Dame Blanche

This story starts at a restaurant near the Sacré Cœur, but it won’t end there. There’s more to tell before and after. I am choosing to begin with dessert.49759214_10156642200665272_7175104310940794880_o Literally.

For all my Outlander fans, in Paris (or maybe all of France, I don’t know) a “Dame Blanche” is a vanilla ice cream dessert with hot fudge and lots of Chantilly cream. Not only is it rich and heavy, there’s a lot of it. The portion size is enormous. There is a chocolate version called Liégeois Chocolat, which is equally delicious but not necessary to my French Outlander experience. These are both presented in the same line on the menu (no space or slash), so I think it’s all one dessert, and the waiter is confused. I keep pointing, and the look on his face as he walks away clearly says “I hope she has a hollow leg,” but that is only in retrospect.

What arrives is two overflowing parfait glasses, and I proceed to take them down like I have never eaten before and am new to the concept. I think my dad might have taken a bite or two, and that’s being generous.

To be fair, I had walked with my dad for over four miles that day, so by the time we got to dinner I was famished… even after having what seemed like an entire braised and shredded duck with mashed purple potatoes (akin to Shepard’s pie) for lunch… and that was just the main course. The entrée was a cream seafood soup and bread. Dinner was a veggie burger and fries. Given the way I usually eat, this was way past “I had too much to eat” and solidly into the perfection of gluttony.

Not being hungry has never stopped me from eating ice cream before, and I have my doubts it ever will again. French vanilla tasted roughly the same as it does in the United States, but chocolate ice cream is beyond comparison… less sweet and much darker, closer to a 60-65% cacao.

Incidentally, the rich desserts sort of made up for the lack of good coffee. Perhaps I was just ordering it wrong, but I thought it was terrible. The one thing I didn’t try that they had at the Charles de Gaulle airport Starbucks was a chocolate cereal milk latte. The rest of the time, I went to independent cafes or had instant Nescafe in my hotel room, which was arguably better than purchasing coffee elsewhere. Go to France for the food, clearly.

Earlier that day, I got my Doctor Who fix. One of the most famous episodes of the show takes place in part at the Musée d’Orsay Van Gogh exhibit, and to see it in person was astounding. musee_dorsayEvery Van Gogh you’ve seen in print is there. I saw the real Starry Night. I saw The Church at Auvers. I was mere inches away from haystacks and sunflowers. If I’d had four or five weeks in Paris, at least one would be dedicated to that room alone. I am not a visual artist by any definition. I would have just stared. I would have let his crazy mix with my crazy and see what writing came out of “us.”

Since I was short on time, I fairly quickly wandered around to the other Impressionists, spending a good five minutes looking at one light green stroke of paint on a Monet up close, then backing away until it looked like a leaf. I marveled at Gougin’s use of color and how it seemed he was the only person who painted people of color in that era. I loved his use of bright, engaging colors with cartoon-like black outlines so that everything stood out, like words with every syllable accented. Gougin’s art didn’t so much speak to me as it yelled in my direction, screamed and dared at me to look. Simplicity was complex. These were island people with spartan houses and blank expressions, so the question for me was, “are they happy?” Perhaps they didn’t so much like being painted, but it was more than that. I wondered if they felt impoverished or empowered.

The next truly overwhelming installation I saw was Monet’s Water Lilies20190106_151827, in permanent residence at the Musée de l’Orangerie. It covers several rooms and defies speech. Yet another work in which you constantly get very close, then very far away, then very close, just to see how the magic is put together. Monet was in his eighties when the collection was painted, and then stitched together to be hung. If you look very, very closely, you can see the stitches, but like everything else in an Impressionist’s work, blends “seamlessly.” When people talk about Water Lilies, they generally only mean the light blues and purples, but the actual cycle is so much more. The way they are hung now is, in essence, virtual reality. You don’t so much look at the paintings as step into them…. Claude Monet in “Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound.”

