Nothing Stays the Same

I wanted to wait to post my next entry until I actually had something to say. I know that not updating my blog reduces traffic, thus dampening my quest for world domination. On the other hand, I don’t want to be one of those people who doesn’t take time to think before writing…. anything will do, because it’s not about craft, it’s about attracting views, visits, likes, and followers. I feel like I have enough already. Not believing I have enough just leads to verbal vomit for its own sake… and to me, that just doesn’t cut it.

I mean, I’ve always been the type to just lay out everything on this web site and let people make their own decisions about what they read, and when I post often, it’s because having something to say comes along that frequently. It’s organic, never forced. Lately, I’ve realized that most of my ruminations are just continuations of things I’ve already said, probably more than three or four times. I promise that I am not regurgitating content. It’s the way my brain works.

I think about a problem right up until I don’t. The interesting part (or, at least, it’s interesting to me) is that I tend to start a couple of steps back and rehash, but when I’m thinking about something a second (third, fourth, fifth, 17th……) time, the overall arc is the same and different small details jump out, often changing the course of the dialogue… conversations that happen between me and me. Though Shakespeare was not talking about discourse with oneself, he might as well have been. The play’s the thing… especially in moments where I’ve caught myself red-handed…. infinitely more scary than feeling caught by anyone else. I’m better at kicking my ass than you are. Write it down.

I’ve scared myself for the past couple of weeks because I make it a point to look at my Facebook memories, and along with all of my funny memes is this mountain range of emotions. Note to self: more peaks, less valleys.

WordPress propagates to my author page, which means that I am equally stupid and brave enough to post things to my own profile. If I skipped doing so, old entries wouldn’t appear at all. It isn’t about torturing myself- many, many more readers click through from my profile because I’ve been on Facebook for 10 years. The “Stories” page has only existed since 2015, and as of right this moment, only has about 100 followers. After a decade, I have 745 friends and 38 followers. The platform is exponentially larger. My Facebook profile propagates to @ldlanagan on Twitter, and my author page to @lesliecology. Again, I have more followers on my own Twitter feed than the feed for my web site… the difference is that @lesliecology is nothing but a WordPress feed, and @ldlanagan is everything I post on Facebook, period. My profile is public, and my Facebook statuses are generally longer than Tweets, so anyone can click through to the original post.

So there’s the setup as to why I wanted to separate out my blog entries from my Facebook profile/Twitter feed, and why it hasn’t worked out.

Scaring myself the last couple of weeks has been about entries from four years ago, starting with PTSD as a teenager and it unraveling my thirties into divorce, losing a good friend, and so much compounded mental instability that I needed more help than my friends and family could give. Poet Mary Karr gave me the phrase “checking into the Mental Mariott,” and I’ve used it relentlessly since.

Joking about it covers up deep wounds, and that’s why I write about them instead of speaking. When I am writing, I have a bit of clinical separation. I can look at the land mines without detonation. I cannot say the same is always true for reading. Occasionally, I feel the distance of having grown as a person, so that the entry feels like it was written by someone else. More often, I am remembering every tiny detail about the setting and the arc of the story. Then body memory kicks in, and if my heart and brain were racing in the moment, I feel it again; it doesn’t matter how much time has passed.

It isn’t all bad, though, because I write in equal measure about how good I’m feeling, and those excited butterflies also return…. sometimes, but not often, in the same entry. The other plus is getting to decide if what was true at that time is still true today, and as a rule with some exceptions, it’s not. There are truth bombs that hit me just as hard now as the day I wrote them, but for the most part, this blog has been dynamic, and has changed just as often as I have (which is, like, the point).

Whether I’m reading an up day or a down, it is exhilarating to see that few things stay the same.

I will always have the regular, boring adult problems… and at the same time, my life is bigger than that. Managing Bipolar II, remnants of PTSD (anxiety, mostly) and ADHD so that I am not a ball of negative crazy keeps it interesting. I emphasize “negative crazy” because I don’t know anyone who isn’t crazy in a positive way. I am not attracted on any level to the mundane. Regular people with big dreams are often lumped in with “crazy,” because most people don’t dream big.

Even my dreams have been adjusted. I am still dreaming big, but the focus is not on starting my own church anymore. Perhaps in the distant future, I’ll think about it again. But right now, when I enter into any church building, consecrated or not, “my mother is dead” becomes an ostinato.

From Google Dictionary:

Ostinato

os·ti·na·to
/ästəˈnädō/

noun: ostinato; plural noun: ostinati; plural noun: ostinatos

a continually repeated musical phrase or rhythm.

