Monday, June 18, 2012

America's Got No Talent



Next year, when my kid says she wants to perform in the talent show, here's what's going to happen. I'm going to do a special hand signal, and you're going to send a medivac chopper to my house. I'll do some acting of my own and you'll winch down the stretcher. I'll climb on and you'll evacuate me on the day of the show. I'll feign head injury or Leukemia. I've suffered enough. No one should have to do that twice.

I admit I may have held some false hope. In this TV world, where talent shows are de rigeur, where editing, and splashy graphics shrink time and space, creating the illusion that there could be talent among us is easy to do. Like the dancers who show up in their black light suits and blow your mind, I thought surely there must be an equivalent kid in a basement around here who was dreaming up the ultimate mind-bender. I felt sure he was whittling marionettes out of cast-off furniture and string-acting scenes from Keeping up with the Kardashians.

Nope.

Mostly, there are a lot of kids out there, who just because they enjoy a song on the radio, believe they can sing. And I want to be the first to tell them. They cannot.

There's a kind of bad singing that I think we can all relate to. The Happy Birthday song, enthusiastically sung in three wrong keys. The mumbling you might be willing to do on occasion, humming a few bars to remind your friend of a song, whatever it may be.

But there is also another kind of singing. One that happens to you. At you. On you. It's a terrible sound. One that starts from a place high in the constricted, untrained throat, that scrapes along the tissues of the gullet until it ricochets off some high tension orthodontia, like the early telephone --Watson, I need you -- but to the melody of a Bruno Mars tune, sung over a karaoke CD. The bad sounds issue forth, and are then amplified by mediocre middle school sound equipment, causing sound waves to come for your cerebral cortex in a torrent. Your brain rejects it.  Getting those sounds in there is like trying to bath a cat in a bucket of water; it's just a hissing, rigid 'X' of claws, electrified hair and bared teeth refusing to fit in your ear canal, but getting wet all the same.  When I say that not a single note was sung in tune, I'm not overstating it. Not...a...single...note.

So there's the auditory assault. And that's deeply uncomfortable. But it is no match for the emotional discomfort.

Something happened to me. I'm not the same person. There was me before the talent show, and there's me now. I have PTSD. Post Talent Show Disorder.

What happens to a body when it must suppress embarrassment for two hours? I believe there was an extreme compression that caused my empathy gland to secrete every last dribble of protective parenting hormone I possess. I believe if they could harness this chemical, the one that comes from a mother's last cell of embarrassment, secreting this final ounce of protective nectar - we'd have a cure for cancer.

And then there were the comedy acts. Mumbled inaudibly through masks. And the violin mini-recitals, where they choose to play popular movie themes so that we might better be able to  catch every mis-fingered squeal, every bow-scraping howl.

Twenty acts, three minutes each.

Vildy and his dad sat in the back row so they could leave the nano-second after Lily's performance, which was almost exactly the middle of the show.  I mention to them that it's a little gauche to exit like that, to not respect the other performers. They both tell me that I will not take them alive. They don't care how it's perceived; I will be taking this one for the team. In exchange they will buy me things. Cars. Countries. 

I must remain behind to give after show high-fives. It's in my contract.

But wait! Here comes the Jon Bennet Ramsey of the dance world. Sparkly leotard, dark nude hosiery, fake eyelashes. Tight, hairsprayed bun. And with her, the hope of relief. Because this girl has gone to regionals. She's been practicing this routine for eighteen weeks in some kind of Dancing with the Stars competitive dance atmosphere. She's a professional amateur. So at least I don't have to worry that she will freeze and run from the stage crying. In these times, this is a comfort. But heaven help me, it's excruciating in another way. Everything is performed with a toothy, possibly professionally-whitened smile. Its a combination of "dance", cheer-leading, gymnastics and early 90's aerobics moves. Every movement is preceded by a split kick, and concludes with a walk-over. There are so many jazz hands. It's cringey. I imagine the machine that has put this girl here, in this place in time. The many rides her parents have provided and the many hours they've spent waiting in dance class lobbies, scrolling social media on their smart phones, the late night glue-gunning of sequins. The "potential" they believe they have cultivated in this child. Potential for what, I wonder as I dig my fingernails into my thighs.

Later in the show something happened involving a girl in a chicken suit. While I'm writing it, it sounds like it might be good. I'm a sucker for a chicken suit. But it was not good. It was strange and I don't know what it meant.

So many more singing acts. All of them inspired by watching Glee, High School Musical, America's Got Talent and McGuff's Million Dollar Hand Job. I made that last one up. But you can see that the kids have been merchandised to effectively, they have no clue that talent is not an American rite. Just because someone hands you a microphone, doesn't mean you should sing into it. And parents. Yes, encourage your children to try things, but don't let them try them out on us. Try things out on siblings, possibly grandparents, but not the general public. It's not ok. You must stop them, as a public service.

You may wonder now, what about my kid? What happened with her dance action? Weeeellll, let's just say, it was fine. Nothing terrible happened. I knew it wasn't going to go off hitch-free when I realized that she'd rehearsed the whole thing entering stage right, and they made all the kids enter stage left. That turned her orientation to the audience on its head. There was no way she could re-jigger her compass points mentally. So, sections were forgotten, micro-expressions of confusion were registered by me, but I feel sure, by no one else. And the miracle was this: she had a great time! She didn't care at all. When she forgot, she improvised. When she was in the wrong place, she repeated until the music caught up with her. Her face was so focused and beautiful, and her sweet, long body twirled and twirled. I viewed the entire thing from a very disembodied, magic carpet ride of maternal love and anxiety, which had a delightfully anesthetizing effect. It was like a twilight sleep in which I dreamed that my daughter was was a person who could perform with joy in her heart, and when I woke up, I discovered it was not a dream at all. She did. Sure, she kinda blew it. But in the end, for her, it was a party.

