A couple of weeks ago, I turned forty.
No big deal, right? I’m not generally hung up on age and aging. Women in my family tend to live for a long time, and – knock wood – so will I. In truth, I don’t feel like I’m even middle-aged, yet.
What I do feel like, though, is forty. I’m forty. And that definitely means something and is nudging me toward thinking about where I’m at and what it’s all about.
I have been called a late bloomer.
I prefer to think of myself as a perennial.
The way I see it, I bloomed early, I bloom often and I just keep blooming.
The “late bloomer” label got stuck on me because my blossoms didn’t last that long. As each one faded and dropped its petals, it was dismissed and forgotten, treated as if it had never existed. But just because they didn’t last, doesn’t mean I didn’t flower as an academic whiz-kid, an academic burn-out, a celtic rock band frontwoman, a bored temp, an eco-friendly personal chef, an avid quilter, a closeted songwriter, an IT tech support representative and a Mac jockey. There were some great moments in each of those incarnations, but in a culture that pushes us to pick one thing and excel at it (or else!), I missed a lot of the moments, too focused on trying to coax each blossom out – desperately hoping it would be The One – and then wasted time grieving it after it faded and made way for the next flower.
Musically, I have already bloomed a number of times. I sang with bands in my late teens and early 20s and loved it. But I didn’t have the emotional maturity to handle the ups and downs of life in a band. I tried performing solo in my mid-twenties, but I wasn’t emotionally ready for that, either. In fact, I hated it. I hated being in the spotlight. (I wasn’t too keen on being out of the spotlight, either, but being in the spotlight was definitely worse.)
So, I took some time (i.e., a decade) and worked at growing up. I found a mentor and a community of people to help and I worked hard at it. Through the years, it became clear that singing and songwriting are essential parts of me. A lot of other things I can take or leave, or change as necessity dictates, but music and my relationship with my muse are vital and non-negotiable.
I will always sing. I will always write songs. As long as I breathe.
But despite that certainty, many aspects of deciding to become a recording and performing artist in my late 30s are fraught with uncertainty. Why am I doing this? How do I fit in? What do I have to offer? What do I want? And, on the really bad days: Who the hell do I think I am?
Questioning every move can be a pain in the neck, but I’m grateful that I know how to ask those questions, rather than accepting the cookie-cutter definition of success that is tirelessly promoted by our society. I’m glad I know that that brand of success is not what I’m chasing. It wouldn’t make me happy.
My relationship with the spotlight has changed. I no longer hate and fear performing. I no longer think that it’s all about me. I love songs for their potential to connect us with each other, through laughter, rhythm, ideas, empathy and energy. I prefer not to sing for people, but to sing in their company. Intimate house concerts and community venues provide opportunities for people to engage in music all together, blurring the line between performer and audience to create a shared emotional experience.
At a big concert, with the stage brightly lit, the performers can’t see who’s there with them, and I think that often creates a gulf that perpetuates our society’s hierarchical thinking and passivity. I believe that being at a live music performance should bear no resemblance to watching a movie or a show on TV. When I go to hear live music, I want to tap my toes, hoot and holler, smile, think, laugh, cry and feel transported by the energy in the room.
I want to feel energy rushing up my spine and making all the hair stand up on the back of my neck.
When I perform at a show, I want to feel that way, too. And I want everybody there to experience it with me. I want to feel like we can engage in a conversation through the songs and our responses to them. I love it when everyone at a show feels so present and comfortable together that we spontaneously chat between songs. I love it when everyone in the room can connect and collaborate in creating the show’s energy.
In our culture, being present and making connections can be revolutionary. Whether as a performer or audience member, I want to come away from every live music performance feeling like I contributed in some small way to a revolution.
Are you with me?