“The cellos have the tune, above an ostinato bass figure.”

Even the sentence used to illustrate the word is appropriate, because you don’t just hear bass. You feel it.

I have written before that she’s everywhere I look, because over our lives together, I cannot think of an element within church life where she was absent. I cannot think of a single thing that was all mine until I moved to Portland and began preaching at Bridgeport UCC.

I have always been the Mary. She was the Martha.

There was no judgment on her part. I just mean that I have always been the thinker and she has always been the actor…. Actually, I take that back. My mother was one of the few people I’ve met in this life that had extraordinarily creative ideas and the ability to execute them, which is rare.

Few people manage to live on the ground and in the air at the same time (it’s a miracle I can tie my own shoes).

In Luke 10:41-42, Jesus is speaking to Martha, who has complained to him that (I’m paraphrasing) “Mary’s just sitting on her ass while I’m doing all the work. Can’t you go rattle her cage?” And Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about many things. But one thing is needful, and Mary hath chosen the better part, which shall not be taken away from her.” He actually says this to the woman that invited him and his entire crew into her house and wants to feed everyone. Now, I don’t know whether you’ve ever cooked and served for 16 (fairly certain Lazarus was there- unclear), but I can see Martha’s point and I get a little bit irritated with Jesus. It’s not that one part is better than the other. Thinking is not better than doing. Doing is not better than thinking. They’re just different mindsets, and the evening wouldn’t have been possible without both.

I am certain that Mary and Martha need each other. Martha is grounded, and keeps Mary from floating away. Mary reminds Martha to look at the stars once in a while.

So when I think about the work I did to investigate starting a homeless ministry in Silver Spring, what comes up for me is that my Martha is no longer with us. It rends the mental tapestry I created, and I descend into darkness.

I am still excited by theology of all types- Abrahamic, Eastern, you name it. But right at this very minute, I’d rather spend my time thinking and writing, sometimes posting sermons on this web site rather than waxing philosophic in front of a physical crowd.

What I do not know is whether I will always feel the same, or whether my time is not yet here.

What I do know is that the fight has left me. I am too mired in grief to get passionate enough to affect change. In fact, I wouldn’t say that I’m extraordinarily passionate about anything at all. When my mother died, so did several pieces of me. I know for certain that it would have been easier had I gotten to see my mother live a long life and there was no aspect of “dear God, they took her too soon.” I knew I would be sad when she died, but I was completely caught off guard by the rage at getting robbed.

Embolisms make great thieves who never need getaway cars.

I am still grieving the future that I thought I would get, and piecing together a new normal. It’s a good thing that on this day next year, I’ll read this again, and perhaps that new normal will have some structure. The concrete has been mixed, but I think I added a little too much water, because it just. Won’t. Set.

Disappointment in Three Acts

Act I

I just had to make a really difficult call. I left a message with the Washington National Opera chorus to ask them if they still wanted to hear me even though I have the worst cold on record and am losing my voice at a rapid rate. I mean, I can sing, but I’d be auditioning as a baritone. I know they want photos and measurements as well, but my hope is that they do these auditions more than once a year, or if they just want to hear the quality of my voice and it doesn’t matter what range.

Act II

I talked to DC Opera, and they do only hold auditions once a year. So I’m drinking a hot toddy and will see if I can warm up again later tonight and in the morning. I know I’ve got my arias wired. It’s frustrating that I’ve worked so hard and my body is betraying me. I’m also angry at the world because I didn’t practice wrong so that I’m just fatigued. This is a virus that I picked up from somewhere, or an allergy in my home. It didn’t start in my throat- it’s deep in my chest and working upward.

Act III

I woke up this morning hoping that the laryngitis would go away as the day wore on- it’s always worse when I first wake up. Unfortunately, I am still so far under the weather that I don’t even want to move, much less sing. It would have been much more convenient to wait until tomorrow to see what happens overnight, but I couldn’t afford it without being truly selfish. Demand is high for these auditions, and I did not want my first impression at WNO to be that I just didn’t show, not allowing someone else to fill my spot. I also didn’t want my first impression with them to be a fraction of what I am truly capable. I’ve come such a long way since I truly dedicated myself to singing that turning in a high-school level performance while stopping to cough in the middle was just unacceptable to me. It’s hard to have to wait until next January for a second chance, but since I put on my reason for canceling that I was sick, there’s no telling what will happen between now and then. Singers get scheduling conflicts all the time. Fingers crossed that I can audition again later as an understudy without having to wait a year. I don’t feel good about woodshedding two arias over this month only to get sick at the last minute. Before I made this decision, I talked to someone who’d been my voice coach in college, and he stressed to me how important first impressions are. My gut says this would not be a good one, and to let it go, as angry as I am.

