There’s Something About Passion

Born in 1868, Florence Foster Jenkins, above anything else, loved to sing opera. When she was 17 years old, her wealthy father refused to let her go abroad to study music, so she eloped. In 1909 her father died and she used her inheritance to kick start her career, taking lessons and becoming active in Philadelphia and New York City musical social circles. Florence made several recordings and began giving public performances in 1912. There was great demand for tickets to the recitals, but ticketing was typically limited to a few favored associates and friends. Then in 1944, at the age of 76, she gave in and gave a public performance at Carnegie Hall – the event sold out weeks in advance. One month after that success, she passed away.

And so here is the secret about Florence Foster Jenkins: the girl could not sing.

Not a note. She was known for her lack of pitch, tone, and rhythm. She couldn’t even pronounce the words in her foreign language songs. She was popular for the amusement she provided. And while she was aware of her critics (and the laughter her performances evoked from audiences), she really didn’t care. She was doing what she loved. “People may say I can’t sing,” she said, “but no one can ever say I didn’t sing.”

On the surface it seems like just a precursor to contemporary famous-for-being-famous non-talented reality TV stardom (shudder). But Florence’s story stirred something up inside me.  There’s something about her saying, “People may say I can’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t sing.” There’s something about passion.risk anything

When I look back on my life it’s the things I did not do or try that I regret the most. I have more, “I wish I would have…” than “I wish I wouldn’t have…”  Thinking back, the reason I didn’t do things was because I was afraid of failure and what people would think of that failure. The funny thing is that in the opportunities I did take, and did fail at, and people did deride me for – I don’t really regret them. In a funny way I have gained strength from them, a sense of increased self-knowledge, a sense of survival and ability to endure and persist through the next challenge.

The library and the bookstore are full of books. You may have received 20 rejection letters from publishers. Does that mean you shouldn’t write? There are millions of corporations and companies around the world. You may have failed all your business courses. Does that mean you shouldn’t start your own business? There are thousands of bands and singers in the world. You may be refused by “American Idol.” Does that mean you shouldn’t sing? Florence Foster Jenkins didn’t think so — and I don’t think she had any regrets.

Who said it was all about success anyway? There’s something about passion.

Fill in the blanks for yourself:

People may say I can’t _______________,

but no one can ever say I didn’t ___________.”

Waves of Change

There’s a different flavor to this entry – much more personally vulnerable than usual, but hopefully helpful to those facing a similar situation.

Alteration, modification, variation, transformation, adjustment, amendment. I like all of these words better than plain old “change”. More syllables somehow gives a sense of fluidity and even feels gentler verbalizing than the abrupt and harsh “change”.

I am facing unwanted, fast change in my life. I don’t mind things ebbing and flowing over the natural course of time. I don’t mind a surprise now and again. But massive, out-of-the-blue change – the kind that knocks you on your rear end and the breath out of your lungs? Or how about the baited change – when you expect one thing and get the other. Of those I’m not much of a fan.

You can utter all the platitudes, repeat all the affirmations, read all the quotes, get patted on the back by friends, and try to pick yourself up. And, most times, in your head you know that things will eventually smooth out and you’ll get back on track again.

Then there are those times when forced change can spin you into the Kubler-Ross Five Stages of Grief. (Here’s a quick list so you don’t have to search: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.) I think there should be another step squeezed in there somewhere: being frozen.

For more than a few months now I have been going through a tough time spurred by a rising river of unwanted, uncontrollable change. I was expecting some change, but it came in greater number, speed, and force than I had prepared for. It spilled out of the river banks and wiped away the sandbags I had stacked around certain areas of my life. Nothing was protected. All I could do was stand there and watch it pour over me and around me and watch it carry everything in every area my life away with it. There has been nothing that hasn’t been affected. I haven’t really talked about it with anyone at any length and prayer bounces off the ceiling. Writer’s block has taken full root (this entry is one of maybe three things I’ve written in months). I put up a barricade by freezing myself from feeling anything or reacting to anything, relegating myself to a sort of half-life:  there physically but not emotionally.

Then last week, something sort of happened.  I continued to be deluged by unexpected blows and watching myself not responding. Maybe it was a “last straw” type of thing but when I received one certain piece of news I sunk down into the chair I was sitting in and thought to myself, “But I don’t want to be an empty shell person.” When you stop fighting all the changes, but not in a let’s-figure-this-out-and-move-on kind of way, then you allow the changes to beat you up and toss you emotionally and spiritually into nothingness. I’ve seen people like that. They’ve resigned themselves to victim status and accept whatever is thrown their way, thinking it is what they deserve, too worn out to hope for anything more. Their lights go out. And they never recover. I said, out loud, “I don’t want to be like that. I want to recover. I don’t want other people to face that, I want to help them recover before it’s too late.” And a little spark was lit. 

It wasn’t a blinding revelation, there was no instant transformation.  I still feel very deflated.  But there is a spark.  A lot of tears have blurred my eyes as I’ve written this entry. I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen from here. I don’t know if Burn Bright will change (or even continue) as a blog or business. I don’t know where I’ll be living or working or worshipping or people I’ll hang out with, or activities I’ll participate in this coming year. But rather than roll up in a frozen ball and be tossed in the waves as the changes continue, I’m going to try to thaw, stretch out, bodysurf, and ride them to whatever shore they are taking me. 

Don’t Settle

Don’t ever settle for ordinary, average, unexceptional.  I’m not talking about the scale, quantity, or fame of your achievement, but rather in the quality and influence of your purpose.  Investing in people, building your confidence by stepping out of your comfort zone, and being bold will drive you forward and bring increase.

The value of your purpose is neither in its size nor in the acknowledgement of others.  Feeding a family in your neighborhood, feeding the homeless downtown, feeding millions in Africa – which has more value?  Whichever one is done with passion and out of compassion.   Whichever one challenges you to step outside of yourself.  Whichever one is done with excellence.  And no one can really know this except you.  How many you reach pales in comparison to the quality of your reach.

Even when you’re feeling small, or others think of you as small, don’t settle for mediocre. Taking the easy route will always leave you feeling less than confident in what you have to offer and keep you from moving onward and upward in your purpose.

mediocrity