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Trusting the Muse

Big Voice (& the Demons)

It turns out that I can sing. I mean I can do some operatic Edith Piaf thing.

At SVEA rehearsal last week I was goofing around and did a Big Viking Lady high note. Tina and Erika whipped their heads around so fast I could almost hear their necks cracking. “Ok, you can not tell us you can’t sing loud,” Tina said. I began to melt into my seat, shrinking like a snail. “I was just faking it!”

Erika looked at me with an expression that was not quite disgust— not towards me, any way, but the way one is disgusted by the patriarchy or crappy cafeteria food. “That is not faking it.” (The look was more like what you’d give a kid who is old enough to behave properly but tries to revert and pitch a fit. Um, no. That’s not happening.)

My immediate reaction was to sweat. Profusely. To squirm. I think I went into some stand-up routine patched together from every video I’d watched online in the last month. Then, as if to prove them wrong, I did some acrobatic scales. (I might have even rolled over like a dog: pleeeease don’t look at the roll of toilet paper I destroyed, here’s my belly!)

Or something like that.

I tried to sing some songs like that during rehearsal. It sort of worked. “You were doing fine, and then I don’t know what the gremlins said to you, but you went back to singing from your throat,” Erika said, still with a slightly appalled, no-nonsense look.

Tina said I should work with Erika to figure out proper breath support. Basically, the jig was up: not only do they know I can sing in a Big Voice, but because they witnessed it, my conscious brain is forced to confront this information.

It was exhilarating and horrifying, and after rehearsal I was exhausted and as crabby as if I had a hangover.

 

This week was more of the same. Tina got me to be goofy and I did the Big Voice… and then I had to peel off three layers of clothing (I fully expected to be forced down to my long johns before the hour was up). I thrashed around and did my penitent stand up comedy shtick. “I’m pretty sure this is going to happen every time until I sweat out the demons.” They graciously did not quit SVEA and go in search of someone with more stable emotions or core temperature.

Every time I tried the Big Voice I waited for them to say it was too loud!, but instead Tina said I’m still not louder than them and we are just now starting to blend well.

 

It is an extremely uncomfortable feeling. All I want (I think) is to be Fabulous. Rock Star-Ballerina-TED Talk Lecturer-Academy Award Winner-Best-Selling Author-Fabulous. But this is so loud! I’ve tried to trace back to the inciting incident that is causing the alarm bells to clang so furiously, and I’m coming up with nothing. Being a good singer was totally ok in the more stayed, Baptist side of the family, and I had a voice teacher with a Big Voice, so I was certainly exposed to it. I don’t have a clue.

In a moment of furious self-analysis alternating between anguish and incredulity, I thought about my sister, Abbey. Abbey has a really cool voice. Though I haven’t heard her go for Edith Piaf/Viking Opera Singer, she has an amazing low range, she has cool vibrato, she has a voice much bigger than her physical stature would lead you to expect. She’s an itinerant musician. But she’s my little sister. Part of my brain kicked in in a delightfully cliché superior-older-sister way: Well, if Abbey can do it, you can definitely do it. (Ahh, the ego is a strange horse to ride, but sometimes it gets you where you want to go.)

Last night, while still feeling the detox of demons leaving my body (scrabbling around for better handholds?), I told Jay about it.

He said, “You’re a better singer than you think.”

I said, “Ok, but I’m way weirder than you think! What happens when all that comes out? What about the spew of weird improv-comedy blather?”

He said I should just let it out, but then didn’t seem thrilled by my immediate showcase of character voices and anecdotes. (To be fair, he was already in bed with a pillow over his head when the whole conversation began.)

It feels so weird, it feels like driving on ice— if I take away one filter [Don’t Be Loud], it feels like all the other filters and barricades between me and the edge of the cliff vanish, too.  Who knows— maybe in addition to being able to Sing Big and be Extra Weird, I also have wings and I won’t plummet into madness/freindlessness/stardom/a whole new personality. Maybe I’ll fly around, have a great time, and never be afraid of that particular edge again.