I have sung with laryngitis before, and the recording turned out better than I could have hoped…. but it was church good, not professional career good. The mistakes I made from not having as much control over my voice as I needed in the moment were noticeable to me, but probably not the congregation at large. They would have been spotted by a judge in a nanosecond.

I took this audition seriously. I bought two copies of 24 Italian Songs and Arias so that I would have a book for me and one for my accompanist because it was cheaper than buying a new printer. I spent hours with a metronome getting timing perfect. I did breathing exercises twice a day, sometimes three. This involved taking a heavy book or two and setting them over my diaphragm, making sure I could lift them as air filled me up from all the way down. I marked every day, and practiced full voice when I was sure no one was home.

It was an arduous process, only interrupted by my trip to Paris, where I didn’t sing at all. It was a short enough break to give me some rest, and then I was back at it. I truly thought I had an outstanding audition put together last week, and then my dream of singing for RBG this year flushed itself down the toilet.

And for that, I am angry. All that work. All that emotion and brain-bending math as I figured out subdivisions for art songs I didn’t know (I’m terrible at sight reading, and they said it might be required). But What I Know for Sure from this experience is that I am capable of getting in. I know it. When I was healthy, I sounded great. I could reach the cheap seats in the KenCen (of all the issues I’ve had to overcome with singing, volume has never been one of them).

It’s not over. They will see me again. It’s just a Langston Hughes dream deferred, not a raisin in the sun. I’ll only be 42 when the next audition comes around, which means that my voice will still be full enough to sing opera and I won’t be old enough for that vibrato you can drive a MAC truck through. My trusted friends will tell me when I get it and to please sit down.

I also have the added plus of being able to spend more time on different arias, and choose from a wide variety instead of using the one book full of art songs and arias I was familiar enough with to pull off in one month’s time. I have time to learn Russian, Czech, even French diction (Francais c’nest pas comfortable pour moi). I will truly have time to dig through the annals of soprano arias and find something that isn’t often heard in auditions, because the book I’m familiar with? Well, so is everyone else. It’s hard to be memorable when you’re singing two arias that have already been sung to death.

To borrow a phrase from my trumpet days, I know I’ve already got the chops. I have joined many community choirs in which I’ve become a soloist, and the one time I’ve been offered a college opera role (I didn’t attend the college, I was in the community chorus as an employee), I turned it down because I’d never done opera before and I thought it was unwise not to start in the chorus and see if I liked it. This was ten years ago, so I remember it was some sort of Gilbert & Sullivan… either HMS Pinafore or Pirates of Penzance, but I’ve slept since then. Ten years ago, I was not confident enough to be in an opera because I was thinking about filling big shoes and not concentrating on the fact that my own are pretty bad ass.

I try not to feel stupid about it. The opera ended up traveling and I could have gotten my name out there. But again, it was lack of confidence. I didn’t find it until I moved to Houston about seven years ago, and walked into a church in my neighborhood and saw a familiar face. Joseph Painter helped me with the parts of my voice that needed to change, but it was more than that. He gave me more soprano attitude than I’ve ever had in my life… not diva status or anything like it. Just the ability to look at a piece of music and never, ever be intimidated. He heard the top of my range and said, “with some work, I think you could add a few notes on top of that.” Then, I was already at a C sharp, and I thought I was tapped out.

Unfortunately, I didn’t stay with him long enough to find out if he was right, but in some ways, I should have. Time doesn’t move backwards, ever, but if I’m really lucky, I’ll find the right teacher here. I know for a fact that I wouldn’t want to go back to Epiphany, and not because I don’t like it anymore. It’s just not my place, and neither is Houston, for that matter… even though Houston Grand Opera is in the top five opera programs in the nation, and probably in the top 10 of the world.

Washington National Opera Company (@dcopera on Twitter) has been improving by leaps and bounds, though, because they realized what it took to be world class and are implementing those changes. They even hired someone who used to be at HGO.

The bottom line is that I’m positive that when I am feeling well and healthy, I can crush any audition I want. I have too much training and I’ve been singing too long not to feel this way. And if there’s a bottom line below that, it is having no confidence in my abilities assures me I won’t progress at all. Not wanting to put myself out there already caused me to run away once. I will never make that mistake again.

As long as my body cooperates.

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.

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.

