Searching for “Wow.”

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My Facebook page has become one long trigger warning for a quarter-life existential crisis. My college schoolmates are speaking at TEDx or traveling the world. My high school batchmates/schoolmates are setting up businesses, becoming bloggers, getting engaged, and/or auditioning for reality TV shows.

I amsick. With yet another cough and cold.

A few days ago, I started learning guitar again. The last time I picked up Elinor for any extended stretch of time, I was in college, hefting her on my back from class to class, stealing practice time between reviewing for finals and crunching out the beginnings of my thesis.  I would play and sing everywhere, puzzling over tabs and timing, discovering a world of music made outside of my body, a method that physically challenged my idea of control.  It was exciting, then–every new song was a small victory against a nagging feeling of being “lost” that I’d had since leaving my college theater org.

Now, I’m only just re-learning what it means to be excited, what it feels like to have a world of music that’s really only mine (or, well, as “only mine” as you can get when you’re born with the urge to constantly be documenting things for posterity).  See, that feeling I had back in college–of being lost, set adrift, having to start over–is back and in full force, tugging away at the last constant I have: my music.  Or, specifically, my dreams of music.

It’s taken me a while to admit this, because it feels like a character flaw, but I am a natural performer. I like to “wow.” On that stage, in front of a crowd, you are both able to connect with so many, and remain at a safe distance, where none of those people can hurt you, like friendship without the risk of familiarity (and, ergo, contempt).  That moment of approval feels so much like being liked, the amazement and/or curiosity silencing self-doubt, even for a moment.  For a girl with a lot of very loud self-doubt, those moments can be intoxicating, and the constant quest for them all-consuming, because isn’t it elemental human instinct to run for safety?

That “wow”–and the things I’ve done to get it–have been my safety for years, to the point that I’ve come to define myself as what–or, rather, the very many whats–I do.  Except, now, things are changing. It’s harder to juggle all the hats I’ve chosen to wear. Music, arguably my “number one life priority,” has now become my biggest struggle: it’s hard enough to steal time from your thesis, but reaching for guitar after work, when your body is screaming for mindless TV and sleep? Nigh-impossible. I’ve had to watch my slow stagnation, standing still in stark contrast to my bandmates who improve in leaps and bounds, threatening to render me obsolete. They have side-lines and gigs and a future.  I have…Keynote.  That, and a nagging sense that my chance at “wow” is getting farther and farther away, possibly too far away to ever reach.

It all came to a head when I lost my voice.  Jian–bandmate, remember? I mention him a lot, so you should.–is probably going to kill me for admitting this, but I got extremely sick recently and had to be forced into vocal rest. I say forced because I only called time after pushing through with a gig I had no capacity to sing, my bullheaded determination to “be professional” and not back out at the last minute causing a vocal catastrophe.  We took a break for two weeks, which became a month, and now, six weeks after my vocapocollapse (see what I did there?) my bandmates are back refreshed, ready, brimming with ideas and new experiences…while I am struggling to find my footing, afraid I’m being left behind.

For the first time, at twenty-three, I am having to look in the eye the chance that this glittering dream of a music career may dissolve in the murky reality that is a corporate nine-to-five, with its “adulting” and financial responsibilities and reality checks.  I never saw myself becoming just another working millennial, but ironically the truth is I might have to trade security of identity for security of a more terrestrial, pragmatic kind.

A girl has bills to pay.

Am I scared? Very. Watching the highlights reel that is my newsfeed, with everyone on it doing something new and big and different, it’s hard not to start fearing obscurity. The promise of having a stage and leaving a mark have become such constants in my life that having to face the very real possibility of those things never happening again has left me more than a little shaken. What do you do when the destiny you spent all this time preparing yourself for turns out to not be your destiny at all?  How do you start over, take back the years you feel you wasted building a dream that was made to fall apart anyway?

If there are easy answers for these questions, I don’t have them. But I have my guitar. And my iPhone camera. A few days ago, when I decided–or, rather, was half-encouraged, half-coerced–to try learning guitar again, I turned on Facebook Live and started recording a video of what it looked like to start from zero–a throwback to the first days of Elinor and I, those private video diaries that showed me fumbling with painful steel strings and dreaded chord shifts. I took a while to ramble, talking about my bandmates’ advice and my new guitar set-up and the song I was about to do. Then, I started to play.

The first time, I screwed up, and had to start over. That happened again a second time. And a third. Over and over, I missed notes or hit wrong ones, laughing nervously as I noticed the numbers of live audience rise and fall.

Frustrated, I stopped looking at the screen and instead stared at my fingers, picking slowly through the pattern until…I got it.  And again. And again. The notes were clean and sharp in a way they hadn’t been in ages.  I tried to sing along, but the timing failed me, and my playing fell apart again, so I kept quiet and watched as my fingers plucked at the strings faster and faster until the tempo nearly matched the original.

When I looked up, no one was watching. But, oddly enough, that didn’t matter. I’d done something I thought I couldn’t, and that was exciting. That was new, and different, and doing it felt like something slotting back into place, an anchor finding its mooring. Perhaps no one would ever know what I could do, but I did.  I did, and the “wow” that resulted from discovering that perhaps it was still possible to grow and reach and try and be myself–a self that I liked–without those big dreams to propel me…

…in that moment, it was enough.

~a Roaming Tsinay~

LINER NOTES: I wrote this as part of an assignment for an office writing workshop where we were asked to write a short essay based on a random word we’d drawn from a hat. For the curious, my word was, well, “wow.”

Also, this post is partially inspired by the work of a fellow MGC New Life alum. If you’re recovering from dreams of athletic (versus musical) stardom, I recommend you check out this blog by Johansen Aguilar.  

…I can’t believe I just plugged an HS classmate. What is the world coming to?

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