My friends The Novelists were invited to participate in the local TEDxUNR event in January. Video of their part is supposed to be available this month — with any luck, tomorrow, one of them thinks — but in the meantime, he posted this presentation by Jon Foreman, co-founder/lead singer/etc. of the band Switchfoot (and a solo artist and collaborator with…more people than I can count right now). It’s about 20 minutes long, and if you don’t go watch it, the rest of this post may make rather less sense than otherwise. So please click the link and go watch; I’ll wait…
Back? Lovely. Did you enjoy it? I did, very much so. Being agnostic/atheist (depending on what’s been happening the day you ask), some of it doesn’t resonate with me, but so very much of it does. And it raises questions I hadn’t considered before, which is always worthwhile.
For example, let’s start with the name of his presentation: Live Your Song.
What if you don’t know your own song? What if you’ve never known it? Or at least, you don’t remember knowing it. I…think I lost mine somewhere along the way. At least, I’m not sure I can hear it anymore. I’ve spent so long doubting myself, doubting my worth, that I think my song must have been a poor and puny thing to begin with. Because I haven’t been through half what some other people have, and I feel mostly like I’ve gotten through by putting one foot in front of the other until whatever was in my way was behind me.
No grand plan. No grand melody. Just…whistling in the dark because it was that or give up. And I didn’t want to give up.
I know, intellectually, I’ve made huge progress in so many things. But I can’t tell how much it’s changed my song, or if it has at all. Other people tell me they see it, the changes and the internal progress; sometimes I take their word for it because who knows? Maybe I’m still too close to it to see it.
“You matter. You matter. And there is a void in the symphony of life when you are silent,” he says. Why do I find it so hard to believe that I matter? Why am I so sure no one cares if I’m silent? But I think that. I do, and it hurts and I don’t know how to stop. I’ve spent my life convinced I don’t matter no matter (heh) how many times people whose opinions I trust tell me otherwise.
How do you convince yourself that you matter? Or is it more a case of “fake it ’til you make it” or “act as if”? Act as if you know you matter, and one day you will know it. I will know it. I don’t know. It sounds almost too simple. Then again, sometimes the simplest things are the most profound.
“Be brave,” he counsels, “sing through it. Be brave, and sing the truth, one note at a time.” I’ve never been all that good at singing through it, if we look at it strictly from a literal standpoint. I love to sing, but I don’t, or rarely; I could have a better voice, not money-making but listenable, if I could convince myself to sing through it when I hit the wrong note so muscle memory could develop around hitting the right note. Again, I know this — I’ve taken enough voice classes to know it — but I hit a bad note and I stop instantly and mentally beat myself up for how bad it sounded.
It sounds kind of like my life, now that I see it in black and white. And no one can do anything about it but me. No one will sing through it for me. No one can sing through it for me. I have to — and I have been all along. I just never notice it because it’s me.
Attention. So often I don’t pay attention to what’s going on in my own head, unless it’s me selling myself short again. How to stop? I’m not sure. One of my friends, ages ago, said when she found herself thinking negative thoughts, she immediately told herself, “CANCEL CANCEL CANCEL!” and then replaced the negative thought with a positive one. This presupposes you have a list of Positive Thoughts for All Occasions, if you will — a list of affirmations/positive statements/whatever you want to call them to draw on when you need to replace a negative thought. Is it possible to have an intention to change if you aren’t paying attention to what’s already there?
Perhaps task #1 is to write down some positive statements. And perhaps task #2 is to make note of my intentions. It’s never been a natural thing for me, maybe lots of other people have trouble with it as well. But I often seem to catch people when they are very clear about the path they want to take and the steps to get themselves there. Part of it, I think, goes back to Mom never letting me in on the big things (job changes, etc.) until they were a fait accompli, and some things we never discussed at all.
Like money. Like sex. We never had “the talk”; she gave me a four-volume series called “The Life Cycle Library” and probably assumed I’d devour it posthaste. I think it took me a year or two, in fact, and even reading it in my room with the door shut embarrassed me beyond words. ***rolls eyes*** And money never got discussed either, or not in any way that I could use when I needed the knowledge.
On the other hand, at some point you have to look at what you have — not what you wish you had, not what you think you deserve to have, but the reality as presently constituted — and accept responsibility for what you’re doing with it. And if you don’t like it…sing through it and find a better way.
Aaaaaaannnddd not too long after the bit about being brave, he says to forgive yourself for the wrong notes. No — he dares us to forgive ourselves for the wrong notes, since we’re all human and those wrong notes are going to happen, try as we might to avoid them. So much for that bit a couple of paragraphs ago.
Life is a terminal condition. No one gets out alive. The challenge is to be alive, to sing, while we’re here. To learn, to hear the songs of others and maybe help them sing more truly, maybe let them help you sing your own song more truly. To live in the tension between control and chaos, as he puts it, and see what you can bring from it.
Maybe it’s okay that I can’t hear my own song at the moment. Maybe I can learn to hear it in the harmonies it makes with others.
The part I’d like to
end close with — not end, never an end! — is this statement at about 12:35, the part that tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You have some work to do, don’t you, sweetheart?”
“Don’t let past mistakes rob the present of its potential for beauty and joy.” I’ve done that too often, for too long. Stopping it — letting the potential blossom — will be a very good thing indeed. And I’d be grateful if, when you catch me doing otherwise, you tap me gently on the shoulder (literally or metaphorically as required by our respective local geographies) and remind me to sing through it.