I’m a little bored today, because it seems there are no projects for me to work on. This seems to happen the week of every holiday; instead of the offices just being closed the day before and day after, there is a general slowdown of all projects during the week surrounding every holiday. I suppose that’s good for the spirit in some ways, but my spirit is restless and feels like it should DO something. It also feels it should have money for all the fabulous things it wants to do.

It doesn’t help that it is the coldest day of the year so far, and the wind chill is killer, even inside the apartment. I have the heat on, but I can feel cold air through the floor, the walls, the windows…it’s what happens when you live in a building that’s as old as you are. And, seeing as I’m falling apart, I should not have more unrealistic expectations of the building.

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Today, I decided to do a free online tarot reading over at Lotus Tarot. I’ve been using their site for as long as I can remember, and every three months or so, I’ll check in for a free reading. It is not a comprehensive reading, because it only uses the cards from the Major Arcana (for those not familiar with Tarot, it’s like playing a card game with only the Royals.) However, it does give a framework for an overall picture of your life. Mine is always oddly very fitting, although in this instance, I can’t say I know who the male in my life that is not to be trusted happens to be. There are a lot of males who are important to my life in one way or another, and I’d like to believe they’re all of the trustworthy sort, so I did not like getting this particular card.

Something you may not know about me is that I’m a firm believer in the power of intuition. While I don’t take things like astrology and tarot and magick and my “psychic dreams” seriously enough to plan my life by them, I do think that some people are naturally more intuitive than others. I have always had an extremely high level of intuition and perceptiveness, to the point where I know things others wish I didn’t know, or I will have emotional reactions to things that haven’t happened yet (but they do.). I have been known to have “visions”, photo-snapshots of life that simply present themselves, when I am in a quiet and meditative state, and dreams that are extremely realistic and turn out to happen exactly the way they appear. I don’t *really* believe in psychics; it would be odd for an agnostic who is skeptical of everything to believe in something even less likely to be proven. I do, however, believe that some people have a more highly developed level of intuition than others, and there may be people out there who can tap into those parts of their brains in ways that the rest of us can’t. And, because life has an odd way of lining up exactly with my tarot readings and my moon phase calendar, I continue to consult them.

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One of the things I’ve always liked about Lotus Tarot is that every 2-3 weeks, you’ll receive information about the tarot card (not just the Major Arcana) that is guiding your life at that point. It is surprising how frequently mine will mirror something I am struggling with, and while it can be disheartening to see a negative card, it is also somewhat of a relief to see my own negative feelings and experiences explained by the card.

For those who read tarot cards for fun, as I do, it’s a wonderful way to learn the meanings of all the cards so that the readings you do for others aren’t quite so general.

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In any case, here’s the reading I received. While it isn’t all positive, it’s not all of a negative nature, either, so things could be worse. ;)


The Lovers

Card 1 (The Lovers) : How you feel about yourself now »

You want love or a new love in your life and a new relationship is in the offering. Even if you are not thinking about love, you’re in for a surprise. If faced with a choice this is an important one and could affect the rest of your life.


Wheel Of Fortune

Card 2 (Wheel Of Fortune) : What you most want at this moment »

The cards suggest that what you most want at this time is a turning point in your life and positive change – well expect it now. Life will go up a gear or two and events will accelerate forward. Destiny is at play here – have you noticed a number of events that seem rather a coincidence? This is synchronicity, trust it and go with the flow.


The Moon

Card 3 (The Moon) : Your fears »

Lies and insecurity are likely to be prominent in your life at the moment, you are afraid of being deceived and feel that you are being misled. Trust your instincts and let them guide you away from those who may seem charming but are only out for their own gains. Your turbulent emotions are muddying the waters – step back and try to find clarity of mind, although this may seem difficult. The Moon does help to illuminate the way and don’t worry, it will turn out alright in the end.


The Tower

Card 4 (The Tower) : What is going for you »

Sometimes sudden disruptive change is inevitable, and as painful as it may seem, we come through it a stronger and better person. No matter how disruptive things are at the moment, or if you feel life is really against you, re-evaluate and move on – often a new direction can bring new opportunities you never dreamed of. If you have been planning to move home you will be experiencing setbacks.


The Magician

Card 5 (The Magician) : What is going against you »

Someone, most likely male, isn’t quite what they seem. Trickery and deception cleverly disguised as charm and friendliness, so be sure that this person really does have your best interests at heart. If someone who you feel wary of is presenting you with a business opportunity, be cautious and trust your instincts.


