In which I discuss why I couldn’t do anything during the Expo.
Wednesday morning, I woke up with that taste in my mouth. A familiar taste. One I’ve come to dread.
Upper respiratory infection.
Within half an hour of being upright and mobile, I realized the problem was really bad. I had a double infection, in my sinuses as well as my lungs. I knew this because of how many times I’ve had URIs over the years. With my allergies and asthma, I expect to get sick a lot. I also know when I’ve encountered something that will make me sick.
It started on 1 November, when I was at my Side Job. A cleaning lady was tidying bathrooms, and when I walked past, the chemicals rugby-tackled my sinuses and dragged me through the histamine mud. In less than a minute. As a result, I caught whatever virus was going around town, and you can’t treat viruses with antibiotics. Or if you can, I don’t know about it.
So I sniffled and ached my way through the month, missing several days at the Side Job because I was in bed, coughing and hurting and not sleeping. The week before the Expo, I decided to take a round of antibiotics to hopefully stave off a bacterial infection, which is what I usually get. What I got was a side effect I won’t discuss here and a double infection on that Wednesday morning.
After all the setbacks from the last month, was this the final straw? The last nail? The ultimate sign that I didn’t need to be wasting my time on this foolish dream?
Whether it was or not, I had a carpool waiting on me. I couldn’t back out and leave them in the lurch! Plus, I didn’t feel that bad, for all the nasty gunk coming from two directions. I sounded a bit froggy, but it wasn’t so bad. I said a quick prayer, felt peace about going, and loaded up the vehicle. We drove down, checked in, and began the Expo.
Thursday morning, I woke up with even more gunk and even less voice. I also coughed up some blood. When I tried to sing, only air came out. I didn’t have a single note, not even in chest voice. Thursday was the first round of the singing competition. Singing had always been my greatest skill and talent.
Was this proof that I’d made a stupid decision? Here I was, unable to do the one thing I’m really good at, stuck at an Expo I’d paid too much for, and I had nothing to show for it. How could I impress agents or scouts with no voice? What good was any of this?
For whatever reason, I felt no despair. I felt no self-recrimination. I didn’t doubt that my being at the Expo was a good thing. Somehow, some way, I had an incredible lightness in my heart that said, “There’s no point in getting or staying upset about this. Do the best you can with what you have.”
I took a few hours in the middle of Thursday to find a Doc-in-the-box, get a couple of shots, and fill a script for antibiotics. The pocket money that had come at the last moment? Exactly the amount to pay for the visit and treatment. Within a few hours, I could feel the benefit of the shots. Back to the Expo I went.
By Friday morning, I had some chest voice back and felt a little more human. My wonderful agent had taken my resume, which consists of primarily singing roles in operas and musicals, and persuaded someone to let me into the second round despite my failure to show the day before. I took up the mic, croaked out my two verses, and marveled that the selection I’d chosen for round 2 used only my chest voice. Had I used my round 1 selection, I would have needed head voice.
Maybe this hadn’t been a complete fiasco. Sure, I wouldn’t win any awards for my barely-tolerable performance, but surely the music scouts out there were capable of detecting a trained voice under an illness. I was heard, and that was my goal. Worked for me.
As an added bonus, when I walked backstage to pass off the mic, I saw myself on the video screen and thought, “Hey, I don’t look hideously fat in that picture.” My confidence rose a little. Celebrate the small victories, my friends.
Events and seminars continued all day and night. I didn’t do as much trawling for hands to shake as I could have for two reasons. One, I needed extra sleep and took naps when I could to regain my health. Two, I had the darndest time figuring out who the scouts and agents were! Most of them were in the auditions and not wandering the hotel, so I gave up trying to corner them and slept instead.
Saturday morning came way too early; we had the cold-read audition at 730am. My chest voice was more solid, but I still had no head voice. I lived on cough drops; no sooner did one dissolve than I popped another in. Under my tongue, in my cheek, anywhere I could tuck it so that I could still talk. The inside of my mouth was raw and scraped from the hard edges of fresh lozenges. I discovered that we tend to leak a little saliva at the corners of our mouths when we talk, and the medicated spit inside my face quickly chapped the edges of my lips. Good thing I had a lot of lip balm with me! I refreshed it as often as I did the cough drops.
