Reading, Writing & Reading

At The Crossroads of Should and Must

At The Crossroads of Should and Must |

I recently finished a lovely book called The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find And Follow Your Passion by Elle Luna. In the introduction she writes: “. . . I’ve found that things appear at the ideal time. Not before. And not after. Consider the possibility that this book made its way into your hands because you wanted it to. Because a part of you has seen a crossroads in your life, and you’re ready for the journey ahead . . .”

This seems to be the case for me. I found it while poking around a book store at Newark airport and thinking about how I was going to step forward into pursuing my passions. I had all this energy from my trip to The Somerset Folk Harp Festival—and that felt great, but I was worried. Would I simply go home and fall back into old routines, ignoring what mattered most to me because I was too scared to do otherwise?

There’s a lot of the how to find your passion in this book—which, at this point was not of much interest to me. After years of trying to deny my dreams, I was finally at a place where I could acknowledge completely what I wanted. What is special to me about this book is not the how, but the why. Some weeks ago, I commented to a friend on Facebook, who is in the process of making the huge life change of moving herself and two dogs from New York City to Malta: “So psyched for you and your bravery. I think that when any one of us lives her best/dream life, we all win.” And I believed this—about her—but not about myself. Following my dreams was okay, as long as it didn’t interfere with being the as perfect as possible daughter, sister, aunt, niece, friend, cat caretaker . . . you get the idea. Because, people are more important than dreams, aren’t they? And really, it’s not like I could ever achieve those dreams, not really. What I failed to realize was that this way of thinking was starving my spirit and, as a result, depleting my resources for being a loving relation. Which is especially sad, since connecting with my friends and family is one of my passions, too.

“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself, what a man can be, he must be.” Scribed in watercolor in The Crossroads of Should and Must, this quote from noted American psychologist Abraham Maslow brought me nearly to tears the first time I read it—and the second. I could feel that after spending a weekend immersed in music—one of my main passions—I was somehow more alive than I had been in months. And here was the reason why: by moving toward what I might be able to be, I was finding not only peace, but vitality. And from reading this book, I began to find the notion of following a dream becoming less about being selfish and delusional, and more about living the best life a human can live.

The other thing I got from this book was the confirmation that following ones dreams is not all brownies and kittens. It can be tedious, backbreaking, and frustrating. It’s also effing terrifying! The questions of worthiness, the vulnerability, the doubts that one inevitably faces in ANY heartfelt endeavor can seem insurmountable. And it was nice to hear someone say, hey, if you’re in pain or panic while you’re doing this, that’s totally normal. It doesn’t mean you’re on the wrong track. It doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. It just means what you’re doing means a lot to you and because of that, the stakes are high. And, in a way, that’s a really good thing.

Have you read The Crossroads of Should and Must? What did it mean to you?

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Harp & Voice

Rethinking the Traditional Way

If you’ve been reading this blog lately, you know that I recently returned from the Somerset Folk Harp Festival in Parsippany, NJ. It was a great opportunity to reconnect with some old harp friends and meet some new ones. It was also an opportunity to learn—a lot. And not just about playing the harp. One of my favorite lessons came from the amazingly talented and wonderfully warm, Cuban born, Paraguayan harpist, Alfredo Rolando Ortiz. A friend and I were taking one last stroll through the exhibit hall on Sunday, when we happened on Dr. Ortiz (he also has a medical degree) playing one of his many intricate (not to mention speedy) compositions in his relaxed, effortless style. When he finished, we complimented him, expressing our doubts that we could even approach his level of mastery. He waved this away and proceeded to give us technical instruction on how to play ascending passages with more comfort and ease. “It’s not the traditional way,” he told us.

Ortiz went on to tell us about his joy when he witnessed a classically trained pedal harpist (pedal harps are the big ones that play in orchestras) using his fingernails to play a complicated piece—in much the same way that Ortiz himself does. Again, this was a departure from “the traditional way”. Most pedal harpists would never dream of growing nails that extend beyond their fingertips, let alone use them to manipulate a harp. After this fantastic performance, Ortiz found himself among a group of pedal harpists who were raving about this man’s performance. But when Ortiz mentioned proudly that the performer had used his fingernails, they said that couldn’t be possible. When Ortiz assured them that it was, someone said, “You know, I knew there was something off about the performance, I just didn’t know what.”

How often do we do that? Put limits on our enjoyment of something based on our expectations? How often do we tell ourselves that the “traditional way”, the accepted way, is the best, and, perhaps, only way?

I’ve always tended to be a rule follower. There’s a right way of doing things and a wrong way. (The right way is usually more demanding, mind you.) You have to do A in order to get to B. No exceptions. I was already challenging these notions when a few days ago, I watched an interview of artist Julie Fei-Fan Balzer on Sue Wojtkowski’s website Irreversibly Moi. In it, she said “The rules are there to help you. If they’re hindering you, if they’re inhibiting your creativity, then you need to get rid of them.”

Sometimes you need to follow directions—sometimes that is the best way, but it’s important for me to remember that that’s not always true. Sometimes those directions, that “traditional way” is just getting in your way and preventing you from exhibiting your greatness.

Dr. Ortiz, his beautiful harp, and me!
Dr. Ortiz, his beautiful harp, and me!

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The Gifts of Travel

The Gifts of Travel |

I remember being 25 and sauntering off an airplane. I remember wearing a red sweater with bell sleeves, dark jeans with a subtle sparkle, and my favorite black, lace-up boots with rubber heels—the ones that my Chinese best friend had to wait forever for me to take off whenever I visited her home. I remember wearing a maroon velvet hat, bought some 10 hours earlier at Heathrow Airport. The hat probably didn’t go with the rest of the outfit, but I didn’t care. I felt good. I walked nonchalantly to the arrivals gate and found my parents’ faces.

“You look different,” my mother told me. “I almost didn’t recognize you. I saw this elegant woman walking toward us and thought, ‘That can’t be Diana, she’s not that tall.’”

I nodded, knowing that my mother had noticed some meaningful change in me that I sensed, but didn’t fully understand. Now I realize the accuracy of her remark: I looked bigger, because I was bigger. In some unexplainable way, I had expanded.

That isn’t the only time traveling has done this for me. In 2010, when I returned from a two week tour of Ireland and Scotland, I again felt enlivened—by people, by scenery, by possibilities. This trip, as with any of my traveling adventures, was not perfect. Nor was it without heartache and tears. Amid the many wonders and joys I experienced, I also felt loss and confusion and desolation. Some of this was fueled by my fear that this would be my last big trip anywhere—that this was as good as it was going to get. Even so, I returned to American soil ready to try, to work, to become. I believe it was on the strength of this energy that I completed my first novel and began to play the harp.

Now, having returned from a much closer trip to the Somerset Folk Harp Festival in Parsippany, New Jersey, I again feel that creative energy, that desire to be more—or, not more, but myself, completely—no bigger, but no smaller either.

This, for me, is one of the gifts of traveling—the opportunity to find out who you are when you’re not among familiar, accepted surroundings and situations. It’s the freedom to allow yourself to see the hidden parts of yourself—and perhaps, even begin to cherish them, believe in them, and act from them.

What are the gifts of travel for you?