I am finding that talking about Paris is more suited to several entries and not one gigantic read, so you’ll see more as the days progress. My Facebook friends have seen all my pictures because I couldn’t snap a photo without posting it five seconds later. Sorry I’ve kind of left you out in the cold, Fanagans. I was too full to move, much less write.

And not nearly caffeinated enough. What is sold in the United States as “French Roast” is just a terrible, terrible lie they tell little kids at bedtime.

So Much Trying

It’s already 30 December at 1045, and I have so much to do before I leave for Paris on 3 January. I think the first step is finding clothes that I would never wear so that I can wash all the ones I would. It’s a bigger deal than it seems with so many housemates. I can’t just get everything together and put it in the wash. I have to find a slot. Surely there’s at least one between now and then. The trouble is that I doubt I can fit all my clothes into one cycle. I would rather drop my shirts at the dry cleaner, but with the holidays, I can’t be sure they would actually get done in time. So, the obvious answer is ironing with heavy starch and hoping that my suitcase doesn’t ruin the effect. Most American hotels have irons in the room. Not sure about Europe. Here’s hoping.

With the infinite care the baggage handlers take with our suitcases (insert eyeroll here- I have worked at PDX), I believe I will just take a couple of outfits in one carry-on. The rest of my laundry can go in my closet, provided I can reach it.

The problem with my stunning combination of mental health issues leads me to two conclusions. The first is that my severely less than neurotypical brain gets bursts of brilliance but does not handle the mundane or the minutiae very well. The second is that ADHD people work in piles (I am not hyperactive, but the DSM does not differentiate anymore). I can find anything within a few minutes, but no one else can… unless I put down my wallet, glasses, or phone. I think it is the difference between short-term memory and long. I can find things a lot easier that have been there for a month rather than a few seconds, made horribly worse by monocular vision. If you are not familiar, monocular vision means that my eyes don’t track together, so I have two distinct fields of vision. I can put something down on my dresser or desk, and if my field of vision changes, what I just put down disappears. I have literally lost my glasses when they were right in front of me. However, I have never lost my phone while I was using it…. so I got that goin’ for me.

Because of this, I put my passport with all my other important papers, and have not moved it since. I know for sure that if I did, I would be racing around on the morning of the 3rd, panicked to the point of tears and snot rolling down my face. I have at least learned that much, which is kind of a big deal.

What is also a big deal is knowing that I have readers in France, and though I will not meet them, I will see one of the places from which they read. My stats don’t get as granular as city, but I have had hits from almost every country in the world. I think there are 208, and I have stats from 205.

Once, and only once, my friends said “prove it.”

I got out my phone, opened the WordPress app, and they started quizzing me:

“Micronesia.”
“Check.”
“Lichtenstein.”
“Check.”
“UAE.”
“Check.”
“Nepal.”
“Check.”
“Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Russia.”
“Check, check, check, and check.”

Then they got bored.

Checkmate.

The majority of my readers are in the United States, but I tend to use as much international English as I can, because the next two countries catching up are the UK and Australia. I spell like an American, but tend to use international time and date formats.

I try not to think about spam bots, because certainly there are some from Russia and China. But I have too many hits from those countries by now to think that all of them are. In fact, some of those international hits may come from friends who don’t use a VPN. I have one, but the only thing I would use it for in France is Netflix. You can only stream in the country with your credit card.

This is relatively new. I used to VPN into the UK and Australian versions of Netflix until they caught up with the game. This is because different TV shows and movies are licensed in different areas of the world.

What has changed is that Netflix has realized how much Americans enjoy UK and Australian television, and a lot more shows are available in the United States than were previously. For those not in the know, Doctor Who has moved to Amazon Prime.

Speaking of Amazon Prime, I just got a watch that syncs with my Android phone for $20.00 (it will also connect to an iPhone, but not all the features work). I also had some AMZ credit that brought the price down a little. It has slots for both a micro SD card and a SIM, which means that I can store music and photos, as well as make calls without attaching it to my phone via Bluetooth. I find that bit unnecessary, though, because my phone will stream media through Bluetooth as well. I just need to get some Bluetooth headphones, because otherwise, the media and calls play through a tiny little speaker on my wrist, which is fine when I’m sitting in my bedroom. Not so great when I’m on the go.