 

Besides the emotional discomfort, it feels physically weird, wrong, strange, like learning better posture or how to cross country ski. Nothing is habitual, and I’ll suddenly drop all my breath support and not know how to get back on board. Honestly, it’s the first time in my life I’ve thought maybe I should start exercising because cardio feels bad! That I should practice feeling horrible and doing something anyway, both for the improved breath support and core strength, and to do something that feels physically more wretched than singing! (If you see me at a Zumba class, you’ll know why).

I think it might not take a thousand years. I’ve been thrashing around through first drafts of stories, and over and over again it turns out if I just flail for a minute or two, I settle down eventually and things turn out pretty well, or at least I have something to build on.

In the meantime, I guess I’ll be heating our house purely on the power of the Shame/Courage circuit. If you see me around town wearing a clown nose and muttering to myself, count it as a sign of progress.

When You’re Overwhelmed

The reason you get overwhelmed is because you’re looking ahead. You’re looking to the future and feeling inadequate; you know you don’t know how to handle all those problems.

And you don’t.

photo: David Prasad

It’s a long way up.                             photo: David Prasad

 

But you aren’t there yet. You aren’t supposed to be tackling those issues right now. Right now you are supposed to be in the present.

 

This kid is in the moment. photo: Mahalie Stackpole

This kid is in the moment.

photo: Mahalie Stackpole

When my son was a baby, I agonized over what would happen once he could walk. (My niece was a 6-month crawler and 9-month walker… and that was just around the corner!)

What I didn’t realize was that, besides him being a much later walker (he was a chunky baby), there was the scooting stage, the crawling stage, the toddling-while-holding-onto-furniture stage.

By the time we actually got to the walking stage, I was ready for it. My life didn’t fall apart. My house didn’t look like vandals had broken in. It was a slow process.

Sure, some things hit you faster than you expect, but our brains jump ahead so easily that we often don’t notice we’re thinking three steps into the future.

When you feel tempted to curl into the fetal position, chuck the manuscript, or vow to never, never, never ask another probing, door-opening question of your characters again, stop. Look around you. Where are you now?

Just do what you need to do for now.

The rest will take care of itself when it comes.

by Maria Ly

If you stay in the present, you can relax almost anywhere.                                    phot: Maria Ly

Avoiding the Gate: When the Project Feels Slow

I’m publishing my first book and it’s going so slowly.

Not too slowly, but slower than my imagination.

I’m a skittish colt leaping around instead of running straight through the open gate.

But the colt (and I) aren’t wrong.

We’re not lazy or bad or even distracted.

We’re young and there’s a lot of extra energy and it’s spring and everything is new– and, most importantly– there is time.

There is time for leaping and snorting, pawing at the ground, tossing our heads, putting on a show.

This isn’t a term paper, and we don’t have a death sentence.

Sometimes the rhythm and goals of life are urgent, pressing– but all things happen in their right time.

There is no mistake.

It always goes exactly how it must go– but sometimes I had other predictions or step-skipping hopes.

But in the end, I know I will be satisfied and the gate will be beautiful– even my friend.

Take Comfort in What I’m Telling You

Dear Younger Rose,

By the time I write this to you, things that seem impossible to you have already been done a dozen times.

Publishing books is easy.

Connecting with readers is easy.

And making a good living writing, channeling, sharing creativity and being SEEN is easy. It’s LIFE now.

I believe you that it feels hard and impossible. It happens anyway. You can’t stop it, it’s just how our life goes. Isn’t that a comfort? So try not to kick and fight so much along the way. Certainly don’t berate yourself. It all turns out. I know because I live it now.

My life is good now because of all the things you’ve been doing, even the things that at the moment seem like nothing. Starting to write a few short blog posts has led to books on creativity and support, and professional speaking tours that open people up to themselves and their Muse.

Lizzie’s story as a trilogy is complete and wonderful! It’s widely read and well-loved. It has changed people’s lives. It’s beautiful writing and it has been pivotal in the story of women, identity and worth.

And yeah, I’ve met Philip Pullman and Neil Gaiman. (And once you get a letter from Older-Older Rose you’re going to find out and have to accept that we’ve been given an Astrid Lindgren award. Pretty cool, huh?)

But the most amazing and wonderful thing is that you’ve kept writing. I’ve kept writing. We write every day. I live a life I love because of you, because of all the shit and tangled stuff you’re stumbling through. It really has made a huge difference. Thank you for doing that, especially when it just feels like wasted energy, like spinning your wheels. It’s not, I promise.

