tips · writing

Tell Your Inner Voice to Stuff It

No, not the “boys in the basement” inner voice, the other one.

Year of blur Kari Trumbo

Have you ever been held captive by yourself? I have. A little over twenty years ago, I was a senior in high school and had joined the choir for my last year of school. The choir director was incredibly intimidating to me, and I always felt as if I couldn’t please her.

It came time for us to prepare pieces for State Competition. A judge would come and we would sing for them. If we got enough points we would advance. We were given months to prepare and I chose an opera piece in French, as she encouraged us to try something challenging perhaps in another language.

It came to the day of judging and I didn’t think much of it. I’d practiced until my parents hated the song, until I was sure I could sing it in my sleep. I was good all day and didn’t eat or drink anything that would affect my vocal chords.

My time came and I entered this tiny room with our choir director sitting at a piano and the judge sat behind a table. I think one other person was in the room, but I don’t remember. My nerves kicked in as soon as I took in the darkened space. It felt like a dungeon and I was trapped.

Mrs. H began playing the song and I got a shaky start, I saw her jaw clench. I remember thinking I had to do better, I had to try harder or she would be so angry with me. Then it happened… I forgot everything. I couldn’t remember a single word or note from the song.

I remember Mrs. H scowling at me and the judge suggesting that I start over. It took two more tries, but I finally made it through the whole song. I left the room as quickly as possible. I don’t remember anything about that night. I don’t remember how I got my score sheet, but I want to say it was the next day. I don’t know, because I never looked at any part of it except the score, which was merely okay.

We missed going to state that year by the exact number of points I missed. I felt for twenty years that it was my fault we didn’t advance. I couldn’t bear to look at the notes on that green sheet because it would be proof from someone else’s mouth how awful I really was. I had enough of my own voices, thankyouverymuch.

About a month ago, I had to go through some of my old papers. My parents, because they had actually read the sheet, had kept it. I lifted it from the other paperwork and held it at arm’s length, as if it would bite me. I closed my eyes and all those feeling of self-doubt and loathing came crashing over me. I felt my shoulders slump under the weight of the evil words in my head. Then I opened my eyes.

I forced myself to read what that long-ago judge wrote. Needs to look up and smile. Was written at the top of the first column. At the top of the second column it said, work on enunciating vowels and end consonants more crisply. Lastly, on the bottom it said: Could be a truly lovely voice with a little work!

I had let that incident and that paper rule my singing for over twenty years…and there was nothing on that sheet that said I was terrible, on the contrary, if I had read it, I may have been fortified by it. Which was probably the judge’s intent. I let my own voices be my stumbling stone.

We all have things we’ve done wrong, or things we’re not good at. Some things we will never be good at, but you won’t know if you stand in your own way and listen to that inner voice that says you can’t. Satan doesn’t have to work very hard if he works with our own insecurities. We stuff our gifts in a closet and they are never used for their purpose. So please, do yourself a favor, and ignore that inner voice that wants to demean you and shut you down. Tell that voice to stuff it. Listen to someone who knows better than you, and you will learn. Listen to that inner voice and you will waste your time and talent.