My biological father is a singer. I grew up knowing this, and I grew up singing too. I have vivid memories of Sunday school choir – the teacher would walk around and listen to our little voices and pick the best ones and have those kids come to the front and sing for everyone. I always got picked. She always said out loud to the whole class “What a beautiful voice you have!” and I would beam. Singing was just joy to me.
But somewhere along the way I started critiquing my voice. I started hearing other voices and thinking mine wasn’t that great anymore. And in turn – I started being afraid to use mine. The older I got the less I sang in public. In private I sang like crazy, when nobody could hear me. I eventually made a few friends who loved to sing and we would sing for each other together and they would tell me how beautiful my voice was. I believed them, but when it came time to sing for a larger group – I couldn’t do it.
In high school I wanted so much to be in the top choir. There was a select Freshman girls’ choir that was by try-out only and I was so terrified to try out that I just flat out didn’t. But my choir teacher heard me singing and invited me anyway. So I was part of this little select choir, but to get into the top school choir the next year, I would need to actually try out.
I was literally sick to my stomach over it, my fear was SO strong that I might fail. I finally got into that little room by myself and just completely fell apart. I didn’t make the top choir on my first try so I gave up. That one failure told me all I needed to know – someone heard me singing all alone, and I blew it. And now singing just wasn’t going to be a part of my life anymore. I couldn’t risk someone else hearing my voice and not liking it.
This makes me so, so sad. I gave up something that absolutely lit me up because I was afraid somebody would think I was bad at it. Or that one person would think I wasn’t “the best” at it. I gave up my voice because I was afraid someone wouldn’t like it if they heard it all by itself without the help of background music or other voices in harmony with mine. Just my voice, alone, wasn’t good enough.
And then today I had the realization that I’m doing this all over again with another passion in my life.
Sometimes I sit and write blog posts in my head – when I’m making the kids lunch, driving in my car, doing my makeup – I start crafting them before I can sit down and let them out on my computer screen. And since I first started blogging, I also began running a sort of “audience response” in my head. As I am thinking through what I will say, there is a full chorus of observers sitting back in my brain, telling me every which way someone could interpret what I said. Telling me about all the people who think I’m silly or dramatic or self-absorbed. The chorus tells me that this person is going to think I am talking about THEM (spoiler alert, everyone I know thinks I am talking about them and usually I am just talking about ME), this is going to come off insensitive to so-and-so, this sounds whiny, this sounds ungrateful, this sounds mean, this person is going to roll their eyes when they read this, etc etc. What ends up happening is that I censor myself intensely. Or that I overthink every sentence I write, trying to anticipate the feelings of my readers and keep everyone comfortable and un-offended. Is this a quality of great writing? Writing that keeps you comfy cozy and pats you on the back? I qualify everything “this is just my personal experience”, or “I recognize others have it much harder than me” or something else trying to temper my voice. I’m playing it safe. And in playing it safe, I’ve completely lost my voice.
And something else has happened along the way. Writing has become boring. I am crafting a practice of careful safety in writing rather than letting it be big and loud and juicy. What has resulted is that I don’t end up liking anything that I write. BECAUSE IT’S NOT MY VOICE. I don’t feel my heart in it. It isn’t totally honest. It’s toned way, way down. So I don’t post because who wants to read that? I don’t even want to read that.
Last Monday I went to post a blog and realized it had been two entire months since I last posted. That’s the longest I’ve ever gone. When I first started writing, I had to hold myself back, to limit myself to twice weekly posts because what I really wanted to do was post every single day. Now I sit at my computer and long to write – I have the desire banging on the door begging to be let out and I sit back paralyzed by writing the “perfect” post that won’t upset any of these fictional audience members I have sitting back in my brain. Nothing comes out. I’m frozen.
For a long time I’ve felt a sort of double-edged fear about writing. The scary thing about it is that once you’ve set your words out into the world, they are there forever. This has made me nervous about my employment (both current and future) and we are constantly warned that nothing ever really dies on the internet. What if I post something stupid or mean or ill-informed? What if I make a huge mistake and I can’t erase it forever? My writing (or lack thereof) as of late has been informed entirely by fear. Fear of, basically, being a human.
Because I’ve already written things I now dislike, things I now disagree with, things that now I “know better” about. And I’ve made writing mistakes, had writing regrets, posted things that have hurt feelings. But you know what? That’s life. That’s just proof on paper that I wasn’t perfect.
I’ve lived a good chunk of my life in fear of the worst happening. I’ve feared being anything other than perfect. I’ve feared making mistakes.
I also know that this isn’t the way we are meant to live life – to live in constant fear and pursuit of the safest path possible. I also know that getting uncomfortable is 100% necessary for growth, and in my writing I feel there has been little growth as of late. I’ve been hungering for something that lights me up and I know that writing is one of those things that does it for me.
Here’s another thing I know – I know that we sometimes learn how to treat ourselves and others by watching other people. I am drawn to the people in life who just are who they are. Who don’t try and compare their suffering or their joy or their struggles or their victories to anyone else’s. People who give themselves grace for mistakes, who live big, rich, juicy lives that include uncomfortable moments. People who value their own voice as much as others, people who are fundamentally kind because they love others, not because they are trying to get everyone to love them. People who are unafraid to speak out even when it makes them unpopular – or people who ARE afraid, but do it anyway. Those are the people I am drawn to. That’s the energy I want in my life.
My voice is important to me, and I miss it. This year has been a bit (slash A LOT) of a shit show, and I’m ready to make some early resolutions today – fuck waiting until January, tossing another month or two away in the meantime.
My resolution for the next year is to live a rich, juicy life. To get fucking uncomfortable whether I like it or not. Ready or not, I’m going to sing.