Monday, September 07, 2009

homework: School of Thought: Be Real

School of Thought: Be Real

~Search through the drawer in your heart. Are there memories that shaped your self image? Write about a time when your feelings were hurt. Why do you think you still remember the incident? How does that help you understand yourself better?

I have been playing excessive amounts of solitaire and freecell and twitter to avoid this assignment, but I need to get it done. And I'm warning you right now, it's not pretty or happy, and it doesn't have a happy ending. In fact, there's no ending at all. Maybe you can help me with that part...

The summer I was 14 was a big deal – my first kiss, my first youth conference (where I met friends who are still near and dear), and a camp experience in Indiana with my cousin, to name just a few of the memorable events.

Shortly after school got out in late June, I went to a summer music camp at SUNY Fredonia (small group – from all over the state, maybe 50 or so students) for singers. What I learned there was invaluable, and it was a lot of fun. Upon my return, my family drove to Indiana to camp for a week at the state park where my mom and her siblings went as children. My cousin Sara, only 4 months younger than me, returned to NY with us, and we had a great time together. She went with me to that first youth conference, it was so much fun. After youth conference, I went back to Indiana with her and attended her week-long bible camp. I don’t know if this camp was denomination-specific, but I did learn that those who led the camp had many misunderstandings about my own religion, which, to be honest, I expected. But at 14, to have an adult tell you that you’re not a Christian, even though you’re telling them you are . . . what’s that all about? (Seriously, can you, as an adult, imagine telling a teenager, or a pre-teen, or even a child that in regards to their own beliefs that they, in essence, don’t know what they believe? What kind of adult makes that challenge to a kid?)

The leaders at the camp were beloved of the campers, but none so much as Pete and his wife Sherri. They were the Cool Couple. Awesome Newlyweds. That Pete knew my name and offered me up a few high-5s was Of Note. A youth pastor, I think Pete felt an obligation to befriend New York Girl and make her (me) a believer. In truth, as far as scriptural conversation went, he was maybe the most gentle of all the leaders, the most willing to (at least pretend to) listen to my (very inadequate and simple) explanations. He was a smart man, I was firm in my faith, and he respected that, I really think so.

His wife, though…I didn’t get as much of a good vibe from her. Maybe it was because I wasn’t in line to ask her how to get my eyeliner like that, I’m not completely sure. I mean, you know how it is. She wasn’t directly mean, but she certainly let me know that I wasn’t on her favorites list.

One evening, I don’t recall if it was before or after camp – for some reason I think of it as mid-week – I found myself sitting in a booth at a local joint, a Steak ‘n Shake, or a Dairy Queen. Directly across from me sat Sherri. Also in attendance were, at least, Pete, and my cousin Sara. Somehow the subject of singing came up, and Sara mentioned that I was a singer. “She’s really, really good,” she bragged, “she’s an all-state singer, and she just went to a singing camp that only the top singers in all of New York got to go to, and she was one of the youngest there.”

“Oh yeah?” Sherri’s eyes narrowed.

Blushing, I answered, “Well, yeah, I went to this thing at a university…”

“Sing something.”

“Here? Now?”


“Um, okay. What do you want me to sing?”


“Alright…uh…”. Fumbling, I realized that I was certainly NOT going to sing along with John Cougar Mellencamp playing on the speaker overhead. Confident in my ability, I was very, very uncomfortable with having been put on the spot in this manner. “You know, most of the stuff I’ve been doing this summer is choral - classical, madrigals, things like that. It’s not really something that’s meant for solo singing…”

“Just sing. If you’re so good, I want to hear.”

“Do it!” Sara encouraged.

With my cousin at my side, I launched into some classical thing, likely a song I had sung in NYSSMA competition, which is boring, even to the singers and judges at such competitions. After a few lines I stopped and attempted to sing something more recognizable. That didn’t work, either. I noticed people were looking at me, so I encouraged them to enjoy their ice cream while I thought of something more appropriate for that particular venue.

I had sung the beginnings of a few more songs when I landed on one I could manage. Not very well-known (unless you happen to be a music teacher), I started out with confidence. I knew I had at least Sherri’s attention, which I suppose was the whole point, as other people were talking amongst themselves, which was just fine with me.

Suddenly, she let out a laugh; a part-laugh, part-yell, part-snicker.

I stopped.

She had the sweetest smile on her face. She looked me in the eyes and said with slow deliberation, white teeth sparkling, “I hate how you sing.”

And then she looked away to smile elsewhere.


(see why I’ve been putting off writing this?)

I’ve never, ever forgotten that. I hate that I remember it. I hate that I remember it so vividly, that this woman who has rights on zero parts of my life has affected me in this way. In my life I’ve thought of her: I’ve thought of her when I’ve been on stage, receiving bouquets of roses and standing ovations following a performance; I thought of her when I sang The Star-Spangled Banner, a capella, before high school basketball games and even though people started cheering before I had reached the technical end of the song, I had to do most of it with my eyes closed out of embarrassment; I thought of her, when, after a friend learned that I played the bass and told me that her husband’s band was looking for a bass player and asked if I’d be interested I immediately refused, explaining that I wasn’t really all that good – and kicked myself for months afterwards for not even giving myself the chance; I have thought of her when my kids say, “Mom, will you PLEASE try out for American Idol? You’re so much better than any of them…”; I’ve thought of her any time I feel put on the spot to perform, or when I perform and get no feedback and therefore immediately assume that I did a horrible job.

