I’ve been blocked. Not just blocked about my blogging, but blocked about everything – my taxes, my inbox, my laundry, cleaning my house, my grant applications, my singing – everything.
Traipsing through my former stomping grounds as a student and young artist the past couple of months, I have been forced to confront many artistic demons. Just like any person who dreams, I encountered some rather hurtful and harsh criticisms along with the valuable nuggets of wisdom that I gleaned during my studies, and while I had the luxury of revisiting some of what inspired me, I also revisited some of those the moments that dampened my artistic hopes at various times. Those discouraging moments quickly became many of the choice insecurities that are magnified by my inner critic/censor, that oh-so-tiny voice inside one’s head that can manage to ring loud enough to induce a flood of such depression and hopelessness that it can deafen one artistically. Normally, I can drown out that critical voice with a voice of positivity and hope so that it recedes into nothingness for the day, and so I can find the courage to take a few artistic steps forward. It is more difficult to wrestle that oh-so-tiny voice into submission when one is standing in the very rooms where the comments that have become the critic’s fodder originated or when one is standing face-to-face with one of the people who came up with one of those choice pearls of so-called wisdom. Dealing with that kind of internal negativity and hopelessness has been overwhelming despite all of the inspiration and nostalgia that came along with the experiences of being in those places.
About a year ago, I was on a break from rehearsal at Chicago Opera Theater, doing some work on The Artist’s Way, when a colleague peeked over my shoulder and asked what I was reading. I explained how it was a kind of 12-step program for artists with the goal of unblocking creativity, and he asked me if I actually thought that singing was a creative profession and if I believed that singers were actually artists. As we debated, (because, of course, I do believe both of those things to be true) he pointed out that it is really the work of the composers that is creative and that all we do is regurgitate their creations and then bow to the whims of the director or the conductor. I debated that our artform is a collaborative one – the composer, conductor, director all need us to realize their part of a vision, but we also are the ones who bring to it our hearts and minds, therefore infusing it with our own person. That is why performances of the same song or role by various singers vary so much from performer to performer. It is the singer who creates the live moment, the performance. Regardless, this mini-debate pointed out to me how much we are talked at and told what to do as singers.
We go to school and conservatory where we learn (if we are lucky) the beginnings of how to master our voice, how to pronounce and possibly speak various languages, music theory, music history, how to act, how to be on stage among so many other things. Then, as American-trained singers, we battle viciously to get into various young artist programs where we are told what to sing, what to wear, how to behave, how to sing, how to market ourselves, how to format our resumé. There is a tricky aspect to learning through this process, because while so much valuable information can be gleaned, nowhere is it taught how to think for one’s self – that is a lesson that is our responsibility for us to learn on our own, and in many ways, it has to be that way. After all, no one but you can teach you how to think for yourself. I think that those who do figure that lesson out are the ones who bear the mark of a true artist.
As my mind clears and my artist clears the block of negativity and fear that has clogged the flow of my creativity, a slowly widening ray of light is shining into my heart, and it is making me realize that the words of my inner critic are just limiting factors that hold me back from achieving my dreams. Thinking for myself means that I have to be able to truly and completely let go of the comments that don't ring true to me or that spread a wet blanket over my dreams. The more that I allow my inner critic, my mind's chief representative for what other people think, dictate my decisions and restrict the choices I make, the less risk I'll take and the less my work will flourish. The shadow that it casts is even preventing me from seeing all the dreams that have already come to fruition, and what use is it achieving your dreams if you can’t even enjoy them once they are realized?