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How Writing Changed Me

Writing and singing are actually two sides of a wonderfully healthy creative coin, but I did not know that yet.
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April 6, 2021
Photo by Westend61/Getty Images

For years, I was under the impression that I could not write and sing at the same time.

The world had successfully brainwashed me into believing that women were allowed one thing, but not two.

I feared writing publically would somehow make me look wierd as a singer. Or it would just blow my cover, exposing the rawer, more unsavory parts of me that I was trying to hide under the prettily curated singer’s image.

Writing and singing are actually two sides of a wonderfully healthy creative coin, but I did not know that yet.

In my teens and early twenties I experienced the longing for visibility and the overwhelming desire to hide as agonizingly problematic. Later I understood it as a gift.

Having that woefully human tension built inside you, creatively speaking, is like being kissed on the forehead by God. It’s like being given the richest soil to plant your crops.

I don’t mean you must be miserable to make art. But if you have no clue what suffering feels like, if you float through the world like a perfect, enlightened, blissed-out yogi who transcends all and has no inner mess, and is “good vibes only” your art will not touch many hearts.

But as teen I was convinced I needed to choose one thing and one thing only, like a child whose Mom has said they may select one candy treat at the supermarket.

That is why at sixteen I saved my babysitting money and went to psychic on the Venice Boardwalk. I told him I didn’t know what to do: I had two great overwhelming loves: singing and writing, and didn’t know which to choose. He told me to focus my energy on the singing and that later in life, that would give me lots to write about.

I took his advice. My thing would be opera. I liked his words about how one day, it would give me something to write about. (and damn was he right.)

But also, at the time, opera seemed the bigger challenge. Opera seemed the bigger triumph over the world who I thought saw me as a weird, scared, awkward, solitary, nerdy type.

And so a part of me understood, even at that young age, that with the challenges I came into the world with— self-consciousness, perfectionism, extreme sensitivity—performing opera would require me to evolve in a more dramatic way than writing would.

Opera would mean I’d have to get off the sidelines, come out of my shell. That was terrifying and also so attractive. I suspect I chose opera at least in part out of defiance.

That is why the girl who had an almost finished memoire by age nineteen, a notebook full of song lyrics, a half-collection of a poetry anthology, and a screenplay one third of the way done, did not write anything at all for twenty years.. There was never any conflict or anguish in writing, unlike with performing. And maybe I was a glutton for punishment or just a daredevil or always needed to do the harder thing. But I just simply stopped.

But the thing about being a writer, that took me until now to realize, is that you are always writing even when you are not. What I mean is, in my head, I was always forming stories, forming a cohesive narrative of what was happening to me. I was collecting material, and chosing how to frame what was happening to me, and around me, even though I never put pen to paper.

But the thing about being a writer, that took me until now to realize, is that you are always writing even when you are not.

And then one day in 2016, I started again. I started because I accidentally jogged past a concentration camp while on a gig, and it cracked something open inside me. So I wrote about it and then posted on Facebook. I’d never shared anything vulnerable here before.

Facebook was something that initially puzzled and repelled me. Why would anyone give a rat’s ass what I was thinking, or what I ate or what my perspective was?

But something was shifting. On Facebook I saw people I knew from high school who had become writers and they used it to share excerpts of their work. Something in me perked up.

So I posted my essay, sweaty, heart racing, and hands shaking.

Clicking the mouse that day changed my life. It marked a line in the sand–namely my refusal to adhere to someone else’s definition of what opera singer should look like or behave like.

I’ve heard it said that depression and anxiety are your soul’s way of saying you are tired of playing your avatar. I do think this played a great role in my own battles. I got very tired of playing my avatar—namely, that of a perfect, nicely behaved, cooperative, pretty young lady singer who had no opinions or feelings or observations other then what lipstick matched her performance outfit and how her passagio was coming along.

Starting to write again was a big part of what healed me.

Opera is larger than life and when done right, has to the power to touch the heart in extraordinary , grand ways. Writing, by comparison, feels smaller, simpler, and yet weirdly more vulnerable. It’s more pointed, more like a scalpel. Or not a scalpel, maybe more like a soft pointed paintbrush. Because of this, I think sometimes writing can reach people in a way opera, with its huge, epic brush strokes, cannot.

They both remain profoundly valid and important and I will never give either one up. Just two separate approaches, knocking at the door of the human condition, extending a soft, trembling hand, whispering, let me in and I promise you will feel less alone.

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