and that we shouldn't let anyone know what was going on, she just didn't know enough to not do it.

Back then, if I was in the hall talking to people, I was at risk of spilling the truth.  If I was hiding behind my cello, no words had to come out.  Can I tell you how very much I loved my cello in those years, despite all the self-esteem issues that came with it?!?

Ahem, back to the present.

I see my friend Debbie come in -- who never knew me in high school, but is now the head of the music department.  She will be my reminder of who I am now.  I will not slip back into who I was.  And just to prove it, I go over and talk to the people who I used to not feel worthy enough to talk to.  And hey, they talk back, and give genuine hugs.  Maybe I wasn't as unworthy as I always thought I was... Oh shut up, Alyssa, you were NEVER as unworthy as you thought you were.  NOBODY is as unworthy as you thought you were.

The concert organizer -- who I've never met -- comes up and tells me that I was one of the two people identified as possible principal cellist, he's sorry to let me know so late, but would I mind sharing the job?  Hell no.  :-)  A total stranger, who probably has no idea who my grandfather was -- but even if he did, could not expect any special favours from him since he's now dead -- has just told me I'm worthy.  Damn straight, I'm worthy.  I feel five years of adolescent stupidity start to melt away... well, start, anyhow.

In comes David Ford, the head of music from my high school days, the man who always asked after my father and grandfather, who I spent five years smiling and trying not to spill the truth to, five years wondering if he actually saw any value in me, or if he was just trying to gain favour with Oz.  He recognizes me, but fumbles for my name.  Oh lord, I was obviously nothing, nobody, unworthy... Shut Up!  Seeing his embarrassment and discomfort, I offer up "Alyssa Wright" -- he grins and gives me a huge bear hug.  The Great and Powerful Oz is not mentioned at all.  He remembers me.  Me.

I remind myself that neither he nor most of the people in this room would recognize Me Today after knowing Me Then.  I've had conductors from my university years not know who the heck I was decades later, after spending years sitting directly in front of them.  I would hide.  I would blend into walls.  I would be quiet.  I would do my best to NOT be noticed (and then, of course, be resentful when nobody noticed me -- oy!).

Oh sure, I'm still an introvert.  But I'm an infinitely more confident introvert.  With, some might argue, a pretty big mouth.  :-)

The fact that I actually approached him to say hello probably threw him off more than the extra pounds, extra wrinkles, hair cut by a professional (i.e., not unevenly hacked off by me in the darkness of my mirror-less room and then gelled into submission), and lack of leggings, dark makeup and way-too-bulky men's sweaters.  This is what I'm telling myself, anyhow...  ;-)

I'm talking with my section-mates, realizing that there's only two of us doing music full-time.  So I must be worthy, right?  Duh...  Oz never had much sway outside the school system (not that I was aware of that until much later), this is me.  Merit and me.  Hard work, merit and me.

Rehearsal begins.  We get to the Medley -- a medley of several medleys from over the years.  I recognize many of the arrangements, some of them my grandfather's.  Oh, here we go... nope, nary a mention.  Phew!

There's a cello solo.  I'm ready to defer to my co-principal.  Debbie, who is probably wondering where Alyssa just disappeared to, announces it's supposed to be for electric cello, and would I mind bringing mine in for the concert?  The girl who never got picked for a solo is now the woman who gets picked for the solo.  Worthy, worthy, worthy... oh lord, WHY am I still stuck there?

Of course, the solo is in the nose-bleed section of the cello, and I'm sight-reading -- but instead of the devastated "I suck" that would have hit me in high school, I just fake it and laugh and say I'll look at it better for next time.  I'm imperfect, and that's OK.  The Old Me would never believe it.  It's OK to be imperfect.  And even in my imperfection, heads are nodding and voices are saying it's going to kick ass in concert.

Why yes, it is.  :-)

It took me a few decades, but I'm actually enjoying high school.  I will brave the snow storm (and early morning alarm) next weekend too.

After rehearsal, it's a stop down to the Sound Post, where I offer up my old cello for sale.  Mild (!) kick in the gut when I'm told it will probably be sold for about $5,500, minus the repairs it needs and their commission.  This is the cello I bought at the end of high school -- thinking it would last me for university and then I'd get a new one, though I only replaced it last spring! -- for $8,000.  I went in to debt with Oz to buy it.  I scrambled and scraped my way through university, taking on extra jobs to pay Oz back as quickly as possible, but still getting "why haven't you paid it back in full yet?" letters on a regular basis.  This cello was stressy.  I fought this damned cello for almost 25 years.  In inspecting it for sale, I learned all the reasons why it was so difficult to play, and how they'll fix it to make it playable -- yet nobody had mentioned this to me in all the years I'd spent taking it elsewhere for repairs.  Lesson learned.  But kind of depressing that after all that time and effort and stress, it wasn't even worth the purchase price any more... if it had ever been in the first place.