I do want a micro SD card, though, because the tiny little camera makes me feel like a spy… and I promise, that is the closest to espionage I will ever get. It’s not like I’m going to run across foreign state secrets, but at least I look the part.

Speaking of which, a few years ago my dad and I went to see Jason Bourne, and a day later we were in a tourist trap gift shop near the White House. I found the coolest CIA baseball cap that has the big logo on the front and the tiny symbol on the back, which means it looks awesome no matter which way I wear it.

I have nearly fallen on the floor laughing several times when people look at me wide-eyed and ask if I work there. I always say that if I did, I certainly wouldn’t be ADVERTISING IT ALL OVER TOWN (huge eyeroll). Sometimes the stupid, it burns.

A couple of times, people waiting for the Metro have gone out of their way to avoid me, which I find equally hilarious. As an introvert, I don’t want to talk to strangers anyway. It’s as efficient as wearing a T-shirt that says “Jesus Loves You” and carrying a Bible.

I suppose that my baseball cap means more to me now than it ever has, because I feel like it says “I support the men and women of intel over our dumpster fire of a president.” Gina Haspel practically has to make a coloring book for him, and he still doesn’t get it.

Same goes for State, although I can’t find a cool baseball cap for that…. not for lack of trying.

And on that note, now I need to try doing my laundry. Wish me luck or send help. Either is fine with me.

Still Got It

My new copy of 24 Italian Songs and Arias arrived today, and I spent a few minutes marking through it. I didn’t want to go full voice in the living room. The dogs were barking as is……… I’ve done one arietta from it before, Già il sole dal Gange, in high school UIL competition. I checked diction with a Cecilia Bartolli Youtube recording, and it was comforting. I feel I’ve got two things going for me now. My Italian diction is not as bad as I thought it was, and I have a much lighter voice than Bartoli, because even though she is one of the greats, there are a few moments in her recordings where her heaviness makes her vibrato under the pitch. Absolutely no disrespect toward her- not throwing shade. She still sounds fantastic.

I count on Bartoli’s videos to watch her obsessively, but not for the reason you might think. Yes, she’s talented, but she started her career as a trumpet player and had to overcome habits that worked great for brass and not so much for voice. I have walked that path for a very long time, and watching her gives me excellent tips on what I need to change physically to make singing easier…. and therefore, a lot more fun. It is so amazing to have a living, breathing, singing example of my own history.

I started with something I’ve sung before because I didn’t have my phone on me, where I have a very advanced metronome app. Even though I can read notes, I am not sure I’ve ever really learned to read rests. I’ll just come in when the Spirit moves me.

I thank God that I was in band as well, because it gave me a great advantage over other choral singers who could only do solfege. Solfege makes me irrationally angry, because even though it’s been around since the 11th century, I have problems with thinking that it’s legitimately reading music. I refuse to learn a piece through a series of weird hand motions that I do not understand because I’ve never really bothered with it.

My choir director in high school was not amused when we’d do solfege exercises in choir and she noticed that I was only either doing the peace or vulcan signs and turning my hand back and forth, evidence of my snooty and teenage attitudes. By the way, I’m still snooty about it.

Don’t even get me started on The Suzuki Method. According to Wikipedia, “the Suzuki method does not include a formal plan or prescribe specific materials for introducing music theory & reading, in part because Suzuki created the method in a culture where music literacy was routinely taught in schools.” So, you have these kids who’ve been playing for years and years by the time they arrive at school, brilliantly until you put sheet music in front of them. It’s a steep learning curve that to me, seems unnecessary.

Don’t @ me, Bro.

This is not to say that I don’t know successful musicians who use solfege and started out with Suzuki. I definitely do. My concertmaster at HSPVA started with Suzuki and is now the concertmaster for the Metropolitan opera. But that is not the case for a lot of students, some of whom get discouraged and drop out of vocal/instrumental music altogether. That’s because Suzuki often begins when the child is a toddler, and transitioning from playing by ear to learning to read music is difficult at best for those who don’t have a natural talent for it. Generally, elementary schools don’t have orchestras, so they’re playing by ear from ages 3-11. I think this makes it even harder to switch gears.

