Saturday, November 15, 2008

Fake it 'til you make it?

I love what I am doing with my love. 100%--truly madly deepy, can't think of anything else I'd rather do with my life--LOVE what I do. I love the challenges I encounter, the pressures of a million classes and 2 jobs and the upkeep of an apartment and life as a singleton.

With that said, I'm coming out of the 2 most exhausting weeks of the year thus far. And when I say exhausting, I mean it in every sense of the word.

I had a conversation with my friend Nicole the other day. Nicole is a second year rabbinical student in Cinci, who lived downstairs from Steph and I last year. We're still good friends, and had a great time catching up. But we both admitted that it feels as though we're drowning in work, and while there is plenty and then some to do, there just aren't enough hours in the day to do it all. And even when you don't do it all, it's hard to do what you DO do (confusing, anyone?) to your best ability. I've spent the last 2 weeks feeling as though I've half-assed my entire life in order to just keep up with it all. I've done nothing to the best of my abilities and have barely gotten it done in the process. I hate when I feel underprepared or rushed or as though I didn't give 100%. I hate knowing that I could have done better had I been more prepared. I hate feeling as though I've let everyone down and looked like an idiot while doing so. Most of all, I hate the feeling of being pulled in a million different directions, with everyone wanting more and more and me not being physically, mentally, or emotionally able to give them what they want.

OK, so that last statement might have been a little over the top and egocentric. No one in my life--professors, rabbis, congregants, family--has complained about any of the work I've's all in my head. Like most of us, I am my own harshest critic. I want to be one of those people who is on top of things all the time (like a few of my classmates who I will never completely understand.) I just don't get how they can manage it all so well while some of us are left drowning just trying to stay afloat.

It really hit me last weekend when I was in South Bend. I LOVE every aspect of my job there, from the rabbi I work with to the fantastic community of congregants to the area in general. Getting there is exhausting--2 airplanes and 3 airports in the course of a day. Then, I always feel a little rushed to work with the rabbi and/or the accompanist to put the service together. By the time I actually co-lead the service, I am completely exhausted. I have not to this point been able to sing a Friday night service to the level I know I can; there are always silly mistakes and forgetful moments that come from just being tired.

This past weekend, Eric was out of town, so I organized and led services on my own, with the help of our wonderful accompanist Steve. I had all these amazing visions and preparations for a beautiful Shabbat in Song Friday night, and it was so disappointing to watch my plans crumble as I sang things badly, tripped over the reading I'd chosen, and stammered my way through my own words and thoughts I added into the service. I also forgot to read half the kaddish list, which is a much bigger deal than it may seem (if you went to services only to hear your loved one's name read, wouldn't you be pissed that it was left out?) It didn't help that I was also in the middle of a nasty head cold and on cold medicine, pushing my voice through a sore throat.

I love the ability I have to create a warm, lovely service environment. I've always been praised for my sincere warmth on the bimah, something I take great pride in. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I was struggling to keep positive energy in the chapel as I was leading services. I was bored myself, so I can imagine how boring the service must have been for the congregation. So the service leaves me wondering: How, when you are exhausted and sick and alone on the bimah, do you create and sustain the positive energy needed for a Shabbat service? I never learned how to "fake it", since I've never really needed to, and I don't really want to have to fake it on the bimah. Prayer to God should never feel contrived or artificial.

This was so surprising to me, given that I love what I do and I love the people I was doing this with. I guess that's the purpose of a student pulpit; to learn these things that being a cantorial soloist or classroom student can't teach you. I do, however, want to be able to go to South Bend and be pleased with my Friday night service. I'm hoping that happens sooner rather than later.

Thank goodness I have this weekend to relax a little bit, to recharge and reconnect with myself and those I haven't been able to connect with throughout the last 2 weeks. This is why I love Shabbat, even on a rainy, cold day like today.

Shabbat Shalom.

1 comment:

Me said...

I can relate to this as a performer. I know that, as a spiritual leader it has an added dimension of responsibility, but I always have felt a sense of profound spiritual responsibility to both the audience and the "work." I've taken every artistic performance that has ever been seen with the most absolute seriousness and dedication of which I'm capable (sometimes too much-- having fun is important, too), but sometimes one's resources are stretched thin, or other circumstances conspire to make doing something within the spectrum of the "best of your abilities" is not a possibility... it's a horrible feeling, and also an inevitable aspect of the job. There will be times, probably few and far between, when you will have to settle for having done a mediocre job at something that's important. That's variety. You can't have an experience as important and organic-- alive-- as a Jewish service without the inevitable down- and up-turns that occur for anything that's alive. It's a testiment to the reality of how great what you do is, and to the amount of self that you put into it: when the self is strained, so is the work.

I would argue that that's a very good thing. You never phone it in. Sometimes things don't work out.

But yes, if you do feel it not working in an organic fashion, I think it's totally okay on occasion to "fake it till you make it." There are two reasons that I can think of:

1. Behavioral feedback. Despite what people tend to think, their expressions of feeling like smiling or a positive posture or even saying nice things, really does affect their internal state. It's possible to "fake" it at first, then actually convince yourself and "make" it.

2. Sometimes one has to insulate the audience from what's going on inside. So there are occasions where just "faking" it is important. Mother Theresa spent the majority of her life feeling as if she lived without the presence of God. And look at all the good she did during that time, even though she felt like a fraud, and that she wasn't doing ENOUGH good!!!

At the same time... showing some of your pain and frustration, if done with restraint, could be totally appropriate for the Amidah, for instance. Mourners need to feel that others can see the brokenness in the world and keep going.

I've totally been there, though. For a short time, I was a wedding reception DJ. I quit because I wasn't conquering the technology, and ruined a family's wedding reception at my first gig. Seriously. Some really vulgar party music came on during the "Father Daughter Dance" and I couldn't find what they wanted. They actually cancelled the dance. A lot of other stuff went wrong, too. You can imagine how horribly I felt.

But Tracy, you totally have "got" it. You are a warm, genuine and present person and a talented artist and community leader. Things won't always go as well as you want them to go because you truly understand what excellence is in your field, and are always striving for it on both an artistic and spiritual level. I think that's fantastic, and I hope you feel better soon.

It's the "Thursday" of the semester right now, after all.

GREAT seeing you at HUC, by the way. I really hope to see you there again soon.