Places!

she stands still

listening to the audience

beyond the curtain

seated out past the stage

there’s a drone, a buzz

there’s a fish swimming in her belly

heart pounding

blood feeling electric in her veins

the adrenaline rush of excitement

that familiar moment of panic

will the words be there

will her body remember the moves

then comes the moment of hush

as the lights dim to black

the exquisite agony of the few seconds before

the curtain rises

then she glides out

enters into the sacred

and the ride begins

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: swallow

Well-Nigh

When almost is not good enough

When your best falls short if you are not the one who wins

I wonder

Who began the system of there being only one winner

That if you were not that one, you were out

A loser

Who started that way of approaching life

That there is only one who rises, only one who accomplishes

Why not

A system that allows for almost, for second place, for near enough

Wouldn’t there be more to celebrate, more movement for all

I wonder

Would we really all stop trying if there were no top prize valued above all

I wonder

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: almost

Risk Aversion*

I read my writing aloud in public for the first time two weeks ago.

I began this blog a year and a half ago as a way for me to begin to break the silence and shame I felt inside.

You see, I grew up in an environment that encouraged me to suppress my feelings and my true thoughts. In essence, I learned to hide my truth.

Because of things that had happened to me when I was young, I was afraid that to speak my truth would bring pain to others in my family. I needed their love, so I learned very early on to present a version of me that would be pleasing for them and others. It was literally a matter of survival, keeping my truth hidden.

Additionally, problems in our family were not acknowledged verbally for the most part. We pretended to each other they did not exist. If it was something that absolutely could not be hidden, there was a real strong pressure to keep the family problems secret, to keep them inside the home. I was not verbally warned not to seek help. But I knew it was considered dangerous.

So I learned to keep my true self buried deep inside, hidden far away from my family, and from the outside world.

I got so good at it, I lost touch with my own true self. I had hidden it so well, it became hidden from even myself.

I am a performer, so I need to be able to use my truth to reveal the truths of the characters I play. I learned to go deep within, but I found that as much as I loved bringing what I could to my work, there were internal tensions that made it very challenging. And so I began to embark on unraveling those tensions, to see what was underneath, to find more freedom and to expand my capacity to reveal through my work.

It has been an amazing process. I did not set out to, but I have ended up finding my self in the process. I’ve been making a deep excavation within, bringing out the remains into the light.

It has been excruciating at times, terrifying, wondrous, exquisite, mind-blowing, beautiful, sad beyond belief. But most of all, it has been a becoming whole.

In the process of finding me, I discovered that I wanted to be able to own and share my truth without fear or shame. So I started to practice doing so.

First in small, safe ways. To trusted people. Then, I began increasing the risk level, expanding my level of comfort by extending myself into the world in ever-widening circles.

This blog has been a hugely gratifying experience. It has been so important for me share my true internal experience, my real creativity, here. There have been times I have felt so fearful after hitting the publish button…it has felt so risky…what if someone in my family reads it? What will they think of me? If people know this or that, will they see me differently? Will they judge me, label me, only see me this way or that?

I realized that I was so afraid of only being seen for what has happened to me or what I have done, the mistakes I have made, or what I have NOT done or accomplished. I didn’t have a sense of being valuable just as I am, not what I do, did, will do, haven’t done.

The blog and posting has been stretching me in so many great ways. It has also helped me learn to let go of needing to be seen a certain way in order to feel valuable, safe or lovable.

What I did not expect was how amazing it would be to have people read and then reach out to share back. That has been and continues to be such a gift. (So thank you.)

And then, I had the opportunity to submit a piece I adapted from a blog post for an evening of work written by women on what it means to identify as a woman.

When I began writing this blog, I had never, ever intended to read my work anywhere, but there I was, sending it in, in hopes of being chosen, so I could share my work live, in person. (What?!)

When it was selected, I was ecstatic. And terrified.

Every childhood-conditioned muscle in my body was braced for trouble. Every old voice that wanted to keep me silent was working on my psyche: Who was I to think I had something of value to share? What if I upset people? What if someone was unhappy with what I had to say?

In the week before the event, I was questioning my sanity in having chosen to do it.(What was I thinking?! Why was I putting myself through this?!)

