I’ve just finished reading Kristin Chenoweth’s new memoir A Little Bit Wicked. I like reading personal accounts because I always hope that somehow they will grant me a puzzle piece to the jigsaw of my life. They’ll lend me some guidance or reassure me that I haven’t done it all completely wrong. But reading the ones about performers, singers in particular, is sometimes a mixed bag.
It has been no great secret in my family (or at least I think it wasn’t, if it was . . . too late) that I have long flirted with the desire to sing professionally, but, for most of my life, I have felt that I really didn’t have the chops for it. As I told one person in college: I’m a good singer, not a great one. This may still be true, but I’ve learned a lot since then. I’ve learned that believing in yourself and enjoying yourself are nine-tenths of the battles. Unfortunately, I lost both of those virtues early on in my performing “career”. I think it was sometime during middle school. (Does anyone come through that experience unscathed?) Maybe it was when one of my classmates irritably told me to shut up while I was softly singing in the hall before class. Or maybe it was when my voice broke in front of the entire school when I was soloing in my first musical.
Or maybe it’s just the fact that I have had to learn the hard way how to act on stage—no, not act, as in deliver lines in a convincing way—but comport myself in a manner befitting a reasonably intelligent individual. Somehow, I really did believe that no one would notice me mouthing along to a principle’s solo in the seventh grade. (Maybe that was a case of my enjoying myself a little too much.) One may, of course, absolve my actions due to my (somewhat) tender age. But what was my excuse more than a decade later when I adjusted a stray hair on the female lead’s face so that it no longer resided in her mouth?! Again, and I can’t quite figure out how, but I honestly thought no one would notice. I just wanted to help the young woman, and somehow, at the time, it seemed like the right thing to do. It was not. I know that now. You do not let silly little things like errant hairs lure you back into your own actual self. Stay in character. If you need to do anything on the fly because of some unforeseen occurrence on stage, you do it in character!!! Kristin Chenoweth knew this when she was playing a bunny at the age of seven and she had to maintain her bunny-ness while retrieving dangerous debris left on stage. The female lead in the play I was in knew this as she, very professionally, ignored my skirt off. I shudder when I think of all the mistakes I made during that production. And the one after that. And the one after that. And, you guessed it, the one after that.
No doubt, there will be people who read this and say, “Yes, but all performers make mistakes—even the really good ones.” I obstinately choose not to believe that. Not even remotely. I obstinately choose to believe that there are quite a considerable number of people who remember there lines all the time (even though Kristin Chenoweth did mention in the book that she once forgot the lines to the song “Popular”, despite having sung the thing eight shows a week for nine months on Broadway).
That last revelation aside, reading the memoirs of performers can be somewhat disheartening for me because so many of them have been tap dancing since they were two or started writing music when they were six. I, on the other hand, have not done anything remotely as remarkable as that, so when I started reading A Little Bit Wicked, and got to the bit about the bunny, I thought yet again, I guess that ship has definitely sailed. And of course this isn’t necessarily true. There is no set formula that must be followed. And you can never say never (although I can say with a reasonable amount of assurance that I am never going to be a child prodigy . . . unless, of course, I embark on a second childhood, hmmm . . .). You have to stay open to what the Universe has in store for you—and yet, that could be just as good a reason for me to start letting go of some of those singing dreams, which is what I started doing this past weekend. I mentioned this to my super wise mother, saying, I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. She replied that she thought it was good thing—that this way, I would make myself available to other wonderful possibilities.
It’s not that I’m closing all the doors and windows and sealing them up tight, it’s just that I’m not wasting anymore laments on what-could-have-beens and if-onlys. I’ve been reading another really nifty book called A Book of Ages by Eric Hanson. In it, he recounts interesting tidbits about what happened to various famous people at any given age. For example, according to Hanson, what Elvis Presley really wanted for his eleventh birthday was a bicycle, but it was too expensive, so he got a guitar instead. It may just be my imagination, but it seems to me that history is filled with stories like this: “Well, I wanted to go right, but Something Else forced me left, and look where I am now.” So, I’m starting to believe that those other stories we tell ourselves—about how had such and such a thing not happened or if we had done more or better, we “could have been a contender”—are completely bogus. Maybe it’s not so much the dreams themselves I need to let go of—a little dreaming never hurt anyone—but my tightfisted attachment to them, my belief that I’ve miscarried my life if I don’t somehow end up where I hoped I could or thought I should.
I could also stand to let go of my deeply held horror at my past blunders. We spend too much time (or at least I do) bewailing our mistakes. Like I did this weekend when I told my mother, “I can handle not reaching my goals and dreams, but I can’t handle it being my fault.” But maybe I’ve missed that ship’s sailing on Purpose. Maybe my ship is an entirely different one—one with sails made of starlight and hidden opportunity.
What past mistakes are you bewailing? And if you stopped, what exciting, new ship might you call to your shore?