I used to sing in a choir.
When I was a kid, I cannot believe my own memory but I used to sing in a choir. And I was good.
I remember there was a boy who would get to sing all the solos because his voice hadn’t dropped yet. He was basically a Castrato angel, harking the Hebrew in a way no one else could.
I was so jealous.
I really liked singing in the choir.
I would sing hard.
I would sing so hard, when I later watched the video playback, because my dad would record everything, I was shocked at how wide my mouth was opening. I looked ridiculous. But it was worth it, somehow.
Choir was kind of a cool recreational preoccupation, I thought. It was mostly great because we got to leave class to rehearse and go to fancy choral happenings.
I guess I fit in a bit more because I could wear a white shirt and sing a Hebrew melody.
I was also so proud of myself.
We would sing traditional pieces and I had no idea what any of them meant. Occasionally the choir leader would offer something as vapid as “this song is about a yellow bird”. Meaning had to be implemented. By the artist. I was the artist. I implemented hard. I sang hard. And I felt the room listening.
The occasion to express myself was incredibly exciting. As a kid, I had a lot of emotional impulses. I used to wonder about the “what ifs” of just about everything and, at the end of each circuitous mental investigation, I would end up pretty bummed out relative to the emotional intensity expected of a little girl my age.
I want to express clearly, I do not think little girls are inherently happy. Life makes very little sense when you’re a little girl particularly when Mom is the only other example of “Girl” in your household and People Who Mostly Ignore Me And Seem To Be Mean To Other People For No Reason is the only example of “Girl” in school.
I felt lost. I felt I was failing at Girl. I felt all kinds of ugly. I felt hopeless too early.
I loved my teachers.
Specifically, I loved my Hebrew teachers.
Every day, for half the day, I would be under the command of an Israeli woman. It was terrifying. It was awesome.
Israeli women are intense. They are deep, unafraid, empowered, vocal women. Smart, creative and strange, my teachers spoke with fire spewing from their words and I wanted to be just like them. I wanted to be loud. I wanted to be standing at the front of the room, explaining a concept, a world, a language that no one in the room understood but me. I wanted to be listened to. I wanted a room full of people listening to me.
I wondered: Maybe I need to be foreign. Am I foreign? Why can’t I be foreign?
My sort-of-angry, very interesting Hebrew teachers were provoking in me a desire to prove that I had come from somewhere else. Just like them. I would think, maybe I don’t make sense sometimes and I cannot articulate myself sometimes and I do not know how to dress sometimes because the customs here are not my customs. Maybe I am from some place as foreign as Israel, as far as the Dead Sea, as courageous as The Middle East…from my own head, basically, is where I knew I came from. I likened my own head to a war-torn territory. Each thought, very powerful. Every word out of my mouth, a rampant missile.
It feels good to recall the influence that these women have had on me. It has been an adult struggle for me to claim my Judaic identity and to assert that, yes, I know Hebrew quite fluently in fact I can read, write and pray in the language, sometimes I dream in Hebrew, have Hebraic fantasies, even write stories in Hebrew because it satisfies my childhood intellect which is the part of me that usually writes my fiction.
Hebrew is in me because it came to me from a place of awe. It does not feel like a language I know. Rather, it feels like a friend I used to have.
I didn’t learn well when I was little. I don’t remember what the results of my early education were but I do remember that I had no idea I was supposed to be learning. In second grade, the teacher distributed quizzes that, I suppose we knew we would be taking, and I remember staring at the page wondering “…what on earth is this paper for” while the rest of the class just: Took the quiz.
I didn’t like school because I was a bit slow to make friends or to even realize I should be making friends. I taught myself to fantasize as a way of adding meaning and intention to everything I did in a day. I was in my own head and I was fascinated. I became a foreigner, a complete anomaly, an absurd rendition of Little Girl, at least to the world I was standing in.
I would convince myself that I was great.
I didn’t believe that I was great. I literally flipped a switch in my head when I was among my peers that said “And now: I am great.”
I pictured myself always as very wise, knowing more than my peers, never needing to express my wisdom, just kind of knowing that it was there. I imagined that, should someone want to listen to me, I will say the greatest thing they have ever heard. But, no one ever asked me anything.
I said very little. Day after day, I said very very little.
At age seven, I started writing everything down. The notes were as eloquent as age could allow. I would ignore anything the teacher was saying and just write myself notes during class. Effectively, I really only learned facts and knowledge that I made up in my head. I was never listening, only writing.
