Wednesday, October 27, 2010

We Dreamers Have Our Ways....

There are people who have called me a dreamer. I guess they thought they were putting me down and making me feel bad. But the truth is just the opposite. I loved being called a dreamer....I still do. I consider it a compliment. It confirms for me that I have more bravery than I thought I had and that I have more courage than the person attempting to bring me down. I know when they call me that, they are implying that I'm lazy or that I don't live in the "real" world. But what they don't seem to be able to understand is that this is the real world for me. I am right where I want to be and have no desire to change. Everyone has to determine for themselves what their truth one can tell them because no one else knows. Your truth is what comes from deep within you, and no matter how much you try to deny it, it will always be there. You can ignore it, you can make excuses, but it will always be there....always.

It's really an amazing experience to be on a stage singing for an audience. To speak into the microphone and have them respond. That sounds like a very simple and rather dull action, but you have to understand where I am coming from with this. You see, I have never been one of those people who stand out in a crowd. I was always the shy kid in the corner, the wallflower. I was the one who was always picked last for a team in gym of those who went to school dances alone, and if I was lucky enough to get asked to dance, it was usually with one of the other misfits in the crowd who also came alone. Remember that Christmas story about Rudolph and how he went to the Island of Misfit Toys? Well, let's just say I would have fit right in on that island. But that's okay, I'm not complaining. I think I would have really enjoyed it there.

Not too many of the "popular" people paid a whole lot of attention to me as I was growing up. To be truthful, they still don't. I don't attract a lot of attention just by walking into a room. I have even had people ask me a question and then walk away and start a new conversation with other people while I was answering them. I will admit that this does miff me a little simply because it's rude, and I have never liked rudeness. But I still don't let it bother me too much, because now that I am older I am not as concerned about fitting into their world as I used to be.

Anyway, I have never attracted a lot of attention by just being present. Then one night a good friend handed me a microphone and I sang a song. All of a sudden people were coming up to me and complimenting me. They were making it a point to stop and say hello. They were actually asking me to sing and telling me that the only reason they came out was because they were hoping I would be there. They actually wanted to know me. Was it a boost to my ego? Um....yeah....but I still had a difficult time with it for a while. After a lifetime of blending into the woodwork, it was kind of hard to believe people really gave a damn whether I showed up or not. I was still the same person I had always been, just with one exception. They could hear me.

That was the difference. It didn't matter that I could carry a tune. After all, a lot of folks can sing, and many of them have much clearer, stronger voices than mine. The difference is that I let them
hear me sing. I gave them a reason to pay attention....shook them up a could even say that I "rocked their world". After a while, I started pulling out songs that no one would ever expect me to sing, let alone sing well. It was fun just to see if I could get a rise out of the crowd.

One of my favorite experiences is when I am at a place where they don't know me. I have a cousin who plays guitar in a local band and we went to see them play one night. During their set he invited me up on stage to sing a song with them. I was very nervous, but everyone encouraged me to do it so up on the stage I went. They began playing the song--"Your Cheatin' Heart"--and he began singing and after the first line I joined in. In the distance was a bar with some folks drinking and talking and generally not paying too much attention to our little least they weren't at first. As I started singing, I saw several of the bar patrons stop in the middle of their conversations, put down their beers and turn around on their stools to look at the stage. Something there had caught their attention, and that's where their attention stayed until we were finished singing. Then they applauded (loudly), and just as easily turned back to their drinks and conversations as if nothing had happened. Now I could have seen that as rudeness, but instead I saw it for what it was. It's a little thing I like to call the "Gotcha Factor".

They may not have even noticed the band on the stage playing their hearts out for an hour before I sang, and they may not have cared much about them after I finished, but for that two and a half minutes, they were mine. It was as if when I started singing I was baiting their interest--like a fisherman baiting his hook--when they turned to see what was going on, they were hooked, just like the fish who couldn't resist the bait. When I saw them turn around and pay attention, I smiled and thought, "Gotcha!". That's the "Gotcha Factor"--when you look into someone's eyes and know you have captured their complete attention. You've managed to get past their ears and their've taken hold of something deep in them that they just can't ignore. Let me tell you, that's an ego boost!

There's another side of the "Gotcha Factor", too--something I like to call the "Oh, wow....". It's that moment when you realized that you have touched someone's heart--or even reached a part of their soul--with just the words of a song. I had this experience a few years back when I performed in a Mother's Day program at a friend's church. I had decided to sing a song called "Eagle When She Flies" by Dolly Parton, in honor of my Mom, who passed in 1992. I was extremely nervous, so I told my cousin and my husband to please sit up in one of the front rows of pews so if I started to freak out I could look over at them for moral support. I began singing my song and felt okay, but about halfway through my nerves started acting up. I looked over to my two-person cheering section for strength, only to find the two of them sitting there with tears streaming down their faces. My first thought was "Oh crap, they're crying!" second thought was "Oh wow, they're crying!" I managed to finish the song, but I have never forgotten how it felt to know that I had touched their hearts and helped them express their feelings.

