“Did you get a chance to talk to Emperor X too, or did the musicians hog the conversation?”
My mother knows that I’m quiet, that I don’t always speak up in group settings, so her joking comment to me Good Friday morning was a well-meant one. But I’ve been furious about it ever since.
Emperor X is the moniker of physics-teacher-turned-musician Chad Matheny, whom my group of friends and I adore. He’s a talented songwriter, and—as we learned at the show we attended in Philadelphia that Thursday night—immensely personable. He remembered our names when we met him outside the house where he had played his set, the names of six high school and college kids from a tiny town in the North Jersey mountains, and we were thrilled to have had the chance to talk with him.
My middle brother and I are now at an age where we have friends in common. This concert was how we were celebrating our short Easter break together; four of us piled into my family’s car for the road trip, and we drove to pick up two more members of our group at their South Jersey college before continuing on to Philadelphia for the eagerly-anticipated Emperor X show. Music is what ties us to our group of friends; in Jefferson, our hometown, there isn’t much to do, and so bands are formed to help cope with the boredom.
I was horrified when my mother used the word “musicians” when she clearly meant “your outgoing brother and his chatty band mates.” As one of exactly four women in my town’s music scene, I’m hypersensitive to the fact that it’s generally assumed I’m with the band, not in the band. I’ve played my instrument longer than anyone else in the group, except for Ben, having started violin lessons at 7, while Ben began piano the same year, at 5. I’ve never been a great musician, but I love my violin and having the ability to make music. There’s no high like the joy that comes from jamming with a group of friends.
My mother claimed—in response to my indignation at her comment—that while I’m at school, my brothers are the ones who makes noise in our basement; it slipped her mind that my band plays in the summer, in those few short months when we’re all home from college. She said I was overreacting, that I needed to stop being so literal-minded, I knew what she meant. But I can’t shake the feeling that Tansley’s attitude—“women can’t paint, women can’t write”—is one which is more pervasive in my life than I am willing to admit. It’s an unconscious feeling that my mother would think absurd were I to voice it to her—she and my Dad are feminists who have always encouraged me in all things—and yet, in the unthinking flippancy of her comment, I have the uncomfortable feeling that it’s a feeling that the people I love are not entirely immune to. Because that’s just what the problem was: she didn’t think before dividing us into “[male] musicians” and “Alyssa.” That worries me. But maybe I am overreacting.