The Hanged Man

Card 6 (The Hanged Man) : Outcome
»

You will in time know what decision to make about who or what must be given up. This is a time of passage from one phase of your life to another. It may be a difficult choice, and self-sacrifice is never easy, but if you look for truth and integrity and don’t be too materialistic or hang onto things or people for all the wrong reasons, everything will turn out in your favour.

It’s official. I cannot stand the way the society we live in is marching down a “Big Brother”-oriented road.

It is easy enough to blame the rules of corporate America, who have decided it’s no longer enough for someone to give you a suitable reference or vouch for your character and talents to acquire a job, an apartment, a loan, a car, or anything else you might want in order to live like a grown adult. That’s quite a change since 1950, when a willingness to go to work every day, not live in your parents’ basement, and to engage in personal hygiene was all it took to find a place of employment, or a new place to live.

Now, you need to not only be a person, but have a stellar “I’m A Person!” Resume. Credit check, background check, medical history, assurances that you’re not only going to be a good tenant or employee, but that you’re never going to embarrass anyone or cost anyone a dime with problems like getting sick, (which are just annoying to everyone; if something is wrong with you, keep quiet and deal with it on your own time. Why should I care about your problems?) or having made poor life choices (for which you deserve to be homeless and branded, obviously. If you want to exist in society, learn to conform and make sure you have the same moral compass as everyone else.)

We live in a “right to know” state, where everyone feels entitled to know everything about everyone at all times. Remember that time you were arrested for joyriding in your neighbour’s car when you were 18? No? You forgot, because you’re now 48 and a responsible adult?


Well, *I* deserved to know. I can’t look at you the same way ever again, knowing you’re that kind of person. And I feel so betrayed that you didn’t tell me. I should have been smart enough to internet search every aspect of your life so you wouldn’t hurt me by never telling me how much you suck as a human being.

Facetiousness, of course, but it is the mentality behind the world we’ve created for ourselves. The “information age” has turned every person out there into the morality police. How dare you put that photo up of you drinking at a bar? It embarrasses the company that what you do on your personal time is so offensive. And what would your mother think? If you’re going to do things like that, make sure nobody knows, because everyone will judge you…and that could destroy your life. That’s the worst thing that could happen to you, showing the world that you’re a real person. We don’t want real people. We want cooperative drones who think, look, and behave properly, and don’t need a sense of privacy. After all, if you want privacy, you must be doing something wrong.

The key to success in life is passing the “judgment of others test”, over and over again. And, if you don’t, you’re not the kind of person we need around.

The government and big business may have started us down the road of “you’re not a person, you’re an image”, but we’ve certainly perpetuated it. People post every movement of every day on social media, and if you’re not on social media, because you’d like to protect your privacy and your reputation, that, too is a red flag. People run background checks on everyone. It’s not as if the world has gotten so dangerous that people need to do this; in fact, the same safety measures that kept you from getting murdered in the past still apply. However, now, if you want a date with someone, it’s not enough to bring her flowers and meet her at a nice restaurant. You should also assume you will be Googled, and somewhere before the 3rd date, you’ll have to pass the requisite background and credit check. After all, how do I know you if I don’t know everything about you?

You can, of course, use social media and the power of information to destroy your enemies. You can find anything and everything with a paper trail to dig up and put out there for the entire world to see, and you’re not slandering anyone or trying to destroy anyone’s life. You’re just engaging in the freedom of information we all deserve.

Because we are all meant to be so perfect that it is up to us to expose those who aren’t, and judge them as they deserve. We are the morality police.

I have had an incident with someone out there I met in an IRC chatroom in 1998. We were not friends. The only thing I know anything about him was because he began a relentless campaign to stalk me. He went from chatting to me like we were friends, to sending me threats that he would harm himself—or me—because of me. When it got too upsetting, I asked more than one ex-boyfriend to intervene. He promised to stop. But then I’d find he was posting things about me on the internet; true, untrue, things that were out of context. When I moved to Atlanta, I didn’t broadcast my forwarding address to the world. But there was a card waiting for me when I arrived.