There are always two sides to every coin. The first makes you feel larger than life....but the other humbles you to the core. I consider them both to be a blessing.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Life On the Road....

A friend of mine recently said that touring was a "young person's gig". I just couldn't imagine how or why he would even think about giving up traveling around the world and singing for the throngs of folks that come to his shows. To have a "job" like that would be absolute Heaven for me, and I know I would never be able to just stop doing it could turkey.

Well, I got an ever so slight taste of "life on the road" last weekend. I had to travel out of town to play a friend's wedding reception. Granted, it was only about an hour's drive away, but "on the road" is "on the road", and away from home is away from home. So away we went, with our over night bags packed with three days worth of clothes, a small cooler packed with sodas, bottled water, lunch meat, Swiss cheese and fruit cups, and my poor over-worked Tracker packed to the gills with sound equipment and lights. If there was a crevice left unfilled in that vehicle, it was purely by accident. It would be a fun little road trip where we could get away from our everyday world and make a little cash to boot.

We stayed at the Days Inn just off the exit from the interstate and checked into room 315. When we got to the room, we were very please to find that not only had the hotel staff turned on the AC for us which made the room cool and comfy, but it was also equipped with a microwave and mini-fridge (had I known this ahead of time, I would have rethought the cooler menu). At any rate, it was just great to take our shoes off and relax for an hour.
After freshening up from our drive and packing our goodies into the fridge, we decided to take a drive around to see what there was to see, and maybe even figure out where the Fraternal Order of Eagles building was that would house the wedding reception. It was a smaller city, so it shouldn't be too difficult. During the hour or so that we traveled around we managed to find just about every animal that a fraternal order could be named after--elk, moose--we even found the local V.F.W. Eventually we found the Eagles building which was located on Wheeling Avenue (quite a coincidence since we're from Wheeling, WV), and then headed back to the hotel for showers and a delicacy dinner of sandwiches, chips and sodas, and some much deserved sleep (yeah, right).

On Saturday morning, my eyes popped open at 7:30 am. Considering that they didn't official close until about 2-ish that same morning, this was not necessarily a good thing. I decided since I was awake-kinda-I would take advantage of this early start. I showered and headed down to the lobby for the free continental breakfast. Grabbing a tray, I filled it with two of everything that looked good and headed back to the room (this is where a background in waiting tables actually came in handy). Fruit Loops never tasted so good.

We had planned on meeting the bride for breakfast at Denny's at 11 am. Amazingly, we were on time (I've been practicing) and when she arrived, we ordered. For some reason, my stomach didn't want anything except chicken noodle soup and crackers, so that was it. We organized a few last-minute details and away they flew to the salon and away we went to set up.
About an hour and a half later, we were operational. I turned on the lights and put on some music so I could check the levels from around the room and make sure everything was positioned correctly. It all seemed good and we had a few minutes, so I played a couple more songs just for our own enjoyment. I must admit, it looked and sounded fantastic. I love my "toys".

Realizing that my stomach had decided it was hungry again, we headed off to eat and change, and picked up a few things at the local Big Lots store along the way.
We got back to the Eagles around 4:30 pm and began putting the finishing touches on our setup. I was standing behind the table on the raised center portion of the stage working on some of the wiring and I stepped backward to have a better look. Unfortunately, the part of the stage I was stepping back onto was about 6 inches lower than the one I was on. By the time I realized it, I was falling, and with absolutely nothing and no one in close proximity, there was no way to stop myself. In about 3 seconds flat, I hit the lower section of the stage with a hard thud. The landing jolted the entire right side of my body--especially my knee--twisting my foot as I fell. I think the first words out of my mouth were "Son of a b**ch!" The bad news--I had banged up my knee again. The good news--no one saw me fall....not one person. I know, because I looked around to see if anyone was watching me (anytime we do something we feel stupid about, we check to see if anyone noticed. We all do's a pride thing). The wedding was still in progress so none of the wedding party or their guests were there yet, and the only other people there were a bartender and a couple of catering folks. All were busy with their work and hadn't even noticed my sudden meeting with the floor. Good, I thought. I got up as quickly as I could, trying to "walk it off" and finished my setup just in time for the guests to start filing in. All went as planned and everyone had a great time. Soon we were packed up and back at the hotel in our nice little air-conditioned room. I had just enough energy to shower, which is when I noticed the ping pong ball-sized bubble of swelling on the front of my right knee. Well, that's not a good sign, I thought to myself. Funny, I had felt no pain at all during the entire show (it's amazing what an adrenaline rush can cure). Somehow I knew things would be different in the morning. After my shower I crawled into bed with my styrofoam box of left-overs and the TV remote, and managed to dose off somewhere between 2 and 3 am (that's normal for me).