The last thing future generations of classical musicians need is the urge to give up. There will always be a small percentage of children that love it, but love of great instrumentation and soaring lines should be widely accessible. I feel disappointed when I think of all the kids who thought they just didn’t have the talent to be in choir, orchestra, band…. or perhaps a combination. Through HSPVA, I was in Honors Band, Jazz Band, and Symphony Orchestra.

When I switched to Clements High School, I was in Marching Band, Concert Band, and Varsity Choir.

It was such a wide and varied musical education, but it didn’t start there. My parents and my paternal grandfather were “instrumental” in instilling the love of music before I could walk. The first time I sang a solo in church, I was three. Apparently, I got stage fright and wouldn’t sing with the rest of the choir, and surprised the hell out of my mother when they left the stage and I was still there, picking up a microphone and belting out a jazz/gospel song called I am a Promise. The recording to which I’ve linked is an approximation of how the first few measures sounded…. and that was the only part I knew. I am sure it made the congregation howl, but my mother was entirely supportive. I have only heard this story a thousand times, I don’t remember it myself. But she said that she was so proud of me because it was pitch perfect.

The hardest part about singing is doing enough breath exercises and vocal warm-ups so that the longest notes are supported. I will mark without warming up, but going full voice takes me nearly an hour. I can’t be too careful.

But I’ve still got it. Three snaps in a Z formation. #selffive

A Note

Ever since my mother died, I have had trouble singing. I can’t think of anything that is more loaded with emotion, mostly pain. I haven’t set foot in a church in nearly two years, also in my grief. I know damn well that this is temporary, that my love of church will return when my spirit calms. It is important to have a faith community that loves me through good times and bad, people that I can turn to in both extremes. Right now, though, when I walk into a church I don’t see comfort and joy. I see the ghost of my mother’s past. It is not peaceful for me. It is a white-knuckling, stomach churning experience of just trying to get through the service without a complete goose-honking cry of a meltdown. And the thing is, I know that would be okay, too.

It is my own fear of being that vulnerable in public that stops me. Perhaps fear is the wrong word, but anxiety. I am trying my best to keep my head above water, avoiding the things that will actively help me to stop functioning. Walking around in my mother’s inner landscape, even for a couple of hours, leads to me losing the rest of the day. I have to sleep it off in those depression and anxiety-fueled naps that last hours, even when I’m not sleepy. And even in my dreams, I’m thinking “I don’t have time for this.” The clinical term for this is “decompensating.”

According to dictionary.com, there is both a medical and psychological meaning.

Medical decompensation is “the inability of a diseased heart to compensate for its defect.”

Psychological decompensation is “a loss of ability to maintain normal or appropriate psychological defenses, sometimes resulting in depression, anxiety, or delusions.”

It is funny how incredibly close those definitions are, when you look at the heart metaphorically.

I feel that I should say for the record that I have never had a delusion, although I have come close by taking someone else’s crazy statement and believing it as fact, incorporating it into my reality to disastrous results… What turned their crazy into my crazy was not stopping for a moment to evaluate said statement for objective truth, because in a lot of ways, it was what I wanted to hear…………………

Objective reality slipped beyond my grasp, living in a reinforced bubble created by fantasy. I was living as high as one could possibly be on dopamine without taking a drug to raise it chemically.

Later, when the bubble burst, I came back down to earth. It was an amazing feeling to see life for what it was, instead of my own version. What was happening in the world around me no longer carried a malleable haze.

I present with depression and anxiety, though I’m Bipolar II, so I do get a few hypomanic days now and then. But the highs are not so high. They’re just enough to make me feel like I’m living without depression and can be extraordinarily productive, sometimes foregoing sleep to get things done. Part of this is chemical; the other part is not knowing when I’ll be hypomanic again, and trying to use that time wisely.

