40 for 40 #2: An Evening with Andre

OK, so it wasn’t the first time I had ever seen Andre Watts. Nor was it the first time I ever saw him at New Jersey Performing Arts Center. And it really doesn’t compare to that magical night in the conservatory at Longwood Gardens last spring. But my yearlong celebration of my 40th birthday would not be complete without a night with Andre. No one can play Rachmaninoff like he does, except of course for the maestro himself. Hearing Andre play is always an ethereal experience during which I feel suspended somewhere between reality and a magical world where I embody my idolized purple pegasus and soar around the world at least 20 times. I always need to constantly remind myself to be present, to be focused on the experience, when I hear him play because, no matter if he is playing Rachmaninoff or a less favoured composer, he takes me to another world.

40 for 40 #1: Joan Osborne

Last summer, when listening to various tracks on my MP3 player while on a road trip, my mother mentioned that she loved Joan Osborne’s Right Hand Man and One of Us which she had never heard before. When I first heard her Relish album at 20 years old, I fell in love Joan’s almost paradoxical combination of soulful stirring and playful irreverence — something with which I could deeply relate. So this spring, I decided to see Joan in concert, and I took my mother with me. It is interesting that there comes a time when it is acceptable, even desirable, to share remnants of youthful rebellion with a parent.

There we sat, in the front row of the balcony in a small, intimate venue, after nearly another 20 years of my life had passed. Needless to say, she was amazing as was her musical partner Keith Cotton. It was there that I was introduced to Raga (inspired by Dorianne Laux’s equally beautiful poem, The Shipfitter’s Wife), the best working class love song written since Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer, during which I broke down and wept — and to my second favorite new song on her newest album, Work on Me. I felt as though I had neglected an old friend with whom I grew up, as I had not listened to her music much in those almost 20 years, and was so grateful that we had the chance to become reconnected. My appreciation for her work has truly blossomed as much as I have over the years.

Hungry Muse, Naughty Muse

I yearn to create writing that is imaginative, playful, honest, and luscious — and to do so on a consistent basis. Writing is not only an emotional outlet, it is a reflection of who I am. It serves as documentation of the interconnected processes of self-exploration and transformation which I continually experience. It is an exhumation and selfless giving of the most special, sacred spaces in my heart. Writing is what makes me come alive, and in turn it gives life to ideas that hopefully inspire others in unique and meaningful ways.

At one time, I barely wrote anything for about four months. I was depleted, uninspired, and exhausted. My life felt heavy and stagnant. I was unable to produce anything of merit, anything worth sharing, anything worth reading. The less I wrote, the less I wrote. I was sucked into a downward repressive spiral from which emergence seemed more and more impossible. Was this it? Was there nothing more to say? Was I all but gone?

There was a lot going on my life at the time, and as a highly sensitive person I am often unable to filter out certain types of difficult experiences. I absorb them, ruminate, and internalize other people’s insecurities. Eventually my despair serves a purpose — connecting me with greater awareness and understanding, and illuminating new insights. This lengthy and difficult process is necessary for my spiritual awakening. But I could have been writing to help me make sense of those experiences along the way.

When I get stuck, it is usually because my naughty, naughty inner muse is assisting me in this self-sabotage. And like unruly children who are neglected and unfed, that naughtiness comes from a lack of attention and nurturance which renders her incapable of engaging in a creative relationship with me. When I feed my inner muse, she astonishes me with her support and tender loving care; In other words, I am better able to invoke passion and love through the written word when I take care of myself and indulge my desires — regardless of how often I stare at a blank piece of paper or screen. Because my writing is so deeply connected to, and a part of, me — I need to be well in order to write well.

There are certain special things I like to do to feed my inner muse, like immersing myself in sunshine, bubble baths, ocean waves, and spectacular music, eating ripe peaches at the height of summer, and traveling to previously unfamiliar places. Daily rituals, like meditation and physical movement, also fill her heart with joy. I can also approach every moment with openness, wonder, and curiosity and engage with the world as my playground, rather than a battlefield. Neglect her, leave her hungry, and naughty girl will once again emerge. At every moment, I need to treat her, my most wise and beautiful inner self, with lovingkindness so she, and my writing, may flourish.