The ice chips sliding down my desert-dry throat were an oasis.
It was June 2014 and I had just woken up from a surgery where my Ear Nose and Throat doctor had just inserted gel into my left vocal fold. The intent was to get the cords to come together and vibrate evenly, or maybe trick my brain into believing everything was normal. My belly had woken up, too. But I couldn’t eat until I was sure that my first client’s mortgage had officially been signed. I’d become a mortgage agent. I took a heavenly bite of hospital food as I read my client’s text, “We’ve signed the papers. It’s done.”
Growing up, I often felt like my energy was too big for the room. Like I might knock something over with my personality. But not on stage. If anything, I could have taken it up a notch, owned a little more real estate on stage-left. So when things started to go south, vocally, I convinced myself that if I sat on the periphery of my singing community, and helped singers buy a home, I would still feel connected. I could still be one of them. But caring for another person’s money, and I really did care, only jammed my shoulders up around my ears. Permanently. By 2016 I’d started to give up hope that something would change. That I would change. Then, one night, as the evening news hummed in the background, I said to my husband, “There has got to be someone who can help me.” Instantly, a tenor appeared on the TV from the Canadian Opera Company. A guy in a white coat was scoping his vocal cords. Even the news reporter had her throat massaged. Excuse me? I googled the Speech Pathologist being interviewed. And as I listened, I started to write the sappiest, most embarrassing please-help-me-I-just-want-to-sing-again email and pressed send. I’d figure out how to pay for it later.
I know that for me, money and my singing voice are weirdly entangled. I’m still working to understand it. Perhaps it's rooted in my childhood. My mother was totally messed up. For example, I’d often arrive at my voice lesson and my teacher would tell me that the cheque from my mother had bounced. But here’s the problem, I looked like I could afford anything. My clothes were more expensive than my teacher’s. I was fourteen. And I had to regularly cover for my mom’s financial fuckups. I was forced to lie. Is that what the other kids had to do? We were Queens on the day of her paycheque, and paupers three weeks later. This kind of thing had been going on since age seven when my mother and I moved across town and out of my grandmother’s house in the middle of grade three. She got a full-time job as a teacher. I worried about scenes in the grocery store when we didn’t have enough money to pay for what she had put in the cart. I’d have to go put food back in front of other students from my school. It was mortifying. The strange thing was, my mother always made sure I had beautiful clothes, jewelry, and even perfume. People accused me of being spoiled. Like I had some choice in the matter. I was so confused by the concept of money. I knew we needed more of it. But when my mother had it, she didn’t know how to use it. It was the reason for most of the tension between the two of us.
Years later, when my voice started to tense up, I thought I could just massage it with lessons and coachings. But the harder I tried, the worse it got. I was afraid it was permanent. It was proof that I didn’t belong on stage. Every day, I attempted to squeeze my voice back into its box. But as the gaps between gigs grew, and the black hole in my voice swallowed me up, I started flailing around for something to make me feel like I was on solid ground. I worked for a publicist in the opera biz. I cared for the children of singers while they rehearsed. I even plastered and painted for my husband’s renovation company. I told myself that all these jobs were temporary. What I didn’t realize was that I’d already created the financial net that would catch me.
In 2010 I’d launched a money blog for artists. While I had always been careful with money, it never felt like there was enough. Sometimes, it still doesn’t. So, I poured my financial freak-out into a blog. I wrote about how, as a kid, I’d thought I was related to the people we visited every weekend at Holt Renfrew and Birks. And how I refused to get a cell phone until 2011. Waste. Of. Money! It was how I came to terms with the way shiny things made me feel. Four years later, after becoming a mortgage agent, my readers turned into clients. On the same day as my first vocal surgery, I sealed the deal on a half-a-million-dollar mortgage. I was grateful that I would have enough money to survive the summer.
But would my singer-soul survive?