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Former Me (Understanding)

The Song

The Story

Former Me – Lyrics

I will not be the face of anger today.
I will not be disgraced by what some others say.
I will not hang my shoulders and walk like a failure.
Nor puff out my chest and laugh like a sailor.

I will stand in this stairwell until I’m reminded
that all of us in here are not so divided.

I will not let my pride make this all wrong.
I will not be defined by a voice or a song.
I will not make a ruling on what they ought to see.
I will not be the former me.

I did not come this far to fall off the wagon.
I will not let my scars feed this addiction.
I can laugh at this moment… I know it’s a test.
We all carry love. We all do our best.

I will stand in this stairwell until I’m reminded
that all of us in here are not so divided.

And when I cross that room, I’ll stay in my light.
I will not let my gloom follow this time.
I will look in their eyes…allow them to see.
I will not be the former me.

“You are allowed to be both a masterpiece and a work in progress simultaneously.”
-Sophia Bush

I’m not one of those artists who say things like: “I have a vision and nothing is going to stop me from reaching my goals.” Quite the opposite. I’ve had many visions and goals over the years and many things have stopped me from following through on them. I like to joke and say that I’m a quitter. And I am. But I’ve also come to believe that my “quitter-ness” is a result of a deeper calling. These soul callings tend to push me into circumstances that I rarely understand and definitely don’t appreciate, at least not in the moment. Former Me emerged from one of these challenging circumstances.

For the longest time, I thought my calling was to be a singer/songwriter, but I can no longer pretend that it is. Somehow I just know that’s not true. In fact, I don’t think anyone understands their true calling. They may think they know their calling… for a few years or even decades but eventually, they end up confused just like everyone else. Like many, I’ve often wondered: Why am I here? Why are any of us here? What is my purpose, my calling? And the only theory that slightly resonates with me is the idea that we’re all meant to expand… our purpose is to evolve. To me, evolution is an internal job and has very little to do with our vision, goals, or surroundings, and much more to do with how we feel inside. Life has taught me that we can often manage, and sometimes inspire how we feel, and yet despite all of my efforts at developing my hidden superpower of being peaceful and present – no matter the circumstances – I haven’t managed to master my internal state. So, for now, all I can do is try, fail, then try again.

When my partner, Quentin and I moved from Toronto to Orillia, we found a beautiful place on a lake, perfect for our new vision of forming a peaceful new mindset around life and our careers. Q had been through some traumatic health issues in the preceding year and we both wanted to simplify, minimize, and learn to enjoy life. With this goal in mind, I started a small music school and decided I was going to “give back” to my new community by performing at local retirement homes. It wasn’t long before I got my first – and only – gig. It was a Saturday night. I arrived an hour before starting time, and almost immediately realized there had been a serious misunderstanding. The retirement home was expecting a full band. Something more… lively… they were anticipating a party. I explained to the manager that I was a solo act. She decided to move forward with my show even though it was clearly not what they wanted. I spent the next hour setting up my equipment, testing the sound, and getting ready to “give back”.

I performed my first song and to my disappointment, there was no clapping, no cheering. Only long faces staring back at me. Two songs into my performance, the manager walked onto the stage and said: “This isn’t working, they don’t like it.” We briefly discussed different song choices and I agreed to play another selection. Still, all I saw when I looked out into the audience were the same long faces staring back at me. Then it happened, the manager came back on stage. “Yeah, this isn’t going to work,” she said. I suppose I knew it was coming, but my heart sank. I could feel my ego taking over as I realized my very first gig of “giving back” was going sideways. I decided that I was a strong, capable woman who had mastered the art of staying present in challenging situations. I rationalized that I only had to pack my gear and get to my car and then the night would be over. I took a deep breath and as I tried to internally work through this awkward and highly uncomfortable situation, the manager’s mouth kept moving. Then I thought I heard her say: “This was supposed to be a party and we have no sound system. Would you mind staying and letting us run our iPod through YOUR sound system?” Okay, did I really hear that right? Yep. I sure did. She just fired me and now she’s asking me to leave my sound system so they could… what?… play some good music? My ego was getting stomped on but what was I supposed to do? Ruin the whole party by leaving with the sound system?

“Yes, of course, I’ll stay,” I said through clenched teeth, even though I knew this was not the best choice for my inner self. As I write this, I wonder if the person I am today would have made a different choice and do just that: ruin the party and take care of my own needs. It is a question yet to be answered.

I managed to hold myself together while packing my guitar and keyboard, all while being watched intensely by a room full of disapproving and unappreciative elderly folks. I knew I didn’t have many minutes of self-control remaining. The clock was ticking as the old stories that haunted me for years slowly started finding their receptors again. Stories like: these people are so glad you failed; you’re a terrible business person who didn’t get enough detail prior to booking this gig; humans are losers who only like things when they’re on a TV screen.”

