Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Work It!

Being an adult student is hard. Ask anyone who has ever embarked on the learning curve (willingly) post-varsity - we feel as though we signed up for something paralleled to stocks-and-ladders: We know we did it because we want to develop a skill/pursue a goal/ do well in our field/follow a dream...but it is just so darn hard to climb the rungs of learning whilst living an adult life with all its demands and pressures, to the point of torturous! As if our daily stresses, with its traffic jams, missed appointments, broken hearts, family dramas, monetary strains, failed attempts and spreading waistlines weren't bad enough, we go and throw a nice little self-inflicted exam in the mix? Way to go to hammer the self-doubt home.

Three years ago I decided to finally do the thing I had always wanted to do and learn to play the piano. I thought I had a little raw music talent to help kick things off, some time on my hands, and a loving Husband who would let me practice to all hours at home - what could go wrong? Easy! I'd be playing Rachmaninoff in no time. I'm a grown up, after all. I had worked my way up in the corporate world from nothing to a National Brand Manager, spent a year in a part of Zambia not many are willing to go, overcame a deadly disease in my late teens and lived through the tragedy of losing a loved one to an untimely death. Learning to play the piano was going to be a piece of red-velvet cake, surely as easy as it was going to be fun!

But, of course, there was no cake in my immediate future. I had no idea what a rollercoaster ride I was about to embark on. First the rush, the fun, the sheer pleasure of it all. Then the fear, the doubt, the hard work of it all. The past few years have been measured in hot flushes swinging between happy reward and sweat-drenched frustration. Yes, I learned the difference between a major and a minor chord. Yes, I learned to play pieces of Billy Joel and bits by Beethoven. Yes, I can now transpose from simple-duple to complex time signatures. But mostly, what I have learnt - really learnt, is that work, work and more work is the only way to play the piano.

I have to be honest - I don't like the work. It's great when things are clicking into place and a song is erupting from the keys, but the rest of the time, I am filled with destructive internal questions. Questions such as; 'Isn't it easier for a child to learn this stuff? Why am I even trying?!', or 'Doesn't it take a full ten years to reach the last school level in music? Will I ever get there?!' and even 'Don't kids absorb more and learn easier? What's the point?!' These are questions I use when I feel the hardness and injustice of it all, that I am in my 30's and thus unlucky enough to only be learning my ABC-Majors now. But the answer to all of that, I'm sorry to say, is 'No. Suck it up, buttercup. You gotta work.'

So then, after running through a few scales, arpeggio’s and some finger exercises, I think, 'Oh well, maybe my talent will help me get to the next level.'  Wrong again. Talent can help me play a melody from memory, just as the ability to walk upright will get me from point A to fifteen km's later. But work will help me construct a chord progression around that melody, work will teach me to read the sheet music to play the fullness of the song, just as work will help me develop my ability to run five, ten , twenty km's without stopping! Imagine no one ever pushed harder in training for a marathon than past the point of sweat. As soon as you are out of breath, then stop, because that is too hard. No, we keep working, pushing past the boundaries of our weaknesses, and complete those twenty km's.  Imagine we walked away from relationships the first time we found that it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows? No one would ever stay together. It takes work to be happy in relationships, work to go the distance. The same goes for learning to play an instrument. This isn't guitar-hero, friends. This is hard, cold, finger-numbing, brain-squeezing, ear-assaulting, hours and hours of work!

Perhaps the question I should be asking myself when the doubt or laziness arises is 'What made you do this in the first place?' My answer would be that I love music, and I love to create. The combination is a powerful form of self-expression that I simply cannot get in any other way. Listening to music gives me a lot of pleasure and helps me feel a release of this self-expression, but to truly experience my inner most feelings and abilities, I need to be able to play it myself. That's just me. If I want to be able to do that, then I better work.

I think the best thing about being an adult learner is that I am beyond the competition and beyond the parental 'thou-shalts’ of it all - I am doing this for me and me alone. It isn’t about a grade, or getting the top mark, but rather that I want to know how to play beautiful music so that I can play what I am feeling, and possibly pass the love on to another. I want to be able to read music so that I can play what others, composers of the past and present who have lived through times and lives that I could not even possibly imagine, have felt. But the only way I will ever be able to experience this bond to both history and self, is through work.

The moral of the story is that hard, consistent work is the only way to learn to play the piano. But it is the most rewarding work I have ever done, and I plan on doing it for a long time to come.

Love, lust and fairy-star-dust
Cherry Blossom

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Miley alla Moderato - Cherry Blossom does Sexy

Did you see what Miley Cyrus did now? This seems to have been the underlying (or blatantly in-your-face) theme of the internet over the past few weeks. Ever since the VMA awards, Miley has come in like a wrecking ball and commanded attention. In a society that brought us Honey Boo Boo and Kim Kardashian, it is no surprise that naked, lurid behaviour with a few 'f' words thrown in for effect, is one of the best ways to rise to stardom, or simply to get our attention. 