Flavored Coffee is for Young People

This entry is going to start out with a story that seems like a million years ago, but was really only about 17 (I think….). Before I met Dana, I dated a woman that was much older than me, but captured my heart with the simple fact that to her, everything was magic. Just an incredible lightness of being, the art of wearing rose-colored glasses no matter how crappy life got. Her attitude was just #goals for someone as alternately perky and jaded as me. And as different as we were, we were at the same points in our lives- both having just broken up with people we loved despite our differences- realizations that our partners were great people, but not great with us.

It was interesting to see people’s reactions to our age gap. My friends loved her. Her friends hated me, and hate is not too strong a word. They viewed me as the midlife crisis girltoy, and not a fully functioning adult with agency. The worst was judgmental anger from people in an age-gap relationship two years smaller than ours. I wish I had been strong enough back then to just say “bite me” and move on. But I wasn’t. I took everything personally and just hid in my shell.

I don’t think she was immune to judgment, either, because ultimately our relationship ended because she thought I was too young. Maybe I was. Maybe I wasn’t. Hard to tell in retrospect. I just know that I could have handled whatever life threw at us, but if we hadn’t broken up, it wouldn’t have created the door for Dana to open. She became my best friend because in the beginning, we didn’t know each other well at all. I just had to find a new gaggle of friends since most of my friends in Portland were also my then-girlfriend’s, and it didn’t feel like a safe place to fall. The friends I had that were the ultimate support didn’t live there- they met her through phone calls, as archaic as that sounds. I mean, I could still be friends with the ones that were mutual, but it wasn’t my goal to express anger or sadness in front of them, especially since I knew their reaction was going to be a ten gallon jug of “I told you so,” which is always so helpful in a breakup.

But the main thing our age gap provided me was an immense amount of laughter.

We were in Starbucks and she ordered a soy latte. I can’t remember exactly what I had, but if I’m guessing, either a raspberry or mint regular latte. She looked at me and said, “flavored coffee is for young people.” I wish I had been strong enough back then to just say “bite me” and move on.

And now it’s almost 20 years later, and every time I have a flavored coffee… every single time… that line runs through my head. Today it’s French vanilla creamer and dark roast. At 41, now I need to feel like a young person. So there. Flipping the script.

I’m drinking a lot of coffee this morning because even though I slept well, I’m working dish tonight from 1700-2300. I could take a nap, but I don’t want to. I want to watch the first snowfall of the season. It’s just magical, especially since I don’t drive. That way, I can just enjoy the snow without worrying about scraping off my car, or getting into an accident on the way and having to call the restaurant and say “I just slid into a ditch.” Well, unless my Uber driver does. I doubt the bus has that capability. I tend to take the bus in the snow, because if we’re in a wreck, the bus is gonna win.

It’s important for me to stay alive, because no one else is going to update this web site, and Facebook nags me all the time. I have 105 followers on my author page, and I’ll get passive-aggressive messages saying they haven’t heard from me in a while. It’s annoying, but also necessary. I took this job as a cook and dishwasher partly because I needed any job, and partly because my level in IT is “constantly connected to my job, tethered by phone and laptop.” I thought I would have more time to write, but what has actually happened is that I am so physically exhausted all the time that writing has taken a back seat to enjoying sleep and Aleve.™ I am constantly in pain, because I had arthritis before I started cooking, and the acrobatics required on both the line and in the dish pit don’t make that easier. However, I do think it has made my muscles stronger, which helps. More muscle mass has allowed my bones to relax a little, because they’re supported now.

It is not lost on me that I could have a cushy desk job and have a hell of a lot more money, but I am not convinced that I would be any happier, at least not yet. There are things about both blue and white collar jobs that just suck. But I’m never going to learn how to do things in a desk job that genuinely make other people’s faces light up.

My sister is a lobbyist, a rock star in her world. I used to be intimidated by that, until I realized that powerful people love to talk about food, so when I walk into a room, I’m also a rock star. People who have never worked in a restaurant, but whose imaginations are captured by TV shows, love to talk to me. I don’t really like the current slate of shows on The Food Network, etc., because I prefer the old school stand-and-stirs that actually educated people. Emeril before Emeril Live, for instance, even though I watched Emeril Live and learned to love it over time. But I’d rather watch old Julia Child episodes, or Justin Smith, or Martin Yan.

To date, the movie at which I’ve cried the hardest is Julie & Julia, because it reminded me of Dana- particularly the scene where Julia is chopping a mountain of onions to improve her knife skills…. and also myself, because I also had to buy mountains of carrots and celery to improve my own knife skills, and ruin lots of pieces of bread to learn how to flip eggs properly, as well as learning how to mix things like (pre-cooked) macaroni and cheese sauce by flipping it in the frying pan instead of using a spoon. We had a lot of mirepoix in those months. Interestingly enough, even though I am French-trained, the only thing I don’t know how to make is an omelette.

