“There comes a moment when you realize that virtually anything is possible—that nothing is too good to be true.” ~ Kobi Yamoda

 

“To dream anything that you want to dream, that is the beauty of the human mind.
To do anything that you want to do, that is the strength of the human will.
To trust yourself, to test your limits, that is the courage to succeed.” ~ Bernard Edmond

Skywriter wrote in to remind me that it was a year ago yesterday that Susan Boyle auditioned for Britain’s Got Talent. The Broadcast of that audition to the public aired on April 11, 2009. On April 16, I wrote a post about Susan Boyle (April 16, 2009 Post on Susan Boyle ).

Susan Boyle's Audition on Britain's Got Talent

I went back and looked at that original audition tape, and it still made me tear up; the timbre of her voice when she sang I” Dreamed a Dream” from Les Misérables was so rich and pure. Then I listened to her performance on Oprah, and I noticed a difference: It was still the same voice, a bit more refined, not as powerful, which is probably due to the song itself. But I have to wonder what the world has done to Boyle.

I remember the reports after she did not win Britain’s Got Talent. Boyle checked into a psychiatric facility for exhaustion. The media played up the incident, claiming that fame had gone to the singer’s head, that she couldn’t handle the price of fame, ya da ya da ya da . . . It was almost as if Boyle was being paid back for soaring too high too fast.  I remember that the reports seemed too eager to point out her problems, to say that she wouldn’t be able to fulfill her obligation to tour with BGT.

Then a week ago, there was some report about Boyle causing an incident at Heathrow Airport when she began singing with a mop, and wiped a fellow passenger’s shoes with the mop. Depending upon who you listen to, Boyle was acceding to requests from fellow passengers to sing a song; people were singing with her; the passenger with the shoes was being a spoil-sport. Again, ya da ya da ya da.

“You don’t love a girl because of beauty. You love her because she sings a song only you can understand.” ~ L. J. Smith

Let me rewind a bit. When Susan Boyle first stepped on the stage, she received a questionable welcome from the audience and judges. Much was written about appearances being deceiving. In the weeks and months that followed, Boyle had a makeover, new hair color, plucked brows, new clothes, a bit of makeup. Everyone seemed to be a bit more comfortable with the new-improved version of Boyle.

But what about Boyle herself? She literally rocketed to fame. When her vid from BGT was uploaded, it received 2.5 million views in 72 hours. Requests for Boyle began to filter in. The woman herself worked non-stop throughout the duration of the show. Everyone wanted a piece of Boyle. That she fell prey to exhaustion when the show ended is not too surprising. Before her audition, Boyle had spent almost all of her time caring for her ailing mother. The Scottish woman sang at church, not in front of thousands.

But fame is fickle, and it seemed that the press wanted to make more of the downside to Susan at any available opportunity. Hence the reports of her temper tantrums, escapades, whatever. I mean, the poor woman cannot even leave her house to go shopping without getting her picture taken and people commenting on whether she is wearing makeup. Even Boyle felt a need to comment: “When it all first happened I just thought ‘Oooh, my God’. I didn’t know what to think, It was all so sudden. It felt like a giant demolition ball in a way. The impact of it was so hard. It still is very strange to me. But now I have learned how to deal with it all. You have to put on a front. You have an audience to please and so you get on with it. You have to.”

“For now I’m happy the way I am—short and plump. I would not go in for Botox or anything like that. I’m content with the way I look. What’s wrong with looking like Susan Boyle? What’s the matter with that?” ~ Susan Boyle

Susan Boyle Performing on the Wenschen 2009 Show in Munich

Why am I going on about this? Well, it goes back to that dead horse that I beat frequently, you know the one about judging women based on their physical attributes. Boyle, 48, is single, lives with her cat, claimed never to have been kissed, although admitted that she was having a bit of a go at the judges. Rolling of the eyes at this preposterous woman. If Boyle had opened her mouth and sounded like Pee Wee Herman, the audience would have had a tremendous laugh at her expense, and she would have been ushered off the stage.

