The Day Siri Broke My Heart

by Tina Francis

Siri_600-1

“Never forget that once upon a time, in an unguarded moment,
you recognized yourself as a friend.”
―Elizabeth Gilbert

HJT, or Horizontal Joke Time, is one of my favourite things about being married.

What is HJT? It’s when the planets mysteriously align and my beau and I wake up in a good mood. We don’t get up. Heck, we don’t even sit up. We just lie in bed (clothing optional), and launch into a Seinfeld-esque monologue about this upside-down Aerosol cheese world. In the comfort of our own bed, we riff about everything from “As Seen on TV” commercials to Donald Trump’s combover.

It’s a place of absolute trust. So the sassy observations, biased stories and sweeping generalizations flow freely and seamlessly. In fact, the only rule of HJT is to keep it outside the family. We makes jokes about the rest of ‘dem crazies in the world, just not each other.

A few months ago, HJT struck on a Wednesday. It was a typical fall morning in Vancouver: rainy, grey, and full of To-Do’s and Hello-What-Are-You-Thinking-Must-Do’s. But Husband and I woke up happy.

After a solid 15 minutes of quality HJT, I leaned over and grabbed my brand new iPhone, eager to experiment with Siri–the digital personal assistant I’d heard so much about.

I muddled with the Home button until I heard her signature boop-boop sound.

Siri: What can I help you with?
Me: [smiling from ear to ear] How’s the weather today?
Siri: I’m not sure what you said.

I looked up at Husband with furrowed brows. “Why won’t she work?”

“Siri is a machine, babe. You can’t talk to it in that soft and timid voice you seem to have adopted lately.”

Oh no, he didn’t! Was I just mocked by Husband during HJT? I felt like I’d been slapped with a thousand dirty diapers.

“You’re mean,” I whispered, before collapsing onto the bed.

“What?” he responded in disbelief.

“Umm… Since when do I have a soft and timid voice?”

He looked straight at me, answering, without hesitation, “February.”

I slumped further into my pillow like a wounded animal. February. Goshdarnit. Figures! That was the month I’d left the security of a day job to pursue writing and photography full-time. Apparently, it was also the month I’d gone tragically mute. Correction: “soft” and “timid.” Words I simply don’t associate with myself.

In high school, I was anything but “soft.” In fact, some boys in my church choir nicknamed me “No.10” because I sang so loud. My voice was apparently the equivalent of 10 people.

Somehow, in the scary, uncertain pursuit of my passions, I had morphed from “No. 10” to “soft and timid.” I think it began because I was ashamed of leaving the corporate world, and this shame had deepened as I bought into the lie of perfectionism in my new career as a creative.

When I first announced my decision to some friends, one of them quipped, “Geez. That’s my dream! I want to marry someone who can take care of me, so I can spend all day making art.” I don’t think she meant to hurt my feelings. She was mostly laughing about her own circumstance. But a whole year later, I still feel the sting of that comment.

Is that how my friends see me now? As some entitled and lazy “Real Housewife” of Central Surrey? Had I lost the nobility of a “real” job that supported my family only to earn the disregard of being an artist? (i.e. Not a real job.)

The truth is, before marriage, I didn’t have the luxury of pursuing a creative career path. My family had immigrated to North America, and in their fifties and sixties, my parents struggled to find jobs that truly compensated their skills and experience. I, on the other hand, eventually landed in a job for which I had no skill or experience, and no sentimental attachment, but which compensated me generously. And it was a godsend for my family’s financial stability at the time. Writing and photography were just things I did on the weekend.

My husband changed all that. He opened up a whole new world of possibilities. We had conversations about how art and stories matter. We talked about how even though artists and storytellers are rarely compensated well, they are the bedrock that shapes society.

So, we tweaked our budget and reassessed our financial goals because we figured it was more important for me to feel like I was making a contribution using my true gifts than to be jaded–my blue icy hands clinging on to a stable paycheck.

And YES, this decision was only possible because we are able to support ourselves on my husband’s paycheck. This ultimately made me feel guilty and privileged. The shame of it silenced me.

I asked myself, if my mom and dad don’t get to work jobs they love, if so many of my friends don’t either, then why do I?

I haven’t found an answer to that one yet. But I have tried to pay back the privilege and guilt by working myself to death. I have let shame drive me to a level of perfectionism that completely undoes the promise and purpose of my calling.

