Friday, January 13, 2017

An artist trusts herself




No to you, you, and you. And no everybody except me.

Yes to me.

(And ok, yes to that one person, but only like once a year.)

Friday, January 6, 2017

Artists' witching hour.

1-5-17 oh, no. 1-6-17

The witching hour of artists is well after midnight. You’re up because, well you were up the same time last night, and then you slept in because you’re an artist for fuck’s sake, and don’t have a real job.

And your person in bed next to you has settled in and started sleeping peacefully, ceasing to provide you with an adequate distraction to the NOISE IN YOUR BRAIN, which, as often as not, is a disorganized flurry of anxieties, but which, at this hour, grows brighter and brighter with visions terrible and fantastic which desperately want to play out in your workspace. The workspace which, during the day is an unsightly mess of incoherent piles, but the night lighting gives it the romance you need to dream up the next bits of adventure for your favorite characters. There’s scope for the imagination at this hour, scope which, as likely as not, will be dashed by daylight. And you’re fighting it all of course, lying in bed next to your person sleeping peacefully, not just because you're not sure why or if you're shit matters, in the great scheme of things--if I do another choral arrangement of Motherless Child, does that change anything, really, for anybody aside from the romantic faerie-demon that possesses me well after midnight?--but also because: why can’t you have a normal fucking sleep schedule, for once in your life? And work during the day like normal people? 

Well, it’s because the witching hour of artists is well after midnight. That's it. I figured it out.

Monday, December 29, 2014


As I’ve learned more about meditation and some basic principles of Buddhism, I have realized that I’m very addicted to telling myself stories about myself.

What I do is I have conversations, in my head, with people. The people are real, usually people from my past, but the conversations are just in my head. And the conversations aren’t really conversations. They are me lecturing the other person, or explaining something about myself or about how I view the world. This is my way, I believe, of defining myself, to myself. Often the mind-conversations are confrontations. Often I am angry in these conversations. My current theory is that because I so loathe and avoid confrontation in real life, I need to set my boundaries to myself, in my own head, to distinguish and define and maybe even understand myself.

But I’ve realized that these story-telling conversations are constant. If my attention is not otherwise engaged—in reading, watching or listening to something, actually conversing with a real live person, making music, etc—I am 100% likely to be having one of these conversations.

Last night was a very angry one. We live in an apartment complex and our unit is right next to the laundry room. On the laundry room door it is posted that residents are not to do laundry after 10pm. This is because the dryers are really noisy, and the motion-sensored light right outside the door goes on and off right into ours and a few other resident’s windows when people are going back and forth. It’s very disruptive to sleep. This hasn’t been a problem for most of the 3 years that we have lived here. But recently someone moved in who completely disregards the rule, and two or three times now has kept us awake quite late with their laundry-activities.

This completely enrages me. Blind rage. But remember—I hate confrontation. So my go-to response is to have horrible angry conversations with the perpetrator in my head. I obsess over things I’m going to do to this person, and enact these things in my head, alongside my angry conversations. It’s late, though, and I’m in my PJs, and it’s cold outside and I don’t really want to have to go out there to actually deal with it. Furthermore, I would have to wait until the person walks by between loads to catch them, and that requires constant attention at my window for as much as 45 minutes or something. And I’m much too distracted by my blind rage to do something like that.

Last night, since I knew I wasn’t going to go out and do something about it, and since I’ve had some Buddhist meditation principles rolling around in my head, I laid back and tried an experiment with my angry story-telling. I experimented with letting go of the story. This wasn’t intentional, but as I imagined letting go, I imagined the anger rising off my body, of its own accord, like steam after a hot bath.

I immediately experienced peace. It wasn’t peace combatting my anger, it was the peace that was always there under the story. It was absence. Absence was quite peaceful.

In that space it occurred to me that part of my holding on to the angry story was a duty.

