Life have a funny way of coming around full circle. (The most annoying thing about cliches is that they are true.) Yes, life is funny; it is bittersweet and…it is also a touch unforgiving.
Thirty-two years ago, I was the proud recipient of a full life ahead of me. I was cast as Mabel, the lead in Pirates of Penzance my senior year at New Trier High School. I was accepted into the prestigious opera program at Carnegie-Mellon University and I had hopes of Broadway and beyond. I was cute, rambunctious and shined like a, albeit rough, diamond. And then…not so suddenly, over the course of thirty-two colorful years; I slowly blew it.
I could say, “Wow…how the mighty have fallen.” Actually, I think I have self-said that a few times. I can even bet that a few people who hated me in high school probably still love saying that about me. Well, (insert throw-away laugh) so be it.
But I can’t say that I haven’t tried to put up the good fight. In my early twenties, after some lost roaming years of searching to find myself, the dreams of being on the big stages seemed to slowly evaporate. I wandered messily through my collegiate years, not quite able to find my place. Even after my third or fourth school, after I squeaked out a BA in Theater “just to get done”, I still sang. I continued vocal lessons. I kept up my acting chops being in a Chicago storefront theater for years, I made a half-living singing with some of the finest Chicago jazz musicians….I fell in love with the art of Cabaret. I met some fabulously amazing people along he way. Then, after getting married to a very supportive man and having three kids, I still kept my toes in the water and I made an album. I continued on the relentless pursuit to do the thing that I was born and trained to do. “I was never meant to work behind a desk,” I told myself. “I’m convinced that was in God’s plan for me, otherwise he wouldn’t have given me a voice.” I said. It was always a struggle, with many ups and downs, but I felt lucky enough to be one of the small percentage of the world that actually loved their job. I faced adversity the entire time doing it; some passing judgement on me that I didn’t have a “real” job; I was wasting my time on a hobby; I was not prioritizing correctly.
Today I sat through a first performance of our local high school’s production of Pirates of Penzance. I have some home vocal students in the cast, including the girl playing my former role and my cousin playing The Pirate King. I also have been honored with the task of doing a bit of vocal coaching for the cast. The production is beautiful. This school is blessed to have a magnificent and talented man running their program. As the curtain rose, I was overwhelmed. I was witnessing these amazing kids at the very start of their performing careers, singing with joy and pride. I was rushed with many emotions; the first one being pride. I was filled with nostalgia listening to the very notes I once sang. I was inspired by the culmination of a team of musical directors, choreographers, crew and all of the people that can make such magic come alive. And then, after the curtain closed, I felt something else very strong. I was sad to remember that I once held that in my hands and…where I am now.
Where am I now? I am still eeking out a dwindling career in music. I have a wonderful set of musicians that I am honored to make music with on a weekly basis. I have scores of students who have enriched my life just by letting me vocally-guide them.
I think I am nearing the “those who can’t do anymore, teach” portion in my life. But I can’t even do that right now. Boo. I find myself in a low spot. It’s a quiet depression because it’s easy to misunderstand, so I try to keep it to myself. I have painful vocal nodes now. I suffer to sing every note. I struggle to teach the kids who need me and sing for the musicians that depend on me. I work too much, I sing too much and I talk too much. My body is feeling the effects of not taking good enough care of me. I’m tired for the kind husband and beautiful children who need me and I am worn down for my own self, who needs me to keep on going. I’m too busy for the friends who miss me and I can’t help but feel that I’ve made a mess of it all. Life so far, fifty years later, has been filled with joyous memories of being a mom and a wife; a friend and a daughter; a mentor and a coach. But still a mess, nonetheless.
How do I pull myself out of it? That’s the million dollar question.
Career-wise, I am at a fork-roads. Changes have to be made and soon. I’m closing down my vocal studio until at the very least, I can heal my voice. I am finishing up my resume to try to enter the corporate world. I will fight tooth and nail to still keep singing a part of my world.
I can only take my memories and my experiences and push forward, hoping that everyday, I continue to try to be a good and loving person. One who can lift others with song and strive to comfort all who I love. Continue to make sure my kids are ok to go out into the world and maybe even help them learn from the mistakes that I have made.
These include my music kids. My greatest wish for them is that they keep that shining light in their eyes, that light which twinkles with dreams and promises of happy and fulfilling times ahead. It would indeed be everything, if life could only stay as happy as in the tender, brief stage moments, when we all held each other’s hands and took that final bow.
“When Power corrupts, Poetry cleanses.” ~JFK