I'm Just a Girl
Dreaming of being discovered in the elevator
“Mom, can you not?” my daughter says.
“Not what?” We’re picking our way through Aisle 7, looking down endless rows of pasta sauce. I pick up the Newman’s tomato basil and turn it slowly in my hand, trying to look through it. Nope. Too chunky.
“Can you stop singing?” she says through clenched teeth, as if my Gwen Stefani impression is causing her actual pain. At nine, she’s ahead of her time on the everything-my-mom-does-is-cringe axis.
“Honey,” I say. “I enjoy singing. It is one of my few pleasures. Some people even appreciate my singing. Pat Monahan once told me I have an incredible voice.”
“Yeah, yeah. The old guy from that band no one but you has ever heard of. I know, Mom.”
I frown at the Classico. “People might not have heard of them, but they’d recognize their music if they heard it,” I mutter. “How am I supposed to tell if a sauce is smooth without opening it?” She doesn’t answer, and I find my voice rising involuntarily to fill the silence. “…all pretty and petite, so don’t let me have any riiiiiights!”
“Listen. These lyrics should be speaking to you, too, young feminist. Do you understand what she’s singing about?”
“No. I can’t hear her over you.”
I scowl and grab another glass jar. I don’t recognize the brand, but the word “smooth” is actually printed on the label, so I trust it will be adequate for the four picky palates I have to feed when we get home. Into the cart it goes. “O-oh, am I making myself clear?”
She walks away.
I’d say I can’t help myself, or that I’m just doing it to embarrass my kid, but neither of those are entirely true. It’s true that singing is a compulsion for me, and I can’t remember a time when I didn’t sing. I was raised in a home where we belted out the lyrics along with the cassette tape, whether it was Wilson Phillips or Aerosmith or Randy Travis—and whether we knew the lyrics or not.
But the real reason I sing is that I have always dreamed that one day, the right person will hear my voice and say, “I just have to sign her.”
I’m not a singer singer. I’ve never been trained outside of two years of middle-school choir and an ad-hoc lunchtime chorus I formed with two of my friends freshman year where we sang Jewel songs at the top of our lungs in the ELA classroom. But for most of my childhood I was certain I would be a professional singer.
There were enough stories when I was growing up of people being discovered at the most random places that I started believing it was a possibility for me. The advent of American Idol did nothing to tamp down my confidence, and though I never auditioned (and am now FAR too old), I did start signing at karaoke nights around the Bay Area in 2004, and I took it very seriously.
Any public place is a potential discovery ground. An agent or record executive could be at the next booth at the restaurant, at dive bar karaoke, in the next aisle at the grocery store, or boarding the elevator on the way to the office/hotel lobby/attraction I’m visiting. And how are they going to know what a wonderful singer I am without a live demo? I sound just like her, can you hear it?! And do you hear how I can harmonize? Most people here can’t harmonize like I can.
At the 95th row at a concert, I belt it out louder than the lead singer, thinking maybe—just maybe—they’ll pick out the one angelic-and-definitely-on-key voice in the crowd and stop everything, aiming the spotlight at me and beckoning for me to join them on stage.
At 40, too fat, too busy, and too involved with my family and other work obligations to have commercial appeal as a pop icon, I know these dreams are unrealistic. And as an adult with life experience and a peek into fame culture thanks to Behind the Music, TMZ, and the rest of media, I can’t think of a good reason I’d want it anyway.
But clearly, these habits have died pretty hard, and even when I want to stop singing along—even when my fourth-grader is begging me to—the lyrics to familiar songs just hook me in and pull me along.
I’m writing this Note in a coffee shop, and already I’ve had to stop myself from singing along with five different songs. It helps that I know most of the people here and, while they might enjoy my singing in a different context, I’m pretty sure none of them are record execs.
So, that’s my embarrassing truth. I do most of my singing in the shower and the car these days. Though it’s been hard to let go of the idea that the right person will discover me by my singing voice, I have just shifted that dream to my writing voice. Agents and publishing execs are everywhere, after all.
I can’t be the only one. The comments section opens…NOW! Some prompts to get you started:
What came up for you as you read this? Can you relate?
What’s your secret dream that no one knows about (until now!)?
What’s an embarrassing thing you do around your kids that they just have to live with because you’re the boss?
Are you an agent or publishing person? (lol jk I think I’ve submitted to all of you at this point)
Have you read When We Were Mothers yet? Should I keep my day job or keep doing this writing thing? (jk this is my day job but I really do want to know how people are finding the book!)
I passed by a woman at work in the halls today. By my terrible estimates, she was mid 40s. She was quietly singing a version of a spiritual song and it was so calming. As she passed, I found myself thinking “I hope she doesn’t ever stop.” Take license that I was thinking that towards you today, too ❤️
Well, while I never embarrassed my kids by singing in the supermarket (though I've embarrassed them infinite times), singing was my thing all of my life, until years of second-hand smoke did a number on my lungs--or so a pulmonologist told me when I asked him why I could no longer sing.
Singing was my dream, too, and I thought I was pretty good at it, but I had a second problem: My throat closed tight and wouldn't release whenever I tried to sing in front of a crowd. I had perfect pitch and a pretty good range until I thought there might be an audience. Then they both abandoned me.
It may be why I became a writer. I could do it without having to face real people in real time. LOL.
I loved this, Nicci. And I love that you still feel the need to sing your heart out!