There are life's frustrating moments like when there’s a delay in my flight or having to ride public transi, and I say "I got HIV for this?"
When I came back from Tel Aviv, I thought I’d try something different. During my time in Israel I’d been writing out the questions I have from a workshop on putting your own solo show together - yes, the kind when you’re dressed.
One of the questions was something like, “What would you do if fear wasn’t holding you back?”
Snce I’ve gotten to know a lot of performers in many areas including music and singing, the thought of taking singing lessons interested me but was particularly intimidating. It unleashes questions like: "Can I sing? Or will the teacher tell me I’m horrible?"
Plunging ahead anyway, I chose the teacher/instructor/coach (whatever you want to call her) who also happens to be a Jewish cantor. The rational was maybe I could take something I do often in Hebrew and work on that.
The first visit to her home in Forest Hills was fine. We did some warms-ups and she told me I had a nice voice with good range. This was encouraging.
Then a week or two later when we got to the Hebrew part, all hell broke loose. This already curt woman had turned in to Judge Judy Lite – meaning just as mean but without the wit.
At first I was confused. Was this what it was like for everyone? Every time I went I felt I was in a singing class run by Debbie Allen transporting me into an episode of Fame.
I have some cognitive issues going on regarding language that can make things a little more difficult for me. My ability to spell is bordering on horrific. Simple words I should know can draw a complete blank. Whenever I get stressed I will mix up words or pronunciations and names. Each time I host a storytelling night, there is at least one name I know and totally mess up.
(For simplicity’s sake I say I have kind of dyslexic issues. It’s easier than saying I have a combination of HIV cognitive issues, age, and years of former crystal meth use. That shit puts holes in your brain.)
Back to singing lessons, the moment I made the slightest mistake the piercing and curt teacher's voice cut me off every time, thus raising my anxiety level even more, and then I made more mistakes - and around and around we went.
When I told her I’m better when I’m reading instead of singing it, she grabbed my book opened it up and gave it back me, saying “Prove it.” Of course I was so nervous I botched it and re-affirmed her assumption that I’m an idiot who doesn’t know anything.
In any bad relationship, there is always the first major red flag, and this was it.
Two weeks ago, I went through a really tired phase. I had just ripped my place apart for three days of laundry, dry cleaning, cleaning, sorting and throwing stuff out. I had gotten those little moths in my closet and it was a massive amount of work. I had really low energy, thus I didn’t get to do much practicing for the next level.
Very tired, in a fog, I arrived at my class eight minutes early for my 11a.m. appointment because my five-month old phone just died and I had no idea of the time. She seemed annoyed that I was early Anyway, we started - and my voice eas getting stronger, but I heard I wasn't on pitch and I kind of making a face,. That’s when Judge Judy kicked in:
“Don’t make faces like that, you look like you are in pain.”
I began to adjust the music stand as I always do.
“STOP PLAYING WITH THAT EVERY TIME YOU COME HERE.”
Now when I’m in someone’s home and spoken to like a five-year-old, I feel really embarrassed. This was truly one of those moments where I wanted to just fade away and not be in that place or moment in time.
I decided to go back to try one more time to see what she’d be like. That week I bought software that helps those who want to learn these songs. At least maybe I’d have less of her cutting me off, telling me if I’m wrong.
The thing is that there is a difference in pronunciation in some words to what I’ve heard elsewhere. So I said, “I’ve heard two different pronunciations of his word".
“JUST BECAUSE YOU HEAR SOMETHING DIFFERENT DOESN’T MEAN IT’S RIGHT!”
“NOW TELL ME THE RIGHT ONE” she ordered.
She was now pissing me off so much that I said the one wrong one on purpose, just to get her going.
Finally at the end I was showing her my book, which is basically a prayer book called a siddur. I said something that wasn’t technically accurate, and Judge Judy, being hyper-correct, dug into my statement that I have a more orthodox siddur at home. Then I had to explain that I was trying to say I have something that is more commonly found in an orthodox setting.
She continued going on and on. I literally walked out of the room at that point while she was talking, thinking “I’m not fucking interested, lady.”
It was when I found out I had only one more session left and that I’d have to be bringing a cheque book with me when it hit me. While sitting there putting my shoes on I thought, “I got HIV for this?”
The answer: no way!
The next day I sent her an email to tell her I would no longer be continuing.