On Rejection. (Again?)

“Dear M,

On the basis of your audition on March 9, 2013, I am sorry to say that we are unable to accept you as a Music major…”

***

I’m writing this a mere 5 hours after receiving the news, so this post is likely to be even more stream-of-consciousness than usual.  I’m… I’m nothing, honestly. I’m shocked and numb. This is the calmest I’ve been in response to any rejection I’ve experienced that actually mattered.

I remember this calm and it worries me a little, because I remember when it signaled a refusal to cope with issues that needed my attention, and I’d be lying if I said I was coping adequately with every single aspect of my life. (Does anyone ever manage that?) Mostly, I’m relieved – I didn’t want to spend the entire night analyzing my flaws. I didn’t want to spend it angry at the world. I didn’t want to spend it crying to the kind people who volunteered to be my voices of reason. I’d rather just feel nothing for a few hours and see where that gets me. What happens if I skip right to the being okay part of bouncing back?

I’ll take this one as positively as I can: maybe I’ve finally matured enough to handle rejection as an excuse to refocus and re-commit. Maybe I’m one step closer to not taking it personally.

I’m not giving up.  It was wishful thinking that this one time I’d get exactly what I wanted. Things have never gone exactly according to plan. It wasn’t even the biggest dream in the world. Maybe it should’ve been: maybe I’m still looking for ways to settle. I used to interview phenomenally badly for jobs I had no passion for; maybe I should’ve aimed higher. Maybe this one wasn’t my passion.

I know that I need to ask myself some tough questions and re-focus. I know that I don’t feel any less determined to make this happen. I’m not content with being merely an okay singer, an actress who sings, an occasional musician. I’m not content being merely a performer; I need to contribute something. I’m not content being replaceable, a part of someone else’s vision, a tool for someone else’s creativity. I need to create things that matter and help people that matter and I want music and theatre to be a part of that.

How do I get there from here?

 

 

The Best Day of My Life Thus Far.

Yesterday was the first of my auditions required to transfer to a four-year music program.

I’m going to copy over almost exactly what I wrote in my personal journal, because I can’t express it all with perfect moment-by-moment accuracy. I can only talk about what yesterday felt like, and how it was a fulfillment of something I’ve been waiting for my entire life. I know a lot of people hate auditions, but sometimes I get into one and I remember exactly how to shine.

***

I did it.

I went in feeling a little apprehensive, but better than I had all semester. Ready, fueled by the strength of other people’s belief in me more than my own, but a little bit of my own, too. I went into a practice room and warmed up alone while hearing a more highly trained voice than mine warming up and hearing people play their piano scales faster and in more complex variations than I could. I went downstairs and heard a teenage girl with a lovely voice singing one of my pieces, and felt a flicker of “I don’t belong here; she’s only 17 and she’s better than me,” until I realized that her Italian diction wasn’t great and her rhythm was off in a few spots.

I ran through with my pianist, and the acoustics in the room were brilliant. I could hear myself. Maybe my voice wasn’t big in comparison to others, but I could fill up this space. I was hitting my expressive points. Vibrato, with which I struggle to find the correct air pressure/support for consistent achievement, crept in on far more extended pitches than before. I rolled my final R’s in the Italian piece better than I ever have.

Ok, maybe I could do this.

I went upstairs to the Theory exam. There were four tests: one to test into levels 1, 2, or 3, and one to test out of Theory entirely. After looking over all four, Theory III seemed the best choice – it actually looked easier to me than Theory II, and Theory IV had a few concepts I didn’t know yet and didn’t want to try to reason out under pressure. I had… not exactly trouble, but I had to think a little harder than I would’ve liked, but I did well. I finished, knowing I’d performed solidly. One down.

A hour’s break was spent drinking tea at Starbucks with my husband, who came with me for moral support. Then back for actual auditions. They were within a hair of the same quality as my runthrough – I cannot actually tell for the life of me whether they were slightly better than the run-through, or if I’d been a little better under slightly less scrutiny, but I had a moment where a high note rang in the space a second after I finished and I realized that that was me and that I could sing.

There were less amazing parts; I don’t feel I performed well on my piano or sight-reading placements even though they were easily below my actual skill level. I don’t care. I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care. I feel like I could never care again. All I’ve ever wanted in my entire life is to be able to sing and I can.

I Don’t Believe in Stress.

The title is my problem, and it’s laughable.

To an outsider, I probably radiate an appearance of stress at all times. I know how to be one of those eternally-stressed-out people that manages to get everything done. I also still kind of remember how to be one of those eternally-stressed-out people who hides in her room and does nothing at all because she’s too stressed to function, but I stopped being that over a decade ago and I’m fairly confident in my ability to avoid going back there. But I don’t believe in stress.