I am extremely lucky that my fluctuations in mood just go from not depressed to extremely depressed, and medication makes those swings even easier to manage. Whenever I feel sorry for myself, I simply think of the people who are much worse off, the people who have no trouble swinging between suicidal plans and megalomania…. or have poor impulse control akin to buying five cars in one day.

I have no doubt in my mind that I was hypomanic when I decided to audition for the Washington National Opera chorus, but again, it was just being productive. Had I been truly depressed when I learned that the auditions were in a month, self-doubt would have eaten me alive and I would have lacked the courage to sign up altogether.

Which brings me back around to church and my mom. I need to sing again. I need to be in a chorus with other great singers who will raise my own game. I’m not much of an actor, but I’ll learn. In a gargantuan way, this is all about finding a replacement for church choir while I work on my daily ups and downs during the devastation of grief. I know I will still feel it. How can I not since my sister was in the children’s chorus at Houston Grand Opera, and I have such fond memories of my mom and Lindsay “on set?”

I counter that with all the hair, costumes and makeup. If I audition and get in, I will have the chance to be someone else for a while. Lots of someone elses if I get a contract for the whole season. The operas happening after my audition are Eugene Onegin, Faust, and Tosca. The links are all to their respective Wikipedia pages, because opera is so much more accessible when you know the story before you buy the tickets.

As I was telling a friend the other day, I hope the writing that comes out of a successful audition is work that brings younger audiences to opera. It is not dead thanks to the old and the rich, but if that trend continues, opera will be less and less popular over time. Opera has such a rich history that I cannot imagine losing it. Lots of them are novels that come to life, and generally more accurate than the movies.

It’s also a great break from technology, as it is entirely immersive. You have to read the supertitles to understand the language translation, or in the case of operas in your native language, to be able to pick out the words from the music. Hard to look at your phone and comprehend at the same time…. plus, the ushers will get mad at you because of the light. If your phone actually rings, good luck. God bless. 😛

I’m not starting singing again with arias, though. Today I did some breath control exercises and sang along to Merry Christmas from the Family (the Dixie Chicks and Rosie O’Donnell version as opposed to Robert Earl Keen, because it’s in a higher key). It’s such a funny song that for the first time in years, as I was singing I felt……. merry. It reminded me of the funniest parts of being a Texan, because if you’ve ever lived there, especially in a small town, you know this family. They live two doors down. There’s a broken swing set and a rusted car on blocks in the front yard. Both have been there since you moved in, and will be long after you leave.

The backyard looks like a garage sale all year ’round. On a serious note, even though they have just short of nothing, they’ll give you the shirts off their backs and the shoes on their feet if you need them, because they know what it’s like to literally have nothing and they’ll do whatever they can to help. There is no better place to live than small town Texas, because even though you can’t take a step out of your house without all 2,000 people knowing where you’re going, that’s not a bad thing. They sniff out trouble like bloodhounds, and just rally around you until it passes.

However, if you are selfish in any way, you don’t belong there. Community comes with responsibility.

Which brings me to another important reason why I’ve dropped off the face of the earth in terms of church. I’m empty. I’m all tapped out. I have nothing to contribute because I am struggling to keep my own head above water.

And the thing is, it wouldn’t bother the church at all. They know that when I’m in a better place, I can do more for the people around me. It’s all my own “stuff” to work out, because I cannot abide showing up to a potluck without a casserole, capiche?

I have high hopes for this opera audition, even though I won’t be crushed if I don’t get in. I know for certain that I am a fourth as good as the people auditioning who’ve been singing arias for years on end (I’m not a pessimist, just a realist). The high hopes come from joining a community in a new context, without the baggage I carry when entering a church. I see the glory of God in classical music, which, to my mind, is running towards spirituality instead of away…. making my way slowly, but surely, back into the world communion.