I quickly hooked up the manager’s iPod to my sound system, officially resigning myself to being the Sound Tech for the evening. Once I got things rolling, I looked for the nearest exit. I needed to give myself some time alone to regroup. If I had any hope of surviving this night, I would have to find a way to hold my balance of self-love. Earlier, I had seen a love seat in the foyer of the building and thought it would be the perfect place to sit and create a little love bubble for my shattered ego. To get to this love seat, I had to go out a door, into a hallway, and take the elevator up to the next floor. As I walked toward the exit, I got distracted by the nasty stories and judgments that were running through my mind. I looked at the crowd and tried not to hate them for getting me fired. In this moment of distraction, I inadvertently walked out the wrong door, right into the fire escape. Hearing the click of the door closing behind me, I looked up to see a staircase leading to another door with a sign that read: “an alarm will go off if you open this door.” And there I was standing in the fire escape with only one way out: back into that room. Mortified, I looked through the rectangular window at the party crowd and saw hundreds of eyeballs inquisitively staring at the fire escape door. Errrghhh! I knew at that moment there was going to be no bubble of love. I looked at all the faces and immediately re-engaged with my old habit of imagining all of the horrible things they were thinking: “This poor girl keeps failing. Perhaps this night will teach her a lesson. She sounded like what’s-her-name from whatever-reality-show…but not as good.” So many thoughts raced through my mind. I made them out to be bullies and felt angrier and more defeated with every passing moment. The truth was, I was creating an emotional storm within myself and was too embarrassed to step back into the room and own this circumstance.

Not knowing what else to do, I called my lifeline, Quentin. I told him I got fired from my do-gooder gig at the retirement home and explained that I was stuck in the fire escape. Q paused, and then all I heard on the other end of the line was an endless flow of belly laughter. Finally, I heard his voice. In his sweet Buddist manner, he said: “Awww babers, it’s just so ridiculous! You just have to get through the night and we will laugh about this later.”

Later? What did he mean by later? He was obviously seeing the humour in it NOW. But I wasn’t. The call didn’t make me feel any better. I was still stuck in the stairwell, feeling humiliated. My inner Gremlin had been awakened. Feelings of anger, humiliation, and the need to blame someone was moving through me with great momentum. It was like these old familiar emotions had found their way back home. They reconnected so quickly, and it felt as though all the inner work I’d done over the last five years was completely lost. All sense of presence and emotional mastery was out the window. I looked at the fire escape stairwell and realized I’d have to come out sooner or later. But before I did, I decided to make one commitment for the evening: I was not going to hurt anyone. I never intend to hurt people, but I can be like a scorpion who, when enough dust is in her eyes, will lash out with a deadly tail and unintentionally damage or destroy any living thing in her path. Truth be told, the saying “beat someone with a cane” came to mind as I saw all those canes in the room. I know, not very spiritual, but it wasn’t my best moment!

Needless to say, I never made it to the love seat. Once the crowd’s attention was back on the party, I did my best to hold my head up and I walk back into that room. A woman about my age was there visiting her father that night. She muttered a few kind words and asked if I wanted to come and sit with her and her Dad. She was my gentle lifeline that night and I managed to snack on triangle sandwiches while making small talk with her and her dad. I felt uncomfortable but I also felt extremely grateful for their kindness and especially grateful for the tiny bit of self-control that I was able to muster to get through this poignant moment in my life. I was fragile to say the least and I couldn’t wait to get back to my car.

When the night FINALLY ended, I packed up my gear at lightning speed. I was planning on having a good cry before going home, but when I got to the car, the tears weren’t there. So, I played my favourite song to cry to: “Nothing compares 2U” by Prince (Sinead O’Connor version). Still no tears. They just wouldn’t come. I smiled and suddenly Q’s hysterical giggles rang through my mind, and I thought “there must be something bigger at play here. A higher purpose or lesson, maybe.”

In the days following my disastrous “giving back” event at the retirement home, I felt totally defeated. I wasn’t getting the “lesson”. In an effort to sort out my emotions, I sat at my piano. As a piano player, I’ve come to rely on my hands to tell me what’s going on internally. All I have to do is sit down at my piano and allow my hands to flow, playing whatever keys they want to play. After a while, the movement of the music starts matching how I feel. On this day, my hands moved very gently, fingers quietly pressing down over the same two keys… half a D chord… over and over. A perfect reflection of how I was feeling. As I continued to play, a sense of deep inner peace suddenly came over me. Words started to flow from my mouth, and it was in this contemplative moment that “Former Me” emerged as the higher purpose and deeper calling of my dreadful experience.

As I write this story years later, I’m happy to say that I quit my vision of “giving back” by playing gigs at retirement homes… or should I say they quit me. I’m glad I got fired because if it weren’t for getting fired, who knows where I’d be right now? I certainly wouldn’t have written this song and I certainly wouldn’t have grown from the experience. In the end, this experience came full circle when years later, I was invited to play at another retirement home. I wasn’t sure if I should go, but before accepting, I committed to remaining fully present and at peace, no matter what happened. Sure enough, I arrived in my full presence and shined my light on a very welcoming and appreciative crowd.


Below is a live performance of Former Me.

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