The fear and the voices continued right up until showtime and as the first readers read their work.

And then, my name was called. My turn. I gathered together my courage and began the long walk down the aisle, my heart pounding in my chest.

And then three steps from center stage, I suddenly felt something click inside. When I stepped into the light, I just knew in my bones that I was in the right place at the right time. I felt a sense of home inside. I felt warm. I felt safe.

What an amazing experience! It was an experiment, but it turns out I love sharing my words live, and also experiencing the words of the others involved. Who knew?

I am so grateful to whatever healing force inside me has been leading me on this journey to be free. It is a beautiful thing to break free of the shackles of one’s own past and to be able to freely express one’s own self.

*(Written 10/17/17, but I used a draft from Oct. 1 and didn’t realize I needed to change the date before publishing it! So here it remains, looking like I wrote it Oct. 1. But I promise I wrote it 10/17/17.)

Reposted in Response to The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: risky

Kinship

Through marriage, I now have a large Irish family.

This is a continually astonishing gift. I come from a comparatively small family which, as I wrote about in my former post “On Weddings,” has become even smaller over the thirteen years I have been with my boyfriend-turned-husband through a series of losses. It is now just my oldest brother and his wife and two kids, my three aunts, an uncle, four cousins and their spouses, four cousins once removed (my cousin’s kids,) and a few of my father’s cousins, and their kids-that-are-sort-of-like-cousins.

My Irish family is comprised of 8 siblings-in-law: 6 sisters-in-law and 2 brothers-in-law. I always wished for a sister. Now I have 6! Actually, I have even more than that, because the two brothers have wives, so that’s 8 Irish sisters-in-law (in addition to the incredible woman married to my brother.)

These women, my husband’s sisters and sisters-in-law, welcomed me into the family with such love and warmth. As did his brothers. And their 23 children! Yes, that’s right. There are 23 nieces and nephews. Add to that the children those nieces and nephews are now having. I think at this writing there are 17 grandnieces and nephews, and…wait for it…2 great-grandnieces! (We go over at least once a year for weddings!)

And that is just the immediate family. My husband and his siblings all have cousins who have spouses and they have children, and those children have children.)

I love my Irish family. I come from the midwest, from people who were of Protestant stock. My people are stoic, hold-your-cards-to-your-chest people. We get together in small batches of time. There is love, of course. But it’s, well, a bit more subdued. There’s not a lot of hugging. Storytelling and laughter, yes. Just in short spurts.

My Irish family? These people truly love being together. They gather for epic periods of time!

And any time they gather, it is certain that there will be the “sing-song” and “a bit of craic.” (Craic is a term for news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation, by the way. Pronounced like “crack.”)

This entails each person taking attention to perform a song, or play an instrument (there’s alway one around it seems, spoons if nothing else.) Or recite a poem, in what they call recitations.

This reverence for the spoken or sung word goes way back in the Irish culture. It is truly important and meaningful part of their life. And the love of song! The stories told through song are passed from generation to generation. It seems a rite of passage for one of the “young ones” to start singing or reciting a “piece” that then becomes known as their “party piece.”

At first, these sessions (and they truly are sessions — they often last 10 or so hours, literally into the early morning) were totally overwhelming to me. In so many good ways. I was literally mesmerized by the love and the effusiveness. The laughter! My face and sides would ache.

Of course, I was asked to join in from my first trip there. You would think that as a singer and performer that it would come naturally to just jump in. But I was hesitant at first. What they do is different than get up and sing a song. They sing songs well known to the Irish people, and to their family in particular, and people join in and sing along with each others’ songs. And there is some drinking going on, too, which adds to the joviality of it all. They are usually singing a cappella, or without instrumentation. I mainly know American pop songs and show tunes and am used to singing crafted arrangements with piano accompaniment! I wasn’t sure how to fit what I do in with what I was seeing and experiencing.

When I finally did give in and join in, I was well-received for what I had to offer, and so now I have my own party pieces to do. I also think ahead for songs to do that everyone may know so they can join in. (It feels OK to sing one song that only I know – more of a performance – but it feels weird to me to do more than that.) It is more fun to have everyone singing along. I have taught a round to the group that they love to do (as loudly as possible!)

