Elle Talent Writing Competition 2012

The following essay is an early draft of my submission to the Elle Magazine Talent Competition.  The first sentence was the stimulus for the piece.  I would appreciate feedback and comments.  Cheers!

Let me tell you about my first love. Like many of my relationships, first love was an imagined affair—a will’o the wisp romance with nothing of substance to offer save self-inflicted heartache. She was no good for me, this first love of mine: My Second Soprano Blonde.

At sixteen I was chosen for Illinois All-State Choir, Second Altos. If you are unfamiliar with choral hierarchy, let me break it down for you. First Sopranos nearly always carry the melody. Divas of the choral world warbling high G sharps or (after a good breakfast) D flats. Meanwhile the remaining choir members strive to make First Sopranos sound like more than helium-sucking melody-hogging finches. We flesh them out like ass pads or stuffed bras on supermodels. For richer harmony, Treble Choirs split into First/Second Soprano and First/Second Alto. That’s me: Second Alto on the Left.

Second Altos are the butches of the choral world. We occupy the bottom line of the treble clef. My voice was low even at sixteen, hence Altoville.

And I hated it.

Sixteen, in the High School Choir Room, I scanned my fellow Second Altos and cringed. We were the Fat Girls, Goth Girls, Sluts, Roughs and Tomboys—nothing like the cutely coiffed Sopranos with their pretty melodies and perky tits. High note hitting bitches.
I wanted so badly to be one at sixteen. I resented harmonising beneath them. I wanted my voice to float, sparkle and frill like a designer prom dress. I wanted to shine musically because nothing else about me did. I wasn’t pretty. I wasn’t girly. I was too dark, too big, too loud, too aggressive and I walked like a pig farmer. I was classic Second Alto material and I begrudged every note of it.

Once a year, the choir director indulged my Soprano aspiration. It never lasted more than one rehearsal. I simply couldn’t cut it musically, emotionally or aesthetically as a Soprano. Another wrong turn on my adolescent Pinocchio quest to become a “real girl”. Because that’s what I really wanted. Being a Soprano meant not being “one of the guys”. I cursed my secret admirer who declared unsung love for me because I was not like “all the other girls who only care about make-up and boys.” He confirmed my worst fear about myself: I wasn’t a proper girl. Sixteen-year-old me destroyed his letter and his heart.

All State Choir helped. I met Second Altos from every corner of Illinois, and we were not all socio-fashion misfits. The one I sat next to even had a pretty name: Gaia. But Gaia was nothing compared to My Second Soprano Blonde.

Our song was A Prairie Woman Sings. The Second Sopranos were struggling. While the Altos held a low note on “fresh loaves are baked” before the Sopranos took over with “and one has time to gather dreams of lovely things,” the Second Sopranos wobbled, stiletto-heeled, around tricky intervals of “the milk has cooled.” The director made them sing it over and over. I glared at the useless, second string divas.

First sight of My Second Soprano Blonde gut punched and blinded me. She was no high-flying melody hog. She was an English Rose—or a Midwestern equivalent. She was a Prairie Rose. Fair hair wisped angelically around her pale face and flushed cheeks. Rosy lips puckered flirtatiously against her sustained notes of “cooled”. Blue eyes gazed uncertainly at the director above her delicate spectacles. I read hope and yearning and desire in those eyes trying so hard to please and get it right.

I was smitten. My Second Soprano Blonde was sweet and fragile and precise as the close-woven harmony she stumbled through. I had never seen anyone so feminine, though she wore the barest lick of make-up. She didn’t have to. Femininity was hers by nature. My unreliable narrator of memory dresses her in Laura Ashley with powder blue flowers and a pussy bow but even a Blue Oyster Cult t-shirt could not have minimised her girlish beauty.

‘She is so beautiful,’ I whispered to Gaia, my voice reverent. Gaia regarded Second Soprano Blonde with vague interest then studied me speculatively, possibly searching for lesbian insignia.

“Pretty eyes,” admitted Gaia with a shrug.

Throughout rehearsal I stared at Second Soprano Blonde, numbly singing harmonius bottom treble lines of Second Alto. “Day has been good with wind and cloud…” How does her hair cloud so prettily around her? “Then rain…” Should I talk to her? “The warm wet earth smells very clean tonight…” Bet she smell of honeysuckle. “And low-flung stars…” And say what? “Are soft as candlelight…” Why does her skin glow like candlelight? “Upon the fields and grass of rolling plain…” What do you say to walking dream?

I didn’t talk to her. I’d love to claim that I didn’t want to shatter my illusions, but truthfully she confused and terrified me. Did I want her or want to be her? Narcissus drowned in vain to kiss his reflection. Is that what she was? A watery vision of the girl I longed to be?

First love reflected an adolescent obsession with femininity and my perceived lack of femaleness. Other women followed Second Soprano Blonde but none matched her. She is a toxic habit I cannot shake, though her poison corrodes my heart. But if love means finding the missing part of yourself, perhaps she was my soul mate.


5 thoughts on “Elle Talent Writing Competition 2012

  1. Hm. ok. Fiction? Fictionalized fact? utter fabrication? I’m talking here about the desire to be “feminine”, not about the soprano.

  2. Well, wow, this took my breath away – maybe it’s because I personally fell SO close to this setting/time frame, it had a downright voyeuristic feeling (for me – but that was part of its irresistibility!) I LOVED the deftly brief mention of the note from the secret admirer being rejected like an unwelcome diagnosis, and the way you weave the songs lyrics in to your internal dialog near the end is just quite nice too. Best Line?: “My unreliable narrator of memory…” though you lost me about ‘pussy bow’, only because I had NO idea what that was (googled it, am fine now – perhaps that’s just me?). Really wonderful, thanks for sharing – :J

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