Sunday, April 03, 2011

Irrational ...

Over the past week or so, my brain has been sorting out a puzzle, untangling thoughts, tugging on the tension of a great mental knot, teasing strands free, aligning them into some kind of orderly logic. Writing is a part of that process. And as I've written here before, I feel a certain sense of obligation to share more than just fluff on these virtual pages. Confession is good for the soul, isn't that what they say? I think it helps me, to release these thoughts. And I have often found comfort in the words of others, that sense of relief that comes from knowing that a certain thought or feeling isn't really so strange, that others think and feel the same way. If these next posts provide a bit of commiseration for others, so much the better. If they don't, that's fine, too.

I hold myself to ridiculous standards.

I always have, and I do not know from whence that comes.

My parents did not demand perfection out of me. Yet I demand it of myself.

There is a lot I can do. I have a lot of talent. I don't say that to boast. I say that to be honest.

And yet, I still find myself surprised when I attempt something for the first time and perfection is not the result.

I often hesitate to sing. In my house. When I am alone. When no one can hear me. No one but myself. That is ridiculous.

Ever since hearing k.d. lang's rendition of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" for the Opening Ceremonies of the Vancouver Olympics, I've been singing it from time to time. I sing along with her. I can hold the notes as long and nearly as strong. I've already recorded one k.d. lang tune. I emulate her rather well. And if I'm near my stereo, I can really sing, the volume from the speakers like a security blanket. If I step into the next room, my office, with its rather good acoustics thanks to the high, slanted ceiling, I still sing, but with slightly less gusto. But if I step into the next room, the kitchen, I quickly stop. Away from the volume, I can hear myself, and I stop.

It makes no sense.

I've recorded nine songs so far, nearly an album's worth, covers all, but I've recorded them. I have stood in a booth in front of an excellent mic, headphones askew, one ear covered, one ear not, so I can hear the song I am singing but also hear myself.

And it's daunting the first time, every time. The first pancake, I call that first take, because my trips to the studio are infrequent and there are always nerves to sing past, there is always that uncomfortableness that comes from really hearing myself, even as I am singing in the style of another.

Because always – always – there is the voice in my head saying, "Who do you think you are? Why do you think anyone will want to hear this?" Years ago, I signed up for a voice class in search of validation. I wanted a professional to tell me that I had talent. And one day, unprompted, she did just that. And I was giddy on the way to my car, sing-songy as I crossed the street: "Gwen says I have tal-ent!"

And the voice in my head said, "Yeah? Now what are you going to do with it?"

Turns out, validation does nothing to eradicate fear. Not in my brain, anyway.

Fear. Stupid fear. I know it is stupid to allow fear to hold me back, but such is the nature of fear. It holds a lot of power. I imbue it with that power, I know. So, logically, I can starve it of that power, too. I can just get up there and sing. And I have, in public, a couple of times. And each time, even as it was scary, it was exhilarating, but I didn't press on. I didn't go back again and again and sing until singing got less scary.

And yes, I know I can. No one's stopping me. Except myself.

But such is the insidiousness of perfectionism. Perfectionism says that I should be able to master fear as well. Never mind that I've asked professional singers if they get nervous and they do. People who enjoy varying measures of fame. People who walk out onto stages in front of thousands of fans who have all paid to be there, people who are loved in advance. They get nervous.

"Nerves are the respect we pay our audience," Annette Bening said in "Being Julia." I love that line. I forget it from time to time. But it comforts me.

Because I foolishly think that my fears are mine alone. Surely the rest of the world doesn't suffer similarly, I think. Look at all of them, out there, doing. How I envy the woman I once watched get up in front of a roomful of people and sing purely for the joy of singing. She was not "good" by technical standards. She was off-key. But she didn't care. Or maybe she was drunk. Or maybe both. The point is that she got up and grabbed the mic and sang a song and sat down with a smile on her face. She had sung. She had had fun.

I know that most people have some level of inhibition. Most of them just forge ahead anyway.

I have instances of forging in my history. But deeds done diminish over time, they lose their impressive luster, they take on a patina of "that was then." There is doing to be done, now. Scary doing, for me. But I have learned that to not do, to lead a life essentially unlived, is so much worse and far more contemptible than any of my parasitic fears.

So I have begun.


Blogger fjaye said...

I hear you loud and clear.

My choir director likes my voice quite a bit. I've belted George Thorogood with a live band in front of 400 people, and Johnny Rivers in front of 300, to roaring applause.

Ask me to solo with my choir? Throat constrictions and near-terminal heebie-jeebies.Why?

Because it's classical music, and so it must be *right*. No coarseness, no personal phrasing, no nothing.

It's either RIGHT...or it ain't.

And thus I scare myself out of doing it. Over and over again.

2:45 PM  

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