If I Could Make it There…

stageIn response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Too Big To Fail.”

Tell us about something you would attempt if you were guaranteed not to fail (and tell us why you haven’t tried it yet).

I’ve had a dream ever since I can remember: I don’t know when I first felt the pull of the stage, but I do remember I had a lead in every chorus performance our small school ever had. I still singing “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” in my eighth grade play. Every moment on stage was like breathing in some heady drug. When I entered high school, I was excited to join the “real” chorus.

Me, at age 16 ready for the stage
Me, at age 16 ready for the stage

The chorus director at my high school had a reputation for being a tough lady. She taught honors English classes, had directed the band, and even led an all-girls song and dance group. I had been the big fish in my middle school. Would I be special in high school? My new chorus teacher, Ruth Lewis, who eventually became my mentor when I began my teaching career, nurtured me and began to find music to help foster my talent. By my senior year, she urged me to pursue a career as a vocalist. She told me I had an ear and a voice that really could take me to New York.

Here I am, though, still in the place where I was born, loving music as much as ever, tears tightening my throat when I hear a song of a certain type, the type I know I could be doing. Why didn’t I try it? I did take voice lessons in college, but I was raised to value stability over excitement, and those lessons took. I have been teaching in the school from which I graduated for the whole of my career, so I got that stability. I chose safety over the true calling of my heart. I haven’t been unhappy; quite the opposite: I am married to the love of my life, whom I would not have met had I left. I have some remarkable children in my life because of teaching.

I love teaching. I love the connections with my kids. I love pushing young people to do and achieve more than they thought they could. I love challenging them to confront their beliefs. This is how the world gets better. I am a good teacher.

But if I could become a professional musician, I wouldn’t wait another second. If I could go to New York and audition for just one role in a big show knowing I’d get it, I would do it without hesitation. Just thinking about it as I type, I can feel the electricity on my skin. I hear the strains of “Anything Goes” and “Send in the Clowns.” If I could join one of my favorite bands Pink Martini singing “Sympathique (Je ne veux pas travailler) and travel Europe with them, it would be a dream come true.

Would I say goodbye to teaching forever? I can’t say. Even in this dream, it’s difficult to think of never seeing my students again.

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14 thoughts on “If I Could Make it There…

  1. What a great post! I don’t believe in guarantees of “not to fail”; that sounds too much like the email I got that assured me I had been left a huge sum of money which would be paid into my bank account if I etc, etc. (And of course I deleted it and blocked the sender, just in case you’re wondering.)

    But a couple of my English teachers did assure me I could make it as a writer. So why (mostly) haven’t I?

    Well, there was the need to keep a roof over my head and food on the table. The day job had to come first. But after trying a number of day jobs that didn’t involve any writing (on the theory – quite correct – that if I didn’t have to write by day, I’d have more energy to do it by night) I figured out that they simply didn’t pay enough to enable me to buy a house. Or to indulge my taste for long haul travel, which is expensive if you live in NZ.

    So I got a proper job. The writing that I wanted to do went out the window. But I still wrote. Hack work, I call it, and I don’t use that term pejoratively. Recruitment pamphlets, policy papers, plain words explanations of legislation, newsletters, and the text for major reports whose raw facts had been assembled by highly skilled researchers, who were great number-crunchers but not wordsmiths.

    And while in one way it frustrates me that I spent so many years at this, I learnt some great lessons. Writing is writing. It’s a craft, and there’s no real difference between what is nowadays called “creative” writing and any other sort of writing. Structure, clarity, style, an awareness of your audience, and knowing the rules even when you’re breaking them, all matter.

    Plus those day jobs gave me knowledge of many fields I would otherwise have remained ignorant of. (Yes, broken rule there 🙂 ) I’ve also learnt that it’s what you don’t do in life that you regret, not what you do.
    And we’re a learning species; we can always keep on learning, and doing what we always hoped to do. Maybe in not quite the same way as we hoped, but all the same…

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  2. I wish the young generations had more teachers as motivated as you are. I am a teacher myself, and I can easily recognize myself in many of the things you mention here. I also acknowledge, from my own past experience as a student, the great role that some great teachers had in my life: if not through directly inspiring me to follow in their footsteps (I accidentally discovered my passion for teaching), at least in doing whatever you do with all your soul, so that you touch the souls of those whose life path crosses yours.

