September 6, 2012

Embracing Self, Other & the Beauty of your own Janus (Joplin-Singing) Head. ~ Lindsey O’Neill

The Inner Pandora’s Box.

If you haven’t yet noticed, I am a writer somewhat obsessed with the visceral, life from the inside-out, the internal embodied experience of memory, Self and Other that are interwoven into the panoply that constitute our inner Pandora’s box. The parts that congeal and all give rise to the elusive “I,” that familiar houseguest we sometimes love to say we know so well, and yet at other times perhaps barely recognize.

The Self that stands somewhere between two foggy shores, made up of micro-fragment buoys of everything we have ever felt, seen, thought, done, wanted, adored, loved and despised along the way. The one we love to love when these parts all jive and are seemingly accepted by both our internal selves and the external world around us, and the one we at other times question when our internal mental music is that of inner disharmony.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s identify the two main pieces of “I” here as Self and Other: our own inner “Janus Head,” two inner selves in opposition that give rise to the central command of the living and breathing “I.”

If this is all seeming a bit too heady, allow me to reel it back in for dissection and microscopic embodied review. Though I maxed out at best with a C in calculus and didn’t fare much better in geometry, I will use my own real life field research to support this cosmic proof of the seemingly “two-faced nature” of Self and Other.

For all of you nay-sayers out there already disagreeing with me, the ones who perpetually love to hate and who would like to permanently live out of a place of exponential cynicism calling me a glassy-eyed moron for suggesting the circumstance of Janus Head existing with any potential positive spin, I grant you permission to take and leave what you will. And please also know that I wear the title of “glassy-eyed moron” with suspender thumb-hooked pride.

For as Nietzsche once wrote, “Truth is the kind of error without which a species cannot survive.” So you’re welcome to create a space of error to gloriously revel in within my suggestion of truth.

Though “Janus-faced” has received a bad rap for being defined as “two-faced” and “deceitful,” for the purpose of this platform, I’d like to suggest the interpretation of it dating back to the two-headed god “Janus,” the being that symbolizes vigilance and new-beginnings. I would like to also add and offer “awareness” as a synonym for vigilance here.

Just to complicate things a bit further and in so doing make this intrinsically more interesting, let’s juggle one more Sultan’s ball and add in the definition from Bergen Evans’ Dictionary of Mythology: “It was a peculiarity of this god [Janus] that the doors of his temple were kept open in time of war and closed in time of universal peace.  They were rarely closed.”

For openness, even in the midst of chaos and discord, is needed in order for one to be aware, assess and then create new beginnings.

A longtime music maven, I recently bought an acoustic guitar. I am in love with every inch of her: with the way her cool steel strings feel under the skin of my fingers while my arms wrap around her wooden curves, with the smell of her cedar wood, with the concept of myself learning how to play, and with the way she makes my vocal chords want to bust out into Ella James, Janis Joplin, Neil Young, Johnny Cash, and Tina Turner in every single line I’ve waited in, every shower I’ve taken and every night of silence I’ve woken up to since bringing her home.

Yes, she is a girl guitar. I knew just what the sales associate meant when his Anthony Kedis resembling Self told me, “You don’t pick the guitar. The guitar picks you.”

Despite my deeply enamored state, there has come hovering around this excitement and bliss the part of Self that doubts and questions, the one that is reminded of all the studies that say musical performance is best learned somewhere between the ages of five and eight, during the “formative years” while one’s brain is still somewhat like neuro-plastic soup. The circa 12-year-old little girl part of me that used to play piano, and had a ridiculously hard time reading music, questions my now 31-year-old ability as well.

Then there is the cocksure six-year-old girl inside that used to run around my parent’s house clad in either blue flannel pajamas or a black leotard, sometimes adorned in green plastic curlers, singing mercilessly into a rectangular wooden block while she pretended she was Tina Turner performing on the then hit show Solid Gold. God bless 80s American syndicated music television. It gave me my identity at six-years-old, a bonafide performer, before Self and Other ever knew they potentially somewhat separately existed.

I danced and sang like an un-caged bird.

“What’s love got to do, got to do with it? What’s love, but a second hand emotion? What’s love got to do, got to do with it? Who needs a heart? When a heart can be broken?” (Tina Turner, 1984)

I didn’t really know what most of the words meant. But I knew exactly how it felt to sing them.

Stepping forward, to a few days ago, I remember walking out of the music store with my new guitar nestled inside her soft black case, like a newborn baby in a papoose, a delicate infant in sweetly swaddling clothes.