Next year she wants to sing.

It's fine with me, because I wont be able to hear it over the chopper blades.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Chariots of Ire


I have two very strong mechanisms at play in my consciousness at all times. One is guilt. The other, guilt. I don't know where all this culpability comes from, why I feel responsible for every bad thing that could potentially happen in my orbit even before it takes place. Though, I venture it's a control issue. Because I control nothing, I want to control everything, to guide all encounters, relationships and events toward peaceful shores, and when so often I find I can do little to effect anything, I attempt to swallow the shipwreck whole.

But, like all forms of adorable mental illness, I don't leave it there. I can twist even this already constricting malady a bit tighter, make it a little more uncomfortable, like a corset made of steel wool and spiders, cinching it up with laces of regret; I feel guilty about feeling guilty.

One thing I feel guilty about is my own anatomy. I don't get enough exercise. I am strong, like bull, but neither flexible, nor lithe. My joints crack easily. My muscles are short and taut and occasionally they twang like banjo strings.

The first rising steps from my bed each morning are painful ones. It takes four or five limping staggers before my Achilles tendons are warm or supple enough to bear the weight of my journey to coffee. Granted, I was never one of those little girls who could wrap their own knees around their neck like a scarf, or do the splits as a form of greeting. I've always been more oak than willow. But life, with it's mounting pile of years, does funny things to person's perambulation.

Also, I spend half my life craned over pieces of furniture, wrenching things loose, squinting at, hefting, tugging, hoisting, hammering or in other ways, contending with, objects larger than me. I am like the rodeo cowboy of fine furnishings, and my gait reflects the many bulls, with hides of chintz, that I have ridden over the years.

...and the guilt. That too has a calcifying effect on the armature.

But hope is ever supple.

So, I decided I'd start running.  Mind you, they have not yet built the bra, nor for that matter, the blacktop that can withstand this impetuous impulse. But I know that I must begin the fight for my continued mobility, in directions other than down and wide. So, running. I like the idea of being able to get at the exercise without undue fanfare or cost. If I have to drive somewhere to make it happen, the battle is lost. If it involves relying on others, same.

I set myself an age-appropriate and physically realistic, if unglamorous, goal. Interval running and walking. Two minutes on, two minutes off, twenty minutes total. I hushed my mean-spirited inner critic, whose voice is that of a brutal middle-school girl, who hisses terrible things at me about what a pathetic, laughable human being I really am.  Instead I patted myself gently and whispered kindnesses to myself. I thought of myself as a person who needed me, who was asking for my help, and I tried to respond with the humble gratitude of someone chosen to be needed. I attempted to be someone I could trust.

And damn if I didn't make it that first day. Though it kinda hurt. And I was a little embarrassed by how hard it was. By the end I felt  pretty good, except that my feet hurt from my really blown out shoes. High arches, delicate ankles, I wont bore you.

But I bored the shit out of my nice husband.

So he took me to the store and he bought me a first-class pair of running shoes. Special, extra expensive insoles too. Light, fluffy sports cars for the feet. And the next chance I got, I went again. Saturday.

It was sort of cloudy, and maybe even a little rainy, but not right then, so I set out with my favorite podcast playing in my ear, my free interval App chiming in encouragingly.

Four minutes in, I see a car coming toward me. My road has no shoulder. On the sides it is ditch and high weeds. The pavement, literally, crumbles off in mid-air on either side. It's not ideal, but it's what I've got. So the car sees me, and indicates as much by going wide. I plod along a couple more steps and then, without reason, the car swerves towards me! I have one instant of registering that the driver is old, and holding a phone, before I leap into the void. I land with my left foot in a hole. My ankle goes sproing! and I go down to the ground. I'm sobbing before I hit the ground.

Hurts like a motherfucker. But that's not the worst of it. I'm so fucking angry and humiliated and short-changed and embarrassed and not to be outdone, guilty. Why am I guilty? Because of those unblemished shoes. Because, my middle-schooler, sneers, I am no runner.  It's a rookie move,  spending money on the equipment, before proofing the yeast of dreams --she smirks, she taunts. She told me so. Her ridicule makes me cry. What's more, I don't think I can walk home. Those, maybe, one hundred yards to my house? I might have been able to crawl them, but I certainly couldn't walk them. I call Vildy. He comes to get me in the car. It's the shortest run on record. I am defeated and so so so very sorry for myself.

I cry and cry. More than I should cry. I feel guilty about crying so much. My family, who are tender, friendly people, apply ice to the swollen areas outside and love, sweet love, to the puffy, purple areas inside. They nurture me, encourage me, tell me it's going to be OK. I don't have to take the shoes back to the store they tell me, the shoes will wait. They bring me drinks, and episodes of Breaking Bad to distract me. They prop me up on pillows, they prop me up with their gentle worry.

Lou brings me my computer. He sets it on my lap. I give him a questioning look. "Come on, mom, you know you want to write about it."

That shuts my nasty middle-schooler right up. Because maybe she can run, but she cannot fucking hide.