I tried the other day, because my roommate left eggs behind when he moved out, as well as Presidente butter and sharp cheddar. I got closer than I ever have, but it still looked like a waffle cone with cheese at the top (I was doing tri-fold). I need more practice, so eventually it will be off to the store to buy my own butter and eggs, because everything in my own pantry is vegan. This is because eventually, my restaurant will serve brunch, and I think I need to be prepared for the possibility that omelettes will be on the menu, and I refuse to be the only cook that can’t make one. Can’t is not in my vocabulary. I will make a hundred of them if I have to. I just need to invite 99 people to my house to eat the mistakes, which will still taste amazing, but look like a five-year-old made them. This is a problem because I barely know nine people in DC, much less 99. However, if Eight is Enough, I’m sitting pretty.

I just need to ask them beforehand what their views are on flavored coffee.

Earning a W

My Facebook Status tonight:

Let me tell you about the best part of my day. One of the waitstaff came into the kitchen to tell me that one of the customers said the food was incredible. It’s the first time someone has said that and I could prove it was all me, because I was working solo. 🙂

I was only supposed to work until 2200, but life had other plans. I ended up closing the place down, and I have to be at work again at 1000. I actually had a shift beer tonight, my way of quietly celebrating putting one in the W column. The W column is why I love my job so damn much. As I was telling a friend, being in the kitchen is where I feel the most alive. You can’t imagine how high I get on adrenaline (and, let’s not get stupid… caffeine).

It was especially humbling to get a compliment like that on a night where I really didn’t feel like working at all, much less staying two extra hours. Loving my job and needing time to rest are two separate things. I’m hoping to get that Sabbath on Monday, because I’ve made plans with Dan, Autumn, and Jaime. The only reason that I say “I’m hoping” is that when you take a job as a cook, you also take responsibility for being on a team, and when they’re a man down and they need you, it’s difficult to say, “I’m so sorry, but…” In fact, I know I haven’t ever said no at this job and I don’t think I’ve said no at any others, either. I just can’t remember back that far. Having Dana, my ex-wife, on my professional team made it where if I was sick and she wasn’t working, she’d handle it, and vice versa. She’s technically a better cook than me, so the restaurant got the better end of that deal, anyway. I mean technically literally- she’s Cordon Bleu certified, and I am, in a word, not. Our joke at the time was that she paid $20,000 for her education, and then gave it to me for free. The longer I live, the more I realize that this was not a joke at all. It’s God’s honest truth.

Where I shine, and don’t get to often, is palate. I’m not the chef, so I have no menu control. What I’m good at is looking around the pantry and the spice cabinet and making shit up.

Because I’m a writer, “making shit up” encompasses a lot of my life. Not that anything on this blog is fictional, except where explicitly stated. When I’m not writing on this blog, I have a wildly active imagination, which mostly inserts itself when I think I’ve done something stupid and I go off on these downward shame spirals that legitimately have nothing to do with reality. But when I’m really in the zone, I sometimes have a knack for character study. World building and plot escape me, which is why most of the fiction I’ve written is only a few pages. That’s about as much fiction as I can write before the writing gods say, impatiently, “don’t quit your day job.”

Or night job, as the case may be.

One of the things keeping me as sane as I get is one of our dishwashers. There’s a cook that only listens to Tejano music… and while I do like it, after six or eight hours, it becomes a bit grating. I prefer to skip around on genres. I thought I was being a racist for thinking it was getting on my nerves when said cook left and the dishwasher says to me that he HATES Tejano and all of the sudden, Til I Collapse by Eminem starts BLASTING on the stereo as we begin the cleanup process. The dishwasher makes me laugh, because he understands English less well than I understand Spanish, but he knows every word to both Til I Collapse and Careless Whisper by Wham!

Why I think this is hilarious is a mystery to me. I can sing in just about any language put in front of me, because I learn it phonetically. I’ve done everything from the Romance languages to German to Bulgarian folk singing to Hebrew to Suomi (Finnish). But when said coworker and I have spent days communicating through broken English, broken Spanish, and hand signals, tears of laughter come to my eyes, anyway.

What I have learned over time is that one-on-one, my Spanish is improving dramatically. The other person knows I need them to speak slowly and clearly. Listening to two people talking in Spanish to each other, I get lost quickly, because they tend to speak faster than my brain can process.

And on that note, I think this entry should come to a close, because my brain can’t process English anymore, either.

Maybe some Eminem or George Michael would help.