A song exploring the communication problems between those of us with chronic pain and mental illness and those without.
“Like water rolling off a duck’s back”, so the old saying goes. I’m not much like a duck (well, other than I may waddle a bit when I walk, and then there’s that quacking thing…and, my lips, of course). I wish I was more like a duck. How great it would be to have bad experiences just roll off like so much water and not be affected because my God-designed waterproof feathers keep me from getting soaked, damaged and overwhelmed by the badness.
I wish I was more like a duck.
Last night I had a rather embarrassing, humiliating and demoralising experience. To make matters worse, this pickle I found myself in was not my fault (hey, I’ll hold my hands up and admit often I’m the one to blame for my pain, but this time it wasn’t the case). I cried most of the night, kept awake by my anguish.
The whole episode reminded me of a time when I was about 15 years of age and was to sing at a special meeting for Veteran’s Day. Now, I have always been good (or, at least I was so when I was younger) at remembering my words. I never forgot one. Up until that night, when almost every word in the song flew out of my head in an instant leaving me up there blinking into the spotlight while no words came out of my mouth. Some people blamed my age or lack of experience; the truth was I had been singing professionally since the age of four. I had no excuse. This, unlike last night’s experience, was my fault. I had no one else to blame but myself. The experience marked me. I was so embarrassed it made me sick. I have never fully recovered from that night over 20 years ago. So much for “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, eh? What a load of bull-poo!
Of course, that experience when I was 15 was not the end of my musical career. The fact that I was so young worked in my favour even if people were mistaken in thinking that it was youth – and therefore – inexperience that had caused my nightmare situation that night.
Last night was the same, but different. I didn’t forget my words. And, there was very little I could have done to change it other than to not sing at all or stop when my guest accompanist began the song we were doing in the wrong key forcing me to sing it way out of my comfortable contralto range (where we had rehearsed it – and, man, it sounded awesome in rehearsal). The song was part of a bigger programme, so it wouldn’t have done to stop and start again – so, the professional “went on with the show”. Of course, there’s no explaining this to people who don’t understand music. I simply sounded crap (“who told her she could sing?”). There was no way to save my musical/vocal reputation. For this night, and those people, it was ruined. And this time it wasn’t even my fault.
Now, I don’t want anyone to get the mistaken idea that I am badmouthing my extremely talented keyboardist. The man is simply talent on legs. He played what he played absolutely exceptionally (and any decent second soprano could have handled it easily and beautifully, but I am a contralto) it was just, unfortunately (for me and my rep), the wrong key. Believe me, there’s a lot of difference between F and C.
I sobbed most of the night, feeling kicked in the teeth by life again – marked, irrevocably, and not feeling in the least bit duck-like. Humilation is just so utterly sh*tty!
I didn’t get much sleep, obviously. But, after I did mercifully drop off to sleep in the wee hours of the morning, surprisingly enough I woke up without immediately starting to cry again (although, I did tear up a bit as the morning progressed), and I felt led to read Lamentations from the Bible (well, if anyone is lamenting, it would be me…).
My own people laugh at me. All day long they sing their mocking songs. He has filled me with bitterness and given me a bitter cup of sorrow to drink. He has made me chew on gravel. He has rolled me in the dust. Peace has been stripped away, and I have forgotten what prosperity is. I cry out, “My splendor is gone! Everything I had hoped for from the Lord is lost!” The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!”
Well! Here I am rolling around in the dust like Jeremiah the prophet was, humiliated, in sorrow and pain…yet. What a great word that is. Yet. Jeremiah chose hope again and so can I. Why? One reason:
I remembered my grandfather when he would comfort me when I was little, and he’d say, “You’s bein’ wuv-ved” (wuvved – pronounced like wuvv-ed). He didn’t have a speech impediment and he was quite well-spoken and a very intelligent and well-educated man. But, when he was affectionate with his family, he used language like this with us. I still hear him say it, though he has been gone these many years, when I feel very vulnerable and very unloved. “You’s bein’ wuvved.”
This morning it was as if my Heavenly Father was saying to me, “Autumn, there’s hope. All is not lost. This situation has affected you greatly and maybe you can never forget it, but you can put it behind you today and start afresh, because you’s bein’ wuvved.”