Though I try not to think of her at all, I have learned that this is a situation which proves the importance of adults in the lives of adolescents, even those who aren’t the pre-teens' parents.

Sherri, if I’m being honest, I’m working on forgiving you. What you did was very mean and completely inappropriate. I hope you’ve not done this to anyone else.

What is this? Why, it's homework!
You can get in on the fun, too!


b. said...

I appreciate the honesty of this post. I also appreciate how hard it must have been to write.

I'd like to clothesline Sherri (betch!)and all the other Sherris out there.

I've been waiting for a private concert...but I won't make you belt it out in a burger joint.

Unless you want to.
We could re-enact the whole scene.

sue-donym said...

This breaks my heart. Why do we let one negative outweigh 100 positives? I wish I could erase that moment for you.

I'll bet they are divorced by now.

And I love the way you sing.

b. said...

(only with a different ending, of course)

Mrs. Organic said...

Yes, an ending where you get to take the high road and she ends up feeling small. That was no way for her to treat you and the only thing I can think of is that she was jealous. Which sort of makes it hard to be Christian at the same time.

AzĂșcar said...

You are an amazing singer. If I ever see Sheri I'll punch her in the face.

Queen Scarlett said...

Love you. heart hurts for you.

Here's how the story ends.
...not well - for Sheri... but brilliantly for ~J

This totally ticks me off... what a wench.

Naomi Miles said...

What a nasty piece of work she was! I don't know you personally, (being your blog stalker I feel I do!) but I know you sing well... I watched the video of you and your brother you posted a while back and I thought you sounded great! It's so sad that comments made to us in our youth (and now!) can affect us so badly. x

sarah k. said...

Ew. That woman was clearly evil. To be that deliberately mean to a child, especially as someone who professes Christianity, is just pure evil. Evil, evil, evil. Make a new memory, where, when she tells you to sing, you say, "No thank you. I don't need your approval. I like my singing just fine."

La Yen said...

Um, guys? Bible Camp Counselor Wives are heavily schooled in vocal judgement training. Not to be a downer or anything, but she TOTALLY must have known what she was talking about. She had to take a class on that. Also on making lanyards.

Also, what did her husband say? Did he just look down? At his shriveled nards?

Rob said...


That is the sound of my jaw hitting the floor.

I don't know why but, the older I get the more stunned I am by the sheer gall of people. It should work the opposite way, don't you think?

Plus also, I want to be La Yen's friend...she makes me laugh.

(And this is actually Lisa, ~j. I won't go into my technical difficulties.)

Travelin'Oma said...

This woman taught a great lesson by example: Calling yourself a Christian doesn't make you Christlike. I'd rank her behavior alongside child abuse. Thanks for posting this experience. I hope I'll be kinder because of it.

wendysue said...


I think you and Lisa should write a song (you know, Sk8rboi style) about Sherri when you guys form your band (which will rock the world--or at least the blogging world)

p.s. I love that your "teacher" commented on this too!

Shawn said...

I feel your pain. Being a singer myself, I try to handle any criticisms with a quick pep talk to myself that the person saying something rude really doesn't know anything about helps---but just a little bit.

But then my Dad always told me that I couldn't sing, and I STILL struggle to not hear HIS voice.

Be strong, my dear and go forth and conquer!!

Kemp Kuties said...

I've met a lot of "Sherri's" in my years and each one still haunts me.

I don't know why we give other people the reigns to control our self esteem. I still seek shelter from mean people and their cruel & piercing comments/thoughts/looks.

You keep singing!

Bunsies said...

I have always loved your voice-- from the time you were too young to understand the words, but the tune was all too clear. Maybe if Bundy reads this, he'll know who Sherri is and just go pile drive her. I love all the other comments, You have a following. AND..... I doubt if Sherri will be listening to any Angelic Choirs.

Adriane said...

I love and admire you and I bet you are a better adult to young people because of this experience. You are very talented and an amazing woman. Thanks for sharing!! Wish I had been around for the Tuna Salad days... :)

Gerb said...

So... wow. Thank you for bring brave enough to post this. I have had similar experiences and it really bothers me that as a 37 year old woman I can not forget them. I can tell you full names, dates and places. I am SO sorry you had to go through something like that. Sherri was the worst kind of bully. WORST.

Kacy said...

Sherri's a bastard. I hope she Googles herself--add her last name to the title of this post.

Fig said...

I don't get it.

No, seriously, I don't get it. How do real live people come up with this stuff? Who does things like that?

I hope that writing about this helps you to process and forget. Also, I hope Sherri gets frequent urinary tract infections.

La Yen said...

I heart Kacy.