At some point, I told him to never contact me again. He became obsessed with the fact that I’d misrepresented myself on the Internet, because I’m not English (I was living in the UK when I met him), because I’m not an actress (just because I’m working in a different field now does not mean I was not once an actress), because I changed my name (you know, like half of Hollywood and New York celebrities), because I have a past that doesn’t conform with his expectations of being a good person. He’s done everything he can to make sure that any sense of stability I acquire, he can tear apart easily. Anything good I do, he can point out, “Too bad you’re a horrible human being and I can prove it”. For years, I’d block him on AIM, and he’d just create new identities to torment me. I’ve had to block him from communicating with me in every way possible. Yet, somehow, the guys I’m dating always end up getting anonymous notes, the details of my past are “outed” to every potential friend and acquaintance, and this guy has made it a personal mission to get me as close to being suicidal as possible. Even then, on my memorial page, he’d probably say “Why are you crying over this girl? Don’t you know what she’s like?”

I’ve attempted to reason with him. I’ve pointed out, ““If you don’t like me, just stay out of my life. My life is not your business. It never was. We never had any sort of relationship. I talked to the wrong guy in a chat room 15 years ago. That’s it. We never have to communicate, ever again.”

That, of course, is not good enough. We live in a “right to know” world, and he feels that because he didn’t have the luxury of knowing everything about me and my life when we met, anyone I cross paths with should know what kind of person I am. You shouldn’t hire me. You shouldn’t be my friend. You shouldn’t like me as a person. You shouldn’t be attracted to me. You shouldn’t applaud anything I do. You should do what you’re meant to do, in this day and age: judge me as harshly as possible.

It doesn’t matter that I’ve atoned for my mistakes. Mistakes have consequences; my life hasn’t been an exception. It doesn’t matter that I’m more empathetic and understanding of others because I myself am far from a perfect person. It doesn’t matter that karma has attacked me ten-fold, and I’m not quite the selfish bitch I was at 18,or even 21, or 25. It doesn’t matter that my mistakes have turned me into the person I am today, and my journey has given me a perspective on the world most people don’t have.

No, what matters is that you look at my past, and judge me…because the world is full of two kinds of people, obviously, good and bad. That can be easily determined with a background check, credit score, and internet search.

Every time this happens, I cry. I feel violated. I feel like I will never be allowed to live a normal live. And then, in true victim mentality, I remind myself that I deserve all of this and I am to blame for those who want to destroy me. If I hadn’t been a bad person, if I had behaved like everyone else, if I hadn’t had anything to make amends for in the first place, if I just kept a low-profile and lived a quiet life, this wouldn’t be necessary.

As many of you know, I have a friend who holds a position at Twitter. He is well-respected and rather high up in the chain of command there. The last time this person attacked me, and I cried because I felt so helpless and violated, I contacted my friend at Twitter. My friend knows of the existence of this person in my life, and promised he’d help get the post removed.

He then contacted me to say that the final word was that Twitter couldn’t just remove things because they were defamatory or revealed information about someone. I could block the person who was talking about me, but there’s no tool available to keep him from referring to me by name, linking to me, or anything else. He agreed that everyone didn’t deserve to know all the details about my life, and that I deserved a modicum of privacy and respect, but “it’s the Internet age. Nobody gets that. If every post on here that tore someone down was removed, half of Twitter would disappear. And people would go elsewhere to go off about how much they hate other people.”

He then told me a story about how he was personally victimized by Twitter and “reputational harm”, at the hands of someone he used to work with. These tweets were picked up by a writer and spun into a story. The story got around pretty quickly. He’d love to sue, but his lawyer has told him he doesn’t have grounds. Free speech, no invasion of privacy, and a “right to know” world.

It’s the society we’ve created. Anyone can say anything about you, and even if part of it’s true, you deserve any public judgment or reputational harm that comes your way. And, really, there’s nothing you can do about it. Learn to be tougher.

That’s why I was absolutely appalled to read in the New York Times about this app. Yes, we all want to know that a certain person is not a serial killer and isn’t abusive. Yes, I can joke with the world about how my taste in men once got so bad that I dated a guy dubbed “The Worst Guy In Atlanta” by a local publication.

But this, this takes invading privacy and finding ways to do harm to someone you may have negative, bitter feelings toward and putting it out there in public to a whole new level.

Nothing is sacred anymore. Nothing is private anymore, not even in the bedroom. And although I live much of my life online, there are ways in which I am certainly a very private person. This road we’re traveling down, the one paved with judgment and the right to condemn, rate, and malign others under the guise of “freedom of information” and “I deserve to know.”, it’s a dangerous one. It’s harmful. It does so much more harm than good.

A few years ago, I joked that I was going to develop a social networking tool based on all the people with whom I’ve ever hooked up, dated, had a relationship, etc. I would then send it to my friends, who could build their “tree”. You’d eventually see that your friend actually dated the guy you slept with once, and bond over it. This tool, of course, could be equally useful to men and women.

