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Facing Your Ghosts

28 Aug

I have a ghost in my head. I haven’t seen him in person in four years, but he lingers there, in the corner of my eye; a spectre, the mirror reflection I compare myself to, wondering if I’ll ever measure up.

mr. robb, in 2008, with more than 20 years of choral education under his belt, took the best of the best from all his years back to gilroy’s sister city in japan one last time. I was so blessed to be counted among his number.

This week threw me for a loop. I work for a private school, and I’m in charge of teaching all of my teachers in California how to teach my subject area of expertise. This week, my best teacher quit. And I was asked to fill in. In the classroom, all day, in my area of expertise.

I’ve never been more terrified in my life.

Not when I had to teach the same kids other subjects, not when I’ve had to teach my peers how to do what I do (have you ever had to teach adults? Nerve-wracking, let me tell you), never. If I could choose any subject to teach, music – my passion, my reason for living – would not be it. Totally counterintuitive, right? Unless you’re me, and have trained with some of the best vocal teachers in the world. When you have that background to live up to, no matter how good I am, so matter how gifted a teacher I am, a vocalist I am, I’m going to fail. Because I’ll never be as good as they are.

And yet…

They must have started where I am. They had to have had their first day of school, their first day of teaching, their first piece of music they weren’t quite sure how it went but had to teach anyway. They must have, because no one gets to where they are without taking that first step. I know this…I know this!!! And yet, I’m wracked with insecurity because I won’t be able to do with my kids what they did with me, 20 years into their careers.

I’m not Greg Fritsch. I’m not Mr. Robb.

I’m just little ol’ me.

Nobody. 28 years old without the degree I’d aspired to all these years. 28 years old, only halfway through my 30 before 30 list with little time left to go. 28 years old, filled with a 19-year-old’s zest for life but wanting to have accomplished so much more by now. I never aspired to be Mr. Robb, not without so much more schooling than I have to date. And I don’t have it. And yet today, I have to be him.

Or maybe I don’t.

He’s my ghost, the person I want to be when I stand before a choir of children, because i know how much he moulded me, shaped my life, by being my choir teacher. He’s been my dad, my mentor…but I don’t have to make him my idol. As much as he was the spectre of what I have to live up to as a vocal teacher, he was never part of my life to make me feel like I couldn’t measure up. If I’ve learned anything in the 11 years since I graduated high school, I’ve learned that he was there to inspire me, to help me realize the best parts of myself, like any educator worth their salt would. If he stood before me today, he would tell me I could do it. That I had to make my own way, one step at a time, and that I couldn’t compare myself to where he was 25 years into his career. I didn’t get married thinking I could have the house, the car, the career America sets us up tp expect, but I wanted to step into my career at the level it took him 25 years to achieve.

How arrogant am I?

Maybe I can’t be the next Phil Robb. Maybe one day I will be, I can only hope. But for now I’m going to be the best Mrs. A. there is. I’m scared to death, but any teacher worth their salt started where I am. And this is where I am. Starting at the beginning. Stuck in between the bottom of the barrel and the greatness I grew up with.

Here’s hoping for a successful tomorrow.

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Flip the Switch

13 Aug

Last week I tried something new and took a stand against that inner voice that says “I suck.”

Ask anyone who knows me, and I think most would agree that I’m a pretty positive person. For me the grass is always greener under my feet, the glass is usually overflowing, and I can rattle off at least twenty things I like about myself if asked without having to think about it. Upbeat, confident, self-possessed, that’s the me that most people see. Ask anyone who knows me closely, and they’ll probably tell you they’ve been on the receiving end of at least one late-night phone call where my confidence has fled me and I’m reaching out to hear something good from someone who loves me so I don’t spin into what I fondly refer to as a shame spiral. Does that emotionally needy image go with my usual brand of Christy Self-Confidance? No…but it still happens.

Do you have an inner doubter? A voice inside that sounds like you, but has just enough mocking and derision that you know it’s not your voice? Some people say that voice is Satan, and I believe it because I well know how he plays off our insecurities, but sometimes I know it’s me. My Insecurity. I’ve named him Seth. I don’t know why – feminist as I am – my inner voice has a man’s name, but it does. Seth’s voice has grown louder over the years, and I think it sucks.

