Saturday, April 9, 2011

Little Martin Guitar

Yesterday I did something I had not done for perhaps…well, let's just say, a really, really long time. I walked down the street carrying my guitar.

I bought this little Martin with my babysitting money when I was 16. It was, and hopefully will be again, a beautiful instrument, small but with a rich sound. I remember playing it in California, in Tennessee, in the stairwell of an auditorium, where the sound engineer had placed me to record a Don McClean song. He said that recording in the stairs would create a natural reverberation. I sat on the stairs, closed my eyes, and sang The Circus Song. I remember carrying my little guitar with me on an 18 hour bus ride to Myrtle Beach, which I insisted on taking by myself to assert my independence in my first year of college. The case still has the remnants of an Impeach Nixon sticker on it. Over the years, the bridge has worn down and the action has gotten quite high. This means that the space between the neck and the strings has increased, making it more difficult to play. Since I hardly play at all, my now uncalloused fingers object to the amount of pressure needed to chord properly.

The little 018 has been collecting dust under the bed for years. One of the tuning pegs has popped off and it has a broken string. But I've been thinking that it might be nice to play again. I would like to remember how; I used to be fairly good at it. Now that my son has bought himself a guitar and taught himself to play, I want to get my own facility back. But the guitar needs fixing, and I had to jump through some hoops to get Martin to agree that I am indeed its original owner. My mother searched through dusty bins of newspaper clippings in an attempt to find a photo to prove it. Ultimately, one of my sisters found the right picture of me, at 17, playing my beautiful new guitar.

When the repair technician opened the case, he exhaled in admiration. Then he pointed out all the work it would need. The soundboard is cracked; the pick guard is warped. The neck has to be steamed off and reset and the bridge replaced, but he said it would be ready in one month. Most of the repairs are covered by the original owner's warranty, but it will still cost a bit to get it back in shape. I found myself stroking it gently, remembering how it used to sound.

Although I have little intention of singing in public, I am looking forward to playing my little Martin again sometime soon.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Contemplating Movement

I took a Contemplative Dance workshop with Alton Wasson last weekend. His work comes out of Authentic Movement, and he calls it "movement as spiritual practice, artistic resource and psychological narrative." For me, it felt like coming home. My body is my home, the shape in which I live, breathe, and have my being. My body is also the conduit for the expression of thoughts and feelings, not only in words but also in movement and space.

Ever since I could walk, I expressed how I felt in and through my body. As a little girl, I twirled with joy on the lawn; I waved my arms and leapt about, mimicking the movement of the trees and flowers. As I studied dance and learned a larger movement vocabulary, I began creating dances and performing them. The initial inspiration was always based on how an event or interaction felt and was expressed through the body.

We tend to forget this. We often are unaware of the coded messages, the subtle cues our bodies are sending when we are communicating. Arny Mindell calls these secondary messages – our voices might be saying "How nice to see you," to someone we don't care for, and our body tenses, our chin drops down and the person to whom we speak has a momentary confusion. They hear the words and believe them but they are also picking up the secondary "I don't like you" message. Mindell works with these secondary channels, asking clients to perceive them, to amplify them and clarify their meaning.

The clarification opens the possibility for transformation. If I notice that a difficult emotion is locked into a part of my body, I can work through the feeling with movement. By releasing the tension, the emotion is allowed to flow. By flowing with it, I transform it. If fear hunches me over, drawing my shoulders up and my arms tight around my chest, I can roll my shoulders back and open my arms. I can shift my stance and awaken some courage in the face of fear.

Moving through emotion and giving it free expression within the body is very healing. There was one session in the workshop that was hard for me because sorrow welled up, unwanted. I was resistant, yet it was real and I had to let it flow for a while. I also noticed that I seemed stuck in one spot a lot of the time, and took this for a metaphor of being afraid to move forward. In another movement session, I let myself travel all over the room, feeling the freedom of forward motion, and discovered that staying in one place was not necessarily being stuck. Being rooted could mean that I am growing.