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All the Single Ladies!

Published June 6, 2012 by crazyinpink

As I drove through town last week (after missing the bus from where I live to the centre of town) a big hairy figure crossed the road in front of me.  He had wild, curly hair way past his shoulders, a big crazy beard reminiscent of Robin Williams in Jumanji and a woolly hat pulled down to just above his eyes.  What with all the hair and headgear obstructing my view, and the fact that he has gained a few stone, it took me far too long to journey from curiosity to recognition to disgust. It was my ex.

I got on the bus to the city for the first of my concerts and sat pondering.  I have been single for just over a year.  In that year I’ve graduated from university, started a Masters, won awards, been on tv and become an accidental political activist. Seems quite impressive when you see it all written down. I thought about how different it would be if I had stayed with my ex. *cue dream-like music*

Let me take you back to 2010 when I was hopelessly devoted to a boy from uni who seemed completely clueless about my feelings.  He was shy and had never had a girlfriend. I pined after him for months.  We went out on a date-type thing then he didn’t see me for weeks. I went to London via Bristol with a guy I’d met the year before.  Bristol Boy came over in Summer ’09 to visit my friend Al, he was one of her friends from uni.  Al was convinced he fancied her so begged me to be constant chaperone for the duration of his stay. At the end of his visit, it turned out he didn’t fancy her, he actually liked me and we spent his last half hour in Norn Iron kissing in her living room. Anyway, Bristol Boy and I went on a little adventure to London but nothing happened between us. When I came home, I realised that I needed to get over my crush.

That week I started helping out with an outreach team made up of the different churches in my town. Two guys around my age became my shadows, following me about relentlessly.  My church friends decided one of them must fancy me… On the last night, both asked for my number.  Only one of them started using it, texting me all the time. I went away on a family holiday and came back to this guy (let’s call him Mickey) wanting to meet up. We randomly went to McDonalds (romantic, I know) and met up for coffee.  He then tagged along with Al and I one night, ending up back at my house. Al was staying over so I drove him home and he kissed me. Less than I week later he asked if we ‘could make it serious’ and if he could call me his girlfriend.

From the start we had very little in common. We were both Christians and lived in the same town but that was where the similarities ended.  He had left high school at 15, trained as a gardener/tree surgeon, volunteered at the National Trust but was essentially unemployed and in his spare time liked to ride his bike with his friend. I was finishing my degree, researching and writing a dissertation.  But I guess our differences was what was exciting about it.  Any other guy I’d dated had always been older, and usually slightly condescending.  Mickey didn’t care how clever I was, he was a year younger than me and so excited to be with me.  I’m not the most romantic person in the world but Mickey was.  He was forever holding my hand or wanting to be close to me.  It freaked me out a bit but I went with it, thinking that it would only last a month or two, like all my other relationships.

I didn’t reckon on the L word. I felt closer to Mickey than anyone else and he always made his feelings clear.  It was still a shock when he said he loved me. He knew I would need time to process so blurted it out just before a goodnight kiss. It took me weeks to work out how I felt and if I was there yet. Then one night, snuggled up watching a movie I realised how happy he made me and a few days later I was able to say it back.

It wasn’t the perfect fairytale romance though.  After three months or so, cracks began to appear.  He became distant and little things like calling me twenty times a day, began to annoy me more than ever. I didn’t want to give up on us but I couldn’t go on the way we were. We had A Serious Conversation during which I broke down and started crying. I had just found out I had polycystic ovary syndrome and had 13 cysts on one ovary. The doctor had told me it would be difficult for me to conceive and recommended I get pregnant as soon as possible. The crying scared Mickey. I was never emotional and was always the one in control. He upped his game.

A few weeks later, we stumbled again. Our relationship wasn’t exactly ‘chaste’ but there had always been a line that we didn’t cross (a line I had to draw repeatedly). After a very close encounter I had to initiate a Sex Talk. Although we were both Christians, I discovered we had different ideas about the physical side of our relationship. Neither of us had ever gone further than kissing before and while we had enjoyed experimenting together, I just couldn’t have gone the whole way with him.  All I could think was what a hypocrite I would be if I slept with my boyfriend yet continued teaching Girls Brigade. He understood and was willing to wait but made it clear that he was very ready to do it as soon as I was.

