Today I am grateful that I live only a hop, skip and a jump from the ocean. I grew up here and always took the sea for granted. Whenever I needed a break from the hustle of life, I would sit and watch the waves lapping softly upon the shore. I didn’t realize how much I needed this calming presence until I moved to West Virginia for grad school and had ocean withdrawals. On bad days I would watch video clips of the beach or stare at a photograph of Avila Beach… but it wasn’t the same. I need the feel of those negative ions and the cool chill of the morning mist on my skin. Marissa means “of the sea” and I definitely live up to my name. The sea is my home and I am glad to once again be living in a place where I can enjoy it whenever I want to.
I’m not one for sappy, lovey-dovey posts: but, I would not be honest about the 30 reasons I am grateful to be turning 30 if I didn’t include my man, Brighton. So, here goes with the cheesy sap-fest. You have been warned. ☺️
I love this guy and I have for 6 years now. He gives me my space and my independence but he is always there for me when I need him. He gave me time to learn to trust again and overcome emotional trauma from childhood abuse. He made me stop saying “I’m sorry” for things I don’t have control over. He helped me repair my fragile self-esteem. He loves the parts of my personality which I used to hide from the world.
He lets me pursue my dreams but reminds me that downtime and fun are important. He helps me to grow as a human being without ever trying to change me. He is my rock, my best friend, my yoga buddy, and my favorite travel companion. Everything is more fun when Brighton is around.
He and I have been through some ups and downs during our 6 years together. These have been some of the most life-altering, emotional-rollercoaster, and painful years of my life; and yet, Brighton was always there by my side, cheering me on, sticking with me through family drama, offering advice, bringing cookies, and sometimes just letting me be with my thoughts to work things out. He is always there with a smile, a hug, and a giggle whenever I need cheering up.
He’s not perfect. I’m not perfect. We’re not perfect. But we’re perfect for eachother. One of my favorite quotes from a Johnny Starlings song is “not entertwined, we’ve grown side by side.” I definitely think this represents Brighton and I. Both of us have changed drastically over these past 6 years; but, we have always grown together. We don’t complete eachother, but we help make eachother better.
I’m grateful to be turning 30 because I now have officially given up on Young Artist Program applications… and I couldn’t be be happier with my decision. You can only hit your head against the wall so many times before you finally decide to change direction and find a doorway. I gave myself a good 10 years to “make it big” in opera, but the perfectionism, the intensity of the demands, the constant criticism and the endless stream of “no’s” broke my spirit until I lost all joy in singing. There was so much pressure to be perfect all the time that I forgot to just sing.
Ironically, I never really wanted to be an opera singer. I wanted to be a jazz or musical theatre singer. But, when you attend the University of Southern California as a Vocal Performance major, you sing opera. That’s when the pressure to prove myself began; it is also when my vocal issues began. The stress, the tension, the trying to make my voice something it wasn’t, these things slowly stripped away MY voice and replaced it with a façade I was trying to create. I carried these vocal problems through grad school and then later into post-grad life when I started to hit the audition circuit. I tore my body, psyche, and voice to shreds with each audition as I grappled with being judged, trying to make my voice fit in with each program’s needs, and attempting to remember and adjust every nuanced detail my teachers, coaches, and commentators had criticized me for in the past. The problem was, my heart wasn’t in my singing any longer. Instead, my mind remained active–going through an endless list of critiques, comments, reminders, and judgments as I sang through each aria. I no longer enjoyed singing but instead felt like I had to sing to prove my worth. Each audition and performance left me feeling deflated, horrible, emotionally spent, and broken. And yet, playing the role of the good struggling artist, I kept applying, auditioning, and getting turned down. I wasn’t what they wanted, but they also weren’t what I wanted. I just wasn’t aware of it at the time.
This past year has been one of soul-searching and self-evaluation. My body forced me to take almost a full year off from singing due to health issues and that gave me the time to reassess what I really wanted out of my vocal career. I used to want to be the prima donna: to travel the world singing on the biggest stages and lead the romanticized life of a famous singer. But, really, those aspirations were taking me nowhere and I was spending so much time preparing to “fail” auditions that I wasn’t spending any time actually singing–and, in the end, all I really want to do is sing. That’s all I’ve ever wanted, since I was 10 years old belting show tunes to the trees in our backyard. I just want to sing. Anything an everything.
