They call them patchwork hills. Rolling, misshapen, vibrant as the stock photo shown on my laptop’s background. Each time I take out my Iphone 4 to snap a photo, I’m disappointed. There is no way to capture this passing beauty but to look at it in wonder. That hardly seems fair.
We’re on our way to Cornwall, England to sing and make music for the locals. Almost everyone on this train was a stranger up until one week ago, when this overseas program began. We’ve been in transit for over four hours, but I feel as though I could stay here forever. Several people are asleep, exhausted from our performance the night before. But I can’t sleep. I’m too in love with this foreign scenery, so unlike the swampland that I’m used to back home. I thought this was only in the movies, my longing looks out the window, and my banal sense of wanderlust.
This is my first time leaving the country. I always heard the world was a big place, but I cling too firmly to my own permanence to consider the truth of this. Now it’s right in front of my face, proving the truth of it. The truth is that the world, massive as it is, doesn’t care about who you are. Why then, do you agonize over your flaws, your inadequacies? My undiagnosed body dysmorphia is raging, unchecked. No one knows how much I’m struggling, although we are all facing some sort of personal battle. I ask myself, why do you go to bed starving, saving yourself a thousand calories to somehow feel more beautiful;? Your body is so temporary, insignificant. Meanwhile the world is so immense, the closest thing we have to what we call, ‘infinite’. Why do you hate yourself so much? These are the questions that are calling out to me from the vast highlands, and I allow myself to confront my smallness.
On this trip I have been working to improve my vocal technique, confronting my shortcomings in every lesson. If my own artistic inadequacies were not enough, I’m also plagued by endless attacks from my mind. You are useless, unimportant, neurotic, boring. The word “fat” is never spoken, that’s far too childish. But when I’m alone I can eat a whole pan of brownies and spend the next 24 hours punishing myself for it. What for?
All I can come up with is that the world has told us all that we will never be enough. This message is so superficial, one would think no one could ever fall for it. But boy, do they. I’ve tried to speak the truth out loud to those who enable my self-hatred. Our bodies are temporary, beauty comes from within. They roll their eyes. Don’t be naïve, they say. Wake up and search for the parts of yourself you can disdain. The more traits you find, the more points you gain. Your nose is so unseemingly large, you should just stay in bed today, hide it from the world. You’ve gained 20 pounds since you last saw your mother, prepare yourself for the ridicule.
So how could I possibly focus on improving my musical craft when I am drowning in this self-hatred? I can’t even hear myself think. I can’t read books, I can’t be alone with myself. My soul craves the meticulous work of creating art, something bigger than myself, but I could never achieve that with all the noise in my head.
But now, as I look out the window of this train, I feel clarity. The lines of the hills are so imperfect, yet so defined. They ask nothing of me but to appreciate their passing beauty. I try to describe what makes them so striking. Is it the highs and lows that are appealing to the eye, the curves that seem to reach out until forever, the mountains, hazy in the distance? Trees accent the perfection of the grassy fields, indifferent where they fall. They are like the moles on my skin I wished didn’t exist. But in the fields they add detail, something special amongst the monotonous grass. I’ve no idea exactly how large the fields are, and I don’t know enough about agriculture to know what each color shows them to be. Wheat, oats, corn. Products that mean a great deal to the world, patched together on the rolling hills.
I could live on this train. Hide from the critical world and sing whenever I feel like it– perfect or not.
As we grow closer to our destination, the train windows begin to reveal the blue waters of the English Channel. Distant white sailboats mark the presence of retirees who have come here for the clean air and fair weather. It’s June right now, and the temperature outside is 22 degrees celsius. The sun won’t set until 10pm, and a pound of carrots cost me one euro at Tesco.
Even nearer now, those who are sleeping begin to wake. The main instructor of our program picks up a mic, distorted in sound.
“All right, everyone, we’ll be arriving in 30 minutes or so. You’re on your own for dinner tonight. There are many delicious restaurants around your b&bs, but I strongly suggest getting fish and chips while you are here! Tomorrow we start at 9am in the main square for our warm up. Dinner will be served after the masterclass tomorrow night. Drink lots of water!”
I will certainly drink lots of water. Filling up on water decreases my appetite perfectly.
Everyone buzzes with the joy of eating in a new place. They talk of walking down to the beach later, stepping into the freezing cold water, and discovering who they are amongst strangers.
I already know that I will not be joining anyone else, certainly not to eat a small carton of fried fish and fatty french fries. Instead, I will hide in my room and eat the whole bag of carrots. For dessert, I’ll have a stick from the bulk pack of gum I brought from home.
These are pre-planned, destructive intentions. I know the damage I will do to myself in the presence of a large spread of food. In order to offset the opinions of my friends who believe I am “too thin,” I will cave to ridiculous peer pressure and eat myself sick at the free dinner tomorrow. Despite all of this, I feel strangely hopeful. This is the first time in my life I have truly understood how insignificant I am. Instead, I am discovering what is important. I am learning that if I spend every waking moment despising my body, I will lose my chance to live.
I love those patchwork hills. I love how playful they are, forgiving and dynamic. I love that by the time I go home in two more weeks, I will look out the window of my airplane and remember that feeling from the train. I’ll be one step closer to overcoming my demons, and one step closer to embracing the vast, curving, and imperfect contingency of my life.