Essay #4: The March of the Subglottic Sandwiches My Father Used to Make Me

Yeah, so that title up there perfectly describes my head space right now. There are a bunch of words. All of them are specific and interesting on their own; none of them make sense when they’re put together. I’m in the middle of writing three essays for #52essays2017 and they could not be more different from one another. I want to buckle down and focus on one of them, but my brain wants to go in at least three different directions.

I’m dog sitting for my sister on the South Shore right now. She and her husband have a black lab who is less than 2 years old. This means that the Puppy Brain Fairy hasn’t made its deposit yet, and she’s all over the place. You take her for a walk, and you realize very quickly that she’s actually taking you for a drag. The dog is a good 50+ pounds and she’s really strong. This means if there’s a dog or a neighbor across the street, you have to hang on for dear life to get her to stop. If she’s used to going in one direction, it takes all your physical energy to get her to break the habit.

That’s my brain. I wonder if the Puppy Brain Fairy is ever going to make a deposit.

I’m imagining a TV commercial for a Puppy Brain Fairy ™, patent pending. “Ask for it by name!” “Arf!”

Let’s take a look at these three essays. One of them is more relevant to current events than the others. It’s about the Women’s March and privilege and feeling a weird mix of shame and sadness over the nice (read: scare quotes around “nice”) town I grew up in. It’s a stupid essay. The right path for me is to own who I am and to listen. Really listen. To listen in a way that isn’t all about constructing a response, a defense, or a rebuttal. If I’m whinging and hand wringing about my own inadequacies as a human being, I’m not listening. I joined the #52essays2017 because I wanted to hear voices that were dramatically different than my own. I want to read their stories carefully and with an open heart. If the price of admission were to write 52 essays of my own in exchange, it was totally worth it.

Now, I’m not discounting my own voice and point of view, but it’s not the important thing in this exercise. If I’m going to be fed, I’m not coming to the dinner table empty-handed.

The second essay is the weird one, but there’s great sentimentality attached to it. The piece is about all the sandwiches that my father used to make me when I was growing up. My father passed away from heart disease complications in 2013, and my mind is still sorting out all these random memories from my childhood. He was a loving and charming man – a massive Irish American New Yorker with twinkling blue eyes – but cooking was not his strong suit. His sandwiches, ranging from split hot dogs with baked beans to liverwurst with mayo and mustard on mangled Wonder Bread, were impossible to trade at the lunchroom tables in my elementary school. Knowing what I know now about fathers and their often tense relationships with their daughters, I wouldn’t trade those sandwiches for the world. Each of those misshapen food sculptures was an act of love.

The third essay hit me this morning. It’s an essay about professional curiosity. My colleagues have been sending around a blog post on vocal pedagogy and raving about its ideas. My eyebrow shot up when I looked at some of the author’s suggested teaching exercises for creating a cleaner seal between the vocal folds in singing. I have great instincts when it comes to diagnosing and working through issues in my studio. However, there’s so much that I have to recall in terms of anatomy and physiology to link my good instincts back to science. The article was mostly right on a conceptual level, but the applied exercises it was recommending have some risks attached to them.

Then my mind formed an analogy: Voice teachers are software developers in a hardware engineering world. The art of teaching focuses on training the brain – the operating system – and lining up the system in order to sing in the most efficient and healthy way. The science of teaching focuses on the hardware. The larynx. The cricothyroid. The stylopharyngeus muscle. Subglottic pressure. My teacher is a vocal therapist and her shared expertise has allowed me to maintain healthy technique while moving through studio practice and performances. She’s given me great guidance on pedagogical and scientific concepts as they relate to the voice. I could know more. I should know more. I’ll be hitting the books when I get back home.

So my brain is serving me a mashup, a triple helix of thought streams that I will tease apart over time. Rather than get stuck between the three (a frequent flyer problem for me), I’m pulling myself up into the stratosphere so that I can look at the process and all the moving parts. Eventually, the individual essays will make their way out onto the page in a more fully formed way, but for now, I’m going to let them percolate.

 

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