It’s another gorgeous morning here in Martinique. I’m sitting on the lanai, drinking a pot of tea, watching the waves crash below, the nearby roosters keep butting in with their two cents. I’ve come to appreciate daily rain showers on a whole new level being on a tropical island. The beauty and juxtaposition of pouring rain, the sky filled with thick grey clouds and then the clouds part and the sun peeks though, and everything is sunny and bright once again. Actually, I find peace and happiness in this because it’s how I’ve often described my Dad, Santo Urso and his hot-headed, passionate, old school Italian personality.
There have been several big firsts for me here in Martinique – including the navigation of the Word Press site this morning, which by default, is in French. Bon jour and merci! Between all of that and the feeling of a fresh start that one can feel with a new year, and of course the inspiration I’m feeling from the immense beauty all around me, well, it seemed like an excellent time to get back to my blog.
Long extended vacations are not something I’ve done much of in my adulthood. Being a freelance musician doesn’t lend itself to this sort of thing, although it should. For me, it now does. Making the decision to take time for yourself and stop and smell the roses is key, friends. After three weeks on this beautiful island, I feel like a new person.
A handful of highlights…
Swimming in open water – in the rain. I’ve been rained on, like really rained on, more in the past three weeks than I have in my entire life and I totally dig it. So refreshing and exhilarating.
Communicating in French, not very well, but still. Interestingly, turns out my go to language when things get tough is Italian. There have been many conversations here when I’ve not been able to communicate in French and I’ve automatically gone to Italian. (Yes!) My goal, in addition to continuing to learn and improve my Italian, is to continue practicing French so when we come back next January, I can speak with more ease and fluency with our new friends and the ladies at the local bakery.
Traveling with my new passport. Returning to my maiden name this past year was an indescribable feeling. When I was married, I used a hyphenated name because I wanted to always keep my identity and the connection to my family name. I love the symmetry and balance of Rena Urso. (Thanks Morris Hochberg – my Dad’s stand partner in the Detroit Symphony who named me!). When my new passport arrived in the mail a few months ago, I cried.
Snorkeling. OK, never, ever, ever did I think I’d try snorkeling. In 1995, my BFF Rachel and I went to Oahu. We took a super funky bus ride out to Hanauma Bay where she snorkled for the entire afternoon, while I, safely parked on shore, far way from the fish and other water creatures, worked on my tan. Two weeks ago, we took a trip down to Anse d’Arlet and with the encouragement and assistance from my boyfriend John, and our friends Wendy and Sean, I went snorkeling. I felt like a fish out of water at first. As a flutist, only being able to mouth breathe and not being able to breathe through my nose was a strange sensation and took a little getting used to. I was a little creeped out by the fish and the big rocks just below me. Then something happened, I realized how cool it was to be able to see something I’d not otherwise get to see. I saw a starfish and a sand dollar and a ton of little (and not so little) fish.
Trying new foods – hello conch stew. (Not a big fan, btw). In the spirit of trying new things, I branched out in the culinary department, too. I’m always game to try new foods, as long as it’s something I’m able to eat. Having a few dietary restrictions limits me from going too crazy. Shopping in the local markets has been a fun adventure, too. Its been great fun perusing the aisles and trying to figure out what’s what. For the most part, I’ve enjoyed everything, except the octopus and the conch stew. Turns out, octopus here is prepared a whole lot differently than calamari or even the Italian frutti di mare.
