On this day, 10 years ago, your life was turned upside down. A decade ago, you sat on the bed in that two-story house on 71st Street, in Kansas City, at 9:30am, and your husband threw his wedding ring at you, telling you that he was divorcing you. He told you to leave the house immediately, and that the car that was leased in his name could be turned over to you for $500.
But, he had only left $80 in the account. He was generous enough to give you that.
None of this was really a surprise. You were in hell, and so was he. You were a wreck, and your marriage was a complete disaster. The stories over which we could reminisce are enough to make you laugh, and turn more gray. You were as bad a wife as he was a husband.
A week before this had all gone down, you mentioned that you couldn't sleep and felt anxious about his behavior. He casually reached in his pocket and offered you a little pill. That surprised you, but it shouldn't have. The woman who he was after had a mess of those little pills... and that's what happened - he left you because he found another relationship to pursue... with his secretary. Trite? Yes. A surprise? Not in the least.
At any rate, you got through it. Your parents were a huge support. Your father told you that this ordeal would be like eating an elephant. He recommended starting with the backside. They bought you a bicycle that you rode for a few months instead of driving a car. And that was the best therapy there ever could be for you. I have often wondered how in the world you rode all over the city at all hours of the night without a single person messing with you. You rode a beautiful, bright orange, expensive bike (I haven't found the bike size, color, or model since), but I believe that your guardian angel was working overtime. Also, you screamed and sang really loudly a lot when you rode around... so there's that...
Your apartment was on the edge of a very bad part of Kansas City. One bus stop away, actually. And the hookers would get off the bus at 2 or 3 in the morning, arguing with their pimps, or trying to get one more trick - depended on the night. Your cat, Ellie, stayed with you and was your best friend. For a year, you stayed right there.
And you got through it. You ate the elephant, starting with the backside.
You kept telling yourself, for years, wow! In ten years you'll see. Who will I be 10 years from now? Surely, I will be rich, and have a zillion recordings, and probably live in Paris - or maybe Beirut or Madagascar, or somewhere exotic... in an apartment with crown moldings and floor to ceiling windows. Definitely overlooking something old and cobblestoned. I'll be overwhelmed with lovers and expensive trips... you get the picture.
And, though this isn't a date that I feel an urge to mark anymore, I feel the need to honor my 2009 self and to take a close look at myself on the date that has been so important to me...
So, 2009 Rebecca, get ready, because the years after that day will be really stinking awful. Very bad people will come into your life, along with just some shitty ones. Selfish people, stupid people, stinky people. But along with them will come some who are now your very close friends. As good of people as the stupid ones are stupid. Acknowledge those people because they will see you to the other side of this.
You wanted it to happen quickly - in a year or two, you would be back to your old self. Sassy, smart, ornery, pretty. I'm sorry to say, but you left that Rebecca in your apartment in the 'hood when you moved. She's not you anymore, and that's just fine. Where you were going, you were going to need some new attributes.
We know about the following years of shittiness. Let's skip ahead to when the last of the shitty people fired you from their flute company because they had no idea what they were doing (Naming it the Seaman Storm piccolo is a good example of their complete incompetence. I still can't say it without blushing!). You had found a group of wonderful people, and the bad ones were falling away. This guy you had started seeing seemed really pretty alright. He has wonderful parents, which is a huge upgrade from your in laws.
One night, while this guy cooked you a delicious dinner, you painted a picture. And from that, because of one of those amazing people who is now your close friend, a book came, and from that, an International Book Award.
You moved to Austin with that guy, and things weren't always peachy. Sometimes they sucked. But they sucked in such a different way - because, at the end of the day, you talked about why they sucked. And you listened to each other, and tried to change. It was/is not always beautiful. But he is a wonderful person. I've chosen to stick with him!
Now, it's ten years to the day when you sat on that bed at 9:30am. You live in Easley, South Carolina, a place that, at the time, you never knew existed. Your house is eccentric and wonky - just how you like. You live and hike in the most beautiful mountains. You have students who practice and who love to play music. Though the zillion albums are forthcoming, you play music! A lot!!!! You create and sell art. You have spent abundant time in New York City, which is better for you than Paris, because you have loved that place ever since you were a child! You aren't at all rich financially, but you have enough. You have to color your hair now because it's getting gray. Your diet has had to change drastically because your metabolism is so much slower. You have wrinkles...so many things I can tell you have happened. Big, medium, mostly small.