Part of me wishes we had broken up because of something like that. An obvious difference of opinion rather than the rapid deterioration and awkwardness that caused our break-up. Around this time I had been put on a new treatment for endo, injections to put my body into a state of artificial menopause. I didn’t know how it would work and, since he knew about me being sick, I warned him that things might get tough.  He seemed to be brilliant with it and took it all in his stride. Then, in the depths of menopause hell, we went to a formal.  He ignored me all night and sat playing on his phone.

We didn’t speak for a week then eventually met up to break up.  It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. He barely spoke. I cried. Damn hormones.

It was the right decision. He was just a boy and even though he did try to understand what was wrong with me, he just couldn’t cope with it.  I missed him for so long but I know now that I’m ready to move on and leave him behind me…

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Back on stage

Published June 5, 2012 by crazyinpink

Three nights onstage and three days later I’m almost fully recovered.

Last week saw my return to concerts for the first time this year.  My choir (the Christian one I’m still proud to be a member of) was supporting the Christian songwriters Keith and Kristyn Getty with their special guest Stuart Townend.  Nearly every church in the Western world has heard of these songwriters, their hymn ‘In Christ Alone’ is probably their most famous.  Personally, my favourite song is ‘There is a Higher Throne’ which remains my go-to solo piece when I’m asked to sing somewhere new.  The second verse goes like this:

‘And there we’ll find our home, our life before the throne

We’ll honour Him in perfect song where we belong

He’ll wipe each tear-stained eye as thirst and hunger die

The Lamb becomes the Shepherd King, we’ll reign with Him’

Things haven’t always been easy for me.  I’d like to think that I’m a positive person, or at least I’m trying to be.  But there are times when everything gets a bit too much.  My dad had an affair when I was a teenager and my mum fell apart.  He left and blamed me and hasn’t spoken to me since.  I had to get a job to help support my mum and I continue to work to help pay the bills and everything.  I’ve had to live with the most awful condition that I wouldn’t wish on anybody.  It affects every part of my life and every step towards diagnosis and treatment has been a struggle and still is.  There are times when I feel sorry for myself.  I wonder how I’m ever going to have a ‘normal’ life, if my friends are going to still be there for me, if I’ll ever find a guy who can handle all of it and how or if I’ll ever have children.

The words of this song are such a comfort to me when I’m having a rough time. ‘He’ll wipe each tear-stained eye’ even when I read those words I feel comforted.  My faith in God may not be perfect but it is my constant source of strength.  It isn’t particularly cool to admit to believing in God but I’m not ashamed.  I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my faith.

 

The concerts were amazing.  Three nights to a sold out concert hall.  Three days of soundchecks and rehearsals, back stage banter and dressing up.  I did all three nights but my friend only managed the middle one.  She got such a bad case of the giggles that I had to actually take her out of the prayer meeting before the show started.  I had heat patches stuck to my back and was knocking back the Tramadol during the intervals but it was such a great experience.  Hearing the thousands of people, on stage and in the audience, singing together.  Making friends with the cool band guys from Nashville, dancing to the impromptu jamming sessions after the show, meeting the people who wrote the words that have helped me through so much.  ‘Twas a pretty great weekend.

The Singing Historian

Published May 29, 2012 by crazyinpink

A nickname I have in the School of History.  Professors and lecturers are always amused by my ‘double life’ as one of them called it; they’d see me studying hard in the library and in tutorials during the day then when they went home they’d see me singing on TV.

 

I’ve always loved singing, its just one of those things I am effortlessly good at (one of the very few things I might add). My first solo was at the age of two; ‘Jesus loves me’ at a church barbecue. In school I was always in the choir, usually singing solo and in P7 I was the Narrator in our production of Joseph and his Amazing technicolour Dreamcoat. I still know all the colours of that coat.  Grammar school was much the same, choirs, chamber choirs, singing lessons. I joined the university choir but since it was student-led and a bit of fun, I really missed the challenging atmosphere of a ‘professional’ choir.