I had absolutely no idea what to do with her when we arrived home, but I nonetheless felt like this all existed with parts of motherhood reverberating inside, alongside the internal preciousness of one’s own newborn baby starlet Self reincarnate.

Both mother and child having reclaimed parts of our souls with my commitment to the unchained melody of this musical pursuit. When we all did get home, I stood in front of the mirror cradling her in my arms, while my mind danced somewhere between the lines of guilt and elation as we all gazed into the glass holding each other’s reflection. The chorus, “Was this a good idea as an almost 32-year-old single mother?” serenaded smoothly in its own, “damn, this is going to be amazing” refrain.

Like any newly anointed caregiver, I figured first things first. I began setting expectations for us immediately with tuning being my first nascent instinct. I opened the shiny cover of my “Acoustic Guitar Complete,” determined to tune it to the fifth fret method. It was listed out in a way that seemed to Self any starry-eyed ingénue should be able to easily master. And Ego wanted to reap the benefits of this self-taught solo success.

I sank into the softness of my vaudevillian brown Herringbone couch and proceeded to tune the first string incorrectly. Now I was aware of this happening, and accepted it with ease while my hands kept moving. We were all still sincerely trying, and simultaneously too wrapped up in the melodic flow of our own serotonin high to slow down. My ears could tell the down strum didn’t sound quite right, despite my brain still claiming that it was doing exactly what the instructions were telling it. And my soul was still too inspired to allow self-judgement to reverberate its way too deep inside the bass of my body.

Or so I thought. Just like that, in the midst of a golden Saturday afternoon sacred silence strung with the soft melodic tune of “A” and laced with the classic rock feel of a new guitar note, the record scratched. Enthusiasm gave way to the over-zealous cacophony of negligence and I broke her string by winding it too tight. The pistol-whip feeling of steel on skin mirrored the shock waves that went to my brain, the one’s that said “your nascent instincts suck.” Perhaps it wasn’t a total coincidence that my eyes then fell on the red-binder of inspirational and influential reading lying with her pages supine and outstretched on the floor in front of me, open to a Wendell Berry quote that reads:

“You will be walking some night…

It will be clear to you suddenly

that you were about to escape,

and that you are guilty: you misread

the complex instructions, you are not

a member, you lost your card

or never had one…(Tara Brach “The Trance of Unworthiness” Radical Acceptance p. 5)

The spell of unworthiness was permeating the air with that one renegade string snap. For “I” truly took on the lip-syncing ways of a phony imposter. Memories of all the things that have ever felt like failure within came flooding to the surface, and Self began to quickly drown in the myopic shortsighted sea of Other. All “I” could focus on were the parts that were unworthy of bliss, that would never know how to play the guitar, and because a plus b equals c, would now never be capable of responsible and loving music making parenthood.

After sitting in stillness for a few frozen moments, I laid the guitar quietly on the floor. While Self and Other continued to spar, and I continued to notice.

Guitar book in hand, headphones in ears, I took all three of us to the river. Johnny Cash crooned, and I listened.

“You wired me awake and hit me with a hand of broken nails. You tied my lead and pulled my chain and watched my blood begin to boil. But I’m gonna break, I’m gonna break my, I’m gonna break my rusty cage and run.” (Johnny Cash. Rusty Cage, Unchained. 1996)

While staring up into an ominous and cloud covered sky, in between a semi-opaque patchwork of green quilted leaves, “I” began to wonder: “When exactly is it that the six-year-old black leotard-wearing, Tina Turner-singing, green plastic curler-wearing Selves in all of us start to question our own worth and ability, denying our own Selves the embrace of unconditional love and acceptance?”

So I woke up the next morning and went back to have her string replaced. Guitar nestled in her soft black case again, strapped to my back like a papoose. As I stepped over the threshold of black carpet, the guys smiled when I told them what happened, before they fixed her string for free and then showed me how to tune her. While “I” continued to observe and notice, and allowed my Self to be reminded of the compassionate understanding embrace that can be re-learned through new-beginnings.

While visions of Tina Turner, black leotards, and green plastic curlers once again danced in my head, existing like anything else but “Other.”

So, to all of you sung and unsung guitar heroes and heroines out there, what can you do today to embrace “another little piece of [your] heart now, baby?”

Cause you know you got it, child, if it makes you feel good.” (Janis Joplin. Piece of My Heart, 1968)


Lindsey is a guitar playing, yoga-teaching, freelance writing, kale eating, life enthusiast. She completed her 200HR YTT in mind/body medicine with Bo Forbes. Lindsey tweets at Mademoiselle_O and blogs at thelindseyoneill.com.”




Editor: Edith Lazenby

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