A gift of fear and joy

Last night the fear that comes with vulnerability and the opportunity for connection came smack up against each other.

As part of my efforts to bring joy back into my life, I have started singing again in a band. A duo this time.  And last night we performed some of our new songs in front of an audience.  Dressed in costume.

I get nervous when we play gigs. Which is okay. I’m nervous because I care. Because it matters to me. It matters to put on a good show. To do justice to the music. To be solid for my fellow musician in the band.

Nervous is different from fear.  Nervous can take your breath away but fear takes your voice away.

And singing is one of the most vulnerable things that I do. The most exposed. Emotionally risky. But one of the things that allows for the deepest connections and the most body-filling joy of breath and sound and sharing.

Peter Sellars (the theatre producer, not the comedic actor) said,

Vocal music is an attempt to take the whole human being and project it into space.  It is the ultimate gesture of getting out of yourself.  You take a part of you that is most private, most personal, most inward, and you hurl it out into space—you project it as far as you can. That gesture of opening this whole region of the body results in an enormous spiritual release, and is felt by other people with tremendous impact.

So I was nervous last night. Not unusual. I was dressed up, too, which I always find stressful. Also not unusual. But, I was also feeling hugely vulnerable about one particular song. It is a slow song which relies a lot on the vocals. It’s high in my range of singing which requires a steady reservoir of breath. The lyrics are beautiful and emotionally evocative  and were written and gifted to the band by a dear friend.  And, I was singing into a mic in a small room where every note seemed louder and bigger than usual.

I sang the first line of the lyrics and it comes out as wobbly and insecure as I feel.  And I am immediately thrown back into a childhood memory. Except that the emotional state feels exactly the same; as though no time at all had passed.

I used to sing in church when I was little. My Mom and I were usually the only ones in my family who regularly attended services. But, one Sunday I was scheduled to sing a solo and my older sister and her boyfriend came to hear me sing. This was a big deal. Well, it was a big deal to me.

It must have been the first time I got nervous singing.  And I got really nervous. My heart was pounding so hard that it shook my whole chest. And my throat. And my voice. My singing was wobbly and shaky and I remember being completely confused about this new experience. But I knew it wasn’t good. And I didn’t know how to make it stop.

No one talked to me about it afterwards. But I knew it was bad because no one complimented my singing like they usually did.  It was clear to me that people were disappointed. And because no one said anything I never got to ask “what happened?”, “is that normal?”, “how do I stop it next time?”. And no one ever said “it’s okay, it wasn’t perfect but that’s okay, you did your best and we love you”. Instead, what I learned was that if it wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t okay.  That if I wasn’t perfect, that I wasn’t okay.

So there I stood last night, feeling nervous and vulnerable yes, but it was that emotional flashback, that flashnow,  that took away my breath and voice and left me with a first line that was as shaky and insecure as that little girl who didn’t understand what had happened. Who only understood that she wasn’t good enough.

And this is where the gift comes in. I am not that little girl anymore but I have the chance to change her story. My story. Because the opportunity in being vulnerable is to allow myself to be seen. With authenticity and honesty. With my very human imperfections. To be connected. With others and with myself. To release part of my spirit and let it be seen and heard. To know that I am enough.

And with that in mind, I found my breath and my courage and a little more of my voice and the second line came out a little stronger. And the third a little stronger after that.  It may not have been perfect – whatever that is! – but it connected.  And there was joy in that.

And, I think, a gift of healing for that little girl.

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Thank you, Sesame Street

Sometimes, I have no idea what I’m feeling.

That’s why I love the clip I posted of Dave Matthews and Grover yesterday from Sesame Street. At the beginning, neither of them knows what they are feeling. And then, through a song (of course!) they work it out. What a great thing to teach kids.

I never learned that as a kid. It’s only over the past 5 years or so that I have been learning how to identify my feelings. When I was a kid, my family never talked about our feelings. Eventually, I started using food to just numb them out. Thing is, though, you can’t numb just the bad feelings. You end up numbing out everything.

