“I love my voice”

I recently watched an interview with Patti LaBelle as she was receiving some sort of lifetime achievement award, during which she exclaimed: “I love my voice,” and continued to explain that when she started singing she just fell in love with her ability to express herself through singing. Her voice being an essential part of her, I imagine that in that small statement, she’s speaking volumes: “I love myself, I love who I am, I love what I have to say, I love my sound, my essence.”

This is powerful. I can’t say that I remember ever feeling this way, even with my flute playing. There are brief moments when I think “that’s a cool space/sound that I’ve just created,” but in general, I’m often paralyzed by the belief that others sound/look/do better.

I understand on a very deep level how detrimental this is—not only for my career, but also for my sheer existence.

An artist I’ve always loved is Mariah Carey. I grew up listening to her, and I became a super-fan almost instantly. I memorized her first album within a few hours of receiving it for Christmas (on cassette tape! I ruined the damned thing rewinding it all the time), and made it a personal holiday every time a new album dropped. I still follow her closely, even though my tastes have changed (expanded). Whenever I see her in an interview scenario, she seems erratic, uncomfortable, and she continually brings up the same things that obviously plague her (her weight, her difficult pregnancy, her previous situation with her record label/past marriage, etc.). I see her constantly adjusting her outfit, playing with her hair, avoiding eye contact. It is unreal, almost, to see somebody you idolized as a child and still think is amazing, pick herself apart in this very public way. I notice myself doing very similar things, which has been startling to realize.

Now, certainly, somebody who chooses to put themselves in the public eye, or pursues a career that involves being on stage has to have some sort of healthy ego that says “yes, you belong up here.” I think this is true of myself, and I think that the real conflict comes when these opposing forces interact. The same part of you that wholly believes that you “belong” in the position you’re in or that you want to be in also struggles with the completely logical realization that there are others out there who are amazing at the very same craft. Of course, there’s an aspect of that that isn’t logical, and that’s the envious part—the part of you that not only recognizes someone else’s achievements and abilities, but also says “I want to be like them,” or, “to be successful, I need to be like them.”

This is complicated, and even depressing, but right now, I try to keep in mind Patti LaBelle. This is a woman who appreciates what she has—that her voice has the timbre that it does, that she loves the music that she performs, that she is in love with her life.

I’m not exactly sure what the starting point of working your way out of these deep-seated insecurities is, but I hypothesize that it starts with taking stock of what you do have, and being aware and thankful for those things, however small they seem to be.

Did I mention I met Mariah Carey over 10 years ago? It’s true. I was crying in the photo because I was so damned happy. And my mom got a little tipsy in the club with MC’s manager. For real. Here’s proof:

Yup. That's a Polaroid.

Yup. That’s a Polaroid.

And then Miss LaBelle, and Miss Mariah (the pure joy in this performance is how every performance should feel, no matter the genre):

Moving Foward.

Almost a month ago was the anniversary of my dad’s death. I wrote several entries that I had intended on posting that day because a week out, I felt compelled to write and share. But the closer the day came, the more I pulled back. 8 years without my dad felt significant to me. It’s not so much that 1 year or 4 ½ years didn’t, or that 10 years won’t, but I felt I had gotten to a place where I could talk about it differently because I had learned how to process it differently. The first draft I wrote was raw and would probably hurt my family members to read. The subsequent drafts were less-cutting and read better, but lost a sense of realness and honesty. It occurred to me that I wasn’t ready to write as big of a piece on the subject as I had set out to. What I wrote was for myself (even though I don’t have the urge to read it again anytime soon), and I ultimately came to the decision that I couldn’t manipulate it to be for anyone else, nor was I ready to share what I had originally written.

And actually, that happens a lot when I set out to write a blog entry, regardless of the subject matter. When I created this blog, I created it with what I thought was a clear sense of its content, as well as a clear sense of my target audience. Now I’m not sure, as there are things I feel I need to write about and sometimes feel compelled to put in a public forum which have nothing to do with the base description at the top of the blog.

My time at my current school and likely some of my jobs is coming to an end within the year. I’m not sure what is next, and that’s exciting and also scary. I struggle with that, as I’m sure most people would. It occurs to me, though, that one of the things I struggle to reconcile is making life-altering decisions and moving forward without my dad. This is a funny thing to me, because at a certain age, one’s parents are not a significant part of a decision-making (at least not in this society). There are exceptions to the rule, but I have been taught and allowed to make school and career decisions without regard to how anyone else feels about them, and without considering exactly far away I may have to move away in my pursuit of them.