More specifically, I don’t believe that stress has any actual effect upon me. It always comes as a complete surprise when I start having health issues that any sensible person could tell you are provoked by stress. It always shocks me when, after living on granola bars, coffee, and my own need to do all the things without stopping to eat or breathe, my body decides that it has had enough of my bullshit and slams on the brakes.

I say that I rarely get sick enough for it to interfere with my life in any significant manner, but when it does interfere, it seems like a chain of only loosely-related things go haywire at once and it takes months to get back to normal. Right now I’m at the tail end (I hope) of one such chain reaction, and I’m 99% sure I did this to myself. The same thing happened in early 2003/2004 and I was completely miserable for something like six months, but ten years was enough time to forget, to convince myself that it was a fluke and that it hadn’t really been that bad. And, anyway, I was more grown-up, now, and more capable of dealing with pressure: my near-perfect GPA in spite of constant 12+ hour days was proof of that.

But I don’t believe in stress.

It’s sneaky. There’s always one more thing, one more responsibility, one more annoyance, one more fight, one more late night, one more sleepless night spent considering my life choices. None of them is a big deal on its own. None of them feel like stress. Stress is one of those words that everyone uses to the point of meaninglessness. It’s not hard to see why I would just write it off as not applicable to me, even when I get to a point where I don’t recognize my own reactions and don’t understand why everything’s suddenly so difficult and why I’m reacting to it all so badly.

A gentle push in the direction of speaking to a therapist sets me on edge. I don’t want to be seen as someone who needs help. Even trusting that it’s empathy that motivates the advice, there’s this little snarling bit of me that hates people who care because they’re supposed to.  Even intuitively sensing that someone is genuine doesn’t completely stop that resistant impulse. “Okay, maybe I’ve done this to myself,” I think, “but I know that now and I can get myself out of it on my own.” I’m still sort of stuck at that point; I’m making attempts to take better care of myself, but I’m neglecting the ones that are difficult, that require more introspection and more dealing with things than I’m willing to take on right now. It’s not going to wait forever. I’m hoping it can wait a few more months.

I’ve tried to write this entry four separate times since the beginning of 2013 and I keep stopping, mostly because by the time I sit down to write, I’m so tired that I stop being able to see straight mid-paragraph. And I keep getting (almost literally) hit over the head with evidence in favor of slowing down. Most recently this came in the form of a discarded pair of textbooks left on my college bookstore’s “free for the taking” bookshelf: one detailing the actual, proven physical effects of stress on health, and the other a workbook to help identify personal stressors and learn some strategies for dealing with them. Included was a free cd of guided meditations. Ok, universe. I may be incredibly stubborn and fairly oblivious to hints when I’m in full-on “I do what I want” mode, but I’m also tired of catching every illness that passes within five feet of me this semester. I’m also tired of starting my days in “I can do anything!” mode and ending them crying and questioning every single one of my life choices.

I get it. Stress is a thing. I’m not immune to it, no matter how much I’d like to be. I don’t, actually, deal spectacularly well with being the Energizer Bunny of anxiety. I just wish the gaps between acknowledging, trusting, and actually doing were smaller, and that I were capable of listening to what I can logically acknowledge is good advice.

On Being Real.

[Note: this was written on December 12th and never posted; I’m posting it now even though I’ve made some progress in the areas I talk about below because it’s still true and relevant.]

It’s been a long time since my last update; I have, as usual, thrown myself into school-related commitments to the point where there wasn’t time for much else. Shortly after my last entry I attended an acting workshop led by an actress that I admire largely for the way she has stayed very down-to-earth and low-key. I was struck, in conversation with her, by how completely genuine she seemed. Here was someone who had a career in this business and hadn’t adopted any of the fake bullshit that seems to surround me even at the amateur and school level.

We learn so quickly how to be fake, how to be likeable and adaptable so that people will see us as this role or that one, all the while protecting everything that’s real and valuable from others who are already playing the game. It’s understandable, but more and more I’m realizing that it’s what holds me, personally, back. Protecting so much of myself that no one really knows a good deal that’s true. I’ll admit things, I’ll simplify, I’ll tell self-deprecating little anecdotes. But the things that matter? The things I truly feel down to the core of my self? No one gets more than a passing glimpse of those, and my performance suffers for it.

I’m starting to realize that I’m not cut out for these stupid games, these ways of hiding ourselves. I’m also starting to realize that censoring at least half of who I am is no way to live. Everything I hold back out of fear is what’s holding me back from being a truly talented performer. The line between competence and brilliance is so clear that I can’t believe I never saw it. All along I’ve praised people for their ability to make me believe their performance, and all along I’ve envied them that, never once thinking that there was no great secret. There was only ever telling the truth.

