Saturday, August 17, 2013

You Need To Know This: Know Yourself



Here's another installment in the You Need To Know This series. This one, Know Yourself , has been chosen by Tara Tagliaferro.

Nothing but net, this Tara Tagliaferro. She sings, she acts, she dances, she educates, she inspires, she exudes positive energy wherever she goes. I met her, you guessed it, when she took my Musical Theatre class at Walnut St.Theatre. That was at least 3 years ago. Since then, I've had the pleasure of working with Tara twice – first as choreographer and assistant director on the Purim Spiel and then last month, performing in Grease, also at Walnut St. Tara is building a fine career, both in the Philadelphia area and around the country. You should check it out here: http://www.taratag.com/

It figures that Tara, who is one of the most open and sincere people I know, would choose the topic

Know Yourself
When I was at the beginning of my illustrious career as an opera singer, I attended one of those proverbial NYC career seminars. You know what I'm talking about – energetic artists who are hungrily seeking the holy grail of a successful career pay lots of money to hear a panel of agents, conductors and stage directors “answer” their questions. Some people get to sing, the rest of us sit there and act supportive and positive, while inside we're dying of the fear that we are the only fake in the room and that someone might find us out if we don't keep nodding and puffing around during the breaks.

I paint a snarky picture to get your attention. This particular seminar WAS helpful. The panelists were top of the drawer and many questions were answered. I came away inspired because I had received some legitimate information. I recall that one panelist was asked, “What's the most important thing you can tell a young singer embarking on an operatic career?” The response was simple. “Know yourself.”

Like everyone else in the hall, I nodded my head and breathed a sigh of relief. Whew! I had that one covered. I knew exactly what I wanted. I wanted to be an internationally-renowned opera singer. I wanted to sing with the bigs, fly around the world singing glorious high notes, communicating in 5 different languages with my photo on the cover of Opera News. A true artist of the world.

That's why six months later I found myself standing in my closet, so depressed it took me thirty minutes to decide what clothes to wear that day. Of course I chose black.

That was the beginning of the end or the beginning of the beginning. The day I realized I couldn't go on living this charade any longer. On the outside I looked like every other attractive young opera singer embarking on a career. On the inside I was a mess, barely holding it together day to day, careening from the pits of despair when I didn't get cast (again) to the heights of ecstasy when I DID get cast (again). My self-esteem rested almost completely on the decisions of a fickle and competitive industry.  My personal took kit for working in this industry, and for having a fulfilling life, was sorely lacking.

I called my friend, Judy. Not only did I know her to be one of the best humans on the planet, I also knew she had faced her demons. I entrusted her with the secret - I was dying inside. I asked Judy the name of her psychiatrist because I knew I needed help. I needed the best help I could find and I needed it now. Judy recommended Dr. John Fryer. Go ahead, click on his name.  I'll wait. This time I mean it.

Incredible, isn't it? Even more incredible, I didn't know this about Dr. Fryer while I was his patient and he never once mentioned it to me. I had no idea.

Back to our topic, Knowing Yourself. To cut to the end of the story, with the support of my husband and an excellent psychiatrist, I found myself. It was not easy. Dr. Fryer made sure that I wrestled all of my demons. But I did it and I live to tell the glorious story.

Do I still question who I am? You bet, just about every day, but in a way that, by and large, invigorates me. Yes, I have gone through some difficult times and I'm sure there are more ahead, but that first round of therapy laid the foundation for me to truly know who I am. I made some physical changes in my life and I actually ended up singing for a few years. Did I have that career I described earlier? No, and there's a part of me that is still sad about that. BUT, I did find me and I'm never sad about that.

Now, I hope that you won't read this post and think I am telling all of you to head to the nearest therapist. That is not my intent, not at all. That's the path I had to take. If you have to take that path, then take it and know that I am standing right beside you.

The intent is to tell you that it is of vital importance that you know who you are. Truly. I passionately believe we cannot become the artists we are meant to be without having the courage to explore who we are. That is what we artists do. We explore the human condition and we ask the most difficult question of all, time and again – what does it mean to be?

Most of us don't think about this very often. We're too busy sending emails, trying to get the next gig, heading to rehearsal, or to the studio to record another take of our next song. And that is probably the best way to be. But truly, this question, this questing, this is what informs all of that delightful coming and going. And if you don't know who you are, and certainly if you are not willing to even ask the question, my friends, I believe in my heart that you are headed for a moment very much like the one I experienced in my closet some years ago.

There are many ways to find you. There's silence. There's therapy. There's meditation. There's religion. There's art. There's nature. Seek out the combination that works for you. You'll know when you find it. Really.

There are many ways not to find you. There's distractions. There's addictions. There's avoidance. There's denial. I hope you can stay away from these.

At Dr. Fryer's funeral, I sought out his only surviving relative, his sister. I told her, “Your brother saved my life. I wouldn't be standing here today if it weren't for your brother”. I meant it. John Fryer helped me understand what to hold onto and what to let go of. Our work together allowed me to revel in asking the question, who am I? He was one of the people who gave me permission to infuse my creative work with bold questions. I think of him often.


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The one you are looking for is the one who is looking.
St. Francis of Assisi



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