Miley's recent acts have sparked off a heated debate of women’s sexuality, their rights in general, and the ongoing argument of slut-shaming. First Sinead O’Connor told Miley that she should not allow herself to be prostituted for the sake of "men making money". Then Amanda Palmer encouraged Miley to own it, and let her freak flag fly. I have since read countless blog posts and articles written by mothers, daughters, struggling musicians and even a few men on the subject, (my favourite of which being this) all talking about the rights a woman has, or doesn't have, to flaunt her own body. 

I have to say, I tend to agree and disagree with all of them, from all angles. Yes, we have come a long way from pearls and aprons (the non-Pintrest version), but the world still feels the need to single out female musicians, female fighter pilots, girl gamers, or girl fly-fisher peoples as though they are a separate entity entirely (even I make that mistake). It is a male dominated world, no matter how you look at it. They still make more money for doing the same jobs, they still head up presidencies and they still tell us what to do. Well they can't tell us what to wear. Or can they? (I bet the boys over at Dolce and Gabbana have a few opinions on that matter!)

I think we have been so busy painting our bare breasts with protests against rape-culture, and streaking for freedom from men, that we may have forgotten what sexuality really is. Sex is an act to propagate the species. Our animal urges, if you will. It all boils down to making more of us, to keep the world populated and the human race moving forward. It is an 'anti-extinction' clause built into the core fiber of each and every person on the planet, both male and female, equally. Each one of us own and have all rights to our own individual sexuality, and have the right to do with (our own sexuality) as we please. In short, sex is completely natural, completely human, and completely necessary. But is bending over and twerking it in everyone’s face necessary?

Saying a woman should use her sensuality to get ahead in the world, seems to me to be on a par with saying a man should use his muscles and testosterone-laced aggression to further himself. We can't have our boys taking swords to school to ensure their teachers give them straight A's, or packing guns in their back pockets to win the girl over, or discussing business deals over a nice blooddied fight in a cage - looser dies, winner takes all! No, we have developed as a species and come a long way from that. We all agree that little Johnny should not punch Jessica in the face to get the toy he wants away from her just because he can. Then why don’t we apply that to ourselves too, and say maybe Jessica shouldn't bat her lashes to get the toy away from Johnny, or even to get Johhny to buy her all the toys?

But then again, men do use some of that inner-motivating testosterone to help themselves do better, go further, climb higher up the corporate ladder. And when done right, it is admirable, and deserves to be rewarded with a promotion, or closing the deal, or selling the product he built for millions. Why not? He worked for it. Sometimes the man who has the guts (which is just ego manifesting itself, if you think about it) to try a pick-up line, deserves the (willing and able) girl. But it is still so much more socially acceptable for men to go out there and flex those animal instincts than it is for women to do the same. And this double standard is the conundrum we find ourselves in. How can we as women use our sensuality to get that competitive edge, to Miley it up, to grab the internet by the sledge-hammer without being labeled a slut?

I don't have the answers, but I do have this little tidbit passed down from my Granny, the wisest woman on earth: Everything in Moderation. Eating a red-velvet cupcake for breakfast is an awesome way to celebrate ones birthday, but if one had to eat red-velvet all day every day twenty years in a row, one would soon find one's BMI shooting through the roof, ones organs will be under massive strain, and one would have an obesity problem, at the very least, on ones hand . Moderation. A little bit of make-up to highlight features can be very attractive, but caking the stuff on so thick that it needs to be scraped off with a spatula is neither flattering nor comfortable for the skin. Moderation. A glass of wine at the end of a long day can help take the edge off, but drinking constantly and copiously will eventually end in vomiting, dehydration, mild concussion and a hangover from hell. Moderation. It is one thing dressing with a little tease, but quite another leaving the house like sex on a stick. There is always room for having a little fun with our sexuality, but nobody wants their daughter’s Hannah-Montana themed birthday party turning into a mass orgy.

So I think I will use that wise word from my Granny when it comes to presenting my sexual self to the world. I'll not let my freak flag fly, but rather keep that flag tucked closely around me, synched in at the waist, of course, to accentuate my fabulous covered-up bosoms and CrossFit shaped ass. I'll reveal my sensuality moderato - and I'll leave the tweaking up to Miss Miley.

Love, lust and fairy-star-dust
Cherry Blossom

P.S. Please forgive me for the obvious wrecking-ball and sledge-hammer reference-play; I know it's being done to death right now, but as a writer, I just couldn't help myself.