Thoughts Spilled From A Brain Left Ajar

I was inspired by this man and his vlog to try vlogging again.  But, sheesh, it takes longer to edit and upload the video than it does just to write a blog post, so while I’ve said this is episode 1 of ‘Thoughts Spilled From A Brain Left Ajar’, who knows when and if there will be an episode two.  This is a raw, intimate look at the real me and what I struggle with daily.  Anywho, with no further ado…

Musings of a Multi-Instrumentalist 

That title sounds like I’m bragging. I don’t mean to be. I started out a singer. I became a songwriter. I learned piano out of necessity in order to have something to help me write and, then, to be able to accompany myself when no one else was available to do so. Then…many years later, I became a ‘pianist’. It still shocks me when I hear someone refer to me as one. But, I’m digressing before I’ve even started. Yeah, I play multiple instruments…and that makes me cool. So there. 

I’ve come to the guitar late.  I should’ve done it much sooner. I’ll add that to the rest of the regrets in my Bottle. But, I came to it. Drawn, like a thing that gets drawn into another thing. And, the lesson here is:

Learning another instrument will make you a better musician and, specifically, it will make you more skilled with your primary or other instruments.

I had an experience last night to prove this. I had gone to a folk club to play with one of my bands, ‘The Way Out‘. I sing and, primarily, play piano in this band, although occasionally I play the lyre or spirit flute or percussion with them. I had my stage piano there to do my thing. 

At a folk club, generally it’s a sing around.  People take turns sharing songs and if anyone else in the group can ‘grab a note and hang on’ they’re welcome to do so. 

Also…it’s rare to see a piano at one of these places; most of the folkies play guitar or a stringed instrument of one sort or another (it’s common to see lutes, mandolins, along with the non fretted violins and violas, etc. Piano is a novelty). A woman from the group asked the others in the circle to join her and…instead of struggling to pick out what she was playing on the guitar by ear, I watched her fret hand.

I know those guitar chords now. So, all I had to do was watch her hand and I knew what to play on the piano. It was a serendipitous moment. 

I’ve had guitarists and bass players who know enough about the piano to watch my hands and, therefore, be able to spontaneously play with me in a jam session situation. And now I was doing it in reverse. 

Yeah… that’s cool. 

I’m loving playing guitar. It hurts. It’s difficult. I’m not great. I let my voice cover for mediocre playing…but, thankfully, I can do that. It’s therapy.  It’s rather magical. It’s one of the best things I’ve done in years…for many reasons. 

A Non-European Immigrant’s Thoughts

I moved to the UK from America in 2004. My first sight of England filled me with joy.

Then, I faced immigration control.

It’s something that still – 12 years later – makes me sick to think about. The nightmares finally stopped, but the emotional and mental scars are still there.

I was interrogated for over two and a half hours – but it felt more like two and a half years. I was threatened with deportation and not being allowed into the country again. I was made to feel like an invader just because I wanted to be with the man I loved. I was made to feel like I was shit because I wasn’t British.

Later, when I finally made it in to my husband (then fiancé), he told me that none of that horror would’ve happened to me if I had been from an EU country.

Because, I’m no celebrity.  Because, I don’t have money. Because, I don’t have desirable skills. I have nothing to give to the country other than to take away one of its citizen’s loneliness.  Thus, we had two more years of living in fear of me being thrown out on any old whim of the Home Office, until I received my precious Indefinite Leave to Remain.

But, at least, I did make it in and was allowed to stay, even if the journey to get here was incredibly hard won.

I remember wishing that it was easy for me, like it was for the immigrants from the EU. But, I certainly didn’t bear those coming over from the EU any ill will.  The ease of students (from anywhere) to get in made me angry, but my EU counterparts, that were just looking to settle and make a better life here, didn’t make me mad. I was jealous of them, but not angry with them. I reserved my anger for the Home Office.

This is a tough and sensitive subject. Immigration. People get worked up. But, usually they are worked up for the wrong reasons.

In Canada, Australia and NZ, you have to have enough points to get in. In the US, you need an exceptionally well paid job and financial resources out the wazoo.

It all really comes down to money.  And, we all know the love of that is the root of all nastiness.

So, I have lived in the UK for over a decade now. This is my home. Even though I have not had the finances in order to pay the fees it takes to become a citizen, I feel more British than I do American.  Really, I like to say that I identify as a world citizen or an international person. I don’t think there should be borders (now, let’s all sing a rousing rendition of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’…I know it’s not realistic, but I can imagine it). But, now, Europeans, are in the same boat as I was when I first came over, if they want to live here.

