March 27, 2015 § 8 Comments
I am broken open
Shards litter, splinters glitter
Nothing is me anymore.
Everything is me from before.
Do not sweep me up
Or step over my pieces –
Look at me.
And hold back your broom.
For I will pick myself up.
I will gather my pieces with love and anger
From the fire that burns in me
And I will rise.
There is gold in my veins
Gold that has settled into the million tiny cuts
Of a million tiny words
That almost bled me dry.
And if you would love me;
If you would be the one to walk alongside me
As that gold is beaten till it gleams,
Be equal to the task.
I am done with less than, with second-best, with good enough.
I am done with eggshells and backbends and silence.
I am enough.
I am complete.
I am perfectly and wonderfully made.
And I will rise.
April 23, 2014 § 3 Comments
Two Sundays ago, I stood on my front stoep with my friend (and bona fide professional musician and producer) Lionel Bastos, and sang four of my own songs to an audience of 50 or so people. I didn’t write about it last week, because I didn’t have the words.
It was a beautiful evening. Lionel sang two sets of his magnificent music, another dear friend, Ruth Everson, performed her searing, spectacular poetry, and I bared my soul – and allowed my voice to be heard – in a way I haven’t done for years. It was thoroughly terrifying and utterly energising at the same time. I felt like I was on the cusp of something momentous.
I’ve always been involved in music in some way or another. I learned to play the piano at school, I performed in musicals, I sang in choirs, I taught myself to play the guitar and steeldrum (badly) and even leaned out of the window at my university residence and sang sad songs to the night air during a particularly dramatic phase. But I only realised late in life that the thing I love most about music is collaborating with others.
It’s hard to explain, but if you take singing in a choir as an example, the moment I love best is when, after you’ve rehearsed all the voice parts separately, the conductor raises his hand and you sing together for the first time. It’s often imperfect, but there’s something about the energy of that collaboration and the richness of the sound that creates a kind of magic.
That’s what I loved most about that Sunday evening. Lionel and I had two fairly shambolic, haphazard rehearsals of my songs. We rehearsed none of his. But there was a collaboration that happened – I sang harmonies for him wherever possible; he did the same for me. There was banter, there was laughter, there were little moments of surprise and shared grins between he and I at a faltered chord or a forgotten lyric that the audience probably didn’t see. It was perfect in its imperfection.
And for me, it felt like magic. For me, it felt like the beginning of something wonderful, something new.
I hope I’m right. Because I want to feel like that again. And again. And again.
April 10, 2014 § 9 Comments
I woke up this morning and realised I’d forgotten to blog yesterday. I have a reminder set up on my computer, and yet somehow it passed unnoticed that yesterday was Wednesday, and Wednesday is blogging day.
I think it’s because I’m having so much fun at the moment, and that’s good, right? Because I’m organising a casual soirée at my home on Sunday night – an evening of poetry and music and community – and it has consumed me.
Why? Well, partly because I love hosting gatherings of people and deciding what to feed them, how to make them feel at home, anticipating their needs as much as possible. I’ve hosted birthday parties and baby showers and book clubs and bridal showers for other people just because I love entertaining so much.
But mostly it’s because there’s another sort of entertainment I love too – put me on a stage and I’m in a very happy place. And this weekend, for the first time in many, many years I’ll be on a stage, singing a handful of my own songs, for a paying audience. Not just that, I’m singing with someone so talented and experienced and accomplished I can scarcely believe he’d agree to sing with me. It literally takes my breath away.
I cannot wait.
And I’m simultaneously neurotic, terrified, panic-stricken, anxious and filled with self-doubt – but in a good way. It’s messing with my sleep, and with my focus on my day job a little, but it’s the best feeling in the world.
Now all I have to do is pull the damn thing off.
October 30, 2013 § 2 Comments
I have to confess that I’ve been spamming my friends and followers a little on social media today, punting a music video that my kids made. But I couldn’t help it. With the simplest of tools – an A4 white board, some basic stationery and an iPad app, they produced the most awesome stop frame animation music video for Train’s Fifty Ways to say Good-bye. And, parental bias aside, it’s amazing.
I know at least some of you are tutting and saying that an iPad app is hardly a simple tool, but for me, the marvel is to be found in the conceptualisation – in the way that they chose to illustrate the song’s lyrics. Anyone who’s ever tried to make a music video will know exactly how hard that is to do, and my daughters are just 11 and 14.
I’m a fairly creative person, but somehow I feel like they’re in a different league, and it really got me thinking about creativity and how important it is to nurture it.
As a child, almost all of my extra-murals were in the cultural arena – I sang in a provincial youth choir as well as the school choir. I sang, danced and acted in amateur dramatic productions from my second year of schooling until my last. I took part in debating, wrote plays and poems and short essays… I was really pretty creative when I think about it. But over the years, I seem to have forgotten a lot of that.
Or perhaps I’ve just had it knocked out of me. Because when I try to explore why I don’t value my creativity as I should, or have much confidence left in my abilities, here’s what comes to mind:
- The drama teacher who went off at me because I missed a single rehearsal in ten years of attending her drama school, ending her tirade with: “You don’t have any talent, anyway.”
- The newspaper editor who told me I didn’t have the ability to string a sentence together in basic English.
- The person who told me my singing voice was better suited to backing vocals.
- The constant admonition that a career in the arts is not worth pursuing; that one always needs another career to fall back on.
- The person who said they didn’t like it when I was involved in theatre because my personality changed with my character.
- The person I no longer show any of my creative work to, because they can’t be bothered to pay any real attention to it.
The interesting thing is that most of the messages contained in those few bullet points were throwaway, one-line comments made over about thirty years. Just a handful of thoughtless remarks, and yet they’ve burned themselves into my brain, and coloured my creativity for decades.
Of course, I shouldn’t have allowed that criticism to stop me from doing what I knew then I was good at. I have to own my part in it too. But most of it came at a time when I was young and moving out of my sheltered environment in a smallish town, and into the wider world. I was becoming a small fish in a very big pond.
It was not constructive, and I took it to heart. And I’m only starting to unpack those statements now, in my mid-40s, and attempting to undo the damage that was done.
But what I really want to say is that there’s a lesson here for all of us. First, if you’re the one who’s being criticised, it’s important to try and view it objectively and not take it as gospel – because in at least some of the examples I mention above, the criticism was a kneejerk reaction motivated by spite – I know that now. So weigh that criticism. Ask yourself if it’s valid, because it may be. You may need to work on your technique or get some coaching: raw talent is seldom enough.
But more importantly, if a child or a friend or a lover shares something they’ve created with you – especially a child or young adult – pause and think before you criticise. Be honest, sure, but be constructive. Because if you’ve produced a poem or a song or a painting or a film, putting it out there for others to view is an act of extreme courage. It’s like sharing a small part of your soul.
So, if someone brings you that small, delicate soul fragment, carefully cupped between outstretched hands, realise how privileged you are that they’ve chosen you. This is an intimate moment.
Be careful when you take it from them. Pay attention to it, examine it closely. Don’t squeeze too tightly or you may suffocate it or shatter its delicate framework. And be honest with them, always.
But above all, be kind.