I have had to develop new muscles for the trips to Ireland for the weddings that bring us back each year. Not only stamina for the epic hours spent together into the wee hours of the morning, which can be additionally challenging while adjusting to the time change. But for the sheer volume of human interaction that occurs.

Being a mostly introvert person, I do love people, but I also need refill-the-well time. I love going deep in conversation; not so much the small talk. I have found my own way while over there. Fortunately, I can just sit and listen a lot. I can take little power naps if need be. No one judges. Being “the American” buys me some wiggle room: I am given some leeway.

But mainly, I just love every moment. I bask in the love and the music. I do my party piece and enjoy their appreciation of what I have to offer.

I am blessed with this extended Irish family. It has been the gift that keeps on giving, this marriage to my husband. I am surrounded by love that helps keep me from getting too blue over the key family members who are no longer here.

And I get to study with true masters the art of storytelling through song and spoken word. It just doesn’t get better than that!

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Post: recite

Mr. Snow

I grew up singing. From pre-school, I was in choirs, and I loved it.

Throughout the chaos and confusion that is childhood, middle and high school, chorus was my lifeline. It was where I found my people. It was what helped me stay as connected to myself as I could be given the trauma of my early life. It saved what sanity I had.

I auditioned for musicals, playing mainly chorus roles. (Except for the role of The Ghost of Christmas Past, which was awesome!)

In college, chorus continued play a crucial role, but I also got more deeply into theatre, which was like finally finding my true “home.”

I had my first lead in a musical, and then a drama. That was it. I was forever hooked.

So after college, I moved to NYC to pursue acting. I trained heartily, and I began to pursue.

And in the course of my training, which required me to delve deeply into my young and perhaps fragile psyche, I found and opened a Pandora’s Box within. And my whole life changed course.

And in the course of that change, I lost my singing voice.

Or perhaps, it was that for awhile, I could not use it.

I would miss singing and try to go back to it, but when I began to sing, my throat would close off and I would feel choked. I would feel overwhelmed with emotion, and I literally could not make sound.

It was terrifying. For something that had always been so central to me to feel unavailable was horrifying.

I entered into therapy, and in time, that was happening to me began to make sense. I was moving through the early trauma and there were memories in my body having to do with holding things in, “not telling anyone” and so forth. I was re-living a time when I literally felt choked.

Later, I came to understand that singing connected me to my breath in such an intimate way and allowed for the expression of my internal experience in such a direct way that while I was moving through that time of awakening and healing, it felt dangerous to my body system to communicate that way.

At a certain point, I once again decided I would try to sing again, as I had tried many times, to no avail.

In a way that I will forever consider miraculous, I found a singing school, in what seemed a fairly random way, in the way that often things of incredible significance can appear to be randomly found.

I had seen a school advertised over and over again in the acting trade paper Backstage called The Singer’s Forum, and one day I finally went in and spontaneously committed to a group class.

That action, which took tremendous courage for me, turned out to be perhaps one of the most important actions of my life.

With that action, again, the course of my life changed.

With the help of several incredible voice teachers and a very supportive environment, with tons of patience and love, I found my singing voice again.

There were many tears. I would feel overwhelmed when I sang. But at the encouragement of one teacher in particular, I learned to accept and relax into it instead of judging, fighting or being afraid of it. And eventually, the tears lessoned. I felt other things. And eventually I felt incredible joy, and I was “home” again.

Then, at this same school, I found miracle number two. I found a mentor, Mr. Johnny King.

Johnny had been a very successful singer and dancer in the 50’s – 80’s. At the time I met him, he had been retired for years but loved nurturing talent and passing along his decades of experience as an entertainer.

I started taking his Get Your Act Together class, and I fell in love. With him, with the art of cabaret, with the Great American Songbook.

He taught me so many things, and he became my biggest fan. He took me under his wing, and he helped me learn who I was as a singer, what gifts I brought to the stage. My own presence. How to be on stage. Phrasing. How to tell my stories through the song.

He changed my life in innumerable ways. He was incredibly generous. He became a kind of surrogate father, and through the way he loved me, I came to understand a healthy male authority figure love.