Oh well, Alyssa, it's a symbol of the past.  Get rid of it.  You have a beautiful new cello now that does everything you want it to.  Get rid of the past.

I do.  At least I hope I do.  They have it for 120 days, at which point they can change their mind if it hasn't sold.  Anyone want an angst- and pain-ridden cello?  Real cheap...  ;-)

And so, driving up University, my mind is pondering Old Me, New Me.  Old Life, New Life.  Old School, New School.  Old Cello, New Cello.  How much has changed, how much is no longer there, how much that I never could have imagined is now in my life, how much EASIER it is to be alive.  University becomes Avenue Road.  Oh look, there's my former shrink's office, where I spent an hour a day every day for seven years, trying to unravel the web of lies that had been the Old Me's Old Life.  Coming up to where I hung out with the friends from my youth group, trying hard to be somebody else.  My old primary school, where much of it all began.  Two more blocks, the street to my first house.  One more block, the house of hell.  I'm always tempted to do a drive-by, masochist that I am, but I opt against it, choosing instead to revel in all that no longer exists, not wallow in what used to be.

Yet... since then, I've found myself fantasizing about knocking on the door.

I have just had it hammered home that my old high school no longer exists, is not the same, that I'm not the same.  While the house from hell is still standing and fully intact, I'm 100% sure it's not decorated the same, and they've probably made a bunch of changes in the almost-20 years since my mother finally moved out of there, and... it's just a house.  With any luck, an abuse-free house.  It's tempting...

But then again, how would a normal person react if a total stranger knocked on the door and said "Hi!  I was abused in this house for ten years, could you please give me a tour?"  Yup, wacko, bolt the door!  ;-)

There's no place like home (Thank God)
You think there's no place like home?
Well you can change all the names,
But the characters stay the same
Oh there's no place like home
[from "No Place Like Home", Alyssa Wright, 2006]

Well, as much as all the characters continue to fight for the status quo...  I've changed.  I've changed, and my life has changed.  They can keep their status quo.  I'm happy to never go back.

...when you're ready, your heart holds the tools
So say goodbye to that road of salvation
And the heartless, the coward and the fool
Oh my
The heartless, the coward and the fool


You can't go back.  Even if you wanted to.  Everything changes.  It stays the same in your mind, but only if you let it stay the same in your mind.  The beautiful part of living a long life is that you can change your story.

I can stay stuck in "not-worthy-land" as long as I feel like it -- or I can choose to see that all those years of feeling unworthy forced me to work my ass off and get farther than I ever could have been if I just plodded along in a "normal" life.  I can cringe at my choice of makeup application, or I can recognize that I was creating an obvious mask to go with the emotional one I needed to make it through to the end of high school and out of the damned house.  And enjoy the fact that I'm confident enough to not wear ANY makeup on a regular basis these days -- what you see is what you get, this is who I am, like it or lump it.

I am no longer a helpless child or a hopeless adolescent.  And those years helped me grow into the strong, capable, independent, blissfully happy and love-filled woman I am today.

I have cleared the space, it's time to take my place
Prepare to speak my truth, stand up and be the proof
Be the Proof... 
Only the Truth remains

[from "Sword and Wand", Alyssa Wright, 2009]

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

I'll see you in my dreams

This week-plus of lucid dreaming is getting freaking ridiculous.  I wake up just as tired as I was when I went to sleep, no rest, no relaxation, usually with tears streaming down my cheeks for the first half hour of awakeness, which I attempt to chase away with several in-bed Sudoku games.

It's even become a joke in my dreams.  Last night, I went through several of them screaming "OK, people, I KNOW this is a dream, could you just get to the point, so I could move on to some hot and steamy sex dream?"

"Sure, right this way" and I am guided through a labyrinth that decidedly does NOT lead me to a hot and steamy sex dream.

