Friday, December 19

my flute, the closet, and i

lyshaeskro:  Appreciating the gift that I have. Love being able to express myself this way.

I’ve been spending time in the walk-in-robe this week.

When I was a young musician, I selected the room with the most echoes and delighted in the sound of my playing which filled every nook and cranny. The reverberance of our wooden floored home covered my flaws, and even a cracked note sung out with beautiful deception.

My first flute lesson at the VCA was conducted in my teacher’s brick office. Not only was it carpeted, but he had added panels of foam and carpet to the walls to dull the sound. There was nowhere for the sound to bounce and rebound. When I played a note, it stopped dead at the end of my lip plate – even my best notes sounded woeful, brittle, and a far cry from the sonority I enjoyed at home. It was all cardboard and no angels, and that was a shock. I was and am terrified of flute lessons, and the combination of nerves and a damp room made for humbling times. Humbling and sometimes tearful times.

I began to realise that I would best improve my sound by playing in the rooms which showed every crack, waver, and weakness. I learnt that to sound beautiful in a concert space, there must be many ugly hours in a damp room smoothing out every angle of the note.

This is why I have selected the closet for my practice space. I have a tall stool in my cubby, and lean my back against the shelves of clothes with despicable flute posture. Technically there is no reason for me not to play in my wet lounge room, to indulge in the sound now that I am no longer playing seriously. But I am a creature of habit and conviction, and I don’t want the lies of my lounge.

Our dog Wolfgang is extraordinarily musical in the howling way, and perhaps we shouldn’t have named him after such a prolific composer. His over powering accompaniment to even my tone exercises is another motivation to hide amongst my clothes in the dingy wardrobe.

This week I pulled my pure silver flute from its case, and in my dead nook, played some cardboard notes. I’d been asked to play Christmas Carols in Sunday’s service, and this required my lip muscles to remember. I invariably choose Paganini’s 24 Caprices for practice, and long notes. On Thursday night I headed for the two hour rehearsal and blew out some Silent Night.

The muscles in my shoulders and neck began to ache early in the rehearsal. They only ever began to kick up a fuss when I got chronic fatigue syndrome. They ache right up into my head, and produce this dull endless headache on the right side. When I came home, I got my heat pack, and Ben gave me a tough massage, and applied Chinese Medicine heat patches. The next day, the pain is established and unrelenting. There will be more massages, and more heat patches, and then there will be the actual service which will flare up the discomfort even more. And all the while there is a never ending headache.

I look at my flute, and I hear my Paganini, and I want to play for hours. My love has not faded, it cannot fade.

Ten minutes is enough to set my muscles into pain. My love hasn’t faded, but my body has rejected this occupation. I feel deep emotions in my practice room, whenever I pick up my instrument, as I try to find the peace in my skills slipping away from me. As I try to understand the purpose that those years of practice played in my life.

I think about the idea that it isn’t so much a flute, but a life tool which taught me and developed me. It cannot be lost to me, when it shaped me. Perhaps it was the thing that taught me that slow, often depressing plodding is the only and best way forward. From dull repetition and dry days can come the most beautiful things.  

Sunday, December 14

a confusing time of year

The complaints are flying off people’s tongues, that they have social events weekends in a row, that parking is nonexistent and roads are clogged, that swarms of humans are inhabiting the shops, and that there is so-much-to-do. In the same breath a person will curse Christmas busyness, and invite you to a break up party.

It’s a confusing time. I’m not against break up parties necessarily, I just feel the irony.

We are all miserable yet we all perpetuate the madness.  Everything that is done at this time of year is technically voluntary, although this doesn’t feel like the case when tradition is at play. We moan under the strain of our rat race society, but how it will it change when we go along with it year after year?

I have developed categories in my mind, so that I can decipher where to spend my limited health. In the first categories are things like showering, eating, house cleaning, joyful activity and close friendship. In the later categories are things I rarely have the health for, like hospitality, social events, baking, cleaning the car, making the bed.

