As a little girl, I made pretend by trying on my grandmother’s old dresses. These garments from her younger days made me feel older and beautiful. Even though most of the fabric draped disproportionately on my frame and settled in piles on the floor, I would still stand on tiptoe admiring myself in the mirror, hoping to someday grow into her clothes.
In high school, I overcame adolescent insecurity by trying out for all sorts of roles too big for me: cheerleading, plays, talent shows, marching band, and other popularity contests. I got good at exuding confidence 3 sizes bigger than I felt. I made pretend on many stages and mostly I began to grow into the parts I played.
I arrived at music college largely self-assured and full of ambition. My singing and performing talents increased with the training and the experience that came with the classes and the shows we put on. For my new acquaintances, I also played the good little girl from Small Town, USA, who’d had a great childhood and didn’t have a care in the world. I didn’t know I was kidding myself. Thankfully, my act did not fool everyone and some new friends began to tug at the loose threads of my story.
I call it coming out of denial. The costumes I had grown into began to fray in my twenties. I was bearing false witness against myself, refusing to look deep and admit to the small and broken parts of my character. For sure, the story I lived in high school was the one that kept me tethered in my fragmented family life. My dad’s alcoholism and my parents’ divorce had been a devastating part of my growing up. My college friends helped me to recognize this as they began questioning my happy narrative. The “me” I wore on my sleeve was actually a plastic jacket everyone could see right through. Other hard truths and feelings about childhood and about myself began emerging. I started to shed some of the dress-up and become more grown-up than I had ever been.
Keeping Up Appearances
I have been a singer, songwriter and performer for several decades. I have learned to put on the person I want to be when I take the stage. There is a lot to be said for keeping up appearances when putting on a show. The audience expects competence and engagement so I make eye-contact even when my self-confidence is flagging and my voice feels weak. Sometimes the best advice is ‘fake it ’til you make it.’
However, the pretense can get out of hand and we can lose our true selves by hiding behind ‘false selves,’ projections of what we want others to believe about us. We also grow out of some of our roles and can confidently let them go. I am now 53 years old and recognize that I must let go at last some of my personae from the past. There’s a thrill and a qualm in moving on.
More to the Story
The story might go something like this: In the afternoon of my life, I decided to disband my circle of loyal ladies. I was in no rush, wanting to slowly let go of my cadre of steady companions. But go they must.
So I stood to face each one in turn. I thanked Competence for her good service, shook her hand and let her go, surprised by the weakness I felt without her by my side.
Control was the next one to step forward. She’d kept me in a lovely blind spot for many good years. But now her veil was lifted and must list to the wind, leaving me quite vulnerable. Goodbye, my dear friend.
Her closest kin, Self-control, came out of the shadows and reminded me that she was more a phantom than a friend over the years. We waved as she slipped down the road behind me.
I looked ahead, greeting Beauty and Talent, my leading ladies. They’d always preceded me on the road and now they too must say goodbye. I thanked them for their good service and moved past them, grieving the journey ahead without them. Who else is here, I asked, that I must bid farewell?
Miss Good Health and Mrs. Good Mother have been quite faithful friends. Yet even they must take their place in the line behind me. They kissed my hands with tears in their eyes and bowed into the background.
The path ahead looks desolate. A lonely place. Space has been made for a Truer Companion. I stand on tiptoe to see who might be strolling down the road towards me.
I have been making music with my husband Scott since we met at Berklee College of Music in 1985. Known as Out of the Grey, we spent many years in the studio and on the road, making music and raising our 3 children. Read more of my story in my book, Lifelines: Tracing My Journey in Story and Song.
Hear our latest CD, A Little Light Left