Monday, November 30, 2009

Music Can Make a Difference...

I've traded lizards in the bathroom for my regular life. But I am not so bummed as usual after a trip to be back in Brooklyn. I was looking forward, despite my amazing time away, to get back to giving out gold stars. I hadn't brought any for the lizards or the monkeys, would that I had. The monkeys would have liked them I bet.

My opportunity to get back to work arose easily this morning, as a woman sat down across from me in Parco with her beautiful baby dressed cozily in lime green wooly pants and a patterned sweater. I coveted the outfit.

"But, really," I said, "I don't think I could pull off those pants even if I had them...I'm gung ho about a lot of things that might not be age appropriate, but some things, I've discovered sadly, are best left to the little girls!"

The mom was herself stylish in a patterned headscarf and cool booties not dissimilar from her daughter's leather slippers, shoewear she chose purposefully to relieve her bunions, for comfort, but, it seemed, their purple hue didn't hurt. They were fun. I liked them. I liked her. I liked her even more when she told me, appreciatively, that her daughter's pants were made from sweater sleeves someone, not her, had sewn together.

For some reason, the ingenuity and craftsmanship of the pants reminded me of Costa Rica, of the people there who used everything around them to create things of great beauty, among them shell necklaces, rings made of coconut casings, even magnets of angels where the glittery wings were drawn on the backs of beer wrappers. I will think of that beautiful magnet I didn't buy forever, more probably than I would have noticed it on my fridge...

We started talking about Costa Rica and my new friend, an Australian it turns out, was anxious to hear about it, anxious to go if she could find the time and money.

"I know," I said, "I am so grateful to have had the opportunity and now I would think harder about making it there on my own because it is really so amazing."

I asked her what she did. She is, it turns out, a freelance violinist sometime music teacher, although the nursing child on her lap and the older one she had dropped at kindergarten nearby made giving lessons harder.

The musician life is a hard one, I know from many musician friends, but less hard here, in New York with its multitude of opportunities than back home in Australia, she said. She talked with appreciation of her native land, of the great candor of the people, the ease of life, but New York is home because of the music scene and, partly she said, because of a societal phenomenon she noted about Australia where "you cannot move beyond a certain level without people criticizing you, trying to bring you down."

She called it the "Tall Poppy Syndrome."

I laughed. "Isn't that true here, too?" I asked. All you have to do is pick up any tabloid or Star magazine to see how we rake successful people over the coals. It seems everyone wants to make sure their people stay humble, to prevent them from feeling too good. Wikipedia offers that the "Tall Poppy Syndrome" is in fact not unique to Australia, but is a pejorative term used in the UK, New Zealand, Ireland and Canada as well.

No matter who people are, where they are from, there are always many things, cultural or personal, syndromes named or not, that can prevent them from reaching the soaring height of their potential.

I invoked "Walk the Line," arguably one of the best movies ever, which I watched on the plane home last night for the third time. In it, Johnny Cash is portrayed as having felt like a murderer for the death of his brother. But, like most great artists, he was able to turn that feeling into art, into beautiful music, into lyrics that outed his innermost secret prisoner. He wrote as if he was in a literal prison, recorded his most popular album amongst the prisoners there. He had escaped, finally, it seemed, through his love for June Carter, through her love for him, and felt maybe his music could help others.

My musician friend got her star for helping me explore the different ways in which I can offer my own kids the chance to express themselves and their feelings through music, through the often unconcious emotional expression of their fingers. It would be nice if they had some way of escaping anybody who tries to pull a "Tall Poppy" on them, wherever they are.

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