Yet and still, I would do just about anything to be able to consult with my dad. It is not so much that I feel he would have better things to say than the people who are alive and well around me; it’s just that I’m so curious as to what he would think. Some days it is heartbreaking to realize that I have lived more of my adult life with him than without him, and no matter how long I live, this will always be the case. In 12 years I will have lived more of my life without him than with him, which is hard to think about.

This is perhaps the crux of what it is to miss somebody; they can no longer help to weigh in on your life, or be a witness to it. The problem with death (besides that it is a fact of life) is that it is incredibly difficult to understand. I was there at the time of his death and yet the idea of him being nowhere to be found is still hard to accept both logically and emotionally. It is unreal to accept someone’s departure from existence as we know it—that’s why many people say they often pick up the phone to call their loved ones who have died and then suddenly remember (as though it’s easy to forget) that there’s no one there anymore. I haven’t had that specific experience, but there are several other triggers that still catch me off-guard.

I’d like to think that I know what my dad would say if I could talk to him about everything that’s on my mind right now, but I just don’t know for sure, and that doesn’t sit well with me.

I feel only slightly compelled to end this on a lighter note, but honestly, I don’t have one. I think there are simply times when you need steep in sadness. For me, even in my excitement for what’s next, that sadness is the space I’m in for now.

I do love this song, though, and since I’ve listened to this song a lot lately, I thought I might include it. If you are at all unfamiliar with Mariah Carey’s low register and/or Stevie Wonder’s music, you should watch. I watch this often when I’m feeling down, no matter the reason:

“Yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today, and we must fix it.”

Beyoncé‘s new album has been an enduring topic of conversation as of late. I myself LOVE the album. I am obsessed with it. I am obsessed with it as a musician, as a young woman who grew up listening to Destiny’s Child and Beyoncé, and as an academic.

One of the most intriguing songs on the album, “Flawless,” has received a lot of media attention, arguably not because of the music itself, but because of the samples taken from portions of a speech at TedxEuston delivered by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian writer, and in her talk she calls for all of us to be feminists and she calls for reform in the way we raise and teach both boys and girls, among many, many other things.

Recently, I was in a situation which confused me on several levels, and called into question how I am seen in the workplace as a woman. What seemed like a compliment initially was actually quite ignorant and back-handed. I was at an event for an non-profit organization in which both staff and donors would be present. As a staff member, I had a duty to walk around and attempt to  converse with those in attendance (both with some of the colleagues who I don’t come into contact with often, as well as with donors). At some point in the night, I was speaking with a colleague for quite awhile, and when our conversation had subsided and we both started talking to other people, another staff member approached my colleague and asked about me. She was curious as to which donor I “belonged to”… eventually, she made some gestures toward me which caught my eye so I turned and acknowledged her and my colleague corrected her and told her that I was a staff member, to which she said, “Oh! I thought you were a trophy wife!” The group laughed it off, and as I chuckled I said, “I don’t even know if that’s a good thing,” and she said, “Oh it is, you’re pretty enough to be a trophy wife.” She then went as far as describing my outfit and my hair, focusing on the visual cues which she felt clearly indicated my position in the world.

Great. But do I also look smart and successful enough to be the person with the money to donate to the organization? Very rarely do we use the term “trophy husband,” and in fact, it is not really a term in and of itself. The connotation of a trophy wife is inherently negative, evoking images of a gold-digging, stupid, narcissistic woman, whose appearance and mere presence is meant to supplement a man’s social status.

In this high-pressure situation to please donors and seek out millions of dollars worth of donations, that particular staff member seemed to be concerned with making sure she singled out the wives of those who would be donating, never once considering that perhaps the money was earned by the female half, or from an equal and/or  combined effort, or even that some of the donors were not married.

What made me the saddest was that it came from another woman, and ultimately I feel that she should have regarded any of the women in the room with more respect and consideration. I can only assume that she did not mean any harm by it, but what that means is that she has rarely, if ever, thought about the implications of what she was thinking and dared to say aloud to another woman and also to my male colleague.

Certainly, this is not the most tragic thing to have happened to me or any other woman on the planet, but I think it’s relevant to add the conversation.

Hearing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speak is a treat, and I implore you to listen to what she has to say and the way in which she chooses to say it. At about 13:00, she begins the first of a few clips which are included in the track “Flawless.”

Blog Fail/Participating Relentlessly

Let’s talk about my failing blog, shall we?