Had I been allowed to vote, I would’ve voted to Remain. Because…

I think people should be allowed to choose to live where they fit, allowed to discover their heart home. I think everyone should be given that right.

When the result of the EU Referndum was made known, a friend of mine in the States expressed concern about me; he wondered if it would affect my immigration status.  I informed him that it wouldn’t because I have indefinite leave, but that it had never been easy for me or anyone else from a non EU country to emigrate here (unless they were rich and/or famous).

It’s a leveller playing field now. But, I don’t feel any happiness about that. And, I am deeply saddened that bigots and racists are using the result to justify their hatred. Not everyone who voted to leave voted that way because they are bigots; many were hopeful that the money paid into the EU would be redirected to very real needs the country has.  Unfortunately, it looks like the politians are going to screw us over on that one.  At this point, it looks like the only ones who have won are the haters.  I pray that won’t always be the case and that something good will come out of this mess, but right now there’s an open wound that needs healing.

To me, the world would be better without borders. And, the only people I would like to see kicked out are those racists.

I know it’s too simple to say, ‘Can’t we all be friends?’ But, dammit, I wish I could.  I know, in a post September 11 world, it isn’t possible…but, I WISH IT WAS! I wish the world was different.

I wish…

I imagine.

The One Thing

The one thing that I like about myself, the one and only thing I am good at, is the one thing I can’t get people to take notice of.

The discouragement is immense.

And, it makes a person question themselves. Terribly.

Yesterday, my youngest daughter (who also suffers from BPD and struggles with controlling her emotions and knowing her worth) came home from school in floods of tears. She was sobbing uncontrollably because she hadn’t received an award for anything when every one else in her group of best friends had received recognition for something. Many of the things the others had got an award for were things I have been told by her teachers are things in which she, herself, highly excels. She came out of the school yard, wailing, ‘I’m rubbish. There’s nothing I’m good at doing.’

I know it isn’t true. But, when everyone else in your circle has been publicly  recognised and you haven’t, one begins to doubt themselves, no matter how many times one has been told how great they are at something.

I took her home and showed her BBC Introducing, where I have submitted many of my best tracks. All of which they have refused to play, while other musicians with equal – or even less – talent get featured by them. I asked my daughter if she thought I was rubbish at singing and writing songs. She responded, ‘No! Of course not, Mummy.’ I pointed out that, by her logic, I must be rubbish. I hadn’t been played on the radio while these others had.

I made my point which ended up with her saying, ‘BBC Introducing is stupid!’

Just because others get the recognition you don’t doesn’t mean you’re not just as deserving, and it doesn’t mean that you aren’t just as good as the others (or, better). Life – and school and bloody BBC fucking Introducing – just isn’t fair. And, it sucks. But it doesn’t mean we’re rubbish.

But, it’s one thing to preach this to someone else and quite another to believe it yourself.

I’m struggling. So, thank you, Life, for once again being a bastard. Thank you, school, for overlooking my daughter’s achievements. Thank you, BBC Introducing, for not actually championing talented and unique independent musicians like you say you do. Thank you, all, for making people feel worse about themselves. You’re doing a great job!

Strings In My Mind

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The guitar was an instrument I was never going to play. But, that being said, at one time I never intended on playing any instrument other than my voice. I was a vocalist. I would sing and others would play. Then, I turned 16 (many years ago) and things for me changed. Suddenly, I wanted to write. I went to the piano because it’s what was there. There was a piano available and I could play it well enough – just about – to use it as a songwriting tool.
 
I’m not sure when it all changed for me – where I got tired of looking for others to accompany me – where I wanted to be free to perform utterly solo – but the change happened. And, from somewhere inside, I heard the piano call to me. I sat down. And. I. Played.
 
I would laugh when people would call me a pianist and when they would speak glowingly of my playing. I’m a vocalist, I would say. I heard the piano giggle, too. We had our secrets. But, I finally realised I wasn’t just a vocalist anymore: I was a proper musician – I’d just taken the long way ’round.
 
What other instruments could I play? I began to pick the odd one up… can I make this sing?
 
The djembe.
The Native American flutes.
The lyre.
 
And, we sang while the old guitar (that belonged to my husband but he didn’t play either) gathered dust and I avoided frets like I avoid making a phone call.
 
