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Nine Months in Spain: A Reflection

It scares the bejeezus out of you just to think about it. You look over the rock and see the deep blue Mediterranean 20 meters down. You hear the wind and you feel it pressing you to jump. But you don’t. Why risk it? The fiery golden orb is setting on the horizon and the salt will only make you itch later. But the water keeps calling…

On September 21st 2010, I got on a plane from Chicago’s O’Hare International and moved myself to Madrid. I had just played the front half of a recital in St. Louis the day before and caught the bus from Union Station up to the Spanish Embassy to collect my visa conveniently located in the middle of it all on Michigan Avenue. I was fortunate enough to meet up with my new friend Ensemble Dal Niente director Ryan Muncy in Evanston and catch up with newbie Northwestern law student Esther King. Life, of course, was already changed. My sister had just got married, and my mom the year before. I had recently opted not to marry.

The move itself wasn’t so bad. I tell everyone the worst part of pulling the whole thing off wasn’t coming up with the money to do it or going through the 10-step background check, health insurance nightmare and anything-else-they-can-come-up-with visa application, so you had might as well know too—it was the mental game. You know what I mean, talking yourself into it and believing in yourself and all that crap. Turns out people’s comfort zones are a lot more confining than they realize. Once you get out of it though, the light turns on to the fact that the way you think about what you think about means everything.

I walk around and admire the view, but I’m really just trying to delay the jump. There are some gorgeous girls, serious knockouts, down below watching me, which of course makes me all the more nervous. I try and put on the cool act as if I don’t notice their alluring eyes directed towards me. There are some local teenagers off to the side chatting so I go ask them if the water is deep enough to jump, which is of course another ridiculous act. Who gets lit up if they’re wrong after all!

Getting along with everyone in life is completely overrated. I met this one expatriate through idealista.com (like craigslist for Spanish housing) from Ecuador. He seemed really chill and was an amateur musician, which I thought was totally cool but he turned out to be 100% plastic. I ended up moving in with him for a roommate. It wasn’t until later that I learned you can’t fight through people’s scripts, especially when it means treading on their social turf and dating other girls without permissive social gestures. Speaking of social gestures, why is it that people from the MidWest have such enormous personal bubbles? It seems to me whether you’re a professional twenty-something or an elderly statesmen, all of us feel the desire to interact with other humans. I just think touch is a normal part of that, that’s all. It doesn’t have to be sexy or crude when a guy kisses a girl on the cheek in greeting or a man pats the shoulder of another in passing. It could be a sign of friendliness or even warmth if you can imagine that.

When studying an art form like music, the process of practicing begins to break down over time. You question basic fundamentals. Your shoddy habits relapse. You might even burn out for a while. In the process you probably will get frustrated, annoyed that things don’t have a microwave-setting solution. What I’m trying to say is that when you study an art form you’re partially studying yourself. Your expressiveness, warmth, and genuineness (or lack thereof) come out in the way you present your art. When you finally realize that, it transforms who you are. And then you really start to make the music.

I’m already bloody sunburned out of my mind, why do I want to risk smacking my body on the water to make it even worse? My buddy over there brought his camera, so I’m thinking he could take a nice picture for facebook and all, I’ll flex my muscles (for the ladies) and pretend I’m not trying and then we can go back to the hostel and get out of this hot messy summer day. The wind keeps pushing at me. The salt water wafts up from the rocks breaking on the surf below. After all, we have the castle tour alongside the coast tomorrow and I certainly wouldn’t want to miss that. Wouldn’t hurt to meet up with those girls either later on.

There is no message more disturbing for a single guy than an unexpected pregnancy. Imagine, you’re checking out the mall at the Mac Store idly browsing your facebook when your ex sends the dreaded message: VAS A SER PADRE. It puts you a pasty pale as white as a t-shirt that has been washed with the colored clothes too many times. Then of course there is the analysis, the what if’s, and the-how-the-hell-did-this-happen rhetoric (use a condom people). Then comes the understanding that no matter what happens in life, this is the only one you have. There’s no silly pause or restart button. You learn to live with yourself and fight in yourself to create a new you and a new direction, one that is genuine and musical and perhaps even poetic and doesn’t hide authenticity for fear of hurting feelings or disappointing them. That’s when people really get close to the edge. Of course, the process of getting to that point is slightly hazardous. I imagine there are many who never find it their whole lives. I don’t blame them. Its hard.

Later on you learn the hair-splitting differences between frustration and resolve and especially protection and deception. And sometimes you pay the price, life returns the black eye right back at you. And in eating the dirt  you learn that life and music are often one and the same—effective communication of one hinges on the authentic experiences of the other. Hanging out on my flat in Madrid the last night in Spain with friends was one of those heavy surreal moments where you are hyper-concious of every experience. The air is thicker and the time moves slower yet your mind records everything. You want to hang onto each word of every conversation, the resounding laughs, a final kiss, and all the last notes. People always think you can recapture those kinds of moments, but you can’t. They’re unique and you have to grab them while they’re there before they float away.

There I was, flailing, falling. My arms commanded me to wave in the air but I wouldn’t let them, they were willed forward to burst the glassy indigo. On I kept flying headfirst and headlong thinking and then choosing otherwise. Entering the water. The exhilaration, the challenge, leveled. You feel your ears roar, the bubbles surround you, the warm sea air in your hair. You look up joyfully to smile and wave. Everything is going to be OK.

This is a recording of my dear friend Fernando, some of those final notes I heard in Madrid: https://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=10150311920495820&comments

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