10.18.2011

from my former life: a personal essay unrelated to books

i have been perusing old papers from my undergrad years now 7, 8, 9, and 10 years ago. i'm surprised and a little pleased that they aren't all complete rubbish this far down the road.

my former life as a potential academic feels far away, but somehow in school i managed to make nearly every big writing assignment a very personal project. so many of my papers end up being like somewhat more polished journal entries. they are now exciting windows into my thinking and passions of the time. something exciting i am finding is that those passions relating to family, ancestry, story, creativity, and wind (of all things) remain largely unchanged in my life.

so without further ado, and because i am taking far too long to post my book related posts, here are some words about art and music in my life and why they are important and how they came to be that way.
~

It all began in the living room on Sunday afternoons. My addiction to art, that is. For as far back as I can remember, Art and I always spent these lazy afternoons together, delving through the painting and poetry books my parents filled our the bookcases with. Depending on the day Art and I might explore the galleries in the Art Institute of Chicago, roam the elegant halls of the Huntington Museum and Library in Pasadena, meet Abraham Lincoln in Carl Sandburg’s poem, sail with the Owl and the Pussycat, or pick out who of the lavishly dressed Gainsborough or Reynolds damsels was me that day. I was well on my way to becoming addicted to art with no hope of recovery. But why recover?
My condition worsened when the Fall I turned five I enrolled in BYU Creative Dance and two Falls later started my first piano lesson. I became a lost cause when eight more Falls down the road that sleek, black instrument known as oboe added a sparkle to my otherwise forgettable junior high life. The oboe (which I affectionately called “the elbow”) stayed by my side through Junior High and High School orchestra, including countless recitals and festivals. Yet after reaching a soaring height of participation in the arts my senior year in High School, I bid “the elbow” farewell, hugged my piano teacher goodbye, and danced through final dance concerts and classes.
 Growing up with Art opened my eyes to new, more interesting ways of articulating feelings and ideas that words might merely mangle. I learned that pounding out fiery anger and frustration on the piano with Brahms was far more therapeutic and exhilarating than pounding stairs and walls. Choreographing love and praise for God through my face, arms, hands, legs—all of me—gave a vitality and exuberance to my feelings that words fell short of. These refreshing windows of communication cast a different slant of light on the world; I basked in this light, elated with more fulfilling ways to share and feel life.  
Art and I rarely visit the Art Institute together and no longer dance or play Beethoven in the orchestra. Even so, we still regularly enjoy each other’s company. He lights my spirit as I enthusiastically study the arts and humanities and watch performances instead of performing. But it is Art’s magic carpet woven from the strains of the music I listen to or play on the piano that sustains me each day and carries me to lands of comfort and peace.
As the Colorado River has carved a deep and grand impression through the western desert, so has music carved a deep impression in my life. Music also played a leading role in my childhood home, competing with those books beckoning me on artistic adventures. My siblings and I grew into a band of musicians, wielding drums, piano, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, base clarinet, trumpet, and voice! We were and still are crazy kids who love listening, working, and dancing to music—all the time. Our house was bursting at the seams with the gloriously inescapable stuff. However, only in eighth grade did I discover how music truly engenders good feelings, peace, inspiration, love, and comfort.
           Isn’t eighth grade the time of life many seem to prefer forgetting? Eighth grade was my insecurity around friends and anxiety about them even being my friends; eighth grade equaled dread. Many nights I was like Little Miss Shy hiding under her bed in hopeful fear that she would not have to go to Mr. Funny’s Party. Except I dreaded school and the pressures waiting for me there. What was wrong with home school, I wondered? What was wrong with me?
Music became my solace. I can remember listening again and again to the soundtrack for the 1995 film production of Little Women or the traditional Celtic music of the local ensemble, Kirkmount. Little Women and Kirkmount could change my mood from depression to peace just as fast as the flick of a switch floods a dark room with light. This instantaneous mood change catalyzed simply by music surprised me then and still awes me today when I feel the same effect. The simple strains from the harp or fiddle were empathizing with me. From then on I knew how much I could rely on listening to music or playing on the piano to assuage fears, crowd out negative thinking, and even persuade the corners of my mouth to turn up a little.
Music fine tunes my life perspective more effectively than any other art I experience. Its cells course through my veins and arteries, bringing a different kind of life to my heart, mind, and spirit, and healing in a way blood never can. Music is my spiritual sustenance. It liberates me from thoughts and feelings that spiral me downward. I do not want to forget eighth grade. Even though that whirlwind of fear and depression caught me in its clutches, unveiling music’s mysterious magic calmed this storm in my spirit.
           When I relate to music the way I did in eighth grade, I imagine a connection forming between me and the artist’s creative inspiration. This vicarious participation in the artist’s epiphany or inspiration sometimes brings me to my own epiphanies. I think of it as a feeling of Aha! Art exclaims “Aha!” when its form, an honest idea, and the Spirit harmonize to poke and prod me toward new perspectives and feelings. The philosopher Immanuel Kant labeled this moment of artistic harmony the “Sublime.” (But I think “Aha!” more suitably describes that moment when Art steels my breath away.) The Aha! moment is also a connection I feel with God and the divinity of creation. It sends the fundamental need for art and expression coursing through my veins. The “Aha!” draws people together, creating new channels of discussion and debate which provoke people to discuss truths, values, beauty, spirit, inspiration and the importance in expressing them in countless ways. If this shared feeling is the true beauty of art, then defining art exactly seems far less important than continually creating and participating in moments of “Aha!”
The shape of my life is squished and molded by art. Art keeps my tempo in rhythm; it keeps me in balance and covers me with all sorts of textures and colors. It makes me galumph like an elephant, sing out like the angels, speak like a visionary with new confidence and enthusiasm, and think trapezoid or hexagon instead of square. Creative expression resounds more and more clearly in the halls of my mind and spirit as it brings me closer to God and helps me discover the potential for divinity in my soul. God created man and our world, and we in turn are learning how to create and lift each other to our divine potential. Art touches and speaks to souls in positive and beautiful ways; in not always the most predictable ways, it draws the beauty and truth in life to the surface. I no longer dance, and piano practicing comes in spurts, but I know I will dance, and play, and squawk on my oboe in eternity. But whether I am actually in the dance or just watching in the wings, art will always be my companion through life, inspiring me to higher thought and happier, more inspired living.

3 comments:

Erin Mumford said...

This is really well-written, and especially interesting to me since my journey through Art is almost exactly equal to yours.

christina q thomas said...

thanks, p. back in the day when i used to be a really great writer. :) no. but i miss being forced to have to shape and mold a piece of writing. it stretches your brain in good ways.

Nancy said...

I hope to see more of your art in writing to push a few thoughts into my slow flowing artistic viens too!