It was a sarcastic, joking idea…because it could never be implemented. First of all, it’s kind of appalling to erase all shreds of privacy in the world. Secondly, people lie. People get hurt and want to get even. People just want to hurt others because they don’t like them. “Apps” that are used to rate things and discuss people can be used maliciously, very easily. How many restaurants have suffered because someone didn’t like the owner and got all their friends to trash the restaurant on Yelp?

If anything, the Internet seems to prove that people are, at heart, judgmental and have no qualms about seeking revenge. And if there’s a tool that enables that, it will be used to cause harm to another person. And since society has agreed the only thing that matters is how someone looks on paper, the Internet is a great equalizer. We’re all equally defenceless against someone who’d like to destroy us.

Unless, of course, you’ve never hurt anyone, done anything wrong, and are perfect in every way. After all, that’s what you should be, and since you have nothing to hide, sleep easy.

The truth of the matter is, unless someone is an important part of your life, most of another person’s life isn’t something you have a “right to know”. If someone wants you to know something about them, they will tell you. Yes, you deserve to know your potential nanny doesn’t have a history of abusing children. Yes, you deserve to know before you give a loan to someone whether or not they are likely to pay you back. Yes, if inviting someone into your life may put you in physical danger, you deserve to know.

When it comes to who is gay, who’s been arrested, who is bad in bed, who isn’t liked by others, who has left a mysterious past behind them, who has colourful stories that might shock you, who has a bitter ex, who voted fow whom in the last election, who left their previous apartment a mess…well, frankly, you don’t deserve to know. That’s the whole point of getting to know someone; the more they trust you, the more they open up. Demanding that everyone deserves to know everything about everyone else without bothering with the trouble of establishing trust doesn’t just leave people feeling violated, it *is* a violation…and we are all potential victims. Twice, I had someone I thought was a friend print out entries in a “friends only” journal and share them with the entire world. These were grown women, not high school girls.

You think you won’t be violated that way because you know who your friends are? You don’t. And you don’t know who your enemies are, either, and what “app” is being developed that can really ruin your life, your business, or your all-precious “reputation”, until it’s too late. I hope the world thinks about that the next time it wants to use the Internet to take someone down, or to Google someone before even getting to know them.

9 times out of 10, what you think you deserve to know, you don’t. Three decades ago, it wouldn’t have occurred to you that you did.

And yet, we wonder why things aren’t so great. People don’t have jobs, corporations interfere in the private lives of citizens and make outrageous demands, we can’t get loans for college or mortgages to buy a home, less adults own property than ever, we’re fighting over the right to access care when we get sick, the economy sucks, and people are finding themselves either single or divorced in their 30′s,40′s, and 50′s. Nobody can ever meet the right person, even though we know almost everything about each other, thanks to “freedom of information”. So much of what ails us, we’ve created ourselves. Before we continue down this road of hypocrisy, every person should look at his or her own life, and ask: How’s this new society working for me?

Yes, it’s me! I am still alive and well, although I’ve been remarkably absent. For many reasons, I’ve been feeling less than positively about life, and some of the people in it who are very important to me have been quite absent. They always say that the holidays are a difficult time for most people; more people struggle with depression or attempt to commit suicide during the holiday season than any other.

I never really understood that, because I love the holidays! I was born between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, and I love the lights and the carols and putting up all the decorations, and sharing Thanksgiving with friends, and while I wish I were in NYC and Philly over the holidays, there is plenty going on here to make it feel like “home for the holidays”.

However, it’s kind of hit me that this year I will not be seeing family during the holiday season. This is not the first time; last year, I was relieved to avoid the travel stress and the even colder temperatures. What has affected me is knowing that there really isn’t a family that can get together and celebrate anymore. Even though this may not affect them too much, as I got older, I always made sure we had the biggest tree and the coolest decorations and spent Xmas eve singing and baking cookies and playing board games. I always felt sad that I was the only one who found this time special, and decided that when I was older, I wanted to make sure I was surrounded by people who loved that, too.

That, of course, never happened. You can’t replace your lack of family when you don’t have the desire to start your own, and now that my friends are getting older, it’s a case of “We have our own families and aren’t going to be around.” I never did acquire that sense of home and stability I always wanted, and it is something I miss a lot at the holidays.