In the past when I’ve thought about anger, I’ve mostly experienced it as an entitlement. I learned early on in therapy that anger could be really important and useful, especially for getting out of abusive relationships or situations and moving forward. I grasped that idea for years. And I still think it’s true. Thus for many years, even when I’ve known that it was time to let go of anger, I imagined that it was a sense of entitlement that kept me holding onto it. Almost like a guilty pleasure. I should probably stop eating this chocolate, and I should probably let go of this anger, but I DON’T WANT TO BECAUSE IT FEELS SOOO GOOD.

But last night when I let go of the anger, and it dissipated and vanished in the space above my body, I realized that I had also felt a duty to hold onto that anger. I have no idea where that duty came from, but... 

No. No, I take that back. As a very good little Mormon girl, I grew up experiencing most things as duty. If a certain activity could be considered a good thing to do, my dutiful little mind turned it into a duty. I think this was a big part of my descent into major depression on my mission. At any rate, last night, it felt MUCH better to let go of the anger-duty. Much better.

I suppose anger is just an emotion. It’s a murky, smoky, gaseous substance that can propel us forward, and can cloud our clear vision. It can be useful and it can be distracting and it can be destructive, but it’s just an emotion. And it’s ok to let it go.


Monday, June 16, 2014

Some Ideas about Humans

I need to write something about us and them. Us-and-them-ness. This syndrome, so prominent in Mormonism, and brought to light this week by the very Mormon boundary-maintenance habit of excommunication.

So anyway, two ideas:

1. I think a lot about what a good life is. Almost invariably, for me, a good life is centered around helping others. Growing up, that has always meant other people. It was hard for me to grant the same importance to helping a homeless dog, for instance, as to helping a homeless man or woman. Why is that, I wonder? It might just be a function of my very intense religious upbringing--the fervor of my belief, growing up, in the importance of being Christlike. But I also wonder if it has something to do with a baser element, a very simple, very deep, totally unacknowledged instance of us vs. them. So deep, it's probably written in my DNA. Explained by evolution--the tendency of a species to propagate itself, at the expense of other species. Simple competition. My first excuse is always to go straight to the idea of consciousness--sentience. People are higher on the scale of importance because we feel things more deeply--we have greater sense of awareness-self-awareness as well as awareness of others. But current research on the sophistication of bee communication, ...and other stuff... tends to lead to a different conclusion. Furthermore, granting the helping of other species--even plant, fungi, insect species--the same level of importance as helping people can be attributed to a similar kind of biological self-preservation. It seems, more and more, that science is pointing to the insight John Muir had when he said;

"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."

It does, however, seem to require an awareness beyond that which most of the human race seems capable. Or at least the fox-news-watching portion of the human race.

2. Ok, second idea, related to the first. That our sky-rocketing human population requires, most likely, a constant re-thinking of the traditional us vs. them. Because the actual physical fact is that we are constantly bumping up against each other much more than we have in millenia past. Centuries past. Hell, even decades past. 7.2 billion people is a fuck-ton of people, is all I'm saying. The booming population, and the physical requirements thereof, in terms of living arrangements, feeding arrangements, transportation, communication, etc., means that each individual human is much more aware of diversity. At least, in the modernized world. We are much more aware that a particular set of human beings was perhaps taught from birth that their religious world-view is the only true religion, and despite having been taught that very thing ourselves, we do need to respect them as people, and try as hard as we can not to commit genocide against them, like we did several centuries ago, because, well, we've acknowledged that that was perhaps not our finest hour. In fact, this much diversity awareness may even result in a large number of us humans concluding that one miniscule little worldview trying to vaunt itself up to exclusive truth claims might be a bad idea, because of the way so many other humans despise and ridicule us on that count...

I mean, ultimately, that rigid, violent boundary maintenance, of the sort the Mormon church seems hell-bent on carrying out, might be a tad out-dated. That's all I'm saying.    

Monday, December 23, 2013

My mother's mother's mother.

I'm just back from a few days in grand Junction, CO, where now reside my grandparents, Aunt and uncle, parents as of about a year and a half ago, and most recently, a cousin and his little family. I have a lot of people  in GJ. I also have a ton of family history there. I think it's the closest thing I have to an ancestral home. Grandpa Roper had a big-ish plot of land there that he farmed, that has now been parceled out a bit to the four kids, so my parents own a piece of it. I suppose for almost a century now, Ropers and Walkers have lived in GJ, and for over a century, in Gunnison, about 120 miles to the southeast, in the Rockies.

