The Awkward (not so relaxing) Retreat with Pedestal Syndrome (and how I just about overcame it!)
In February of 2018, I took an epic trip to Hawaii to sing my heart out with song/voice goddess Ayla Nereo. I’d first come across Ayla’s voice workshop when I was invited in August of 2017 to a rather intimate studio session with her. It was a public event, but I had received 2-3 invites on Facebook from various people. I didn’t know anything about Ayla or her music, but I love to sing. Also, one of the invites came from an artist who I admired. The workshop was subtly explosive for me. Internal bangs and zips and whoops happened at the gathering. It was lovely and it was beyond lovely. Sirens of joy went off in my head over the way Ayla brought us together around her, as she made up a little diddy to get us started singing with no plan, only with intuition and heart and spontaneity – just a made-up song along with her voice and her guitar. We’d literally come together in the center of the room and harmonized with about 40-50 strangers. The only “rule” I remember her having was to add to the song in some way with your voice – listen to others to get a sense of how you could add to the overall song. I’m not even sure this is what she said, but this is how I remember it. I left this workshop elated, with an open voice, and an open heart.
So when I found out Ayla would be a part of a longer retreat/workshop in Hawaii the following February and there would be several voice sessions, perhaps even longer ones, I made plans to join her and a bunch of strangers who would also be on retreat. I had grown to love Ayla’s music. She remained humble in the face of her relative fame and I had discovered her through a song workshop rather than as a musician to admire, and since I’m not an aspiring musician myself, perhaps this is why I didn’t have the same “pedestal syndrome” feeling about her that several of the workshop participants had. However, a day or so before I left for the workshop, the joke was on me, as I discovered via social media that the artist who had inspired me to start painting, to explore painting, and to continue painting - the artist who had inspired me to exchange my mixed media materials for only a paintbrush, and to later restructure my laundry room into an art studio - would be at the same workshop.
I began to think of the workshop differently. I could no longer look forward to it in blissful wonder and excitement – now I was nervous. I tried not to be, but how do you anticipate meeting your muse, your object of admiration, without feeling a little starry-eyed and dorky? And knowing we would be in retreat together for 5 days was definitely a new spin on things and for a moment, I considered backing out.
Of course, I didn’t back out. I flew to Hawaii and participated in the retreat. And all the while I was hero-worshipping, feeling not good enough to meet her (Imposter!!), my relatively well-known artist muse in the room, experiencing the same retreat as I was. I could see that my ideas about her were keeping me from actually getting to know her – even meeting her. I stayed away from her, avoided eye contact, and walked past her as if she didn’t exist…all because I so wanted to meet her, to talk to her, to know her. Makes sense, right?
By the second or third day of this, I’d had enough. I walked up to her at meal time and sat in the chair next to her. And I told her. I TOLD her that I had put her on a pedestal. I told what a great influence she’d been in my life. I told her that I felt like I knew her because I watch her on social media all the time and that It was weird that she didn’t know me since I saw her so often! I tried not to be too fan-girlish about it, just told her from a place of honesty. And she was really cool about it. And do you know what she said? She said, “Well, I know you now!” And that made it all better. For a minute.
I went back to being a weirdo around her. I mean, I thought so – who knows what she thought. The irony about all this being that most of the people there also had pedestal syndrome, except they were all just hero-worshipping Ayla, our singing retreat leader – not another participant!! And the thing is, I’m relatively confident and pretty comfortable in my own skin 97% of the time. So why was this happening?
On the last day of the trip almost everyone had left. A few people, including myself, had one extra night there – and we went to a kava bar in downtown Kona. Lo and behold, up walked my artist muse with another retreat participant. There were six of us. We shared kava, then walked along the main road to go eat at a restaurant overlooking the ocean. I enjoyed this time but I was so dang AWARE of her presence there – so excited to be sharing a meal with this talented woman. I kept telling myself, “she’s just human, like you!” Having dinner as a group with these new friends was helpful, although in my memory I was still a total self-conscious dork, putting the spotlight on my own shortcomings, trying to seem more awesome than I felt, making a silly faux pas about the bill. I was my own worst enemy.
Until it was time to depart. Six of us stood around chatting in the parking lot after dinner. Three of us going one way, three going another. We paired up with each of the three one at a time, taking turns, saying our goodbyes. She was my last goodbye, and finally, it felt normal and okay and I didn’t spaz about it. Not even inside. Maybe I just needed time to be around her in a normal situation – like, eating dinner, hanging out in a parking lot chatting – super normal.
There was no obligatory follow on Instagram. She would not be seeking me out on social media. So I’m sure the dork factor weighed heavily enough that there was no urge on her part to further our brief rapport. It’s ok. Good enough. I got through it. In the end I felt her normalness alongside my own. I got past my hero-worship. I still look to her for inspiration on social media. I still go ga-ga over her art. But just maybe since I was able to spend a little bit of “normal” time with her - over dinner and chatting in a parking lot!, I might not be such a ding-dong the next time I see her, if I see her. Maybe.