It doesn’t help that even amongst my friends, I’ve gotten the impression I’m not so important or beloved by people I’ve let into my life over the years. I get that we’re a generation that routinely doesn’t return phone calls on time, who will answer your texts later, who will have falling-outs over Facebook or Twitter, who doesn’t fall over themselves to make time to see others when they pass through town, for whom “Can we postpone this?” has become a mantra. I sometimes think it is hard to be part of my generation, not be married or have children, and live in a very transient city if what you value are the people who are “like family” and the experiences you share with them. We all grow apart, and it’s very easy to miss the people who have distanced themselves, not out of dislike for you but because their life is just always busy.

This sense of isolation, of the world moving on without me, it makes me sad. Because when I was a little girl, I remember wanting a small house with a big tree and music and a lot of people who loved me all gathered together. Nobody explained to me that such things are only for movies.

In other news, I have a new article up at Nerdy Minds entitled So, You Want To Date A Geek?. It is far less serious or controversial than my other pieces, and hopefully shows a more light-hearted, endearing side of my personality. However, since it was published on Friday evening (the worst time to publish anything you want anyone to see), it’s gotten far less readers than my pieces normally do. Please stop by and visit, and give some feedback!

Happy November, readers! I’ll be back with some other updates and stories soon, as the holiday madness approaches. :)

I haven’t been blogging on any sort of regular basis, so today’s entry is more of a hodgepodge collection of thoughts, feelings, observations, and memories. You’ll have to forgive me if I appear to be an ADD blogger. :P I’ve been ill for almost two weeks now, and it doesn’t let me concentrate as well as I should. Needless to say, creativity has taken a back seat for now.

Today, I woke up in an emotional and contemplative mood. It struck home today that I often end up feeling like I care about a lot of people in my life so much more than they are willing to care about me. I often feel cast aside and minimized, because people want me around when I’m useful, have feelings for me when it’s challenging to ignore them, enjoy knowing me until the novelty wears off, and want my company when it’s convenient. Worse yet, they may actually wish I weren’t around most of the time, but realise I am something that must be tolerated—so I never know that someone I actually like knowing would prefer not to have to interact with me. I get that it’s the way the world works—at least three friends have spoken about this recently as it relates to their own lives—but I realise that I feel angry about this way we relate to one another in this world. The idealistic side of me cannot reconcile reality with how things should be, and because I don’t think I am so wrong on this one, I’m not sure I should have to learn.

I feel angry that people are temporary, and we’re expected to accept that of our friendships and relationships. I feel betrayed when someone I considered a friend tells others they dislike me. I feel used when someone I considered a very close friend suddenly can’t be bothered to make time for me. I feel hurt when someone who has been in my life for a long time tends to tear down my self-esteem as a result of their own unhappiness. This is just not how I treat people. I deserve better. We all deserve better when we allow someone to occupy space, time, or feeling in our lives. Our thoughts and feelings and experiences, and what we share with others, should be treated with great value and handled honestly. Everything in life these days is just so casual, that emotions are kind of a luxury.

Earlier today, in my FB posts about my 30 days of being thankful, I said I was thankful for my sensitivity..but that being said, it would be easier if I were wired a little differently. I wonder what it’s like to be the kind of person who doesn’t cry over others, but simply replaces them. I don’t think I’ve ever been that sort of person, however hard I’ve tried.

I realised today that I feel hurt, and underneath all of that, I feel angry about not being of any great importance to people who claimed to love and value and admire me. I feel angry that someone should smile and joke with me to my face, yet talk about how much they dislike me to my friends when I am not around. I feel angry because I should not be a doormat because my heart gets so easily involved in the lives of others.

Before I started blogging about that particular topic, I was working on a blog about reality TV, creativity, and why teachers and coaches are important in life. So, allow me to switch gears, and discuss a different aspect of human connection.

It’s absolutely no secret that one of my favourite (and least harmful) guilty pleasures in life is reality TV. I’m actually not into watching most of the “talent-based” competitions on TV these days, such as the Voice, America’s Got Talent, American Idol, etc. Odd for a performer, I know, but they give off such a manufactured, produced vibe. At the same time, they give the impression that performing is something everyone can do. Winning a reality TV talent show isn’t about talent quite as much as marketability, and the idea that many of the producers have about marketability is a narrow-minded, formulaic one. American Idol is a good case in point; most of the winners put out their obligatory album and were never heard from again. Many of those who did not win used the exposure as a launching pad for a career, and some unconventional contestants became marketable. I believe Jennifer Hudson has an Oscar, as well as some Grammys.

