Or: My Experience Is Just As Valid And”Real” As Yours
In late February through mid-March, I started working as a volunteer for #Adbusters. It was such a thrill to be working alongside those great minds challenging the Status Quo in highly creative ways. But what thrilled me the most was being able to exchange a few words in person with its iconic Founder, Kalle Lasn.
It was actually from Kalle that I first heard of the term “social distancing.” I had been attempting to pitch to him a story around a group of people withdrawing from society. This was a few weeks before the province-wide COVID-19 advisory on social distancing was announced and the term became all-too ubiquitous and real. I recall this moment now because of Kalle’s uncanny prescience and insight.
My volunteer work has since been postponed due to the health crisis. But my creative writing story idea has since morphed into something more manageable (and satisfying), like this little rant I’m about to launch into right now.
I want you to look in the mirror and examine yourself. If you haven’t taken a bath in a while and cannot bear the thought of looking at yourself for now, then maybe just sit in a quiet corner of your house and think about this: are you constantly “tuning out” of people who don’t look, sound, speak, or think like you? Or worse, invalidating their personal journeys by implying that theirs are somehow fraudulent and yours is the “real” deal?
Have you been already socially distancing yourself from others even before it became the norm? Have you retreated even more deeply into your own bubble of privilege?
Then stop reading, because I know you won’t anyway…
I am a working-class citizen of a third world country and I have come to Canada to earn my right to exist in this society by contributing what I have to improving the economy. In less than a week after landing more than a year ago, I was already applying for writing and music-related jobs, enthusiastic, if somewhat anxious, to become useful to society right away. I didn’t want any of the locals to think I was taking advantage of my new country’s generosity towards newcomers.
As I made my way through the employment pathway, I bumped against several glass ceilings here and there. The lack of local experience is an issue that I understand.
But what I don’t understand is when people say that what they can offer is “realer” than what my own experience has afforded me.
As I don’t want my stint at #Adbusters to be for naught, allow me for a moment to butt heads with the Status Quo, which I shall reference here as Gatekeeper.
When I was 12, I became deeply in love with piano music. Unfortunately, my family didn’t have the means to hire a music teacher or send me to formal music school, because back in my country, only wealthy middle-class and upper class families had that privilege. Back in the day, an entry-level acoustic upright piano cost at least PHP50,000 (about CAD1,250), making piano music lessons a luxury for majority of my countrymen.
So I did the next best thing: I taught myself how to play the instrument. I went to music stores in malls, played my best piece on the piano to impress the store manager, and ended up spending an hour or so practicing there. During breaks, I went to the music room in school and practiced there. I had friends who saw me playing in the music room and told me I could practice on their pianos in their homes. I learned the piano by practically begging anyone who knew how to play to teach me what they knew.
My pathway was unorthodox, uneven, uncomfortable, riddled with so many obstacles.
But would I discourage people from taking that path?
The uncomfortable answer is: NO.
Through sheer determination – or rather, stubbornness- I ended up on people’s radars and I started getting gigs to play and compose music for them.
I also started getting offers to teach.
So I taught my young students what I’d experienced myself. I was very clear about my intentions: if you wanted to be a classical pianist, I wasn’t the right teacher. I ended up referring them to good friends who are classically trained. I wasn’t going to rob deserving teachers of their right to fully apply themselves.
But if they wanted to learn about how I learned to play the way I did, then I was all too happy to show and tell. It hadn’t been easy for me, and I wasn’t going to make it any easier for them. Otherwise, how would they learn determination? How would they be able to play a difficult piece?
Recently, I intuited some signs of unwantedness from a “gatekeeper” company around my application. I was able to do so after observing the tone change in the messaging of their ads. This is concerning, because I feel as though I’m being bullied by much more powerful and established forces. Instead of using Its enormous power to be inclusive and find areas of collaboration to make knowledge accessible to all, the Status Quo has tended to shut out outliers like myself, pronounce Its method as THE only method that works, and give adherents a reassuring pat on the back for knowing how to follow instructions.
Which is why I’m not foaming-at-the-mouth mad, just thinking loud and clear.
I don’t have the network and the means and the energy to fight the Status Quo in a sustained manner. I’m only one writer and musician and worse, a newcomer to Canada still trying to find her bearings. I am still optimistic, though, that Canadian society in general is still much kinder and more inclusive compared to other societies, most especially compared to where I came from.
But today, I have never felt so alone and excluded because of my pure love for piano music and the unorthodox journey I’ve had to take to accomplish all that I have done.