In February of 2022, I gave up pursuing a singing career. Ever since, my body has felt as supple as a slinky. I now glide through the world like I’m in love.
Sure, I still sing every day to stay in shape for my students, but I’ve accepted that, for me, pursuing a professional singing career triggered some hidden, traumatic memory in my body. Just talking about preparing a role makes my muscles grip onto every bone of my skeleton. What does that mean? Do I need to let go of performing? I stood in front of the mirror by the piano for the millionth time. Instead of begging my body to cooperate, I realized that I was the one who needed to cooperate with my body. “I’m not going to hurt you anymore,” I said aloud,“ And I won’t force you to do something you don’t want to do. We’re going to stop singing. Now.”
In January 2018, nine days after my speech pathologist had inserted botox into my vocal folds, I started to crash. He hoped it would cut the relentless, muscular cord around my throat. “You’ve sat in this chair every two weeks for a year and a half,” he said,
“No one’s going to say you didn’t try.” I felt seen. He knew what I was really worried about. Looking like a quitter or worse, a failure.
I had been trying to grieve the death of my mother without my voice. I was a round-shouldered, baggy-eyed woman with a throat that could no longer clear on its own. So I added weekly therapy sessions to my existing schedule. I booked private yoga sessions to put my shoulders back in place. Eventually, I ran away. San Francisco had everything I needed; the ocean, ancient Red Woods, and my best friend since I was eight. At Stinson beach, I wrote in the sand, New Voice 2018. I asked the waves to grant me my wish. Strangely, my family doctor happened to be on the same flight there and back. I couldn’t escape my medical team no matter how hard I tried. By October 2018, the initial relief I had gained from the botox had started to vanish. Had I spent all that time and money for nothing? It was like Groundhog day. Whatever lesson I was supposed to learn, I hadn’t learned it. Yet.
A week before the one year anniversary of my mother’s death, my speech pathologist plopped a blue stone with gold flecks into my hand. Lapas Lazuli. He told me that it might help unblock my throat chakra. Then he told me about a patient who had felt a lump in their throat for years. But every time they’d scope his cords, no lump could be seen. When the patient was about to give up, he realized that it wasn’t a lump in his throat, it was a sentence, “I want a divorce,” he finally said to his wife. The lump disappeared. My speech path asked me, “What’s your word, Marce? What’s your sentence?” He told me it didn’t matter who or what I said it to, but I needed to figure it out because he couldn’t do much else for me.
That night, I picked up a blue stone from my jewellery box. I closed my eyes and said, “What’s my word?”
It whooshed by my right ear like the wings of a large bird.
Then a nudge.
My mother’s urn was buried with my grandparents in Ottawa. I hadn't visited yet. The next morning I booked a flight to say goodbye to a rain-sodden plaque that had my mother’s name on it.
By December 2018, I trashed every single recording of my old voice. I was committed to making space for something new. My tongue and jaw, however, twisted and clicked even more. What was left? What else could I possibly do? Just after New Year’s, a friend asked me about my voice stuff. “Same,” I shrugged. He knew me well enough to pick up on my ongoing distress. “Why don’t you try accepting it?” he said. Was he kidding? I didn’t spend all that time and money to just give up. “I didn’t say, give up, I said accept it, and then see what happens,” he said. For a split second, I considered it. But years of hard work and humiliation triggered a flood of tears. I was inconsolable. Nine hours later, I woke up. It was the first time in years that I had actually slept. Had I begun to loosen my grip? I rolled out the yoga mat. By the time I got to warrior-three, the tears started to drop on the mat. How could I quit now? I stood on my left leg and tilted my torso forward with my arms stretched out in front while my right leg stretched behind. I looked like a soggy letter T. A voice in my head said, “What if we just disappeared? Start fresh somewhere else?” and then another voice said, “Tilt your hips, align with the floor and keep reaching forward.”
The next day, instead of singing, I pleaded into the mirror, “Ok, you’ve got me. I accept my voice as it is. I surrender! Now, show me what’s next.” Two days later a friend texted, “My voice teacher’s in town. Come listen to my lesson. I know she can help you.” Two days after that, a petite-Sophia-Loren-look-a-like in shiny black glasses, and leather pants greeted me and my friend at her studio, “So, what’s your story?” she said, with killer red lips. “How long have you got?” I laughed. I took a seat and waited. The teacher’s voice wrapped around the room like velvet. I booked a lesson. For the first time in almost three years, I cancelled a speech pathology appointment. I thought, maybe I could finally make a sound on my own again. She had instilled the confidence that I might be a student instead of just a patient. That night I dreamt that the teacher and my mother were in matching outfits in a pretty little gift shop. My mom held out a stack of flat, rectangular stones tied together with string. Each stone had a different picture on the front: a little girl, wood, water, earth. My mom’s hands were covered in gold rings, and my teacher kept saying that I needed more air. When I told my therapist, he wondered if it meant that now, I had all the elements. Wood, water, stone, the metal from the rings, and the teacher talking about air. “But what about fire?” I thought. Had I run out of fuel to ignite my ambition? And was that a good thing or a bad thing?
Would I look for another match to light my fire? Or would I let something new rise out of the ashes?
In March 2022, I emailed my teacher to cancel my lessons. My throat tried to catch the email and bring it back. It had been two and a half years of painstakingly rebuilding my sound. What was all that for? Even after all that effort, I realized that I’m still not happy. I realized that singing is breaking my heart and my body. It’s not that my cords are messed up anymore. I have more sound than ever before. But I continue to have a chronic misalignment of my jaw. The sneakiness of my tongue twisting and tugging when I least expect it has exhausted me. What is the last lesson that I need to learn? I thought I had understood everything at this point. I’ve invested thousands of dollars for almost 10 years on multiple therapies. How can I let go? I need to let go. How does anyone let go of a dream? And, what does letting go actually mean?
Everyone has it hard in some way. Imagine if we all loosened our grip on whatever we’re clinging to so we can grab onto something new.
I wouldn’t have chosen the particular struggles of my singing journey. Singing, however, was the very thing that led me to my husband. And I love him. Singing connected me to my students. And I love them. Singing pressured me in my later years. Was I a piece of coal turning into a diamond? Or was I a canary in a coal mine? Would I wait to shine or would I fly? Choosing an encore or knowing when to quit is the tricky part. But life is not about quitting. Or being quiet. Life is about loving the journey.
To my readers, thank you for following my story. I'm humbled by your support.
To my writing coach, thank you for helping me find the right words, and then, put them in the right order.
To my formidable Speech Path, kind-eyed Therapist, and wickedly talented voice teacher I send you huge hugs and endless gratitude for your patience, good humour and guidance.
And to my husband...well...you're my everything. I love you.
Photo credit Pexels_by_Tara-Winstead