Thursday, December 06, 2007

"Enjoy being unknown and regarded as nothing."

Sacred Space
(after you click, you may need to scroll down a bit)

I was thinking the other day about how, for me, solo singing is an addictive experience and, like any addiction, something I have a mad craving for when I'm around others doing it. In thinking about it further, I realized that what I really crave is the attention and the approval of others that happens when I sing well. I have a really strong need to know that I am doing something that is of value. I admit it -- I crave approval from others. I am motivated by the reactions I get from people when I do things that make them happy. I'm addicted to that kind of attention. Thinking about that got me thinking about what all of the things are in my life that I do in order to get attention -- negative and positive. I suppose we learn from infancy to do certain things that will get our parents' attention. We learn that certain things work and certain things don't work and we cultivate behaviors that will get us what we need -- both negative and positive*. We get ourselves in trouble emotionally when we maintain some of these faulty connections. How do I know that I'm doing ok, that I'm worthy of love, that I deserve to be happy if no one is clapping and saying 'Brava!'? If my boss doesn't look at my work and give me an 'A', how do I know I'm doing a good job? And, if I don't know if I'm doing a good job, how can I feel good about myself? How do I motivate myself to do my best when no one is watching, when no one will ever know what I've done? What do I do when the people around me don't say anything after I sing -- or after I perform *any* other act - trivial or otherwise? What do I do without feedback, without approval? Of course this is something I've had to think about before. One of the greatest things you can learn as a performer is how to filter the feedback that comes your way -- how to not let it be too important. But, I have never thought much about how I could possibly "enjoy being unknown and regarded as nothing." That could be a very interesting challenge.

*Here's a question... If our parents pay more attention to us when we get sick, do we get sick more often?


Jake said...

Ooh... That's a major one for me. When I was in high school, I was faced with the choice - music or physics. (It may seem odd, but I was talking with Brian Henson once - yes, Jim Henson's son - and he said that he had a very similar choice at that stage in his life. Go into puppetry or astrophysics. We had a good chat about how there's a similarity in appeal between the arts and the sciences. Anyway, that's a differenct topic.) But the deciding factor was absolutely the attention and positive feedback I got from singing. I think that's partly why I still struggle with how much I intend to be a singer, really. I feel that I went into it for the wrong reasons, that I love it more for the approbation than just for the love of it. Not that I don't love singing; far from it. But the distinction haunts me.

Steph said...

Sigh. I offer no wisdom on this one. This is part of why I had to get out of performance--the constant hunger for immediate affirmation just made me miserable.

I struggle with some of the same issues in writing but somehow they are easier to live with for me in that arena.

I gave a paper recently on my past as a church musician and how my conception of humility as a religious virtue made it difficult to perform, particularly in church, without something akin to self-hatred. As much as I respect the spiritual wisdom behind "Enjoy being unknown and regarded as nothing," I've had to work hard not to twist this principle into a weapon against myself.

Thanks for a thought-provoking post. :)