I’ve heard every bit of pick yourself up by your bootstraps advice there is: make a set of 3×5 cards of good things about yourself to refer to when you’re feeling blue, memorize affirmations/scripture to say to yourself when that inner voice starts talking to you, write affirming quotes on your mirror so you see them first thing in the morning (I actually love this one, and do it often), etcetera. All that is well and good, and I remember nodding vigorously when I heard and/or read this kind of advice, especially if I was hearing it from another woman who said it helped her. But there is a wretched disconnect between hearing these good ideas in the light of day when the sun is shining and everything is beautiful, including me, and applying them when it’s late at night and I’m feeling ugly and that stupid thing I did the day before keeps looming in my mind telling me over and over again how dumb I am, and how I always make mistakes, and how stupid it is to put myself out there because I’m going to fail anyway, so why even try?

But last week something has changed. I feel like breaking out the opening lines of that song from Wicked:

Something has changed within me, something is not the same.

I’m through with playing by the rules of someone else’s game.

Except that the game is of my own making, and like that playground merry-go-round the big kids would push around and around, faster and faster until your little arms could barely hold on, I’m tired of the ride and I want to get off. This time when Seth was sitting in my head, gleefully replaying all the moments I wished I could do over from the past few days, telling me how dumb I’d looked, how I’d put my foot into my mouth again, how I’d not only misrepresented what I’d wanted to say but perhaps unintentionally irrevocably changed the way some people looked at me, I felt a switch flip in my brain, and I said, “No more.”

I started thinking of all the things I was good at. Seth sensed what I was doing and started to shout over me, and his twisted movie reel of Christy’s Most Embarrassing Videos started playing again. So I fought back with images of my own. I remembered the last time I did the dishes even though it wasn’t my turn because I wanted to give my husband a break, and thought about how that made me a considerate wife. I pictured a text message I got out of the blue from my cousin that was so sweet and full of love it made me cry. That reminded me that I’ve contributed to people’s lives. I started picturing the faces of my friends, and as I imagined each one I thought of a good time we’d had together, a shared lunch, a catch-up conversation, and thought that with all the people in my life there has to be something of value in me. I thought about the last time I prayed, really prayed and sought communion with God and felt the Holy Spirit rest on me and give me peace. God didn’t think I was worthless, who I am to question Him? The more I thought about, the fainter and more feeble Seth’s voice became, until I had to work to hear it.

Becasue that’s the thing about insecurity: that voice is always there, waiting for a dark moment to wrap its fingers around your thoughts. There have been times when I’ve sought it out, feeling low enough that I looked for reasons to feel lower, and Seth’s always happy to oblige. I don’t know where that mental switch came from – what clicked inside me and made the difference so that this time I didn’t let myself get sucked into the shame spiral – but now I know what works for me. If I can be self-aware enough to recognize Seth’s voice from my own, to recognize that I’m letting myself drown in a whirlpool of anxiety and self-doubt, I can choose to go all Peter Pan on his butt and “Think lovely thoughts.” I’ve known that for a long time, but last week was the first time I actually did it.

Take that Seth.

So now I have a formula that works for me. If I’ve learned anything over the past year, it’s that we are absolutely capable of growth and change. It takes re-routing well-worn thought-patterns if they’re not helpful, which is hard and takes a lot of practice. It also takes choosing to do what is healthy over what is familiar. I’m grateful to have stumbled on to something that works for me. May you find a way to vanquish your inner mocker, should it exist, and choose to see yourself for who you are, in the best possible light.

So there you go. A Broadway reference, Mary Martin’s Peter Pan, and an alter-ego named Seth. Happy Monday.

“Excuse Me, Ma’am, But Your Cracks Are Showing”

27 Jun

las caletas at night

So there I was, last night of vacation, on a private beach in Las Caletas lit by torches and candlelight, enjoying a sumptuous dinner of local delicacies with my sweetie. Desert offered a choice of extravagant-looking confections, and I chose to indulge my craving for sweets with several pieces of fresh tropical fruit enveloped in a thick layer of dark chocolate. I speared a piece of chocolaty pineapple and brought it to my lips, breaking through the chocolate shell and sinking my teeth into the ripe, juicy flesh beneath…

*crunch*

I’ve accidentally bitten my fork several times in my adult life, but this was the first time I’d suffered a tooth casualty because of it. The last night of our vacation, and I had a tine-shaped hole in my tooth. And it wasn’t an out-of-the-way-oh-you-can-hardly-notice-it break. No, this was a full-on, okie-fied, plait my hair and call me Billy Sue hole in my face. Cute on a 7-year-old, maybe, but not on my 28-year-old self. Needless to say, it put a damper on the rest of our evening.

