The year was 1998. I had recently completed my music performance (opera) degree and was working in a dead end sales job. The job was a means to an end – I wanted to be able to save enough money to move out of my parents house and be ‘on my own’ for the first time. I was 23.
My goals at this time were still quite lofty. I had performed in concerts at Buffalo State and my Junior and Senior recitals were a hit, although the crowds were mostly made up of friends, family, and students in classes that were required to attend. Still, I felt like I was
One night, when I returned home from my shift at the horrible job, my mother told me that my friend Bob, from high school, had called and left a message. I listened to the message and stood, dumbstruck, for a few moments trying to catch my breath. My mom walked up and said “you should go”. At this point I was still so confused by the message I had no idea what she was talking about. So she repeated, “you should go” and I asked “where?” I heard what he said, but I was just too excited to really absorb it.
Bob was living in the city. He had been pursuing an acting career since he graduated from college and that week they had announced open auditions for the second casting of Rent. The original
As you can probably imagine, this call was overwhelming to me. I had wanted to go to the city so badly. My whole life I had surrounded myself with images of the skyline and immersed myself in city folklore and Broadway culture. I had gone to school for music precisely for this moment to appear. Since the moment I arrived in the city on a class trip, at the age of 16, I knew it was a place I needed to be. I didn’t care how smelly the streets were or how scary everyone made it seem. It felt like home. When I was a junior, I applied to 4 colleges, 2 of which were in the city. NYU and Juilliard were pretty much out of my reach, but I dared to dream anyway and all through college in Buffalo I thought about completing my degree, getting on a bus to the city, and never looking back. I told everyone I came in contact with, starting at the age 9, that I was going to live in the city one day.
So this phone call from Bob should have been the catalyst. It should have been the exact thing I needed at that time to propel me into a new life. Even if I went to the city and auditioned and didn’t get a part, it would have been a push to make it happen. I could stay with him, rent free, for a little while and audition for every opportunity at that time until something happened or didn’t happen. Until I could get a waitressing job and an apartment of my own and pursue a Masters degree in journalism. Anything to be in the city. This was the seed. So what happened?
At the time, I also felt extremely connected to home. I owned my own car and I was saving my money so that I could move out of my parents house and into an apartment in the Elmwood Village. As a secondary goal, this wasn’t too shabby, but at the expense of missing out on THE CITY why would I decide to ignore the call and stay where I was
My personal fear of failure, that had been instilled in me throughout my life, kept me from taking that leap. And yes, I realize how ironic that sentence is. My idol – Idina – was singing every night on stage about a leap of faith. I could go there and audition and possibly meet her and be part of the tradition of Broadway. But
But what fed this personal mythology? Let’s examine some of the limiting beliefs that had been cultivated over a 23-year life, living in a blue collar town as part of a working-class family.
- Not everyone makes it on Broadway. True. But some people do. Why not you?
- Always have a backup plan. Ah – the backup plan – a sure fire way to crush the dreams of those who are on the fence. It was certainly a defining factor in my drive to become a performer, or rather, to NOT become a performer. The backup plan that was often floated (and is still floated to this day) was to teach. I realize that most musicians don’t make it in the industry and having a teaching degree is a great way to stay connected to music, but actually, make money. The thing is, I have never been the music teacher type. This is not to say that I don’t see myself in teaching at all, just not in music. I didn’t want to be that failed opera singer that had to resort to teaching lessons at the local music
shoppe. I wanted my singing career to be about performing or nothing at all. So – it ended up with nothing at all, but honestly, I am fine with that. I know how I am and I know that if I had settled for music education I would be a bitter choir director right now, rather than just someone trying to figure out her life.
- You have to be a hard worker to get anywhere in life. Sure – hard work is important and being a hard worker is important, but it isn’t everything. You cannot stop yourself from taking chances because you feel somehow beholden to the work ethic of your family. You are most likely a hard worker just by merit of the fact that you were raised by hard workers, but hard work isn’t the only thing that will get you somewhere you want to be.
- Rich people are snobs. There are snobs in every level of economic status in America. We all know people who are assholes. Assuming that all rich people are snobs does two things – it turns you away from wanting to be a rich person and it helps those who do not take risks in their lives feel better about themselves.
- You must always remember where you came from. This is true, but not at the detriment of your future. You shouldn’t let the place you came from stunt your growth as a human being. You shouldn’t let it hold you back from your dreams.
- You have to stay close to your family because they are the only people that really care about you. This one feels really specific to my family, but you might have a similar experience. If you were raised in a tight-knit family, you probably had similar feelings around your place in the structure of your family and felt like you could never stray too far away from them. If we were living in the 19th century I could understand this because travel and communication were a lot less available. But in the 20th and 21st centuries, we have SO many ways to interact that living far away doesn’t feel that far anymore. In the end, the idea that we have to stay close to each other in order to ‘stay close’ is simply bullshit.
- If you leave who will be my emotional support? This one is harder to think about. It is an extremely hidden form of emotional
labourthat we all perform for one another. Giving each other support is part of the human condition, but sometimes that support can be draining on the giver. It can also hold the giver back from doing the things that they need to do to have a full and fulfilling life.
Number 6 and 7 go hand in hand and they are the main reasons that I did not get on that bus and go to the city to audition. I felt like I had to stay close in order to be a good daughter and granddaughter. And it meant that it took me 43 years before I could finally leave my hometown for somewhere else. It meant that I never pursued my own dreams, but put everything on hold for the people around me. I always put other peoples needs ahead of my own.
So – what does all this amount to and why am I writing about it now?
This post was triggered by watching Rent Live this past week and feeling a strong sense of nostalgia, but it also made me think more critically about the ways in which I used to live my life and how I can change that moving forward.
After 43 years of