Friday, December 31, 2010

Ain't Down Yet

One more post and I'll get 9 in December--hopefully round out the year a bit.

I try not to be too reflective on New Year's Eve. I like to celebrate jewish & chinese new years anyways, so this is just one of three--mostly for the purpose of buying new calendars and writing 2011 on stuff. After all, who wants to start a new year when everything is frozen for another three months?

I remember, by the way, when I lived in climates where you could put on your flip flops and go to a new year's eve party. (sigh) I'm really missing that. Hubby and I just drove 8 hours home from Michigan in rainstorm after rainstorm to arrive home to 28 degrees. He's in the bedroom recovering. We had planned some romantic NYE times, but that might be from separate rooms.

It's been an amazing year, and I'm not even sure I'm ready to reflect on it yet. It was my first full year without speaking to my sister, and my whole body hurts thinking about it. I'm never going to hear about people being "disowned" by other family members in a way that's removed again. I feel like something's gone...some organ, some limb. I don't miss her. I realize it's not that I ever had some joy being around her. At least, not since childhood. But my soul misses her. That sounds cheezy, but I can't describe it another way. She's part of me, and she's gone. And I looked at her pictures tonight...they all contain lies, I know that. She's all about the appearance. She titles pictures to ensure that we see them the way she wants us to. But none of that matters. It just makes my head hurt. Or my stomach, or something. And there's no answer that involves my outreach. She hates me for doing what I still believe was the only right thing. I have no idea where to go with that. If I were to contact her and say I need to know we're still family, she would relish the possibility of hurting me, of hanging up on me, of making me feel any bit of pain my actions caused her. So I can't do anything. I feel hobbled by her. I believe that's her goal, unfortunately, and she succeeds. Repeatedly.

I have heard about so many divorces this week. I am very happy with my husband, but every time they make me so afraid. After all, at the age of eight I could explain to you exactly why my parents were meant to be together forever. And by eleven they had split. So I don't know how to not fear that unknown. I just don't know.

That being said, we're happy. We're surviving. Our daughter is adorable. Our house is wonderful and warm, and our bellies are full of New Year's Eve chinese food. I used to drink champagne and now I get apple cider. But it's still wonderful and full of joy, even in our exhausted house half full of boxes and suitcases we're too tired to empty.

I am starting rehearsals for a show this week. I have finally gotten back into my 12 step group. We are finding answers for how to "make it" and I don't do any crappy job right now that makes me want to cry when I walk in the building. I just sing. I teach singing, I watch a baby, and everything in my life feels like it has purpose. Wow. How on earth did God lead me here?

I look forward to 2011. I am hoping for a year of reconciliation in some way. And maybe a few less transitions.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Ho Ho Holy Night


I am hoping to get some shots of the outside of our house, covered in snow (about a foot and a half) and christmas lights (blue and white) but it is so cold out there that may not happen anytime soon. I am pushing myself to stay awake and work out, not sure if that will happen.

The last few days have been a blur. I have crammed in, amazingly, 7 or 8 students (two of whom had extra long lessons) in hope to have enough money to take the trip to Michigan that we've planned. Were it not for hubby's third paycheck this month, I shudder to think....and none of the checks we expected ever came. I have also crammed in a lot of planning, wrapping, cleaning. That kind of thing.

I heard a bunch of women on tv discussing how gift cards were the "unwanted" of gifts. Unfortunately, they have never apparently needed money--because for someone who can't afford good coffee on an average day (it is, after all, a luxury)gift cards are PARADISE. For me, there is something about gifts that is--at the end--a bit of a downer. I can't really explain this, except for the anticipation always seems to beat the reality. Giving is a different story. Giving is always delightful, and especially to someone who really needed a gift, any gift, it's practically a drug.

We shovelled twice today. Each time for an hour and a half. This is Iowa. I am still accepting it. More than anything, I am anticipating the dreariness of the cold (day after day) being lightened by rehearsals. There's also a lot more variation in my life than there was a year ago...a lot more students, and a much more interesting baby.