The staff member handing out the slips of paper with our cold reads gave me what was perhaps the best possible script for a sick woman. As a friend of mine said, I was rocking the 1-900 voice, and the paragraph in my hand was perfect for the smokey, sultry timbre of my infection-addled speech. I doubt the staff member knew I was sick or that my voice sounded as bad as it did. He could have given me any of a dozen readings, and he handed me one that I could do well in my condition. Once again, chance that might just be providence.
After the cold reads, I went hunting for the little old man who had said the night before that he was auditioning for scholarships to acting school. I found him, introduced myself, and asked for an audition. Sheryl wandered by just then and greeted him. She’s sent many talents to his school, and she built me up to him. In moments, David Vando agreed to audition me and went in search of a quiet spot. All the rooms were locked, so we made use of the hallway. I presented my monologue, received some excellent coaching and feedback on it, and croaked out a verse of a song for him. I thought it went rather well, all things considered.
All through this, my attitude stayed lifted. I don’t know why or how. I had every reason to weep and wail, ample justification to give up and go home. It wasn’t hard to stay positive, to enjoy myself immensely, to encourage everyone I came in contact with. I can think of no other explanation than God was with me, giving me strength because I had none.
After another quick nap, it was time for the one-on-ones with the agents. I didn’t think any of them would summon me, so I decided to visit as many of them as I could in the short time I had. Well, the ones I might remotely be of interest to; I’m not high fashion model material, and that’s ok. I jumped from line to line, smiling and handing over resumes and comp cards, and trying not to cough on anyone. I wasn’t offended when one scout pulled out hand sanitizer and doused himself.
I then discovered that too many cough drops can mess with the nerves in your mouth, and my smile was really creepy because my entire jaw was twitching uncontrollably. I’m not surprised that few of the agents seemed entirely comfortable around me: I was sick, looked sick, sounded sick, and had a shaky, Ima-KEEL-yoo smile. Oy, vey.
To my delight, I did get three callbacks. Perhaps my singing hadn’t been as bad as I’d thought, because one callback was for musical performance. Lots of my fellows got more callbacks than I did, and I was able to honestly rejoice with them and not feel jealous or deprived. I could feel my energy lagging, my mental focus waning, but my hope stayed full. I wanted nothing more than to crawl into bed, but I didn’t fall prey to misery.
If that is not God’s abundant grace in a time of need, I don’t know what qualifies.
Sunday morning, I had a third of my head voice back. By that I mean I could lightly sing the notes required for the song my agency had been preparing. This Expo was the 20th anniversary, and we’d been asked to perform special music. I’ll admit that I had been very arrogant during our rehearsal times. I knew I was the best singer in the group; I had training and performance experience.
Sunday morning, however, I had only deep gratitude that I would be able to help my agency perform the piece. I was the only one on my vocal part, and if I didn’t sing, the whole thing would suffer. I didn’t want to do that to them, not when this was just as much their chance to shine in front of the entire Expo as it was mine. I wasn’t going to sparkle, not with my situation, but dangit, I was going to make sure they got their chance. Praise God, I was able to.
After the awards ceremony (more on that in a future post), we drove back home. I did have to pull over and have one of my carpoolers drive for a while because my eyes were doing things that made the road double, but we made it without issue. I got home and passed out, and two weeks later, I’m still struggling with crud, congestion, and constricted singing.
The moral of this portion of the tale is simple: your circumstances neither define you nor set your boundaries. I made it through the Expo when I was one step from pneumonia. I stayed positive when I had no reason to be conscious. Through it all, I had hands under my arms, lifting me up.
Whatever your beliefs or experience, I cannot deny that I had supernatural help throughout the entire weekend. And I think that’s an amazing thing.
See, if everything had gone as hoped for, I really don’t think the Expo would have gone so well for me. If I’d had my full voice, I would have been crushed if I didn’t make the finals for singing. Had I not placed in the acting when I was at my best, I would have slunk back home and never attempted another audition. Had I not been so completely without any ability, any strength, I would have walked in arrogance that would turn everyone around me away.
This was probably the best exercise in humiliation I’ve ever gone through. I was humbled by my utter inability to do anything, deprived of the strength I’ve built my life on, and I was happy. Joyful, even. I had an amazing time, most likely because I knew that whatever happened was in God’s hands. I wasn’t responsible for anything but showing up. Like me, despise me, I didn’t care. I went to have fun and try something different.
Being sick isn’t as bad as we might think.