What a difference a couple of years makes. Last weekend, I had the honor of participating in the Dave Carter Memorial Songwriting Competition at the Sisters Folk Festival in Sisters, Oregon. Sisters is a beautifully quaint little town up in the middle of the Cascade Mountains about 3 hours southeast of Portland. There were five finalists chosen out of hundreds of entries across the country and I was lucky enough to be one of them. I didn’t win, but I DID accomplish my goal which was to play guitar for myself, and do it confidently and sing my songs with all the conviction I could muster. And that, I feel, I did very well. But the thing that made me the happiest about my performance was thinking back to two years ago when I was in another songwriting contest in Colorado. I wrote about it on myspace…here’s what I wrote:
MY ANGEL, MARY GAUTHIER
Category: Dreams and the Supernatural
I think I came out of the womb a perfectionist. It’s true. I could blame my mom and dad and the way they raised me (and don’t think for a second that I haven’t spent many a year and money for therapy doing just that) but at some point, you have to accept responsibility for the things you refuse to change. A different spin on the serenity prayer.
My day of reckoning for my perfectionistic self was in August. As many of you know that keep up with my blog, I made the ambitious/insane/courageous decision to enter the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival Songwriter’s Showcase competition. The ambitious/insane/courageous part is because it’s a solo contest and I’m not what you would presently call a solo player. But I have the desire to be. And my thinking was simple, if you enter, you’ll practice. It will be motivating. And it was. Until I found out that I was selected to compete. Then it was petrifying. Immobilizing, even. But I kept practicing, what else could I do? All the while, the monkey on my back got bigger, uglier and scarier with each chord.
It got so bad on several occasions that I totally melted down in front of Tom, and he had to coax me back into the land of healthy thinking. Easier said than done, I’m afraid.
Anyway, fast forward to the week of the contest. I was attending song school at Rocky Mountain – a fabulous school – I highly recommend it to all songwriters, regardless of your level of experience. It’s a great hang, an incredibly creative environment, a place where magic happens. And here I was in the middle of this spectacular place just freaking the fuck out. I’d have one good day (translated: maybe I can pull this off) and then a meltdown day (translated: there’s no way in hell you’re going to pull this off – you should go home NOW!) and everything in between. Total roller coaster crazy. And not the state I like to live in.
One day somewhere in between sane and crazy, I had a conversation by the river with my friend, kate graves. She was so sweet to listen to my rantings and share a few of hers before telling me in no uncertain terms could I let song school end without attending Mary Gauthier’s class. She wouldn’t give me much in terms of detail except to say that it was going to be exactly what I needed.
Fast forward to the last day of song school. The day before the last day had been a huge meltdown day and I’d managed to let it slip by without taking any classes at all. (But i did manage to weasel a therapy session out of a naked stranger in the shower…AND i wrote a song, so all was not lost…**) So I decided on Thursday, the last day, I’d have to go to Mary Gauthier’s class just to see what all the fuss was about. Plus, my horoscope said I could expect 3 miracles that week, and I was waiting for them.
I have no history with Mary Gauthier. I’d never met her until song school. A couple of days before taking her class, I did go up to her and say that I thought she was one of the coolest looking people I’d ever seen. It’s her really short hair, her funky clothes and the rose colored glasses that were forever covering her eyes. So I sat down in the class with several of my friends, some new (Ben, Sam, Mercedes and Cheryl), some old (john and viv, tim and kathrin) and some fellow competitors (also friends) in the contest (sarah and amy).
I had no idea what to expect. And a lot of the class itself is still a blur of emotion for me. But somewhere in the first couple of sentences out of Mary’s mouth, there were tears already rolling down my face, and i knew my miracles had arrived. And may I say for the record, I’m not a crier. ** Not a public one, anyway. That’s something I definitely got from my folks. The only proper time to cry is in the movie theater. But I was crying in the class. Mary started by saying that we are vessels for the creator. We don’t write the songs, God does. When we get out of the way. She also went on to say that it doesn’t matter what we look like, how good we sing or play the guitar, if we have connected to the heart of God, we have a message that someone needs to hear. And if we focus on that, we’re doing what we’re called to do. That hit something so deep inside me.
For weeks Tom had been telling me, you’re making this contest all about the guitar, it’s not a guitar competition, it’s a songwriting competition. And he was right. I WAS making it all about the guitar. When I would practice, all I could think about was every mistake I made. When I played my songs for other people, all I could think about was, “shit I missed that chord, and now they’re thinking about what a crappy guitar player I am”. There was nothing joyful in it, nothing meaningful. It was all about me and how bad I sucked at the guitar.
And Mary Gauthier reminded me that I’m not that important. It’s NOT all about me. But if I make it all about me, I lose the joy and I lose the meaning of why I do what I do. It was lightening strike worthy. I was struck. And thanks be to God, I really was changed. Who can account for when we get what we get?? Who can account for how much self inflicted agony must be present before we’re able to hear the message we need to hear the most? I have no idea…I’m just glad that I was ready that day. And that Mary was the bearer of the message – my incredible gift of freedom, my miracle.
She told me that I wasn’t there to win a contest, or even play the guitar. I was there to sing the song that for whatever reason was chosen and needed to be heard by someone that was in the audience. She also told me a prayer to recite before I took the stage. I may be getting this all wrong, but I believe it was found in the pocket of the chaplain for the new york city fire department – the first known/named casualty in 9-11. The prayer goes something like this:
Take me where you want me to go
Introduce me to who you want me to meet
Tell me what you want me to say
And help me get out of your way
Well, I prayed it. I prayed it more than once in the course of the next 24 hours. I prayed it right before I went on stage for the contest. I had a whole little speech prepared to introduce my first song, but I prayed the prayer right before, and I found myself on the stage saying something completely unplanned. But evidently, it was what I was supposed to say.