It was so much easier when I was writing and taking pictures in obscurity. It wasn’t my job. I wasn’t selling it or attaching it so openly to my identity. No one was paying attention to me. I was just Little O’ Me playing Lego in my corner after homework. Then Lego became my full-time job. And the crummy two-storey buildings I was constructing suddenly just looked SAD. I needed to build flyovers, tunnels and submarines to feel like my contribution mattered. To feel like I mattered.

Suddenly I felt the (self-imposed) pressure for every photoshoot to be groundbreaking; every blogpost to have high engagement; every random, creative inkling to bear exponential fruit.

I completely forgot what creativity was and why I was so attracted to it in the first place.

The creativity I’d once known was about play, not performance. It was about delight, not perfection; about curiosity and not uniformity.

It was not about following a formula for success: with websites managed like multi-tiered organizations, where Facebook was the storefront and Twitter, the customer service hotline. It wasn’t about measuring myself against the backdrop of other people’s Klout–I mean, Art. It all got too loud, too perfect, and too slick for me.

When I began, I was never striving to be a corporation, or an expert, or influential figure. I was just a girl who set out to capture beauty in the world with my camera and to tell my-life-right-now stories with my pen, so that people I loved and met in the world might feel less alone and less crazy.

That said, my amateur attempts at making art didn’t seem to justify the extravagance of doing it full-time. Unless I was doing something so worthwhile, making actual contributions to the world, shaping history and culture, I didn’t feel I deserved the decadence of making art full-time. How could I justify this, if I was still just finding my voice?

It was a vicious cycle. I felt guilty about doing art full-time. So I tried to do it reallyreallyreally well. But I measured myself against expectations I couldn’t meet, so I felt guilty about doing art full-time. Bahhh!

Shame kept me and my art small, safe and stale.
Shame kept me “soft and timid.”
Shame kept me in bondage.

Shame of being judged for my privilege kept me from confiding in my friends because they are out there working real jobs.

Perfectionism paralyzed and silenced me.
Perfectionism made me doubt my instincts.
Perfectionism made me feel alone and crazy.

But I thought I’d managed to keep this inner battle on the down-lo. I didn’t realize this lack of self-worth had manifested in my voice. I didn’t know the person I loved noticed the very moment I’d been silenced.

Siri, you were the last straw.

You broke my heart. You couldn’t “help” me because you weren’t “sure what [I] said.” This made me wonder how many more people couldn’t hear me anymore? (I mean, hello? That’s kind of important for a storyteller.)

When my rage subsided, you helped me consider why I first chose this path–you know, before I lost my voice. You made me challenge my shame and perfectionism:

“Why am I afraid to dance, I who love music and rhythm and grace and song and laughter? Why am I afraid to live, I who love life and the beauty of flesh and the living colors of the earth and sky and sea? Why am I afraid to love, I who love love?” ― Eugene O’Neill

You reminded me of a time when I was not afraid.

You made me want to be brave again.

 

27 Responses to “The Day Siri Broke My Heart”

  1. Bethany Bassett February 17, 2014 at 3:42 am #

    Thanks to this post, I now have whiplash from nodding so adamantly in agreement. :D Joking aside, YES. I GET IT. The shame of privilege, the rapidly increasing (though still all-in-your-head) stakes, the desperation to justify your decision, the urgency to “make it” in the world… I get it all. I go through it all too, and the struggle to find a way out of the shame and urgency has resulted more than once in my decision to give up. I’ve taken unfulfilling jobs just to feel like I was contributing even though the cost to my family was having a depressed zombie for a wife and mom. None of those defeat-jobs was ever worth the emotional or relational toll it took on me, and I’ve come to accept that the struggle with that guilt and desperation–everything you wrote about–is the price of creative entrepreneurship. (That, and the actual price of decreased income, of course.) I fight every day against snide internal remarks about undeserved privilege and personal inadequacy, but I try to accept them like I once accepted long commutes and frustrating bosses. (Key word: “try.”) It’s always easier when I’m reminded that I’m not alone in this experience, so I’m doubly glad that you wrote about this today. And for the record? I sure do like your voice.

  2. Christy February 17, 2014 at 5:17 am #

    When I first read this post, I wondered if you had stolen it from the pages of my own heart. While ‘timid’ and ‘soft’ could be replaced by ‘uncertain’ and ‘insecure’ on my part, this is my song to a “T”. How does this happen to us? How do we re-clothe ourselves in that little black dress called “brave”?

  3. Caroline Starr Rose February 17, 2014 at 7:01 am #

    This reminds me so much of my decision to quit teaching and pursue writing full time. At the time, I’d been writing for eleven years and had “nothing” to show for it except four novel and ten picture book manuscripts. No agent. No offer. Nothing else.

