Hitting the High A 9

Last night I was restless. I couldn’t even finish a short story from Lorrie Moore’s Self-Help. (But here’s the best line from How To Become a Writer: “First, try to be something, anything, else.”) I kept thinking about patterns. I recently read a journal from 2007, and I basically haven’t changed at all. Four years isn’t that long, in the grand scheme of things, but it’s long enough.

There’s this girl I’m in love with who got married recently. I told her she was amazing, and she replied, “How can you say that?” And I wanted to explain, but it seemed at once daunting and obvious, so I just kept repeating, You’re amazing. You’re amazing. Why do we think certain people are amazing? Because of their talents, intellect, humor? Because they have what we lack? For me, it’s because they inspire me to be a better person. I am too easily drawn to apathy. I need to surround myself with beautiful, provocative people. Their motivation motivates me in return.

Lately I find my memory slipping. Each day the furniture gets rearranged. Each day the truth becomes more like grasping. How did it go? How did it end? Where have I been? The literal answer is, at a porn shoot. And occasionally talking about strap-ons in Oakland.

Here’s what I remember about quitting the trumpet. I was in 7th grade. It was halfway through the school year, and I’d been playing for almost four years at that point. I quit when I realized I’d never hit the high A. No matter how I pursed my lips and wailed and pitched and frenzied. My seatmate said it was because I had girl lungs, and somedays I believed him. But really, I knew that not hitting the high A meant I would never be a great trumpet player, and I decided it’d be better to be nothing than mediocre. When I told my dad, he was so disappointed. He said, “I was hoping we’d have a musician in the family.” My brother would quit the saxophone a few months later. But then every one of us, including my dad, would pick up a guitar in a few years. I quit that too eventually. Being a musician is a lifelong pursuit. I couldn’t commit to it because I didn’t love it. I never said goodbye to Mr. Matsushino, the band teacher. I simply emptied my spit valve, packed up, and never went back. My girl lungs and I transfered to Home Ec, where we made zucchini cookies and pillows shaped like frozen bananas. I still have the pillow. And I still know how to sew buttons on things. This has impressed exactly one girl, which makes me feel like I made the right decision.

What I loved most about the trumpet was that we got to be loud, and we always played the melody. I remember one year, we played the theme song to Masterpiece Theater.

The trumpets all stood up for our part. I wore a floral print dress that my mom picked out from JC Pennys and a Blossom-era hat with plastic flowers glued to the brim. It even had fake dew on the petals. I thought I was such hot shit, tooting out my 2-minute melody in my Blossom hat. After the concert, we went to Baskin Robbins and someone admonished me for always getting coffee-flavored ice cream. “It’ll keep you awake,” said one of my parents. I can’t remember who, but it must’ve been my mom, because both my dad and step-dad drink coffee like it’s their religion.

We stopped going to Baskin Robbins after someone told my dad they flavored their lemon ice cream with a pesticide. I never did figure out if that was true, but I was grateful at the time for my unwillingness to try new things. The coffee did keep me up, but at least it wasn’t poison.

I wish most decisions were that easy. Maybe they are. I’ve come to trust the distance between myself and the married girl I’m in love with. Neither of us can get really hurt this way. Sometimes, there’s more value in not knowing how things might work out. Recently, I sent this haiku to her:

Your absence is not

a void, but a place I’m

forever arriving.

She wrote back:

Such is the nature

of fantasies—forever

yet in the balance.

I’m writing every week for AfterEllen now. I love it. It makes me feel helpful. And this is, I think, my best SF Weekly post to date. It’s about helping people as well. Stephen Elliott said recently that writing was like strip mining the soul. I think most things we love are like that. Sometimes you think you see the stars in someone or something, but it turns out to be just you, holding a dingy mirror. When I give advice, I tend to tell people to do the opposite of what I’d do in my own life. Maybe this makes me somewhat of a hypocrite. Or human.

I try to tell myself that there are no right or wrong answers, only honest ones. Somedays I believe it.

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9 thoughts on “Hitting the High A

  • Theresa Geary

    I think the secret in your writing talent is your altruistic tendencies, your willingness to help others by being honest about your mistakes. We all make them but many people are not willing to admit them. There is no shame in being honest. The best part of making mistakes is that we can always change our minds and behavior. There is nothing permanent in life, it is constantly changing, evolving. That dynamic chatacteristic is what makes life rich and challenging.
    If you are in love with a fantasy, it is easiest on you to let it go so you can be in love with someone real. The girl in the dingy mirror is beautiful.

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  • Cyn

    Thank you for sharing this. When you look in the mirror I hope you see reflected the courageous, altruistic, articulate, and talented woman that you are. A side effect of unrequited love is, unfortunately, a temporary cock block to the ego. However, the time spent in introspective self analysis is never time wasted. You, along with all of us, are still growing into the person you’re supposed to be. **HUGS** 🙂

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  • Michael L. Moore

    I’m so happy I discovered you. Posts like this underscore (about 80 times) why I’m so happy. You write things both in prose and verse that sometimes simply transfix me. Great work, Pulley. Thanks.

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  • anna Post author

    That’s sweet of you to say, Cyn. I’m a firm believer in tedious introspection! Plus, unrequited love makes for the best poetry.

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  • Michael L. Moore

    Your trumpet story. When I was that age I had already given up the cello, since I was playing tunes from The Play of Daniel and The Play of Herod by ear and not learning to sight read–which is funny, because I sing bass now and read bass clef as easily as treble. But not when I was 11. I wasn’t very handy, carried a stack of library books to school every day, was notorious (and picked on) for always buttoning the top button on my shirts (which I did until I graduated. Then I stopped.) But my grandmother had a metal potholder frame and a big bag of potholder loops, and sometimes I hooked potholders. I liked the patterns I created, and the dexterity required was low enough I didn’t get frustrated. I wasn’t creating great art (I was always planning great novels which would be my art, of course) just doing something that satisfied a need to create something pretty and complete sometimes.

    Years later, I got involved in Sacred Harp singing, which is sort of like hooking potholders for me. High levels of musical skill aren’t demanded (although welcome,) and although the tunes are sung in four part harmony to words written mostly by writers like Isaac Watts or Charles Wesley, even a basic belief in God isn’t required to participate in making incredible music together. If enough semi-skilled and skilled singers get together, the effect can be really quite amazing. And the satisfaction of carrying off sometimes complicated scoring as an amateur singer can be immense. My point is, we strive to do our best, but even though we don’t sound like Conservatory grads, in the right mix the strong singing makes the weak (or bad) singing blend in, or sound almost right–a lot of what happens is because of the love involved: love for the music, love for the fellowship, love for the personal satisfaction of sight reading and singing correctly 1-2 even up to 5 pages, sometimes from memory.

    Sacred Harp is all over. 4 different groups meet monthly in the SF metro area. Chicago has 2 very large groups. Tucson has a group. (Imagine me poking you each time I mention a town.) Some of the neatest people I know I met because of SH. Some of those neat people–a significant minority–are gay and lesbian singers. Some are Jews. Some are atheists. Just saying. So trumpet or guitar and perfection aren’t the only way to do music, or any kind of art. Doing is the first thing, whether perfection ever comes or not. Epiphanies don’t come because of perfection, they come because of love. Get as close to the high A as you can, and the woman or man sitting next to you will go the rest of the way. And you’ll love it. (And them.)

    Sorry. I love it, so I think of it frequently.

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