I suppose the preamble to this post is that I am a descendent of a long line of prairie women and farmers, and as such, I am congenitally practical. Practicality is a key component of my midwestern DNA, as is, I fear, the tendency to regard any dish that contains mayonnaise as a salad. But I digress.
The point is, as a rule, I don’t go in for “woo.” I’m not one of those people who believes that the “Universe” is listening to my “intentions” and sending me signs or messages in reply.
Every year, as December winds to a close, I find that a single word will float, unbidden, to the forefront of my mind, usually many times, and become something of a verbal talisman for the year ahead. (I know. If that isn’t “woo,” what is? I can’t even type this without cringing, because I can just hear my grandmother, her vowels as flat as the South Dakota prairie, clucking in disapproval and asking me why I don’t go to Mass anymore. Again, I digress.)
In years past, action, faith, and fruition have all been my one-word mantras. This year, though, the word that kept coming to mind again and again and again was…acceptance. To put it mildly, I was not pleased.
“Acceptance,” I thought, was rather too closely aligned with “defeat,” or at least “surrender.” And what exactly was I to accept, anyway? I mean, I have practicing to do, weight to lose, and career milestones to hit. No. Another word, please. ANOTHER WORD. Try as I might, though, I couldn’t come up with another word that carried the resonance of “acceptance,” so I began to explore what acceptance might mean for me in this new year.
What would it feel like to accept, rather than fight, the hilariously obvious reality that I am older now, and trying to regain the physique I had ten years ago would not only be a battle, it would be a perpetually losing one? My life a decade ago was one of waiting tables, climbing the stairs of a fifth-floor walkup multiple times a day, and never cooking at home (let alone hosting dinner parties, which is one of my favorite things to do). What would it feel like to just work out because it feels good? What if I just accepted my body exactly the way it is, without any apologies or complaints, and decided to just wear my swimsuit and have a great fucking time at the beach?
What if I decided that my career is fine just the way it is, with some gigs that are fancy and exciting, and other gigs that are not at all glamorous, but are nonetheless opportunities to sing and be surrounded by musicians, some of my favorite people on the planet? What if the things that seem effortless for so many of my singer friends—harmony, form, improvisation—will never, ever come easily to me, and that’s okay?
Well, we’re a few weeks into 2016 by now, and I can, unequivocally, tell you this: embracing “acceptance” as my one-word touchstone has been a goddamn revelation. I am here and it is now. Neither my body nor my musicality can be described as “perfect” (whatever that even means), but nonetheless, I’m going to show up every day and do the best I can with what I’ve been given.
Here’s a little secret that I didn’t know when the word “acceptance” stubbornly insisted on being my North Star for 2016: acceptance is more about self-love and kindness than it is about defeat or surrender. Choosing to better the things I can and be at peace with what is immutable is, as it turns out, right in line with the pragmatism that is my midwestern birthright. Perhaps my grandmother would not be clucking in disapproval, after all.