The pain of music.

24 06 2013


“Sometimes, making music is painful.  Sometimes, that’s the point.”

I typed these words on Facebook just a few minutes ago, in response to my own status.  Piano time, it said; I had mentioned that kleenexes might be necessary for this go ’round with my 88-keyed lover.

Why is it painful to be a musician?  Why do so many of us carry the perpetual undercurrent of ennui?  We have a gift!  We’re blessed! Legions would love nothing more than to possess our talent!  Yes, we’ve all heard it, and we’ve learned to smile with gratitude and accept the compliment,  But inside, something gnaws at us.

To be a musician is to possess a different perspective of the world.  We have a heightened awareness of nuances, detail, layers.  Our emotions generally run at a fever pitch; some of us learn to contain the overflow, others, not so well.  At one point during my twenties, I likened my existence to “the hoards of commonplace on ecstasy.”  Yes, it is a beautiful thing that we do, for music is one of the few art forms that must be experienced in the passage of time, and cannot be contained in the realm of space.  To make music, to listen to music, is to feel, to live.  The act of performing opens oneself to criticism, to laud, to any and all range of reactions from people, from others who may or may not “get it.”  Thus, a musician must deliberately be vulnerable.

This is where the pain comes in.

Couple raised perception with necessary vulnerability, and more often than not, the immensely talented performer on your side of the stage has often been driven to near madness by the perpetual quest for self-acceptance, let alone perfection.  There will always, always be someone better than us, someone more proficient, someone with a more fluid technique, a higher range, faster fingers, better breath control.

This is true in every art, every sport,  many if not most jobs.  Yet one often does not find an accountant drinking himself into a stupor because numbers were not crunched quickly enough.  Nary a pharmacist weeps in the night because her coworker knows more about drug interaction than she.  So, why us?  Why the purveyors of exquisite sound?  Why are so many of us crippled with self-doubt?

Because music is meaningless without the passion of its creator.  And passion is born from pain.

Wind chimes are pretty.  Elevator dings and musical jewelry boxes are pleasing to the ear.  Do we sit around and listen to recordings of them?  No.  Do we attend recitals of whippoorwills and doorbells?   Nope.

There’s no PASSION in those things.

It’s simply not possible to be a great musician without being passionate.  Sure, a robot can recreate a dictated series of notes perfectly and without flaw, but there will always be an element missing.  Would any sane person buy a ticket to a performance of Beethoven’s 5th piano concerto performed by a player piano? Absolutely not.  Musicians…  we are consumed.  We’re insane, on a level.  We’re willing to open our hearts, to shine a light on own tightly-guarded inner worlds when we walk onto that stage, because we SEEK that pain.   The thrill of walking that precarious tightrope between the ultimate expression of passion and the prospect of utter failure and humiliation is our lifeblood.  It’s a drug.  Creating something of incredible beauty from a bunch of black dots on a page…  Making something new, that no one has ever heard nor will ever hear again…  Translating emotion into sound…  it is the most exquisite pain.  And we musicians are absolute junkies for it.

So why would I ever want to do this to myself?  Why would I deliberately place myself in a situation that was almost certain to induce tears?  Because pain doesn’t always remain pain.  With time, and care, and nurturing, pain heals.  And the best thing I can do for my pain is smother it with my voice, pound it out with my hands onto these 88 keys.  No one but me may ever hear my pain made into sound, but it cannot remain static.  It must go somewhere, do something, become something else.

It must transform into passion.

That is why I do it.


Sperm Donor’s Day

16 06 2013

I had always been bitter about Father’s Day.  Not bittersweet, mind you, just flat-out bitter.

Yes, I grew up with a father present in the house.  My siblings and I were provided for, fed, clothed, dragged to gatherings of an unreasonably large group of people with whom we shared some faulty genes.  But was there anything remotely close to love present within this man whose eyes look back at me in the mirror?

No.  I’ll leave it at that.

As a youngster, I referred to this annual glorification of the pater familias as Sperm Donor’s Day.  I added fuel to the inferno of spite by giving my male teachers and friends’ dads Father’s Day cards.  My rage against this man who never, ever should have reproduced manifested in self-destruction.  When I looked in the mirror, all I saw was him.  Sickly pale skin, eyes an indeterminate mash-up of greengreyblue, The Most Boring Nose in the World, even his hairline…  I hated everything that I saw, because it was his.  Part of him was in me, and always would be.  I could never escape this.  There was nothing beautiful about what I saw; there never could be.

Years passed, therapists tried as they might, hospitalizations came and went, medications took hold, and I found myself free of his physical presence at the age of 15.  This was the beginning of my life.