I know these rooms well, although they have been dreamily altered.  My childhood home, the basement, my grandparents house, with all its secret passageways and strange rooms of bizarreness -- my old house in Cannington and my first house with my first husband even get cameos.  Vomiting snakes (seriously, subconscious, could you come up with something a little LESS obvious?!?), tap-dancing, somebody hiding my cello just as I'm supposed to go on stage, getting lost on my way to familiar places -- all the usual suspects are here.  It's not like I'm dreaming anything new and mind-blowing.

"I'm pretty sure I get the point, guys!  Can we move on -- if I can't have the steamy stuff, at least I could have a good night's sleep?"

"You know we can't do that" says my hookah-pipe-smoking Alice-in-Wonderland caterpillar mother from the raspberry divan, watching the maggots and snakes go to work on the several-feet-deep layer of debris piled onto the mouldy carpet (ooh look, there's the pool of blood and the glass coffee table and the coin collection).  Meanwhile, my Tasmanian-devil sister is spinning wildly, too fast to see anything, singing "we're all fine, fine, fine" to great applause and scolds of "why can't you be more happy and trusting and normal like her?", while bits of her body go flying off in all directions, sliced off by the fake armour surrounding the now Casa Loma hall.

Somebody's going to have to clean that up...

I'm sick of cleaning.  I don't want to step in the guck (ah yes, the murky ocean where I'm afraid to put my foot down -- another regular in my subconscious's not-terribly-inventive repertoire), so with a wink to my young niece, I lift my feet up off the floor, say "see, there's a way to rise above all this" and start to float away.

"Take me with you" she begs, and climbs onto my back.  Crap, she's heavy.  Floating isn't working so well.  But now at least we're outside.  "Here," I say, "I can't get lift-off with you on my back, but maybe if we take a run down this hill and then leap off that rock over the cliff, we'll be able to make it."

Run, leap...

Well, we aren't soaring like eagles, but the landing isn't as bad as you might think.  The tree trunk is mercifully soft and spongy.

"Maybe with some practise" my niece whispers.


Art and fear.

Art doesn't happen when you stay in your comfort zone.  Art happens when you fling yourself off the cliff and figure out how to land intact and hopefully with a modicum of grace.

I know my dream-niece's point.  Everything in my life the past few days has been telling me the same thing.  It's time to take a running leap.

I've done it before.

People have called me "fearless" in the past -- they're dead wrong.  I am an oozing pustule of fear.  I just don't let it stop me.  At least, not all the time.

I've done it before.  Although not in this way.  I do know what I have to do.  I do know the format in which it's going to barf its way out of me.  I know the rock.  I know the cliff.  I know what lies at the bottom.

And I am terrified.

Could someone please loan me a really awesome, steamy sex dream?  I don't think I'm ready...

Monday, February 20, 2012

Excuses, excuses...

I've been quiet, yes.

Despite the commitment to myself to write for 30 minutes per day, no matter what (not necessarily blog -- songwriting and journalling count too), I have been allowing myself to count CD design time (I'm creating the CD cover for Don's newest release) as writing time.

Hmm... playing with colour swatches and fonts and pretty pictures?  NOT WRITING, ALYSSA!  Creativity, sure, but not writing.

And my body and brain know this.  They've been playing along with the facade, but... they know.  They're kind of happy for the excuse, actually.  Because they know something big is coming.  And they're happy to avoid it.

Whatever it is.

This something big has had me sleepless, irritable, weepy, crabby.  It's given me nights upon nights of lucid dreams about really stupid stresses.  It's woken me up at 6am (and everybody knows I don't do 6am willingly) worrying about really stupid things.  It keeps throwing all these really stupid things at me, so I can't see what's behind door number two.

I don't have time for door number two.  I have Don's CD cover to design, then our spring eastern tour to plan, then the Amity Trio's CD to edit, then a new financial software system to learn, then designing a collaborative site for the folk society so everyone can keep track of everything, not to mention the myriad other projects I keep throwing at myself.

None of which are probably terribly important, in the grand scheme of things.  What seems to be important is the numbing, the distraction.  Feeling weepy?  Oh look, shiny thing!

Two hundred and sixty three "overdue" boxes in my to-do list.  Must get those done.  No time, no time...  How much of my unrealistic self-expectation comes from avoidance?

Shhh... don't answer that.

What would happen if I weren't two years behind on everything I thought I ought to do?

Shhh... don't answer that.

What would happen if I took that moment of feeling weepy and just sat there and bawled my eyes out?  What would happen if I took that moment of feeling irritable and just got really, really mad?

Shhh... don't answer that.

Oh look -- shiny thing!!!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day!

