Monday, April 20, 2009

Karaoke for Beginners

I hate karaoke. The act of getting up in front of an army of strangers and friends to sing along in a badly-tuned microphone to the latest opus by the Pussycat Dolls is seriously not my idea of a good time. It takes at least four other people on stage and a lot of begging to get me up there. And then I will stand in the back and keep my mouth as far away from the microphone as possible. It’s an interesting phenomenon. Because I actually love to sing. In the car, in the shower, and as I dance around my house. The caveat being that I will only do it if I’m alone. It all goes back to the eighth grade musical.

The musical was a mandatory event for the eighty-some-odd eighth graders at my private all girls school in Texas. Which was okay by me, because I loved being on stage. Even as a little girl in elementary school, my natural shyness in day-to-day situations would give way once I stepped on stage. Dropping into a character was like removing a veil for me. I could be anyone but the quiet girl in the corner of the room. But I had never really tried to sing. Audition time came around. The chosen musical that year was The Wizard of Oz. And as I danced around the living room, belting “If I Only Had a Brain” at the top of my lungs, my mother uttered the five little words that turned my shout to a whisper – “Honey, you can’t really sing.”

She meant well, I know, and even called in reinforcements in the form of an eccentric musical theater woman who did her best to coach me prior to the audition. Nonetheless, on that fateful day, I stood on the stage and opened my mouth and all that came out was a raspy, off-key rendition of the song that would certainly scare off some crows but would not be landing me a lead singing role anytime soon. And it’s like that pretty much every time I try to sing in public.

There have been a few exceptions, because I am capable of producing something that sounds remarkably like music out of my mouth, just usually not when anyone else is around to hear it. I’m a definite victim of singing-related stage fright and I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon. I did recently attempt, after some significant persuading, to sing karaoke, this time with just one other person to help hide my voice. I told him I was a beginner and that I had never done just a duet before. He was really helpful and sang really loud, never once dropping out and leaving me to belt out “I want you to want me” on my own. I tried my best not to listen to myself but I don’t think the results were all that pretty. It did help that there were only about three other people in the bar at the time, and at least I tried. To be honest, I still kind of hated it.

I love to write. In the bookstore, I trail my fingers along the spines of the paperbacks, imagining the day that my books will be among them. But for most of my life, my writing, aside from anything required by the professors and teachers at the various educational institutions I’ve attended, has largely been written for my eyes only. At first poetry, then short stories and personal essays. Many pieces have never been read by anyone but me and those I’ve shared have only been with a select few. No one has ever told me “Honey, you can’t really write.” In fact, it’s often been the opposite. But like my singing voice, when it comes to the public, my written voice has largely come out as a whisper, or sometimes a squeak.

Inside my head, my words are loud and clear and they often flow easily to the page. If I were a psycho-analyst of some sort, I would tell myself that I’m afraid to let it out. Afraid that if it exists anywhere beyond me, it might be judged as being something less than what it is in my own mind. To that end, it took me 12 years to write the first 150 pages of my first novel. But recently, something has changed. I’m no longer afraid that I can’t finish a story, or that it might be less than what I want it to be. It only took me 3 months to write the rest of the novel. Now it is in the hands of an agent, which means it’s one step closer to being among its friends on the shelves of the bookstore, waiting for me to run my hand down its spine. And in an attempt to get up on “stage” and belt out what has previously been just a literary whisper, I’m starting this blog. And trying to do what I will never do in karaoke, share my voice, such as it is, with the world.

Just go easy on me, I’m a beginner.


  1. Having been privy to your amazing Wizard-ness, I know exactly what you're talking about. And I can empathize, right down to the writing/singing bit. Can't wait to read the book, Karen!

  2. Loved your first post... am sure to love your first novel as well!

  3. You are just as "great and powerful" as good old Oz so your blog and your novel are destined to be big hits!