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    Getting Current

    ’Tis the season for reflecting on what happened in this calendar year, right? I usually do some mental and emotional housekeeping right around now. While others list the albums they thought were the best—or the albums someone else thought were the best of the year—I try to get some clarity on things gained and lost, most of those being intangible. Until two weeks ago, I had no such insight yet. Two weeks ago, I sat across from someone I know and listened to him itemize everything he nailed this year (the list was later published to Facebook), and I wondered if I’d “nailed” anything. I so rarely feel like that, if ever. I live with the emotional equivalent of a basement full of monsters, each of them representing a different personal failing of mine, each of them armed with some intel about me that can bring me to my knees. I can see my mistakes like films in my mind, from wrong chords on stage, to trying to reason with a person who would never be able to see me as I am. I can (and do) watch them over and over, whether I want to or not. My mind plays them in my sleep. The thesis of the short films is always, “You’ll never be enough; not for love, not for music, not for friendship. Whatever happened to you as a kid broke that shit. Better luck next time.”

    I wrote a song about it, it haunts me so. It’s called “YOUR FEAR IS SHOWING.” It’s on the album my band released this year. It opens the album, actually. See, I believe that if I shine light on my shame, it will get smaller. I’ve been doing a lot of that in recent years, in the work we call “recovery” around here. I’m better than I was, but I doubt I’ll ever rattle off a list of things I nailed. I’m not sure I even want to. It looks odd to me from across the table.

    After hearing and seeing someone else’s list, I wondered what I had done at all with my year. My emotional threshold being what it is, I sometimes remember life in color and melody and feelings, not in facts and clean straight lines. I sat down and made a list with colored pens someone gave me for my birthday in February. They helped. What I discovered was that this year, 2018, felt like four years to me. 

    Here’s some of what happened in my planet, none of it nailed:

    My band did four tours, one of which was a voter registration tour called RAISE YOUR VOICE

    My band made and released four singles with corresponding videos from our new album, BILL (HORRIFY, WOMEN TO THE FRONT, SAW AND HEARD, YOUR FEAR IS SHOWING)

    We released the BILL album in October; we made it with Steve Albini at Electrical Audio

    I played two solo shows (one alone and one with a band), the first in over five years

    I played a Friendship Commanders song called “ANIMALS OF PRIDE” on a TV show called Nashville, solo

    I was part of a group of activists and lobbyists that killed “The Bathroom Bill” here in the Tennessee Senate

    I celebrated ten years with my partner, seven married in September (same anniversary)

    I celebrated ten years in Al-Anon in February

    I started a small necktie line called B. Arson Neckwear; I made fifty-one neckties this year 

    I led a local service project called Let Me Help for an eighth year, outfitting thirty-five shelter residents with handmade warm items at the holidays

    I knit fourteen hats, four scarves, and five sets of mitts, mostly for others; I kept one scarf 

    I marched and protested this administration I oppose on every level 

    * * *

    And these things also happened:

    I lost a handful of friends because I wouldn’t allow a woman I know to mock me and shame me about performing on TV; she had been subtly hostile toward me for years preceding that incident

    I spoke out about a transphobic song being performed here in Nashville and lost some other community in doing so

    I had a woman publicly rage at me and make fun of me because I pointed out that an old man country singer had, in fact, recorded a homophobic song in recent years

    My band received some hate messages and public bullshit because of our standards (you know, dignity and respect for all)

    My dad and I no longer speak, at last, and as per usual, everyone else in my family is pretending it’s just some dramatic thing I can’t let go of (Spoiler: it’s not. It’s a lifetime of abuse and gas-lighting, finally winding down)

    * * *

    That’s my non-nailed year, in bullet points. Not to mention what happened in the nation. Not to mention the Kavanaugh hearings, the children shot, the people of color murdered, the families separated at the borders, the transgender people killed, the protective legislation lost . . . 

    I’m exhausted. All the way down to the marrow. There’s one more thing that I did, and it played a big role in everything else. It played a role in the album we released, and the songs I wrote for it. It played a role in how I moved through the world these last few years. It plays a role today, in how I intend to proceed from here. I did an inventory of the lost women in my life. It took me two and a half years, but I did it. I finished it this past September, and now everything and nothing is different.

    * * *

    In July of 2015, I lost a friendship with another woman. She’d been my closest friend in Nashville for five years; we spoke every day. Our friendship fell apart in one spectacularly bizarre moment that I spent years unpacking. Just like that, she was gone. It left me with two things: the realization that I hadn’t done much work to make other female friends in Nashville, and a very familiar feeling.