I enjoy watching Dance Moms, and the spin-off show, Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition. The young talent that is showcased is impressive, and the overbearing stage mothers and fathers (which are a serious part of life for anyone who begins performing before the age of 16) are often portrayed in a realistic light. Everyone wants to be famous, to be a star, if they have those performance-based gifts and inclinations. However, performing is a high-pressure environment that isn’t for those who aren’t resilient, can’t handle rejection, or have low self-esteem. These shows give an inkling of why so many young prodigies self-destruct before the age of 30, or quit whatever they do by the time they leave high school, major in accounting, and call it a day. These aren’t shows that exploit very talented young kids and neurotic parents; rather, they reflect the real world of competitive performance.

A new show premiered, which I had no intention of watching, called Chasing Nashville. Not only do I tend to not watch talent shows, but I do not care for country music. However, it drew me in, this show that’s more of a documentary about a few very different girls between the ages of 13-17, who dream of being Nashville musicians. I’ve now added it to the list of shows I watch, but something about it struck me as ludicrous.

They will show these girls singing, show they are talented, and make it obvious that they have been chosen because they are very gifted—gifted, not perfect. It is amazing how offended some gifted, untrained young people look when the feedback is “I think you could use a vocal coach”. They should all be introduced to an opera singer or a Broadway star at some point in time. While it’s arguable that having a degree in something like musical theatre or vocal performance is a great way to spend four years and $40,00-$120,000 without much to show for it in the “real world”, it’s equally ludicrous that a singer would be offended at being told he or she needs a vocal coach. Of course you do. You’re a singer. If you play piano, you have a piano teacher. If you’re a star athlete, you have a trainer. Why would you need to show someone singing badly to point out “You need a vocal coach?”. Every singer has a weakness in his or her voice, whether it be a physical issue or one that can be corrected through technique. Most people at that age have no idea how to work with their range, or that their vocal range will change and develop over time. Few know how to deal with breaks in the voice for women, or switching to falsetto for men. I know 30 year-old adults who can’t be heard above the crowd because they’ve never been taught projection.

Someone telling you that you have the talent to benefit from working with someone better than you is not an insult, but a compliment. If you’d like to be a singer, or an actor who can carry a tune, you need a vocal coach. If the pop music industry pushed this as much as professional singers elsewhere, you wouldn’t have bad singers using autotune the same way the modeling industry relies on Photoshop, and amazing singers with improper technique and smoking habits getting polyps removed at the age of 23. It is not an insult. Yet, the thing that is the most challenging and intimidating to these young girls is the idea of working with a vocal coach. A coach is, of course, just a teacher. In theory, taking a class in something you enjoy should be the least frightening thing ever. Oddly, the performer on the show who has the most natural talent is the one who breaks down in tears because she can’t handle a voice lesson.

People think that voice lessons are for people who don’t know how to sing or can’t sing, and that can be the case, if someone with no experience or ability needs to learn the skill. For the most part, voice lessons are for singers who have potential, voices that can go from good to great, or great to utterly impressive. People also think that voice lessons are simply about running scales over and over again.

However, there’s something about working with a vocal coach—or an acting coach, or having private lessons with a dance teacher, or whatever it is you do as a performer—that requires vulnerability. There may only be one other person in the room, but there’s nowhere to hide. There is no way to dress up your flaws and make them look good, or hope they will go unnoticed.

In reality, about half of every session with your vocal coach is pure silliness. You do tongue twisters, and make siren noises, and other things that make you feel incredibly stupid. Where I went to university, the practice rooms were soundproof, and you’re totally glad for that. Like many sopranos who also have a decent belt voice, I have a note where there’s a clear break between the two, and it is a problematic vocal flaw. I am very insecure about it. There are roles I could never sing because of that freaking note. I’ve done countless exercises to learn vocal flexibility and to avoid that note, but the most traumatic experience? Well, I had a vocal coach who made me yodel.

I don’t yodel. The first few times, I flat-out refused. Then I tried. I failed horribly. Not only do I not yodel, I absolutely could NOT yodel. It was painful, physically and emotionally. It was probably even more painful to listen to me try to yodel. But the biggest problem wasn’t that I couldn’t yodel, it was that I was terrified to reveal a horrible, awful, embarrassing flaw I had—even in front of one person. It was like waving a sign saying “Hey, this is why I suck”. And, for that reason, I empathise highly with this very driven perfectionist who can sing in front of a ton of people with all the confidence in the world, but can’t work with a vocal coach.

