Miranda Myers Barker
There have been but a few moments in my life when Ive felt it. A power. Something beyond me. Ive touched the place where you find the meaning of your life.
My life started on a small island in Washington. Our home was always filled with love and music. I grew up singing and performing plays for my parents. At five years old I made the long, scary journey from my house, to the grade school across the field. A two and a half minute walk with five-year-old legs. I wanted to go home until I found the music waiting for me there. We sang every morning and every afternoon. And there was something else. Plays. Real plays. Big ones, with every one of the sixty students in the school singing and dancing. And there was something else. Stories. Books were alright, but what I really loved was writing my own stories. I think I was seven or eight when I wrote "100 grades". It was about a kid that failed a test and hid the report card from her parents, but learned her lesson in the end. I didnt think much of it, but my teacher put it in the yearbook and my parents mounted it on the wall. The adults were always proud of me for something. But I always thought I couldve done better. I couldve put on a better play. I couldve written a better story. I could have sang so much better. But there was always next time. I knew thered be a next time. And another. And another. And someday theyd see. Someday Id put on a show. A show that I would be proud of.
Acting was my first dream. The year I got the lead role in our grade school musical started it all. I absorbed the high of a performance well done and an audience, pleased. With one hit, I was addicted. I spent the next nine years of my life in the delusions of superficial dreams of becoming a rich and famous movie star. Countless hours spent daydreaming of how I was going to be the youngest actress to win an "Oscar" for staring in, writing and directing the movie that would end violence on earth.
The status of being the star of the show in grade school didnt help too much in high school. Mrs. Hawkins, the drama teacher with two inch-long-witch-curled-fingernails, had a knack for picking out the worst Rogers & Hammerstein musicals in existence. I never got a part better than one or two steps up from the chorus. That was probably my fault for being absolutely terrible at auditions. But still. She should have felt the aura of my awesome movie star presence.
In 12th grade, Mrs. Hawkins started a drama club. I had quit the play that year because I was pissed off about another bit part in another shitty musical. But I couldnt turn down drama club. Maybe I could finally prove to everyone that I didnt suck. Well I must have had a decent audition at last, because I got the lead role in a cheesy forty-five-minute show about a girl (me) that finds a giant Shakespeare book that from out of it pops the most well known Shakespearian characters quoting the most well know Shakespearian lines. It was as corny as they come, but I couldnt have cared less. I was the star and I did damn good too. Now they had to see my potential. So there!
Unfortunately neither Mrs. Hawkins nor my fellow thespians were present for the finest performance of my short acting career. It was only eight minutes long and the stage was my Honors English classroom. But it was definitely "Oscar" worthy. This time it was real Shakespeare. I was Ophelia and anyone who knows Hamlet, knows the scene that I played: the crazy scene. (Ophelia goes crazy after her boyfriend kills her father.)
I bounced into my English classroom, the only one in costume, an old fashioned nightgown, no shoes and hair flailing in all directions. I knew the story. I knew the lines. And I was feelin "crazy."
I could feel the craze in my eyes. I tugged at my dress and ripped at my hair, spinning in circles. I jumped into the audience.
I could feel the excitement in my classmates who had never seen me behave in such a manor before. I knew theyd get a kick out of the next part. I decided that Ophelia shouldnt just be sad, when the king dares to mention her deceased father, she should be furious. So I screamed. Really screamed. Right in the middle of the English building during first period, I screamed at the top of my lungs. They loved it. I even had an English accent. (Im not quite sure where that came from.) They laughed and cheered and cheered and laughed. They would have handed me the "Oscar" right there. Ill always remember the sincere and frightened look from the biggest jock in my class who turned around in our second period class and told me: "I really thought you were crazy." He was definitely scared. I still practice that part at home when I need to remember that Im an actress.
Every once in a while, I remember that I used to write. Not anything Id call good today, but I was just a kid. After the success of my seven-year-old "100 grades" story, I figured that at twelve, I was more than ready to write the screenplay that would launch my acting career. It was called Blackvelvet. I was to play the daughter in a mother-daughter rock band. I assumed that either Cher or Madonna would play my alcoholic mother and Keanu Reeves would play her boyfriend so that we could meet and eventually get married. In the first draft, the daughter was thirteen. (I figured it might take them a year to discover me.) As years passed and the Hollywood talent scouts Id been expecting to show up at my door were a no-show, my character got older and older. Okay, maybe shell be the sixteen-year-old daughter. Okay, seventeen. Well, at least Ill have boobs by the time they find me. Needless to say, they never showed. (It was a really bad script anyway.)
I think I was thirteen when I discovered poetry. I could write a poem so much quicker than an entire screenplay. I loved writing poetry. Not that I wrote about fun subjects. My poems were about drugs, violence, child abuse, incest and murder. (I had quite a social conscious for a pre-teen from a sheltered, functional, two-parent household.) My philosophy was this: shock the audience, make them cry and that will in turn make them think and bring about world peace. (I was a bit of an optimist.)
I only wrote about intense subjects. I thought the poetry about kittens and flowers that I found in books was a joke. How can you affect anyone like that? And most of them didnt even rhyme. I couldnt in any way see the validity of a poem that didnt rhyme. All my poetry rhymed. In fact, before I started each poem, I would write the alphabet on the side of my paper, from top to bottom. This way I could come up with my first line: "A silent tear falls from her eye." Then run the last word from that line down the alphabet. Eye. Okay, buy, cry, die, fie, guy, hi . . . zie. Definitely cry: "Now no tears are left, no tears to cry." And thats how I wrote all my poems. Theyre corny, but I thought they were exquisite at the time. This one even got published.