I got the best present of all -- Don's PSA score was Zero, which means NO MORE PROSTATE CANCER.  Life can resume.  Once I finish my happy dance and recover from tonight's celebration, that is, life can resume.  :-)

On our way down to the doctor's this morning, we were listening to the CBC (as always).  Today, of course, they were talking about all sorts of different love-related issues.  They had a fabulous advocate from the U.S. (forget his name, sorry!) talking about the work he's been doing with politicians regarding gay marriage and equal rights, and how he was trying to make sure that kids growing up now would know that love wasn't an evil thing, no matter what the hate-filled folks try to convince you.  My heart was filled.

And, of course, that's what it all boils down to -- whether equal rights or any other number of issues.  Love.    Love is "all you need", it's all that is ever really ours.  Love is good, love is beautiful, no matter what the hate-filled folks try to do to you, if you have love in your heart, they will never succeed.

I was reminded of this song I wrote a few years ago.  It never really took off -- probably because I was back to my old wordy self with this one -- but the sentiment still rings true for me.  Maybe if I edit it a bit, I'll go back to it.  In the meantime, a good reminder for all.

I Won't Apologize for Love

You can't always control where the waters flow, or see a wave until it starts to grow
And while I'm sorry you got lost in the undertow, I won't apologize for love
I'm sorry if fate was a little mindless, that you never learned how to give or receive kindness
That instead you chose the path of blindness
But I won't apologize for love, no, I won't apologize for love

I'm sorry for all that was left unspoken, for that pivotal moment that you've kept frozen
And I'm sorry that your heart was broken, but I won't apologize for love
I'm sorry you never could appreciate all the delicacies that were heaped on your plate
That instead you chose the path of hate
But I won't apologize for love, no, I won't apologize for love

     It never was a contest, don't treat it like a game
     Stop looking for a saviour or just someone to blame
     'Cause I'll stand for all that's true, and I will not be ashamed of love love love love love

In dishing out blame, you've been a top producer, tearing old wounds we were trying to suture
Well, I'm sorry we couldn't predict the future, but I won't apologize for love
Life isn't as simple as you'd like to pretend, trying to hammer us back into our boxes again
I'm sorry you chose the path of revenge
But I won't apologize for love, no, I won't apologize for love

I'm sorry that you were ill-equipped to deal with the scenes you wanted to skip
When the characters wouldn't stay true to your script, but I won't apologize for love
I'm sorry you never let your heart run free, that you never learned the difference between love and need
That I never was the monster you wanted me to be
But I won't apologize for love, no, I won't apologize for love

     It never was a contest, don't treat it like a game
     Stop looking for a saviour, or just someone to blame
     'Cause I'll stand for all that's true, and I will not be ashamed of love love love love love

My wish for you is that you one day stop reeling, make peace with your past and live with feeling
I hope you choose the path of healing
And don't apologize for love love love
I won't apologize for love

- Alyssa Wright, 2008

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Musical Blog Entry

Hi folks and folkettes,

Today, my blog entry is a musical one.

It was my very first Mariposa Folk Festival, summer of 2006 (yes, I'm a slow learner / late bloomer / whatever).  It was hot.  I was walking to one of the workshop stages with my friend Jennifer Ives, carrying my cello, guitar, knapsack, big music bag and assortment of percussion; she was carrying two guitars and a bunch of other stuff, herself.  We felt like big, sweaty pack horses.  And then, across the field, we see Suzie Vinnick lightly flitting to her stage, with her boyfriend, James Dean, following up behind, carrying all her stuff for her, and staring adoringly.

Jen and I paused, looked at each other, and both said "I want one of those!"  And then, the inevitable, "hey, there's a song in there."  A few weeks later, I wrote the song -- a humorous (I hope) exploration of the unrealistic fantasies we all hold (although Suzie assures me that most of the things I wrote about are true!).

When I saw Suzie and James at the OCFF conference that fall, Suzie laughed and said she'd heard I'd written a love song for her boyfriend -- should we take this outside?  ;-)  I sent them the lyrics, but somehow never got around to actually playing the darned thing for them.

Suzie was up in Orillia a couple of weeks ago, for the Orillia Folk Society's January FridayFolk concert.  And I once again remembered that they'd never heard the song.  So when Suzie suggested that we get together and visit our mutual friend, Joe Yanuziello, this weekend, Don and I hatched our evil plan.