That type of insecurity is the major reason for any singer to work with a vocal coach. Everyone has insecurities, weaknesses, things that can be improved. But, for almost every performer, the most limiting factor is fear. You may think it’s an odd problem for a world that’s based on doing things most people would never do. Simply being a performer implies a lack of fear and inhibition, since more people rate “public speaking” above “death” on the list of biggest fears. But it simply isn’t true. Every performer has a weakness, a fear, an insecurity. The right vocal coach identifies where and what that is and helps to conquer that. But it is scary.

I watched the show again this week, because I was curious about the continued struggle of working with a vocal coach.The episode focused on two talented teenage girls in for voice lessons. One has a very strong mezzo voice, and can belt impressively, and knows that is a skill that wins competitions. The other has a beautiful stage presence, but a smaller lyric voice that is good, but not developed. She has neither the physical size nor vocal strength to have a large belt voice, and country music emphasizes that. The first, who captivates every audience she sings in front of, runs out of the room crying because she can’t let go of her inhibitions and work through the silly vocal exercises. The second girl is willing to do just about anything the vocal coach asks, but on stage, reverts to looking like a girl doing a decent rendition of something for a beauty pageant. The solution? The vocal coaches unknowingly set them up on a “karaoke date”.

Here’s a secret most people don’t know: Singers are afraid of karaoke. Often, professionally trained singers are downright TERRIFIED of karaoke. You don’t know what key your song will be in, what song you’ll be singing, and you have no time to rehearse. Sometimes, the crowd is silent and judgmental. Other times, they won’t shut up to listen to you. Many, many singers are absolutely petrified of karaoke because, like making silly faces or yodeling, it is unrehearsed. It can be a train wreck. It can be embarrassing. I literally stopped singing for two years because an ex-boyfriend and his friend laughed at me at karaoke. It didn’t matter that I have degrees in musical theatre and vocal performance, and until that point, would sing for anyone, anywhere. I’d been told when I wasn’t good in the past. I’d had bad performances, bad auditions—but being judged by people you will see again, when you want them to like and respect you and think you’re talented, it’s difficult. Karaoke is something that may just present your talent in the worst light ever, and nobody enjoys that. If you can get past the element of the unexpected and let go of the need to be perfect, it’s terrific fun. But, a lot of singers are as nervous–if not more so—to sing at karaoke than to audition for something.

I think it was awesome to see experienced and knowledgeable coaches that could identify performers with opposite attitudes, insecurities, personalities, stage presences, and vocal ranges, and realise that putting them together to sing “for fun”, unexpectedly, was a growing experience. However, it did not look like either of those young performers were having much fun. They were clearly just insecure and terrified. However, the experience was as much for their teachers, who saw clearly what their students excelled at, and what needed to be worked upon.

Good teachers exist to break down walls. I had a vocal teacher who worked with me only on jazz and blues music, an odd choice for someone working with a lyric soprano with a controlled and naturally ornamented voice. As it turned out, she herself had a similar voice, but had a mother who was an opera singer and a father who was a jazz musician. From her, I learned a lot about emotional expression. I never would have ended up working as a cabaret singer if she had not taken me out of that comfort zone. I had another vocal coach who would put together students she thought could learn from one another, and say “Experiment. Form a musical act”. I ended up working with a talented tenor with impeccable technique. Between us, we could sing in 7 languages and play 5 instruments. But we were about as entertaining as a cardboard box, until one day, we suddenly had an electric guitar, drums, and me belting (sometimes terribly) into a mic. Our “band” performed in front of crowds of whoever would listen to us, off and on, for 6 years.

When I was in NYC, I had a favourite vocal coach, a petite blonde woman with a voice three times her size named Yvonne. Those who have known me for a long time may remember Yvonne. She was the type of vocal coach who only worked with a certain number of students, because she developed a genuine interest and relationship with all of them. I swear, she was at every musical and revue and cabaret and opera one of her students was in, and we all adored her. Consequently, her students stayed with her a long time, and we inevitably got to know one another well. Many of us ended up performing together, completely by chance.

Arriving to see your vocal coach often means sitting and waiting for the person before you to finish his or her lesson. The guy with the time slot before me happened to be singing the role of Don Quixote in Man Of La Mancha. He was a very talented tenor who didn’t seem to need extensive work on his song, but when you’re almost performance-ready, that’s not really what your sessions are for. Yet, I seemed to arrive whenever he’d work on the key change and hit his high notes (or not), over and over and over again.

