It is a new year in Southeast Alaska, a year of the White-winged Crossbill for me. The hoar frost has returned with a wave of wintery temperatures that have swept over Gustavus. I opted against resolving to once again cease from biting my fingernails in the new year in favor of more attainable goals – baking a loaf of bread, playing piano and guitar a few times a week, writing on a regular basis, and pursuing those pastimes that bring peace of mind and sense of self.
For readers who are not crazed birders, I should take a step back and explain another realm of life for the birderhood. With each new year that dawns, the first bird seen or heard marks the days and months to come. Now, if you live in the Pacific Northwest or Southeast Alaska, this could mean an endless number of years of the Bald Eagle, Common Raven, and so on and so forth. Some birders are more strict about this rule than others. One year, I put a bandana over my husband’s eyes and drove until I found a Trumpeter Swan.
I have decided that for myself, it must be a new species that defines the arrival of each new year. The first sound I heard from the darkness of my bedroom was the clucking croak of a raven, but upon stepping outside a myriad of chirping and chattering came from a flock of White-winged Crossbills.
In my last post, I wrote about the struggle I experience between tending to my own or another’s happiness. It is such a tender balance between the two and one that I have felt grow out of sync between myself and my husband. This concept of happiness I find so very tenuous in and of itself and one that must first and foremost be nurtured from within by oneself and by choice. I wrote of telling my husband comforting words of false hope, which I now realize is not an accurate portrayal of our experience together or even of my feelings for him. I love him deeply and will continue to do so. I am beginning to understand that love and happiness experience flux and change and are not always possible between two individuals on this earth.
My desire to give comfort stems from a sensitivity and empathy for others that I have felt since I was very young. It is from this tendency that I seek to comfort and in so doing set my own needs and desires aside. It is not that my desire has waned to comfort my husband. It is simply (or more accurately, complexly) that I realize that I must first choose to pursue a path that will lead to my own of sense of self and happiness, for which no one but I can provide, and that my husband must do the same. Would that it were possible for us to follow this path together, but for this moment in my life it is becoming evident that this must be an individual journey.
During the fall semester, I participated in an incredibly moving and insightful musical endeavor with a fellow student in my cohort at Prescott College. This activity was part of required presentation during our fall colloquium at Estes Park, Colorado in October 2010. This student has devoted his life to music and to creating folk music from stories. This is an ambitious endeavor, particularly considering the musical climate in our country which tends toward themes of money, sex, drugs, etc.
For the hour we spent in the company of other students from our cohort and faculty from the college, we began with a brief story from my life. I spoke of a childhood memory – mornings when my father would bring me to preschool and the painful separation when he would leave. I spoke this story word for word, while my fellow cohort member typed and shaped each phrase to fit a musical mold. He then asked me to sing the story, an exercise which turned out to be far more challenging than I anticipated, especially in such close proximity to my peers. Finally, using my hand to as a protective shield to create the semblance of anonymity and privacy, I mustered an awkward, timid series of notes to words (the awkwardness of which I had been forewarned was an expected and integral part of the process).
With each run through, words and phrases were shaped or deleted, verses formed, and a melody and chorus began to emerge. It was captivating, and I lost myself in the process, such that the audience faded away until it became only me and my fellow cohort member. He recorded each version of the song, from awkward ramble to the last few takes with guitar and audience participation.
The musical portion of this exercise may have ended on the hour, yet the internal processing continued in the hours, days, and months that have followed. I found myself reflective and subdued for many hours and finally moved to tears and exhaustion later that evening. On the surface, I was telling a story of the pain I experienced when separated from my father each morning and of a deep desire to bring him happiness, which I have realized as an adult is something only he can attain. Upon further reflection, I found that I was also expressing the pain I had been experiencing as I attempted to bring confidence and happiness into my husband’s life, a feat I had begun to struggle with so greatly that I could sense I was losing the battle.
I continue to reflect on this experience and to wonder at the enigma of happiness in each of our lives. Is it attainable? When found, how can we find a way for it to endure, to maintain a firm or even tenuous grasp? Can I find happiness in solitude?
I will begin with music, unconditional love from my animals, and birds.