I’ve been thinking about what people mean when they tell me, ‘You’ve never been comfortable in your own skin.’ The short version of my life is, I’ve come a very long way, but am not there yet. I guess this must frustrate people who love me and wish it wasn’t taking so darn long for me to get whole.
Lately I’ve realised that my entire life has been built around one question: ‘What will people think?’
Several factors brought this on. One, my mother (whom I otherwise adore!). Two, my Christian upbringing. Three, my approval addiction, which gets its voracity from the peculiar balance of sanguine & melancholy in me. Four, the ‘chop down the tall poppy’ town I did most of my growing up in. Five, doing the rest of my growing up on the mission field, where you have the weight of the mission’s reputation on your young shoulders despite the fact that your peers will think you’re fabulous just because you’re white. Six, I have some issues with the criteria we use in church.
My mum, God bless her, is a wonderful woman of God, but also a product of the last half of the 20th century. And my Christianity, though I thank God for it, is the same. This means that I’ve grown up with an almost paranoid obsession with Looking Good For Jesus. Because, after all, y’know, He’s perfectly helpless without US as His advertising department! Now while it’s true that we should take care to not dishonour the Name, I think now that I’ve been asking the wrong question all these years. I think the real question should have been left at, ‘What will people FEEL?’
It’s the difference between looking at myself, and looking at others (though even there, there must be a balance because that’s what’s happened to my music, too much outward focus and not enough personal truth). Asking what I make others feel would have allowed me to be careful of them, sensitive to them, concerned for them, encouraging to them … without all the guilt that trying to be perfectionistic brought on. I was so worried about what they’d think of Jesus if they thought badly of me. The statement every Christian dreads more than any other is, ‘If you’re an example of what following Jesus is like … then forget it!’ So we work really hard at being Good Examples – with the net result that the world looks at us and says, “I’m not at all sure that’s real.” I’m not fake; but I am stressed and over-earnest.
It’s not that I pretended to perfect, or at least not in the last ten years. People I’ve worked with will attest to you heartily that I was far from perfect, could not hide it, and never claimed it. But I worked very, very hard at minimising my imperfections. I agonised over my sharp tongue, nervous demeanor, nerdy appearance, mediocre achievements, fear of opinion, and judgmental attitudes. All my MK life I have felt like a geek, a misfit, the one with the weird family. At school I thought people saw me as the religious nut, so I tried hard not to be one. At church I thought the other kids saw me as the super-spiro one because I had so much more Bible knowledge than most of them, so I tried to dumb it down. My first serious boyfriend didn’t celebrate my comparatively academic vocabulary, so I toned that down too. No wonder I felt, as I complained to a friend a few years ago, like a piece of crumpled alfoil that’s been working so hard to be all things to all men that I had no shape of my own anymore. Metal fatigue. Only one letter away from mental fatigue. Perhaps if I had understood salvation by grace a decade or so earlier than I did, I would have had some definition for the phrase ‘rely on God’ that got cliched at me sometimes.
So who am I when I peel all the makeup off? Am I no more than a collection of Christian postures, that I believed in so zealously I made a part of myself? I wanted to be the poster child for Christianity, and even with all the advantages of being a 2nd & 3rd generation believer, I failed. (I should emphasise that GOD did not require this of me … I did, and I thought at the time that the church did.)
None of this came home to me until a few weeks ago, when a good friend said to me, ‘I liked your album, but there’s not much of YOU on it.’ I think I mumbled something about ‘none of the naked songs made the cut’. Touching my music is like poking my eye. You know you have to dig the stray eyelash out, but it sure ain’t comfortable. I’m defensive even in my thirst for development as an artist. It all harks back to the ‘there is NOWHERE I fit in’ thing. And that’s even with the head knowledge that GOD says I fit in, and there ain’t no higher authority.
I don’t want people to tell me, in my mediocrity, that I’m brilliant. I don’t want to be forever grieving the fact that I’m not brilliant. I just want to be someone who creates beauty before the Lord. Any beauty. I need to dump the score cards, both musically and spiritually, and just go for it. So I’m experimenting a little more now with songs that may be less morally polished, and more raw. I have tried to be honest & open in my songwriting, but the need to point to hope has driven me. Lois McMaster Bujold has a very apt phrase: ‘right down to the muck at the bottom of the soul’s well’. That’s it. I’m happy enough to admit there is muck there, but I sure don’t feel like going down there to play in it. But I think now that perhaps it’s a necessary descent.
Theme song for this journey? One of the benefits of having children: watched ‘Meet The Robinsons’ (how apt!) yesterday and have grabbed Rob Thomas’ ‘Little Wonders’ with both hands.