Sometimes I feel like a delicate flower.  Sometimes I feel like tough survivor.  Sometimes I’m not sure, because the old patterns and skills have changed since the cancer.   Sometimes that throws me for a loop, and I have a meltdown.

This morning I was working on learning a fiddle part that was surprisingly hard, because the song it goes with is fairly simple and slow and very lovely.  But yesterday I had to listen to it on the CD, pause it, write the music out using the piano, listen, pause, write, etc.  Then I had to transpose it to the key our music group plays it in.  Then I found out that I transposed it to the wrong key, and basically had to memorize it in a different key in which I had to change octaves midway through so that I could play it (in tune) on my fiddle.  And there is one tricky part with timing that really confused me.  So I slept all night with the song in my head, or at least the half of the song that I could remember, and I woke up to practice it before I went to play with our group.  But I couldn’t quite get it.  In the old days, Susan Alexander could have worked it out simply by listening to it a couple of times.  But my ear is not as good as it used to be, and I have not really played the fiddle for 5 years, and am extremely rusty.  In other words, I don’t really know this Susan that exists right now, the one that had cancer and couldn’t hold an instrument because of my back, the one who doesn’t learn things as well by ear, the one who gets confused by timing, the one who takes a long time to figure things out, the one who can’t play for very long at a time because I have to lie down and rest my back.  I want to be able to do what I used to do just as easily as I used to do it.  I’ve finally found a venue for playing music without a lot of stress, yet I can’t even play up to my own standards.  Knowing that I am the only one who is holding myself to such rigid standards is not even helpful.  I’m frustrated.  So this morning I had a meltdown.

Luckily, I have an incredibly patient and kind partner, who has a really good ear. She helped me yesterday a lot in figuring out this particular fiddle break.  Then she practiced with me a lot, accompanying me on her banjo.  Yesterday I kept it together.  But today, when I just felt frustrated and started judging myself,  I took it out on her, as well as myself, and just raved and reacted rather foolishly.  She stuck with me, as she always does, thank goodness.  I have realized once again in the area of playing music that I am now confronting, that I am not the same as I used to be, and I’m going to have to get comfortable with that.  I have been able to adjust (after cancer) in my exercise, in my preferred posture, in my cooking and my eating, in my limitations physically, in the number of things I can handle in one day, in almost everything else.  But playing instruments with others, trying to learn something that someone else plays on a CD, this area is a new one for me since cancer.  It has to do with physical things, my arthritic fingers, my slow and clumsy picking, the difficulty of finding a comfortable position to play in, but it also has to do with my brain — catching more subtle things in the music and then translating them from my brain to my fingers.  My brain isn’t the same as it used to be, whether that’s age, chemo, being out of practice, whatever.  That’s scary, and makes me feel bad as well as worried and confused.  Who am I?

I’m determined to work on this by practicing more, by listening more, trying to build up some of those brain cells again.  And I will, but I also know that I may as well accept this different Susan and maybe even embrace her.  After all, I’m in the best place to do that.  The environment is friendly, the music group is casual, the performances are mostly background, and very low key, the audiences are positive.  Really, all works out the way it’s supposed to work out.  I couldn’t be more happy in my life, and in fact, haven’t been more happy in the rememberable past.

After the meltdown I was able to acknowledge that there are changes inside me in this particular area of my life.  Now I will do what I can or what I want to make some improvements, and accept the rest.   Although it made for a crummy start to the day, the good thing about a meltdown is that afterwards, I can move on with better self awareness, and perhaps even peace.


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