We spent Wednesday evening recording this song "My Own James Dean" in our music room.  I did my usual cello and foot-percussion stuff, but when we were finished, I asked Don how much work he wanted to put into the song?  Well, he's on recording withdrawal, now that his solo album is finished (other than the graphics, which is my department), so he was willing to go all-out.  So I suggested the cheesy Andrews-sisters background vocals.  We haven't had this much fun in the studio for a long time.

And so, Friday afternoon (after an unfortunate adventure with a wheel bearing), we all sat in Joe's lovely cabin, and Don presented James's song in all its "glory".  I apparently have to write a song for Joe now.  :-)

Curious?  Listen here:  (Please note, I'm leaving this song open for free streaming for the next few days -- after that, it will become a "fan exlusive".  I just didn't want to force you to sign up as fans just to hear the song.  I know, bad marketing -- but hopefully those of you who actually ARE fans will sign up and make it official.)

Musically -- and cheesily,

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Practise makes... imperfectly perfect

I had a very surprising, yet interesting, experience recently -- an opportunity to test my boundaries and skills in dealing with verbal abuse.  The assault came with no warning, out of the blue, from a person and within a situation I would never have expected.

There are several people in my world who I can pretty safely assume will verbally and emotionally abuse me if we are in the same room or telephone line together.  These are the people I try to avoid being in the same room or on the same telephone line with.  But... it's not always possible to avoid such things, and so, when I know I'm going to have to deal with them, I spend several hours (even several days, sometimes!) remembering their favourite triggers, rehearsing a number of different options for getting myself out of an abusive situation, practising my "lines," which I repeat to myself over and over again when actually in that room.  You're right, it's not much fun, and hardly a positive relationship, but... it gets me through and out of there with minimum damage, and then I can have a nice big cry when nobody is looking.  I could go in with guns-a-blazing and we'd end up with a room full of carnage.  Instead, I choose to just wear some really good armour and nimbly side-step the bullets they fire my way.  No bloodshed necessary.

So, while not perfect at avoiding and deflecting abuse from the usual suspects, I know I have been improving -- and I have noticed that the usual suspects are now a little more wary about starting in to the same old routine now, as well.  Maybe they're learning, or maybe they're just regrouping to find better ammunition, who knows -- but I think a big part of their calming down is that they no longer get the result they were hoping for.  They no longer get "power over" because 1) I really don't give a crap what they think of me anymore, 2) I'm now experienced enough to know and tell them that what they used to bully me into never ended up working, and the times I've trusted my gut always have, so I'll do it my way now, thank-you-very-much, and 3) I'm now strong enough to call a bully a bully, so if they want to save face, they'd better just STFU.  :-)

I've often wondered, though, how I would fare without the fair warning and preparation -- if I didn't have my armour and dancing shoes on, would I just slip back into old habits?

I'm very happy to report: the answer is NO.  No fancy equipment needed -- the training wheels are off.  (Armour, dancing shoes and training wheels -- how many metaphors can I slip in here?)

It all started out peacefully, jovially -- a "Bambi meets Godzilla" moment.  A group of us were sitting together, talking, laughing and joking.  I made a light-hearted quip about my less-than-perfect childhood, and then BAM!  One of the guys suddenly went into attack mode.  I was accused of saying things I hadn't actually said, and every time I tried to correct, my sentence was interrupted with more accusations, twisting a couple of the words into the previous couple of words, and forming a whole new sentence I was attacked for supposedly saying.  This person -- who never knew me in my childhood, nor has he ever asked me any questions about it -- then proceeded to tell me what my childhood had REALLY been like (hmm...), and what I *should* remember and feel about it (hmmm...)

As he was ramping up, I kept thinking: "it kind of feels like somebody is starting to juggle chainsaws in my belly... this is not good... oh wait a sec, I remember this, he's verbally abusing me!  Oh look, I think I'm about to throw up some chainsaws... 5... 4... 3... 2... 1..."

It became very clear, amidst his one-sided ranting, that this was creating a very black-and-white situation for him, and that when I was saying my childhood was imperfect, he was hearing it as there was absolutely nothing good about my childhood, I thought I was perfect and everyone else was evil.  And he seemed to really want, no, NEED my childhood to be 100% perfect for some reason.  No shades of grey were allowed (which is weird, because this is a person usually pretty good at that sort of thing).  Obviously, my comment hit some sort of trigger in him, because he's never talked to me like that before, and it snapped him from Jeckyll to Hyde (or whatever one is which) in an instant.  Someone who is usually good with shades of grey and the odd balances of life suddenly needed black and white, and needed me to be the one on the opposite side (and the side seemed to change pretty constantly).

