I am beginning to realize my life is no longer on the map. Or certainly not on the media map. I scroll through netflix: story about a male hero finding his destiny; a cute Rom Com about an ambitious young woman who finally comes to her senses and settles down to the real work of having a family, now that she’s found the absolute perfect man who has won her over; a cautionary tale about an older woman who is a power hungry and ambitious cold bitch; an action flick with a skillful female sidekick, who nonetheless either defers to her male partners or rebels and ends up suffering.
After fifteen minutes of looking, my husband heaves an annoyed sigh. What was I looking for? I wanted a movie with a female protagonist whose gifts are rewarded and honored by society, who is the center of the story, who has dreams and visions of greatness, who knows she has a destiny, an important role to play in the world that doesn’t have to do with children,or supporting a man in his greatness. Yes, I know! Why should I expect this from Hollywood? On the other hand, is it me, or have the female roles become even more narrow than they were just ten years ago? Or maybe as a younger woman I took for granted the freedom and power afforded me by my beauty and age, and now that I’m closing in on my forties…?
All of my accolades and achievements were fine for a young woman, because we have an acceptable narrative in our culture now for late childbearing, and super educated working moms. But there’s an unspoken assumption that at some point I would get down to the most important work a woman can do, and that this would take a central role in my life. While I don’t wish to dismiss or undermine the value in motherhood, or those who make this central in their path, or ignore those women who bravely try to have it all, I cant help but wonder, children or not, why is it still so taboo that a woman should wish to continue to follow her dreams passed her 30s, 40s and beyond? Do we not wish to have women in positions of leadership in the public sphere?
As the years passed and I have now reached my late 30s, even my family seems a bit confused. They no longer had a narrative to understand me in the context of our society. I cant find myself either. A nun? Nope, married. A whore? Nope, too much integrity. An ambitious cold power hungry business woman who is disconnected from her femininity? The shoe doesn’t fit. A kept woman? No, I work hard and help pay the bills. The virgin queen, the evil step mother, the 13th fairy, the witch. No, no, no and no? Well, maybe, but a good one! Maybe I’m just a diva? But why does that have a negative connotation?
In truth, this is nothing new. I have always been a free spirit who charts her own course. And I have always been ambitious. As with all things, there are many sides to the passion I have for my work. As I have been having conversations with my friends and family, I have found the words to articulate and begin to explain my ambition, my passion. Since I can’t find a story that tells mine, I will tell my own, and share the deepest insights I have so far discovered about my work, for the record, and for those who may resonate with my story.
I knew for sure when I was a teenager. I was lying on my back watching the shafts of sunlight filter through the trees above me. My boyfriend and I were talking about our dreams and hopes. In that moment the sparkling wholeness of my life filled me with vibrant and nonnegotiable unfolding. I was not aware of a wish or a dream for a certain specific future. Instead, I felt myself sip from the vast basin of my own souls destiny. Destiny as both a force of my own willful breathing forth the promise of the full manifestation of my gift, and the surrender to a force beyond my knowing working through me. My boyfriend beside me at the time, witnessed and validated my knowing, he felt the brightness of my future. Yet, despite his presence, I found myself utterly alone, though rich and complete in that solitude. When the premonition left, I was engulfed in an almost unbearable desire for greatness, overwhelmed by what I must do, and so were sown the hungry seeds of my ambition.
Flash forward twenty some years. A Doctorate, a professorship, a performance career, but I’m not done. I’ve checked for high testosterone. My levels are actually on the slightly low side. These days the daily meditation of practice, and teaching, and refining my craft focuses and soothes the intensity of ambition. In performance, I find moments, even hours of rapture and peace. But when I walk off the stage, maybe a day passes, a few, and I know, I have not done enough. Not for fame or fortune or narcissistic reasons, though sometimes I imagine these might fill me, but because that basin of the human soul is still more vast than what I have shared. I used to imagine that by now my ambition would ease, that success, or a Doctorate, or money might fulfill me, but it has only grown, along with, ironically, my sense of completeness. I feel what was a trickle of ambition has become a river. And the seeds of potential, they are now full grown trees with blossoms, with ripening fruit whose sweetness I can begin to savor. I sensed this ripeness as a teenager, I am now tasting it.
Here lies the paradox of my musical life. The desire to connect to and translate an immense and limitless energy, forms the deepest meaning of my life, yet also means that I will never arrive. The desire for greatness is really one way of experiencing and achieving a sense of oneness. Greatness is not an end point, but a journey with no end, so the desire for greatness is only half the equation. I feel this fullness of harvest when my passion for greatness has driven me to a point of mastery that allows me to surrender to the flow of the music. Without the drive I could not surrender. But without surrendering, there is no arrival. These moments are the place where the masculine and feminine become one, and that is when creation happens, when something from soul manifests in the physical realm. As the vessel for this integration, I am at once utterly alone, and yet one with all of humanity, and the joy is without words. I am both impassioned and in peace. All of that yearning has brought me to a place of surrender where greatness can find me. When parents have told me the utter bliss of looking into the face of their newly born child, the love that is indescribable, I tell them, I know this love, or at least something like it.
Despite all appearances, I’m not obsessed. I love to hike, to cook, I do yoga, I spend lots of time with my husband, I play with my nephews, and I enjoy movies. Well, sort of. My life is really pretty amazing! I am a living narrative of a woman whose work is the central passion of her life, who is trying to avoid exploitation, and be careful about all those who unconsciously or consciously fear her power. I forge ahead, despite the false projections I experience from some, and follow my instincts and my heart. I try to embrace my power while also being vulnerable and compassionate.
I want to count my blessings as they are numerous. I have a loving husband, many people who value and recognize my talent, wonderful colleagues and students. And best of all, lately, more women mentors have begun to appear in my life. Women with stories who have gone before me in making their work central to their lives. Some are mothers, some are lesbians, some are single, some married. All are middle aged or elderly and they seem to have appeared to help me create my own map and share their stories, and to support me. And looking back I realize they have always been there. Teachers, musical mentors and most of all, my own mother, whose power and courage in her life and work has always guided me, and whose support and love on my journey is priceless. At last, here is a narrative about women that fits my life! We have always been good at working together and building community around our work. Now, we can support each other to make the choices that are right for us, to find our power, to have unique voices, to chart our own courses, to be independent and leaders in the world.
It’s frightening but also kind of exhilarating, like a wild adventure. I am an explorer in my own life! I can’t find my map on netflix, but I can be guided by the stars, the paths through the jungle, my own heart, and those brave women who have gone before me, whose stories, maybe one day, will be told, not just behind closed doors, or Facebook, but on the big screen!