Archive | August, 2011

What Sade (and LL Cool J) taught me about comebacks

29 Aug

My husband and I saw Sade back in July. It was pricey but worth it. After all, we loved Sade enough to dance the first dance at our wedding to one of her songs. We got the chance for a live encore in our new city. Like we were supposed to NOT GO?

In case you are too young or too hip to know who Sade is, listen to 80’s saxy Sade, 90’s mermaid Sade, and 10’s drumline Sade.  If you don’t know who LL Cool J is, I’m just sorry. But ladies do love cool James. (And angry jams.)

We live our lives coming back from one thing or another: a career change, the end of a long relationship, the death of a loved one, a severe illness, or a natural disaster. Something knocks us out for a while and we spend our days climbing off the mat, figuring out if we even want to get back in the ring.

You start seeing the darkness as the light–it feels warm and it looks strangely comforting. So instead of getting the hell out of there, you embrace the negativity–you sprint toward it like it’s the holy grail. Only it’s the one that will eviscerate you if you drink from it. It’s only then you learn that you “chose poorly.” Only you can’t learn that because you’re a pile of Nazi rubble.

We all find comfort in negativity at times. The trick is not to let yourself stay there if you want to come back.

“One thing I know is that positive things don’t happen if you’re in a negative frame of mind.” (Sade Adu to Jet Magazine)

I recently had to come back from getting laid off, which put me into a career backslide I didn’t expect. This surprised me because I knew I was likely to lose my job. I thought that would make it suck less to actually lose it. I was a fool. Just like all of us who think we’ll handle everything awesomely until we don’t. After a summer of waiting and confusion, I’m back in the classroom trying find my inner teacher again.

My other attempted comeback involves fitness. Or redirecting my year of ignoring it. There’s always a strong dose of humility involved in restarting one’s physical fitness (and a dozen negative-thinking landmines to try and sabotage you along the way). Again I turn to Sade’s history.

A talented British band found Nigerian-born singer Sade Adu.  After all, gorgeous front woman = success (usually). Turns out Sade was shy on stage but passionate about songwriting. Despite pressure from record companies to lose her band (led by the talented Stuart Matthewman), Adu refused to sign without them. She won and 1984’s Diamond Life began a long, though sometimes intermittent career for the band Sade.

The reason Sade is able to come back over and over again is because she stopped listening to negativity. After working through a failed marriage, she disappeared from the music scene for a while and rumors swirled about her mental health, and potential heroin addiction. At that point she stopped reading the press releases and worked on herself. When you take 8 and 10-year breaks between albums, people start to talk. But the more I read about Sade, the more I understand it. The creative process is so draining, and if you don’t take time away from your work to fuel your work, the break-neck, life-stealing pace of modern life will eat your soul.

“You can only grow as an artist as long as you allow yourself the time to grow as a person,” Sade says. “[My bandmates and I are] all parents, our lives have all moved on. I couldn’t have made Soldier of Love [2010] any time before now, and though it’s been a long wait for the fans – and I am sorry about that – I’m incredibly proud of it.” (Sade Adu)

This is where our philosophies align. I work better in cycles: a time for work, a time for less work, more reflection. Which is why I loved teaching for so long: the beginning and ending of school years give you that time to recharge and be awesome again for your students.

Then I started thinking I didn’t love it and then people told me I couldn’t do it anymore. Maybe. Probably. Maybe not. I have recently been rehired as a teacher at my old school for one year because another teacher left. But she might come back next year. Or she might not. In the meantime I am trying my best to motivate my new freshmen to succeed, but I have my work cut out for me this time. Instead of helping most students enhance their writing or perfect their diction and style, I will be helping some of them just write a sentence. It requires a different mindset, but it’s no less important.

On the fitness front, some days it’s a struggle to make the time to go to our new gym. And do as much as it takes to actually get my muscles back while I’m there. One big helper has been the Kindle: by combining gym time with reading time, I’m much more fulfilled. Granted, I had difficulty reading Tolstoy while my heartbeat climbed to 180 beats per minute, but once I switched to young adult science fiction like The Hunger Games series and the now-a-movie The Help, I’m a master of efficiency. Tina Fey’s Bossy Pants is up next.

But I must not be doing as well as I thought because a woman approached me at the gym today to offer me a free makeover. Thank you? I said no mostly because she looked like she had a frequent knifer card from a plastic surgery mill. But anyone who approaches me while I’m stretching is scary. Sadly, this is not my first time. People, please learn gym code!

Lately I’ve been more optimistic about my comebacks. I have precedents to reflect on.

I’ve neglected my fitness before and come back in better shape (and turned myself into enough of a runner for a 10K). I’ve also become disillusioned with  my job before and found my inspiration again.

So don’t call it a comeback. I’ve been here for years.