    I’ve lost a lot of female friends in my lifetime. Like, dozens.

    It doesn’t always look the same way, and the friendships are not all the same levels of intimacy, of course. But man, there’s a veritable graveyard of women behind me. I had this awareness about a week after that friendship ended. I sat down in my office and listed the names, feeling like there was a giant light bulb over my head the whole time, lighting both the page and my mind. Suddenly, I could see it. It was arresting, the list. I know better than to face this kind of thing on my own; to try to manage my awarenesses with no outside eyes. I called a trusted confidant, a woman who is not a friend, but plays a much more intimate role in my life. I let her know I’d hit some sort of truth bedrock, and that there was work to be done. She told me to sit with the list, to let it continue to unfold and evolve organically. We were in the middle of some other work at the time anyway, and I wanted to complete it. (If there’s one thing being a trauma survivor has taught me, it’s that I need to see the work through to the end. Get the clarity.) So I waited. For months, the list sat there. It grew. Sub-lists emerged. Women in my family were listed. Patterns took shape before my eyes. And I kept waiting.

    More than six months later, it was time to start the work. In March of 2016 (one month after my band released our first album, DAVE), I broke ground on the project that would take me into September of 2018. I took it all out. Every story, every friendship, every pattern, every belief associated with losing the person, what my part was, how to not repeat it, how to heal, how to let it be the past. I took all of my guts out, looked at them closely, and carefully put them back in. I made amends to women I hadn’t spoken to in ten to twenty-five years.  And this trusted confidant sat across from me, month after month, and listened. Gave feedback. Let me cry. Let me say aloud that I’m deeply afraid that I’m unlovable.

    And all the while, I was writing BILL. And all the while, more people were leaving my life. I lost the person I considered to be my closest friend in December of 2016, and I lost another long term member of my story in June of 2017. They, like my father, do not like this version of me. I’m not as accommodating, it would seem. I let them go. I held on to me.

    This invisible victory of seeing this work through was exactly that; invisible. No “nailed it” post on the internet. No meme. But it was my victory just the same. I shared it with Jerry and maybe two other people. It changed me, and it will continue to inform how these next years go, I’m certain of it. One thing it brought forward, was an awareness of my old tendency to be on uneven footing with other women. (This is something that goes way beyond me and my relationships. This is something that happens with women.) I still see women trying to do it in my current life now, and I remember that I have choices in those relationships. I don’t have to participate. I see women taking on all of my interests as their own, acting as though we’re exactly the same. I hear them repeating things I’ve said or written and claiming them as their own ideas. That makes me dominant in that dynamic. It makes me taller. No thanks. And I see women wanting me to follow them, to join their troop of female followers. This is a mistake some women in music make, wanting others to get behind them. No thanks. I will neither lead nor follow. I will stand next to you. If you can’t stand next to me, we need not go any farther together. Damage is done in these imbalanced dynamics. 

    Damage is done.

    Be for equality.

    Read about feminism.


    * * * 

    Since I’ve been done with that inventory, another thing has taken shape. I have little-to-no interest in relationships that go back beyond current relevance. Simply said: if we met now, would we choose to know each other? This is my new standard. Social media has changed the natural order of how people filter in and out of our lives, I think. There’s this new way of living that involves hoarding every human connection you’ve ever had, and talking to them through the void of Facebook or Twitter. But I say, fuck it. I went to five high schools; it’s simply too many people. While there are a good many people I still very much enjoy knowing from my past chapters, there are also a bunch I can and will live without. Part of my shame has looked like “playing nice” with every single person connected to someone else I cared about, but couldn’t make it work with. I used to think of this as a positive. But today, I just see it as people-pleasing, and wanting to be liked by the people who like my ex-whatever. It’s insanity. I mean, it’s actual insanity. And it’s over. I have let hundreds of people go in recent months; not from a hateful place, but from a current place. This is me now. I’d never know you in nature. Best of luck out there. 

    I need to feel lighter, if I’m going to survive this. I need to hold onto the self-forgiveness I was able to achieve in the Lost Women Inventory. I need to get a 2019 calendar.

    I’m so glad to have done this work, to have buried the dead. I’m so glad to have written BILL, a living record of the work. (I know from past experience how important it is for me to have these mile markers; to be able to see where I was.) I can’t wait to tour on it for the next year or more. I’m incredibly proud of it. But the new work, the invisible work I’ve been writing behind the scenes, it’s about who I am now. What I see now. In Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, there’s a line: “Get busy living or get busy dying.” I think about it a lot. I think I’ve been dying some. I’m ready to live.

    See you out there.

    -Buick Audra