Hiking and pushing myself beyond what I thought I could do – what’s up, Point Caracoli!? This was perhaps the biggest thing of all. There were a couple of big hikes we took these past weeks that pushed me to a place I’d not been. There were times I wasn’t sure I’d make it to the end and reasonably sure I’d either A. Need to turn back or B. Collapse on the path and John would have to fireman carry me out. The hike up to the Phare de La Caravelle, then to Point Caracoli, and down to Caravelle was one we have been doing in shorter segments over these past weeks, nearly everyday, sometimes twice. The big deal though was doing the full loop and getting all the way out to Point Caracoli. Between the sun and heat, and the stamina required to navigate this challenging hike, I honestly wasn’t sure I could do it, though I kept telling myself I could. I drew upon all of my Body Mapping expertise to assist me on each of these hikes; focusing on the rhythm of my breathing and reminding myself of the space at my jaw joints, not clenching my jaw or holding my breath when in a particularly strenuous stretch of the hike, allowing my arms to swing like pendulums, free and easy at their joints, mapping my hip, knee and ankle joints with the steep hills, and remaining inclusively aware of the spectacular space I was in. I got into a nice groove with the rhythm of my steps, the click clack of my hiking poles and my breathing, finding my own pace, and I made it. All the way. Turns out, building up to the long hike with our shorter daily hikes prepared me for the epic Caracoli hike. We got to what I thought was the end and John continued walking out to the little narrow, craggy, pointy, scary edge of the world. I thought about it, decided that I would stop there, and took a seat. I looked around, took in the unbelievable view for a few minutes, and told myself I had nothing to lose. If I fell, he’d catch me. Plus, thousands of people of all ages have done this hike, and I’ve not come this far to not experience the whole thing. I knew if I could push myself I’d experience something special on top of a really great view and a bunch of cool photos: courage, confidence, strength, pride, and that feeling that I can do anything.
I made it out and back. Not gonna lie, it was scary getting out to the end and even scarier coming back down the steep, narrow rocks. But I did it.
About five years ago, my Body Mapping colleagues and I sat in the Portland airport, discussing what sorts of activities we could add to our lives to experience something brand new, map ourselves in a non-musical activity, and in some cases push us beyond our fears. I chose sailing and stand up paddle – both of which were great fun. Working past my fears with sailing and using my body in a new and different way, helped me in immeasurable ways with my performance as well as my teaching.
OK, so what’s the take away?
I’m incredibly grateful for what this past year has given me, what I’ve learned, and how it has shaped me as a person and an artist. Facing challenges head on, and accepting that the only way through something is through it. Though turning back or taking the other, easier path is an option, I choose to go forward. Sometimes it’s a put your head down and run through the pouring rain moment and sometimes it’s a slow down, breathe, take it your surroundings, and dig the pouring rain moments.
The benefits we reap when having the time and space, literally and figuratively to just be. To think and ponder the things we may not have space to think and ponder when we’re in our everyday space doing what we do. I’ve had a lot of time to think about recital programs, new ideas to bring to my teaching, and solutions to various playing related issues which I’ve in turn brought to my practice while here. A friend suggested to me to not bring my flute on this trip, and give myself a legit break. I considered it for about a day and ultimately decided to bring it. Thing is, I love to practice. I love working on the nuts and bolts of my playing. I love rolling up my sleeves and addressing the things I can’t do or would like to do better. Plus, my body and my flute love this warm, tropical climate. And, another awesome byproduct of all this hiking am swimming, my use of air is off the charts – maybe the best its ever been. I’ve had the gift of time here to explore new pieces, and practice with greater thought and detail in a way I rarely get to in my home or office practice spaces during the academic year and orchestra season. Spending a month last summer in Italy and Switzerland and three weeks here in Martinique now is like Charlie drinking the fizzy lifting drink – I feel invigorated and like I’m floating along on a brand new journey not only as a musician but with my life.
Friends, live your most sincere and authentic life. Musicians, and all artists really, this is super important. We keep trying to be and do what we think we’re supposed to be and do. Be yourself. Love yourself and be good to yourself. As someone who has spent more time than I care to admit, worrying, fearful and anxious about __________ (fill in the blank here), I’m turning my face to the sun (or warm, tropical pouring rain) in this new year and doing what I want to do. Life is short. You only get one life, so live it to the fullest.
Schedule the recital. Plan the program you’ve always wanted to play but keep putting off. Learn the hardest piece. Buy the flute. Book the trip, get on the plane, and travel somewhere new. Buy the shoes. Say hello. Take the hike. Sign up for the class. Learn a new language. Order the new thing on the menu. Go snorkeling.
Whatever it is, do all the things. Find that thing that either you or someone else has told yourself you can’t do, or maybe something that scares you a little, or even a lot, and do it.
Fear of failure and fear of success are real, and are not helpful.
Let it all go. All of it. All the negative self talk, and live. Happy New Year!