Tonight, as we opened presents, she helped us open them. She delighted in the ripping and tossing of things. She kissed the baby doll and yelled "baby" when she took it out. She played the toys like they were magical. I guess this is the beginning of the good stuff.

My husband is killing people on his PS3 right now, and I am packing the suitcase. It feels like something other than the night Santa is supposed to unceremoniously slip into our chimney and drop some shiny stuff. It also doesn't remind me of Jesus at all. But I am keenly aware this moment of my blessings. I have a lot of loving family, a role, and provision. I am provided for. Somehow, a few years ago, I asked God for all of this, or actually, something that looked and sounded nothing like this. I asked Him for my own solution. And He gave me this. And it's nice. Quite nice.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Money and Meaning

Ahhh, how did a whole week pass by without my blogging? It's like exercise. You take a break for a day and then seven pass.

I have so much to talk about, this will be hard to edit. But I tell you, ever since I got this Mrs. Lovett part, I have been on cloud 9. I have not worried about money (which we have none of currently) or my students, or life in general. Of course, I am anxious, overeating sugar, that kind of thing. But I just feel like smiling, whistling and kissing my husband. It's good times over here.

I keep wondering to myself--shouldn't I feel less happy, given the fact that I have been working SO HARD to get PAID gigs in opera for the last 15 years? There is part of me that goes, "ugh. community theater? really?" but there is another part that thinks that part is a jerk. This is what I love--and this rich, interesting role that I have waited my whole life to do does not need a dollar sign in front of it to say that I will rock the house, love it, be happy, and be a real singer. Right? Right?

I have spent the last 20 years fighting the good fight. You can tell me "no". I have thick skin, and a thicker ego, I guess. I expect you to send me a "PFO" (an online term for a rejection letter--basically a "please F*&^ off" letter). I expect you to tell me exactly why you won't be hiring me. And with that, I hold inside me a faith that someday, at some point, I will steadily earn money by opening my loud mouth. And I am not sure if doing free roles is part of the "program". I have secretly held a sense of superiority and disdain for those who give their gifts for free--like a girl who doesn't hold out for the engagement ring, or something.

My good tenor friend in NYC says "there's always someone being paid in a show. Why isn't it you?" and I have quit things for that reason--the second I stop loving it.

But this I love. This, I dream of and wake up happy. And I remember about 10 years someone telling me that English theater (this was, of course, a friend of mine from England) doesn't equate success in the arts as much with money as American thetaer. Is that true? It sounds like us, doesn't it? We call it the ALMIGHTY DOLLAR and we mean it. There's a tv show I've watced in England where the prize is just KNOWING you were the smartest. Isn't that crazy? Who fights for honor anymore without at least a GIFT CERTIFICATE to take home!

This brings me to another thought. I was talking to a woman I know the other day and she told me a story about how her husband searched the house for change and came up with exactly what he needed to buy pancake mix and syrup. She told me how God had provided the change, how ecstatic they were to have pancakes. And it occurred to me that as much as we juggle bills and debt and stress--as much as I am ignoring that my car only starts about 3 out of 5 attempts and I am too scared to fix it--we have more money than that. If we need pancake mix, we can almost always just go get it. We can even buy marjorine. It's the good life over here.

But I'm not sure the good life is not worrying about money. There is something so edifying, so gritty, so faith-building about struggling for every dollar. It's not as bad as we make it out to be. It's actually....a great way to grow. It's the real stuff. Or at least, it makes room for the real stuff to be clear. Like singing a role you've always wanted. Like offering to teach a student in exchange for rehearsal babysitting and hoping that because of your need, some student who needs it will finally get the voice lessons they couldn't afford.

I believe it was Mae West who said "I've been poor and I've been rich. Rich is better." The quote makes me smile. But I'm definitely not sure it's true.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

God I Hope I Get It


This week I auditioned for the role of Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd. I saw this show for the first time when I was about 13--it was a community theater show and I remember being stunned by the intensity of the singing and the staging. I had a pad of paper with which I collected signatures after the show. I know my father took me to see it--so I have a feeling he may have been interested in or friends with someone in the orchestra (that would make sense), because he never was a fan of musicals.

