Adventures in karaoke

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I sang karaoke last week.

Okay, maybe sing isn’t quite the right word. I could look for a better verb but I think just knowing that the correct verb is not sing should give you a pretty good idea of how it all went down. This is not an activity I often do. In fact, it was only the second time in my life that I did it. The first time I was drunk, didn’t know the song and couldn’t even come close to keeping up with the words on the screen.

Over ten years has passed since that performance. In that space of time I have slowly changed from the sort of person that gets up on a stage in front of a group of people to the sort of person who is constantly analyzing everything I do and say to make perfectly sure I’m not being ridiculous or foolish.

See, I have this person inside of me. I call her my Gollum and she is a vicious, angry little thing who watches everything I do and passes judgment on each action. Sometimes, her judgment is instantaneous, a running commentary in the back of my head. She’s like those old men in the muppets, just a lot meaner and not very funny at all. Sometimes, she wakes me up in the middle of the night to go over a list of everything I said and did during the day. Maybe, you have a version of her. I hope she’s nicer to you.

Anyway, this time, when I got up to sing, I told her to take a few minutes off. That yes, I knew exactly how I was going to look and sound up there and I didn’t need her to remind me. She sulked, but she was blessedly quiet and for the space of a song I didn’t worry about how I was going to look or what I was doing.

It was scary and exciting and fun.

Here’s the important thing I learned: Most people don’t want to see you fail. They want to see you get up on stage and give it all you got. They want to see the triumphant smile. They want to clap at the end. If there happens to be a person or two rooting for your failure, you can immediately disregard their opinion because obviously they are monsters and you should never care what monsters think. If you’re like me, that also goes for the biggest monster of all, the one inside of you.

I’m not saying that you should do karaoke and if you don’t, you’re missing out on something. What I am saying is do the things you want to do without worrying about looking ridiculous or failing. Put yourself out there. Instead of being so sure what it is you can’t do, maybe see what you can do without that inner critic stopping you.

It’s going to be scary and exciting, but hopefully it’s going to be fun.

Later, when Gollum wanted to tell me just how bad I was, I just laughed at her, which seemed to shut her up for a little bit. I also asked my husband not to ever show me any photos or video he might have taken. Gollum doesn’t need that sort of ammunition.

You just haven’t earned it yet, baby

earneditI went through a Smiths phase when I was a teenager. Maybe a lot of people do? Most likely, I have my older sisters to thank for it. If I had been left to my own devices, I probably would have listened to garbage music. I can go a pretty long time without listening to the Smiths, but out of nowhere one of their songs will pop in my head.

Lately, I’ve been thinking of the song, “You Just Haven’t Earned it Yet Baby.

It has become my “pick yourself up and dust yourself off” song. When I feel overwhelmed by editing. When I lose at something I wanted to win. When I want success now, not a year from now. I hear it.

Whatever it is that I may want, I haven’t earned it yet. I haven’t been writing that long, not seriously anyway. I haven’t even begun to suffer through rejection. I’ve managed criticism fairly well, but everyone who has given it has been supportive and constructive. There are trenches where writers spend years, working on their craft and toughening up. I’ve barely put my boots on.

I don’t know how long it will take me to get where I want to be. I don’t know what path will get me there. I’m trying to take every path and road I can without getting lost. The only way I know I won’t get there is if I never try or I just give up. Sometimes, the things we really want are costly. We pay with time and commitment and even disappointment, but I think we can earn it.

Great. That song is stuck in my head again.

A working title

mac-writer“So, what do you do?”

When someone asks you that question, what do you say? Do you talk about the job that you have that pays your bills? Or do you talk about the things that you do that you love? If you’re lucky, the answer is one and same. But, what if it isn’t? And what if you are passionate about more than one thing?

When I’m asked what it is that I do, I often have a difficult time answering. Back when I served food at various area establishments, I felt like I had to give some sort of explanation for what I do, as if I had to justify my job.

“I serve food. It’s just to pay the bills while I go to school. It’s pretty good money and I like meeting new people.” I’m pretty sure there are strippers who are less defensive of their work. There’s nothing wrong with serving food. There are even days when I miss it. I just always felt that I had to explain why I wasn’t doing more with my life.

It got a little easier when I was a graphic designer. I didn’t feel like I was wasting my time and talent, although I did often have to give more thorough information when I told them that I was a designer for a hair replacement company. Mostly people wanted to know if I designed toupees. I did not. There is a science to hair systems and trust me when I say I was no wig scientist.

When I left my job as a designer, burned out, with no desire to open up photoshop ever again, it was to have babies and take care of them. A stay-at-home-mom. Say those words to anyone and you are going to get mostly the same replies. A lot of people told me how lucky I was and how important and difficult that job was. And I get it, I’m pretty #blessed. But I couldn’t help feeling that another name for stay-at-home-mom was unemployed. I also couldn’t help but feel that the positive and kind things that people said about stay-at-home-moms were the sort of thing that they were expected to say. Those words didn’t help me get through some of the long days of diaper changes and meal making and mess cleaning. I also couldn’t help saying when asked what I do that I was “just” a stay-at-home-mom. As if it wasn’t enough.

To be honest, it wasn’t enough for me. This isn’t a comment on anyone else who is a stay-at-home-mom and has found happiness and fulfillment. If anything, I’m a little jealous of them. No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to shake a certain restlessness.

offejtrThat restlessness has been what has pushed me back into painting and now whole-heartedly into writing. However when people ask me what it is that I do, I find that I’m back to not knowing what to say. If we’re talking about jobs or careers, I guess the truest answer would be still that I’m unemployed. Of course, that doesn’t say much about who I am, so usually I use the mom explanation. It’s been very difficult for me to say that I’m a writer, in the same way that I’ve never been able to say that I’m an artist. I may create art. I paint. But to be an artist feels like something far more than what I do.

With writing, it still doesn’t feel like I’ve earned the right to say that I’m a writer. I work really hard at it, all of my free time is devoted to either writing or reading. It started as a hobby, but it has become so much more than that. I have two completed novels. I have another one that’s getting there. I blog regularly. So, when am I going to be an actual writer? Is it when I’ve landed an agent? Or maybe, it will be when I have a book deal? Or, will I wait until I have a published book? Maybe, even with a published book, it will still feel like a fluke. Maybe I need more than one book published. Maybe, I’ll work at this my whole life and never feel like I have the right to call myself a writer.

The first time I told someone that I was a writer was last year. I just wanted to see what it felt like. He was an eye doctor, the eye doctor that took my new health insurance so it was the first time that I was meeting him. He asked me what I do.

I’m a stay-at-home-mom,” I said and after a long pause I added, “I’m also a writer.”

I felt like such a liar. But, he started telling me about how he used to write fiction in college and how he wouldn’t mind getting into it again. I was open about the fact that I was fairly new to it, but that I was hoping to in the near future to have a career doing it. We had a nice conversation and in the end I shared something about myself that was true, even if just to me it felt like it was a lie.

I’m trying to be more open about what I do and what my dreams are and where I want to be. That means when asked what I do, I will say that I’m a writer. That’s who I am. That’s what I want to talk about. Of course, I will still say that I’m a stay-at-home-mom. I’m still that too. And, I like talking about my kids best of all. They really are cool, little beasts.

I’m not going to keep looking for the always changing finish line, waiting for someone to approve me as a writer. What we do doesn’t always have to be tied to a paycheck. Who we are isn’t tied only to an end result, but is part of our failures as well as our successes. What we do is defined every day that we get up and do it.

I’m doing it. I’m a writer.