Christmas hype is in my last category, Category 4. I am actually happy for the ones who enjoy every event and shopping trip, but I don’t know many of them. Mostly I hear from the ones who don’t enjoy it, but do it all the same. I try to do some of it, and struggle with it, and end up feeling like the Grinch.

I am not a true Grinch. I love going back to the story of Jesus birth, feasting with my family, and the traditions, carols, trees, lights. I just don’t like drowning, and watching other people drown on this leaky boat that we made.

If well people are flailing, then unwell people are drowning. If we don’t usually have the strength for social events on top of our normal week, then we are suffering when we attend, or feeling the pain that is not fitting in when we decline. If we stay far from the mall’s florescent lights and chemical intensity usually, then the sheer number of gifts to buy is overwhelming. If we can’t stand for long in the heat without fainting, we certainly can’t sing carols.

Life is a challenge usually + expectations increase = human being in need of a desert island. This is me.

Like most things in life, it’s not as simple as saying ‘no’ to every event, ditching the Christmas shopping and not taking the car. It’s a balance of trying to nurture my weary body but keep in step with the people I live with. In Alexander Technique, there is an insightful concept called ‘End Gaining.’ The idea is that we aim for an end result, and we will do it at any cost. We do damage on our way there. I think that is our society in a nutshell. And in the aptly named Silly Season, we fulfil every tradition and end of year party requirement, and we straggle towards the first day of the New Year, utterly spent and probably no happier than if we’d lived gently, on a smaller scale.

Happy Christmas.

No, I really mean it. :-) And I’m trying to navigate it such that mine is happy too.


Monday, December 8

when flukes aren't flukes


I’m not sure whether I was born a pessimist, or became one in my childhood. But ever since I can remember, I did not think good things would happen to me. I almost invariably felt that I was going to fail my exams or do woefully – and almost invariably I was blown away by the fact that I had again fluked a good result. I felt like everything was just a skin-of-my-teeth victory. I’m not pessimistic for others or situations not related to my life, just my own. I think “But that wouldn’t happen for me. It would be too good, it would be too easy.” This has probably been strengthened by a lengthy illness where my soaring hopes of recovery have been dashed several times, and my perfectionism which leads to a heightened awareness of imperfection and perceived failure.

Perhaps it’s a protection device: hope for less, feel less disappointment. Perhaps it even makes me happier?

Anyway, I was sitting at my sewing machine flirting with the idea of selling things. The thought was frightening – to sell imperfect work to strangers is not comfortable territory for me. While I was agonising over whether this idea was mad or not, Ben was unfailingly sure it would be a success (I thought he was naive and irrational), and my friends were buying my wares. I started an Instagram page so they could see what I was making and what my prices were. My goal was to get 30 followers by the end of the second week. Every day I checked the email account I had began for my tiny business, and there was only one email in there.

It was from myself, a test email, and said ‘Nice Work Elke’.

 I was laughing with Ben one night about the fact that there would never ever be another email in there, so it was lucky I’d written a nice one to myself.

The next day, a kind maker with a big following shared my clutches and I exploded in shock that orders were rolling in – so fast that I quickly paid off all the set up costs, and was truly working from home. When I was asked by two shops if they could stock my things, I nearly passed out. I had never dared to hope for such a thing.

One week before, I had been sitting in my psychiatrist’s office once again, telling him about how sad, and guilty and hopeless, and sad and guilty and hopeless I felt. I had been telling him that I didn’t want to take the drugs again, but I didn’t want to feel like this anymore. I was crying because how would the sads go away?

The occupation of my mind, the creative output, the ability to work at home, the victory I feel at night, the sense of normality that has come to me through my tiny tiny venture has loosened depression’s grip on me. I find myself again blown away that something so inexplicably perfect for this stage of my journey has come to me. Often I hear the world whisper that only those who dream big and think positive will make their way forward. But I have invariably dreamed cautiously, felt inadequate, feared failure and expected difficulty.

Yet here I am, out of bed most days, married to a man I couldn't have dreamed of, living close to my beautiful family, selling handmade items, and not on medications. I don’t think our thoughts are everything. I believe in unexpected blessings and joy given to the fearful and the meek.