My singing is… the best it’s ever been. I can say that without hesitation, though I’m still at a point where I’m not always overly fond of the end product. My performance is getting closer to the best it’s ever been; I think my acting had moments in high school and before when I was less shy and more certain, but that’s so long ago that I can’t truly say. I remember points back then when I felt it, when I was onstage and fully absorbed in a moment and just being, but I don’t have recordings that tell me anything about how it looked from the outside. It still feels so far from what I want, from what I know I’m capable of. My reality still feels so far from the picture I want to present.

It’s such a fine line to walk. How do I get my performance to match up with what I feel and what I want to convey? How do I do that without focusing so much on the external that I sabotage my own attempts? I know it’s practice, and doing, and not shying away from the hard parts… but the distance still feels so great.

Why I’m Bad At Improv

This post was going to be about my experiments with yoga, and it was going to be funny, damn it, because I am uncoordinated and can’t take yoga-speak seriously, and these two things add up to hilarity! Instead, it’s going to be me trying to sort out why I have trouble with (acting, but maybe also a little bit musical) improv, because on paper I feel like I should be good at it – but I think the reasons I’m not tie into a lot of the things that hold me back in all aspects of performance.

First, the context: I’m doing an ongoing, kind of informal project that involves a small amount of improv. It’s a relatively low-stress setting; I’ve worked with some of the other actors and the director before. So there is no good reason for me to be sitting here having a minor anxiety attack over it, except for the fact that I think I’m bad at it. Or just not good at it yet. Maybe those aren’t the same thing, but they don’t feel different enough to matter in this moment.

On the surface, I feel like I have the building blocks to be good at improv. I’m a quick thinker. I’m insightful, I’m creative, I’m a natural-born storyteller. I’ve been making things up since I was old enough to invent three imaginary playmates. I’ve been acting since before I knew what acting was. I should be great at the “take an idea and run with it” part. I think I am decent at that part, actually.

What I’m bad at: humor, I think. This is ridiculous to me, because I remember times when my entire personality was constructed of ways to be subtly but constantly humorous. I’ve played spacey, sarcastic, self-deprecatingly awkward, and think I landed at some combination of all three as defense mechanisms. I’m pretty sure I have no actual sense of humor about myself; I’m stung when a friend teases, even gently. But I do have a sense of humor – I married my husband because he made me laugh every single day. I laugh at incredibly stupid and simple things, at the irony of everyday situations, at tiny humorous things that occur only to me, at random associations, and yes, at myself if I’ve noticed the humor first. I’m constantly, constantly amused by something – but I can’t find it and offer it to others. I couldn’t always explain if I wanted to; it rarely translates.

I think what I’m really bad at is focusing outward. I may be on the social end of true introverts, but I am very inward-looking to the point of possibly coming across as too wrapped up in myself. It’s not that I’m not interested in other people – I’m just usually so concerned with not doing anything stupid or weird or wrong that I don’t have that much attention to spare. And, frankly, if I’ve chosen to associate with someone, I already approve of them pretty much completely and am convinced that one poorly-chosen phrase will make them rethink their entire opinion of me. This is ridiculous, but it explains a lot. You can’t improv well when you’re so worried about what people will think that you’ve forgotten the audience and your scene partner. Or if you’re so worried about what your scene partner will think that you’ve forgotten you’re playing a game.

More outward; less self-conscious. This would, I think, solve 99% of my singing and acting problems. Unfortunately, short of alcoholism, I don’t see any direct way there. Have I said before that I understand why so many performers turn to substance abuse? I do understand that — beyond the arts simply attracting addictive personalities, It’s nice to give up the illusion of control for a while. I just wish we came equipped with a switch to turn it off when it’s getting in the way of… everything.

I’ve decided that I write too much about negative past experiences and use them to excuse/explain my fears about the present. It started off as the need to explain myself. To answer the inevitable thing that gets asked of me every time I open up a little – that’s hard enough on my ego, and it’s only my relentless drive to communicate something true to people that makes me do so at all. And maybe it was the image I wanted to present for a while. I wasn’t the person I’d imagined being, but maybe I could be the person who picked up and started over. There’s a kind of respect that goes along with that; people call it “brave” even (especially) when I radiate fear. Maybe it made me a little easier to relate to; gave me a common ground with some classmates who’d overcome various obstacles. It let me be honest when I came in and said, look, I have no freaking clue what I’m doing here but I really, really want to learn. This person, this persona – of the girl whose dreams broke her – has stopped serving me.  I don’t think it ever really did.

It’s true that I did and do have some things lingering around that were never addressed, because they couldn’t be then. And it’s true that I’m probably going to work through a lot of them here, because words are my thing. Writing is how I process, and the idea of readers keep me more or less honest, though I’m going to be selfish right now and say I’m not always blogging for you. Yes, I wanted to relate; I wanted to fill a gap that was missing for me – because I went searching months ago for someone like me and found that no one was writing exactly these experiences. It seemed a good enough reason.

