"There's a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out." -Lou Reed

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Finding My Voice

From grammar school through high school, I was incredibly fortunate to have excellent teachers. Amazing teachers. People who were in the profession for all the right reasons, and gifted as mentors and educators. There were a few duds in the bunch, but overall, I look back and know that I was very lucky.

For me, teachers were the people who really saw me. They drew things out of me I either didn’t know I was capable of, or secretly wanted to share and had never had the courage. They became my personal cheerleaders, my advisors, and the guardians of my self esteem.

My first instinct has always been to doubt myself, and I have only very recently started to break that pattern. It will be a lifelong struggle, and was no doubt a daunting task to those who taught me when I was younger. But as I look back, I know that these men and women each helped me improve the way I saw myself, each laying a brick, building more and more of a foundation for me to trust and believe in myself.

People who know me now are astonished and unbelieving that I was ever shy or introverted. Although in quiet moments on my own I still have doubts, I can easily speak in front of a crowd any size, and hold my own in any social situation. This definitely wasn’t the case, even nearly, until my freshman year of high school.

From the age of five I had taken dance classes, and by the time I was in junior high, I was in a dance studio four nights a week. Then, a knee injury sidelined things for me, and I was a bit lost. A teacher recommended I sign up for the speech and debate team at school, and when I balked at the idea, I was signed up, whether I liked it or not. I wasn’t a debater, and instead competed in the division of Dramatic Interpretation.

Mr.Kirkman was my teacher and coach, and brought out excellence from what I remember as a pretty rag tag group. So many different personalities in the room-- most inexperienced-- but he somehow found a way to reach each of us. Remarkably, he taught a girl scared of the sound of her own voice to act, to compete, and to win.

While I had found moments of confidence in my life at that point, nothing compared to what was building within me. I only realize now why it all was so important.

I never quite knew what or who I was coming home to growing up. My parent’s troubled marriage consumed them, and the mood at home could be warm and somewhat normal, tense and quiet, or explosive and angry. At times, I know that there wasn’t a great deal of thought behind things that were said, but the lasting impression of several phrases has never left me.

My father is an incredibly engaging and charming man. Everyone who meets him loves him. He is a master story teller, and never meets a stranger. But for various reasons, he has never been able to connect with me in a healthy way, and his words have at times been incredibly damaging, whether this was his intention or not.

As I began competing with the speech and debate team, I started listening to the soundtracks for broadway musicals almost nonstop at home and everywhere else I got a chance. I longed to take my dramatic talent further, and wished more than anything to have the voice of a soprano, and a lead role in any musical.

I expressed this at home, ad nauseam, I am sure. And maybe other things were said that I don’t remember. But amidst the fighting and unhappiness between my parents, the doubts about my musical ability were clearly expressed to me. My father, always the jokester, made funny comments about my singing voice that stung.

I accepted his opinion as truth. And honestly, with that opinion behind me, I did sing terribly. At one point, I even took voice lessons from a local coach. But, I had no confidence in my abilities, and the coach I worked with wasn’t incredibly encouraging. I dropped the classes after four sessions.

Over the years, as I found success in Dramatic Interpretation competitions, and learned and grew, I got involved in some theater productions, but believed that I wasn’t leading role material. Not in the way I wanted to be.

When I moved on to college, I studied acting, but didn’t seem to be finding my way to any major productions on campus.

By coincidence, Mr. Kirkman was living and teaching in the same city where I attended college. During those years, he was as much a therapist as a friend, and was part of a small group of people I knew I could depend upon in the world. He was frequently on stage himself with a local community theater group, and had encouraged me to audition for some upcoming musicals. My immediate response was that I couldn’t sing.

He pushed me. How did I know I couldn’t sing, really? It was all about confidence, he told me. I remember him saying that I couldn’t use that excuse until I really gave it my all, with conviction. I had to believe in myself enough to try 100%. Then if I did all that and sounded horrible, he promised to be honest with me.

Over the next few weeks, he chose a song for me, helped me find the sheet music and a piano player to play and tape the song for me to practice with. We talked on the phone, and I know that my insecurities and endless “I cant’s” must have driven him crazy. But he remained a slow steady voice of support and faith in me. He never wavered.

After weeks of practice, we agreed to meet so he could gauge how things were going.
I don’t remember all of the details. I don’t know what time we met exactly, and I can’t remember the name of the school where he taught at that time. But, I remember the important things.

We met in the theater at his school. I had my tape of the music, and I stood on the stage alone, the rest of the room darkened, and Mr. Kirkman stood in the aisle. I couldn’t get my courage to even start. He encouraged me, coaxed me, and finally bellowed from the aisle for me to go already.

The music started and my heart was pounding so loud, I was positive he could hear it across the room. The first words came out soft, but clear, and if not perfect, better than I had ever sung before.

I will never forget his expression with just those first notes. It was happiness, some surprise, and pride. With every word my voice got stronger, louder, and clearer. He was jumping around in the aisle, so excited for me. In that moment I realized that I might be capable of so many things that I had thought impossible, if I could just believe in myself. It was an incredibly powerful moment in my life.

When I hit the last note, Mr. Kirkman asked me, with great exuberance, What are you going to do if they offer you the lead? I giggled and found myself dancing around in place. I answered him, I guess I’ll take it!

I did in fact get offered the lead in one musical that summer, and one of four lead roles in another.