So, this year I have made the conscious decision to skip the YAP roulette wheel and focus my energies on just singing. I’ve rekindled my love of musical theatre, jazz, and cabaret and joined a group which performs just that. I’m joining forces with two other fabulous musicians for a self-produced holiday concert which will mix musical theatre, pop, and classical pieces. I am currently recording two albums which I will have fun marketing throughout my local community in outreach concerts and community performances. I even sang in a choir again (something I haven’t done in 10 years). The best thing is, I’m starting to love to sing again. I’m catching myself humming little motives at the end of the day or singing aloud in the car–things I haven’t done in many years.
Of course, I’m sad to make the realization that I am leaving the path that could lead to “stardom.” But, do you really need millions of people to hear you to make a difference in this world? Isn’t it enough to bring joy, to spark change, or to create solace and contemplation in just a handful of people? Does that make you any less of a singer? I don’t think so. I am a opera drop out and proud of it.
As I near my 30th year on this Earth, I remark at how my body has changed over these three decades.
Growing up, I was morbidly obese. I went through a series of diets, all of which seemed to end in me gaining rather than losing weight. My doctors and nutritionists continued to berate me year after year for not “taking care of my body,” but, unfortunately, they did not realize that my difficulties were emotional rather than physically. The amount of emotional stress I was going through, which was exaccerbated by worries about my weight and health, were the cause of my eating problems. I buried my emotions in stomachaches. I hid my feelings underneath butter and bread. When I was upset, rather than throwing a temper tantrum, I would quietly sneak to the kitchen and steal food from the refrigerator. I thought that the pain in my belly would mask the pain in my heart.
When I turned 16, I decided that I was done enduring the taunts of bullies and the endless stream of fat jokes. I was done going to sleep with a lump of heartache in my stomach. I was done hurting myself. I decided it was time for me to ask myself some difficult questions. Did I want to take the easy way out and be unhappy and unhealthy for my entire life, or did I want to fight and struggle to take control of my emotions and my body? It was a definite crossroads moment, but, happily, I made the right decision. I started doing research, I found foods which made me feel light and energetic rather than weighted and achy. I became diligent about going to the gym to read my beloved books rather than sitting at home. I replaced the gallons of soda I drank daily with an endless supply of herbal tea. I figured out what worked for me and stuck with it. Most importantly, I began to develop a healthy self-esteem.
That all sounds well and good, but the difficult truth is that I have been on a constant diet for 14 years now. While my “diet” has become more streamlined by becoming a gluen-free vegan, there will probably always be that little voice in my head weighing if eating a cookie is worth the calories and judging if I did enough cardio for the week. The struggle now is keeping that voice from becoming an unhealthy obsession. It’s a difficult balance to create for those of us who are blessed with eating disorders of any kind. I say blessed, because going through those trials has made me the determined, self-restrained, and focused person I am today. I had to learn at an early age what it was like to reach for a goal that many considered unobtainable–to put in the time, to push yourself to be better, to give up what is easy in favor of what is right.
As I approach my 30th birthday, I hope to continue to love and take care of this body that I’ve been given–imperfections and all… and to maybe let myself eat a few more cookies. Life is too short not to eat a few [gluten-free, vegan] cookies.
This afternoon I had the opportunity to spend some quality time with my 10-month old niece, Lillian. Every book we read, every block we toppled over, every song we danced to, and every morsel she ate broadcasted itself across her beautiful face. She was living life to the fullest: enjoying every new sensation, idea, thought, and chance to learn. Everything was new and exciting–from the taste of a pickle to the feel of a dog’s fur against her skin. Life was fresh to her. Nothing had become dull or habitual yet because every experience was literally new to her. It was eye-opening to be reminded that we each start with a blank slate. We were not born with habits. We did not have a set routine at birth. We did not know anything about our lives until we created our own first experiences.
As adults, how often do we become stuck in a rut? Forgetting about the excitement of simply living, breathing, and walking, we trudge on through our days without being fully present in what we are tasting, hearing, or learning. We go about our lives in sleep mode rather than engaging in our experiences. When was the last time you savored the tart taste of a berry, thought about the strength and coordination necessary to stand on two legs, or enjoyed the soft sound of a butterfly’s wings flapping above your head? There are so many things we take for granted as our time on this earth increases. But it doesn’t have to be that way. They more we are mindful and focus on each task, opportunity, and experience, the more we can enjoy and keep learning from them. What if we all devoted a few minutes of each day to cultivating our sense of childlike wonderment? What if we kept our inner child learning and growing throughout our entire lives? How would your thoughts change? How would your life change? How would the world change? So, go ahead, buy yourself that rainbow pinwheel to play with, go outside and dance in the rain, and savor your dinner with your eyes closed. Just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean you have to grow up.