When I was starting my 3rd year of college at San Francisco State University one of my favorite bands at the time, Ozomatli, released their second studio album “Embrace the Chaos”. It was a damn good album. A solid representation of their “latin fused with everything” sound, and I spent many hours listening to it. In my first few years of college I had moved 5 times and attended 3 different schools… it was a pretty rough start, and I felt like I understood the concept of embracing “the chaos” and rolling with the punches.
(The album cover for Ozomatli’s “Embrace the Chaos”… parental warning included!)
Fast forward almost 15 years to 2016. Two weeks ago, at Memorial Preparatory for Scholars and Athletes, where I’m working as a teaching artist for San Diego Opera. Arranging the chairs between my 1st and 2nd classes I was already exhausted by the group that had just left and trying to figure out how I would make it through another when it hit me.
Maybe I need to just embrace the chaos that is middle school. My students are early teenagers- there will always be a certain amount of fidgeting, chatter, eye rolling, apathy, disengagement… but it doesn’t mean that what I’m doing with them isn’t having it’s effect, or that it’s a lost cause. They are experiencing the art that Mario (my pianist Teaching Artist partner) and I are presenting. Their lives are changing daily because of this program, even if they don’t show it with their middle school behavior. In my heart of hearts I know this to be true.
Almost as soon as I had this “realization” and put the thought to words in my head, I realized that it probably applied to the rest of my life as well. How much energy do I expend and/or waste trying to control or contain the chaos I feel in my life? Tons. Does that actually make it go away? No. Do I end up feeling better? Not always. Does it keep me up at night? Sometimes. Is any of this effective? No.
Recently I’ve been plagued by a wave of pain from muscle spams, apathy and depression. I’ve learned this happens from time to time, and I’m moving through it. However it’s a real hindrance to my motivation. The chaos takes over and it all starts to feel impossible. Music to learn, lesson plans to write, exercise to schedule, time connecting with friends so I don’t get isolated, food to cook and prepare to keep up my health, updates to my website, applications for future auditions, taxes, prep for performances, rehearsals for SDO, romance, self promotion, time with my family, networking… you get the idea. The second I start to tackle some part of this equation I am compelled to first organize it all or clean. In other words, control the chaos in some way. However, frequently this means I don’t get past the organizing and cleaning to the actual tasks at hand.
(An actual photo of my desk at the time of writing this blog… whoa!)
What if I skip the chaos controlling steps and go to tackling one piece of these projects instead? Today I resisted the urge to clean my desk up first, THEN write my blog. And check me out! My blog is done. My website will receive a little TLC. Mission (to some degree) accomplished.
When I worked in the kitchen I could clock in, and even if I was feeling depressed or overwhelmed by life, produce 60 pounds of Sonoma Chicken Salad, or hundreds of Thai Chicken Skewers. It was manual, straightforward and had a clear trajectory from start to finish. However the work I’m doing now is different. It’s driven by my brain and creativity, not my hands or the need for sheer productivity. The beginning and end are not always clear. It requires way more focus. It’s mine. It feels bigger. I have to press on, my forward motion couldn’t be more important… even if it’s small steps, it’s my own success and progress at stake.
(I would love for my life to look like this lovely, organized, flowing plate of cheese from my catering days.)
It’s clear that embracing the chaos and maintaing my momentum will be a defining part of my ability to press on and pursue my goals both personal and professional. Acknowledging where I have more or less control, and taking action or letting go accordingly. I’m learning to see the fog of nerves, anxiety, fear and uncertainty that frequently blur my clarity and then get past it to whatever the task is at hand.
Since having this realization I’ve had a very physical manifestation of this new perspective. I’ve been “chueca” (crooked) with one hip almost 3 inches higher than the other for over a month due to muscular spasms and tension around my spine. I’ve been slowly releasing the tension that has put my equilibrium and body out of alignment. It’s been a painful yet therapeutic process and I feel my strength returning day by day. I recently got out the Ozomatli album and listened to it as I did my stretches.
I heard lyrics I hadn’t caught over the years so appropriate for my current state of mind. In the first track on the album, “Pa’ lante” (Move forward) they say, “no dejen que les envuelva la oscuridad… siguele que siguele pa’ lante.” (Don’t let the darkness take over, keep moving, moving forward, moving forward, forward.) Another track I always rocked out to, but now has a far more profound meaning, is “Dos Cosas Ciertas” (Two Certain Things). In it they say the only two certain things in life are death and change. Early in life I got the part about change, but this time a different lyric stood out- “Handa, no pierdas la vista, persuigue tu destino, tu destino se decide en tus manos, no dejes que se escape tu chance” (Go for it, don’t loose sight and persue your destiny, your destiny is in your own hands, don’t let your chance escape.)
I’m not gonna let my chance escape, that is for damn sure.
I guess Ozomatli, a latino funk/hip hop/rock/world beat band from Los Angeles knew all along what this opera singer needed to hear. Thank you for the music and the wisdom.
Keep reading and listening,
Anishka (aka Nishi la Tremenda)