I always loved the idea of doing the complex role of Mrs. Lovett. I mean, here you have this dark, gloomy show about murder and cannibalism, and there are only two things that make you not feel depressed after this show--the lightness of the two young lovers who escape, and the fantasy world of Mrs. Lovett. I think I relate to her in this way. She is a bubbly murderer, a likeable psycopath, a humorous liar.

The show doesn't pay. And this goes against all of my "rules" of trying to get a paying career going. I want to keep up this idea of being at a professional level, I want, I want, I want. It's starting to bore me. So I have just decided to allow myself to feel ELATED at singing a role I love. Is that so wrong, Pipes? IS that so wrong?

I contacted the director, who informed me I could sing 16 bars of ANYTHING a capella. Bizarre. I am used to presenting a minimum of two full arias after driving 5 hours in a car. This.....this means I could PICK my key! This means I can stretch the tempo! Amazing.

I discussed with my husband what it meant that auditions "start at 7pm". Does that mean I have to be there at 7? I mean, I'm used to a set time. DEAR PIPES, YOUR AUDIITION IS SCHEDULED FOR 7:23 PM. PLEASE ARRIVE 20 MINUTES EARLY. That kind of thing. We decided promptness was never wrong, so I showed up at 7 on the dot.

I could wear anything I want. Some people at the audition looked like they could have painted a house after the audition. I "dressed down" by wearing a less fancy skirt and less jewelry. I felt quite overdressed. The auditions were so relaxed, so casual. People made jokes, the director was supportive (how odd) and you could watch everyone else audition. Barely anybody sang a high note. I had told my husband to come pick me up in an hour--and I had to run out and tell him I didn't know how long I'd be....everytime the director asked for a volunteer, "I need a Mrs. Lovett to come up and read" I got stuck in the back! I finally read, I felt ok about it, I felt great about the singing (why not, it was 16 bars!) and then I walked past the crowd of people smoking after their audition (again, very odd) and went out to Perkins for Spinach Salad (I love their spinach salad) with the hubby.

The next day I made Callbacks! I haven't EVER been called back for a role. The one show I did years ago that had callbacks actually just hired me, and told me I didn't need to come back. The whole night before I had writhed in pain with chills and hubby had vomited. I woke up with terrible stomach cramps. Every time I got up off of the couch I thought, "I cannot do this". Then I taught 4 students, got (less) dressed up again, and headed out to the callbacks.

The callback audition was a series of readings with different groupings of characters and I loved it. I loved every dramatic exercise, every challenge. I thought, "I just LOVE doing this so much" and never even thought of whether I was getting the role. After the first reading I tripped over my broken boot on the way back to my seat and twisted my ankle--which is still swollen today. The pain was searing, I would say. But even that was a sign at how wonderfully distracted I was.

I met some fun people at that audition. Some people who reminded me of New York, I would say, and that was wonderful. I overheard someone saying they needed the role, and I have spent the last ten years telling myself to never, ever say that. I never need the role (my mantra) I never need the role.

So I got the role! I will be playing Mrs. Lovett in March. I am SO EXCITED. Who doesn't love a little bit of good news?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Where the Baby Is



This is just a report on Baby S at 15 months. I have spent the last few days feeling down about wanting to sing, feeling nervous about money, feeling helpless as i try to deal with her diaper rash, and I just want to think about some happy stuff. So here's a report.

At 15 Months Baby S's words are: Mama, Dada (and Daddy), Ginger, Max, Thank You, Shoe, Down, Hi, Hey, Bottle (or Ba-Ba, really), Nose, Hair, No no nono no no, Ball, Balloon, Happy (she says this ALL the time), Baby, and about 20 other words I can't recognize.

