Monday, February 28, 2011

righteous frustration

It's difficult to separate things that I love to do from the things that I do well; one of the things that I love is doing things well. I feel pretty swell with every pat on the back, kind of like a dog (what an upsetting analogy), but have I grown accustomed to this satisfaction as the best that there is? Have I forgotten what it's like to feel the thrill of achieving something that's truly important to me?

It's difficult to re-evaluate every day what it is that I want and then compare it to what I have and what I could conceivably have. It's utterly exhausting, but I think it's the only way. Righteous frustration with where I am and where I am not is the fuel that can propel me toward my actual best case scenario.

The question is: What is my actual best case scenario? Am I living it? If not, is it even achievable at this point in my life? And finally, if it is within my grasp, of what do I need to let go in order to reach it?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Guilt is not becoming.

This post is the first post belonging to a synchroblogging project in which a small group of bloggers have agreed to write on the same topic regularly. (We don't really have any rules, so I believe I'm allowed to discuss the synchroblog within the synchroblog. If not, let the synchroblogods strike me now.)

Our first topic is guilt.

For days I sorted through possible post topics related to guilt - mostly stories I could tell, because stories are the best kinds of posts. There was a problem - I couldn't think of a story involving guilt that I really wanted to write about. Writing about something is kind of like agreeing to go on a date with it. Sure, the experience may not last long, but it could be quite uncomfortable.

I wasn't willing to go on a date with guilt.

I consider myself to be a very practical person. I'm not entirely sure whether or not others would agree. I can also be a very silly person, but don't believe these two things to be mutually exclusive. I define practical as being toward an intended end. I am silly toward the end of having joy and then gratitude. Therefore, my silliness is quite practical.

There are certain things that, when I set them next to my particular brand of practicality, I find impossible to embrace. One of these things is guilt. Guilt serves no practical purpose.

Remorse, sure, that's helpful. That's a feeling that can help me make a good decision next time, help me make things right. It works together with empathy and reconciliation, I think, to unite people, even in painful times. Guilt, on the other hand, only alienates people. It stops people from loving themselves and prevents them from building relationships. Unbound guilt could well be a death sentence to joy and any meaningful social interaction.

I don't have the statistics in front of me, but I would guess that guilt is number one killer of Christians, who, by definition, aspire to be godlike. It's like a diet, or anything else we try to stick to for our own good - once you start to stray, the guilt starts to eat you, and sooner or later, most people just fold completely to avoid it.

In an attempt to stay alive, I decided long ago that guilt was not for me. I wasn't made for it and it is not becoming.

And that is why I didn't want to go on a date with guilt. It makes me nervous.

Fellow synchroblogger posts:

Monday, February 7, 2011

I wish I could sing

One of my earliest memories is of singing with my dad. He taught me to sing "I Will" by the Beatles. I stood by him, not quite his height, even as he sat at our keyboard. He pointed out my lyrics with one hand if I lost my way, while the other perpetuated the bass so the song could go on.

The song ends on a note that's both higher than the rest, and not quite intuitive. I had a hard time landing right on it. I was only 9 or so. Not wanting to disappoint my dad, who was so talented and happy to teach me, I recorded myself singing those last notes on my Talk Boy (made popular by Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone 2) and listened to it in bed, in the dark before I fell asleep. I tried to practice quietly, but more than once my late-night rehearsals would received the cease and desist order from one of my parents in the next room.

As I got older, and after many performances for family and church-members, I came to think of myself as quite the little singer. The enthusiasm that follows the performance of a small (er than average) blond girl known and loved by everyone in the room is often more than the performance warrants. I didn't know this.

It wasn't until my early teenage years that things began to change. My oldest brother, home from college, was telling me about how he'd picked up the bass and wanted to start a band. I asked if I could sing in the band. He told me that they would need someone with a more mature voice. I shrugged. I was young then. When I was older, of course, he's change his tune.

Then began a painful tradition. I began to sing with the family band. Every time I sang, though, my very supportive and well-intentioned mother would motion for me to bring the microphone closer to my face. Then, she would gesture to anyone near the PA head to turn my microphone up. After the song was done, she'd approach the stage and explain that no one could hear me. Someone would explain to her that I was turned up as high as could be. The next song would start and she would look at me with her eyes wide and her mouth open - exaggerated facial expressions that meant I should sing louder.

I couldn't sing any louder.

My mother wasn't the only one, either. There were other perplexed faces - furrowed brows of those trying to make out what it was that my mouth was doing behind the microphone. Apparently, as you grow older, as a singer, different things are expected of you, like a louder, stronger voice. I don't know where mine was, but no one seemed to believe that I wasn't hiding it. Why would I hide it? If a louder voice would stop the wide eyes that meant I was doing something wrong, I would have given anything for it.

By the time I went to high school, I had accepted that I really wasn't very good at singing after all. It was difficult to accept because I loved it so much. I may have stopped altogether - I certainly wanted to at times - if music weren't so inescapable in the DeConto household. We had a band. We were called upon at most family gatherings to perform.

This sounds like a sad story, but as I think about it, it was ultimately kind of liberating. To do something that you love to do with the belief that you're not in any way exceptional kind of frees you to enjoy it in a different way.

Like I said, I never really stopped singing. When I went off to college, I began to sing more. I learned to play the guitar. The family band started up again a couple of years later and I entered it with a different, more casual attitude. Funny thing, though, the more I sang and the more I performed, the better I became. Now, I think I love it more than ever, and have reclaimed it as an important part of who I am.

The downside of having experienced those years of resignation is that I may never really believe that I'm in any way exceptional (though it's so much fun for me now, I really don't care if I am or not). The upside, which, believe it or not, I find more valuable than the ability to think I'm awesome, is that I have come to attribute any success I have to confidence and experience, which are things in which anyone can invest. Now, when people say to me "I wish I could sing," I can say back to them, without hesitation, "You probably can."