On Sunday, we had a great breakfast at Denny's and then hit the road. We were home by 1 pm. Later that evening, I noticed that my ping pong ball bubble had diminished, and a small bruise had developed on the front of my knee. As the week went on, it became more painful and the bruise became larger until it is now about the size of my hand and is a lovely pale shade of yellow. No doctors needed, though. This isn't the first time I have had an intimate relationship with the floor, and I will eventually heal.

I do believe my friend was right. Life on the road probably is a "young person's gig", and I'm not as young as I once was. But then again, I am younger right now than I will ever be again. So, I guess I will pack it all into the Tracker next weekend and head off to the next show. What can I say? I love my job....

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Ready To Take A Chance Again....

I quit my job.

That may sound trivial, but to me it’s pretty big. Having a steady job with a reliable income has always been an important part of my world. Having a roof over your head, making sure bills got paid, making sure basic needs were provided for--food, clothes, incidentals, education, health care--not to mention the extra things that come along from day to day. It still amazes me how I managed to accomplish what I did on such meager means. So to just wake up and decide that this is the day you are going to quit your job--your steady, secure, well-paying, benefit-providing, union-backed job--well, it just didn’t seem logical. But I had to make a decision to either stay with the secure job or take a chance and live the life I’ve always known I should be living. So, I quit my job.

I must admit, even a month later I still have moments when I think I should go back. Moments when I think if I go to my former employer and explain that I had a few weak days of temporary insanity, they would have pity on me and invite me back into the fold with full benefits and my seniority completely restored. But they are mere moments of anxiety that tend to pass quickly and I soon remember how lucky I am to have this chance to live my dream.

I really don’t miss the job at all. I do miss the people I worked with, and I miss the energetic pace of the job….I even miss some of the customers. As a matter of fact, some of them even unknowingly helped me to make the decision to quit. They unconsciously reminded me how short life is, how something as simple as a smile or a hug can mean the world to another, and how strong of a force love can be. They reminded me not to be too quick to judge someone just by the way they act or the way they look, and to always try to see what’s underneath the exterior. At times, after the drudgery of doing the same job day in and day out until I became numb from running on the treadmill of life, they even helped me to remember that I could feel things like happiness and heartache. I will always be thankful to them for that.

So here I am, home everyday, self-employed and making my own schedule. I take the jobs I choose to take, making all the decisions and learning as I go. I haven’t had this much free time in years, and I sometimes have no idea what to do with it. I’m sure that will change though. I don’t regret giving up the secure job. Most would think of it as financial suicide, but I don’t. It’s not the balance of my bank account that determines how successful and happy I am. The way I see it, if you are unhappy in your life, it doesn’t matter how much money you have. Some of the happiest times in my life happened when I was totally broke. The lessons I have learned while living are more valuable to me than any material item could ever be, and the people who have taught me those lessons--well, to me they are angels sent from above to guide me. So I will continue to follow this unpredictable path I have chosen for myself one step at a time, watching for clues from the angels along the way.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sure I Can......

You know, sometimes my mouth talks before my brain realizes what it is about to say. It's at those times that I tend to get myself into trouble....or pretty damn close to it. Most of the time I manage to get things to work out to my advantage--don't ask me how--but there are also times when I get in over my head. I'm not sure which one of those this falls under, but I hope I end up with the advantage.

Last Monday I got a call from my contact at one of the places that I have been playing over the last few months. He offered me four new dates, one of which being a St. Patrick's Day party on March 13th, for which they will pay extra because it's a holiday party. I was ecstatic, to say the least. He told me they want all the bells and whistles for this one--music, lights, fog--everything. This all came about because during a previous conversation he mentioned that they had gone with another DJ for their Valentine's Day party because it's more of a formal party and this person had lights and fog and such. "I have all of that," I told him. "Oh, really?" he replied. "Oh, yeah," I told him. So a few days later he calls me with these new dates. Great! Fantastic! Woohoo!!

OK, here's the thing....

I haven't had the chance to use my lights much, mostly because the places I have played recently really don't have room for me to set them up....and I have never used the fog machine....never. Not only is it still in the box, but I haven't even broken the seal on the box. I figured I would get around to it eventually. Up until now, no one has asked about it. I figured at karaoke shows there really wasn't a need for it. Now I am feeling a little bit of anxiety about the whole situation. It's January and it's 12 degrees outside. When and where am I gonna have the opportunity to test out a fog machine without my neighbors thinking my house is ablaze and calling the fire department?? How much fog juice do I need? (Yes, fog juice.) I know of a couple of places where the DJ that was playing used a fog machine and it set off the fire alarm at the establishment they were playing at. Can you imagine??

Maybe....probably....I am getting myself all worked up over nothing. It's probably just a matter of pouring in the fog juice, plugging it in and turning the machine on. Sounds simple enough, doesn't it? The lights are probably going to be more difficult to figure out than the fog machine....probably. I really don't understand why I am freaking out over this anyway. The show isn't tomorrow, it's almost two months away. I should be able to figure all this out by then....right?

Sure I can....