After writing, I’d look up and realize: Nothing is ok. Nothing here is ok. Until I accessorize reality with magic in my writing, nothing is ok. It was a secret I knew: Nothing is ok. And I kept writing.
I made meaning. It made me very sad. It made me a bit sick. I would have stomach aches constantly. I mulled over everything meaningfully which kept me from being afraid of where I was but it also made me very alone.
I get older still and realize: No one else is here with me. I made this meaning, I live among it and unless I express it, I am very sad to be alone with it. As a child, I felt no one would listen to anything I had to say and I stayed quiet. I learned the value of being heard.
Methods of expression were few and far between when I was in Hebrew school. Most recreational interests were engendered and boring: All the boys played hockey, all the girls brought their flat irons to school and tried to teach one another how to straighten their Jewish hair. I hid places until free time was over: The bathroom (classic), the little nook at the bottom of the stairwell which I am pretty sure was some sort of foyer to the rabbi’s office where I would just sit on the floor and wait, wandering empty hallways, leaning underneath the outdoor stairwells, I would hide, only ever wanting to express my great stories and great wisdom to anyone at all, imagining someone walking by and being interested in me. It never happened.
In fourth grade, a group of girls stole my notebook. At eight years old I had written an entire poetic tribute to a boy I crushed on with intensity (obviously I did everything with intensity). Somehow everyone knew about my crush and so the poetry was obviously in dedication to him. I remember the exact girl who read my work out loud to him while I shook with fear, hiding behind my desk. I had envisioned my future with him with the romantic capacity of a forty year old spinster. I ran to the washroom. Ran back to the classroom. Told the teacher I had puked. Went home for the day. (I had not puked.)
Most memories I have of this school are of repression. Choir was special. I remember it with an odd sensation. I remember feeling proud, feeling that my parents were proud of my participation, I remember feeling involved and I remember, mostly, being carried away. I sang so hard, because I believed that people would finally be listening to me and I could make them listen harder. Singing choir, I felt heard. They weren’t my words. They weren’t even words I understood. But, it felt so good to be listened to.
I kept singing.
I would sing at school events, some Jewish events. I was a good singer. I am still an ok singer but I tell everyone I am terrible because I am embarrassed to admit that I was so pathetically isolated as a child that I joined a choir just to be heard.
Of course, I learned from choir: Performance is provocative, captivating for minimal reasons and satisfying because it grips via spectacle, impersonally, engaging without risking that feeling I get when I am asked what I did today and I suddenly realize “I sat in a chair and imagined things” is really only a statement worth listening to when it’s translated into a full length play.
I am a performer because I give as much as I can for the sake of engaging another human being, maybe a whole room of human beings but at least one human being. I give everything. I give hard. I look ridiculous, I am an open target for complete debasement but I want people to hear from voices who are never heard from, stories that are never asked about. I want everything I have ever invented to come out of hiding. It came from pain and fear and if we do not listen to pain and fear, we cannot progress through healing. All the hidden shit. It has to be performed.
When I witness a play of mine being performed, I hope for meaningful performances. My plays offer obscured meaning, abstract and absurd stories but the message comes through when the performer insists on a shared intent with the listener. The meaning is obvious: Look at, listen to, what you normally ignore. Perform with the intent of a very wise child. Perform with the intent of a missile. Perform with the intent and the intensity of an eight year old little girl who just faked a repulsive act in the bathroom so that she can escape, what she feels to be, the end of her life.
Below is a song I used to sing in my Hebrew choir.
Look how intense the language is, imagine hearing a child sing this to you.
I am satisfied with my performance.
|SONG OF PEACE|
|Tnu lashemesh la’alot
otanu lo tachzir
Mi asher kava nero
Ish otanu lo yashiv
Lachen rak shiru shir lashalom
Tnu lashemesh lachador
S’u eina’yim betikva
Al tagidu yom yavo
|Let the sun rise
light up the morning
The purest of prayers
will not bring us back
He whose candle was snuffed out
and was buried in the dust
bitter crying won’t wake him up
and won’t bring him backNobody will bring us back
from a dead and darkened pit
neither the victory cheer
nor songs of praise will help
So just sing a song for peace
Allow the sun to penetrate
Lift your eyes with hope
Don’t say the day will come