And, most importantly, you have solid, wonderful relationships that are multi-faceted with incredible, interesting people. You are a much better judge of character! You aren't afraid to walk away. You aren't afraid to get in someone's face when they are bothering you or someone else. You have a better sense of what you're worth and what it's worth to do something. To do anything.
You. Are. Not. Afraid. You have eaten a few elephants and have lived.
Far from Madagascar, but I am sure that you will approve. People are everything to you, and though you insist that you are a recluse at heart, you really love the people in your life and are so grateful for their love and support.
I'll be visiting Kansas City next month, after almost a decade of being away. I'm sure to see you there, in so many places and in so many ways. Most of me is so excited that I can hardly stand it, but, I admit that I'm also hesitant. Hesitant of your sadness. Of your anger, of your... but mostly, I want to be there as I am in 2019, and give a huge hug to the dear woman I left there.
Rest in Peace, 2009 Rebecca Ashe. Know that better days come. Know that, from here, and from who you have become, good times will surely be ahead! And for the bad times that will surely happen, also know in your bones that you may not be ravenous for elephant, but now you have some good recipes, and you can handle anything!
With my love,
Seven years sounds like quite a while on paper... but in reality, it's so short a time. So short that sometimes I can't believe it's been seven years already!
Seven years ago, I went through a horrible divorce (are there any not horrible ones?) and lost almost every material thing I owned. I rode a bicycle for the better part of a year, saving and recovering from that experience. I still had my flute, and my constant bike riding and the endless support from my friends and family kept me physically and mentally strong through the roughest part of it. But I thought I'd never recover.
This month marks the seven year anniversary. I've reflected on that time, worried that I hadn't learned or changed or done ANYTHING. That besides changing skin and tastebuds, I had remained where I originally stood... that I was stunted.
The outer stuff has changed for sure, but the inner stuff - like has my playing stagnated, or has my professional position changed enough? I haven't pursued a University track position, I haven't released my own album yet. Until very recently, what I had to say wasn't there to speak. It seems as though all of the markers that show me that I'm headed up the right elevator are not in place. I've stayed awake at night, afraid that I've just been hanging out in Life's Lobby, and keep pushing the UP button on the elevator and waiting for the doors to open... am I progressing? How? Where? How is it different from seven years ago?
But as I thought about things, I was shocked at how and where I had changed and how drastically! The list below is just the surface of what has happened in the last seven years. I am a believer in horrible circumstances turning into wonderful metamorphoses.
Seven years ago, I was playing and teaching and doing fine with it. But I couldn't tell you one flute from another, nor who to even call up if you wanted to try one!
I had never played at (or even attended) an NFA Convention.
I was way too much of a goody goody to have spoken my mind and have been fired from a job that didn't suit me (let alone three in a row!).
I had no idea that I had a talent or much of a passion for art, or that I could win an award for a children's book, or that doing art would enhance my flute playing. Seven years ago I would have been too insecure about myself to ever explore very much outside of my flute career.
I never thought that I'd move three times, and live in a farmhouse in a Mexican town in Iowa, or climb the Appalachian mountains the better part of everyday for two years, or return to Austin.
I never dreamed that my students would be as smart, talented, dedicated and wonderful, and how many would be called to be professional musicians themselves.
I wouldn't have thought that I'd pick up martial arts again and that it would fit so beautifully with my flute playing and developing philosophy. Or that I'd discover some of my closest friends there.
Most of all, seven years ago, I never would have believed that I had even an ounce of the self discipline, humor, inner strength and overall ambition to keep going. It has gone so slowly in some regards. But looking back, it's been too quick to measure. Forget the elevator. I reckon that my path is the one up the side of the skyscraper, and someone was kind enough to lend me their rubber suction cups!! The top will come, in my own time.
I share this with the humblest of gratitude and joy. I hope that if anyone is going through something difficult, or that they believe that they haven't changed for the better from it, look again!! You'll be shocked!
Happy Anniversary to me!
I remember one morning when I was about 15 or 16 years old. I was getting ready for school when my mom called me downstairs. James Galway was playing on Good Morning America. She had the VCR set to record and after a brief interview "The Man with the Golden Flute" played.
I was entranced by his sound, his effortless playing... and at HOW FAST he could play!
