I have been instructed to have a love affair.
In the words of a fabulous, passionate woman named Veronica, “I love love!” Veronica exclaimed this at hearing the news of my engagement to my soon-to-be-husband. Her 3 year old child toppled head first into the hot tub at that very moment but that is another story. This story is about love affairs. Specifically one that I have been ordered to have.
I am, and have been, blessed with much love in my life. And not a few love affairs as well. The traditional kind with pounding heart, bated breath and tangled bodies. The kinds of love affairs that are fraught with anticipation, tension and delight, both physical and emotional. I have been sharing a love affair with my life partner of 14 years that includes all the quickened tension combined with the slow familiarity of intimacy. I have had love affairs with friends that exist solely in the heart and mind and are never made physical: the hours on the phone with best friends when I was 12; the passionate intimacy of best friends in college where we woke to come together and share the day in all the excitement of being young and alive and exploring; current friends whom I anticipate, looking for their calls and texts, wishing for the extended hours of my youth where we could unfold our thoughts together over unrestricted time, but, alas, must parse out between the demands of home, work and children. Those friends who, maybe in a different time would be a different way, but now are held close over solid boundaries.
I have also had love affairs with places: in New Mexico where the breeze caressed my sun warmed body by a hot spring; in Malaysia where the lush flowers and vines stroked the water of a deep pool; in Wyoming when I lay breathing in the songs of the glacial rivers on a full moon night . I love love! I have also had love affairs with ideas: wrapping my heart and mind in the sweet immersion that is Taoism; my bad girl love affair, fortunately brief, with revolutionary communism; taking deep within myself the Goddess and Her magic. But none of those are the kinds of love affairs that I have been instructed to have.
I have been ordered to have a love affair with my voice. My voice and I have had an awkward relationship. I have always loved to sing but in my earlier years was never deemed good enough to make the cut for various chorus’ or solos. So I internalized not being good enough and pretty much stopped trying to be a singer. I kept singing but mostly in a limited, apologetic way; holding back in larger groups, never belting it out and letting loose, never confident around “real” singers” and “real musicians.” The only place where I was comfortable singing was in women’s sacred circles. In singing songs of praise, I learned to pray, but but I didn’t consider it “real” singing. Even though I was writing songs that other people sang and even though I was the song leader of our group, it still wasn’t “real” singing. I sang to my children. I sang in the car. But mostly I yearned to sing and I would say things like “In my next life I’m going to be a musician or a singer.”
In the ongoing relationship with my voice, I took it on some bad dates a couple of times. Once we went to a voice class that was a dismal failure. Too much, too soon. It just didn’t work. I staggered through songs not understanding why I couldn’t make the sounds I wanted and not knowing how to be a voice student. I gave that up. Some years later later we went to couples therapy and tried group singing lessons. That wasn’t bad, it definitely got us closer and we at least recognized we had a shot at a relationship. We got a little more serious when we joined the chorus at my synagogue and started really working on our issues. But we were so uptight together! Constantly critical and nit picky and cutting each other down. It took two years before I could warm up in the group without feeling like somebody was listening and was going to criticize and tell me that, really, I should just quit the chorus. Each warm up session brought anxiety and criticism, my internal voice muttering “Oh my God, what kind of sound is that, you’re not hitting the note, you’re going to miss the note!” and on and on and on. I was fortunate to find sympathetic alto sisters to sing beside who, strangely enough to me, told me they liked singing next to me! My voice and I began to get a little more comfortable. Just a little.
And then I started attending a chant practice where for 30 minutes once a week a small group gathers to sing Hebrew prayers. As the group learned to soar and experiment, so too did my voice and I. We started to trust each other and our intent, and the music and harmonies we make, and the prayers we sing . And we got a little closer, a little more confident. We took a few more risks, got a little more intimate.
Then we got a teacher, my voice and I. The first day when I had to stand in front of her and sing I did nothing but cry. I couldn’t perform. I was paralyzed with anxiety. Now it would all be revealed that I really can’t sing, have bad pitch, can’t hit the note blah blah blah. But my teacher loved me and my voice and was gentle with us. And reassuring. But when she told me I could do it, that I have a nice voice and can find the expression of my singing voice for the sake of just singing, I didn’t believe her. And that’s when she suggested a love affair. She told me I should get passionate with my voice, let it flow through me, let it be one with me, embrace it as a lover. Actually, that’s not exactly what she said, but that’s what love affairs are to me. Flowing, deep, passionate.
I know the noises of passion. As a midwife, I encouraged women to open their mouths and let the song of their birthing move them. The deep groans and grunts common to both birth and sex. Songs that flowed through me in embracing my lovers and birthing my babies.
So I am working on embracing my voice in the same way. Embracing the song of my voice, the birthing of my voice. Enfolding my soul into the love that lives within me and is expressed through singing. I love love! And I am learning to love singing in a different way. I have learned that it’s OK to sound crummy when you’re warming up, but more importantly, why even bother judging crummy or not crummy? It’s just warming up for heaven’s sake! I have learned that I can begin to trust my ear, to trust my body, to trust the process. I don’t have to overanalyze every note and sound with judgement.
Just like with a lover, or in the making of a long relationship, it’s about building trust. Letting it flow. Not analyzing and judging at every moment but putting energy in it. Working at it with all my senses, with all my passion. Letting it move me and move through me. Being vulnerable to it. Being present with it. Being relaxed with it. Being sensual.
And so I take her wise advice. Hineni. Here I am, loving love, loving singing and, most importantly, loving me singing…
with gratitude to Gayanne and the chorus of Bet Haverim…