Cancer, being small (or NOT) and playing with Victor Wooten

Written by Alyssa Wright on her blog, after returning from Victor Wooten’s 2011 workshop at The Haven. UPDATE: Victor Wooten is returning to The Haven, March 19-21 2013. 

Hello all – Yes, it’s been a long time since I’ve written – life has been rather full this past year, of course, but I wonder if some other forces have been at work, as I’ve had a “dry spell” in all my writing and other creative ventures. It was suggested to me earlier in the week that these plateaus, road blocks, or whatever you choose to call them, are simply “enforced resting periods.” I can definitely see that in my world… what we refuse to provide for ourselves, the universe provides in weird and wonderful ways.

Like this past month, for instance. One month ago yesterday, I almost died. In rather dramatic fashion. Having spent a few years living with the cancer worry floating around in the back of my head – but not being able to convince anyone in the medical profession to take my concerns seriously – the kitten-sized tumour (that was supposedly non-existent) decided to make her presence blatantly obvious by making a break for freedom. I named her “Big Ethyl”, and am, in a twisted sort of way, rather proud of her determination to be acknowledged.

How many times have we had to fight to be heard? Or recognized? Or even noticed to exist? And when it doesn’t happen, how many of us have then turned that against ourselves and decided that we aren’t worth hearing, haven’t done anything worth recognizing, and maybe shouldn’t even exist? So we deny, repress, deny, repress, until – like Big Ethyl – something explodes and paints the walls a big, bloody mess that can no longer be ignored, no matter how hard everyone tries.

That, my friends, is my life story in a nutshell. The big, bloody messes haven’t always been so… well, big and bloody, though I can see metaphorical echoes (pre-echoes?) of Big Ethyl in so many points along my journey.

I keep telling people how lucky I was that Big Ethyl exploded when she did – when I live a mere two blocks from the emergency ward, when I have my beloved to look after me when I can no longer stand on my own, when we weren’t on an airplane or driving through the Rockies. But her timing was so perfect in many other ways as well. I needed this reminder that I deserve to be heard, and recognized, and to exist. I had been slipping back into old patterns of putting everyone and everything else first, and not looking after myself – or even acknowledging my own existence or basic needs.

To such a ridiculous extent that Don practically had to DRAG me to Emerg as I protested that I was fine and didn’t want to be too much of a bother, they had more pressing cases to deal with. And then woke up the morning between Big Ethyl’s Great Escape and the surgery to complete her quest thinking I should really get out of bed and spend my down-time doing some chores (not a good idea, as I discovered when I realized that losing half your haemoglobin makes standing up to brush your teeth a rather tricky endeavour…). And then took my laptop to bed, so I could still make sure the Orillia Folk Society’s upcoming concert went off without a hitch, and sneak in some PR work. And gave myself guilt trips for cancelling my students that week, until I convinced myself they might be grossed out by the carnage. OK, so it took a few days for me to fully absorb Big Ethyl’s message, but I eventually got it!

Flash forward to this week, having recovered from a successful surgery, when I actually AM driving through the Rockies (or about to), surrounded by beauty – the landscape, the people we’ve met, the music, the ideas. Don and I have just spent a week in a creativity workshop with Victor Wooten on Gabriola Island, BC, and enjoyed an incredible solo concert – solo, that is, until he invited me and four others to sit in with him on a song. Yes, people, I just played a concert with Victor Wooten. Which would be incredibly cool at any time, but when it happens on the anniversary (monthiversary?) of my near-death, “HOLY CRAP!!!” is about as articulate as I can get.

Not only that, but I did a mighty fine job at it! Not only did I “not suck”, I was really quite good. Victor kept telling me how beautiful my solo was, and used me as an example to the group the next morning, saying I was “a virtuoso” (referring to my “Both Sides Now” arrangement he had heard earlier in the week) on my instrument, but could get into the music and forsake virtuosity for the feel, and to support the others on stage with me, which was a goal to which we all needed to aspire.

And, let me tell you, the Old Me is twisting and turning and shouting inside me and trying her damndest to prevent me from writing that above paragraph. “Be small!”, she’s shouting, “you’re not being small enough! The world is about to end!!!”

Maybe, maybe not. Maybe it’s a world that needs to end.

Thursday night after the concert, I was brazen enough to post on FaceBook that “I might have kicked a wee bit of ass tonight.” You can only imagine how much the Old Me punished myself for that in the following 24 hours. She actually tried to get me to erase that post, but someone had already responded (thanks, Paul!), so I didn’t feel it was right. And it wouldn’t have been right, anyway.

Yes, I kicked ass. Yes, one of the most creative and innovative musicians around thinks I’m good. Yes, I should make myself a flashing neon sign that says “I kick ass and I’m damned good!” Yes, I should feel proud of myself – it’s taken 40 years of work to get to where I am today, not just musically but in my life in general. My life is awesome. Sure, much of that awesomeness comes from sheer good luck (I was born in Canada, fer cryin’ out loud!), but a lot of the perceived good luck that has come my way has come along because I set things in motion, was prepared for it, and receptive to it – AND dealt with the bad luck (and those who know my whole story know I was born into a lot of that, too!) in a positive way.

(The next step, of course, is being able to make that neon sign flash BEFORE someone else plugs it in for me, but… you know… baby steps.)

As many of you know, on my sister-friend Ali’s birthday, she brings “the girls” together for an evening with Jude, who gives us all our Tarot readings for the year. Analytical-brained me was incredibly skeptical of this at first, but Jude has proven herself year after year. I left my notes (pun intended, for those of you who were at the workshop) at home, and am really itching to re-read them all right now, but the main message to me in this year’s reading was that I had laid the groundwork (and needed to keep working on that), and that and the social/relationship connections I was making were preparing the way for something really big in my musical career. And when that unexpected opportunity came up, I had to be ready to take that leap of faith and trust that the groundwork and relationships would hold me up and propel me forward.

Where and what that leap is is supposed to be a surprise, which is part of the fun. The song we played together on Thursday was “Stand By Me” – my first reaction to the choice was “Oh geez, how many times have I played that song? this is gonna be boring”. But then Julie, the singer, came in in a place nobody expected. And then Victor threw in some notes and chord changes that nobody expected. And then we all put in dynamics that went the opposite direction anyone familiar with the song would have expected. AND it became more fun than I’ve had in ages – we were all flying by the seat of our pants, pushing our imaginations into strange new worlds and taking the audience along for a very cool ride. It was the not knowing that kept it interesting, kept us listening, kept us working and exploring and taking that leap of faith together.

Going back to the Tarot, it was like we were all Card Zero, The Fool – juggling all the possibilities, being everything and nothing, looking at the world with wonder and imagination and awe, and having the innocent faith that our leap of faith would open up a whole new world of possibility. And it DID. That wonder and imagination and the faith, love and trust that six previously total strangers had for each other created a remarkable thing – something I don’t think anyone in that room will forget in a long, long time.

And, Fool that I am, I’m still juggling and wondering and playing and have not come down from that incredible high. The leap of faith hasn’t landed. I’m not sure if it will, before I take the next one. Those who got used to the Old Me being back again might be in for a few bloody walls of their own.

Because between Big Ethyl, Jude, and Victor Wooten… I’m ready to jump, baby, I’m jumping now! Round and round and round she goes, where she’ll stop, nobody knows …

Foolishly Yours


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