Today’s 10 minute, unedited free write, based on the Daily Post’s daily prompt: Critical

critic (n.) 1580s, “one who passes judgment,” from root *krei- “to sieve,” thus “separate, discriminate, distinguish.” The English word always had overtones of “censurer, faultfinder.”

I don’t remember my first college vocal jury as clearly as I remember the aftermath.

As a classical vocal performance major, I was used to performing. I’d been on stage for most of my life, in fact. But this was different. Every mistake I’d made, every excruciating hesitation, was larger and brighter in my memory with each passing moment. I felt more sick to my stomach after finishing than I had before I’d began.

I made my way home with a head full of the voices, familiar ones that had been with me for years. Voices that sounded objective—like honest friends who were just trying to help me out. We don’t have to keep doing this to ourselves. they said. We could do something else. Anything else, really. We were smart, hard working…. yes, theses voices, they believed in us. But just maybe, you know, singing wasn’t our thing? I sang well enough for most people to say nice things, but discriminating ears were different. And when all the sifting was done, there wasn’t much left that made my melodies worth much. The voices went on and on inside my head, while outside my head was lightly nodding.

As a few stray tears slid down my face, I thought of all the work I’d put in all semester. But there was only one moment that mattered to those few discerning ears at the long table at the back of the room. Wiping my face as I descended the stairs to my basement apartment, I began composing a letter to my voice teacher. An apology. After all, it was her reputation I’d carried into that room and my fault it had been dropped unceremoniously to the floor when I was asked to translate an Italian lyric. I owed her at least a letter.

When it was written and trifolded, it was almost too thick to slide under her office door. Once it was out of my hands, I sighed. The critical voices were finally quiet. I’d made them and my sure-to-be-disappointed vocal teacher a promise. I’d promised them I’d be quiet. Quiet enough not to embarrass any of us ever again.

Of all the promises I’ve broken to myself, out of failure or necessity, that’s been one of the most critical to my sanity and well-being.

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