Oh, every once in a great while I’d pick it up and ‘try’. But, I wanted it to be easy, of course.  And, I didn’t want it to be painful. The guitar is neither easy nor painless.  My nails would have to go, too.  Fuck this.
But, I’d write guitar songs.  I’d write them on the piano and then have a guitarist friend play them.
Then. Earlier this year, a chance invitation from someone had me inexplicably attending a ‘build your own ukulele workshop’.  And, in an afternoon, I was playing the ukulele as if I had done all my life.
I thought, ‘Hmmm… I can manage these frets…’ I looked over at the dust covered six stringed beast, just sitting there taunting me.
Understand this, musical instruments have souls. They have personalities. It’s why I name all my instruments.  And, I may be crazy, but I’m not off my meds and I’m NOT delusional…  musicians know this: instruments have a way of communicating with you. The guitar was smug.  It was taunting me.
‘I’m out of your reach, old woman.  Can’t teach you a new trick.’
Long story much greatly shortened, we grappled with each other but eventually reached an understanding; a truce was called.  He let me in.  I discovered he needed a bit of help in order to help me play him. So, I had his action lowered and we set off teaching an old girl new tricks after all.
This is the result.
I’m proud of this; I’m excited to share it.  And, I’m grateful.  Grateful for this musical journey which has done so much more than add versatility to my performance as a musician; it’s gone deep, affecting the very fabric of my being. I’m selling this short EP of acoustic guitar and rich vocal songs for just £2, but to me it’s worth so much more…this experience has been priceless. May you enjoy the fruits of my labour – and my precious friendship – with the guitar.
Lesson: sometimes, some things are worth the pain.

Patina

If you leave sterling silver on its own, to the elements, it will turn black with tarnish. However, if you wear it, it will continue to shine while developing a patina that protects it from tarnishing. There’s a metaphor here. Clouds and their silver linings and such. Life IS the cloud – dark and thunderous and ocassionally viscious with lightning strikes. But, there are shining moments; there are the precious, small, silver victories. I would right a song, but the whole thing is so all over the place that it would be difficult to get the lyrics to coalesce. Instead, what I am going to do is write some prose here. Perhaps the song will come later, but I’m not going to obsess over it.

Last night I suffered a disappointment when a gig was cancelled. Last night I felt shock, this morning I feel discouraged. But, before the malicious pain of life hit me in the teeth again, I had been thinking about some of those small victories. I’d like to wear these, so they will continue to shine in my mind.

Tuesday night at The Y Theatre, my hand being held tightly by a dear friend, the warm glow of both my performance and simply my PRESENCE being appreciated.

Wednesday afternoon coffee with another friend, just because she wanted to come and hang out with me…  and, now I’m crying as I write this, because to me it’s such a major thing, such a precious thing, and I wonder at the pain I feel because of years of being rejected and unfriended, the sheer amazement I feel at someone desiring and choosing to spend time with me. The dam just seems to break and flood me, when what I want is to feel the happiness of this, not the pain of the past or the fear that life won’t allow me to keep such friendship. And so, I dry the tears and compose myself, and write it again: Wednesday afternoon coffee with a friend, just because she wanted to come and hang out with me.

Winning over another mum at the school who used to ignore or avoid me/avoid making eye contact for whatever reason, but now she smiles, waves and says ‘Hi’ when she sees me. Small victory, huge triumph.

These are the things I want to put on and wear around my neck and on my fingers, that their sparkle could be seen in my eyes – could continue to be seen BY my eyes, which now, writing this, fill with tears again. Tears I have to wipe in order to keep typing. There really is a song in this somewhere…

I have another friend who longs for acceptance in a certain place.  I feel so for her and her struggle. She and her husband came over last night after my gig had been cancelled (they had actually been the ones who were supposed to babysit for me so I could do the gig), and we caught up on what’s been going on with them of late. A sad tale, really. Rejection and prejudice has wreaked a toll, and yet she goes back for more. And, even though this woman is so very different from me, I can see myself and the years I threw myself at the walls of various humanity, looking for entrance in their world(s). I have come to see so many other things. I let the rose-tinted scales be ripped from my eyes and, finally, I never went looking for them again. The BPD will often make me start to tilt at those bloody walls again, but I’m quicker now to see the bruises when they start to appear and not keep hurling myself at the same human walls over and over again until, broken and bloody and irrevocably scarred, I limp away with what’s left of my heart. I hear that song again…

I have succeeded in writing this post. See it shimmer , a whisper of light within the hard steel of the grey. Today, let me wear the silver. May I keep on wearing the silver.

 

 

Why I Just Can’t Do The Semi-Colon Thing

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The Semi-Colon Project is a good thing. If nothing else, it’s educating people about a much neglected member of the punctuation family. It’s also, of course, bringing awareness to mental health issues. It’s encouraging to many people.

But, I can’t personally do it. Not when I so long for a full stop (or ‘period’, for you Americans). I want an end to my story.

The best I can give you is a question as to how much more I can take.