The main purpose of my visit was to immerse myself in Grandma Dot's rather large collection of family history work--binders full of letters, pictures, maps, newspaper articles and clippings, lineage charts, every possible historical documentation you can think of. Grandma had started a biography of her mother, Arla Tufly Walker, many years ago, and the last time I was there, I decided it would be up to me to help her finish it. Grandma is 87 now, and in remarkably good health for her age, but she is beginning to show signs of mental decline: forgetfulness, repeating herself, occasional disorientation. Based on her own judgment as well as that of her two children who live nearby, it's unlikely she will finish the biography by herself. She had outlined about 11 chapters, and written 3 of them. So I decided what I could do was get her to talk about what she would have put in the remaining chapters, record her and transcribe it in order to finish the thing.

So this last trip, we got started. As it turned out, it seemed more efficient to actually take notes in a word document as Grandma talked, rather than add the extra step of recording and transcribing. That also meant she could look over my shoulder and correct things, and even start to edit a little bit. Actually, this revealed to me some more detail about Grandma's short-term memory loss. I would write exactly what she told me, with just a bit of grammar editing, and as she looked over my shoulder sometimes she would correct me, insisting she hadn't said such and such a thing, but in fact something different. That didn't happen a lot. But it happened enough that I decided this was a better way than recording her. I will also have to do my own research to verify things.

And I'm pretty excited about that. Our next move will be--hopefully--to take a trip up to Gunnison together, along with Grandpa. I'm hoping they will both be up for that. I don't know... they might not be. It's not exactly an easy drive, even for a passenger, and I don't know if they could manage there and back in one day. And if not, we'll have to find some sort of lodging, which seems pretty disruptive to a couple of old folks who have a very set daily routine.    

It's been pretty amazing getting to know Arla better. I wish I could have known her--and I do hope I will know her. I feel that I have a lot in common with her. She was well-educated, being quite bookish and motivated to succeed in school from her childhood. Her own mother, Minnie Curtis Tufly, insisted on Arla attending college, and worked to help pay for her education. Arla eventually got her teaching degree from Colorado State Normal School (as it was then known--today it is Western State Colorado University, with some other intervening appelations), and went on for more advanced work a the state university in Denver. She then came back to teach English at CSNS. The last few days, Grandma mostly focused on stories relating to Arla as a young mother, and trips they took together when Grandma was very young. Grandma has a great memory for her early years. We just barely got to talking about Arla's extensive involvement in the community. She was instrumental in starting up Gunnison's first public library. (This fact was what made me eager to visit Gunnison--seems to me the current library must have some of it's own history on file, including information about Arla's involvement. Much as I love Grandma's stories, I feel it will be important to gather information from more sources.) Arla also taught Sunday School at the Community Church in Gunnison, and Grandma says she can't remember a time when she *wasn't* teaching Sunday School.

I'm beginning to understand the family history freaks--the people who can't understand why you are not as excited about it as they are! The more I learn about Arla and her personality, and the things with which she filled her life, the closer I feel to her--and consequently, I feel inspired as to the things with which I want to fill my own life.

It's been interesting to consider the intricate, positive interaction between biological and environmental heredity, as well. I've seen personality traits in Grandma's stories of Arla that seem very fundamental to my own personality. It's fascinating to ponder on the ability of both DNA as well as parental influence to pass traits down through generations. Even though Grandma Dot was quite rebellious against her mother's high-class, college educated influence, preferring to do farm work with her father, she nevertheless eventually finished college, and became a teacher like her mother. She even eventually got a master's degree, moving beyond her mother's educational accomplishments. And even though, as far as I can tell, every mother-daughter relationship from Arla to me has been characterized by resistance and rebellion, we all of us nevertheless have a passion for books and learning. And I don't doubt that that trait has it's roots in both biology and environment. There have been times when I felt I owed it to my maternal line to go on and get a doctorate. But I suppose, now I feel I only ought to do that if I can actually use it to improve the lives of those around me, since that seems to have been the motivation for my forebears.  