But I also think I’m done apologizing for not doing things perfectly, and I think I’m done letting fear of failing (again) be an excuse. Excuses are boring. I’ve let myself think I’m unique because it’s kept me going, operating under the assumption that if I couldn’t stand out because of my talent, maybe I’d stand out because I’d overcome some obstacles. But my obstacles were never that unique, and most of what held me back was me. I let history become a reason to doubt my present reality.

I’m done with that. No one cares why I am where I am beyond an initial moment of curiosity. People care what I can do now, and all I can do is work on improving that. I have a lot more confidence than I let on, and maybe a lot less fear than I started with.

Fear never actually keeps you from falling, anyway. I refuse to let a few negative experiences define me. I refuse to let anything define me; I don’t know why I’ve been trying, myself.
ETA: I used the word “maybe” too many times in the first version of this post – I think I’m done with that, too.

Enough of That

More button-pushing.

I feel vaguely guilty about sometimes turning this blog into a bit of a downer, but that’s part of why I started it in the first place – I wanted to accurately chronicle all of the crazy ups and downs of this journey. I wanted people to eventually be able to stumble onto it and see something reflected in my experience that made them feel less completely awful and alone during the bad parts, as well as having someone to celebrate along with during the good parts. So in the interest of complete honesty: it has been a tough summer.

The music stuff is – I don’t even know. I’ve been on a mini-break for much of July because I’ve been focusing on some neglected areas of my life and trying for a little more balance. Something to anchor me when the music & theatre stuff is making me crazy.  And, yeah, I got a little bit scared. I’ve taken a big leap into something I wasn’t sure I was going to succeed at, have had a reasonable amount of success (and more importantly, rediscovered something I loved more than anything else) and have, for the most part, pushed ahead in spite of doubts and bad feelings. I won’t deny that it was a brave leap, but now I’m about to take a bigger one, and it’s scary. Transferring into a four-year program means I’ve made a commitment – and maybe I made that commitment in my heart a long time ago, but having it on paper is scary. Leaving the comfort zone I’ve found where I am is scary. Facing the possibility of being told, for the second time in my life, that I’m not good enough at this thing I love to pursue it any further is terrifying.  My successes feel so small when I step back and really take a look around me. I feel like I’m fooling myself – Imposter Syndrome in the extreme,  maybe, but it’s what I feel.

Earlier this week I spent several hours calling my high school, and the college from which I received my first degree, and later sitting in the Registar and Admissions offices of my current school, all to get them to acknowledge me as a student and release me with my certificate in December. Annoying to most people, but not something that ought to leave a person shaky and close to tears at the end of it.

I was appalled at my own reaction, but there was just something about sitting in that office that took me right back to sitting in another office ten years ago and explaining myself to unsupportive administrators who didn’t care about my reasons for failing all my classes. (Not that I could give them any good ones.) Or sitting in that same office and being told that I was, more or less, a bad person, a terrible student, “not the kind of student we want here” — for what? Having a few personal issues and getting some bad grades. Of all the mistakes I’ve made in my life, I’m not sure why that’s the one that won’t leave me alone.

Having to call those same people up and ask them to send my transcript to current school was hard enough. But sitting there in current’s school’s admissions office and being asked questions in a tone that suggested I might be too stupid to answer them correctly was worse.  And once all of the preliminaries were sorted out, I still have to wait a week to see if my transcripts are deemed official enough, and if my credits will be approved. That’s not a given – my grades were not stellar my first time through, and the course names don’t make it incredibly clear that they meet current college’s requirement. It’s an English composition class, of all things – and I’m rumored to be good writer, though you wouldn’t necessarily know it from the rambling over-confessional quality of my blog. (That’s a style choice; I read too many carefully-crafted, well-edited blogs that barely scrape the surface of anything true.) I’ve gotten paid for it, anyway. I’ve taught it. But because of stupid administrative nonsense, I might have to retake it, and then that entire demoralizing afternoon was just time spent reminding me of past failures and how they’re still influencing my present.

I don’t know what the moral is here, guys. Usually I can figure out what I should take from my experiences, or how to put a positive spin on things. Right now I just want to throw my hands in the air and ask for a do-over on my life, and maybe for people to stop making assumptions about me, both positive and negative. Because, to be honest, all the positive ones feel like judgment, too. “You must be so smart/good at [thing]/have had a good reason for XYZ…/able to do all this other amazing stuff…”  No. Thinking too much of me just feels like expectation; like if you really knew me I’d be an enormous let-down.  I’m sorry I’m not that person, because heaven knows I’d like to be.