Denial is a powerful drug.
This is a story about denial and shame. It’s also about shifting perspective, but we’ll get there.
It’s a story about my ego, being told in a way that strokes my ego, as long as you all keep reading. Funny.
It’s a story of not knowing who I am if not a singer. It’s about the fear of realizing I’m not special, that I’m just a mediocre white lady who lives in the Midwestern suburbs.
Mostly, it’s a story about my cute, little vocal polyp.
She’s only two millimeters long, but boy, she is mighty! Two millimeters of hemorrhaged vascularity in one pretty little bump is sending me on a detour that will make me very late for my destination, indeed. In the directions I mapped for myself, I was going to have an agent and be on my way to a mainstage operatic career by my next birthday. It was far-fetched even if I was in prime vocal health, but after two years of pandemic, I was desperate for a destination. Denial is a powerful drug.
My vocal polyp really tries to get my attention. She interferes with my vocal folds coming fully together, or adducting, but I assume it’s a technical issue. It’s always a technical issue. I have never, ever been good enough at singing. My adduction is all wrong. I work on my onsets, and the voice in my head takes over.
No, again. The “ah” vowel is wrong. Try again. No, again. Again. Do your exercises from the speech language pathologist. Cancel your social plans, you obviously don’t care enough about your voice. Pop an ibuprofen. Again. Why can’t you phonate in the middle voice, you idiot? Do it again. Only bad singers have vocal issues. Just adduct. Adduct. Come on, you can do it on an “ee” vowel, why can’t you do it on “oh”? Oh, another rejection email. Yell. Force the cords together. This is why you don’t have a career. Scream. Again. Yell, adduct. Pop open a bottle of wine, pop another ibuprofen. You shouldn’t drink if your voice feels bad, Victoria. You’re an irresponsible singer. Why can’t you get that passage right? Do it again. Again. Again, damn it. The prednisone will get you through this gig, Victoria. You can’t diminuendo anymore. It’s a technical issue. Why can’t you sing piano? Just vocally rest for a day, tell yourself you feel better, get dinner with your friend, pop an ibuprofen, vocal rest, go to a party, regret, shame, you haven’t practiced yet today, the humidifier will help, pop a couple ibuprofen, cancel voice lessons, practice less, cancel a gig. You’re getting better though, right? Your voice hurts less, sometimes? Take the day off. Why can’t you sing a high C anymore? Hell, why can’t you sing a B flat? You’re in denial. You will never have the career you dream of.
“How’s your voice doing, Victoria?”
“Getting better every day, thanks for asking!”
Poor polyp. She must have been pretty offended. She was right there!
When I saw my little polyp for the first time, I was shocked. Denial is a powerful drug. I asked the laryngologist what I did wrong, why this happened to me. I followed his instructions from when my polyp was just pre-nodular edema. I knew it would take a while for my voice to heal. It’s not like I was singing at the Met every night, for God’s sake. It had to be my crappy technique. He shrugged, and said, “why do some football players get injured and others don’t?” All I hear is that I am not built to be a singer. My cords are too fragile. I push too hard.
My polyp is finally getting the attention she deserves. She is forcing me to not sing for a month, and then hopefully she will fade away, and I won’t need to get her surgically removed.
But who the hell am I if not a singer? What am I supposed to do? Is this the sign from the universe to quit singing once and for all? Singing isn’t just my livelihood, it’s what motivates me, makes me fascinating. Victoria is boring! I am constantly bored by who I am outside of singing.
Singers love to tell other people they’re quitting singing until they finally just leave the industry. This time, it feels more like singing is quitting me.
The voice in my head is so damn loud.
“You did this, Victoria. It’s time to quit. You have failed.”
Yesterday, my polyp and I made two final recordings for an important project. I told my pianist after our final take of Gretchen am Spinnrade in my cheerful, self-deprecating way that it may have been the last song I ever recorded, since it is clear my voice is just not built for singing. He looked at me thoughtfully, and said, “of the hundreds of singers I’ve worked with, few have the profound need to express through music like you do, and it would be a real shame if you left.”
A profound need to express.
So, I can’t express myself through singing this month. I can’t express my abilities, skills, talents, the hard work I’ve spent the entirety of my twenties honing.
This month, I’m shifting my identity from singer to person. I’m just a human who has the profound need to express. I’m shifting my attitude, priorities, and self-esteem. I’m not in denial anymore– the perception I have of myself is begging for a change. My polyp and I are going to have a grand time shifting our expectations together, I think. We’re shifty gals. Thanks for joining us.