on seashells, mourning, & a tattoo I won’t get (just yet)
The other day, I noticed a pull towards sadness so I followed it to its roots & found three reasons:
One, I miss the ocean. As my family knows, every time I visit California, I try to orchestrate a family trip to the beach.
I miss the shock of cold waves rushing past my ankles, then losing myself in the sound of perpetual motion. In the crisp scent of the sea, I rediscover my deepest breathing. In the choreography of immeasurable volumes of water, I remember what it means to be enchanted.
I miss that sense of union with both time & timelessness. The ocean, though scientifically finite, exudes a captivating argument of its own infiniteness.
And then, I miss the discovery of seashells. The stories they hold, having transcended a world enlaced with creation and destruction.
Two — Every February, I mourn the loss of a childhood friend, Brandon. I mourn the isolation & depression that led him to take his own life five years ago. I mourn the unspoken pain that needed to be voiced. Then I promise myself not to silence my own pain when it demands expression.
Now that five years have passed, he would have had more time to discover how much there is to live for.
One of the many things I live for, I have discovered, is to make music.
During quarantine, spending hours practicing alone, I've developed a belief that music is too precious to be kept to myself.
This beauty I’m capable of creating, this craft I’ve been entrusted with cultivating, demands to be shared.
Which leads to reason #3.
Three — in January, I lost two subscribers on Patreon.
Unknowingly, I convinced myself that Patreon was a definitive measure of my worth as a creative. Fueled by this belief, I threw myself into being as productive as I could.
For better & worse, I tend to pour everything into my creative career. If my work isn't "enough" for some people — if what I create doesn't generate the reception I hoped for, then it seems to prove I am not enough. Nor do I have anything left.
Losing two subscribers was something short of devastating.
Yet it forced me to come to terms with the reality of having a Patreon: people will join & leave. Their decision hinges on factors beyond my control, & isn't worth being devastated by.
Aware of this desire to be seen through creative work, I've come up with a new tattoo idea: a seashell over decorative lines that form a veiled woman. I probably won’t get it, because I shouldn’t get any more tattoos according to my mom & possibly myself two decades (or months) from now.
Still, it's fun to write about. The meaning behind this tattoo would be two-fold: my love for the ocean, and the symbolism of a seashell. As something that conceals in order to protect, a seashell offers a striking contrast to the desire to be seen, a driving force behind my creative work.
As a similar contrast, the image of a veiled woman symbolizes the generations of women before me — from my mom, to my lolas, to the countless women whose names I’ll never know — who never had the privilege of building a professional life that revolves around being seen.
Instead, they have lived hidden lives as wives & mothers, sometimes juggling these roles with paid labor.
I imagine they found strength, wisdom, & beauty within the earthiness of being human — a euphemism for activities like cooking & cleaning, which I neglect in the name of "focusing on my career."
Imagining their lives, I'm inspired to sink roots into the parts of life that have nothing to do with being seen, & everything to do with living.
At the same time, with or without a tattoo to remind me of the beauty of hidden life, I have no plans to abandon a career that revolves around being seen.
In letting myself be seen through the rawness of creative work, I'm able to open spaces for others to see a part of themselves, possibly for the first time or more clearly than before.
Recently, I witnessed this in the warmth of so many people who reached out to me, acknowledging their own struggles after I wrote about my struggle with disordered eating.
As long as it unearths deep connections like this, I hope to build my career around creative work.
To cheer myself up, I started off my practice by warming up with a “sound doodle” (what I call having fun with music, even if it’s full of mistakes) based on Stuart Mitchell’s “The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus”:
In this video, I'm warming up my sound, & my airstream is somewhat static (one way of saying, I wasn't breathing in & out as amply as it takes to create a more expansive, centered sound).
As a musician, part of my journey has been to redefine what is worth being shared, especially on a public platform. At this point, it includes the unapologetically less-than-perfect playing that happens at the start of a practice session. This comes from a place of authenticity, vulnerability, & the desire to be seen.