I grew from stunted teen to awkward young woman, and I saw the inevitable before me: I must forgive this man if I ever wanted to be free of him.  He slowly, slowly, painfully slowly transformed in my mind from Eternal Oppressor to… failed, flawed man.  His power over me grew weaker with every ounce of strength I gained.  And for the first time, I looked in the mirror and saw…  my mother.  SO much of her.  I saw her jawline, her cheekbones, her smile. I saw her beauty.  And I saw her soul.  I saw all the pain that she endured in staying with this terrible man for 27 years.  And I let all of it go.

At my sister’s wedding, he saw me for the first time in well over a decade.  I stood before his eyes as a manifestation of everything he despised: a strong, independent, intelligent, free-thinking, agnostic woman.  He did not, could not, dared not speak to me.  He cowered.  And when my mother walked my sister down the aisle and presented her in marriage to the love of her life, I think he may have seen what he lost.  Do I know this for certain?  No, because I spent that day celebrating with my sister and loved ones.  His physical presence was of no consequence to me, because I was happy.

Am I still bitter about Father’s Day?  No.  Over the years, I’ve witnessed amazing relationships between fathers and their children, daughters especially.  I’ve come to understand that my own traumatic upbringing is the exception, not the rule.  My brother-in-law, Rich, is a spectacular father to my beautiful nieces, despite a similar childhood struggle.  I married the most loving, caring man I’ve ever known.  Would he be a great father?  Absolutely.  Will we find out?  Absolutely not.  😉

The Cheesecake Incident

31 05 2013


I am a very talented woman.  This is known.

Sadly, not all of my talents are…  good things.

There’s my penchant for failing in the face of gravity and other known laws of physics.  I’ve absolutely eaten a one-pound cheeseburger and all of its accompanying sides just to get my picture on the wall of Cheeburger Cheeburger (I had room for a milkshake afterward).  I can belch the alphabet in several languages.  My road rage and accompanying 5-speed handling are the stuff of legend.

But most unfortunate (nay, tragic) among these is a little skill I once named Diarrhea of the Mouth.  It has also been known as Diarrhea of the Ink Pen, Diarrhea of the Keyboard, and Diarrhea of the Phone, due to technical advancements in modern communication.  This sparkling gem of social failure often rears its ugly head when I’m involved in witty repartee with an intriguing person.   Onset is most common when I cross some sort of social border invisible to the Eyes of the Agnes, but commonly known to most others who were schooled in the art of social graces (and is more frequent when alcohol is involved, but can occur at any time, for any number of reasons incomprehensible to the Agnes).  Symptoms in their mildest form most often include awkward silences, unreturned phone calls, and a general distancing, sometimes lasting for days.  Dramatic symptoms are sadly not rare, but at times manifest in the affronted party as lost opportunities, floundered relationships, diagnoses of craziness, and the occasional entrance into the witness protection program.   Symptoms most often surface when the Agnes has managed to bungle a social situation to the point of producing what is known as the River of Shit, which flows freely from her mouth, keyboard, phone, or whatever communication medium is closest to her at the time.

Unfortunately, I’m just not good at the games and rules and general bullshit that go along with getting to know people, let alone dating.

During a particularly rough spell of infection, known to most as my twenties, I threatened to write a book called Funny Girls Don’t Get Laid, chock-full of true stories pertaining to how I scared off this guy or that guy or whatever.  The most standout chapter was to be The Cheesecake Incident.

A mutual friend had introduced me to Derek, the programming director of the local alternative radio station.  Derek and I were wrapped in conversation over Guinness; I was of course taken in with his musical knowledge and spectacular sense of humor, and he with the same qualities in me, and quite possibly my ability to pound an Irish Carbomb without using my hands.  (Use your imagination.)  The hours passed, last call rang out, and we went our separate ways.

The next day at work, Arwyn passed along the info that Derek was very much looking forward to seeing me again, and had asked her for my number (insert my own shock and delight that I’d managed, somehow, not to fuck this one up!).  He called, plans were made, and at the end of the evening when he asked me to stay the night, I declined, citing that while I had a great time, we had all the time in the world for that, and that it would be best not to rush things.

Aaaaaaaand here comes the silence.


Days passed, and I heard absolutely nothing from this awesome guy who seemed so smitten with me.  What the hell??  What did I do??  Surely he wasn’t blowing me off because I wasn’t ready to sleep with him, right?  Brain reeling from my typical situational over-analysis, I proceeded to carry out what I thought was an endearing gesture: he had told me that he loved the strawberry cheesecake from my place of employment, so I drove to his office downtown and brought him a piece.

