Turning Points: Part 2

Last week I published Turning Points: Part 1. This week, I’ll share with you the liberating lesson I’ve been digesting:

You don’t have to stay the same. You can let go of expectations (your own or others’), get out of your comfort zone, and try new things. You can change your mind as much as you want, as often as you want, regardless of others’ opinions. And believe me, they’ll have opinions. However, it’s important to remember, their opinions are just that: theirs and opinions. They are not you, and opinions are not fact. It’s good to listen to others’ advice at times, but ultimately the only one who can live your life is you. The choices are yours to make. No one can live your life for you. Oh, there will be people who will try. They’ll try to control you, manipulate you, bully you into submission, etc, but it’s your life. You get to live it.

You don’t have to have the same passions, interests, and goals your whole life. Things change. You change. Dreams change. And that’s not just okay, it’s great! It gives you more opportunities to grow. You don’t owe anyone an explanation as to why all of a sudden something new interests you, why you like what you like, why you’re passionate about whatever it is you’re passionate about. This is something I massively struggle with. 

This past year has been full of crossroads and turning points. I’ve had times when I’ve come to crossroads and I’ve had to make a choice to continue on my current path though the road ahead will be rough for awhile or to turn aside and take a different path that appeared easier. I had to consider if the struggle would be worth it or if it was time to go in a different direction. At other times, all paths seemed to be equal, yet dramatically different. Which one should I choose? A couple of times, I stood in the middle of a figurative intersection, unable to make a choice. I was terrified of choosing the wrong one, so I put off the decision until it in some way became clear which was the best option for me. Note: you will not always get a moment of clarity. Sometimes, you just have to make a choice and remember no matter how far you go down the wrong road, you can always turn around. Again, this is something with which I struggle. My perfectionistic side tells me I have to get it right the first time or not bother at all. The key here is to continuously remind yourself that that’s not true and surround yourself with supportive friends/family who will remind you of that too and encourage your efforts. 

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I was stuck at a crossroads for awhile, feeling pulled in a bunch of different directions and knowing I couldn’t continue as I was, so I began asking myself, “if I could go anywhere, do anything at all in music, what would it be?” If I could do anything, literally anything, with nothing to hold me back, not fear, finances, family/friends’ opinions, expectations, etc, what would I choose to dig into? The answer was so not what I expected…

Bodhrán. The one instrument I hadn’t ever expected to enjoy playing and expected to not be good at, turned out to be the one I am now most passionate about. And that passion has led to an interest in other percussion instruments. I’m looking forward to digging into bodhrán and percussion even more in the days ahead.

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This whole experience with music as well as opening up about my journey with PTSD had me feeling like a baby bird. Have you ever watched a baby bird learning to fly, either in real life or video? They stand peering over the edge of the nest, nervously flapping their wings and shifting their feet. They wait for Mama bird to return with food. She stands further out on the limb a little ways from the nest, close enough the babies can see her but far enough away that if they want food, they’ll have to leave the nest. Eventually one of them is brave enough to venture out of the nest and carefully inches it’s way along the branch to Mama bird. This one is rewarded with a tasty snack. Mama bird flies off to find more food and returns with the tasty morsel safely clasped in her beak as she lands a little further out on the limb. Brave baby bird begins scooting her way down the branch again, but overbalances and falls. On the way down, she flails her wings and lands safely, although perhaps harder than she would like, on a lower branch. Now she’s stuck on a lower branch and Mama is still up higher in the tree. Mama may join her just out of reach on the lower branch. The process repeats itself until finally, baby fully spreads her wings and takes flight. Occasionally, a baby bird will be so reluctant to leave the nest, Mama will have to push it from the nest and force it to learn to fly. 

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My first bodhrán lesson felt like falling from one limb (playing flute) and landing on another (playing percussion). As I became more comfortable with lessons and my teacher (the incredibly talented Fritz McGirr, who plays with Scythian and The Moxie Strings, and is a wonderful and super patient teacher), the lessons began to feel like a new nest: comfortable, safe, and fun. They were my safe place to learn and create without fear of harsh criticism or being discouraged. Then came the day Mama bird (aka Fritz), said it was time to venture from the nest and start playing sessions. Baby bird nervously squawked, wiggled her wings, and refused to leave the safety of the nest (lessons). 

We would meet for lessons once a month and almost always on the same day as the traditional Irish music open session at the Gaelic League in Detroit. We would have our hour lesson just before the session. The idea was that I could go from lesson to session, except I stubbornly refused to play my first session without Fritz. I knew I was safe as long as he was there, and for anyone with PTSD, feeling safe is critical. Eventually, we were both able to stay for a session, and I was coaxed (okay…more like gently pushed…) out of the nest (lessons) and out on the limb (sessions). As I sat next to Fritz, nervously holding (mostly not playing) my bodhrán at that first session, I was shaking and scared. I knew going in that bodhrán players have a bit of a bad reputation amongst session players for being too loud, playing too fast, and generally being a little obnoxious. I kept thinking, “what if the other musicians don’t like me?,” “what if I play badly?,” “what if they don’t like how I play?”, “can I trust them?”, “what if I fail?”. Fritz, ever the encourager, kept telling me, “it’s just tunes with friends,” but all I could see was a room full of strangers who were, at least in my own mind, judging me and my playing. My perfectionistic side went into overdrive and I put a ton of pressure of myself.

That first session was…okay. I look back on it mostly with relief that it’s over. The second session about a month later, again with Fritz sitting next to me, was a bit better (I wasn’t any less nervous, but I played more). The third session was a whole different story. That time, I no longer had my teacher by my side. He was busy with his bands as well as preparing to move to a new home and wasn’t able to be at the session. I was completely on my own. Time for baby bird to find her courage, spread her wings, and leap from the nest. I was incredibly nervous, but I did it. That was a huge turning point for me. There have been a couple more turning points since then (more on that later), but none have felt quite as big as that leap. Fritz has now moved several states away. He’s still my mentor, answering questions and offering advice as needed. I still have much to learn and am shy and hesitant at times, but baby bird knows she is capable of flying and suddenly a whole lot more of the music world is wide open and just waiting to be explored. So many possibilities in front me…here we go!

“What if I fall?” “Oh but my darling, what if you fly?”

~ Erin

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