Meet Myah Paden, a Masters in Music student at U of M studying voice performance. Read her fabulous op-ed on her experience starting the Thorne & Thistle podcast.
This summer I started a podcast to cope.
Now, I’m not going to lie to you; 2020 has ultimately been a pretty good year for me, all things considered. If that makes you want to immediately stop reading this, I totally get it, but if it makes you feel any better, it did not start out that way. At the start of 2020, I was officially 2 months on antidepressants to treat acute symptoms of what was quickly turning into, arguably, the worst year of my life.
I graduated from my undergraduate program in August of 2019, moved across the country from the Deep South to the suburban Midwest, lived alone for the first time in my life, and started a Masters degree. I said ‘yes’ to every opportunity which happened to be exactly too many. I became consumed in grinding, and lost my sense of self in the process. By Winter semester, I was running on the fumes of clinical perfectionism.
The news cycle was pretty dismal then, too (do you remember when just Australia was on fire?). Spring break came and went, and I considered just giving it all up, moving to a foreign country, and recreating my identity anew as an eccentric young savant. I was begging the Universe for a break.
And then the world went still.
All at once, I was completely distanced from the friendships I had just barely begun to form and the life I was beginning to build. All of that disappeared in an instant, and I was alone with my thoughts and my emotional support cat dutifully keeping me company. The first month was the most surreal. Slowly, the apocalyptic haze that settled over the world began to clear, and I, too, began to settle into what would months later become “normal”. The moment I felt like I was finally lifting the thick quarantine depression from my shoulders–it was then that I heard about George Floyd.
Like most Black Americans, I have been desensitized to the brutalization of Black bodies and the apathy of white America. I am, to a degree, used to the cycle of grief that plagues my community every year or so when our trauma is a hot topic. The social media “activism” that follows and its companion of false allyship–these things are not new. Watching a Black man be unjustly murdered in front of my eyes and having distant Facebook friends perpetuate the gaslighting of the Black community under the guise of playing “devil’s advocate”–this is not new either. The crucial difference between George Floyd’s execution and the litany of Black names that flood our timelines year after year was timing.
It was the lack of ability to turn away from the screen and to move on. We had to look, and for many that was the first time bearing witness to the perverse reality of Black life in this country. For me, it was a tipping point.
To be clear, this is not an article about George Floyd. This is about identity, trauma, and healing. This is about me, and it’s about us.
I hit my breaking point watching the footage and fallout of George Floyd’s murder. I had so many emotions overflowing from me and spilling over tainting the simplest things in my life. I couldn’t cry or laugh or scream. I was numb. I only watched the video once, but I saw it played out thousands of times whenever I closed my eyes. Each time, the face of George Floyd was replaced by a Black loved one–my brother, cousin, father, myself. I could feel all of the similar traumatic moments I’d seen over the years crash into me at once. To make matters worse, I lived alone, so there was no consolation for me that wasn’t filtered through a Zoom call.
Like all good creatives do, I turned to art. I opened Audacity (free recording software) and just spoke. “Um…a lot is going on right now…,” I began.
I gave into my stream of consciousness and released the emotions I had been repressing without the expectation or desire that they would go beyond my IP address. I experienced an intense relief in the process. When I finally stopped the recording, I realized in the following silence that so much of what I was feeling was helplessness, and suddenly, I no longer felt helpless.
I am not built for protest. I have too much Anxiety to be at the frontlines of a movement.
What I have is a voice and the ADHD-given ability to present full oral dissertations to an invisible audience. With those spurring me on, I flung my story into the digital void for both no one and everyone. I released all of it, and in the face of a global pandemic, white and conservative apathy, and the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, I felt catharsis. This was my protest.
People began to reach out and share with me their feelings as well, stories which were nuanced–colored by each individual experience. More joined and months later, what began as a digital diary entry eventually grew beyond me.
The whole experience is teaching me something pivotal: our intersectional experiences, those points of life at which the multiplicity of identity and community meet, color our pain different shades of the same color, but ultimately, we are connected in the sharing of grief and hope.
So, that was June.
Since then, I decided to take a leave from school for a year. I started therapy for the first time since moving from Georgia, and I’ve started feeling my sense of self return to me after being lost for the last year and a half.
I have connected and shared conversation with truly amazing people through my growing platform like non-binary music artist and producer, London Beck, and internationally acclaimed biracial classical singer, Julia Bullock. I have deepened connections with friends and induced connections with strangers. In healing my own spirit and sharing my story, I have gained the platform to share the stories of others and facilitate empathy and healing together.
This has become the mission of my podcast Thorn & Thistle and my reason to continue: Cutting through the thorns and navigating a path through the complex griefs, joys, and experiences of life with the understanding that everyone’s path is unique. Some are steeper or more treacherous than others. All paths lead forward.
No doubt, this year has more in store for us. As a Black, neurodivergent, lesbian woman with a Bachelor’s degree in Music, I am sure to have plenty of content to keep my podcasting career afloat. I don’t mean to boast, but in the four months my show has been running, I’ve racked up a whopping four whole dollars. I guess you could say I’ve made it.
As voting rights are expressed and suppressed throughout the country, there is something intense and probably disappointing on the horizon no matter your political alignment.
Unfortunately, there really is no inspiring takeaway in this article. My story isn’t altogether profound, but it is honest.
I thought about how to write this in so many ways. I wondered if I should tell you all of my experience meeting and chatting with Julia Bullock who is one of my favorite living classical artists of the modern age. I could type my fingers numb expounding on the guiding philosophical principles which are, in some part, foundationally responsible for the creation of Thorn & Thistle (for the record: Womanism and Intersectional Feminism). I could write a very poignant piece on the plight of the Black Woman in America™ or on queering the classical space. I could talk about a lot of things because that’s what I’m good at, but to be perfectly honest, that’s what my show is for.
At its core, my podcast exists as a kind of group therapy session for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people. I no longer create mission trip-esque content for white, cis, and/or heteronormative audiences to attempt to absolve guilt by deigning to listen whilst oggling at the natives like ravenous spectators at a human zoo.
However, on this platform, I wanted to share a story that shows me as I am: a person wrapped in complexity which uniquely colors my experience. A person attempting to do something good in a world where those in power profit from our helplessness and fear. A curious mind with a passion for storytelling and nurturing the connective tissue between myself and you.
I invite you to fearlessly follow your voice through the chaotic, thorn-covered bramble of the state of the world we’re in. Maybe you’ll find new connections or refresh old ones. Maybe you’ll start a podcast. Or maybe you’ll find, like I did, that we are never truly helpless.
EXCEL Highlights is a series where we feature students and faculty at UM that are changing the world and creating dope art! Make sure to look for the next post an interview with the amazing Arts in Color dance group. If you’d like to see your project featured, and get some free publicity, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org!