 

I think my blog is yet another victim of something I tend to do—which is not unique to me (I’m pretty sure nothing is unique to anyone)–which is shutting myself in with my thoughts and never letting them out. To anyone. For any reason. Until they explode (and even then, they’re pretty guarded).

 

And it’s not so much that I’m afraid of talking. I’m pretty resolute on how I feel about just about anything, but I also acknowledge the impossibility of black and white truths. Part of the problem with committing your sins to pen and paper (or the interwebz) is that there’s always evidence of them.

 

Which is also interesting because I largely don’t give a shit if my current or future employers see my blog. Look, the job market sucks sucks sucks and honestly your odds of getting a job doing what you love are… well, keep trying. Chances are you’re going to have supplement it with another job that you don’t prefer anyway. But, what I absolutely would like to think I have the right to be choosey about is not working for employers who would discriminate based on my particular views on hot topics, or how I choose to live my life. Especially if it isn’t hurting anyone else (which is debatable because I could be very well eating something, wearing something, buying something, and/or using something that infringes on somebody’s ability to live their lives well, out of sheer ignorance). I had a friend ask me recently if I ever take my nose ring out for job interviews, and I have to say, I’ve had this nose ring for almost ten years and have only taken it out for oral surgery. Because it doesn’t matter unless it poses a serious risk in the job environment. If I do what I do well, then not much else matters. That said, there is a way to dress and act in certain situations (also known as “playing the game”), but that’s another conversation for another time.

 

But again, it’s difficult to put yourself out there. Especially because even though I don’t care WHO reads my blog, I care who reads my blog… There are certain friendships you maintain out of necessity, out of curiosity, out of being professional, due to history, etc., but each of those friendships are only privy to certain types of information. Though I think some of the best relationships in life develop from complete vulnerability, some of the most necessary relationships I’ve built come from a distinct lack of detectable vulnerability. Not all relationships need to be privy to every part of you, but by participating in the blogging world, some relationships are given to more information than they every really needed. And I don’t have time to blog this person and that person from every little thing I do.

 

But what I do for a living involves a lot of vulnerability; ideally, making music would be so incredibly vulnerable that it is at once perfect and imperfect in a single moment. Being a classically-trained musician also means being a machine to some degree, but perhaps this is the most vulnerable position to be in.

 

Anyway, I can’t call what I feel “scared,” but I am apprehensive. I want to write. I want the things I do in my life to be passionate and multifaceted-no one-trick ponies over here. But they also need to be focused. I’m learning that my resistance to reigning in my passion and taking stock of it is perhaps exactly what has held me back in the past. I’m taking more control of that now.

 

That said, I need to figure out what I want to say and how to say it on this thing. I also have to decide that it matters when often I don’t think that much of what anyone says ever matters because the world is going to keep spinning regardless. But, in terms of our little insignificant lives, perhaps what we say and do matters quite a bit. And, you never know who is reading what you write, watching what you do, and listening to what you say. This is no reason to be guarded, but rather, resolute in what you put out there.

 

Moving forward, though, I was reminded of this quotation today:

 

“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings.” -Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

 

I read Eat, Pray, Love after it became a New York Times Best Seller, and after I had bashed it a number of times based on its title alone. Which is funny, because I’m definitely not opposed to any of those three things. I just though it sounded like an everything-is-roses-lalala kind of book, and because I’ve found ways to be happy without ever believing that everything is fucking great all the time, I didn’t want to read a book that I thought might tell me that the world is a magnificent place where only good things happen. (I really tried to edit that sentence to be shorter, but it really didn’t happen. This is a learning curve I hope to overcome in future blog posts.) In short, I thought the book would be supremely naïve, but it turns out that I was in fact the naïve one. For those who haven’t read it, you won’t get a synopsis here, but I INSIST that you read it and the follow-up she wrote a few years later titled Committed. This is a woman who examines everything and then DOES SOMETHING ABOUT IT. At least eventually. Which is really the point, right? Dwelling on something and picking something apart is only half the battle.

 

I’m not happy-go-lucky person. Never have been. I don’t have the tendency to jump up and down and scream for things that are exciting. I think even if I won a Grammy, I’d keep my poker face ready (which says a lot, because I REALLY want a Grammy even though the Grammy committee has been slummin’ it for a long time now. Stop giving U2 Grammys for crappy albums, guys). That said, I can honestly say that in the past (at least) 7 years, I’ve INSISTED upon my happiness and have really searched for it. Sometimes I’ve found myself happy in situations I previously could have never fathomed being happy in. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching my father destroy himself with something as simple (stupid) as alcohol, it’s that I have to fight for myself. I do that in a number of ways, and today I’m giving myself credit for doing so. I could have very easily decided to go the other way and I didn’t; I can assure you that barring blunt head trauma that changes my entire personality, I won’t let it go the other way.