I think one barrier to my getting into my family history has been Mormon guilt--the huge "should" attached to it. Now that I feel quite a lot less of that, it's much easier to get interested in the stories. I honestly think learning these stories of my ancestors is MUCH more important than doing proxy ordinances for them in a temple which, more than likely, they'd never willingly entered on their own, taking on strange, sexist oaths and devotions to a cultish, mortal institution...  No. What's important is learning about my people, my heritage. Learning what my blood is made of, and perhaps understanding who I am generationally. What's important is keeping these stories and making them available for the next generations. I believe this knowledge of each other is what seals us.        

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Creative Process Stuff

I feel the love of God most strongly when I am composing.Maybe even--*only* when I am composing.
Oh, but. God. How taxing it can sometimes be.

So there's this choral piece I started way, way, way, back a long time ago. I started it the night before I left on my mission. So that's been a few months over 11 years ago. It's an SATB setting of Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins. I think this is a pretty well-known poem, and I've even seen a few choral settings of it in the last few years. Of course, I look away. I can't actually bring myself to look at them, because then the comparison starts and well we all know how that shi# ends. It always ends with me in the trash for, I don't know, MONTHS.

Anyway, I've had a devil of a time trying to finish this piece,what with the intervening mission of insanity, depression, realization that it was, in fact, depression, type 1 diagnosis, all of that weird shiz where I thought I should be a choral conductor (wha...?). Anyway, and then I met this brilliant man who loves me and helps me remember a little about who and why I am, and so here I am composing again. Through all of those years, I never let that piece go. I worked most on it during my BYU piano degree. Yeah, when I was supposed to be practicing, I was composing. (How did this not tip you off, self?) And I think I came up with some good things. It all seemed to hold together, the bits I started before the mission of insanity, the bits I worked on when I got back and through the years. I'd always envisioned the structure as essentially ABA, with both As in fact being in the key of A major, and B being tonally unstable and developmental. I got it to the return of A and imagined that the return would state the melodic material of A in three-part canon. And that's where I stopped because that seemed hard. And I didn't have any notation software, and I wouldn't know how to work it if I did, and I didn't really have time, as a piano major with depression who worked at the MTC, to even begin to figure that stuff out, and forget about time, I was so insecure in my identity as a musician at all, let alone a composer, a creator. There were just too many obstacles at the time.

Now, having finished my choral degree, and with an employed lawyer of a husband essentially supporting my rehab post BYU, I rallied with vigor to give it a double bar. I gave myself a deadline to get a copy to Brady Allred, whose choral organization I joined up with when we moved to Salt Lake. So, yeah I did that. I went all--three-part canon in the sopranos, supported by full divisi ATB, we're talking 10 separate parts, it goes nuts for a while, then it winds down, little key change out of nowhere, a few winding down sustained chords, and it ends in the key of Bb.

Yeah, it totally didn't work at all. The beginning was one piece, and by the end, it was a totally different piece. My super-connected friend who is a brilliant musician and composer, told me recently to send him some stuff to send to a Danish conductor, so I pulled out my 11-year-old disaster with potential, thinking, ok, I'll just revise it, get it worked up right and send it off. And what I've realized tonight trying, AGAIN to give this piece some closure, is that I really need to rediscover the spirit that started the thing. The first 2/3 of this piece is so extraordinarily simple, and clear, it's like it fell straight out of the sky. I keep trying to come up with new ideas to round this piece off, but I think what I need to do is really study what I already have. Like  I need to do a formal analysis of the stuff that's good. And harmonic analysis. And write the ending with the same spirit of simplicity, ease, grace... I've been trying too hard, these many years. It began it's life as melodic material, all of it, even when there's thick harmony. And in the intervening years I've focused so much on harmony--interesting modulations and thick, fat sounds. I need to lean it out.

Lean it out. Simple. Melody.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

In my first life, I was a musician. (Rambly navel-gazing.)

