My best friend Desi calls it the “devil king”. It’s a term from Buddhism, and from the way she tells it, the devil king sits on your shoulder and whispers bad things into your ear. Things like, “you can’t do this”, “just give up”, and “you’re going to fail”.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I struggle a lot with my devil king. He’s been there since I was a kid, encouraging me to stick to the status quo, stay in my comfort zone. Once upon a time as a 15-year-old studying voice at the High School of Music, Art & the Performing Arts in NYC, our ancient, white-haired, hunched-over, notoriously mean vocal teacher told the class that if we could be happy doing anything else in life besides being an artist, to do THAT.
My devil king’s ears perked up. “See?” it said. “You’re never going to make it. What she said. Do THAT.” And even though I loved singing and performing, even though I would go on to perform on TV numerous times, and in renowned theaters like Radio City Music Hall and the Paramount at Madison Square Garden, even though the passion for music never left me, I listened.
I studied journalism and eventually became a reporter, then a corporate communicator. Through the years, I’d look around at my friends, exponentially more talented than I, but who were struggling as artists, who couldn’t pay their rent, who had to take odd jobs to make ends meet, who had to hustle, and my devil king would sit back and smugly whisper: “See? You never would have made it.”
Still, I wasn’t a complete coward. I moved to Europe for the love of my life, learned another language, built a career, popped out a few kids, generally pursued happiness as best I could, and never stopped singing, in the shower, in a choir, in a band.
Then, last year, suddenly and cruelly, in the middle of my carefully crafted happy status quo, tragedy strikes. The kind you never recover from, the kind that makes even getting out of bed in the morning an accomplishment to be proud of. When I resurface for air I find that music seems to be the only thing that still makes me happy, without asking for anything in return.
I suddenly have a lot to say, and the songs keep coming. A long-time dream of recording my own songs and releasing an EP peeks its head out cautiously from a lost corner of my heart.
The devil king tries halfheartedly: “you’re never going to make it”, he mumbles, mostly out of habit.
But you know what? It’s not about “making it”. I don’t even know what that means. I think it’s about recognizing that having anything that makes me feel good right now is a gift. About carefully watering whichever flower is brave enough to grow in this garden of weeds inside my heart. I’m doing this for the pure act of DOING it. Because it makes me happy.
And remarkably, wisely, the devil king keeps his big fat mouth shut.