Life Lessons

May 20, 2012 § 2 Comments

1. Becoming Music

I used to listen to music the way most people do: casually, in the background, maybe singing along while driving or doing chores. Sometimes there’s that song that means something to you – it’s attached to a memory, or a feeling, or a person – and you’ll stop and engage with it a bit more deeply; I had those songs, here and there throughout high school, like anyone else.

I have a friend, my brother in spirit and in heart. He boils with intensity and passion and emotion, battle scars on his soul evidence of a tangled past. It consumes him from the inside out, and so he finds time in safe places and safe moments to let it out.

He taught me a new way of listening to music. Of engaging in music, letting the words and notes and sound fill you until it pours out of every part of you. Immersing in a song until it is all that exists.

He didn’t teach me this in so many words, not in a direct way, not even intentionally. But I learned it from him anyway, through watching, and feeling.

I remember sitting on a couch while he pulled up a song to share with me. I don’t remember the song, now; I don’t remember anything that happened before or after. What I remember is this: him, not facing me, his eyes closing – the song pounding, raw lyrics – and the roiling, searing emotion radiating off of him. He sank deep into the music and let it slice into him, open up his insides. The dragon within uncoiled, danced the storm of song, released for a few minutes from the confines of his body. Pulsing searing waves of self, of shadow and pain and brightness and harshness and, all of it, draining out like infection from a lanced wound.

The song ended. I found myself hugging my knees to my chest, curled into a ball against the barrage of sheer feeling. I was both overwhelmed and awed, somehow. I never knew music could be experienced that way, at that level, so completely and intimately.

Now, years later, it is hard for me to listen to music casually. It’s why I enjoy fluffy pop music so much – it’s catchy but it’s not emotive, it’s not something I’m tempted to immerse myself in. I can listen to it in the background. Anything with powerful lyrics, depth of mood, emotional melody – I can’t listen casually to that. I engage it, I let it thrum through my bones and sing to my heart, catch the edges of my spirit aflame.

My favorite songs ignite the entirety of me and send me soaring, unbidden.


2. Learning to Dance

I was twenty years old when I danced for the first time.

Oh, I’d moved in a dancing way before – there was the year I played a gypsy at renfaire, and the dance mistress drilled us in bellydance on an outdoor concrete pad beneath a sticky hot June sun – and I’m sure there were times before that, though I can’t remember any.

But I didn’t really dance, not with all of my being, not truly – until I’d passed two decades in this life.

It was my first time at a club, too. On the second night of a mini-conference of sorts for energy workers, vampires, and otherkin, we went to a small cramped goth club… I haven’t seen anything like that night before or since: a crowded floor absolutely full of mythic souls bursting the seams of their earthen bodies, stomping and flowing and twisting, spinning ribbons of energy. Energy work incorporated into dance – ecstatic movement that expressed emotion and spirit – the thrum of music spun by an elven DJ who adapted his playlist deliberately to the energy of the dance floor.

For the first hour – maybe two hours – I simply watched, entranced. Such passion and wonder! I’d never seen anything like it. A part of me longed to participate, to create beauty in magic and movement and music as well, but the self-conscious fear in me held back. I was still all beak and pinfeathers, high-alert bird amidst the crowding.

A fox-person encouraged me, teased me, asked me when I’d go dance. I demurred, and waited several more songs, longing but hesitant.

It’s colder than before
The seasons took all they had come for
Now winter dances here
It seems so fitting don’t you think?
To dress the ground in white and grey…

The first strains of VNV Nation’s Beloved began to play, and many who’d been resting leaped to their feet, called back onto the floor by the music. An intense but gentle angelic, the partner of my university roommate who’d invited me here, moved towards me with the music. He took my hands, beckoning silently, drawing me onto the dance floor and releasing me at its edge.

I must take the plunge alone.

We were once young and blessed with wings
No heights could keep us from their reach
No sacred place we did not soar –

I breathed. Closed my eyes. Let the music flow into me, through me; let my heartbeat match it. Let it pull light and power and flame into my hands, along my body. I stepped forward onto the black-and-white of the dancefloor, dove into the music, and flew.

Grant me wings that I might fly
My restless soul is longing
No pain remains, no feeling
Eternity awaits

I soared. I dipped, and wheeled; I rode the crescendo of the song like thermals. When it ended my whole body was pulsing, I found myself breathless and half-drenched, but the part of me that is hollow-boned and wind-breasted was sated, calmed, content.

That is how I dance, now. Not in any proscribed motion, not for form, not for beauty. I dance for catharsis, for release. I dance to trance, to shapeshift, to weave energy and emotion about me in a scintillating display for those who know how to see.


3. Learning to Taste

My relationship with what I consume has been erratic over the years. Often, food has been a necessary evil: refuel my body like pumping gas into a car, mechanically, because without it I tremble and sweat, and blackness consumes the edges of my vision. I’d try new and interesting sorts of food, just to say I had; and there were things I enjoyed, but rarely did I taste my food in any depth. I wolfed it down, cleared my plate, and then got back to productivity.

My lover grew up in New Orleans, that wet colorful city with its mixed heritage and chaos of sound and scent and people. He tells me there is a powerful tradition of food in New Orleans – hundreds of restaurants and food stands and shops. You connect with people over a shared meal; it’s a social bonding agent.

He has a brilliant passion for food. Tasting, consuming, cooking, exploring. He takes a bite, enjoys it, examines it; talks excitedly about its preparation, the spices within, the loveliness of its execution, its texture, its flavor profile. He tries to figure out how it was done, and sometimes he later attempts to create something inspired by what he’s tasted.

I began to do the same. I’m no cook, though perhaps someday I may try again; but I am learning to taste, rather than just eat. To be more mindful of what I put into my body, to experience each bite.

It’s an oddly synesthetic experience. Each component, each oil and spice and the preparation and the core ingredients – all of it – has a pitch, to my senses. A note. When my elf-lover asks me what I think of a dish he’s preparing, what do I think it needs – I struggle to translate.

“It’s all high pitched, upper register, sharp,” I said once. “It needs – I don’t know – a counternote – something balancing, lower-pitch…” Grasping for something practical. “A more earthy tone?” He understood then, tossed in some bay leaves and some pepper, and suddenly there was harmony.

It’s a fascinating experience. This dish here is the melody, and the bread on the side is the bass line, and the vegetables are the counterpoint. A meal becomes a symphony… and you wouldn’t give a live musical performance you’d paid to attend half an ear, would you?

I’ve found, too, that when I truly taste my food, I need less of it. I listen to my body’s responses, and stop when I’m full. I crave less sugars and fatty salts, because I’m able to detect and enjoy subtler tastes of more wholesome food. I eat more slowly, more mindfully; I engage in the full sensory experience, and it fills my heart and head along with my belly.

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