Interlude: Singing

It was only yesterday morning that I finally achieved some measure of peace within myself.

This had nothing to do with my books or writing, mind you. No, I had been looking forward to a high school reunion on Saturday the 9th. I say “a” instead of “my” because it was a far bigger event than just for my class; a beloved teacher was also retiring, plus another class from an earlier time was having their reunion, too.

It was more than just the promise of catching up with at least some lifelong friends, be they classmates or teachers.

It was because I would have a chance to be on the stage again.

It was in high school that I discovered, to my astonishment and joy, that I could sing.

I’d always been a singer-along-er up ’til then; in fact, I think everybody can sing. Yet I hadn’t considered it as a real thing to do beyond that. I was musical enough; cello, clarinet, and guitar had all passed through my hands.

But this was different. This was more significant, though I barely would have grasped that at the time.

So it was in high school that I also tread the boards for the first time, in musicals and smaller sets, in chorale groups and as a soloist. We went out to churches, happily froze during caroling, brought our voices and accompaniment anywhere, anytime. Those were happy days.

I even sang at my graduation.


Aria: Where’er you walk (Handel)

Lately I’ve been revisiting in my mind those high school years, remembering how I was, how I’d made certain decisions, how paths had been both taken and not. And with that, I recalled my musical history, and wondered, would I be able to get out on the stage this weekend?

It suddenly was very important to me. I actually spent some time almost agonizing over what I’d do if the theatre doors were locked!

Fortunately, I began to let these thoughts simmer, and it finally came to me that I don’t need to do anything. I just need to show up and the rest would follow.

And it worked out splendidly.

The event was being held outdoors, and we arrived a bit earlier on purpose. All was wind-rippled grass under overcast skies, a field of tents and tables, and an air of still-setting-up with only a few catering staff and the persons manning the check-in table.

The school was unlocked, both for restroom use and for self-guided tours down memory lane. As I’d known beforehand, the doors opening out onto the patio and grounds for the event were also the closest doors that would lead us to the theatre inside.

So we walked in. We went past office after empty office, past end-of-year paraphernalia stacked in the hallway, past wonderful and new paintings on the walls, until we fetched up at one of the two entryways to the theatre.

The hallway lights were so dim in that section that I couldn’t even see the door I knew was there, but as I pressed forward, it became clear that it was already open.

I stepped into inky, welcoming darkness, and the whole place rustled alive.

Wherever the light switches were, they weren’t anywhere we could find, yet I felt no fear as I hastily summoned memory and touch so I didn’t fall over any (low yet potentially catastrophic) ledges or steps.

And then I was out on the stage, treading those remembered boards beneath my feet, standing, walking, living. I felt the theatre around me: Warm, benevolent, ancient with having seen so many productions, so many artists, so many performances, yet expansive enough to remember them all, even if just a nod here, a glimmer of recognition there. It even smelled the same.

At the same time, my husband found some of the stage light switches, so neither of us were in peril any longer.

And now all seemed ready, welcoming, and waiting, as if it had asked, “What are you going to do?”

Here’s what I did.


Basking in the glow of long-awaited lights

I started singing.

It was bliss.

I was gazing out, unafraid, into the seats whose audience I peopled in memory, my feet holding me up on the stage but my heart soaring above.

Mind you, I came up against an unexpected hitch right away: It had been so long since I’d been on any stage, that I was surprised at what the acoustics did! Instead of just hearing what amounts to me in my head singing back at me, at home or in the car, now the room was singing back at me.

I faltered a bit here and there as muscle memory had to grow accustomed to what I used to train daily to do. Plus a piece of rather large-sounding machinery in the shop backstage was running quite determinedly with godlike exhales, no matter how I glared in its direction.

I was also quite anxious that someone would bust in and chase us out—or worse, sit and listen!—for as both theatre doors on either side were open, every so often I could see people passing by. I didn’t want to waste any time by running over to shut them, and yet I thought about it.

These all amounted to nerve-wracking distractions.

