When I think back now about things I wanted in my youth, I see my life would be really messed up if I got my way. Sometimes it pays to be grateful we do not get everything we ask for, no matter how unfair it seems as we go through our trials.
When I met Bono and Edge of U2 last year it was much more than just a superficial, thrilling experience. I learned several valuable lessons that day:
1) God knows me, cares about me, and is aware of the things I desire and need
2) Anything is possible
3) I could not handle fame
You see, for most of my life I envisioned myself as a talented singer. My childhood dream was to be snatched up by Nashville or New York so I could get on the world’s stages and the top 40. I loved singing and performing, a passion I have to this day. I also imagined having throngs of enamored fans, people who were reasonably inspired by my music and story, people who would love me. I saw this type of fame—the kind of fame enjoyed by U2, Madonna, and Lady Gaga—as a guarantee that someone would always be thinking about me. I thought it would eliminate any future danger of loneliness and would guarantee friendship. Most of all I thought it would validate me, convince me that I am a worthy human being who is as good as anyone else. It would ideally make all the people who ever put me down realize they were wrong. I needed to know I was wrong about how I viewed myself.
In my late teens I became familiar with Leonard Cohen’s music. My family wanted me to learn “The Song of Bernadette” and sing it to them. We bought a copy of Jennifer Warnes’ “Famous Blue Raincoat”, her tribute to Cohen. Many of the songs intrigued me, including “Song of Bernadette”. But the one that affected me most even at that young age was “I Came So Far For Beauty”.
At the time I thought about a boy I was obsessed with through my teen years and how nothing I did impressed him. I made myself physically attractive. I took modeling lessons. I tried to do heroic things. I changed my style, the way I carried myself, and became fashion conscious. Many people were impressed and amazed by my transformation from geek to attractive popular girl. Some were even jealous. Boys noticed. Yet in spite of everything, the one boy I wanted was bullet proof.
Cohen’s frustration and sadness were very real to me. He created a masterpiece yet still felt it was somehow in vain. In time, I stopped focusing on the boy but continued to seek affirmation among coworkers, friends, and men. I still thought even a fraction of U2-like fame would erase these insecurities. I’d have been happy to be a regular on the folk music scene, traveling the country to festivals or with tours like the Lilith Fair. I still wanted someone to see my “masterpiece” and value me for it.
As I grew older, past the age when models and young singers get signed and into the age where one hopes for a last chance while realizing all chances have gone, I grew angry and depressed. I demanded of God to tell me why. Why did He give me a strong singing voice and ability to write moving songs and a desire to perform while sealing off all doors that would allow me to share these things with the world? Why, if it wasn’t to be, did I still have this torturous desire? I felt, in a self-defeating way, that I had so much to offer, that I could really make a difference in the world if I could make it as a singer. After eighteen years as a “plain, invisible bedside nurse” who is constantly put down and named “incompetent” by coworkers (and the occasional patient), I wondered why I am stuck in a profession where I will clearly never be someone other nurses will look up to and cannot make an impact. Although I love the critical care environment and hospital, I feel my skills in those areas are not as strong as other nurses’ skills. Yet my ability to sing, write songs, and perform are still my strong point. And I cannot use them to reach people because I cannot get my songs heard. I went through a long period of kicking myself for not trying harder in the music business and even for not being pretty enough to sell records!
Last year I wrote a song called “Stay (An Anthem)”, based on my experience of meeting Bono and Edge, the inspiration I get from Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, and the influence Leonard Cohen had on my life. I couldn’t believe a song like that came from me. It is the best song I have ever written. I perform it with power and conviction and gusto. It inspired me to go into the studio and record another album and to think this is the song that will finally get through to people. It would get to the core of people, to their souls, inspire them and fill them with hope. It was my masterpiece.
“Stay (An Anthem)” got no votes on Ourstage.com or the other websites and contests where I posted it. It got no comments, positive or negative, and actually confused a few people. One close friend was spooked, thinking the song was about suicidal ideations and hearing voices! I can’t tell you how disappointed and frustrated I was. Although two of the other songs on the CD got positive reviews and a few votes, this experience threw another entire humble pie in my face. It was a harsh lesson in humility.
I came to a point where I accepted, without feeling down on myself, that “Stay” really is my trophy song regardless of who hears it or likes it. I like it. It makes me feel so uplifted and hopeful when I sing it. It may be best kept as a “diary song”. And I realized God was answering my prayer about “getting to do what I love” because I’ve constantly had small-time gigs and a few supporters all these years. This really was all I needed.
When Bono and Edge signed their autographs in my journal and when Bono spoke to me that day I was stunned and profoundly grateful. Yet as I watched them work the eager crowd, I realized I could not do what they do every day. I took note of the rapt attention every person gave to Bono, each person longing for a piece of him, each vying for his attention. He seemed to be giving as much as he could to everyone, but it was impossible. I thought I wanted what U2 has, but I realized if I earned fame in my twenties, like I wanted, it would have probably destroyed me.
I still want to inspire people with my work, change lives for the better, and know people love some of the work I do. Yet in my experience of following U2 and Heart on their most recent tours I have seen that not all fans are mere admirers. What about the delusional stalkers who sneak onto tour buses or wait in back alleys behind clubs? What is it like to need a bodyguard all the time or to have to arrange for privacy? Lady Gaga has been posting to Facebook the past few days about her tour experiences. Today there was a post directed at fans chanting outside her hotel when she was apparently trying to sleep. She clearly enjoys and respects her fans but I can’t help but wonder if that sort of thing gets old. The other day I read a story about some U2 fans who got drunk at a pub near Bono’s house then scaled the wall surrounding his property. They were immediately captured by security and escorted off the private grounds. This occurred around three in the morning and was apparently a dare, almost for sport, but it still made me think about how a famous person must constantly deal with people trying to get close. There are people out there who think Nancy Wilson is their wife, or whatever. I know how I felt when an older delusional guy stalked me when I was in college. I was terrified all the time. He would show up unexpectedly and profess undying love for me, call me a bitch, threaten revenge if I didn’t go out with him, and fight with boys he saw me with.
No way. If God gave me my way regarding fame, my life would likely be a real mess. People would look at me and see nothing but disaster, the way they look at rock stars or models who stumble into substance abuse or psychosis. I might have even been an Amy Winehouse or Kurt Kobain. At best, I’d be an aloof diva with a reputation for scorning fans and wanting to be left alone. It would be fun for a few months, if that, and would have been an awful prison.
I have great admiration for people who can handle the demands of stardom and remain sane. I am also very grateful for the gift of anonymity. Invisibility can indeed be sacred. God only gives us what we can handle. I still hope to be “discovered”, either for my writing or speaking, but I am content to stay here with my “masterpiece unsigned”, my sage wisdom, my ability to handle future successes as they are metered out to me. I gave up the pointless fight to be recognized en masse, and I also gave up the feeling of failure for not having achieved this “dream”. The extra energy I now have can be devoted to actually doing something reasonable.