Yep.  I sure did.

Open floodgates.  Cue River of Shit.

He was mortified.  He did manage to say, “You really shouldn’t have done that,” before citing lots of meetings and stuff to do and telling me that I should leave.

I never heard from him again.

I was heartbroken.  I’d done it again, somehow.  I’d managed to shit all over a great opportunity with an amazing guy, and I was completely baffled as to how it happened.  Over-analysis turned to damn-near psychosis.  How did I screw it up, AGAIN??  So of course, as he wasn’t returning my calls, I did the next most logical thing, to me: I went to his house.

Oh shit, no I did not.

Yes, I did.  Because I just don’t know what to do, and I never have.

He begrudgingly let me in.  With my pride in tiny pieces on the floor, I flat-out asked him, “What happened?  I thought things were going so well?  What did I do?”

Turns out that those words, “all the time in the world,” scared the bejesus out of him, because he took that to mean that I was already sinking my claws in for the long haul.  I pleaded with him that it was entirely not the case, and that I just didn’t want to act like a total ho-bag, but my words fell on deaf ears.  You see, even if the words I spoke had the best intentions, it was what followed that convinced him that I was utterly pathological:  I called him.  And I BROUGHT HIM CHEESECAKE.

Good Christ.

Lather, rinse, and repeat this scenario for another ten years.

Just when I’d given up on ever being able to navigate this Great Dating Abyss, I met someone who was completely unfazed by my Diarrhea of the Keyboard.  He had no idea that women weren’t supposed to call men, let alone ask them out.  Instead of running far, far away, he was flattered when I flirted with him online.  I met someone who didn’t even SEE the River of Shit.  I met him, and by God, I married him.  🙂

So yes, all of this is to say that what some people call Foot in Mouth Disease really could be just the verbal flailings of the socially awkward.  The porters of said disease could truly have the best intentions at heart.  Maybe, just maybe, give ’em a chance.  They might even bring you cheesecake.

Here. Now.

29 05 2013

It’s three years later.

Really, it’s six years later.

I spat something onto this page back in 2010, in a faint-hearted attempt to renew my creative juices.  They drowned again.


But something is different this time.  This time, I believe.

I knew I’d sit down this morning and write something, something REAL.  I drank the coffee, I turned on Radio Paradise, and I waited.  I filtered.  I took in my environment, heard the sounds around me, smelled the fragrance of cut grass and last night’s dinner in the sink.  I waited.

And it came.

Ray LaMontagne had to point out the obvious to me.  He had to tell me to be here, now.

So here I am, on my couch in an affluent Los Angeles suburb, in a townhouse decorated in a reflection of the pristine madness that whirls about in the minds of my husband and myself.  I am in a traditional Indian nightgown, purchased for me by one of my husband’s aunts.  I am under a godawful, somewhat smelly fleece blanket named Moishe Greenberg that resides as a permanent fixture on our couch.

But more important than my location on google maps, my wardrobe, and my current physical comforts: I am HERE.  NOW.

I am married, to the sweetest, weirdest, goofiest man in the world.  I have a wonderful life, filled with constant love and laughter.  I am healthy, and getting healthier every day.

It is May 29, 2013.  Wednesday morning.  Thousand Oaks, California.

When I’m done writing this, I will put in a load of laundry.  I will do an hour of cardio.  I will eat a healthy lunch, and then I will go to work.

But most importantly, I will live this life.  THIS life.  On THIS day, in THIS city, with THESE circumstances.

It finally hit me this morning, when Ray sang those words to me, that I’m HERE.  I’m done searching.  The life I’ve always wanted is the life I have.  It’s the life I love.  I’m free of all those self-constructed roadblacks.  All that dead weight is gone.  I’ve gotten out of my own way, and now I’m free to create, free to destroy, free to scrap a song idea and start over without that crushing self-judgment tearing me apart and my first stumble along the way.

All of this came from a re-reading of all my previous blog posts.  I saw that girl from so many years ago from a different perspective.  I saw her from the outside.  I tapped on the glass.  I tried to tell her to just open her eyes and look around, and she’d see what she was searching for.

But it took hearing Ray LaMontagne saying those same words to THIS girl for them to sink in.  I’m here.  Now.

And I laughed so, so hard when I read this post:

And I saw the first comment.

I’m here.

(Okay, enough aloofness for one day.  The laughs begin again tomorrow.  But for now, I have a date with a washing machine and a workout video, and this seemingly mundane life which is so far from mundane.)


