Yesterday I was in a silly and uninspired mood. I started writing a blog entry that quickly took an unexpected turn for one reason and one reason only. I couldnt get that ancient Irene Cara song “Fame” out of my head. (There is a great German expression for this phenomenon that translates as “ear worm”.) The thing is, though, that the whole concept of fame is one that actually occupies my thoughts in a serious and enduring way.
Why is it that we grow up with the dream of becoming famous? And why is being famous equated with having a successful life?
I taught the Maslow Pyramid for years. I inherently understand the ideas behind it and find them illuminating. That is, until it comes to the point of Esteem with “social recognition” being the prerequisite for Self-actualization. That may have been true one hundred years ago when social connections were important for survival, but now in the era of TV (casting shows) and internet (trolling), can a person really be satisfied with the esteem of the people she actually knows, or does she have to pass muster with the entire virtual, only-ethereally connected international community of people she will never meet?
I think the majority of people would estimate my life as a small one. Particularly this weekend. With my husband away for three days, I have spent most of that time being an on-call chauffeur for my daughters. Yesterday my trips were from the dance studio (Hip Hop class) in one town to the music school (piano lessons) in another, then back to the tutoring center in the first town (extra French lessons) and back to the music school (concert rehearsal). I have two talented daughters - one is a pianist and the other a singer - and it is my job to do what I can to help them develop those talents while keeping their priorities straight. Wanting to be a star, I tell them, is a fantasy, not a goal.
In general, I try to let my girls make their own decisions, but once, when my singing daughter played with the idea of auditioning for one of those ubiquitous casting shows, the hammer came down fast and furiously on that thought. We have friends who have gotten a backstage view of what goes on and it is not pretty. Half the kids end up in depression and therapy afterwards. They get an identity thrust upon them (the cool guy, the bitchy girl, the rebel, the diva . . .) and have to play the role. They see their pictures in the newspapers and hear the judgments of ten thousand strangers. They can’t recognize their instant stardom for what it isn’t and are shocked when it all dries up 15 minutes after the season finale has been broadcast. It’s the Hunger Games for real.
So no casting shows. But when a small and local songwriting contest was announced last year, we did encourage and help our daughter to enter. Just for the experience, we said to her, not with the expectation of winning. Two days into the public voting period I went completely stage mom. I checked the status of the voting compulsively 15 times a day. THIRD PLACE! WE ARE IN THIRD PLACE!! My husband and I both pulled out all the stops in drumming up votes - sending reminders to everyone in our cell phone contact lists, posting on Facebook . . . The music school and the town government and the local chapter of the Green Party joined us in spreading the word. We excitedly monitored her tally shooting upward in the final hours of voting.
Meanwhile, my daughter got increasingly weirded out. She had stopped reading text messages and disconnected WhatsApp. She never checked the voting herself and when we updated her on her ranking, she responded with “oh.” She watched us silently with a quizzical look: Who are you people and what have you done with my parents? she was asking. She was the only cool head in our household.
Looking back, I think the thing I am most proud of is my daughter’s non-reaction reaction to the entire hullabaloo. She was perfectly happy with her Third Prize. She spent $100 of her winnings and put the lion’s share of it right into the bank. She started working on a new song.
This all makes her sound so very mature when she actually isn’t. She is emotional and impulsive, chaotic and sometimes scatterbrained. I have this mental image of her as a huge heart perched on top of two long toothpick legs. She has started reading 100 books and finished none of them. She has 100 friends and refers to half of them as her best friend. She is interested in everything and focused on nothing.
Except singing. In this one thing she has discipline, stamina and drive. She does it every day for hours on end with no prompting necessary.
Last year she sang in a music competition and as I watched her, something became clear to me. I was sitting right behind the jury, who were very harsh, even a little feared that year. While the contestants were singing, many of the jury members were shuffling through papers, rubbing their foreheads, passing critical looks back and forth, communicating their impatience in a myriad of non-verbal ways. Then my daughter’s turn came and she walked on stage, introduced herself and started her first song. The jury sat up and paid attention. They smiled and whispered things to each other. They leaned forward and nodded their heads a lot. The other singers were older, more mature and frankly, many had better or at least more trained singing voices - even I could hear that. I asked our piano teacher why my daughter was one of only two contestants to get a First Prize. He said, simply, it is because “She is a singer.” And the jury recognized that. It is part of her innermost self, her nature. It is what she does.
As a teacher I am always trying to help my students discover their talents and their passion. That one special thing that grabs them and doesn’t let go, that steers the direction their life will take. As a mom, I can now say that when your child discovers her passion, you stop worrying about her. She will make her way.
And now I am full circle back to where I started. In my very first blog entry (of this round) I wrote “I am a writer.” I am quite sure that most people would interpret those words as “I am an author.” In other words, people read my work. Lots of people. But I truly didn’t mean it in that way. I meant that ever since my earliest journals, writing has been an integral part of my being I do it out of necessity, for fun, for survival, for sanity, for clarity, for fulfillment, for catharsis, for self-actualization. The writing itself is the thing. Whether or not someone reads it later is . . . not the thing.
Still, I carefully select my readers (five now!), and deliver my writings to them with the instructions to praise me lavishly at intervals of two or three months. Being consistent is an admirable quality, but who wants to be that way all the time?