By the way, not only was I NOT nervous, I was actually joyful. I didn’t actually care about winning, I didn’t actually care about messing up (I did have a couple of baubles during my first song – but the world didn’t end, I was no less loved by my friends and no less supported by the audience – in fact, I was probably supported more because of it).
Tom said it’s the strongest he’s ever heard me sing or perform.
I guess in a perfect fairly tale, I’d end this blog by saying “and the best part is that I WON”!! But this is the real world, and frankly, I prefer it. Where life is hard but the lessons oh so sweet when we really learn them. And Mary Gauthier was the first one who hugged me backstage after I didn’t win and reminded me that I did what I was supposed to do, and who knows who needed to hear it. Since then I’ve learned of several people who DID need to hear it. Also people who needed to see someone like ME onstage. Someone willing to take a risk. To make themselves vulnerable. To risk failing. To hear the call and to follow it, no matter what.
I’m so glad I did.
So now I have a new tattoo on my foot. To remind me of this important lesson. It’s not about me. It’s about heart. God’s heart, my heart, the hearts of those that need to hear…
Need to hear it in the way that only I can tell it. Only I can sing it. Only I can play it.
Thank God for Mary Gauthier. Thank God for her hard lessons and her willingness to be used. Thank God for Kate Graves urging me to go. Thank God I listened.
I got my tattoo at Resurrection Tattoo on South Lamar in Austin Texas. It felt like the appropriate place. I have been resurrected, thanks to an angel named Mary.
When I think back to that contest and the emotional turmoil I went through in order to just MAKE IT to and through that contest, I realized how far I’ve come and how much progress I’ve actually made. Both personally and professionally.
For one, my attitude HAS changed. I do realize that it’s not all about the guitar. I don’t put myself in a box anymore and expect perfection or set unrealistic goals I’ll never reach. And I’m okay with where I am. That in and of itself feels huge.
And two, I HAVE improved on guitar through practice and performance to the point that I don’t HAVE to worry the way I did two years ago. And if I screw up, it’s no longer the end of the world, or the only way I view and judge my performance.
That’s progress folks.
Another way in which I’m making progress is asking for what I need. Used to, this was the hardest thing in the world for me. Appearing needy was a fate worse than death. At least that was what I was taught growing up. But life has taught me different lessons. Life has taught me that if you ask for what you need, chances are a lot better that you might actually get what you need because people are good and are willing to help when they can and when they feel moved to do so.
This is where I am needing help today. I haven’t had a guitar of my own since Tom and I got together. I had one originally, but we sold it because it wasn’t really the right guitar for me and we needed to get rid of a few guitars. I have “made due” since then with various guitars of Tom’s, knowing that until I improved some and until we had the money to get me what I needed, it didn’t really matter all that much what guitar I was playing.
Well, it’s starting to matter. I’m actually developing a “style” of playing and as it turns out, it’s very different from Tom’s style and none of the guitars we have really suit what I do. And I’m starting to feel the need to have my own guitar so that when I play, the “tone” is right.
Last weekend when we were in Oregon, I found MY guitar. It felt a little like a spiritual experience. Breedlove Guitars was a sponsor for the festival, and Tom plays a Breedlove, and is a “rep” for them. So we were spending time hanging out at the Breedlove booth getting to know the people who work for them. They had around 20 -30 guitars on display in the booth. Normally, when Tom is being a “gearhead” I zone out and go look at jewelry or find someone to talk to as I could really care less. But this time, I stuck around and looked at guitars. One in particular caught my eye. And for some reason, I just knew that when I played it, it was going to have the sound I was going for. And sure enough, it did. I thought to myself, “this has to be a fluke”. So I took it around the corner where there was less noise and continued to play it. Beautiful tone. I still wasn’t convinced so I asked if I could take it into the Breedlove RV where no one was around. Still beautiful and deep and resonant. Then I knew it had to pass one more test. The TOM test. He would tell me for sure whether or not I was imagining that I found the right one. He came into the RV with me and listened to me play it and said, “I can’t believe that you’re getting that kind of sound out of this guitar. It was made for you to play it.”
But here’s the deal. It’s a $4000 guitar. Because Tom is a rep, we can get it for $1900. But that’s still $1900 for two people who are lucky to keep all their bills paid each month. It’s a pipe dream. The other day I wrote on my facebook status that I had fallen hard for a guitar. Somewhere in the ensuing comments, one of my friends suggested that maybe if some of my facebook friends chipped in, they could help me buy it. It was (and is) an incredibly generous offer but it’s made me believe that maybe it’s actually possible for me to get the guitar.
Breedlove has given me one month to come up with the funds. They are willing to hold the guitar for me for one month. This is where you come in. I don’t want anyone to feel pressure. Or to do anything that you aren’t moved or inspired to do. And this is the one and ONLY time you’ll ever hear me talk about it. But if you feel like you’d like to contribute to help me get this guitar here’s how you can do it:
Copy and paste the above link and make a pledge. Or go to my website and make a donation through paypal.
I know that times are tight for everyone and some of you may have zero interest or ability to help with this. But some of you might. And you never know till you ask, right?
I am so thankful for you.