While on layover in Phoenix I made an emergency call to our dentist, who was thankfully able to see me the next day. I was lying back in the extra-cushy chair with his hands all up in my grill, when he said the best words I’ve heard in a long time, “It’s just a cosmetic break. We can patch you up right now.” Hallelujah! So he goes about his business, and when he’s done he asks me if I’d noticed that one of my other teeth looked chipped. I had noticed, but had figured it had just worn down over the years.

You see, I have the oh-so-attractive habit of using my teeth to break through things. A thread hanging from my shirt, ribbon, uneven fingernails, plastic cellophane packaging, all have fallen victim to my chompers more times than I care to cop to. After having me move my jaw this way and that, my dentist let out a satisfied, “Ah-ha!” If I moved my lower jaw a half-inch to the right, my bottom teeth fit like a puzzle piece into the worn space on my tooth. I asked the dentist if he could patch it up, like he did my fork-tine break. “No,” he said, “it looks like you grind your teeth without noticing, so you’ve got to break that habit first. If I patched your tooth and you keep unconsciously grinding against it, you’ll break off the patch sooner of later. It’d be a waste of money.”

A and I have been married for six years. This vacation was a celebration of this achievement, as well as a time for us to rest and reconnect without the stress of everyday life wearing at us. We’ve been working hard over the past few months to resolve the few issues that we’ve faced over our six years of being married that we seem to always get stuck on. We look at this as preventative maintenance; work the tough things out before time and life circumstances grow them past the point of simple fixes. Work them out before love wears thin and resentment sets in. We want to hit our ten-year, twenty-year, thirty-and-beyond anniversaries strong, dealing with conflicts as they arise instead of letting them fester and eventually decay the roots of our love and commitment. It’s not fun, it’s not easy, but it is worth it.

During this process we’ve had several quick-fire fights come up. You know the kind – they flare up hot and fast and die down just as quickly. When this happens I can feel the intimacy between us break. We don’t feel close for awhile, and things don’t feel normal, settled, or good. Happily, some time and effort on our parts to swallow our pride and patch things up always sets us right, and we can go on with our happily married lives.

During this process we’ve also had to revisit old arguments. Ones that we’ve tried as many different ways as we could think of to fix only to find ourselves back at square one in the end. We needed help, a fresh perspective, people on the outside to give us fresh ideas and hold us accountable. Laying our problems bare before an (albeit trusted) outsider has been humbling to say the least, but also really cleansing. We’re digging deeply into old, ingrained habits that allowed negative patterns to build up in our marriage. Little by little we’re learning to reshape our hither-to fixed reactions and change the way we function as individuals and as a couple. Every day we have new things to work on – homework, if you will – that challenge us to break out of our molds and try and be a little bit better than we were the day before. It’s been totally easy, and if it was homework we’d be getting an A+. Sorry, I couldn’t even type that without cracking up. It’s been darn difficult, thank you very much! But as I said before, it’s been worth it.

When my dentist told me I’d have to stop unconsciously grinding my teeth before I could get my worn tooth fixed, I was at a loss. How was I supposed to stop doing something I wasn’t even aware I was doing?!? He said I’d have to start paying attention to how I hold my mouth and work hard to stop it. “Teeth should never touch,” he said, “so you have to start noticing when they do, and knock it off.”

It shouldn’t be much of a stretch to see where I’m going with this.

I feel like this is what A and I are doing now. After six years of letting some things go and letting old habits turn into pitfalls, we’re finally slowing down and paying attention. We’re saying no to the behaviors that have been wearing us down and starting to fill in the gaps.

A good friend has told me more than once that eight other friends of theirs married around the same time they did, and were divorced by the time they celebrated their tenth wedding anniversary. The most common years for divorce are after year one, seven, ten, eighteen, and twenty-five, according to my therapist. A and I still say our wedding vows to each other, and every now and then – always on our anniversary – he whispers in my ear, “I’d marry you again tomorrow.” Having listened to New Life Live for over eight years, I firmly believe that even the most broken marriage can come back to life if both partners are willing, but the longer you let things go the harder and longer the rebuilding process has to be.

