Against Perfectionism: Learning to Sing Our Heart Songs Freely
When I was growing up, I used to love to sing. I was in every choir I could be in (both at church and school). And, yes, I went to church, which makes me laugh now. No one in my family is religious, but I've always been a little bit of a weirdo-mystic, so I went to a bunch of different Christian churches, usually by myself. Sometimes my grandma joined me. Ha, I'm reminded of how uncomfortable I felt in the shower after someone taught us that "God is always watching." Thinking, could he, like, not watch, now? For the record, I'm not at all Christian now. But, I digress.
The singing thing. I loved it. I once invented a radio show that I recorded on cassette tape (remember cassette tapes?), where I sang the entire Lion King soundtrack as a gift for my mom. I loved all the movies with music the best, and I spent a lot of time in our bathrooms b/c they had the best acoustics. Heh.
Oh, when I say movies with music, I don't exactly mean musicals. Even as a kid, I loved rock n roll. Here's a video from one of my childhood favorites, Streets of Fire. She's a singer in a rock band. I wanted to be her SO BADLY. Btw, time has done nothing to change how I feel about this performance. I still think it's one of the coolest things I've ever seen/heard. And, that outfit. OMG.
OK, since I'm taking this trip down memory lane, I have to also mention Xanadu, which is a movie I've watched probably hundreds of times. Looking back, I realize I alternated between these two, like, A LOT. Olivia Newton John plays one of Zeus's muses who comes to earth to help a struggling artist, and oops, they fall in love. Plus, roller skates! Haha.
I still dream about that golden robe thing she's wearing at the end, too. Pretty damn great. Anyway, whoo, got lost in the fantasy there for a minute. Where was I?
So, I sang in choir through my 2nd year of high school, when I decided, pretty dramatically, to never sing again. I'm not even completely sure why now, but I think it has something to do with my high school choir teacher.
I remember he once made all of us stop singing so that he could berate a girl in class; he pointed her out and told her if she was going to sound like a dying cow then she might as well lip synch. He was never mean like that to me; actually, when I tried out for the school musical, I got in! But, he was frequently very cruel to others, and I hated him for that. So he had something to do with it, but I think I also just realized that I was never going to be a really great singer.
My body just... can't do that.
So maybe it has to do with perfectionism. I wouldn't allow myself to sing at all if it wasn't going to be perfect, but my commitment to perfectionism hasn't been worth it. It has been very painful to deny myself something that my heart has loved so deeply for so long. I've been learning since, mostly the hard way, how damaging perfectionism is for your spirit. And, I've been doing everything I can to let go of that kind of self abuse. Because that's really what it is: perfectionism isn't about quality, it's about self abuse.
My junior year in high school I discovered punk. So, that helped.
Here's one of my favorite tracks by Pere Ubu. He's a terrible singer, the worst! But, that's kind of what makes this beautiful (imho). In fact, I don't think this would be very good without the truly terrible vocal stylings.
There are so many other examples of this: people who are truly terrible singers, but who just do it anyway, despite what anyone says. Bob Dylan is a terrible singer, and he just won the Nobel Prize! Sometimes, people like bad singers better, maybe because their imperfections make them feel more real. Closer to where we are. Human.
I'm thinking about all this because after banning myself from singing for half my life, I just sang a song that I pretty much made up on the spot. (Well, I had the poem, but I didn't know the tune.) It was scary, but I did it and, I have to say, something came alive inside of me. Not because it's a particularly groundbreaking piece of artwork, but because I let myself do it. And, in doing it, I broke the spell--the sort of sick, perfectionistic spell I was under about singing. I started learning to appreciate my voice the way it is, to love myself a little better.
Now I feel bolder, more rebellious. Isn't it a strange kind of fallacy that you should have to be a "good" singer to sing your song? "Good" according to who? My horrible high school choir teacher? Your horrible choir teacher?
I mean, hell, people go around making "terrible" songs all the time. So why can't I? Why can't you?
Let's sing together!