The slow burn

I am the uncrowned Queen of Resolutions. I also have a long and embarrassing diarised history with goal setting and list making.

I admit to making flow charts and collages. Hell, despite the fact I think Oprah W is the epitome of facile, self-help evil, I’d even do a vision board. Okay, I did. I might even have read a few self help books- whatever gets you through the night, I say.

As of last year I vowed to finish my first draft of my novel. I failed. I planned to get my license – yep, failed. Meditate daily. Become a yogi. Book of poems published. Failed.

Even my cat pissed on my vision board. Right on, Stevie.

Recently I retrieved a suitcase of diaries I kept throughout the last fifteen years (on of the bittersweet parts of moving, those painfully nostalgic ambles down memory lane) and gulped at the lists I had been making as a sixteen/seventeen year old. Practice tai chi, take up yoga, my sixteen year old self vowed. Stop being shy- be more confident! Secure a job. Get a learners permit.  Focus on your work. learn a language. Get a real relationship (?!) and then, singing lessons. Learn bass.

It made me feel curiously tender towards my fucked up younger self.

See, music has long been a little bit of everything to me. I grew up in Irish pubs and weekend- long parties with music, dancing, drinking reigned.  Thus my love of wine and song.

My dad played guitar semi professionally and as an Irish musician, I had learnt every Irish ballad and 60s song before Year 3. Although I inhaled books, I really wanted to be a performer. Actually I wanted to own a warehouse and be Jennifer Beals in Flashdance, but that was another story (ongoing list item: take dance lessons).

However, I wavered in confidence so badly, I sabotaged every adult musical project I entered into.

I made excuses like: I can’t read music, I’m untrained, I’ve learnt by ear, my hands are too small, I’m not as good as Aretha Franklin, my voice is too low, my range sucks, I can’t sing past my break. Etc. I blamed my parents for lack of said lessons and parental nurturing of budding music talent.

I had to be sedated before I performed. No amount of tequila and Bach’s rescue remedy actually made the anxiety any better. Worse still, I actually hated being on stage in front of an audience so much I couldn’t figure out why I was subjecting myself to the whole excruciating process.

I wanted to sing with my back to the crowd. I wanted to be like Jim Morrison. I feared the audience so much I actually loathed them. Punters are like dogs, they can smell fear, you know?

My songs, my voice, they were just so ME, I couldn’t bear it. I slunk into a ten-year slump of total frustrated and thwarted ambition. It got to the point I couldn’t review music anymore, because I felt so embittered. Why be a wannabe? Why be, really at all?

Creatively, I was dead on one side of my body. That’s a pretty terrible feeling.

So last year I made a resolution. I went back to singing lessons. I felt so revived; it was like I’d been given a blood transfusion. All the songs that were circling around my consciousness became possibilities, instead of potentially embarrassing phantoms.

I laid them down, I laid myself bare.

I allowed myself, for the first time in my life, permission to learn something.

In one of my earliest list item attempts, I started adult ballet. I found it exquisitely beautiful and so much more compelling than the humiliating and graceless exertions of contemporary Les Mills’s classes- the booty-shaking zumbas, the disc- slipping body pumps. I quit after three classes because I didn’t seem to be very good at it and it was embarrassing. I told one of my best friends about it and she pointed out something rather obvious: you go to classes so you can learn something- not because you are already an expert.

Another very long term friend of mine just got her license at age 33 and burst into guttural sobs as the nice man at Vic Roads uttered the words “Congratulations.” We talked about the profound and life-changing effect that achieving these enormous and perhaps very delayed milestones can have on a person.

For me it was singing in public recently and enjoying the hell out of it and making the room move with me. Feeling my power as a performer and embracing it. Writing and recording at home without fear. Not comparing myself so much. Being vulnerable and allowing the arrows the fly at me: they didn’t.

I’m not upset anymore about my ten-year self-imposed exile from something I really love either. I can see that I needed to be able to move around in my own skin, to exorcise those old ghosts of self-loathing, so that the art could come alive.

To all the late bloomers out there, I commend you. Some people never become self-possessed and some bloom wild and bright and burn out quickly.

Lets go for the slow burn.

One comment on “The slow burn

  1. *Wow.*

    Thank-you for what you’ve written here (moment of silence).

    I really love what you say in the end of this piece.

    “I can see that I needed to be able to move around in my own skin, to exorcise those old ghosts of self-loathing, so that the art could come alive.”

    And I love what your friend said to you about taking classes. Gotta remember that one, myself. :)) I have some classes I’m trying to get back to. But most of all, congratulations on picking up the singing, even recording. That’s awesome. I know half of this is killing the critical voice in your head, I’m there too.

    Anyway, thank-you again…this post gave me something. Fuel for the road maybe.

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