He was a friendly guy whom I (very mistakenly) concluded to be gay, and always smiled and said hello on his way out. I was working on a musical called The Fantasticks at the time, but one day, I remarked to Yvonne that I knew the title song from Man Of La Mancha well enough to be that actor’s understudy. The next week, after 10 minutes of silently singing along with Don Quixote, I went in for my lesson. Yvonne’s response was “I’m tired, and it’s been a long day. Why don’t you just sing this one?”

And, the next thing I know, I’m at the piano, belting out “I am I, Don Quixote, the lord of La Mancha…” A few weeks later, when I actually knew the song well enough to get through it, Yvonne detained this other young actor and said “Wait a minute! Alayna has something she’s been working on, and I think you can relate.”

It was one of the funniest moments, and one I will always remember. I think it’s because actors in general have a kinship–what we do is hard, and fosters insecurity on a daily basis, and not everyone gets that. Performing the song I heard my fellow student working on week after week gave me new respect for what he was doing, and how talented he was.

Yvonne was married to a man quite a bit older than her, and he ended up needing a heart transplant after a long illness. Her students all came together to put together fundraisers to help her cope, because she was almost like a mother to us (although, in reality, she was no older than I am now.) When the transplant didn’t work as well as planned, Yvonne directed a musical, Camelot, in which she cast many of her students. It was meant to be another “for the benefit of”-type productions for her husband, but the benefit was something much different. He never missed a rehearsal, even the one-on-one sessions with the actors or the deadly Sunday morning group vocal rehearsals. No matter what we did in that theatre, he was there. There were 25 of us in that show, and he talked to every single one of us extensively. I’d like to think us doing that show was of immense benefit to him, because it gave him something to love, something he could share with his wife and her students, and engaged him in a world where he was not sick and broken.

He passed away a week into the run of Camelot. It is heartbreaking to remember that day, because a theatre feels empty when the love and energy that goes into it disappears. There was nobody prouder of us on opening night, even if he couldn’t get out of his wheelchair for a standing ovation. It was a tremendous loss for everyone when he passed, but we never missed a performance. I think he would have been very displeased if we had. To this day, though, I can only hope that when I am dying, I am blessed enough to live my final days surrounded by love, family, and creative energy.

For those young artists out there who don’t understand why you need to work with a vocal coach if your voice doesn’t suck, there are so many answers. The most important one, though, is that for many people, the world of theatre is an adopted family and your coaches, your teachers, your mentors—they play a significant role in helping you grow, not just as an artist, but as a person.

The world of performance simply isn’t for those who imagine they’ll travel through life alone, with their talent, and actively pursue success. It is for those who understand how special it is to work with other talented people to build something that may exist only for a day, a week, or a month…but is there forever. I wish *that* was the lesson today’s young artists were receiving.

We live in a world where people are disposable, where people don’t say what they mean, where everything is taken so lightly—friendships, relationships, talents, emotional connections. However fabulous you are, there is another, better version waiting to replace you. Few connections are forever. And that’s simply not a world I feel comfortable in, because I think I had the honour of seeing many examples of love and friendship and dedication and respect around me, in between all the crap.

I am angry that, in our society, when it comes to what we value and how we relate, the crap seems to be winning.

I deserve much better than being anyone’s option, convenience, half-hearted friend, or person you like well enough, but not well-enough to invite to your parties because your real friends have something to say about it. I deserve better than being just another person you pay attention to when you have time and interest. I deserve better than having my work not even read because it’s long or difficult or you just don’t care that much. I deserve better than the way you call me a friend but never say one nice thing to me because it’s not your job to prop up my ego. I deserve better than to think you might actually find me charming company once in awhile, only to find out from my friends that you struggle with merely being around me.

I am fucking awesome and irreplaceable, and it pisses me off that so many people don’t see it. Maybe I’m not as insecure as I think I am. I’m just angry at a lifetime of being minimized, overlooked, valued as something less than I deserve, or told without words that I’m not as special as that prettier/smarter/sweeter friend you’d prefer to spend time with, or made to feel like I’m not good enough because you’ll only associate with me when your real friends aren’t around.

I’m old enough to know better, and to believe I deserve better. And when I look around at those who occupy space in my world and see that’s not what I’m getting, I feel hurt and pissed off and used and lied to. And I am angry when those things happen to me, and I think, well…maybe that’s just OK.

Somebody, somewhere, is bound to appreciate my fabulousness. If it isn’t you, I shouldn’t cry over it. But I do, and I can’t help it. But I’m still angry, and wonder why I never feel good enough in this world of ours. Unlike reality TV, life isn’t set up to be a competition.