While Listening to Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barbour

I’m listening to a crushingly beautiful piece of music.* I have two tamales in the oven and that’s not a euphemism. I misspelled euphemism (with an “a”) and used autocorrect to fix it. Chalupa, having just scarfed down lunch, is quietly gnawing on some chew toys in her bed. Mani’s at the dentist. The windows are open and it’s a cool, comfortable temperature. Earlier, I also had my teeth cleaned. I rode my bike a little under 10 miles.

I’m enjoying the bike riding; there’s something so spacious about it, especially the longer flat stretches of farmland where I find my thoughts can lengthen.

In many ways, I’m feeling quiet lately. I’m learning that quieter doesn’t mean less fired up, less devoted, less effective, less of service. It’s interesting to note that that’s even an assumption I’d make, but not surprising, I suppose. After all, we’re told to make noise, to speak up, to stand up, to rise up. But how? We all meet life in such unique ways.

I just got up to check my tamales. They’re not ready. Now I’m listening to Eric Satie. I loved playing these pieces so long ago — the gymnopedies and gnossiennes. (Spellcheck can’t save me now, but I’m not going to bother looking these up.)

Playing piano was, in the past, one of the ways I spent time with myself. Alone time, connected time, slow time, introspective time, quiet time, meditative time, feeling time. Now that my piano lives over at my parents’ house and we have an electronic keyboard, I rarely sit down to play. I say it’s “just not the same,” but wonder if perhaps I should try again.

This is very similar to what I’m finding on these bike rides: Solace, space, quiet, a kind of freedom and also a sense of relief. Oh, there you are. 

Last I did a Meyer’s Briggs assessment, my I (introvert) and E (extrovert) were exactly 50/50, so it’s not surprising that both qualities are strong in me. Lately, I’ve been craving connection AND solitude in equal measure. It seems contradictory and maybe even confusing, but I’m not trying to figure it out. Instead, I’m interested in listening, noticing where there’s fear (what if I’m feeling more social than my spouse?), and keeping lines of communication open both internally and with the people in my life.

I do find, again and again, that the latter leads to conversations that deepen relationships. The only truly detrimental thing is shutting down, though i recognize that sometimes, a person needs to give themselves room for that, too. We’re so damn quick to judge ourselves and each other. More than anything, I want to create space between myself and the judgment.

* * *

Many hours have passed since I started writing this. It’s a little before 6:00pm now, and I just finished eating an early dinner. If I didn’t know better, I’d wonder if I was pregnant what with the tired and the hungry lately. I scroll through Facebook and see lots of people’s kids graduating — from preschool, from middle school, from high school, from college. My own son will graduate from sixth grade next week. It’s definitely one of those leaving-the-nest moments.

I’m also seeing babies being literally taken from their parents’ arms.

It’s easy to think: Who am I to be quiet when we’re witnessing human rights atrocities on a daily basis in our own country?

Again, quiet and caring, quiet and enraged, self-care and resistance — these are not mutually exclusive. And it’s that exact kind of binary, either/or, all or nothing thinking that keeps us paralyzed, focused more on self-judgment or self-righteousness than on actual care, for ourselves or anyone else, close or distant.

How do we keep each other?

Today, I had a throw-in-the-towel moment. I heard that Trump has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. We were so flabbergasted that we checked to see if it was real news, and it was. I said to Mani, “I’m at a point where I’m thinking we need to protect the most vulnerable, focus on community building and calling things by their true names, and giving up any last shreds of hope that the two-party system can save us.”

I do believe in voting. I want to believe in the democratic process. And I also know that the democratic process has kicked a lot of people to the curb for centuries — hardly democratic when you look right at it.

This doesn’t feel quiet; I feel myself getting worked up and my soapbox is not what the world needs from me.

So what does the world need from me? What does the world need from you?

Courage. Humility. Intense reckoning with the ways we’ve internalized oppression and where we’ve been the oppressor. Fierce love and ever fiercer awareness that not everyone has the same cushions, or any cushions for that matter — from literally soft places to land at the end of the day to the emotional, mental, and material support required to live in a world that makes you fight to prove your humanity.

Ranty.

From quiet to ranty in a few hundred words.

And so I come back to the boring parts. Everyday life is always happening. I know how hard it is to stay alert — and trying to stay alert 24/7 will fry your nervous system and make you sick. I’m rarely this blunt, but I will say this: Don’t do it. We need you well. We need you here. I need you.

And I need myself intact, too. I cannot be of any use if I’m always “on,” nor can I check out and go live in a cave. I’m not sure I believe in balance, but I do believe in dichotomies and that we — we quirky, needy, messy, loving, scared, angry, sad, funny, ordinary humans — embody many things at once.

I’m not sure if that’s a logical place to wrap up this ramble, but it will have to do.

* Gratitude to Jennifer Sekella, a member of my Get Your Muse On group. Today, instead of offering a prompt as I usually do on Wednesdays, I asked folks to share one of their own — a kind of “leave a prompt, take a prompt” exercise. Jen wrote: “I used to always have my students listen to Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barbour. They’d write the images, thoughts, feelings that arose and then write a story, poem, or the like from their reactions.”

3 thoughts on “While Listening to Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barbour

  1. connectingthreadsblog says:

    I’m reading this while Elizabeth Warren on Rachel Maddow speaks with so much passion about this being the first generation to prioritize the needs of a billionaire above the needs of children, and my eye lands on these words:
    “… trying to stay alert 24/7 will fry your nervous system and make you sick. I’m rarely this blunt, but I will say this: Don’t do it. We need you well. We need you here. I need you.

    “And I need myself intact, too. I cannot be of any use if I’m always “on,” nor can I check out and go live in a cave. I’m not sure I believe in balance, but I do believe in dichotomies and that we — we quirky, needy, messy, loving, scared, angry, sad, funny, ordinary humans — embody many things at once.”

    So much wisdom. So much love. We need to be aware and we need to be well. Because to get through this scary time, we need each other.
    ?

    Like

  2. Joy Bayus says:

    Jena,
    I went straight to YouTube to listen to Barbour’s Adagio. Heavenly. My first love was classical music and I don’t listen to it much. So this was a reminder To do that. I also discovered Satie and played one of his pieces for intro music at church. Going to re listen to them. Makes me desire to play like you describe. I loved sightreading page after page in my music books. It was always calming.
    Joy

    Like

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