I have a 401k and a retirement account. I have full health care. Yes, I finally got braces. It was easier and quicker than you think it will be.

And Ennis turns out amazing, like you always knew he would. He’s still my best teacher and the most beautiful person I’ve ever met.

And things are good with Jay, too. I know that’s been a sore subject for a while and you don’t really want to open up and hear it, but all that messy, painful stuff wasn’t such a big deal. It works out, really, and it’s not just tolerable. We really do understand each other better. Again, all that messy shit you’ve been going through that feels so pointless and painful is what has made all this possible. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

The house got painted.

The laundry got folded.

The addition got finished.

The savings account filled up.

The credit cards went to zero.

The cat lived along and happy life.

You got a dog who was wonderful.

Your mom moved to Grand Marais.

You forgave yourself for not being able to save your parents’ marriage.

You started writing letters again and now I get to open the p.o. box to a rainbow of lovely words from around the world.

You biked around Britain with your family.

You learned how to do acupuncture and energy healing.

You got back into exercising (and you dropped off and got back on again, but you accepted the cycle).

You acted in so many plays! So many great plays!

And you opened up to people you love.

You gathered your tribe around you, and now I am wise and grounded and I get to be free with them– I get to share and love freely and fearlessly, and I’m so happy.

That weight on your chest is gone.

You DO get enough sleep.

You DO have a healthy life. It really just was the young-child-years that felt to busy and exhausting. Don’t worry, you don’t go back to them.

I know you’re aching for all of this now. I feel the waves of your deep longing across time. Take comfort in what I’m telling you: that it all comes to good. This life comes to good! Every moment of imperfection is not to be seen as evidence of failure– they become so unremarkable with time! In the golden light of where I am now. The edges soften and things make so much sense.

I know you don’t want to waste anything.

I know you want to be enough.

I know you want to rest.

Be enough.

Rest.

Let go of everything and nothing is wasted.

Every good thing? You deserve it.

I give it to you as a gift because I adore you, no other reason.

Take it easily and do whatever you want with it– there are no strings attached.

If you would like to send me a present, my favorite thing in the world is your joy. Your light. What I want most is for you to live easily, to feel the space around you, to know that you are exactly enough, exactly right, exactly the only way I could ever possibly want you to be. I don’t mean be kind to yourself in a lie. I mean be alive and joyful and free in the truth that there is nothing wrong with you; there is nothing wrong here. Nothing wrong at all.

You are exactly right.

I love you completely.

Goodnight.

-R.

What If Daphne Doesn’t Have to Grow Up Too Soon?

I’ve been stuck in a manuscript for about a year.

It’s been sad and frustrating: What if I never get back to it and all those beautiful characters languish and then just shrivel up and disappear, like those forfeited souls kept by Disney’s sea witch, Ursula??

But I’ve also known that I just had to wait, that there was something I was missing without which I couldn’t carry on writing the story.

Then, in the midst of musing that someday I’ll write a seven-book series akin to “Harry Potter” it hit me:

What if Daphne not only doesn’t have to leave Extraordinaria in a month but she spends seven years (and seven books) there?

What if she actually doesn’t have to grow up too soon?

What if it’s a better deal (and bigger adventures) than Narnia?

Somewhere in this big house I feel a door swing open.

A breeze blows through and stirs the air.

The story moves, flutters, begins to wake.

When You Have Too Many Ideas

What do you do when you have too many ideas?

You set them free. You turn them loose.

When they rush up and crowd around you, you say, “Back up, back up.”

They are frisky, like horses and not-quite-grown puppies.

They are like children and will get as close as they can.

The thing you must know and believe and trust when you send them away, is you are not killing them. You are not banishing them forever (or at all!).

You are living in alignment, honoring the present moment.

And if you can trust that you, will not panic when they come up to sniff your trousers, nuzzle in your hair, or search for an apple in your pocket.

When you relax and sense the timing of things, the natural progression and lifespan and maturation, you will be able to enjoy your brief encounters, let them nudge your subconscious, and then go back to play.

This world is timeless.

There is space for you.

Nothing is lost.