I am surprised that this has been my reaction to grief, because for the first two or three weeks after my mother died, walking into the sanctuary made me feel as if she were right there, so close I could touch her again. Then a pointed sermon on grief made me absolutely lose my shit with anxiety, just crying and shaking as if exorcising a demon. I didn’t want to be comforted, I wanted to be invisible. I didn’t want anyone to see my grief laid that bare. On top of my anxiety, I am quite shy and introverted. If you think otherwise, it’s from years and years of practice at hiding it away. I can have entire conversations that end with you knowing nothing about me, because my go-to is deflection. I ask so many questions about your life that you don’t have a chance to get a word in edgewise to ask me about mine. In that scenario, I can be extroverted and gregarious, because I’m not revealing anything. It also cuts way down on me giving answers I think of as crazy or stupid so I don’t have anything to beat myself up with later.

Trust me, if I was weird to you 20 years ago, I still have the ability to obsess over it. It would be an absolute relief to be onstage as a character in a group, completely forgetting everything in terms of who I am and pouring everything into letting me go for a few hours a night. I am hoping it will give me enough clinical separation to see myself more objectively once the performance is over…. because then, I might be able to turn my anxiety about being vulnerable in public back into needing other people for support, and rising to the occasion of giving my own support to others.

My new copy of 24 Italian Songs and Arias is on its way. May it be the first step forward onto holy ground.

Christmas 2018

I am sitting at my desk with a very large cup of coffee, praying to the little baby Jesus that I don’t spill it on the sweatshirt I’m wearing. I used to wear it for Christmas when I was a teenager, then I gave it to my mother, and when she died I took it back from her closet. The first year I wore it was to a Christmas choir party at my friend Suzanne’s. David, a notorious troublemaker of a tenor, looked at the bells stitched on the front (the graphic is a Christmassy horse) and announced that “everywhere you go, you tinkle when you walk.” So, of course, that’s the first think I think of when I pull it over my head.

The sweatshirt came in handy during the carol singing portion of the evening. As Suzanne played “Jingle Bells” on the piano, I jumped up and down. People howled, as did I. I am nothing short of extraordinary at laughing with and at me.

As I got older, though, I was embarrassed by it, and wouldn’t wear the sweatshirt even when my mom asked me specifically. As I go about my day, I’m thinking that she would have enjoyed me wearing it a lot more when she was alive. In the spirit of gentle chastisement, when your parents ask you to wear something ridiculous, just do it for them. You will be less uncomfortable knowing just how much joy it gives them. I mean, I’m sitting here looking like a third grade teacher who just can’t give up appliqued anything and so far, I’m fine with it.

And another gentle chastisement for parents. If you’re anything like my mom, even though you hate having your picture made (especially in the first few moments of mad dash to the tree with your hair unbrushed), just take the damn picture. I can’t tell you how many precious moments I am missing because of her reticence. Don’t be camera shy with your kids. Those photos will be everything to them when you die. I repeat…. everything.

I have really loved all my Christmas presents, but I am even more excited to learn how my friends and family like theirs.

The funniest thing I got was a Ruth Bader Ginsburg action figure…. and two are tied for the most useful. My weighted blanket is worth its weight in gold, as is a teapot for a single mug with an infuser and lots of looseleaf tea. I have a teapot, but I don’t often drink four mugs in a row. The sizing fits me just right. I also like that the infuser is very deep, so I can make black tea strong enough to put hair on my chest. I like a builder’s brew with a little extra cream, and I use CoffeeMate in my tea because I can make it creamy without bringing down the temperature of the water.

I also got a bag of Starbucks coffee that I’d never tried- Holiday Blend with maple notes… and of course, I opened it after I’d made a fresh pot and kicked myself because I’m a sucker for new food and drinks. I am an advertiser’s dream woman. 99% of the time, if I haven’t seen it before, or it says “new and improved,” I’m buying it. I’m surprised my friends didn’t get soda and cookies under the tree from me.

Not that they would have minded.

Additionally, I talked to my family (both chosen and biological), and actually took a shower today. I prefer most of the time to just fix my hair, because it’s so cold I don’t want to take off my HeatTech extra warm long johns and warm sweaters. They didn’t have “extra warm” last year. These are new and improved. 😛

And, of course, right after I bought them they came out with ultra warm.

But taking a shower and putting my HeatTech back on came secondary to answering a video call from Ryan and his family.