14 04 2010

So every now and then a completely earth-shattering notion seeps into my consciousness: Our lives revolve around rocks. One rock, in particular: gold.

Does anyone else think it’s completely mind-boggling that damn near every stress incurred in human life pertains to the perpetual need to hoard rocks? That some thousands of years ago, someone determined that a shiny yellow rock was currency? And that now, those many thousands of years later, the entire makings of the world’s ins and outs can be narrowed down to one element on the periodic table??! a ROCK?!???!!

I truly can’t wrap my brain around it. Rocks are why we get up in the morning and go to jobs we hate. Rocks are the primary stressor in the human psyche. Too often, rocks determine our happiness or lack thereof. ROCKS.

It’s just absurd. When the world as we know it teetered on the verge of collapse last year, it really hit home with me that this economy, this show that we put on, the plumage we flaunt like so many work-worn peacocks, is a complete farce. If an alien race was to look in at humanity, what would it see? Smoke and mirrors. The world turns for the people on it not as a spectacle of celestial amazement, but as another damn day to earn a few more rocks.

When did this happen?

When did life as we know it turn from a gift to a chore?

And how, exactly, did the world’s economy blossom into the Emerald City of Oz?

When the stimulus was passed and the United States borrowed 700-something billion dollars from China, where did that money come from? How can the Federal Reserve simply print more money? Don’t we need rocks to back it up? No? Sooo… I guess that means the rocks that we DO have, tucked away a few miles from my Kentucky home, are somehow worth less?

And, really, what IS the price of gold? Who decides this? And why does it have a price to begin with? It’s a DAMNED ROCK!!!

This shit makes my head spin. I’d be perfectly happy with a farm and a cow, building a cabin from logs and mud, growing my own crops and living off the land. Who’s with me?

I don’t need yer steenking rocks!!!


13 04 2010

Sometimes only Futurama quotes can truly capture the madness that circulates in my brain. It’s late (well, not really late, but that word is redefined the further one proceeds into her 30s). I’m nowhere near tired. My brain is twitching from all the anti-skin mayhem drugs it’s been fed. The kitteh sleeps beside me, content to taunt me with all her cute. I blew the dust off this thing because I realized that my creative outlets have dried up. I haven’t played my piano in well over a year, there’s nothing to sing about, and my waistline is doing a convincing job of keeping the oven mitts at bay. So yes, writing it is.

So this is Southern California. Every now and then it hits me that the vast majority of my loved one are thousands of miles away. I think the drugs are doing a pretty good job of making that notion abstract. I’ve been thinking about kicking the headpill haze for a while. Seems like the buffer provided by SSRIs are more of an oilstreak across the glasses of my emotions. Feigned ignorance may be bliss, but if one can’t even appreciate bliss, what’s the good in it? Garden State. Yes. I’ve been way too happy with white walls.

The crudely animated space lobster on the TV makes far more sense to me than Fareed Zakariah. Is that wrong? I’m in my early thirties and married and all that. Shouldn’t I be concerned with worldly goings-on? Nah. I’ll leave the politics to my non-citizen husband. There’s an alcoholic robot to appease me.

So yeah, nothing profound today. Just reminding myself what it’s like to write. I’m sure the inanities of life will inspire me soon enough. Until then, it’s your resident whackaloon, signing off.

And now for something completely different.

22 10 2008

Well, not really.  It’s completely related to all that shite I wrote last month, but I’m not ready to tackle it yet.  Or better yet, I don’t know if I’m allowed to discuss it publicly yet.

Yes, that was complete, unadulterated snark.  Deal with it.  😆

This post is a devotion to all the things I love about my Mocha Man, because I never, ever want to take him for granted.

I love his laugh, and the way his eyes twinkle.

I love his skin: the color, the softness, the warmth.

I love his twisted sense of humor.

I love his sense of adventure.

I love that he’ll eat ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING.  Especially absolutely anything that I cook.

I love that he cherishes the value of a good crap.

I love that he bought an orange couch.

I love that he adores red wine, the spicy, tannic, dry as sand kind.

I love that he trusts me completely.

I love that he loves my cats.

I love the way he lights up when I enter a room.

I love way he GETS me.

I love the way he smells.

I love the fullness of his lips.

I love his Sunday afternoon stubble.

I love the way he sees beauty in absolutely anything at all.

I love that he can express his love for me so openly.

I love his fearlessness.

I love his sense of integrity, and his insistence upon truth.

I love his sense of style.

I love his strength.

I love that he finds me beautiful no matter how fucked up my hair is when I wake up.

I love his goodness, and his respectfulness.

I love him, everything about him.

I am a very lucky woman.