We don’t want to let things come close to getting that bad, and so we’re working on it now. We’ve learned that there’s no shame in admitting that we need help; it’s not like they hand out manuals for how to be a perfect spouse with your marriage certificate, and there’s no other relationship prior to marriage that prepares us for the intense 24/7 unrelenting intimacy that marriage is. We’d be fools not to seek help from those who have done it well and know more than we do. I’m a big believer in preventative maintenance in marriage, rather than letting things get to the point of being broken.

I just wish I’d figured that out in time to save my tooth.

My So-Called Quote

6 Jun

my tribute to flannel, teen-angst, and the mid-90’s

Like Ships In The Night

31 May

image from adventures of carly

A year ago I found this image and printed it out. It hangs over my desk at work, a reminder of a small but significant reason why I love music – teaching it, listening to it, performing it. I love that there is a song for everything.

This morning I was driving to work, minding my own business, totally unaware that my simple choice to turn on the radio that morning (not a usual choice for me, as of late) would give God an opportunity to shine a little light into the darker corners of my heart. Not exactly what you expect from your morning commute.

I’ve always found Mat Kearney’s music to be slightly uncomfortable to listen to. It’s not a style I usually go for, but I’ve grown to love his tender tenor and melodic hooks. Plus, he kind of looks like our former Youth and Family Minister. The uncomfortable feeling comes from his lyrics, which are always hard-hitting and honest. It’s like finding a ball of paper in the trash, smoothing it out to see what it is, and realizing you’re reading a page ripped out of someone’s journal. The problem is that as much as those lyrics come straight from his heart, so often I feel like the journal page could just as easily be mine.

I’ll take it, though. Two months ago I was feeling closely identified with Total Eclipse of the Heart.

So I thought I’d share this with you. Because, really, what married person trying their best to do things better than they’ve done before wouldn’t identify with this song?Aren’t we all “just fumbling through the grey/trying to find a heart that’s not walking away?” May it bring a little light into your life today, and hopefully we can make better mistakes tomorrow.

 

Ships In The Night by Mat Kearney on Young Love (2012)

Like ships in the night
You keep passing me by
We’re just wasting time
Trying to prove who’s right

And if it all goes crashing into the sea
If it’s just you and me
Trying to find the light

Like ships in the night letting cannon balls fly
Say what you mean and it turns to a fight
Fists fly from my mouth as it turns south
You’re down the driveway and I’m on the couch

Chasing your dreams since the violent 5th grade
Trying to believe in your silent own way
Cause we’ll be ok, I’m not going away

Like you watched at fourteen as it went down the drain
And pops stayed the same and your moms moved away
How many of our parents seem to make it anyway
We’re just fumbling through the grey
Trying to find a heart that’s not walking away

I turn the lights down low
Walk these halls alone
We can feel so far from so close

Like ships in the night
You keep passing me by
We’re just wasting time
Trying to prove who’s right
And if it all goes crashing into the sea
If it’s just you and me trying to find the light
Like ships in the night
You’re passing me by, you’re passing me by
Like ships in the night

And I’m at the airport waiting on a second plane
Had to pack and you had cramps and I was late
Headed to a red carpet, they won’t know my name
Riding in silence all that we wanna say
About to board when you call on the phone
You say “I’m sorry. I’ll be waiting at home”
Feels like we’re learning this out on our own
Trying to find a way down the road we don’t know

I turn the lights down low
Walk these halls alone
We can feel so far from so close

Like ships in the night
You keep passing me by
We’re just wasting time
Trying to prove who’s right
And if it all goes crashing into the sea
If it’s just you and me
Trying to find the light
Like ships in the night
You’re passing me by
You’re passing me by
Like ships in the night

I’m gonna find my way back to your side
I’m gonna find my way back to your side

Like ships in the night
You keep passing me by
We’re just wasting time
Trying to prove who’s right
And if it all goes crashing into the sea
If it’s just you and me
Trying to find the light
Like ships in the night
You’re passing me by
You’re passing me by
Like ships in the night

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