Becoming Visible: a performer learning how to see himself

By Nathan Bird
Originally published August 24, 2019, for patrons.

The necklace of fake pearls is donned.  The white gloves have been put on. 

It’s a toss-up whether ice cream scoopers or wooden spoons make the best microphones for 2-year-olds’ shows.  It matters not whether the stage is a little step stool or upturned Rubbermaid. 

My kids are putting on shows all the time.  Each of them has a little performer in them…some more than others, but it’s there. 

While I love seeing them experiment with courage and flow as a performer, Naomi and I are quick to encourage them to imagine themselves in other capacities as grown-ups. 

“Wouldn’t it be cool if you could solve big problems in medicine?” “You’d make a great lawyer some day!”  “You are so good at listening to others and encouraging them! I bet you’d like being a teacher.”

My inclination to deter my kids from pursuing a career in the arts is probably because I know how hard it can be. 

I don’t remember wanting to be famous as a child.  I just remember loving singing.  As I grew and received voice training, I realized that my voice could do cool things and mean more to people than I really could understand.  It was more of a “well ok, I’ll just put it out there” mentality. 

I sang with my family and enjoyed participating in ensembles.  To be a singer wasn’t my goal from the beginning.
 
In college I was going to be a business major and start a construction company. That major lasted about a week. 

I switched to psychology. For an afternoon.
 
The person who got me to consider a music major was Carol Eikum, head of the voice department at Northwestern College (now the University of Northwestern-St. Paul). 

When she asked me why I wasn’t a music major, I said, in so many words, “because I want to be able to actually earn a living.”  She assured me that just because someone studies something in college doesn’t mean they have to work in that field; AND in fact, there are a lot of music majors who are well-respected in the business world because a music degree is understood to be one that requires a unique and attractive work ethic.
 
I became a General Music major.
 
A year later I got another nudge. My best friend (now wife) Naomi asked me why I wasn’t a performance major. I didn’t have a good answer, so I became a Vocal Performance major.  It fit like a glove.
 
I started to formulate a plan based on what I was learning to be a reasonable path for someone going into my field.  I was going out there and doing the things.  I was singing on stages that were really cool.  It was fun. 

But it was lonely.  I felt like I was see-through.  I could relate with “Mister Cellophane” from our song this week.
 
Without going much into the synopsis of the show, suffice it to say that this character did not feel valued. He felt used, walked on, taken advantage of, and completely uncared for. This is a dramatic description, but consider the words he uses to describe himself: “Invisible, Inconsequential… Unimpressive, Undistinguished.”

Sound familiar? Through the song he paints scenarios of the kinds of people who are noticeable, wistfully repeating the line, “You’d notice him,” clearly excluding himself from this category.
 
We are more than the assumptions people have about us.  

We are more than the assumptions we have about ourselves.
 
One of the challenges in college is that, as you’re becoming the person who gets to wear the silly flat hat and get the piece of paper saying you’re really in debt, it’s hard to retain an idea of who you are at your core.  You’re still figuring it out. 

Until I started understanding myself a little more, all of my music work felt a little meaningless.  Until I had begun to identify my values and gifts and passions outside of my identity as a singer, using these skills felt less fulfilling than one might expect.
 
It’s a very strange experience to be appreciated and maybe even loved for your art by hundreds and thousands of people but to feel super lonely at the end of the day.  I wasn’t invisible; I was a performer! Lots of people saw me and loved me. That matters, right?
 
The last line of this song sure points to a faulty mentality. The character says “I hope I haven’t taken up too much of your time.”  While funny – because yes, there is an obvious humor to this piece – there is a pain in those words.

They sound polite on the surface, but what they really say is, “I’m not worth your time.” He isn’t valuing himself.  The person he sees in the mirror is really no different than the person he accuses others of seeing – or, rather, not seeing. 

God doesn’t make people like you every day. 
You are special with your own set of unique skills, and gifts. 
He notices you AND He’s actually kind of crazy about you. 
He made you in HIS image.
You are a mini reflection of Him.

Live like it!
 
Don’t use bad words to describe yourself or diminish yourself into something so “humble” and small that you’re hardly existent. 

Make no apologies for showing up. 

Make no apologies for being.
 
“Recognized. Impactful. Impressive. Distinguished
.” Use these words to describe the person looking back at you above the sink each morning. 

And then live them.
 
I hope I’ve taken up just the right amount of your time.

Listen to “Mister Cellophane”

—-

“Mister Cellophane” is Number 4 of 4 songs in the August SongNotes from the Birds collection around the theme of “State Fair.”

As a quirky fun part of the theme, and in the name of the competitiveness associated with fairs, we’re giving an agriculture score to each of the songs.  It’s a highly scientific assessment of all utterances of anything having to do with plants or animals.

AGRICULTURAL SCORE for “Mister Cellophane” = 39
hen = 1
cat = 1
fish = 1
(In an unexpected turn of events we learned that cellophane is derived from wood, cotton or hemp – all plants –  with many baths of many chemicals which dissolve and then reconvert the chemical-tree soup back to a solid. With this information, it is only fair to count 3 pts for every utterance of the word “Cellophane.”  Naturally.)
cellophane = 36

Want to compare scores with the other songs in the collection?  You’ll find all their specs here:

“Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)”

“The Lord’s Prayer”

“It’s Been a Long, Long Time”

You can download the mp3 of “Mister Cellophane.”
But you may prefer to pre-order the whole month’s digital collection.
Or send the print version to someone you love who is not really into the smart phone thing.