Welcome to my page!

The purpose of this site is to share my story with you. It started out to be a zine and quickly outgrew the scope of that medium, so I chose this method to share it instead. Feel free to poke around the links above. I recommend beginning with the Author’s Note and then proceeding to the story, which you will find under “The Harp in the Closet“.

In summary, this is a story of oppression, freedom, and music – always music.

If you have ever been broken, if you are in the process of healing, whatever your situation is, you may perhaps find resonance with what I have shared here.

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Soli Deo Gloria

Rose Justice and Me

This is going to be part book review, part introspection, part fangirling, all truth. Crossposted to Declare the Causes.

I am Very Sparing with 5-star book ratings.

For a book to get 5 stars from me, it needs to be engaging enough to make me really think and feel, and it must stick with me so that I find myself coming back to it again and again. Sometimes, it’s obvious why I keep re-reading, but sometimes I really don’t know how to explain what it is about a book that keeps pulling me back.

But earlier this year as I was almost finished listening to Rose Under Fire for perhaps the fourth or fifth time, it hit me why this particular book was pulling me back. I believe it is because Rose and I share this: we have been forced into unnatural situations and survived.

There wasn’t any part of Róża that wasn’t connected to Ravensbrück, even her work, even the parts of her body that had escaped experimentation. …

It is true that Ravensbrück shaped me—whatever I would have been without it interfering, I am someone else now. … But Ravensbrück doesn’t define me. I had a lot of being Rose to cling to when I landed there—I was a pilot, I was a poet, I was a Girl Scout, I was part of a family, I was the captain of the Mount Jericho High School County Champion Girls’ Varsity Basketball Team, and I still bore traces of all these things even in the concentration camp. …

When I told anyone at the Camp who I was, I’d say, “I’m Rose Justice. I’m a pilot.”

When Róża first told me who she was, she’d said, “I’m Polish Political Prisoner 7705. I’m a Rabbit.”

That quote was a real eye-opener for me.

Even though I was only seven and a half when we moved to Idaho and became conservative Mennonites, I was a person of my own. I had likes, dislikes, opinions (quite a few, in fact). I had seen movies, read books, been exposed to music, been places. I’d gone to a church preschool and a Montessori school (both of which I snobbishly disdained as beneath my youthful dignity, I must confess) and to AWANA and earned badges for my Sparks vest. I didn’t have much in the way of extended family to spend time with close by, but our homeschool group did lots of park days and field trips, and I went to zoos and lighthouses and Sea World and Balboa Park and the Del Mar County Fair on a regular basis.

It was an embryonic version of me, but it was me nonetheless. Stuffed into a mold and left to grow, I was stunted—but I was still me.

In Idaho, we did nothing. I probably could count on one had the times we went touring anywhere or doing anything out of the norm. We were perpetually scraping by financially. We only had one car, and if my dad took it to work (he rode his bike when the weather permitted), we were definitely stuck at home. Church attendance and functions were my social life, church children were my friends, church adults were my mentors and guides. There was one correct way to dress, one correct outlook on life and eternity, one correct interpretation of Scripture. There was no room for exploration, for questioning. I was young enough that I adapted and it honestly never occurred to me to question anything. My life just was.

All that being said, though, mold or not, I still found ways to express myself, or at least experiment, in an attempt to rediscover who I was. Playing gentleman to my girl friends and “striding” like a man, mostly because I am perverse and my best friend said I shouldn’t. Imitating Leonardo DiCaprio, on whom I had a huge crush. Wearing my dad’s Navy jacket halfway unzipped because that’s how James Dean wore his windbreaker in Rebel Without a Cause. Pushing the envelope of acceptance with harp acquisition, against the better judgement of some in authority.

The tragedy of it is that it took such drastic measures to get out, when the questioning finally did happen. It was painful.

I am healing. I have scars that show and scars that don’t.

Those who were born into the conservative Mennonite system are, generally speaking, content to just be. There is too much stigma and fear attached to leaving, too much risk. It is more comfortable to stay, to let someone else do your thinking for you. Based on my observation, it simply doesn’t occur to most of them that there is any other option.