The reason that moment-- when I found my voice-- was so important was not only because I learned I could sing and realized a dream. It was significant because this thing that I had grown to believe as a FACT for my whole life- that I could NOT sing- was reversed in a matter of weeks by someone believing in me, and making me believe in myself. I had this talent all along, and the ONLY thing holding me back was negative words I was taking to heart and turning into my own beliefs. My whole world got turned upside down that day. I suddenly realized that a million other things I thought were impossible for me might be within my grasp.

Mr. Kirkman and I remain in touch and friends to this day. And though I sense he knows some of the impact he has made on my life—I have thanked him for many things—I doubt he knows the full picture. With every note I sang on stage that summer, I found another piece of me. I would stand in the wings each night before a scene and have to pinch myself, that I- me!- was doing this amazing thing I never thought in a million years I could ever do.

And from then on and to this day, when I start to hear doubt creeping in my mind about something I want to try or do, I close my eyes and take myself back to that day in that high school theater, just as the music started, and I find my voice all over again.


Ekanthapadhikan September 30, 2009 at 4:37 AM  

I can very well relate to this experience of yours. The same happened with me when I was in school. It was one of my teacher who discovered that I could be a solo performer on stage and pushed me and coaxed me to get on stage and give my first solo vocal music performance ever. I never had to look back again since then!

Jennifer September 30, 2009 at 4:42 AM  

I am not a "serious nightowl". I somehow have been woken from my sleep to write this morning. As I have begun to write publicly now, it is somewhat frightening to put yourself out there. I have however gained belief in myself through my own self realizations and the belief others have in me.
Reading this is a great way to start my piece this morning...believing that I can and should keep working at it.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Daphne September 30, 2009 at 8:45 AM  

Kim, this is such a wonderful story! Kudos to you for saying thank you in such a powerful and moving way. It takes a lot of courage to share a story like this and I am so glad you did. What dependable strength you have now that you can always look back at that moment and remember how much you are capable of! Thank you for sharing such an inspirational experience.

Anonymous,  September 30, 2009 at 10:39 AM  

As I read your words, as always it pricks my heart...it seems as if we lived mirrored lives in so many ways....wanting a fathers approval can cripple you...In a weird way I found my self being proud of you as you took the microphone, your voice ringing out. Keep that voice strong and proud my friend, never to be styfaled again!

I love your ability to open your heart to us, it is healing not only to yopu but us as well..

thank you

Pat September 30, 2009 at 11:34 AM  

What a wonderful and heartfelt story! I just wanted to stand up and cheer! YOU GO GIRL! How wonderful to have a teacher like Mr. Kirkman in your life, to recognize your talent, to have the patience to work with you, to build up your confidence and make you a STAR and the woman you are today! BRAVO!

Sandra September 30, 2009 at 1:37 PM  

I don't know what to say about this piece other than I loved it, and it brought tears to my eyes.

caroldiane September 30, 2009 at 4:04 PM  

wow...wow...I just love your writing! Such an inspiring story about finding your voice which obviously translates into finding your voice in the world - you are very powerful. Yes, YOU GO GIRL! Thank you for sharing!

mollyfortoday October 1, 2009 at 12:31 AM  

KIm,I just discovered your blog, and I enjoy your writing so much. You have a wonderful talent! Thank you for sharing your life with us, and for the inspiration to keep on trying.

Joe October 1, 2009 at 12:53 PM  

Bravo, Kim! I'm sharing this one with my daugher...

Kim October 1, 2009 at 2:42 PM  


It all begins in our head...our mind...how we frame ourselves and others around us. I am on a similar journey, testing those belief systems that once held me back.

Thank you for sharing your experience.

Art October 1, 2009 at 9:04 PM  

Some day, probably soon, I will show a book by a famous author to my children and say, "I read her blog before she was famous."

Ramana October 2, 2009 at 7:18 AM  

kim i love u r writings but pls cut short

thoughtfifteen October 4, 2009 at 11:41 PM  

you poetic desribed a hero and a mentor, now we know what a hero and mentor should do...we can all be one as well as respect one...thank you for sharing your story...heartfelt.

Fresh Local and Best October 5, 2009 at 2:28 AM  


I'd been meaning to write to you, but have waited until I had more time to compose something more special. This is a very touching piece, and I wanted to tell you that I admire your depth of thought, compassion, insight reflected in your writing. I had a very similar childhood, and also a senior year high school teacher who became a significant mentor like yours. Coincidentally, she moved out to New York as well, so we're in close contact after all these years.

I wanted to also tell you how much I appreciated you being the first follower of my blog. It just happened that you joined on my birthday, and it was like a kid waking up on Christmas morning to find you, I couldn't believe my eyes! Thank you again! I love your blog!

Mariana October 10, 2009 at 5:04 PM  

Kim i can't really express what your story meant to me at this moment...i just want to tell you thank you and hope that someday i will find someone like your teacher that will never give up on trusting me and that will trust on me even when i dont have confidence on myself...
i really love your blog, you always make me reflect about my own life and even when i don't know you i think of you as a friend who likes to share her life's experiences and help me to change and to follow my heart...to gain confidence in myself again...
i admire you, and thanks for writing in your blog like this...it's beautiful!

In Real Life October 13, 2009 at 4:15 PM  

BEAUTIFUL! I felt like I was right there with you. Thank you for the journey.


Cheri Pryor October 18, 2009 at 4:24 AM  

What a great story! How wonderful and fortunate for you that a great teacher/male role model entered your life. Kudos to you for sticking with it, gaining self-confidence while struggling to find yourself.


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