244. entelechy

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SSF_Program

Still haven’t heard from my dad in response to the reply I sent last week. It could be that he’s just processing, but it’s possible that he won’t respond at all. Again, my intent wasn’t necessarily to cut off all contact with him and the family, but that’s how he might read it.

It’s tough because this is a relationship that I feel I should want to hold on to, and yet the facts indicate that it’s a relationship that can’t go anywhere, and that it’s best to let go of.

Speaking of things I’m letting go of, a year ago this past weekend I participated in the MN Song workshop as part of the Source Song Festival in Minneapolis. It’s a festival with the mission to celebrate, promote, and develop American art song:

… by empowering and inspiring a new generation of musicians—composers, performers and audience members alike—through the creation of new works, the initiating of conversation, and the fostering of relationships within Minnesota’s vibrant community.

I’d entered one of my songs, a setting of John Donne’s Holy Sonnet IX, “If poysonous mineralls, and if that tree,”  in the festival and was selected as one of the composers whose works would be workshopped and performed over the weekend.

In retrospect, this was a last-ditch effort to hold on to my identity as a musician and art song composer.

However, it quickly became clear that I was simply out of place among the other composers and musicians there—even the youngest one there. This is the curse of having enough talent to recognize when you don’t have the same gift and seeming facile ability of the others around you. It was an uncomfortable weekend overall, and was basically the final nail in the coffin of my career as a composer.

Towards the end of high school, my dad finally convinced me to major in music composition. It was obvious that I didn’t have the talent for piano performance, and for a while I was planning to major in English (which would’ve been about as useful as a music performance degree), but I assumed that my dad knew what he was talking about as a professional-level musician.

And that’s what I did.

In hindsight, that was one of many pieces of what other people were telling my about myself that I attempted to make fit, never questioning whether those things were true or accurate. For a while it seemed that I was a talented composer. My music was complex and challenging, and that set me apart in the music department at Northwestern College. However, as I came to realize after graduating, that was a very small tidal pool in a very large pond.

And on this side of atheism, that musical identity belongs to someone else, to a person who existed only as a mirror for others’ expectations—people I looked to as authority figures to tell me who I was.

There’s a quote of Julia Sweeney’s from her show Letting Go of God that I’m particularly fond of: “If I look over my life, every single step of maturing for me has had the exact same common denominator: and that’s accepting what was true over what I wished were true.”


As I’ve been delving more into learning about philosophy and the different schools of thought, I’ve come across the views of English pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott.

This video triggered a number of things from my upbringing that probably won’t come as a surprise to readers of this blog. While my childhood wasn’t the living nightmare of physical or sexual abuse that occasionally makes press, as I’ve come to realize over the last few years it was still incredibly toxic on account of my parents’ theology and the theology of our churches.

Like most children raised in fundamentalist religions, I grew up experiencing conditional love and acceptance. My parents preached the importance of showing unconditional love, yet their behavior taught something of the opposite. Compliance and adherence to Biblical rules (as they interpreted them) was heavily stressed. In order for our parents to be happy with us (or at least to avoid punishment), we had to exhibit good Christian behavior.

If we didn’t, it was a sign that we didn’t belong to God and were in danger of the fires of hell.

Of course, my parents had no idea what they were doing. They admitted to making mistakes along the way, but they ultimately believed that this was the right thing, that it was the godly was to bring up spiritually healthy children.

They didn’t know how psychologically fragile and impressionable children are; that teaching a child that they’re inherently sinful could translate to the belief that they’re inherently bad; that these lessons were shaping how their child would relate to other human beings later in life, and to their sense of self-worth or security.

Neither could they have expected that this way of bringing me up would lead to the developing of a sense of false self, to the reflexive repressing of my self, to shutting down, to going out of my way to please everyone out of a fear of disapproval and rejection.

So while I may have had two parents, a roof over my head, and my physical needs met, I lacked real security and the freedom to grow up at a normal pace.

It’s ultimately why I ended up majoring in music composition, why I tried so hard for so long to be a composer, why I applied to grad school for music composition, why I spent countless hours practicing piano as a teenager, why I entered that piece in the Source Song Festival.

 

This is why I’m focusing on being with people who I do feel accepted by/secure with, why I’m pursuing things that make me truly happy and that feel authentic, and why I’m stopping myself doing things for the approval of others.

It’s daunting, but my inner child deserves better than what he got.

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3 thoughts on “244. entelechy

  1. In this case religion is simply the method. I know people who were marginalized because they didn’t connect to a sport or a team. Others because they didn’t take on the same profession as their father etc.

    The underlying issue is that you (probably even unintentionally) subvert the ‘assigned value’ system. Your parents may admit they made mistakes, but it’s quite obvious they live by a system where they just happen to be the people who get to permanently assign worth to others.

    I don’t say that as criticism. Authoritarian thinking is often a defence mechanism. It’s what some people know- and the only way they know how to interact in the world.

    The really important factor is your inner child could not have gotten better because his parents weren’t capable of more than what they were capable of. Adult you, however, can aim for anything at all.

    Years ago I decided that I didn’t like it when people used a particular tone with me. In the early days I wouldn’t have dreamed of expressing that dissatisfaction out loud. And to be honest it’s taken me a much too long 14 years, but last year I finally said enough is enough to the last of the people who insisted on using that particular tone.

    I can’t begin to tell you what a difference it’s made to my quality of life.

    • David

      I’ve never heard my parents’ way of life described as “assigning value” before, but that’s exactly what it is. They decide, subjectively, based on an ancient holy text that’s been heavily interpreted for them by translators with a specific theological bent and agenda, what and who is good/bad, acceptable/unacceptable, etc. It took ages to finally see that for what it is, but it’s incredibly liberating to understand now. When one grows up in that system, insulated from the outside world and prejudiced against it, it’s seems normal. Authoritarian thinking is essential in order to maintain those fundamentalist Christian beliefs. It was terrifying to consider thinking or acting for one’s self, apart from the moral teachings of the Bible. So my parents weren’t capable of any other way of raising my sisters and me because of the axioms they’d accepted years before we came along.

      • Convenient axioms. My family managed to do it without religion but with patriarchy. Little boys should: __________ __________ _________ ___________ and the other.
        Annoyingly enough I realized I could have filled any of the blanks only to realize they would lay yet another before me. That was the turnaround moment. If the problem wasn’t that I was gay, the problem would have been that the woman I chose was ‘beneath me.’ And I say that from actual experience- because that actually happened before I came out.
        Every hierarchy needs to assign someone to the bottom of the pyramid- historically that’s someone who’s perceived as vulnerable.
        This is the moment where you turn that around. With your level of intelligence, vulnerability is an indulgence. I personally expect you to make grand(er) decisions from this point forward. No one can do it for you.

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