So, we have established that I am not much like a duck where it counts but I am somewhat like an ancient prophet. We have pretty much made it clear that humilation sucks big time, and – judging from past experience – we can pretty much assume that I am not likely to “get over” it anytime soon. YET. We have seen yet. And, that one little word makes a big difference going forward, because I can’t go back and change anything.
Thank God for yet, for hope, for grandfathers, for music, for ducks and, most of all, for wuv.
“A great fire burns within me, but no one stops to warm themselves at it, and passers-by only see a wisp of smoke.” – Vincent van Gogh
This is exactly how I feel about my music. And, in general, I relate to this incredible artist very much. The anxiety. The bouts with mental illness. Sometimes I wonder if it’s all a part of the brilliantly artistically gifted: you can have the creativity and be able to produce works of marvellous beauty, but the pain, the torment, the feeling that you really don’t belong here, all go along with it. It is very, very sad. But, it is our existence. And, I suppose if you gave me the choice between being “happy” (whatever that is) and my ability to sing and make music, I would choose the latter. But, what I am writing specifically about in this post is this issue of obscurity rather than our shared mental health problems.
According to Wikipedia, during Vincent van Gogh’s life, his work was known only to a handful of people and appreciated by fewer still. Hmm, that certainly sounds all too familliar.
Of course, not all artists are doomed to live in this obscurity, only being appreciated and finding acclaim for their contributions posthumously. Not all of us are alike. There isn’t a great artistic brotherhood (just like there isn’t some great sisterhood of women, either…but, I digress – yes, again! – that’s a post for another time); we aren’t all cut out with cookie cutters. Some of us aren’t tortured as badly as others and some of us do get discovered (and appreciated) whether tortured greatly or not prior to leaving this ill-fitting world. I do wonder what it’s like to be in that category, but that has not been my lot.
Vincent van Gogh was 37 when he died. I am 38, nearly 39. I feel old. I feel passed it. And, my entire life – artistically speaking – has been this quote. When I saw it today, shared on another artist’s Facebook wall, it knocked the wind out of me. I felt like I had been struck. I physically hurt when I read it. Because, I know this experience, and it has been my experience for nearing four decades now.
And, so, this is simply my lament for myself (yes, another pity party for a pitiful nobody of a singer/songwriter), and it is my celebration of van Gogh – who was brilliant and sad and who painted the sky not on canvas only, but on the very fabric of our hearts. His work hangs, no longer belittled or thought of no worth, now admired, acclaimed, sung of, cherished and highly valued. I wonder what it would have been like if his paintings had been considered with such value when he was alive. One thing I can say – back to the mental health thing – it would not have changed his mental state, it would not have chased the demons away, but what it would have done is to provide validation to the living man and put bread on his table; it would have fed both spirit and body.
How am I so certain of this? Because, that is what it would do for me.
Now, a last note must be made here. To the precious few who do support my music, I want to make sure you know how grateful I am for you. I would never want you to think that I’m ignoring you; I want you to know that you mean a great deal to me – you are a tiny, but beautiful, spark of validation in a black sky that would otherwise be solid darkness; I appreciate you very much. But I needed to write this post because of how this quote affected me. I needed to write it for me, and for him.
I never believe the people who claim to have no regrets. I look at them and think, “What a load of bullpoo!” (being polite as I can be here). I will freely admit that I have (loads) of ’em.
“Bottle” is me at my most autobiographical. I wrote this song in all of about 10 minutes one night as part of a “songwriting challenge”. It’s what I would call a lament. I’d also say it’s one of the best things I’ve ever written, and certainly a personal favourite…definitely, simply, personal.
What have you filled your bottle with? Have you spilled your dreams out to stain your world the colour of “what if” and “I should’ve” and filled it up again with everything and anything else?
If, like me, you have a cracked and battered bottle, once full of dreams, now full of regrets, and you identify with the song (because, hey, I know I’m not alone out there), the album version is available to download all over the interwebz via CD Baby, i-Tunes, Amazon and Bandcamp, etc.