Because I take the damn pictures.

An Actual Song to the Moon

I did something I’ve never done before, and I am really stepping off a ledge. At first, I thought, “how hard can it be? Lindsay did it.” And then I realized that auditioning for an opera chorus as an adult is probably different than auditioning as a child, and I freaked out so hard my stomach dropped to my knees. Things got better and I calmed down once I got a rough sketch of a plan together. That being said, Lindsay had to sing things like Happy Birthday (you would not believe how easy it is to hear the quality of someone’s voice with that song). My memory may be failing me, but I think her prepared piece was from Annie.

At the time, I was too old for the children’s chorus and too young for the adult one…. and besides, my voice didn’t truly come into itself until I was older, anyway. So, as I watched Lindsay on stage in productions like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Turandot and Carmen, it was a mix of powerful pride and brooding Salieri (character in the movie Amadeus). I finally realized that I was old enough to try out for the chorus and not care if I got rejected, which is the most important part of getting older, anyway. It wasn’t the singing that frightened me. It was getting the thin letter instead of the thick one.

I am still truly terrified, though, but this time, it’s not about rejection. It’s about the clock, which is running out. I e-mailed Washington National Opera to ask when the next round of open auditions were for the chorus, and as it just so happens, they’re in less than a month. I have to have one Italian aria and one aria in any language (even English) prepared by then. I may also be asked to sight read, which is actually more exhausting a thought than getting prepared.

I don’t even have a piano at my house. I am still working out where I am going to practice, because I have a BIG DAMN VOICE and lots of housemates. When I go “balls to the wall” fortissimo, you can hear it up and down my street. It’s always fun when I have a marking that loud and splat an excruciatingly bad note on the tops of other people’s roofs. But, if you’re going to make a mistake, do it right.

It also feels good that I’m confident enough to go through the process, because it’s not like it’s some sort of pipe dream. I’m not tone deaf. I’ve sung in many, many choruses and have done some of the great works in history…. just not opera. Oratorios, masses, and requiems are kind of my jam. It would be so much easier if I could walk in with something I’ve already sung and don’t have to start from absolute scratch.

My biggest concern is the Italian aria, and which register to choose. Most of the Italian mezzo arias I’ve listened to go practically into cigar and vodka range, but sometimes mezzo lines go up to a high B flat. I am most comfortable in the high register, called “head voice,” but I am also not Queen of the Night material. Surely there has to be a good resting place between mezzo and coloratura. When I find it, I’ll let you know.

It seriously bums me out right now that my mother is dead. It seems like those words are flip, but what I mean is that I am only devastated when I think of all the things we won’t get to do together. Needing something from her is different. It’s not as important. It’s just a bummer that she’s the only person I can think of who could truly help me pull this off, and my copy of 24 Italian Songs and Arias is probably still in her piano bench. Plus, you can either use the accompanist at the opera company, or you can bring your own. Not being able to bring an accompanist that has always known how to catch me in all the right ways actually does bring me to tears.

There is a world of difference between a mere pianist and an accompanist. A pianist knows how to play the piano. An accompanist knows how not to throw a soloist under the bus. If you sing or play an instrument, you are probably enthusiastically nodding your head in agreement, perhaps clapping, because you know what a truth bomb I’ve laid down.

I am also interested in the writing that will come out of this experience, whether I make it or not. It will either be a big victory or a funny story. To wit:

Politics is not a bad profession. If you succeed there are many rewards, if you disgrace yourself you can always write a book.

-Ronald Reagan

I’ve never sung it before, but the aria that I’m most familiar with is Song to the Moon from Rusalka. It’s in Czech, so I’ll have to do some diction training, but it does fit the requirements for range and breath control. As for Italian, the only aria I’m familiar with is Nessun Dorma.

You can file that under “not in this lifetime, Holmes.” While I probably could pull it off with several years of private lessons, in a month it would be a shadow of what it’s supposed to be, and the people listening to the auditions will have heard it a thousand times, anyway. For this reason, I’m looking for something very obscure…. I want to stand out….. just like everyone else.

