There are two intriguing instances in my current life that I refer to as ‘strange’. One of them is that I have several books to write that I cannot (currently) finish. The other is that even though I am only now at age 60 taking piano lessons and learning to read and write and play music, I can clearly write songs that I lack the mechanical skill to PLAY.
Both situations are frustrating to me. Yet even though I have to be patient and very cautious with myself regarding the book-writing, I am so far, quite willing and able to continue to make progress on the music!
I have a perfect piano teacher, a gift from God as far as I can tell. He lives in the same small town I do and charges ONLY $12 per hour for lessons. He is a wonderful man and a terrific, skilled and very gifted (and wise) musician.
Now that I can read and write the music on paper I can mirror the song notes and rhythms I ‘hear’ in my mind. Yesterday was the first time I wrote words to music — and then found on the keyboard the tones that go with those words.
Nothing really surprises me much any more about what appears in my consciousness regarding pieces of my severely abusive infancy and childhood, so I take it in stride the song that appeared to me as my first ‘personal’ one (with words) is about an experience I have always remembered and so far have NEVER put into words.
When my teacher comes today he will be able to explain to me how the tones I wrote fit together in their bigger picture. As far as I can tell the melody (I hesitate to call it that because it is NOTHING but dissonance to my ears/body and so far dissonance in music is very hard for me to listen to, hear or tolerate). Not only is this pattern the core of the piece — F#, D#, C#, A#, G# — but the melody moves in and out of the sharps repeatedly and only in a very few specific places finds any rest (to me meaning beauty in harmony).
In other words, I do not ‘judge’ this song to be ‘a nice’ one! Some part of me distinguishes between ‘noise’ and music. This is a NOISY song! It places the burden of distress it conveys upon the listener. Dissonance to me is disharmony. What about those of us who have horrendous experiences with the dissonance/disharmony of traumas, especially of early ones? Do we not speak or sing of it because none of it feels or sounds ‘nice’?
The summer before my August 31st 12th birthday my abusive mother sent me to a church camp. This week was the only one I ever was allowed to be away from her — and from home.
There is more to this story than I am going to tell here, but in regards to the song that appeared yesterday I will say that I had NEVER been swimming in my life. Being raised in Alaska meant that all rivers and lakes are extremely cold, although some very tough children that I know of were brave enough to enter Alaska’s water for swimming anyway.
So this song is about something I did one night that has always surprised me and puzzled me as I remember it. One night I climbed out of my cabin’s bunk bed, dressed silently, and headed outside directly to the edge of the big lake the camp sat beside. I had seen the canoes along the beach edge. I have no memory of ‘the kids’ taking them out.
What I do remember is the night I untied one of those canoes and pushed it along the sand into the water, climbed in, and headed out across the lake in the nearly pitch black darkness alone. I had some kind of mission, some kind of determination, made some kind of choice — and had no fear.
No fear of tipping over. No fear of getting caught. No fear that nobody knew I was out there or where I went if something had happened. No fear of getting into trouble. I just WENT. (This memory is about a ‘portal’ experience I had, really… There was a ‘doorway’ I found and went through — yes, alone — but I knew no other way of being in the world.)
These are the words that appeared yesterday that found their way to their accompanying tones:
Take this canoe to the island
in the middle of the night.
Who says this is stealing?
I plan to bring it back.
The bravest thing I’d ever done
alone at camp and sneaking
I and the crescent moon
slide by in whispers.
My own awakening
all others sleeping.
I ventured out to leave their noisy world
so peaceful now
Alone in this canoe
they do not know I’m gone.
Shadows of the silent trees
so black against the sky.
I circle not stopping until
I claim this island
as my own.
This morning as I find my thoughts wandering into the future of this afternoon when my piano teacher will arrive, I find myself wondering if I will work toward creating a second melody for these words that I can experience as beautiful rather than as nearly excruciatingly jarring and almost impossible to tolerate listening to.
I wrote the notes to this first melody exactly as I felt/heard them in my body. Very clearly they belong to a realm BEYOND words as they express a level of true reality to me that I have never been able to name.
This morning I am including ‘dissociation’ in my thoughts. It is not true that I dissociated my memory of experience taking that canoe out across that wide deep very cold lake in the middle of the night alone. I have always remembered this.
But looking ‘objectively’ at this experience I realize that ‘who I was’ as I did this action was a ‘different me’ than the one that had any contact WHATSOEVER with the world of humans. THAT me was the me that suffered unbelievable terror, pain and sorrow. And yet what that suffering me WANTED to do was to simply glide alone across a peaceful dark lake to circle a nearly wilderness island under a crescent moon.
I brought the canoe back after a few hours, parked it where I had found it, returned to the cabin, undressed, put my pajamas back on and climbed into my bunk. Nobody ever knew I had been gone.
At the point in my book writing about my childhood prior to age 10 1/2 where I have currently frozen-in-place and cannot read a word or write one more on my 2nd draft, I suspect that I was asking more of myself in that effort than I am (at least currently) able or willing to give.
I desire a deeper level of truth, both its knowing and its telling, in my writing. If I cannot write a book of integrity about what I knew through my abuse experiences at my core, then as far as I can tell I will be selling myself and my story too short to write it.
There is something about what I knew as THAT child in this canoe memory. I find it fascinating that my experience of it so far seems to belong to the language of music itself rather than to a regular printed page.
Trauma has ended up a part of human experience since the time of our beginnings. Because we have only used spoken articulated words for the past 140,000 years it is obvious that we had movement, mime, gesture, sound, pitch, rhythm, dance, music — LONG LONG LONG before that.
I surprise myself feeling surprised that the level of soul I wanted to reach and express in the final drafts of my book writing about my severely abusive childhood may very well be truly able to tell itself only in the oldest languages known to our species — leaving words merely as a scratch upon the surface of the tales.
Second half of this story: +STORIES WE DO NOT TELL — WITHOUT A WHOLE LOT OF WAITING FIRST