I’m on tour with the North Carolina Dance Theatre. (They’ve choreographed a ballet to some of my songs, and I’m performing with them for a five-week run.)
Our first show was at a theatre in Pennsylvania yesterday. A really great theatre. When we unloaded at noon, I was shown to my dressing room. I threw my stuff down, and I walked out into the hallway to look around. I was jittery.
One of my biggest challenges on the road is to show up in all these new places as an artist. I can’t put up a front. This is my life. And here I am getting ready to present it. I don’t know if theatre presenters really get how intense that feels for some performers. So, I need lots of space and breathing time.
On the wall by the dressing room at this theatre, there’s a bulletin board at eye level. It was the first thing I noticed, and I glanced at it.
Each show of that season had been advertised in a program. On this bulletin board, someone had cut out and pinned up the ad for each show after it had run. Then, with a thick black magic marker, that person had written on top of the clipping a one-phrase “review” of the show. Some of the reviews were fine. “Good show” was on one. But several of these shows had been dismissed by this black marker with a swift “NEVER AGAIN!” or “WILL IT EVER END??” And other sarcastic remarks here and there.
Around the corner from this bulletin board were framed displays of this review process for the past seasons of this theatre’s shows. One frame per season. The mats were shaped so that each clipping of each show (with the black magic marker review) was prominently displayed. Every single performer to arrive at this theatre would see how quickly their work could be dismissed by the marker.
Of course, my voices were shouting Monty Python style – “LOOK AWAY! RUN AWAY!” But I couldn’t stop. I was looking at these quick strokes of this marker, and the delight it took in meanness. And it was framed! As if to say, “Everyone look at how clever we are at this theatre!” With my heart racing, I walked out to the lobby.
Now, I’ve written about not letting your negative voices from taking over. And there are times when that method works. Then there are times when you or I might not be strong enough. Sometimes a situation warrants a moment of feeling what needs to be felt. This was one of them.
So, I sat there and let the thoughts run their course for a little while. I’ll give them credit. They had quite the ticker-tape parade.
The lobby was empty and big. The dancers were on stage taking their class. The sound of the piano filled the silence. It was overcast and cold outside. My voices get particularly good when it’s overcast and cold.
But I’ve gotten particularly good at knowing that I get to choose whether or not to stay in the space of grossness. And because I knew I probably couldn’t find my way out of it on my own, I stopped and took a breath. I looked across the empty lobby and said, “Help.”
I noticed some display cases all around the lobby. This was an art exhibit of students’ work called “More Than a Book.” The books were hand made, hand painted, hand bound. One of the books was open to a sketch of a forest. Daina White (’07) was the artist, and the poem titled “Faith” ran down the side of the page.
…the wind stirs the trees as sunlight filters through
I can feel another presence beyond me from a much higher place,
the warm sun dances across my skin and reminds me I am not alone.
So, my little call for help yielded me an angel in the form of a college junior who I will never meet. And she made me remember that there are others like me. Millions who softly notice the world in all its wild beauty and share what they see.
All of the books were beautiful. I took in the images and the words and the willingness to create. My heartbeat slowed way down. The last book I looked at was by Iris A. Bogaert. The very last page of her book was painted in bright colors that made me think of Mexico. It said:
Love like a butterfly emerges from our souls unstoppable when we share what we have with others.
That was all I needed.
The black magic marker wasn’t sharing with others. It was trashing people. The performers were sharing what they have with others. I am sharing what I have with others. This is all you can do. You decide to share. You decide to shine.
So, I returned to the backstage area and decided to do just that. The black marker gets to do its thing. I get to do mine. Cynicism is rampant. It’s so easy to be cynical and criticize the game, and not play the game. It’s much easier to be the marker than the person in the picture. Much.
I don’t want to be the marker. The markers have never once changed my life, inspired me, encouraged me. The people in the pictures, however, have. Quite a bit.
Think about anyone who has ever made you laugh, or cry, or opened your heart, or made you believe in yourself. They’ve all faced their own black markers. You will too. This is not a call to fight the markers or to get self-righteous and go on a rant about the marker-people. They’re certainly allowed to have opinions and express those opinions in any way they want.
This is a call to open up and decide yet again. If you shrink because of the marker-people, then they get exactly what they wanted, and no one wins. Yes, it takes some self-esteem to believe that you even have anything worth sharing. But of course you do. Don’t waste your time waiting for the world to agree that you do. It’s all service. You don’t know what random person in an empty lobby somewhere is going to benefit from your openness.
So, serve. Share. You’re not alone. Get bigger. Shine anyway.