The Holiday Party and Other Stories

Last night was Dan and Autumn’s annual holiday party. It was a smash success for me, as I am normally not much of a partygoer. I prefer to spend time with friends one-on-one, two or three at most. The conversation is generally more interesting. However, there is nothing a diarist likes more than walking past random conversations, especially in DC. The funniest line of the night, which gets top billing, is “Chelsea Manning taught me everything I know about Excel.” I found it tragically comic, and on the inside, I was shaking with laughter for hours. My personal opinion is that overall, Chelsea is a raging dumpster fire of a human being, but that didn’t make the quote any less funny.

The other hilarious story of the night involved a scavenger hunt at the Pentagon, where soldiers were looking for a pink flamingo. They round a corner and none other than “Mad Dog Mattis” jokingly tells them to get back to work. My comment on the matter was that the pink flamingo was probably in his office, and the main reason he took the job, because “hey, free pink flamingo.”

It is flat amazing to me that I came to DC to be at the cool kids’ table, and here I am. I would like to say that it was through hard work and persistence, but no. It was sheer dumb luck. I met one soldier online (we both deemed each other worthy of a meetup) who now works at the State Department, and it changed my whole life. Now we’re really good friends and within a few months, I was friends with her friends as well…. kind of like being the new kid at school that someone takes under their wing.

Because of this, she is my precious, precious Dan. When you find true friendship in this world, you grab on and never take it for granted. Don’t think that lesson wasn’t hard won.

I would never say that being single and having really close friends for support is better than being married, or vice versa. I would say that they are two sides of a rare and beautiful coin. Situational depression over divorcing Dana didn’t fade quickly or easily, but it at least happened…. and what I have found now is priceless. I would not give it up unless I met someone truly extraordinary… and not that I haven’t met them. Most of them are just already partnered and uninterested, and I can’t say I’m all that interested in dating to begin with. Self-reliance is a beautiful thing, and it’s nice to feel it deeply. It makes my self-esteem go up in spades.

I often wonder if I will be single forever, for a multitude of reasons…. the biggest reason is that I value my alone time, something that has been new for me over the past five-ish years. It allows me the freedom to release pain through writing, something for which I need a completely silent room and large swaths of time. It feels good that I’m completely okay with the idea of being “alone,” and that wondering if I’ll be single does not come with a hint of longing or desperation. Whatever happens in the future is all right with me.

In some ways, I feel as if I am just stopping chasing a high. Every single person I’ve ever been interested in, I became infatuated because they had great minds. Conversation was explosive, and that goes quite a bit further with me than how someone looks. I saw a Facebook meme that sums up my feelings perfectly….. that if you don’t have a great personality to go with your beauty, it’s just “congratulations on your face.”

I noticed something at the party that was unsettling. Normally, I am reserved and dry-witted unless I feel that The Leslie Lanagan Show™ is necessary to keep a wall between the world and me. I had a cocktail (maple-flavored whiskey and almond milk eggnog), and all of the sudden, I could feel myself putting up that wall unintentionally. But to other people, it’s not a wall. I’m generally funnier and more gregarious than normal. But it just doesn’t feel like I’m being myself…. just a persona I’ve created through years and years of practice being in front of people with which I absolutely couldn’t be authentic. Not necessarily by choice, but to hide the business of being alive from people who don’t deserve the right to know, e.g. parishioners are not friends. Most of them don’t want to know that their preacher’s kids sin and the degree of severity. My dad was a pastor until I was 17, so that is a lot of years to wear a mask that apparently hasn’t fully gone away in social situations. However, I am continually a work in progress.

It’s not surprising that I grew up to be a writer who vomits emotions all over the internet. Everything you stuff down eventually comes back up, with no small amount of indigestion. It is a universal truth, but few people do it in a public forum…. although more now. Blogs are no longer unique or special to anyone but its author.

And, of course, there are millions of words I don’t say here, but I do have one friend in particular that doesn’t seem to mind hearing them.

Did I mention that she’s a soldier who works at the State Department?