Do the Thing You Cannot Do

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“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Man, I love inspirational quotes. Especially the line above by Eleanor Roosevelt, who was an extraordinary woman of any time, let alone the era when she lived. One of these days I will read her biography.

There is more to the quote than I share above: in the bigger context, it seems to me that she was talking more about facing tragedy head-on and forging ahead even though everything inside of you may be screaming to shut down and shun the world.

But when I read that shorter quote above, I hear Eleanor talking about fear and courage. There is so much to be said about fear and courage, right? Including how it seems like fear has run amok in people these days. I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

Fear can be helpful. It can steer you away from danger as we all know. However, fear can cause us to lead very small lives. Lives where we are afraid of new people, new ventures, new foods, new anything. Lives where we don’t know our neighbors. Lives where we never try new things or give old things a second chance.

It’s so easy to cocoon in our safe zone. But this reminds me of another quote, author unknown:

“Some one once told me the definition of Hell: The last day you have on earth, the person you became will meet the person you could have become.”

I need to make sure the person I am on that last day of earth is a full-fledged singer.

Today I get back on a stage to sing jazz for the first time in 10-11 years. My two youngest kids have never seen me do something like this. I’m not even sure they understand that’s how their parents met.

I’m a little nervous about it. The gig really belongs to my husband, the “real” jazz musician, a percussionist. He’s the one who loves and has been playing this music for nearly 40 years. I’m just a pretend jazz singer.

I have a decent enough voice to where I won’t make a fool of myself, but the first time I tried singing jazz was when I met him about 17+ years ago. Singing with a group was something I had wanted to do for years. The music didn’t have to be jazz, but there is something classic, elegant, and wonderfully improvisational about the art form that is appealing to me. However by the time I gave it a whirl in my early 30s, I found I had become a bit more comfortable as an introvert, not an entertainer charming an audience. I can do it. I’ve done it. But it gets harder, not easier, as I age.

And gigging with my husband and his trio is altogether different. Jazz musicians are over-the-top talented.

See, any jazz artist worth his salt can play any tune, in any style, in any key, at the drop of a hat. They don’t need to rehearse. They just wing it right there on stage, and it sounds amazing. That’s the beauty of the art form.

I’m not that kind of artist.

I am a wee bit more…structured. I have a very low vocal range, which means nothing I sing is performed in the key most people recognize for a given song. And I’m not good enough to just wing it however the group wants to play the song. I kinda need to know what to expect. Predictability is a good thing. As the vocalist, like it or not, all eyes are on YOU. You better be comfortable up there in the spotlight and be having a good time or the audience will sense it, and the fear inside you will spread to them.

I watched it happen a couple of times I had no business being behind a microphone. Eww…those were shameful moments! At least I’ve had a forgiving audience.

I suppose I’m what jazz musicians might call high maintenance! But I do know that I sound better than most of the vocalists my husband has hired in the past. I heard a truly cringe-worthy, unrecognizable “Over the Rainbow” once and told my husband he needed to be an instrumental trio from now on. And he was for years and years, until now.

Having given a lot of thought about fear, and about how one should not hide their talent under a bushel, I’m taking the plunge tonight. It’s time to chuck fear to the curb and give this a whirl. Three songs in front of hometown crowd. Baby steps.

Our city hosts a “Jazz Under the Stars” series in the summer time and the average attendance is 500 people. Could be cool. It’s been a very long time since I’ve sung for a crowd that large. Frankly the more people the better. And the weather this July evening is flat-out perfect, so we could get a few more out to see us perform.

My husband is really the star of the show. I’m doing this to support him. But I’m also doing this because I have pretended long enough that I cannot.

What fear do you need to chuck to the curb? I dedicate my performance tonight to you.

Photo by BRUNO CERVERA on Unsplash

A Little Bit of This and That

I haven’t posted much lately, it’s true. My mother-in-law came to visit for a week earlier this month for the first time in years. I didn’t take time off work to visit with her, so evening was the only time we had to spend together. I figured I shouldn’t spend it blogging while she was here.