At 15 Months Baby S can run, walk, crawl, climb a step ladder, climb a chair and get on a table, shimmy under something to get a ball out, throw a ball (not great at the aiming part)

At 15 Months Baby S's favorite thing to do is immitate us. She wipes her nose with a tissue, brushes her hair and teeth, washes dishes, sweeps the floor, vaccuums, puts things away and takes them out. She also loves loud noises. She likes to bang things together, she likes dropping things that are loud and she likes turning things on that make a lot of noise. She is starting to really enjoy the Zebra that we bought her that she can ride on and make noise.

At 15 Months Baby S can spontaneously laugh at things. She loves repetition, and she loves anything which makes it appear she has manipulated something with her hands--for example, she laughs hysterically when you pretend like she moves your head with her hands. She gives "high Fives" and waves.

At 15 Months our biggest challenges with her are: Diaper Rash, getting the lead out of her blood, trying to get her to understand "no", getting her out of the dog water (sigh, this one will be the death of me), getting her out of the toilet, and trying to stop her from pulling heavy objects down on top of herself or falling off of things.

At 15 Months Baby S LOVES books. She loves to point at things that you have asked her to point at (like, "Where's the bird?") and she smiles hugely when you praise her for that. She brings me books all day long. Sometimes we read around 10 in a day.

At 15 months Baby S's cutest activities include: Giving you a "kiss", talking loudly to herself in the back seat of the car, talking quietly to herself in words that are incomprehensible as she does a detailed activity--like trying to fit something inside something else. She also runs to the door and yells "daddy" when hubby comes home and hugs his legs. She points at my nose and says "NOSE" and smiles, and giggles at things which make no sense to me.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Out of the Mouths of Teens

Ugh Mama Pipes! Do not exercise at 10:30 at night. It will be two hours before I am asleep and poor hubby is trying desperately to sleep next to me while I type and both the tv and lights are on.

But since it's been going through my head, here are some of the most entertaining things I've been asked by students this fall, and my responses.

QUESTION: What do people do with a musical theater major?

WHAT I WISH I COULD HAVE SAID: They get to study what they love but will probably be poor and work a lot of temp jobs.

WHAT I DID SAY: Some people decide to go to college to find a way to earn money. Some people go to find a way to do learn more about what they love. Sometimes they get to do both, those people are really lucky. But a lot of those people will probably wait tables :)

QUESTION: DO I HAVE TO SING LOUD? (isn't this a weird question? I get asked this a lot)

WHAT I WISH I COULD HAVE SAID: Only if you want other people to hear you.

WHAT I DID SAY: If you have 10 people sing in front of your class, no one will walk away going, "you know who was really great? That super super quiet girl you could hardly hear." Let's try to sing as loud as we can and as beautifully as we can for as long as we can.

QUESTION: ARE YOU SURE YOU'RE RIGHT ABOUT THIS ITALIAN? MY CHORUS TEACHER SAYS ITS DIFFERENT.
(I cheated on this one, this was asked of me a few years ago but I'll never forget it).

WHAT I WISH I COULD HAVE SAID: No, You're right. Your small town Missouri choir teacher is also oddly an expert on a language she's never spoken and probably barely studied.

WHAT I DID SAY: I'm not going to argue with your teacher. you're 16. Decide what you want to do and I'll go with it.

QUESTION: If you go off and audition for a company does that mean I'll lose you as a teacher?

WHAT I WISH I COULD HAVE SAID: Yes, God willing.

WHAT I DID SAY: Sure--if a miracle occurs and my 1 in 25 auditions statistic suddenly changes, I get every audition I sing for and I figure out a way to support my whole family so my husband can quit his job, pack up the baby and follow me around the country on gigs. At that point yes, I will no longer be your teacher.

No I didn't say that. I just told them that opera jobs last 6-8 weeks and at this point come for me about every two years, so barring the best year of my singing life up to this point, they'd be safe. *sigh* But I hold in my heart the possibility that this could be completely wrong.

And just in case any students read this: No, no one ever got famous without practicing.

This morning the baby, lying on her changing table, held up her shoe to me and said (clear as day) "SHOE". I love this stage.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Five Alarm Hanukkah

I have been thinking for the last few days about how I'd like to write a blog on the funniest questions I've been asked by students since teaching in Iowa....but I was just interrupted. Maybe I can do it tomorrow night.

