Monday, May 23, 2011


My purse hasn’t been the same since it was dumped upon with a Cafe Rio burrito plus burrito juicies after my little brother’s piano recital. I’ve wiped it with disinfectant wipes a multiplicity of times, and yet, that staled pico de gallo aura remains every time I reach in to re-vaseline my lips.

It’s troubling because I love both Vaseline and Cafe Rio and my purse (light purply/gray and snakeskinny, a glorious gift from my mother-in-law). So why not combine all these things together for a gigantic bout of love and adoration? Perhaps the reasons are obvious.

When the burrito spillage happened, Brennon was already quite upset about his piano recital. He played a Star Wars song (I can never recall the different names of all those tunes…) but was rudely interrupted by a few mistakes, after which he would stop, flush, and bury his woebegone head in his hands. He would look embarrassedly out at us in the audience, at his teacher, begging us to let him just quit and come sit back down. Well, at least those are the thoughts I injected in his head with my imagination, because there were whole lotta times when I felt that way. About piano. About singing. About being in a bathing suit.

The 7th grade talent show comes to mind. I sang Mariah Carey’s “Always Be My Baby,” of course, because not only was Mariah Carey the most amazing female singer I had discovered to date, I knew it would win me the vast affection of my peers (it didn’t.) I went with my parents to pick it up on karaoke and I practiced with the TV in my parents’ bedroom, gettin a little crazy with my dance moves when I was feeling confident.

This was how it would always go—I’d get up my nerve to even audition for whatever thing it was, then I would practice, worry about practicing, worry more about performing, practice, feel supremely confident, and…

biff it.

On the day of the seventh grade talent show I was wearing: a jean skirt (remember those? Wow. WOW.); one of those red thick cotton polo-ish shirts, clearly obtained from some un-cool place like TJ Maxx or Ross, maybe Old Navy if I was lucky; platform-ish strappy sandal things, trying to be stylish but…

falling just short.

I got nervous looking at the crowd of middle-schoolers crammed into the bleachers and felt my heart pumping double time beneath the not-cool-enough shirt. It was always like this. I’d be clam-cool up until the moment of truth when that microphone was in my hand and every insecurity decided to migrate to my vocal chords. Then, my voice would start shaking, I’d pray through the remainder of the song, and try to relinquish some ounce of pride as I walked off the stage/gym floor/athletic field. See, I knew I was a good singer. I knew I had a voice. And I freaking loved to sing. So why not? But after each performance, I would realize precisely why not.

I could never take people’s compliments very well, because I always wanted them to know that I knew I’d done poorly.

My method for letting the crowd know that I knew my performance was crap at the 7th grade talent show was to stomp back to the streamer-curtain the student council had made and flick it open with as much evident disdain as possible.

So all these memories came whooshing back on the day of Brennon’s piano recital, and I just realized: none of us care about each other’s pride. We’re all just on the same side. We all only want to hear beautiful music; we want to hear what you have to say.

Performing highlights insecurity and brings it right smack dab in front of your eyes, so you have to address it, one way or another. No more surface living, it demands. It obscures your vision to that crippling point when your heart is in your stomach and your logic is out the window and your head is in your toes. All of it is so mixed up, so what can you even do!! You have to share a piece of your precious, fragile, vulnerable soul with an audience full of somebodys, when you worry as you lie awake at night that you are a nobody. These thoughts haven’t occurred to you while you were practicing with the karaoke CD and polishing your dance moves. Practicing alone in that room with the TV feeding you the words with the little highlighter, you were safe.

The other problem is that performing brings all the junk to the surface you didn’t even know was there. SMACK! Blindsided by a crop of new fear that’s fresh and bloody how, how can you concentrate on notes or poise or, for heaven’s sake, dance moves? Because you thought, you thought you weren’t affected at all by all those somebodys’ opinions. You thought you were letting those nasty blog comments roll right off your mature shoulders. You thought you were totally nonplussed by the demanding, awful letters they wrote to President Samuelson about you. You thought you didn’t care one lick about that boy who dumped you via email. But it turns out you’re just the same as everybody else. Turns out you wanted to be a nobody because you were afraid of being a somebody. 

Performing is about getting past your own humanity and being present in your own vulnerability. You have to embrace it with grace, even joy, for the fears to stop beating down your door while you’re trying to keep your voice steady.

Feigned cockiness won’t be a thick enough cover for you. Right in the middle of that your heart will bust open and all your demons will let themselves out.

Nope, you can’t do it. You have to name and cradle each one of those insecure demons and let them live inside you until they disseminate into the rest of your organs, absolve into your beating heart and melt into your overworked brain.

So it didn’t matter that Brennon accidentally slopped his beans and tortilla over my purse. I figured I’d let it go—he’s got a long road ahead of him. 

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