It was a wonderful, relaxing visit, and she said it was the nicest week she’s had since her husband passed away over 40 years ago. That’s quite the testament! I’m a little bit blown away by the pronouncement, to be honest. However I’m so glad it was a good trip for her and all of us. Our kids don’t get to see her very often so this really was a special treat, especially since she is the only living grandparent.

My husband took time off work while she was here and took her all around town and out for some good eats most days. She raved about the food. That alone is an impressive feat since we don’t exactly live in a foodie kind of town and she is a foodie kind of woman. She got to see schools where her son works, meet the kids and his coworkers in the music departments, visit me at my work and meet my coworkers, hang out in his favorite cigar shop, attend our daughter’s dance competition (where she was BEAMING as her granddaughter took the stage), and visit our church. She was a hit every where she went. She always is. Tutu, which is Hawaiian for grandma, sparkles with personality and takes no guff.  She also stays out of our business which makes her a pretty good mother-in-law as far as those go.

My husband picked her up from the airport on Day 1 and took her straight to a restaurant where the kids and I met up with them to celebrate his 50th birthday. I watched as he escorted her like a gentleman from the car to the front door. She had her light golden brown hair blown out in a bouffant pageboy, nails all done, and she sported funky, dangly earrings. She was dressed head to toe in black, wearing little black cigarette pants as they called him back in the day, and a black faux leather jacket with rivets. She works out at Curves every day back in her home city so she’s in pretty good shape. No lie, she looked like a million bucks. She just had her birthday, and when I saw her I thought, “Holy crap: she’s 80 and edgy! I wanna be 80 and edgy!” She was absolutely beautiful.

It’s been an semi-eventful month all around. The day Tutu flew home, I learned my boss left our company which was totally unexpected. So unexpected, it almost feels like she died. A group of us are left dealing with the shock and immediacy of the news, and trying to keep juggling the ball. However, as I told a coworker of mine, “I am the ball”, meaning as far as I am concerned there is no juggling, no dropping.  I am one with the ball and it ain’t going nowhere.

DeltaAnd now I’m sitting in Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport waiting for my flight back home. I came here for a two-day conference, on maybe my fifth visit to this city and countless connecting flights through this airport over the years.

This time is different, though. Someone from my past – someone with whom I’ve had a supernatural connection – lives in this city and the mere act of being here stirs a huge number of memories that were happy at one time but ended in a way that makes me sad and feel bad about myself and bad about how things ended.

I didn’t think it would bother me. Ok, let’s say that I really hoped that I had evolved enough as a person to move past that time but it has been an unsettling couple of days. I was even more of an introvert than I normally am at conferences….I didn’t feel much like talking to anyone. I have been uncomfortable in my own skin. I just don’t let things like that happen. I mean it: I don’t live that way. But I can’t seem to help it right now.

Not to mention how my hair and humidity have never been friends but on this trip, they are outright feuding. I had to walk three blocks from my hotel to the conference and on arrival, I looked like I let my hair air dry after a shower. Two days of feeling like I wanted a paper bag over my head. Yoy. Even my hair knew I didn’t want to be there.

I have always tried to live my life looking forward toward hopes and dreams, and not backward on regrets. But if there was one thing I could change, it would be the relationship I had with this individual. It’s painful, and time hasn’t really healed it. Naturally I don’t like thinking about that and feeling this way, but it’s otherwise difficult for me to equate Atlanta with anything else at this point.

However another one of my friends is moving to this city later this year so maybe just maybe there is hope that I will drop the existing mental connection I have with this city and develop a better one as I watch her take this town by storm. She’s an orthopedic surgeon and author with a great perspective on life and health. It’s a joy to watch a powerful, ambitious, dynamic, intelligent, and beautiful woman develop a vision for herself and her family and make it a reality. Now THAT is a very forward-looking, hopeful development I can focus on, even if it is my friend and not myself.

Maybe what I have going on here in Atlanta is fear. And to conquer fear you must face it.  Maybe I’m starting to face it by talking about, albeit somewhat cryptically, in this blog.

But right now? I just want to get on that plane and head back home to my family, squeeze them hard, and tell them I love them. And take a big, deep breath since I’m struggling for air at Delta Gate B27.