    It was weird and terrifying and crazy trying to explain to others what I was doing. My decision didn’t make sense. There was no security of a book deal. Heck, even with several book deals, the conventional wisdom is to continue at your day job. I worried the agents I approached would see me as naive. But I felt like I was on the cusp of something, some sort of change in my writing life. And I knew I couldn’t keep burning the candle at both ends, as I had been doing.

    Like you, having the choice in the first place was a luxury. One I’ll be eternally grateful for. Like you, I hustled to have something to show for it.

    I get exactly where you are, and I’m celebrating for you over here in New Mexico! Here’s to bravery and art.

  4. D.L. Mayfield February 17, 2014 at 7:35 am #

    I am coming at this from a different place, but also rebounding from intense amounts of shame/insecurity that I masked with absolute and utter busyness (which I thought meant productivity). I’ve been dwelling a lot on the passages of Scripture that talk about walking confidently in the gifts God has given us. It is helping, slowly. So is the reminder to Keep Art Weird :)

  5. Grace February 17, 2014 at 8:19 am #

    This punched me right in the solar plexus. It’s just named the unnameable struggle I didn’t realize I was going through. I knew something was wrong, I just couldn’t peg it.
    I feel you 100% here– perfectionism takes your art and makes it a trial. I am studying theatre arts and performance, and I can feel the weight of perfectionism taking the experience from a complete joy, to a frightening set of what-if scenarios.
    What if this isn’t good enough?
    What if I don’t outshine the others?
    What if I’m not a convincing actress, or if I interpret this scene “wrongly.”
    Let’s give up perfectionism and enjoy the art, the process, instead.

  6. Anne-Marie February 17, 2014 at 10:00 am #

    Here are a few things I know for sure about you:

    Your voice is beautiful – soft or loud, written, or visual.
    You work very hard, especially for others,
    and your honesty gives strength to those around you, like me. Creative pushing that perfection button out of shame and guilt.

    Thanks for once again brilliantly accessing an oh-so-familiar scenario. By taking time to share the gifts you’ve been given.

  7. Matt S February 17, 2014 at 10:18 am #

    Tina, thank you for your soul-bearing post. I work a job, but often feel the shame in my job, and the shame that I take time to make art beyond it. I’m in youth ministry, and I hear the men of my church often make jokes (and they intend them as jokes) about wanting to see me do some real work, wondering when I am gonna move on to real ministry, etc. The jokes don’t feel like jokes in my soul. And they drive me away from being creative and Spirit-led. They lead me to try to be corporate in my approach to ministry. So thank you for reminding me to be strong in who God made me this morning!

  8. Esther February 17, 2014 at 10:49 am #

    Tina, I needed this post today. I’m kind of in the middle of something like this myself. (I went pro, so now I have to be “pro”…right? And that’s a great excuse to second guess EVERYTHING I DO.) I am so grateful that you understand. And your voice isn’t coming through soft and timid today. xoxo

  9. Maggie H Johnson February 17, 2014 at 11:17 am #

    Oh my word. SO needed this today. As one who is working toward writing full-time, I fight this fear daily. Thanks for your vulnerability. Sometimes it just means the world to have a “you too? me too” moment.

  10. chelsea February 17, 2014 at 12:25 pm #

    WOW. wowowowowow. This is so beautiful, painful, honest, real. Thank you for sharing. I can relate to much of what you shared and I needed to hear it!

  11. Nicole Joshua February 17, 2014 at 1:08 pm #

    Today, Tina, you are roaring. It’s good to hear you again. Missed your voice.

    Ditto to everything above… Ditto to the shame, the striving for perfection, the guilt of being able to do what I love because my husband’s salary gives me the privilege to do so. Siri did not make me want to be brave again… Your voice did teenbug.

    Thank you.
    Love you loads. (Can’t wait to see you in April)

  12. Claire De Boer February 17, 2014 at 1:43 pm #

    Beautiful words my friend. I love this story of finding yourself and your voice and the vulnerability with which you tell it. Your voice matters, to me and everyone around you. Sing it girl!

  13. Idelette February 17, 2014 at 2:15 pm #

    O, Siri …

    I love you and your gifts and like Anne-Marie said, whether your voice is loud or soft, you are loved.

    You expressed this BEAUTIFULLY, by the way.

    I love what Danielle said: Keep Art Weird. Sounds about right?!!!!!

