Authenticity, Fear, and Love

I spent years writing a dissertation on authenticity in jazz, then promptly discarded the concept of “authenticity” because it seemed impossible to define. Recent personal crises and professional transitions have provided the definition: authenticity is the practice of balancing fear and love.

The past few months have been a crash-course in fear. I finally understand the continual feeling of “I’m going to die!” that characterizes extreme trauma (something that, for better or worse, my sheltered, White-girl existence has mostly protected me from). The only way to truly move past it is to at least partially accept that, yes, you and everyone you love are going to die (and that when and how remains an unknown).

As overwhelming as fear can be, it is crucial for survival and success. It’s an ancient mechanism that guides you to safety. The trick is to avoid staying stuck in overdrive (anger, trauma, aggression, etc.) or attempting to suppress it (numbness, addiction, passive-aggression, etc.)

If fear is the desire to escape death, love is the desire to transcend it. These are the relationships, passions, and dreams that contribute to something bigger than our own mortal lives. But to pursue love without confronting and accepting fear inevitably leads to heartbreak.

Musical practice (like yoga and other forms of meditation) works best when it allows your fear and love sides to communicate with each other. As you learn to understand your own languages of fear and love, you start to better understand other people’s languages in rehearsal and performance (inability to understand these languages in yourself and others is the root of most conflicts and failures).

This is how I went from writing a 200-page academic dissertation on musical authenticity to creating a 52-card set (Practice Deck I for Jazz Bass) to teach people how to practice musical authenticity step-by-step. In many ways, the latter was much, much harder (and just as time-consuming) because it required me to step outside of academia and experience the best and worst of an authentic life.

Now Available: Practice Deck I for Jazz Bass

At long last, I’ve launched Practice Deck I for Jazz Bass (12-Bar C Blues): 52 Skill Cards for Building Effective Practice Routines, available now on Gumroad for $26! See below for cover and sample cards.

Practice Deck I for Jazz Bass helps you learn how to improvise basslines for the 12-Bar C Blues progression in small group jazz ensembles. Adapting principles of fitness training (isolate, sustain, and increase difficulty), the 52 skill cards empower you to create customized practice routines that are efficient, effective, and enjoyable!

Stay tuned for additional Practice Decks for Jazz Bass and other instruments!

Becoming Hot-sponsible

A few months ago, my friend and I coined the term “hot-sponsible” to describe the sweet spot between “hot mess” and “responsible adult.” Since then, I’ve found some unlikely sources of “hot-sponsibility studies.”

Source #1: “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma” by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D.

Shortly before I came up with the term, another friend told me to check out this book to inform my musicianship and teaching. While my reading of the book got interrupted by what I call my “practicum in trauma,” here are my three main takeaways or connections:

  • Trauma is less about the severity of stressful event(s) (although that certainly factors in) and more about whether you receive healthy support from loved ones (this is especially critical for young children)
  • People who go through highly competitive programs (such as in music) tend to emerge with some form of PTSD because competition discourages consistent, supportive relationships (and places you under constant threat of social rejection, which we’ve evolved to view as a death sentence)
  • Trauma disrupts your brain and body in ways that make it impossible to know yourself and your desires (the hot of hot mess) or to self-regulate (responsibility)

Source #2: “Rethinking Narcissism: The Bad – and Surprising Good – About Feeling Special” by Dr. Craig Malkin

After I started reading “The Body Keeps the Score,” yet another friend told invited me to see Van Der Kolk at a 2-day workshop in Portland. The workshop was life-changing itself, but one unlikely benefit was tangentially learning about “covert narcissism” – which lead me to this book. My takeaways/connections:

  • Narcissism exists on a spectrum of deficient (low self-esteem and sense of self) to healthy (high self-esteem and self-discipline) to extreme (prone to entitlement and exploitation)
  • People in competitive fields tend to develop covert narcissism (ricocheting between narcissism deficit and extremity) because we’re told to pursue our passions at all costs (extreme) and constantly given the message that we’re not good enough (deficient)
  • The key to parenting children with healthy narcissism is to balance warmth (the fun and openness of hot mess) with discipline (the consistency and respect of responsibility)

Source #3: “Dancing with Fire: A Mindful Way to Loving Relationships” by John Amodeo, PhD

“Rethinking Narcissism” led me to this book. While I’ve just started reading this book, it’s already had huge effects. The author opens by telling a story about him and a friend sneaking out for pizza at a meditation retreat – which is an uncannily apt metaphor for most of my life. My takeaways/conections:

  • People suffer because they feel like they must choose between spiritual practice (self-discipline) and loving relationships (pursuing longings for intimacy) – when in fact the two complement each other
  • People in competitive fields suffer because they’re told to forsake relationships for self-discipline and to stoke their “fires” (passions and longings) through substance abuse and other high-risk activities
  • “Dancing with fire” (the process of developing self-intimacy and disciplined pursuit of longings) is basically the same thing as becoming hot-sponsible

LP Stitch: Awaken, My Love!

This project, Childish Gambino’s Awaken, My Love! (2016), sat in my sewing bag 95% complete for 6+ months. While 2017 was an incredibly productive year for me, it was also an incredibly difficult one. It taught me a lot about cycles of trauma, narcissism, and abuse – as well as the courage it takes to break out of them.

I first had the idea to stitch the album when “Redbone” dropped a few weeks after the 2016 election (aka, the kickoff to Traumafest 2017). Like most well-intentioned, but self-centered White people, I sank into a deep depression immediately afterwards. The song gave me a beacon of hope and the cross-stitching was a relaxing way to calm my scattered mind.

Bonus: After Traumafest 2017, when I found myself in a new living situation with only about 10 boxes worth of possessions to my name, I’d lay on my friend’s guest room bed, holding my cat Lola, and watching YouTube for hours at a time. For whatever reason, of all the videos I watched, she was incredibly fascinated by this one, which further demonstrates Donald Glover’s musical genius (song starts at 1:17).

Comic: Lessons from “Congratulations I’m Sorry”

I’ve had a difficult last couple of months, but have also found a level of strength and self-acceptance that I didn’t think I had in me. For this comic, I’m using pop culture to explain some of this journey.

Link to “Jesus of Suburbia”

Video: Instrumental Ladies of Jazz Concert

Recently, I created a page to showcase videos of performance and teaching, which I’ll be adding to regularly. My first videos are from last Friday’s performance with Ann Reynolds as part of her monthly Instrumental Ladies of Jazz series at Caffè Musica in Seattle, Washington. Ann and I started playing together a decade ago. For several years, we did regular duo gigs at Serafina restaurant and developed a deep musical connection. We lost our regular gig about a year ago, so it was great to work in a duo setting again. Many thanks to bassist Jeff Baran, who recorded and edited video of the concert.

Photo credit: Queenie Sunshine.