Instead, the woman who looked like nothing special turned out to be more than extraordinary. And none of us were expecting that. Did we embrace Boyle harder because she did not fit our stereotypes of hardbodied female vocalists à la Madonna? Perhaps. Did we love her more because she was like us, that is, not rich, not famous, not pampered, not full of a sense of entitlement? Probably. Was it her voice or her demeanor that made us want to stand up and cheer and say “Take that, Simon”? A bit of both.

Which is why I now find myself facing a quandary: If I am to be truthful, do I like Boyle less now that she has become more like them? Was she more likable when we focused on the fact that she was the victim of bullying while in school, that her peers taunted her and called her slow?  “I didn’t mix with other kids much. I was frightened of people because of their reactions toward me . . . It’s complicated,” Boyle recounted in an interview with Harper’s Bazaar last year. Did we empathize more when her tales of singing in front of a mirror with a hairbrush dovetailed with things we had done ourselves?

“But aren’t many gardens beautiful because they are imperfect? . . . Aren’t the strange, new flowers that arise by mistake or misadventure as pleasing as the well-tended and planned?”  ~ Libba Bray

Susan Boyle in Harper's Bazaar, photo by Hugh Stewart

Personally, when I listen to the original audition video, I close my eyes. Not because I can’t stand to look at Boyle, but because I always close my eyes (except when I’m driving) when I am listening to beautiful music: I close my eyes to tune out external stimuli so that I can listen as fully as possible.

I have to admit that when I looked at the video from Oprah, I did not close my eyes. I kept getting distracted. I was wondering about her earrings, her dress, her hair, whether she was wearing too much makeup. I have to wonder if this is a female thing or an American thing or a societal thing . . . by that I mean, my compulsion to look at Boyle now that she has become somebody. Did I like her better when she was frumpy? Is it that rooting for the underdog thing?

Susan Boyle may look more acceptable to the industry now that she has had her redo. But the reality is that she will always be that woman from Scotland who said that she wanted to be famous like Elaine Paige of Cats, Evita, and Hair fame. And how cool that on December 13, 2009, Boyle realized her dream by singing a duet with Paige in an ITV special called “The Susan Boyle Story.” Said Boyle of the surprise duet,  “I never thought I would see myself standing on the same stage with such an icon from West End theatre, let alone singing with her as an equal.”

So I listened again to the performance on Oprah, and this time, I closed my eyes. There it was. A bit quieter, but the same beautiful timbre, the same rich voice—goosebumps.

Susan Boyle singing “Who I Was Meant To Be.” Sit back. Close your eyes, and enjoy.

More later. Peace.

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Obsessions, Compulsions and Possessions

I really hate the term obsessive/compulsive or OCD. Let me explain: I think that it’s fine as far as explain the need to repeatedly wash your hands or check the lights or pull back the covers to look for centipedes. But I don’t think that it goes far enough for some of us. I believe that all of us, whether we admit it or not, have our little quirks, our little obsessions.

For example, one of my best friends in the world, Jammi, is completely obsessed with her hair. I happen to think that she has wonderful hair in its natural state, which is dark brown and wavy. But Jammi spends money to have her hair straightened. Or when she doesn’t have it chemically straightened, she blow dries it until its straight. She hates her hair in its natural state, absolutely hates it, and she is obsessed with having it any other way. I used to joke with her and tell her that a lot of women pay a lot of money to have their hair look the way her hair looks naturally, but no matter. She won’t be swayed because she is convinced that her natural hair is not natural for her. So her hair is her obsession. It doesn’t matter. She’s one of those naturally attractive women no matter what she does with her hair, and I’ve gotten over being jealous of her for that.

