I’m afraid this title is way too tacky but since I’m all about embarrassing myself creating space for fear in my life next year I’m going to leave it as is.
My best friend Sophie who knows me far too well recently sent me a copy of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic in the mail. It came with no note in a box with no return address on it and I initially thought that by some miraculous occurrence I had mistakenly received the most appropriate gift from the universe. Really it was Sophie who was the miracle and the gift. (Barf! But seriously, luv u gurl!).
The book’s subheading reads “creative living beyond fear” and it delivers a delightful prescription on ways to dance alongside fear and live your most creative life. And the chapters are really short so you never feel guilty about not finishing chapters because you’re bored or just want to go to sleep which I like too.
This is a passage I’ve been meaning to put on a post-it and stick by my bed because I love it:
“I decided that I would need to build an expansive enough interior life that my fear and my creativity could peacefully coexist in, since it appeared that they would always be together. In fact, it seems to me that my fear and my creativity are basically conjoined twins – as evidenced by the fact that creativity cannot take a single step forward without fear marching right alongside it.” – Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic
One creative endeavor in which I truly believe I have befriended fear is singing.
If we are relatively close or you follow me on Facebook, you’ll know that I recently got back into singing. It was long overdue. Once an annual Peterborough Kiwanis Music Festival award winner and the lead in my high school’s production of the off-off-off-off Broadway musical “Back to the 80’s”, I think it’s safe to say that I’m no stranger to somewhat effectively holding a tune. But like many women of my generation who were fed the inspirational adage that we could do anything we set our minds to, I misunderstood this to mean we should do everything we set our minds to (here’s a great quote on that). As a result, singing, along with a variety of other extra-curricular activities I was involved in in high school, became more of an obligation than a hobby and I took a bit of a break when I entered university.
But the break didn’t last long. Because I knew I needed to do it. When I was on stage I was such an honest, comfortable version of myself. Anyone who sings knows it’s incredibly vulnerable. When you’re criticized on the sound of your voice after years of working on, it really hurts because it’s not like you can pick a new set of vocal chords or get your ears replaced. It’s all you. I mean, you can work harder, you can practise more, you can try different techniques but we’re not all born Adele. Even so, regardless of whether you’re “good” by whatever standards you choose to legitimize, most people know that it feels so incredibly good to sing. It’s like your soul talking. And if you have the courage to do it in front of a crowd who appears to enjoy your performance you’ll know that that feels even better. I missed that feeling a lot.
I’ve received some interesting criticism on my voice over the years and it’s frustrating that the critique sticks on me like duct tape whereas the kind, wonderful, thoughtful comments are dusty layers of scotch tape that lose their stickyness over time and flake off. I shouldn’t need to be validated anymore but I still expect some sort of response when the song is finished and I get so frustrated with myself for that. I still don’t believe I’m really that “good” at it (I use quotations because I don’t want to give that word any power). And I’ll probably never get to “good” because it probably doesn’t exist. But I’m getting really close to a place where I just don’t care anymore. Because I just love doing it so much and I want that to define what it means to be doing something well.
When I began taking singing lessons again this past August, I started off pretty rocky. Vocal chords are essentially a muscle and I was pretty out of shape. I also did this thing where I introduced myself to my new singing teacher Kyle as someone with “years of experience” and then felt like I needed to prove that to him in our first lesson. I was super anxious and my chest was tight as a result. I dove right into Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacherman” – an ambitious song but it’s been my go-to for years – sounding nasally and shaky and swearing audibly when I heard myself sounding not as I had remembered. I piled on all of these expectations and my voice had no room underneath them all to come out.
I had a session with my coach shortly after and told her about how frustrated I was that I was unable to do this thing that used to bring me so much joy. She assigned me the genius homework of starting over with Kyle, even reintroducing myself, as someone with no prior experience who just loved to sing. It worked. Kyle responded with this beautiful nugget of wisdom: that I should focus on how far my voice had come since we started rather than where it wasn’t.
About a month or so later I was at dinner with the fabulous women of Imelda, the shoe store where I used to work. A man in plaid with a guitar was playing far too loudly and we all spent most of the night clarifying things we didn’t hear over the noise. Finally he finished and a friend suggested I go up. Was she joking? I didn’t care because when she said it I could feel my fear entering the restaurant and that was my cue that I needed to do it. I welcomed fear to the table and went up and gave the bartender my Ipod so I could sing along to it. And the crowd went wild.
Since moving to Toronto I’ve dabbled in a variety of creative endeavors. Improv is one of them. I do it because it terrifies me and I know that’s healthy. I’m not where I’d like to be yet but I know that if I continue to push into my fear and go where deep down I know I’m capable of going I will get better at it. Blogging has been another endeavor. I’m still terrified every time I hit publish. I’m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to writing. I never feel truly amazing when I’ve completed something but I’ve learned to embrace these posts for their imperfections. Because I’m doing this honestly. I’m doing this because I love doing it and it’s uncomfortable and imperfect and I love that.
This is the place where I want everything to come from in 2016. Cheers.