    More than anything, the world of tomorrow needs the teachers of today to be real, humane, to teach through the power of self example lessons of dignity and “lessons of flight”, more teachers like you.

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  3. Such a common story among those of us of a certain era and age. I don’t think young people are ingrained with that same caution and need for stability that we were. Like you, I would love to have tried my wings at a few things, but here I am, as well, happy, content (though with the usual glitches) with kids I love, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I must admit I’m dying to see Meryl Streep’s new movie coming out on August 5th. Ricki and the Flash, where she DOES give up everything for that career. It ought to be interesting!

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    1. It’s interesting that you bring this up. I just saw a feature on The Today Show about millennials taking more risks than other generations. They’ll quit jobs before having another one. That’s a risk I would be to afraid to take myself.

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      1. I’m a baby-boomer, and we often left jobs before we had another one to go to. My friends and I used to work, save money, and then head off to travel or take time out for personal goals. The thing was, in the 1970s jobs were plentiful – you could always find one when you needed to.

        By the mid 1980s, times were tougher, and people entering the workforce had to be more cautious. So I don’t think it’s a generational attitude so much as something which is driven by the availability of paid employment.

        But I’m glad the young are still adventurous. A few years ago I met two young Americans who were travelling around NZ; they’d been working in a Starbucks, and were on their way to fruit-picking jobs in the South Island. I said, “Good for you, a working holiday is great way to travel.” They looked surprised, and said, “You’re the first person that’s said that! Everyone else worries about our future, and why we don’t have proper jobs.”

        I don’t think they’ll be facing a lifetime of regrets.

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  4. I started my college education in music. I wanted to be an opera singer. I thought I wanted it more than anything. Then, I met my husband. I still worked, but I started to fantasize about getting married and having a family. I must have wanted those things more. We got married a year after meeting, and music faded into the background. I had to make a living and contribute to our household. I have friends, bridesmaids in my wedding, who are very successful opera singers today. I listen to their recordings, and my throat tightens like yours. I start to think….what if…The truth is I wouldn’t change a thing. Teaching is my calling and as much as I love singing…and I LOVE singing, it wouldn’t fulfill me as much as teaching does. Besides I sing to a captivated audience of students at the end of every year. To them, I am an opera singer. Do you participate in community theater? That’s a great outlet. Personally, I don’t have the time with two young children, but maybe you can feed your performance fire there.

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  5. Hi Tracey — you sound like a truly gifted teacher! I still remember my English teachers — a couple had a huge impact on me and my future reading/writing. Looking forward to hearing more from you. (And yes, I’m still catching up on the Blogging101 stuff…it’s overwhelming!) If you’d like to take a peek at my blogs, here you go: http://www.introvertsdictionary.wordpress.com and http://www.howtobe50.wordpress.com. (And congrats on the award — wow!)

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    1. Thank you so much! I popped over to your sites and looked around. I think we are kindred spirits. I know what you mean about being overwhelmed by everything at Blogging 101. I’m a complete newbie. It has been a great experience for me, though, butting myself in the shoes of my students who must feel this way when I assign them work. If I got to make inservice assignments, I would require teachers to learn something new and a little intimidating. I don’t know if you looked at my other post about social media, but this is my first experience with an online presence in any form, so–whew!

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      1. Yes! I’m going to go back and read your other posts (got kinda sidetracked on the theatre one!) but yes, I think we’re on the same wavelength! I’ve been freelancing for magazines for many years (it’s drying up to put it nicely) and I’m trying to branch out/explore options/figure out the next step — and yes, it’s a lot to take in! Good luck to you and let’s stay in touch!

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      2. We should definitely stay in touch! I think this is a great place to find people with whom you can actually make a connection in a more real way that in person sometimes because we can find people with common interests. I poo-poohed social media for so long, but see just how wrong I was!

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      3. Absolutely! I’ve been on Facebook for a few years as it was one of our parenting rules (you’re on FB, you must friend Mom first) but only started getting serious about it recently. (My husband thinks social media is a fad and the devil, btw — 🙂 And the whole blogging thing is eye-opening, to say the least. Yep, let’s stay connected!

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