I became close to obsessed with playing fast. I practiced fast. I played things three notches faster than I could play. I tried to mimic him! Admittedly, I sounded pretty bad for awhile.
Thank heavens for good teachers. My first private lessons with my flute and piano teachers were all in slow motion. My fingers were slow to match my tongue. My hands moved in time over the keyboard to train them to move together. My finger exercises were a practice in slow-motion torture!
My teachers told me about aural illusions.
Just like optical illusions, we can trick our ears into hearing things. For instance, slightly slower, EVEN playing will result in the technical passage sounding faster.
You don't believe me? Try it! Find a technically challenging passage and play it fast. Now, set your metronome a little slower and play it evenly. The time that you played it evenly and a little slower will sound faster than the messy passage. Play it for a friend. Play it for your mom or teacher. They will agree!
So the moral to this blog is "slow and steady wins the race"... or "even Steven gets the cake"... or something like that...
I have a big voice. It's distinctive - you can't miss it. I've always been able to talk over most any noise... most anybody, too... I have a big voice.
But laryngitis has always been a big issue with me. Both physically and creatively.
I have things to say. Lots. At one point in my life, at a time when I didn't feel heard, I tried to hone it, or direct it in a way that didn't offend anyone - in a way I believed everyone would understand... I wanted for the whole world to find something valuable in my output. You can imagine my angst, my audacity, and my lack of creative voice during that period!
I struggle with artistic laryngitis. Often. I have something to say - something that needs... OUT! But, for the life of me I can't gather my voice to say it. It's like a big trumpet mute got shoved down my throat. It suddenly becomes close to impossible to express the right stuff in the way I hear it being expressed!
I suspect this is true of everyone sometimes. We all occasionally need an artistic lozenge to help us get back on track. And whether the laryngitis was caused from an external source - criticism, rejection, etc... or internal - fear of said criticism and rejection - is really unimportant at the core. The creative voice needs to return... as does the courage, sense of self, and the joy that connecting to Other with the artistic voice brings!
I truly hope that upon reading this, you will take a breath, gain courage and remember that you are the only one to say what needs to be said from you! That is crucial - to gather our universal artistic courage, suck on a lozenge, and express what is in our collective through our singularity.
I'll admit it - I love to practice. I practice every chance I get, for as long as I can.
Here's why I love to practice: it is a meditation. Yes, just like you I practice technique and tone and those spots where I fumble. I turn on the metronome and play at ridiculously slow speeds. I practice keeping my fingers over the keys and my posture optimum.
But I also focus on those spots between - where my fingers are in the process of moving, where the notes are changing. Those places - the places in between - that's where the magic lives. Not necessarily in the shiny casing of the beautiful notes one plays, or the perfect rhythm and technique with which one executes technical passages. Yes, those are important. But so, too, is the silence, the minutiae, the infinite movement of air... for in that space, you will find your voice!
I often do this exercise. It's loosely based on a meditation practice that I learned from a Tibetan Buddhist nun in Austin, TX:
Set the metronome at quarter=60. Play a major five-note pattern (T&G 1 for those who know these exercises) giving each note 4 beats.
*Listen to your air speed.
*Listen to your fingers.
*Listen how the movement of your fingers affects the movement of your air. Breathe whenever needed.
*Listen for the silence between when one note ends and the next one begins, no matter how small or inaudible it is. Put your focus into the infinite space of the inaudible silence.
*How does the air/fingers/voice/silence change when you shift the pattern up or down?
*Do this exercise for as long as your focus allows. There is no "required" time for this to be beneficial.
After awhile, this simple meditative exercise helped me to understand what my voice sounds like. And how I want to shape it - move it through air. There became this ever shifting absolute...
It also pointed out to me that I am nervous - have tons of agenda - and have lots of my persona tied up into this ego flute thing. I sometimes get agitated doing this exercise. Blah, I think, I don't have time, why am I focusing on this? What will so-and-so think of my playing? Why can't I play in time? I really need to practice technique/tone/self promotion/running more... all of those thought patterns and well-worn stories start to reel through my mind at super speed!
But in gently bringing myself back to listen to the silence, I become a lot lighter. My ego has to go. Running, time, fingers, tone don't exist in that silent space, even though all around it is a cyclone of movement. It is teaching me that, regardless of what is happening outside of the silence or what my ego is telling me, I have absolutely NOTHING to lose.
I LOVE to practice.