Yet even as we found more lights on the stage and in the auditorium itself (so that the array of pictures and film I’m still going through are of varying stages of exploration and back-lighting), and even as I started to let my voice soar out like I used to, filling the space, nobody disturbed us.

And mercifully soon, I thought: Who even cares if they do? Even if we were to get dragged out of there because we weren’t supposed to be there at all, it wouldn’t matter. I was complete.

Nobody ever came in. Undisturbed, I was able to relive that part of my life. No matter what goofs or flaws came out, I wouldn’t exchange a single thing.

It was perfect.


Singing from “The Phantom of the Opera,” now with lights

Random: There’s a Hawk on the Lamppost

I have a long commute. Sometimes I sing along to songs. Sometimes I listen to Jack Benny.

Other times, I make stuff up.

Invariably as I drive down the freeway, I’ll see a red-tailed hawk or two sternly perched on a lamppost, surveying their territory.

And their whole demeanor says, “Move along. You can’t see me. I am not here.”

Except I do see them, and that’s why I made up this song.

To the tune of “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain“:

There’s a hawk
On the lamppost, yes there is (yes there is)

There’s a hawk
On the lamppost, yes there is (yes there is)

There’s a hawk on the lamppost,
There’s a hawk on the lamppost,
There’s a hawk on the lamppost,
Yes there is!

Hawk’s turn (slightly nasal):

I wish you wouldn’t sing that song right now
Oh, I wish you wouldn’t sing that song right now
My dinner’s down there
It’s running scared
You ran it off
But you don’t care
I wish you wouldn’t sing that song right now

Indecent Expectations: A Revelation

I’ve come to the realization that I’m much too hard on myself for not getting things done. Has this ever happened to you?

I’m not talking about the basic functions we do to survive, or at least appear to survive as properly kempt versus unkempt individuals–all the cooking, the laundry, the cleaning, the getting up on time, the putting in a good show at work so you can afford to keep sitting on the couch.

I mean the grander things, or at least what I think of as the grander things for me: Writing. Singing. Creating in general.

The old me.

I used to do the first all the time. Words poured out of me since I learned how to read and write, sculpting the lands I created in my mind, peopling the world before me. Unafraid, I explored different forms of poetry, writing styles, subjects, and scenes, and thrilled to see my name in print even if it were just for a school publication.

I also delved into fanfiction, finding many wonderful, thoughtful, brilliant people along the way, and enjoying the stories I created in worlds others so generously lent.

Singing came later in the timescale, manifesting in high school and continuing on past college, at least in a more professional sense (if you’re curious to hear me, go here), and once again I explored all manner of styles and subjects, immersed in sheet music, theatre, and state-wide competitions.

If I did all that for so long and so consistently, why not now? Why do I sit, not writing fiction, not getting together with musicians, not expressing myself in the ways I know best?

I’ve been stuck.

It was today that I realized it: I’ve been putting an indecent amount of pressure on myself to fulfill my own expectations without allowing for changes in my life.

When I was doing most of my writing, for example, it was in a structured environment or with a definite purpose surrounding it. It was much the same with singing; I had teachers and concerts to guide me. With structure comes not only practice, but discipline.

Life has that funny way of changing and taking us with it before we know what’s happening. As different things happened in my life, the original structure and purpose surrounding what I was doing also changed–but I didn’t change with it. I didn’t even think of it. I just kept expecting myself to follow the same track within all these changes.

When I inevitably failed, I’d feel terrible about it. I got locked into a cycle of self-flagellation that didn’t do a thing to get me either back on that obsolete track or forge a new one. Negativity takes up a lot of time and space.

Getting unstuck.

So now that I’ve realized all this, what next? Well, I hope to–no, intend to!–shed the cloud of negative reinforcement, and start a new, exciting journey, unabashed and unafraid.

I may even be able to draw on this experience for a book. After all, writers are often told to write what they know best.

What’s been your experience for reinventing or reforging yourself?

I am indebted for this post to Erin Harris’s Productive Procrastination post, which I encourage you to be productive and read.