    You keep going, girl! Jia-you. xo

  14. Daniela February 17, 2014 at 2:27 pm #

    I love all your voices. It has been a privilege to watch you in this season and grow as an artist. I don’t care if you are quiet, just never be silent. You have so much to add to this world with your creativity and words.

    xoxo

  15. rachel lee February 17, 2014 at 2:28 pm #

    oh Tina, friend, I needed this post today. I’m feeling both sides of this coin, this boldness and this strange timidity that my current circumstances brought with them.

    I’m keeping these words close.

  16. Diana Trautwein February 17, 2014 at 3:08 pm #

    Well, miss teen-bug-you have hit a gigantic nerve with this one. One that has actually inspired the post I desperately need to write right.now for this very page. I’m grateful that the youth pastor signed on here, too, because I tend to think of this issue as a female one and I don’t think that’s true. Yes, Tina. It is a privilege to be able to share your life with a man who loves you and sees you. It is a privilege to give up a job that saps you and to embrace your gifts. But it is also a gift, one that you’ve been given for a long list of reasons, chief of which are YOUR TALENTS. Lean into who you are, love yourself and then jump into the pool and swim for the sheer joy of it! It will not always be joyful, of course. Every job has its grungy parts, even art jobs. Deadlines will loom, people will be cranky and demanding, and records — pesky things!! — will have to be kept. BUT you’re YOU, you have a beautiful, unique, exotic, velvety voice. And we need it. Oh, yes, we NEED IT. So speak up, beautiful girl. Speak.Up.

  17. Kelli Woodford February 17, 2014 at 4:21 pm #

    That less alone and less crazy thing? Yeah. You do that well.

    I love your voice. February or not.

  18. Saskia February 17, 2014 at 4:57 pm #

    WOAH Tina — This post resonates.

    Seriously, it feels like a piece of a conversation I was having last night. Replace art with ‘social justice, missions, volunteer work’ stuff and the whole – how did I get so privileged question just keeps circling. And then, who am I to be doing what I am doing, and shouldn’t I be making some kind of plan to be doing a job unrelated to these things because what right do I have to be where I am at… and I don’t want to be looking down on anyone else for what they are doing so what right do I have to do what I love, and so it goes from there, down the long tunnel of shame and fear.

    Sometimes girl, you just say All The Things, and you say them so eloquently, and with punch and humour, and I am so grateful for it!

    This: “This ultimately made me feel guilty and privileged. The shame of it silenced me.

    I asked myself, if my mom and dad don’t get to work jobs they love, if so many of my friends don’t either, then why do I?”

    And this: “But I have tried to pay back the privilege and guilt by working myself to death. I have let shame drive me to a level of perfectionism that completely undoes the promise and purpose of my calling.”

    Just hits home.

    Also, real housewives of Surrey, I laughed out loud at that.

    I love you, I love your art, and I am so thankful for your voice.

    Xxxxxx

  19. Jana February 17, 2014 at 5:42 pm #

    Do not keep silent, friend. Married or single, in Paris or at home, your gifts are needed and bring joy and peace. Don’t let the “survivor’s guilt” silence your voice.

    xoxo

  20. thankyou February 17, 2014 at 8:53 pm #

    Thank you for your voice. Speak, because you were made to.

    You obviously have a real gift for writing – because you are one of a few brilliant writers who writes with concision and with guts. Thank you for writing so honestly and real-ly.

  21. Bev Murrill February 17, 2014 at 9:40 pm #

    I love the brilliant words of Marianne Williamson:

    ‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.’

    Maybe these words are cliche, but I think not. I know that the man we all respect so highly, Mandela, used this very quote. Maybe he felt that same as you do… as we all do sometimes.

    We ask ourselves… why me? Maybe the only answer to that can be ‘Why not me?’

    Your posts, and Kup’s too, always speak to my heart. I love your fearless boldness.

  22. Erin Wilson February 18, 2014 at 5:08 am #

    Wouldn’t it be a shame if all the birds in the forest stopped flying because they’d seen birds in cages.

    As ever, looking forward to seeing where you fly…

  23. Sana February 18, 2014 at 10:15 am #

    I feel you teenbug <3 you have penned the feelings I could not pen into words…. here's to keep finding our bravery and the joy in our art our work our souls, the pure joy instead of treating it like "real work"…. here's to gratitude of being able to walk this path, soak in it my darling tiny <3 …. you inspire so many by walking this path….

  24. Andee Zomerman February 18, 2014 at 1:36 pm #

    We don’t know each other, but were you in my therapist’s office yesterday? I only ask because I had this exact conversation with her. I can’t get over the guilt of being able to do what I want to do because my husband’s paycheck is sufficient. Not when so many of my friends are in jobs they hate because they need the income. Still struggling with this. Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone.

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