I walk onstage, sweating in my flattering black dress and kitten heels, staring out into a dark auditorium. A dozen other young artists are staring back nervously at me, but I don’t deserve to be here. I’m the worst singer; I’m too old, and they only hired me because they love my friend. I’m going to sound like a stubbed toe.
I wait in the wings and absentmindedly run my fingers over the curtain. The soprano onstage in a tight-fitting red dress effortlessly executes a difficult cadenza; the audience is captivated by her vocal fireworks. I can’t possibly expect to sing well after hearing her perfectly executed aria.
I scan my application for the hundredth time, ensuring everything is perfect. The committee will likely receive way better applicants than me; my project is garbage, and so is my singing. I hit submit and sigh.
It’s one of the many buzzwords surrounding mental health that comes up so often that it has become less effective, but yes, it’s imposter syndrome, and I don’t know a single singer who doesn’t suffer from it at least a little bit. Given the sheer number of rejections we receive from auditions and harsh feedback from voice teachers and coaches, it’s no wonder that most singers feel inadequate, just like our protagonist in Ich kann’s nicht fassen, nicht glauben.
I prefer to think of the third song in Frauenliebe und –leben through the lens of her imposter syndrome rather than her eye-rolling worship of a man she “doesn’t deserve.” Give me a break. How many of us have started dating a man only to discover his sink is full of dishes and he doesn’t replace the toilet paper roll? This dude was absolutely not perfect, especially since it was the 19th century. He probably smelled like a troll. The fact that our Frauenbild is experiencing imposter syndrome over a stinky gentleman is ridiculous. I’ve known enough men to know there’s not a single one for whom I’m not “good enough.” The bigger question for the modern woman is finding someone whose personality, goals, and ideals align with her own. I hope our Frauenbild turned protagonist has found these qualities in her smelly man. (I’d like to add here that she is also probably stinky. Everyone reeked in 1840.)
Let’s take a peek at our lyrics and translation.
A word on “slurping blissful death”– this translation is incredible and often changes to something like “savor” or “drink” in a poetic translation, but justice for “slurp.” It’s such an evocative image, even if it disturbs the romantic aura of it all.
Women are statistically less likely to apply for jobs in which they do not meet all qualifications than men. Women are more likely to apologize when an apology is not warranted. Women are likelier to add unnecessary exclamation points in emails to soften their tone. Women are less likely to ask for a raise when they deserve one. We are constantly diminishing ourselves to make others comfortable. We need to stop doing this, even when it’s hard!
I tell a similar story often, and I’ll tell it again here. Before I start, I want to clarify that this is not a sob story and that I do not feel bad for my past self, so put your tiny violin away.
Boys did not seem to like me that much in high school or college, at least to my knowledge. I grew up in the midwest, where people are overly polite and concerned with being nice, especially women. “Minnesota Nice” is worn like a badge of honor where I was raised. I’ve always been loud and opinionated, and I don’t shy away from showing my intelligence and capability where my input is appropriate. That can be off-putting in a culture that rewards niceness, particularly in women. By the time I obtained my degree, I had fully convinced myself that I was obviously fat and ugly (problematic language, but it’s how I felt), and that’s why boys weren’t that into me. When I moved to North Carolina for graduate school, I was almost shocked by the shift in attention from men. I was precisely the same, and yet I was suddenly “sweet,” “smart,” and “nice.” People in the south thought I was nice. At my core, I am a kindhearted person, but I do not think most people would describe me as nice in the midwest. I am too boisterous. Even though it was difficult, I’m glad I didn’t change who I was to make myself more palatable to men.
One of my goals coming out the other side of my vocal injury is to take up space in every room I occupy. If I sing at a concert, an audition, or a recital, it’s because I deserve it. I warrant my significant other’s love for me because we are a good pair who complement each other well. I deserve every job interview I am granted, gig I land, and scholarship I obtain. When I’m in a room, I take up space. People notice me. I want them to see you, too. I don’t apologize for who I am, and I don’t think there’s a better person at being me.
Our Fraunebild deserves her happiness, too. She is good enough.
I lay my head on his chest, and his fingers interlace with mine. I feel his breath rise and fall steadily, like a clock ticking.
“I love you,” he whispers in my ear. Butterflies enter my stomach; my spine shivers with admiration and fear.
“How do you know?” I ask shakily.
He smiles and doesn’t say anything. I ask again, “what are three things you like about me?”
Laughing, he answers, “It’s not particular things. I just do.”
Worry and guilt wash over me. My brow furrows. Eventually, my novelty will wear off, and only inadequacies will be left. Will he still love me when I’m no longer shiny and new?
He clasps my hand harder and kisses my head as if he guesses what I’m thinking. He knows.
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