I have a former colleague who was completely obsessed with her weight, to the point that she almost starved herself to death—truly. The last time I saw her she weighed 85 pounds. It was a hard thing to watch, but it was one of those things that no one could do anything about. For a while, it began to affect me. I started to count every calorie that went into my mouth. I was down to 1000 calories a day. I began to skip meals. I started to lose weight. I started to obsess. But then my back problems began and fate intervened. I wonder what would have happened if fate hadn’t stepped in, if I would have become as obsessive with my weight. I don’t think so because she had so many other problems contributing to her weight obsession, but who really knows. Sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up in someone else’s obsessions and make them your own.

Believe it or not, I used to be obsessive about cleaning. Every Saturday morning, I would clean my entire house from top to bottom: polish all of the furniture, clean all of the glass, mop the floors, scrub the bathroom top to bottom, change the sheets, do the laundry, vacuum all of the carpets. Every surface that could be touched was cleaned. If someone came over during the middle of the week, there were never any excuses about the way my house looked because it always looked good. Early in my first marriage, our apartment was broken into and robbed. My ex-husband got home before I did and spoke to the police. He was able to tell the police exactly what was touched and what was missing. The officer who spoke with him asked him how he could be so sure about everything. My ex-husband said, “You don’t know my wife. Those closet doors are closed every morning before we leave. That bed is made. Those drawers are always closed.” If we were robbed today, it might take me years before I knew what was missing.

When I was a child of about 9 or so, every night I would lift the covers of my bed all the way to the bottom to make sure there were no centipedes under the covers. I have no idea where this compulsion came from, but to this day, I cannot abide centipedes. Another quirk of mine is that I have to sleep on the side of the bed nearest the door, whether it is the right or the left, it must be nearest the door. I also went through this phase of being obsessive about exercising. I got up every morning before work and did 200 crunches and some light weights. Now that was a good obsession, I believe, but crunches are a thing of the past. I was in the best shape of my life. Then there was the phase when I had to check to make sure I’d unplugged the iron before I left for work. I would do this at least twice, and sometimes I would get out of the car and go back in the house to check again. I now have an iron that shuts off automatically.

Corey is obsessed with Q-tips. He uses four a day. Even though I’ve shown him articles about how Q-tips are actually not supposed to be inserted into the ear, he insists that this be part of his daily routine. It’s a carryover from his childhood. He is also obsessed with his hair; it’s what earned him the moniker Captain Hollywood on one of the boats that he was crewing. But what is so ironic is that he went from very short military hair in the Coast Guard to long hair that he was always messing with (a la Capt. Hollywood) and then back to very short military length. Personally, I like his hair shorter, but not so short, but he freaks if it gets just a little bit long (as in nearing a hair’s breadth of his collar) and insists that it needs to be cut posthaste.

And then there are the obsessions that lead to possessions: I won’t write with anything but #1 pencils if I’m using pencils. I have to have a certain kind of pen, at least medium point gel ink, and I write on graph paper. Maybe that’s my attempt at order. My friend Mari got me addicted to expensive, squishy leather purses so that now I just cannot carry anything but good leather. I love Kenneth Cole wallets, and even though most women wear smaller, metal watches, I still love larger-faced Fossil watches with leather straps, but they are hard to find now. I’ve mentioned my obsession with black boots before, as in I don’t believe that you can ever own enough of them, and the same goes for black leather coats.

And then there is perhaps my worst obsession/possession of all: black carryall bags. This is in addition to the purse. I am the original bag lady. No matter what job I have had, I have always carried two bags—my purse, and my carryall. I think that I will save the discussion on the necessity of the carryall for another entry because that is a page unto itself.

I suppose that our obsessions are what make us individuals. They can be innocuous, like Corey’s Q-tips or my side of the bed choice. They can be a pain in the butt, like my insistence on certain pen choices. Or they can be harmful, like my colleague’s eating disorder. And then sometimes, obsessions can be a whole other class, as in when they take on a life of their own, when the obsession becomes the person we cannot have, or the single-minded need to destroy another person’s career, or in the scariest cases, the desire to destroy another individual completely. Then obsession ceases to be just a quirk and becomes a pathology, and that, my friends, is another animal indeed.