“If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are.”
~ Wallace Stegner
I attended winter open mic at the Homeshore Café last night. The winter scene is completely different from the summer, with seasonal migrants to Gustavus crawling over each other to perform, the café packed to the brim, cherubic Southeast children running around barefoot through the grass outside. The winter crowd is local and familiar.
Ok, so the cherubic children are still present. I have to say I think the children of Gustavus have to be the most adorable, beautiful beings on the planet. It was quite moving to watch them perform and dance with abandon. Last night, there were three different renditions of “twinkle, twinkle, little star,” with all three children missing the same line “up above the sky so high,” and two “you are my sunshine”. My personal favorite was the group performance, replete with mom on the banjo, of a song called “Antarctica,” with corresponding lines and original vocabulary to rhyme with “ctica”.
The magic of the evening included one baby boy (in carhart overalls, no less) crawling with one foot forward toward the performing musicians, bobbing to the music, and then taking his first tenuous steps on two feet. How much more of a perfect Gustavus moment could you ask for?
But with all seemingly perfect moments, there is always the subtle infiltration of life sneaking in between the cracks, from which I suppose there is no escaping. Something I mused over as I watched the kids was that moment when dance with reckless abandon is left and shyness settles in. That watershed moment when a child who was so free realizes she is being watched – possibly judged? I mentioned this to an acquaintance sitting beside me, and she told me she had been thinking similar thoughts, reminded of when her daughter, now 5, once danced so freely and with such ease but now stayed closer to her side, desperately wishing yet afraid to get up and sing in front of the crowd. On a side note, for the shy soul, the Gustavus open mic audience is about the most accepting and supportive of any audience.
When I first began to perform this past summer, I was filled with anxiety and nervous energy, even despite years of performing classical piano recitals. Perhaps, there is something more raw and exposed about singing in front of an audience, with only a guitar between you and the crowd, without the safety and protection of a grand piano to hide behind. I am beginning to find my voice, but I still tend to sing more to my guitar than the people in the audience.
We start out so free and unrestrained in this world, accepting without question the people in our lives. A friend of mine told me every children’s song he sings to his three and half year old daughter she imagines he has written and expresses awe in her own toddler fashion. At some point, we lose this innocence and begin to build layers upon layers of concern over the opinions, values, and judgments of the people in our immediate world, which expands over time to include culture, society, and worldview.
This is where I find myself now, preparing to turn 30 in July and wondering how to sift through these layers to find my own inner voice, the one that tells me who I truly am and from which I can hope to find salvation and the ability to express that freely with my community and the people I care about. Without this truth, I am lost. For decades, I have operated much like a freight train, traveling at different speeds at different junctures in my life. The past year and a half, I have lost any semblance of control over its speed, and any person who walked in its path – whether by choice or by life’s strange twists of fate – had been plowed down without mercy, leaving me with to deal with the repercussions.
Could I have slowed down? There were moments when I thought I was gaining control, only to find I was more lost on this destructive path, more far gone than I knew what to do with.
So, here I sit. On the cusp of the equinox, determined to find this muffled, whisper of an inner voice beneath the rumbling of this train, and to listen to it. Without this voice, there is no hope. With it, I can choose to heal. I may not be able to recover or repair the damage done, but I can live each new moment with the presence of mind and knowledge of self to take care with the people still with me on this journey.