I auditioned in 2009 for two choirs.  The first choir is part of a Christian organisation that includes an all-Ireland choir, chamber choir and orchestra.  I was an original member of the short-lived Youth Choir initiative that only lasted a few years. This choir puts on concerts twice, maybe three times a year. Rehearsals are few but intense, you have to be able to sight-sing and work on your harmonies at home. I love this choir. Being with such a group of Christians who just want to worship God is inspiring and makes me feel completely at home. We’re doing some concerts this weekend in a concert hall in Belfast and I can’t wait. 

 

The second choir is much more problematic. I heard about it through a friend who wanted us both to audition.  We both did. I got in; she didn’t.  The choir was brand spanking new, the first ever Northern Ireland gospel choir.  But even though we were all new, it took a really long time (over a year) for me to feel comfortable with the other members, to find friends. And even though it was a gospel choir, the choir was not a Christian group.  Our director could not stress this point strongly enough: we sang songs about Jesus but we weren’t allowed to discuss religion or try to force our ‘beliefs’ onto other members. So strong was the anti-Christianity of some members that they refused to participate in concerts held in churches. Some members were openly gay. Yet we rehearsed and performed songs that said ‘Oh happy day! When Jesus washed my sins away’.

I had trouble squaring this with my own beliefs.  I am a Christian and I believe that God made me the way I am for a reason, He gave me talents to use for Him and His glory. Singing, therefore, has always been something that I’ve done for God. The break after the first year of gospel choir I thought long and hard about whether or not to return. I loved the singing and performing but I felt uneasy with the ethos of the choir and the egocentric atmosphere. I eventually decided that even though the “choir” might not be singing for God, I was.

Last year, still struggling with the same issues, I reached a point where I could not stand to be associated with the choir any longer.  The choir operates a hierarchy system of the director’s ‘favourites’, the elite who get to do all the smaller, higher profile gigs and get all the solos. I was on the fringes of the elite, a powerful soprano who could hit notes the others only dreamt of but not ‘gospel’ enough for a solo. (Apparently the definition of ‘gospel’ in the choir was the ability to do X Factor-style air grabs and wail runs of off-key notes, turning a simple three note tune into a bad Mariah Carey impression of over three hundred notes) Around November, I was doing a gig with a small group of twenty for a big Remembrance concert. With time to kill after the sound check, the choir went to Nandos for dinner. Around the table the conversation was gossipy, bitchy and selfish. Even the church-going members were telling stories about adultery, maintaining that your life only begins when you get married and how life wouldn’t be worth living if you didn’t have children.  There I was, a girl whose family had been torn apart by adultery, the only single person at the table living with an illness that has high correlation with infertility.  The melancholic mood only escalated back at the concert hall when I got changed into my choir outfit. 

The choir had to dress in red and black but there was no set outfit for everyone.  I had worn the same red dress for just over a year (since I don’t own anything else that colour).  That night when I came out of the bathroom, the director’s husband pounced on me and suggested I pin my black cardigan (the only costume item provided for us) together with a brooch to ‘cover up’. Initially confused, I assumed he wanted me to ‘bling’ up so I said I hadn’t put my jewellery on yet. He went on to explain that he meant I should cover up because I ‘didn’t look good on stage’, he could see what the audience saw and it was not pretty. He gestured over my tummy and said ‘some of the other big girls prefer to cover themselves up’.

Were it not for the fact that I was already feeling low, I might have punched him. How dare he say that to me. The man himself is the size of a small mountain and his wife, our director, is a size 22. I’m not under any illusions that I’m a supermodel, I’m a curvy girl and proud of it. I’m a size 16 with big boobs, a small waist, big bum and yes, a bit of a tummy. I don’t cover myself up because I’m not ashamed of my body.  This is who I am. But that night that man made me feel like the ugliest girl ever.

I only did one other concert after that, one I’d already committed to. But I couldn’t stand to put myself back in that environment again, especially with the severity of my condition and my uni work. I took the term off, citing medical grounds as my reason. When I see choir events advertised or stories pop up on my facebook I groan and roll my eyes. I said I would think carefully about whether or not to return. To go back means I will get to perform more, be in the spotlight, but it would be for the glory of the choir and our director, it would mean hours of rehearsals with people who couldn’t care less about me, sacrificing my time and effort into something I no longer enjoy. I just can’t do that anymore.