11 May 2013

The Letter M


Tomorrow is Mother's Day. Turn on the Machine:  lights, cameras, hugs and kisses...flowers, candy, everything on sale. Breakfast in bed. Corsages and ribbons and fancy hats.

Back in the days when I was a mother with kid in tow, I spent Mother's Day with other mothers and their kids, drinking champagne while engaged in the usual routine -- answering questions, being climbed on and clung to, soothing hurt feelings and skinned knees, cleaning up spills, running interference between the loves-of-our-lives and the World's hazardous surprises....
-- and talking about Motherhood. Sometimes we met in a nearby park; sometimes in my apartment. We all looked forward to it. Every now and then I hear from one of those mothers and they always mention the champagne Mother's Day parties.

For a few years, after my son relocated to his father's Kansas farm, I made it a point to acknowledge the mothers I knew with cards or letters or emails, phone calls or visits. The practice was partly a distraction:  my son rarely acknowledged me on Mother's Day. It hurt but it didn't break me. I got used to it.

In later years, my observance of the day diminished:  I sent my mother a card and, if I happened to run into a mother, I wished them "Happy Mother's Day." More recently, Mother's Day has become the mental equivalent of climbing a dark, dusty staircase to sit in a shadowy attic among discarded life props and think about what might have been.

It's been a rough week in Holly Springs. Too many confrontations with my least favorite aspects of local culture and marked physical exhaustion from a persistent cough and sneezing (allergy? cold?) that robbed me of sleep for three nights. In the resulting emotional slump, my relationship with my Mother and my experience as a Mother feel like Mistakes.

I found a picture of my mother online. In all the years I knew her, she was scrupulous about making a good impression. To my eye, this trait is visible in the photo:  She's in her 70's here but appears younger. "I hope I look that good at that age." She heard it a lot I'll bet. My mother was genius at putting on "the good face."

Despite years of resistance, I am frustrated and disappointed this week to discover (again) deep and rampant roots of this genius in myself. Happy Mother's Day -- a gift that just keeps giving.

Example:  Since December, I've made multiple attempts to contact K______ owner of the only sound recording business (outside of the facilities at Rust College) in Holly Springs. Each time I stopped by his other business, I left my card (one more time) and was told (one more time) "He's gonna call you." I always wore the Good Face. I'm learning the ropes here, trying to build a network. The Good Face is the one I want to wear....right?

Yesterday, in an inspired moment of bravado after a productive piano session, I spotted several cars parked outside the studio and decided to stop. I tried the door (one more time) and it was open!! Inside, I followed faint sounds of life to the engineering booth. I entered and found two men seated before an impressive mixing console, one of them wearing headphones and holding a guitar. The other guy looked up when I entered.

"Are you Kevin?"
"Yes, Ma'am. That's me. Can I help you?"
"I'm Alex Mercedes...."
"Oh! Mercedes, Mercedes....let's see..."
"I left my card for you at your other business. A guy named Chris said he gave it to you and you'd give me a call..."
"Right! Right. Now I remember."  He chuckled. "I have to apologize. He told me what you wanted but....  You're not from here, are you?"
"No, I'm from Indiana originally. Moved here from CA last August."
"Well, I was gonna call you but, around here.... I just didn't know how serious you were."

Right. After no fewer than six inquiries, he just didn't know how serious I was; and, in keeping with local custom, rather than call me and ascertain my seriousness, he chose to do nothing. Ignore the requests.

I acknowledge putting on The Good Face was and is an ego-driven choice, albeit unconscious. Defiantly rejecting The Good Face would also have been an ego-driven choice. I know where ego-driven processes lead.  I'm clear on all that.

I'm looking at how foolish I felt upon discovering the uselessness of all that running around in my Good Face. It won me nothing. I'm looking at the annual hurt after all those years of Good Face mothering that were insufficient to earn a card on "Mother's Day." And, yes, feeling foolish and hurt are just also ego-sticky views of reality....


When I lay it all down, when I surrender the Good Face and decisions about when and whether to wear it

All that's left is Music.

I sit down at the piano without a Mask.

I abandon the boat, leave all my gear behind, and swim out to be swallowed, to disappear.

Ironically, my mother fought to give me access to the music portal (though she ultimately disapproved of how passionately I embraced what I found within)

another gift that keeps giving.

In my sweet dream, there are no Masks, no Faces of any kind, no navigating human culture. Just Music.  The flawless forever infinity of Music.