My wildcard theme for the Ideal Life Exercises is Music. It is the part of my life without which I would be wholly incomplete. It is the part of my life that allows me to express the aches and joys of my heart with my body in ways that words fail to capture.
I don’t know what your wildcard might be: travel? running? hiking? competitive gaming? sewing? Whatever it is, it is the hobby or activity that gives you the most joy, mixed with as little disappointment as possible.
I can remember two occasions of unrestrained joy in my life.
Occasion one: I had just been offered a job as a tour guide at Walt Disney World. It had been my dream job for as long as I had worked there. When I hung up the phone with the human resources person who had just given me the good news, I twirled around my adorable Eola Drive apartment, the one with the amazing hardwood floors, and belted Mozart’s Alleluia, the last movement of his motet Exsultate Jubilate, for about thirty minutes until I was almost hoarse.
Occasion two: I had just learned that I was pregnant, two months after a miscarriage. I put Pharrell Williams’ Happy (the one hour version, thank you very much) and danced around our perfect little apartment, the one where we still currently live. Oddly enough, I have a very distinct memory, in the middle of my unrestrained excitement, of trying to change the lightbulb on the piano light and the skinny little lightbulb breaking between my fingers. I bled and bled…I still have the scar. This didn’t stop me from singing and clapping along, while I tended to my rather bad cut. (Even now I can’t help but think that this is the perfect metaphor for being this particular child’s parent.)
Sing at every occasion
If the birth of my first child was nothing like I hoped for, the birth of my second was the most peaceful, beautiful moment of my life.
My water never broke with him, so the contractions, while present, were never so bad that I lost my ability to sing. I labored about twenty five minutes all told, twenty five minutes during which I sang, “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty the King of creation…All that has life and breath come now with praises before him…”
What I remember most distinctly is when they put his warm little body on my tummy in the moments after he was born, I just picked right up where I had left off singing, “Let the amen sound from his people again…” as if I had never stopped.
Even though this little boy can be the bane of my existence (in all that he reminds me of myself!), I cannot look at him and not think of that moment of perfect peace.
Music holds me together
There have been numerous occasions in my life where music has met me exactly where I am and has walked me through the valley. Too numerous to count.
On a few specific occasions, music has stood at the top of the cliff and thrown down a rope to rescue me.
In 2011 I was in a place of utter misery regarding what I was doing with my life. We had been living in France for a while by then. I was teaching English as a second langue at various different business schools. While I had never had to look for work, I was finding this work to be tedious and not at all feeding the creative part of me that I had so enjoyed in my last job before leaving the US.
As a matter of fact, the lack of professional creative outlet was suffocating me. I found no satisfaction in writing lesson plans…the only thing I enjoyed mildly was the actual interaction with the students, but that, during the course of a week was a very small fraction of the work to be done. I was miserable professionally, and this was leaking out into everything, not the least of which, my marriage.
Since my earliest childhood, I have been a show tunes girl. My family and I knew every single word to every single Rogers & Hammerstein musical, every single Andrew Lloyd Weber musical, every single musical in which dance and music collided in fantastic, brash, inevitable glory. So naturally, I got deep into Wicked.
I was grading tests and listening to the Wizard and I when this lyric stopped me in my track:
This weird quirk I’ve tried to suppress or hide is a talent that could help me meet the WizardElphaba
The truth was that I was trying to suppress and hide this quirkiness, this creativity that made me who I was. I was trying to be normal, and as my friend Waldo, the pipe organ builder, used to tell me all the time, “You are not normal.” (Nor is he, but that is another story completely.)
And this gift or this curse that I have inside…maybe at last I’ll know why…Elphaba
This lyric right there…the idea that maybe I would be able to know why I was bubbling with volcanic creativity and that there might be something that I could sink my teeth into got me to my knees in that very moment. And I prayed. “Lord, give me a project to sink my teeth into. I want to bite off more than I can chew and have to lean entirely on you to help me.”
Within three months I was volunteering with a non-profit radio station planning their tenth anniversary Gala concert, and by the next year was on staff heading up their fundraising operations. Suddenly, everything came together: my creativity, my storytelling, my love affair with numbers. It was at the radio station where I met Sonia, who helped me find an exit to my self-loathing issues so that I could finally have a baby.
So this gift or this curse which I have inside…I am starting to know why.
So yeah. Those few little lines in one little song gave me a lifeline to literally a whole new life. (Two of them, actually!)
It started because I was listening to music.
In my Ideal Life, I am a person who…
- is always discovering new music
- sings everyday
- encourages my family to make music
- pays attention to the music around me
- helps others discover their voice
- uses my voice to bring people into God’s presence
- isn’t ashamed of my old-fashioned music taste
- can belt a showtune for any occasion
- practices the piano
- isn’t shy about improvising
- turns to music instead of medication
- is always learning new techniques
- recognizes the power of music
For me, the question of What is working? is often answered, “I practiced my piano scales three days this week!” or “I learned that new song for church.” or “The boys and I had a dance party to Heavy D and the Boyz.” or “Céline taught me how to belt.” or “Aline and I played four-hand piano.”
There isn’t often anything that isn’t working in this domain for me. It is my hobby, it is my joy and one of the only commitments I have kept since I did a culling of my outside-of-the-home activities. The day it stops bringing me joy, I will have to really examine why…but I can be sure that it won’t have anything to do music itself. It will surely have more to do with my own feelings of inadequacy in the face of the palette of impressive musicians I make music with on a weekly basis, or the fact that I am just getting too old to keep up anymore!
In my Ideal Life, I never stop making music.