Rose was fairly naïve at the beginning of the book, and watching her personhood unfold is marvellous.

I want retribution, but so much more than that, I just wish everything could be put right.

I have always felt that way. Even before Ravensbrück. I put it in my “Battle Hymn of 1944” poem:

“Fight with realistic hope, not to destroy
all the world’s wrong, but to renew its good.”

I have also always had, perhaps naïvely, the intense desire for everything to be right. I don’t want to shame or disgrace people, even if I do call them out; I just want things to be right. I want those who are causing the oppression and hurt to stop. I want those who are trapped in the system – any system of religious oppression and/or abuse – to know that, if they want to, it’s okay to leave. It’s okay to step away from things that are hurting you. It’s okay to be honest about what has happened to you if you choose to tell your story.

Most of the time, my past is just what it is. I have come to cherish it for the good things that it gave me, which if I am honest are legion. I have renewed the friendships that mattered and moved away from the toxic ones.

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But people need lift, too. People don’t get moving, they don’t soar, they don’t achieve great heights, without something buoying them up.

Rose has a friend who reads her account, understands, sympathises, but pulls Rose out of the self-imposed prison cell of her Ritz room anyway. I don’t think there was any one particular person in my life who did this for me; it has been rather a succession of friends and incidents over a long period of time, a chain of events. I discovered Nelson Eddy, which led me to befriend Nelson Eddy fans, who built me up as a person, which enabled me to get off my butt and go to tech school, which enabled me to leave home and work elsewhere, which enabled me to meet my husband and have the good life I now enjoy.

All this to say, Rose Under Fire is a book that is very close to my heart, it gets those special five stars, and I highly recommend it.

And finally. Dear Elizabeth Wein, who has done a fabulous job of tearing my heart to pieces: I ❤ you, you fantastic, funny, wonderful woman. Have some chocolate. srsly kids, the brain's diseased

Disclaimer: Just in case anyone gets the wrong impression, I am not in any way trying to equate being a conservative Mennonite with six months in a concentration camp. Obviously, the latter is devastating in a way most humans will never truly understand. I hope my point of comparison is clear, however: no matter what kind of trauma we face, trauma is always trauma,  and healing from trauma is universally a long and painful process.

Quotes lifted shamelessly from Rose Under Fire, Disney Hyperion USA 2013. They are not my words, and I don’t own them, all opinions expressed are mine, bla bla bla, all the other usual disclaimery stuff. Just go read the book already.

A Beautiful Monotony

One day back in May, as I sat down to dive into the monotony of practising, it occurred to me that anything for which one has a passion requires mostly a lot of little tasks that are boring and unattractive in themselves, but combine to create the final piece that everyone else can enjoy wearing, reading, watching, looking at, or listening to.

Playing the same measures 200 times to perfect them is tedious and sometimes even irritating, but the flip side is that without the hard work on small things there would be nothing left. We perfect the little things because without them we can’t have quality in the full piece, and the pieces we learn to some extent define Who We Are. Without actively expressing music, a musician basically ceases to exist, as I have found to be true in my experience.

I need to remind myself of this often, especially as I’ve been working on the piece that I have found that defines me in a way no other piece has ever done: Mozart’s K339, Laudate Dominum. It’s as if Mozart put the pulse of my soul to music, and when I connected with this piece, I seemed to get the essence of myself back again. But it’s not an easy piece, at all! It has been a gorgeous and difficult vortex and I have been working on it for a number of months.

When I get it wrong, I still enjoy playing, although I’m dissatisfied with the result. When I get it right, I am positively heady and exhilarated. There is nothing quite like the feeling of nailing a difficult bit of music and knowing you’ve done a good job. Having a personal connection with a piece of music makes it even better.

I have so much catching up to do after fifteen years of musical inactivity, but I can’t undo time wasted. I can only go forward from here.

Jim and I playing this in concert in Stayton, October 18, 2014:

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