When I started to feel my feelings again, it was such a learning process of sitting with the feeling and figuring it out. Is it anger? Is it hurt? What kind of hurt? Disappointed hurt? Sad hurt? Is it love? Gratitude? Nervous anxiety or fear anxiety? Anger shielding something else?

And then there are feelings that don’t quite have a good word. Combinations of feelings; layers of feelings at the same time. Happy and sad. Anger with love. Laughter through pain. Disappointment with gratitude. Or, like Grover, to make a wish with all your heart and have it not come true. Or, like Dave, to be happy for a friend but just a little bit jealous, too.

I have found myself during emotionally charged conversations needing to say, “can I just take a few minutes? I need to sit and be quiet and figuring out how I’m feeling.”

Yesterday was a rough day. I was overwhelmed with life and not feeling physically well. I texted my sister and said “I need a hug. I just want to cry.” She texted a hug. And, then, I sat and cried for a few minutes. And then I felt a little better.

In the midst of crying, I thought “wow, this is so great.” Five years ago, I would not have been able to do that. To ask for help. To just let go and cry. To understand the emotional need and then fill that need.

And then, that made me laugh at myself just a bit.

I’m glad Sesame Street is there to help kids. And, sometimes, us adults, too.

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Tofino

Sometimes, I forget how lucky I am.

In July, I spent a week in Tofino with my sister and brother-in-law and my niece and nephew who travelled across Canada to spend time with me. Lots of the pictures from the last month have been from that week. Looking back through them, I realize how lucky I am to live so close to such an amazing place. And, to have family that I love spending time with.

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Tofino is located on the west coast of the West Coast of Canada in Clayoquot Sound. That is, the west coast of Vancouver Island. From Vancouver, you take a ferry across to the Island, then drive all the way across the island til you get to the Hesquiaht Peninsula and travel to the end on the only road. There you will find Tofino.

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Incredible long beaches with big waves that roll in off the Pacific ocean just ready to be surfed. Huge cedar trees, hundreds of years old and some over a thousand. Incredible marine and terrestrial wildlife – whales and seals and sea lions and eagles and bears and wolves. Oh my!!

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Tofino’s economy is based on eco-tourism. Surfing, kayaking, whale-watching, hiking, sailing, bird-watching. Storm-watching in the winter. They’ve got it all. A wide range of artists and artisans and First Nations culture.

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The other economic staple of the region is forestry and logging. In the summer of 1993, environmentalists and First Nations groups spear-headed a large, mostly peaceful protest against the intended logging of old-growth forest. Dubbed The War in the Woods, over 800 people were arrested in Canada’s largest incident of civil disobedience.  Due largely to these protests, which gained world-wide attention, and a Greenpeace-initiated boycott of BC forest products, an agreement was reached between environmental groups, First Nations groups, the Provincial Government and MacMillan Bloedel, the logging company. There has been mostly peace in the woods since then.

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For us, the week consisted of surfing, sea kayaking, whale-watching, kite-flying, long walks and bike rides along the beach, great food, a trip to the local aquarium, lots of photography and art, and a crazy game app called Space Team, where we all had to try to work together to fly a space ship. It mostly resulted in us yelling crazy instructions to each other as the ship eventually crashed into oblivion. If we ever get invaded by aliens, don’t rely on us to hijack and fly the alien ship!

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It was a great week. The kids are teenagers now so they finally sleep in (yay!) and they both now like sushi (double yay!).  And, my sister and I had lots of time for long talks, as opposed to our regular, cross time zone text-chatting.

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People come long way from all over the world to visit Tofino – UK, Germany, France, Australia and New Zealand, China and Japan. And, here it is right in my own backyard.

Yup, sometimes I forget just how lucky I really am.  May I never take my many blessings for granted.

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