I’m sensitive to stimulation to the degree that I suspect a diagnosis of ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) is warranted. It can be excruciatingly overwhelming. My sensitivity feels like a lethal fire standing between myself and conventional models of relationships and career. At 41, having spent the past 5 years mourning the traditional milestones of American-defined success that I never achieved, I can say with celebration emanating from the marrow of my bones- Fuck Convention. Who needs it?
Fuck seems like a very apropos term here, with its double entendre of pleasure and desire. I harbor an earthy desire for acceptance. I didn’t fit in, so I tried to blend in by disappearing from view with drab clothes and silence. I watched with awe-struck eyes as I watched the socially normal easily interact with each other. Once I discovered the looseness of alcohol in my mid-twenties, introduced by a friend even more shy and socially clumsy than I was, I let it make me louder, and brasher, and more aggressive. The results were mixed. It’s empowering to be a bull in a china shop, until you walk out barefoot over the smashed shards of friendship.
To fill in the blind spots of my social understanding, I relied on art and creativity. Raised by a public music school teacher, with a mother who loved English literature and poetry, I was immersed in music and language arts from birth. I slept in the middle of a circle of Northern California Hippies singing and dancing to Balkan music as a baby. My father had me playing musical call-and-response games on the fiddle as young as age 6. We sang family rounds on ecstatic drives down Highway One on the way to visit family in Santa Barbara, where my grandfather was the caretaker of an apartment complex. The music industry had broken his heart long ago. He no longer sold used cars. He managed the complex for a rich boss, and tinkered with bicycles that he’d sell at local swap meets on the weekends. My cousin, raised by my grandparents after my aunt committed suicide in her mid-thirties, told me that he and Victor would sell fixed up bikes at the swap meet all morning, and then blow all of the money on ice cream and donuts in the afternoon. His mother died when I was very young, but I believe she must have possessed the sensitivity and creative eccentricity that runs through our gene pool. Perhaps it drove her to madness.
I inherited these legacies of heartbreak and hedonism. I chased a career in music that broke my heart time after time. Still- the high of performing carried the ultimate reward for an awe-stuck introvert like me. Singing and writing songs circumvented my social blind spots and allowed me to connect intimately with strangers in the audience.
When you touch someone with your voice, you make a friend forever. You can sing to people in a made-up musical language, and still manage to communicate the common essence of both of your human experiences. It’s all delivered in a handy, neatly-structured package called a song.
I thought I was going to tell you about how breathing makes you high when you sing, because you have to take in so much more air in order to sing well. You end up over-oxygenating to keep a full tank of gas, so-to-speak, and it lights your brain on fire. Singers look like they are just standing there moving their mouths, but there’s a small marathon being run on the inside. It’s a rush.
But here I am going on about the art of song instead. That’s what made me stick with music. It made playing music alone, and with others, a hell of a lot more fun than singing classical arias. My grandmother once commanded an acapella vocal performance for our Oklahoma cousins when I was taking classical lessons. The only piece I could remember by heart was an unfortunate English piece about bubbles and saccharine love. It was awkward for all of us except my grandmother, who thought I was showing off the rewards of her own pursuit of education and intellectualism. I don’t think anyone else in the room saw it that way. The real fun came later when my cousin pulled out his banjo and started singing songs.
But I promised I’d teach you some things in the midst of this ramble.
Singer’s Breath: Increase breath capacity and control by practicing these steps.
Strong, controlled breath support enables good pitch and tone.
Singing saved my life.