 

Perpetual loose ends in life aside, I think it’s important to continually and shamelessly insist upon your own happiness. I think education is a huge part of this, learning things and reading things you’re not ready to face, examining yourself closely to the point of depression, and continually putting yourself in challenging situations that put you at the very edge of your comfort zone. And then, after all is said and done, make sure that there is a small semblance of comfort, of things you know you love, people you know you trust and love, around you to help see you through.

 

I can’t say that this a perfect recipe, but I’m 27 and alive and trying so very hard. That’s okay with me today. Tomorrow, who knows? But either way, I will always participate relentlessly.

 

Freedom/Civil Rights/Get your head out of your ass/Hello

The above are all working titles for this post… in no particular order. I guess I should start by saying “hello”… Hello! Being on that grind makes for very little time for blogging. I always admire the hundreds (thousands? millions?) of bloggers who keep up with their blogs while doing the school-thing and the work-thing and the mom or dad-thing, etc. I’m a work-in-progress (just like everyone else, I guess).

Civil Rights/Get your head out of your ass is a shout out to all those in this country and abroad who are fighting for basic human rights. Let’s not pretend that DOMA is about anything other than prejudice. Keep your religion and/or your ignorance to yourself, because neither should be governing a community of any sort, most especially the U.S. Get your head out of your ass.

Speaking of freedom… I love comparing and just generally enjoying several different versions of songs. This is what I’m hooked on today:

And let’s not forget Nina Simone:

Bombarding You

Occasionally I’ll find myself in discussions with friends over “unplugging” and living “off the grid.” Our use of technology has become an addiction: smart phones, constant, quick access to the interwebz, BLOGGING, #selfies (don’t get me started… wait, was that me who took one on the previous post? That doesn’t count… ;-p )… That said, while the addiction is very real and very disconcerting, I’m thankful to live an age of information bombardment… no, really. The fact of the matter is, I can spend hours on the internet searching for memes of angry cats doing shit (slash just take pictures of my own to share with the world…) or cross-referencing information about other countries and people and cultures I will likely never ever experience first-hand. The internet has also become this major resource for self-improvement. My commitment to a healthy, cruelty-free lifestyle (ps: there’s a really great picture of Dave Navarro being… Dave Navarro on this website, haha) has been fully supported by the internet, and furthermore, WOMEN have found a real presence out here in cyber space, aside from porn.

Apropos of this bombardment, I’d like to share with you some things I’m reading/loving/have stumbled upon as of the past week:

A candid, real, and in my opinion, important conversation about monogamy and sex and children

WHAT IS YOGA DOING TO OUR CHILDREN/WEARENOTACHRISTIANNATIONGETTHEFUCKOVERIT Thoughts? (The hyperlink description is my own, not NPR’s, so get mad at me not them should you have a problem with it.)

Vaccinations and Vegans    With some really great comments from devoted readers. Also: Eating Right Gives the Most Protection During this Flu Season

My current favorite workout:

(Source)

Lastly, I’d like to know your thoughts about this CrossFit promo (below). As a person who has struggled with disordered eating and distorted body image, there have been times when watching Zuzka’s workouts, or reading fitness magazines, or being bombarded (there’s that word again) by celebrity media has not helped my recovery. I’ve been more selective in the past few years with what I’ll expose myself to or fitness programs I’ll support. The fact of the matter is that movement is better than no movement, so fitness program or no fitness program, or supporting certain programs over others is really your choice, no judgement here. For me, I find Zuzka’s workouts and those similar to CrossFit or P90x or TurboFire to be more up my alley in terms of ways that I enjoy spending my time. That said, there’s an image being maintained here, and it’s hard to separate “what I should look like” with how you’ll look once you’ve put in the hard work. I think the girls in the CrossFit video explain some things really well, but again, there’s this establishment of an aesthetic: if you don’t match that aesthetic, then you’re not pretty/healthy/fucking awesome, etc… There’s no declaration of this in the video, but for people who have struggled with themselves in this way, it can be interpreted as saying just that:

I also appreciate your comments/questions/concerns/musings on anything else in this post–enjoy, and I’d love to hear from you!

Peace,

C