This was SUCH a familiar situation for me, and such a HUGE trigger in the past -- don't see anything wrong with anybody you love, you're with us or against us, etc. -- it would have been SO easy for me to slip into the brain-cloud of the past.  But I didn't.  I didn't let him pull me into the black-and-white.  I didn't let him tell me what I was "really" thinking or "really" saying, or what my life was "really" like.

I deflected.  Politely, firmly, I deflected.  I would not take on the role he was trying to force on me.  And as awful as the chainsaw-juggling was, I was kind of smiling at myself on the inside, recognizing my strength, and how far I've come.

But... once someone's started down that path, it's difficult for them to grind to a halt.  He wasn't getting the result he wanted, so he escalated, telling me louder and louder who I was and what I was and how he was somehow a better expert on my life than I am.  He got louder, I kept an even keel and deflected, deflected, deflected.  Although I could feel the tears starting, my voice stayed quiet and calm.  The piece-de-resistance came when he shouted "you're so f-ing hostile!!!" -- I laughed, looked around the room, and asked "does anyone else see the irony in that statement?"

I think that's when he started to realize that what he was doing was unacceptable.  He kept trying a few more jabs, but the air was starting to leak out of his puffed-up bravado.  (Or maybe it's the fact that my tears were now in the uncontrollable stage, although my voice was still miraculously stable.)

That's when I finally got a chance to tell my own story -- not that I was in any mood at that point to actually let him in to the deep dark insides of my psyche, but I was able to make it clear that he didn't have the first clue about what I was really thinking or feeling, or what my childhood was really like.

He did acknowledge that he had put words in my mouth, he did acknowledge he hadn't let me finish sentences.  Baby steps...  He did deny going on the attack, he did deny being aggressive, he made lots of excuses of why he was aggressive (yes, I do see the contrast between those two clauses, no, I don't think he did, at least not at that point), he did manage to sneak in a "Well, I know there's nothing I'll be able to say to convince you otherwise" statement at the end (uh, just for starters: 1. You don't know anything about my future thoughts or actions, 2. Maybe, if you want to convince me otherwise, you should use your imagination and your words and discuss it with me, but... whatever)  As I said, Baby Steps!

From how, in the past, I've seen him talk to and about people, I imagine he's been brought up to believe this is an acceptable way to have a "conversation" -- so for him to acknowledge that it wasn't acceptable, and was very upsetting to me... well, not just baby steps, Big Steps!

The group went back to supportive of everyone.  We all tried to work stuff out together.  Everyone said they actually felt better in the aftermath, and closer to each other.  Nobody had stormed off in a huff.  We had reached a group understanding.  We still liked each other.  There was more chatting and laughing and we all parted with hugs.

The world -- and the friendship -- did not end when I put my foot down and defended my boundaries.

His world did not end when I put my foot down and defended my boundaries.

Everyone who was in that room has a better understanding of each other, despite -- or perhaps because of -- me putting my foot down and defending my boundaries.

And yes, it was awful at the time, but I'm so glad it happened.  Life sent me an answer to the question I had been asking myself.  Yes, I CAN do this.  I can have boundaries and love at the same time.  I can maintain my boundaries even when I don't have days to rehearse them.  I can feel those chainsaws coming and know that it's not because there's something wrong with me, but because there's something wrong with the situation.  I don't have to have a hissy fit to defend myself, I can be polite and calm and firm and consistent.

Yes, here in my 40s, I'm finally capable of the skills I should have learned by grade school.  I blame my imperfect childhood.  ;-)

We are ALL so perfectly imperfect.  And when we're able to brush up against others' perfect imperfection, wrestle with it, and come out the other side in one piece -- that's when everyone gets a chance to grow and learn.  Acknowledging your own imperfections, and the imperfections in the people you love, is actually a really good thing.  Obsessing on the imperfections, not so good.  But recognizing that we're all doing our best, warts and all, is the very basis of compassion -- both to those around us and to ourselves.

Don's been reading a book by Brene Brown called "The Gifts of Imperfection".  A little while ago, he was very excited to read her claim that those figures in the world -- Mother Theresa, the Dalai Lama, etc. -- who we count amongst the most compassionate are also the types of people who have the strongest boundaries.

It all comes together.  Embracing imperfection, having strong boundaries, being compassionate, having a good life that gives back to the world.

I may not be perfect, but I'm practising.  And we're all perfectly imperfect.  Life is good.  :-)