Its cheesy, but obviously the editors of Into The Unknown liked it enough. It was the only poem Id ever sent to a contest and they put it in their book of unknown authors. My mother told everyone in the free world. A couple months later, they wrote and asked me if they could put it on an audiocassette. Why, of course. And then they wrote me again to ask if they could put it in America At The Millennium: The Best Poems and Poets of the 20th Century. I was a little pissed that I didnt even win any money after they published my poem three times, but I suppose I should be pleased with that.
For the last five years, Ive only written whats been required of me at school. Id almost forgotten that I liked to write. Three months ago, I was reminded. I had to take an English class and I must have been feeling gutsy to pick the advanced essay writing course. I was a little nervous walking into class the first day, but after our first ten-minute in-class writing, I was petrified. Everyone who read out loud had come up with what sounded like the beginning of their novels in ten minutes. I had come up with a jumbled pile of random garbage. Oh, please dont call on me.
But by the second day, I realized that this was going to be different than my regular English classes. I was introduced to the idea of finding and playing with your "written voice." I remembered reading essays in high school that were pretty much, funny stories. (I could do that.) I decided to have fun with my essays. The teacher wasnt stressing rules or structure. So I set out to explore my "written voice." I find it here and there, in the parts of my work that Im happy with. Nothing Ive written in the class has been great. But its all been decent. And in the short amount of time that Ive managed to pull them off, Im pretty happy. Mostly with the realization that I can do better. Im excited for the day when I can devote myself to a piece. When I have the time to write draft after draft. I cant wait to write something that I think is wonderful. This time, I wont forget that Im a writer.
Ive always loved to sing. The only reason Id dreamed of being an actress and not a singer was because I didnt like the idea of traveling so much. But I always figured that Id sing in my movies and put on a concert every once in a while. I love watching singers perform. I wanted to feel that ultimate control over the emotions of your audience.
The moment of truth came my senior year of choir. Everyone knew that the "good choir" put on a show every year, which included the "senior solos." We were each to sing one whole song by ourselves. Id been in choir for six years and had never tried out for a solo. The pressure was on. I had to prove to myself that I wasnt a complete idiot for my stardom delusions of grandeur.
And I did. I tasted the power that day. And all it took was me. And a little classic disco. I know that "I Will Survive" isnt exactly the most soulful song, but I knew its market value. Just as Id planned, the audience was all riled up. They were clapping to the beat. Screaming their heads off. I was a singing and dancing queen. And then my choir started dancing behind me. And then the light guy started flashing different colored lights. (And then I heard my mom and her belly dancing call she saves for my really special performances.) It was so awesome! I do always know how to put on a show. Yes, I hit one bad note that will always ring in my head (especially since my mom plays the video tape every time company comes over). But it didnt even ruin it. It was a ninety-nine point nine, nine percent success. I think my choir teacher was in shock. Oh yeah. I felt the power.
After that, it was no big deal trying out for a solo in our last concert. And this time, no one was surprised when I got the "On My Own" part, from the Les Miserables medley, that all the girls wanted. I nailed it. And this time, I showed my soul. After the concert, one of my fellow thespians, that I had always been jealous of for acing her auditions and getting the lead roles in the plays, told me with honest eyes that I had an incredible voice.
Singing fills my soul like nothing else. When I am alone with my song, words Ive never spoken and melodies Ive never heard, pour out from within. I dont know exactly where they come from, and Im not sure where they are going, but every once in a while, something special comes out and I just have to write it down. I dont know if Ill ever be a "real" singer, but I will always make music. And I have a feeling that when I finally sit back down at the piano Ive hardly touched since fourth grade, it will be the final key. The music is inside me and I will always be a singer.
There have been moments when I know Im an actress. Moments when I know Im a writer. And moments when I know that I am a singer. The spoken word. The written word. And the most beautiful sound in the world: music. These are the languages that can heal a wounded soul. A play that tells your life story. A book that gives you the answers. A song that makes you cry. I no longer yearn for the material comforts of a movie star life. I grow closer to my spirit with every play that I perform, with every story that I write and with every song that I sing. These are the things that have made me who I am and have given me the strength to know that this is who I was meant to be. I do not want to make movies or write stories or sing songs for the sake of money. When all thats left of us is our spirit, all that will matter is the love that we gave and the people we helped with the gifts we were given. Ive only scratched the surface of my healing language and Im growing anxious to explore. For Ive felt the power that language can hold. Ive seen a hand that holds it. Ive heard a voice that brings it to life. Ive witnessed the power of Dr. Maya Angelou.
I thought I knew all about the power of language till the day I heard her speak. Language has so engulfed her that inspiration now seeps from her skin and echoes from her eyes. She spoon-fed my soul for sixty minutes and all I remember is the feeling. Oh, how I wish I could remember the poetry she spoke and the inspiration she fed and the songs she burst into, with her beautiful black voice ringing through the air. "A song flung up to heaven." I remember that. "A song flung up to heaven, flung up to heaven," she sang again. "Flung up to heaven." And was it. I know that in that hour, there was no finer song played on this earth and the angels in the heavens had come down to listen to the power of language in its finest hour. Now as I open I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, even before the first page I am moved. She dedicates her autobiography to her son . . .
Maybe someday I will feel what she must feel. Ive felt the power of the captive audience. I know their laughter. I know their tears. I know the moment when the screams of applause will join our souls for we have both learned from each other. Ive touched the place where you find the meaning of your life. And now I will forever search, for the sounds that heal.