It’s a bit of an unpopular, defeatist sentiment (especially in this web-world of pinspirational quotes and nature pics) to accept limitations. Throwing your hands up and saying ‘I can’t’ tends to come across as either defensive, or is read as a need for some reassurance, or as fishing. This not any of those things.
If you’re lucky enough to have been raised in a household where the attitude has always been that nothing should stop you, that you can and should be able to do anything, then admitting that you have limitations to abilities can be a bit of a head-f*ck, actually. Genuinely. Not being able to do something comes with the additional shame of thinking you should be able to do it.
Not being able to do something when you really, really want to be able to do it, is worse.
And I’ve hit that with singing, at the moment. I love my singing lessons, and I’m really glad I’ve been taking them, but I started riding a wave of ‘What’s the point?’
- I’m so terrified of singing in front of anyone, what’s the point?
- If I’m only ever going to sing to myself in the kitchen, what’s the point?
- I can’t get that Bonnie Raitt song right at all, with the best will in the world. What’s the point?
You get the picture.
(That Bonnie Raitt song, by the way, is I Can’t Make You Love Me, and I’ve hit a point with practicing it and failing at it such that I’ve developed a general hatred of all martyred love songs at the moment. I’ve started writing a response called ‘Feck off with Jolene’ just to get if off my chest. So maybe some good is coming of it.)
Sometimes there’re pastimes where the impression is that unless you can do it really well, then you’ve no business doing it at all. Which is usually bull, but somewhere along the line, that’s what my brain decided when it came to music. It makes no sense, because I never took that stance with running or triathlon even though, yep, six-hour marathon star right here. I never took that stance with writing – though the worst efforts will always remain hidden on my computer, so I suppose there’s an element of privacy there that there isn’t with noise.
I developed stage fright, stopped playing except for me, in private, and occasionally with good friends. And I got it into my head that unless I wanted it as a career, unless it was going to be the absolute focus of my life, then what was the point?
And now, for the past few weeks I’ve been heading to these free and rather fantastic evenings held by Darlington Music Forum, where either there’s music played, or there’s a talk of song writing, or there’s other talks from industry professionals. And even though I still haven’t played an open mic night, and even though I have never looked into any of this beyond recording into my phone and shakily uploading that rubbish, I’ve been going along, and taking notes and enjoying it all immensely. And… what’s the point?
(Aside from a] it’s just really interesting, and I’m discovering a load of new acts and meeting people and learning a lot and I like learning new things and b] it’s FREE and it’s in a medium-sized Northern town and the council are paying for it, and my GOD, people, when stuff like this comes up you get off your bum and support it, because if you don’t, it gets taken away and I will roundly slap you in the face in a year’s time when you say nothing useful or interesting ever takes place, because it did, but you’d rather complain about lack of opportunities than take advantage of the ones that come up. But that’s a longer rant for another day.)
Anyway. A friend asked me, too, why I was going to these things, because I have (had?) no plans to do anything, really. And I had to sit down and think hard about why I am only dabbling, and what holds me back from doing more. Because it’s not lack of love and desire to do it. I love music. I love seeing live music. I will go to an open mic night to watch and not play. I truly enjoy the jam nights, even if I’m just shaking a tambourine. And I really really want to do more. One day. At some point.
(and I’m getting older, and I’m running out of days to do more, and every time I dip into the black water, I get very aware of all the things I haven’t done. At the time, I couldn’t care less, but once I’m out of it, it makes me feel a bit sick, how time is slipping away and how close I come to just chucking the rest of it in the bin without doing all the things.)
So, the point is, there doesn’t need to be a point. But there should be a point, and the only reason there isn’t one is: I set the bar for myself – for the standard I expect for myself – way, way too high.
I’ve put it at a level that is completely unattainable for me. Instead of shrugging and accepting the limitations of my voice and instrument skills (ha!), I’ve decided I can’t subject people to anything less than perfect. And That. Is. Ridiculous. So much of this:
- I do not sing with the voice I would like to have
- I can’t play the guitar very well
- Nerves mean I will inevitably Screw Up
- But no, really, my voice is sort of sweet and thin and reedy and I want to be Etta sodding James
- What if I sing out of tune?
- I’m just messing with this stuff. I don’t take it seriously enough to be getting involved. It’s never going to be a career.
And so on. That last one particularly idiotic, because no one ever ever said that picking up a guitar and having fun had to lead to anything.
So I figure, the key is, it’s time to embrace what I can do and stop being so pushy with myself. With the best will and all the practice in the world, I’m never going to have a particularly rich and soulful voice, and yeah, it’ll always be a bit reedy and thin, and yes when I attempt any volume it’ll be what I’m going to charitably refer to as ‘raw’, and yes my songs need work. But if I learn to use what I have – it’s not the worst thing to be mediocre. It’s not a bad thing to NOT be good. There’s nothing on the line here. I’m not saying that my stage fright is going to suddenly vanish, but perhaps I’ll stop being so hard on myself.
And, dear readers, the only reason you’ve been subjected to this bountiful philosophical mind-vomit is so I can hold myself accountable. When I start getting annoyed or quit-ty, I will remind myself that at least 30 people read this here piece, so maybe I should follow through on it. Or at least try.
Currently reading: Reasons to Stay Alive, by Matt Haig.