And I was not the only one! There were a slew of us. We were “Johnny’s kids,” all talented singers whom he took under his wing and gave all he had to so that we could fly as performers. His wing had no limit or shortage. We all felt special under his tutelage.

One of the many things he did as a director and teacher was to suggest songs, and one song he gave me in particular became one of my “signature” songs for a time. A signature is a song that audiences come to identify as “yours” because of a strong connection you have with it so that over time it “becomes” yours in a way. Not every song is like that. When you find them, it is an amazing experience.

I believe songs find me for a reason. When I begin to sing a song, to live it, it changes me, it deepens and expands my life. It is a kind if a marriage, the union between singer and song. And this one was such a special gift.

It was a song called “Mr. Snow” from the musical Carousel, by Rogers and Hart.

I loved singing it. Like any well written song, it was a beautiful journey, a story I got to live each time in a new way.

I sang it hundreds of times.

It’s the story of a woman who ends up falling in love with a fisherman, a man whom some might not consider an obvious catch, but whom she has come to know and love for all his unique ways.

Johnny was an incredible teacher and director, but as we all are, he had his flaws. He could be tough. He was a bit of a gossip. Occasionally, he’d talk out of both sides of his mouth.

One of his flaws was not taking as great care of himself as he took of us. He became sick after ignoring a kidney issue, and never recovered. We never knew how old he was, so I am not sure at what age this happened. He was at least in his 80’s. It was hard to see such a force of the stage in a hospital. He never lost his sassy edge throughout the tribulations of kidney failure and dialysis.

The last time I sang “Mr. Snow” was at Johnny’s memorial service. It had a whole other significance, singing it on that day. He was my Mr. Snow after all, in a way. He taught me how to love a father figure, flaws and all.

As it happens, today when he is so on my mind, I took a break from writing this about him. And I happened to read of the loss of one of the great singers of all time, Barbara Cook. Johnny was a huge fan of hers, and often referred to her performances as teaching points.

I was also a fan, and went to see her as much as possible at Carnegie Hall, at the Met and The Carlyle.

Barbara starred as the character Carrie who sings “Mr. Snow” in Carousel in 1957 on Broadway. She was a true master of the stage, and she will always represent the very best of what the art of cabaret brings to the music world (or to the world at large, really.)

Thank you Johnny King. Thank you Barbara Cook.

You are both in me every time I sing and perform.

I continue to lovingly charge myself to bring all that you’ve taught me and given me to all I do and to give back and share all that you taught me whenever I can.

I leave you, reader, with Barbara’s incredible rendition, later in life, of “Mr. Snow.”

His name is Mister Snow and an up-standed man is he
He comes home every night in his round-bottomed boat
With a net full of herring from the sea

An almost perfect beau, as refined as a girl could wish
But he spends so much time in his round-bottomed boat
That he can’t seem to loose the smell of fish

The first time he kissed me the whiff of his clothes
Knocked me flat on the floor of the room
But now that I love him, my heart’s in my nose
And fish is my favorite perfume

Last night he spoke quite low and a fair-spoken man is he
And he said, “Miss Pipperidge
I’d like it fine if I could be wed with a wife
And indeed, Miss Pipperidge, if you’ll be mine
I’ll be yours for the rest of my life”

Next moment we were promised
And now my mind’s in a maze
For all it can do is look forward to
That wonderful day of days

When I marry Mister Snow
The flowers’ll be buzzin’ with the hum of bees
The birds’ll make a racket in the church yard trees
When I marry Mister Snow

Then it’s off to home we’ll go
And both of us’ll look a little dreamy-eyed
A driving to a cottage by the Oceanside
Where the salty breezes blow

He’ll carry me across the threshold
And I’ll be as meek as a lamb
Then he’ll set me on my feet
And I’ll say kinda sweet
“Well, Mister Snow, here I am”

Then I’ll kiss him so he’ll know
That evry’thin’ll be as right as right can be
A living in a cottage by the sea with me
For I love that Mister Snow
That young sea-faring bold and daring
Big bewhiskered, overbearing, darling Mister Snow

 

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word prompt: carousel