Pin It (I’ll just warn you - this isn't a funny post. I'm gonna be a little serious for a minute, because I feel like spewing this out into the universe – I’m not sure why. Why do we feel compelled to share any of the things we write about on our blogs? I doubt very many of you will make it to the end of this incredibly long, self-indulgent post, but I felt like sharing it anyway. So here you go...)
I was a miserable teenager. I really was. I think I went a little crazy from 15 to 19. I remember that time as sort of a fevered nightmare, murky and dark and awful. I wasn’t acting out in the way that you would expect a troubled teenager to do, I was just incredibly lonely. Lonely and angry and sad. I was awkward and emotionally immature, poor with really bad clothes, and lacking the personality or attitude to make all of that something you could overlook. I existed in a haze of gut wrenching self hatred and distress.
I know we all tend to write off our teenage angst as just that, but I honestly know what it means to despair, because of that time in my life. I've never been depressed as an adult, probably because nothing I've gone through as an adult has ever made me feel as broken or as sad as I felt as a teenager. There were days, weeks, months when I thought about suicide, planned it, thought about the sheer relief of not having to get up the next day and face the world again. Of not having to continue to make an effort to be something other than what I felt I was – embarrassing, mediocre, unloved, unwanted. I would trace the lines on my wrist, and the only thing that kept me from doing it was my certainty that then I would burn in hell.
For most of my adolescent life, I thought my musical ability was the only special thing about me. I loved to sing and play the piano. It was one of the only things that made me stop thinking, made life bearable, made me break out of my narcissistic fog of self-pity. So I would sing – ALL THE TIME. I used to drive my family up the wall with it. I’d play the piano and sing for literally hours in the living room and my brothers would be like, would you SHUT UP already, I’m trying to watch TV. My mom would have to come out into the music room after a while to try to get me to stop. She didn’t want to discourage me from singing or playing, but there was a limit to how many times anyone in the family could listen to me sing “On My Own,” at full volume before they went stark, raving mad.
I had a nice voice in the way that millions of girls have nice voices, because they can sing in tune and have a nice tone. Nice, but run of the mill. I used to dream that I would be good enough to sing on Broadway someday. I knew that wasn’t really an option - I wasn’t at that level, but I wished it was true.
Still, now and then people would turn around in their pews at church to tell me that I had a pretty voice and it made me feel like maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t totally worthless. One day when I was feeling particularly awful about my life, someone told me that I sang like an angel, and it made me so happy that I started crying right there on the spot. I would sing a solo in church, and people would seek me out afterward to tell me how much they enjoyed it. I would collect those little compliments, store them up inside and bring them out and think about them when I was especially unhappy. They were like little pockets of warmth in the middle of a long bitterly cold winter. They made me feel better when I felt like there was nothing good about me at all. And there were a lot of times like that.
When I got out of my teens, I started to figure things out emotionally and socially. I think I probably had a chemical imbalance for a while (it runs in my family) and it was clearing off. I started to recognize my own value, and started to learn how to get along in the world. I learned how to be happy, and how to feel hopeful.
I still sang whenever I had the opportunity, but I didn’t crave the attention so much – didn’t need it in order to feel o.k. about myself. I was happy. Music was just something else that was good about life, not the only thing.
A year after I got married, I decided that even though I’d never really do anything with it, it would be fun to take voice lessons, just to finally get some training. My sister was taking lessons from someone who she raved about, so I called him up and made an appointment.
I will never forget the conversation I had with the voice teacher after he’d spent a half an hour “getting to know” my voice. He told me I had a nice voice, a good ear, was perfectly in tune, and a great sight reader, and I thanked him, feeling good about his comments. Then he went on.
“You know, I like to compare people’s voices to pianos. Some people, like Leslie,” (his star pupil) “have Steinways. Other people have cheap little Casio keyboards. You, I think, have a very nice, serviceable little Yamaha.”
I didn’t know enough about piano brands to be able to place myself very accurately on the range of piano goodness, but I could tell from his tone that it wasn’t that great, wasn’t that special, and never would be.
And even though I already knew that I had a “nice” voice, and not an amazing one, it broke my heart a little to hear it, for sure, from a professional. I think somewhere in my heart I’d always held on to that dream of one day being Jodi Benson or something, however unrealistic a dream it might have been. I came home crying from the first lesson and never went back. My husband wanted to go punch the guy out, because he could see how much that comment had wounded me.
To hear that this one thing, this one thing I’d thought might be a little special – not Hollywood special, but special enough to mean that I was special, really wasn’t that special after all? It hurt me.
Every time I sang I thought, not that special, not that great. I lost my confidence. And my voice over time has gotten less steady, less confident, less clear. Self fulfilling prophecy.
For a long time, I couldn’t sit at the piano and play what I wanted anyway, because my kids would crawl all over me requesting Disney songs, or on Top of Spaghetti, or songs from Annie. I would sometimes go months at a time without ever sitting down to play anything for myself. It's only recently that I've started to get reacquainted with how happy it makes me to sing, just for the sheer joy of doing it.
When Abby had croup she asked me, “Mom, are lullabies just for night time?” I told her no, so she put her head in my lap and I sang to her for a few minutes, stroking her hair. After a bit she asked me, “When I grow up will I sing just like you, Momma? I want to sing just like you.” It was probably the best, sweetest compliment of my life, and I nodded through a haze of tears and told her she would sing even better, and then I cleared my throat and sang her to sleep.
And I thought - what a wonderful gift. I’ve wavered in my beliefs now and then, but today, right now, I feel pretty sure that my voice was a gift. Not a gift in the way that people usually mean, as in gifted, but as in - God loved me enough to give me a voice that, while not special enough for the stage or any kind of acclaim, would carry me through a time of despair, would help me feel special when I couldn’t feel my own worth, would give me a reason to go on. And now I can use my voice to sing to my children, to help my daughter to feel how much I love her, to help make my children feel special and adored and wanted. That IS a gift - one I am incredibly grateful for.
And it’s definitely something to sing about.