Jenny and I ran around the parking lot at Fort Mason, checking signs and feeling lost in the dark and amongst the cars and street lights, searching for the Blue Bear School of Music. We were late and a little irreverent about it, so when we seated ourselves and were asked to introduce ourselves, I started giggling like I was in junior high. Knowing that I probably seemed disrespectful didn’t help, but they all smiled so I didn’t worry about it.
MC Bateson says “Think of the personal introduction as a literary genre.” I like that, creativity with how we talk about ourselves, why so serious, right? I told a very simple version of the truth. Untrained musician, dabbled in instruments, graduate student, name, age, unemployed. Sometimes the literary genre I want to pick for an introduction is fiction though. “So where did you two meet?” “Well, (looking lovingly in each other’s eyes) we had both volunteered to bait Somali pirates into kidnapping us for a study of the emotional effects on captors of the stockholm syndrome… and the rest is just history(with a knowing smile)!”
I was actually really excited to sing. I don’t know why I had the giggles but it felt so good my guilt about appearing irreverent was’t enough to settle me down. I was nervous. Nervous to sing, nervous about what the format of the class would be, etc. Blake is the teacher and he is dressed a little like shaggy from scooby doo, with burnt orange corduroy pants, a terry green shirt, and a paper-boy cap. It doesn’t help to take him seriously. In spite of this I know he knows what he’s doing. He is…. having us hit notes, talking to us about breathing, and telling us what he can do for us, and what he can’t.
I’m in the beginning of a movie and he’s like “listen kid, if you can’t hit a note, I can’t teach you that, but if you show up and you’re ready to be inside of that emotion, if you’re ready to feel, I can show you how to really be alive!”
I enjoy bringing myself to singing class, no matter what I feel like so the willingness to be inside of the emotion is no problem for me. When I sing “These arms of mine” by Otis Redding, I looove to croon those words, eyes closed in the agony of being alone for so long, and longing for someone to touch and hold. I enjoy pushing myself to express, to let my body roll with the notes, to allow the music and the sounds to demand that I let go of whatever I’m holding. But the breathing is more difficult for me. We’re supposed to be breathing to and from our pelvic floor. Most people in this class don’t know what that is. I do from yoga, but projecting from that space makes me nervous, and it’s harder to really get deep like that.
In fact, for me, breathing past my mid-ribcage in order to sing is a challenge. Which means I am currently not as successful at holding long notes, hitting high I’s, etc. Most of us hold tension somewhere, I tend to hold in my chest. One of the reasons I enjoy singing is because it pushes me to work through that.
There are moments when I think about whether its socially acceptable to express the emotion I’m feeling, I think about how I will be perceived, about being perceived as needy, or sentimental, or whatever it is. The blessing of a singing class is that singing gets better when you let those falsehoods go. When you decide to stop caring and to remove the intermediary between heart and voice, notes become clearer, but you become clearer too. Who you are becomes a part of your instrument, and your instrument better serves you in turn.
I know I approach the subject of authentic expression a lot, using different metaphors like the singing class, or communication in an emotionally challenging situation, etc. So sometimes I feel like I’m repeating myself, or like I’m not saying anything new. So why bother saying it? I’d love to have a revolutionary idea and the time to write about it every day. But the work I’m doing right now brings me through different experiences to similar conclusions, similar lessons. Being authentic in a given moment, not just when you are present to something joyful, but when ugliness or pain present themselves, is a practice that never ends while we live and breathe.
This may sound bold but the choice to be authentic is where I think our true liberation lies. For when we free ourselves from past ways of being and thinking, from feeling we have to respond to a situation in a way we feel comfortable with, we create a new and completely unique space for creativity, for emerging who we are, and for our experience of life to change. When you truly step into that space of acknowledging your options, choosing from what you feel instead of what you fear, all things are possible and the path you choose is yours. There is more responsibility to be sure, but the taste of those moments where I have experienced change, magic, success, failure, and beauty have been, without exaggeration, some of the most purely satisfying in my life. That’s a big claim, but for me it has been true. And while my sense of curiosity in the world has grown and there are many questions that are entertained in this process, there are questions I don’t find myself asking anymore.
“Why did I do that?” I know what I felt, what my intuition indicated, I made space to feel those things, and I used that awareness to decide. “Was that the right thing to do?” There is no right and wrong, I followed my heart and I did the best I could. “How did this person or that person perceive me, what do people think?” I don’t care anymore. Being true to myself is my job, and leaving the rest aside is how I do that well.