Friday Feelings — 3rd Edition — On Discovery
Discovery was a space shuttle. It was a cycling team. In legal proceedings, it’s the phase during which opposing sides solicit the information they seek to help build their respective cases.
In my experience of the American education system of the 80s-90s, discovery was presented as the ultimate thrill. But it was finely crafted, intentional miseducation, papering over the grim cracks of genocide. In the world of contemporary thought, this process of white mostly men arriving at ideas and arguments that have already been made effectively by women and people of colour (who may also be women!) and claiming them as original discoveries of mind replicates this. There are just fewer flags involved.
The etymology of ‘discovery’ is interesting, in that it has in the past had negative connotations. A discoverer was an informant. This is not knowledge I had, but knowledge which I googled, in the shallow tunneled algorithmic exercise that passes for research these days. Unveiling. Revealing. Betraying.
We should always remain open to discovering new things. About ourselves and our interests. About the people around us. Foods. Arts. The world at large, because it is incomprehensible in scope. Don’t believe me? Go to an unfamiliar neighbourhood in your own town or city and bask in the bizarre disorientation that accompanies being in a place you call home whilst feeling strangely alien.
Discovery is not always a positive thing. Quite often, we are brought up against new information and circumstances that challenge us and our understanding. As an immigrant living in a country where people are increasingly being told to go back to where they came from, and that leave means leave, I am discovering daily how insecure my own future is and am abundantly conscious of how intertwined those sentiments are with racism. Because I have the benefit of blending in. Of being “not one of those" immigrants. Being “one of the good ones.” All that really means is “white" and “English speaking” without an accent that wanders into the uncanny. In time, there may well be a day when the focus of ire is redirected toward people like me, because there will always be a need to blame someone and like rivers flow inevitably down from mountains, blame for society’s ills will flow down from the upper classes across the plains on which we all live, flooding us in an endless cycle of discovering new enemies next door.
Discovery can be painful and uneasy. Yesterday, I learned that my dissertation supervisor and mentor throughout my doctoral programme has been accused of sexual harassment and perpetrating unwanted sexual contact and advances. On his students. People who trusted him. People whose development as artists was influenced by him. People whose career prospects and creative opportunities would be shaped by him.
He has been barred from the campus and will only be allowed to collect his things from the office where I spent so many hours being pressed and striving to impress. Although I was very good, I never felt that I had his (or the department’s) full faith and backing. That was enough to make me doubt myself and break my confidence.
Instead of unerringly pursuing my own development and belief in my ideas and talent, a series of accommodations unfolded. Compromises meant to bring my music into line with his expectations and aesthetic preferences so that I might win his approval. How much more crushing, then, for the victims of his more pernicious behaviours? Their lives, learning, career development, and mental health were all subjected to gross violations of the most basic of boundaries. An abuse of power and an exploitation of his position.
Friday feelings? I feel sick. I feel angry. I feel so very sad for the harm he has done to so many students over the course of decades. In the hallway outside that office, stood in the very same doorway where he on at least one occasion kissed a student without consent, he once told me, “You should have been a writer.” Maybe I fucking well should write.
It hurts to lose the respect I had for him. To know that I would never be able to speak to him again in anything like friendship. But that’s nothing compared to what others have endured. It’s a pain of discovery, not a pain of intrusion. As I wrote the other day, the default has to be to believe people who speak up. Although I never saw or experienced these things, I wholly and entirely stand with those affected.
The flipside, you see, — of discovery — is that sometimes people discover that you are not who they thought you were, or who they might wish you to be. He said I should have been a writer. In my first meeting with my undergraduate advisor, she asked, “Why are you here?” because from her reading of my file she couldn’t understand why I was at Swarthmore instead of a music school. After the first jazz band rehearsal, the director asked, “What are you doing here?” because he thought that my playing meant I belonged somewhere else, ‘better.’ I knew what I was doing. Maybe the most important step in self-discovery is learning that you need to listen to your own heart and mind to set your path. Take guidance, acquire new tools and wisdom, and seek to expand your own horizons. But never mistake someone else’s interpretation of who you are for who you feel called to be.
Now, I recognise that’s a lot of heavy lifting, and it may be the case that you’ve not made it this far down. That’s okay! If you have, however, then I want to share some music.
I trust personal recommendations over automated ones, but I try to listen to my Release Radar, Discover Weekly, and the New Music Friday UK playlist each week. I do so with an open mind, and listen to music that I wouldn’t necessarily choose to otherwise. Most of the music is not to my taste. But when I hear something and it really catches me for whatever reason (great songwriting/vibe/interesting arrangement/etc) I add it to my Discoveries playlist on Spotify. These are 5 of the songs that are on there, but there are loads more, if curious. Always be open to discovering new things. Even when they hurt.
- Daisy — Karine Polwart
- Heavy — Dizzy
- Secretary — Cate le Bon
- Lanterns — Birds of Tokyo
- Repair Repair — Grace Lightman