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bear by san

March 2017

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criminal minds gideon murder before coff

he's got one trick to last a lifetime but that's all a pony needs.

Something I've been thinking about a lot lately is authenticity, finding your voice, finding your self. And it's such a tricky topic--in art as it is in life. Because we all have aspirations (I hope we all have aspirations!): better selves, the person who we want to be, the change we want to see in the world. The artist we want to become.

I'm a terrible guitarist and singer. I do it for fun, and I refuse to take it terribly seriously, because I know what happens when I take art seriously: it starts to become a stressor, a thing I worry and fret about, a thing I become perfectionist over. But I still like doing it, and I still practice new things, and I have some vague aspirations to take singing lessons when I'm doing a little less traveling.

I did not, however, really learn to sing at all until I was in my late thirties. And a lot of this was because I didn't learn to stop struggling with the voice I thought I should have (I wish I had a lovely, smoky contralto) and be comfortable with my own voice until then. (I have a very high singing voice, and I don't like it very much. But I like singing, so I work with what I have, I suppose.) I kept trying to make my voice into something that it wasn't, into what I thought it ought to be, and that prevented me from working with what I did have and making it better.

This principle applies to writing, as well. And, well, life. You have a voice, as an artist and as a human being. That voice is part of who you are, and it's comprised of your core beliefs, your internalizations, your hopes and dreams and influences and experiences.

You can develop it. You can make it better. But until you find it--until you find that authentic voice, and accept it, and begin working on making it stronger and trusting it and letting it shine through--you will always sound artificial and affected. 

And there's a reason we call it "finding your voice," and not "creating your voice." The voice is there. Whatever it is, you are stuck with it. So you might as well learn to like it, and work with it, and improve it.

And when broadened out to life, this involves being who you are, rather than who you think you ought to be.

And sometimes that's hugely painful or difficult, especially when we've been socialized to believe that who we are, deep down, is somehow immoral and incorrect. Because the first thing you have to figure out is who you are. And what you want. And that it's all right for you to want and be those things, even if somebody else told you it was wrong. Even if it's risky. Even if your family might not understand. (Of course, it's also risky because it might involve important relationships changing drastically, giving up things that are precious to you, and re-assessing your investments or renegotiating your life path.)

That can be a tremendously painful process, this letting go of what you thought you ought to be, what you were invested in being--and just being what you are. Feeling your feelings, Writing your words. Making your art, which involves telling your truths.

And it's tricky! It's so tricky! Because it involves determining what is an unrealistic desire for a thing we aren't (I want to be a contralto) but not accepting limits that don't have a foundation is reality, but only in our own fears and risk-aversion (I don't have a voice at all and shouldn't try to sing). 

That learning process is part of the path to authenticity. And authenticity and saying what you mean and observing honestly, inside and out, is where we find art. Actual art.

And I think it's also part of the way out of anxiety, because anxiety arises from internal conflict (fear vs. desire, or incompatible desires, or desire vs. obligation). And if we don't learn who we really are and what we really have to say, we can't make honest art, and we can't actually accept ourselves and learn to sing as best we can with what we have.

Because we're too busy trying to imitate somebody else, or be what somebody else expects us to be, or be what we've been trained to believe we ought to be.

This is also, a lot of the time, when we're wasting a lot of energy trying to control somebody else's life or choices or art, because is we are insecure in our own choices, we feel challenged when somebody else makes a different choice, and we thus try to invalidate the thing that challenges us. Denial is a hell of a drug. The classic example, of course, is the unhappily married person trying to matchmake all of their friends. Or the guy who complains about books that have adverbs in them, because they have internalized some weird advice from some book on writing that you should never use an adverb.

Relax. Smoke an adverb if you have one.

It's all good.

Comments

*flails*

You are a wise and thoughtful Bear.
Thank you for this - sometimes I feel that, as a society, we're getting further and further away from authenticity (which of course only makes striving for it even more important).

I've missed your LJ posts, so it's been a treat to have them two days in a row!
I great many wise thoughts. I totally get what you way about music. I think we've lost something as a society in professionalizing music and creating this pressure to not do it at all unless you're aiming for perfection. I tend to mutter a mantra about "music is too important to be left to the professionals" and just get on with doing it for my own enjoyment.

I have a harder time letting go of the conflicting expectations over writing. In my heart, I know that if I'm writing anything other than "my" stories (i.e., not about me, but coming out of me) then there's not much point in writing at all (for me). But I can't help feel torn up about wanting other people to *like* "my stories", and feeling like I'd have to change them in some significant way for people to like them enough. (I'm not talking about editing, but about theme, content, genre, etc.) Do I have to play a part on a stage as an author to be a success?

Thank you.

As a contralto (oh who are we kidding, TENOR) who beat myself up for a decade about not being a soprano, I feel that we should one day sing a public self-acceptance duet. You take the high part; I can't hit those notes. Not for want of self-flagellatory trying.

Re: Thank you.

This is a fabulous plan.

Re: Thank you.

Heh. Another female tenor here, but I reveled in it. Of course, as the shortest tenor, I invariably got stuck behind the 6-foot alto on the risers!

But it's all good. If we didn't have all ranges of voices, we wouldn't be able to have as much variation in vocal music as we do, and every voice is part of that.
This really hit me in the feels. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you.
At least you can sing. I sound like a dying cat, or a crow with a bad case of bronchitis. NEver stopped me from singing, especially in the car.
Thank you for this. So much. I wish you all the best.
Good to see you back, and saying Smart Things, as always!
You've inspired me to practice ukulele for the first time in a number of months. (Thank Ghu that uke strings don't need the same degree of callus that guitar strings do.)
*checks adverb supply*

*notes duplicates*

*rolls a spare up & lights it like a cigar*

*thinks of Samuel Gompers reading to his fellow cigar-makers*
I love this piece, and especially the singing voice analogy.

I feel like there's other things I want to say, but the back of my brain is too busy processing *something* for me to be coherent. It might be the short story I woke up with, which is still mostly unwritten, or it might well be that this sparked some very useful insight. Thank you!
This really spoke to me- I spent so long trying to sing like vocalists I grew up on and it never worked. Only after long years as someone who simply could not sing did I discover that my ear can't really pitch those high notes but if I drop everything down a couple of octaves I'm a non-terrible singer. I'll always be Nick Cave rather than Thom Yorke, but that is no bad thing. I just wish I could have figured it out twenty years earlier.
Man, if I could have back all the time I spent trying to be somebody else....
It's cool that you found where you can sing! If it matters to you, you could probably learn how to use your higher voice too--hearing your own voice is different than hearing other things because so much of your own voice is transmitted to your ear drums through the bones of the skull instead of through the air that learning to match your pitch to someone else's or to music is a learned thing, not automatic. Also, the voice is muscles--they need training to get strong and to do things precisely, just like any other set of muscles.

But even if all you did was let yourself sing in the shower or with friends and enjoy it, that's great--and it's OK to not want more than that (though it's also OK to want more still, and work to get it).