Why?  Well, I had some talent.  I learned the language of music very quickly, because we had a piano.  I would sit at it, at a very young age, and play--play with those black and white musical blocks, until my parents knew they had to get me into piano lessons.

Because it happened at such a young age, music was a huge part of my identity.  Because my family was pretty emotionally handicapped, and I think also because of Mormonism, I didn't develop an identity outside of music.. and Mormonism.  Not as a child, not as a teen, not even really as a young adult.  I think this post marks me acknowledging and developing an identity apart from music and Mormonism for the first time.

I loved to the play the piano as a kid.  The thing I loved most about playing the piano was improvising and  making up my own music.  I eventually learned to write it down, and I loved to do that.  I was good at it.  But somehow, somewhere along the way, as my Mormon guilt grew, and the bottomless pit that served as its reservoir was being dug, music got linked up with my Mormon guilt.

I went to BYU, and though it took me years, I finished a piano performance degree, and then, because I had no idea what came next, I started a masters in piano performance.  Then switched over to choral conducting.  And all the while I thought it was because I was "supposed to", I thought I was fulfilling my mission, whatever that would be.  I thought that the opaque blackness that stared at me whenever I contemplated the future, my future career in music and how the heck I would support myself, I thought that was just the trial of my faith.  You know, learning to step into the darkness. Maybe it was.

But now that I'm done with that part of my life, the school and graduate school, and now that guilt is such an integral part of my approach to my music, and now that I'm nearly immobilized by it, now that I have a lawyer husband who could technically support whatever musical entrepreneurship I could dream up--I really just want to do something different.

I learned tonight that my favorite high school English teacher, Rob Haug, passed away two years ago.  Somehow I never heard about it, which isn't surprising since I have almost no ties to my hometown.  He was an incredible teacher.  Thinking about him reminded me of that magical time in my adolescence when I was taking the first intrepid, awe-filled steps into the world of the mind, the reading and the thinking and the writing.  I loved that.  I was good at that, too.  I treasured the encouraging messages my English teachers wrote on my papers.  One even told me I was classic English major material.  That surprised me, because I so heavily identified as a musician.  It was my junior year, I was starting to think about college, and I had never thought about English.  I remember I really liked the idea, though it was a vision of my future self that was completely foreign.

Fast forward a few years, I remember a conversation with my piano teacher at BYU.  He thought that one thing holding me back from committing to music in a specific, goal-oriented way, was that I had a very broad field of things I could do well.  It feels somewhat self-congratulatory to say it, but he really nailed it, nailed me.

I guess all of this is to say that I'm really questioning my choice of music as a vocation.  Much like my choice of Mormonism as a religion, music actually wasn't ever really a choice.  It was who I was.  Or--it was who I thought I was, despite the little slivers of evidence to the contrary that cropped up in high school.  And, you know, recognizing that any choice, conscious or not, will have its opportunity costs and regrets, I'm wondering now if I had chosen something like English, would I have a better grasp on what to do with my life now?  Why would I choose music as a career if I don't want to be a private music teacher.. I don't want to be a public music teacher... I don't really want to be a choral conductor, or a free-lance accompanist?  I feel so blah when I think about what I want to do to earn money with music, and it's been that way for YEARS!  (Composition--now that's totally another thing.  I can see myself wanting to do that, but at this point I have such an incredible amount of *should* attached to it, that it doesn't feel good to do, or even think about doing.)        

One thing I learned about myself in grad school, was how much I love the small classroom setting.  That was my favorite part of being a grad student, teaching the lower-division undergrad classes.  I loved having discussions with students, and being an active part in creating and nurturing the unique learning community of each class.  I loved getting to know individual students, and watching how individuals interacted, and worked with and learned from each other.  I loved learning from them.  I wonder if I should rewind and go to school to be an English teacher.  Seriously.  I'm remembering the honors class I took freshman year--it was kind of an out-of-the-blue choice, but it was one of the most influential college classes I ever took: I think it was called "The Making of a Teacher."  

And, well, one thing is for sure.  When I connect to those memories of the past, of the way I remember my whole soul firing up in response to great literature, I feel more myself. I remember what it is to feel like a whole person.