Sunday, August 6, 2017

When the past enriches the present

Though I've taken advantage of a couple of recent sales to acquire new canvases, I've basically spent this summer reclaiming old paintings that I never really liked.

It's certainly one of the things I love about working with acrylics -- if you don't like something you've done, you can just paint over it, and somehow the works of the past, textures and colors, have a way of enriching what's been laid over them.

It's a little bit about redemption, to be sure; that old mistakes can be turned into something wonderful. And it's a little bit about giving myself permission to fail: you know, paint whatever you like, explore new techniques, be free with colors and forms, because whatever doesn't work can be painted over, replaced.

It's also about learning to listen to my heart, and learning to trust my instincts -- something I've traditionally found it difficult to do. I'm particularly aware of this this morning for two reasons. The first is a bit of a story; I'll try to keep it brief.

Back when I was in my 20's I had a little radio show -- Pooh Corner -- in which I read children's books aloud, often accompanied by various jazz musician friends. It was fun, I enjoyed it, and I knew even then I had a good voice for that sort of thing. So years later, after I moved to Seattle and had quit work to raise our daughters, I thought about pursuing a career in voiceover work: you can pick and choose your hours, you can often work at home, and I could be using this odd gift that really took very little effort on my part.

So, on the recommendation of a friend, I began studying voiceover with an instructor in Seattle, heading into the city every week to learn more, to correct issues, and to read various and sundry scripts into a microphone in a recording studio, listen to the playback, and correct some more.  This went on for months, and I kept thinking I'd get a demo and an agent out of the deal, but somehow the work was never quite good enough, there were always imperfections, always more work to be done; more weekend workshops to be charged for...

Eventually I decided this was going nowhere, that clearly voiceover was a dead end for me; that I would never measure up, never have what it takes to succeed in the field -- or even get an audition. So I stopped going.  It wasn't until several years later that it began to occur to me -- because I got involved with a little podcasting group -- that perhaps the problem wasn't that I didn't have the chops, but that the instructor  just wanted to keep taking my money.

So when I received an email about a voiceover workshop that would result in a demo, I decided to sign up. The workshop was yesterday, and it was terrific: not only did I learn a lot, but I got tons of positive feedback -- and it looks like I'll get a demo, and even possibly a couple of demos, and an agent (?) out of the job.

We'll see -- the proof is in the pudding, and the pudding hasn't set yet. But I'm realizing several things as I look back over this story. In staying with that first instructor for so long, and then assuming that her assessment was correct, I may have cheated myself out of a career -- simply by not trusting my instincts about my own gifts. At the same time, I am amused by how thrilled I am by the positive feedback I got from yesterday's instructor. Why does it make me feel so happy and uplifted, and why can't I generate that kind of confidence on my own, without the feedback?

And yet -- there's a part of me that doesn't trust the feedback, and wonders if "oh, you say that to all the girls," you know, it's just pat praise, because that's what gets the instructor his jobs. The truth, I suspect, lies somewhere in the middle of all this, but until I actually get the demo that's supposed to result from yesterday's activities I won't really know quite what to think.

Which brings me to the second story (sorry this post is so long). Yesterday our daughter sent us a link to a blog post written by a former engineer at Google, in which he blasted another Google employee who made the mistake of sending a company-wide memo saying women should not be engineers. This particular daughter, who holds a managerial position in an engineering firm (as did I, back in the day), has always struggled with imposter syndrome -- a phenomenon many women know well, that sense that we don't belong here, that we don't really know what we're doing, even if we're getting lots of positive feedback. CF my struggles with voiceover work, cited above.

The blog post was wonderful, and talked about how basic engineering skills are essentially a commodity; that an engineer's real task is to learn to make those skills work in the context of an organization, attentive to both fellow workers and the needs of the customers being served by the product -- and that those skills are exactly the sort of "feminine" skills that the Google dude was decrying.

This kind of open backlash against women, which began surfacing back in 2014 in what's referred to as Gamergate, an attack on women in the videogame industry, seems increasingly common these days as political correctness slides sickeningly down the tubes with the advent of our current administration. The feminist in me is both horrified and oddly pleased to see this kind of thinking exposed after years of knowing it existed and seeing it buried under false platitudes. And some part of me is thrilled to hear that there's a man out there who "gets" that it takes a blend of masculine and feminine skills and gifts to make something work: as the parent of two daughters, each of whom has what I believe to be a very healthy balance of masculine and feminine traits, I would like to think that the world I will be leaving behind for them will appreciate that and somehow be more into respecting gender equality.

But I digress. Let me see if I can cut to the chase here. I guess where I'm going is this: I believe that by meditating, by consciously endeavoring to stay connected to the Divine, by consciously endeavoring to listen to that voice as it filters through the wisdom of our own hearts, we can rise above the push and pull of the voices around us -- both the undeserved criticism and the empty praise -- and somehow know the truth that lies at the center of all that; the truth about what we bring into the world, and the truth about what we're meant to do in this moment, now, to give voice to wholeness and somehow bring a better world to fruition.

The results may not be perfect, anymore than any of the recordings I made yesterday were perfect. But if we can keep listening and improving, the results may be good enough to share -- like this painting, which is just so much more pleasing to me than the ones that lie beneath it. And we just have to trust that everything that went before feeds into, informs, and enriches what is now.


Fran Ayres said...

Thank you for sharing this. The next to last paragraph is one I so much needed this week. Facing a church team headed up by men next Sunday to defend my desire to continue leading a spiritual formation group is going to be difficult. The subtle comments that they don't want me to get burned out by continuing to lead the group another year and that it may be discussed ( it it is not on the agenda). I feel like I am being ignored and at the same time put down by these men. Staying in touch with the Divine gives me the confidence that no matter what happens, I am ok and loved, that no man or woman is able to quench the Spirit's work in this group.

Katyusha said...

I enjoyed reading this. Good luck with the voiceover gig!