I was interrupted by the sound of the smoke alarm. Hubby and I had a quiet Hanukkah tonight, after the baby fell asleep, and he'd worked out on our treadmill, and I'd fallen semi-conscious in our bed. We held hands and sang the prayer (he does about 2/3 of it, not bad for 3 years of marriage) and gave each other a nice set of 500 thread count sheets and an evergreen-scented candle. The candles glowed beautifully until we each retreated to two areas of the house and the fire apparently ignited the towel on the table. I went running in first, trying to beat out the falmes with a Fredericks of Hollywood catalog that hubby keeps conveniently on the coffee table, and hubby came running in with a bag of flour. Alas, we did not miss getting a big splash of wax on the wall, a burned towel, a menorah in bad need of cleaning and a lot of black stuff. But nothing burned. And you can't discount the blessing of a fire that never became a fire.

This morning started oddly, with me heading out into the car and the baby screaming her head off. I cancelled my whole morning to console her, and within about 40 minutes she was just "normal." Alas, sometimes you are the slave to a baby.

I dropped her off at her Wednesday daycare, (she was still sleeping) and went to teach. Two of my students did not show up, and a third one said she was sick and gave me a check. My gig at the high school leaves me with some unfair preferences for students--some pay for missed lessons, some don't. I have to come up with a list of rules or something.

In the middle of the day I got a call from hubby that Baby S was at the station with him. Apparently the sitter got sick, but the Baby did fine--munched on graham crackers while hubby wrote the 6 o'clock news, and entertained all the 20-somethings in the office.

And then somehow the evening ended here. I have things to do, but I find myself pretty much half-alive with exhaustion today. Maybe the mental strain, maybe the week off of teaching and having 13 students in 2 days has taken its toll.

The baby also learned this week how to climb. First it started with the step ladder. She now gets on the step ladder and washes dishes with me, makes scrambled eggs with me, and I find it's great for doing work in the kitchen. I set a snack on the counter next to me and she loves to stand up there, feeling tall, having her cheese or apple. But it also has its downside. She can climb up the chairs, get on the dining room table and destroy anything within reach. She does it with style, but it's a lot of work.

I suppose the blog is best ended by my husband's quote, as he looked at a half-sleeping baby in his arms, staring at the smoking menorah. "This is why you're not going to be allowed to have a menorah of your own." Enough said.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Not Crying over Spilled Milk


I went to Arizona to see family for a week. That ended on Wednesday night, when I flew back, baby in tow, and saw hubby. We crashed, then I spent all day Thursday teaching, and then Thursday night I got into a (cheap) rental car, left the baby with the hubby, and drove to Indianapolis for an audition. See, here's the deal. These auditions are hard to come by. And I guess I still believe that tenacity is sometimes how you put together a career. I figure people move to Iowa (or another place that's not NYC) they get comfortable, happy, full, stop practicing, and stop auditioning. I do not want to give up. So if you give me an audition, I will get there. And my wonderful husband will shove me out the door and watch the baby.

I arrived in Indianapolis around 11:30pm, at the house of an old acquaintance of my husband, whom I'd never met, and crashed on his couch. My throat was on fire. I was definitely getting sick, and praying that it didn't matter. MIND OVER MATTER. I was so tired, I did silly things. Forgot my resume. Nice. I slept well, (insanely well), although I woke up with my breasts in PAIN and full of milk, and I suffered through the whole day, trying not to leak on everything.

I emailed, listened to the pieces I'd planned, re-vamped my approach, assessed how I felt, and tried to go in "smart".

I drove to the audition, where (unfortunately) the door to the outside of the building opened up into the large audition room where they were sitting, waiting for me (SO UNCOMFORTABLE). I asked if I could warm up. They were delightfully polite. I warmed up, came back in, and started singing probably before I was ready.

My first piece went REALLY well, but I could feel my lack of stamina already. The high note was shorter...I just couldn't do it with the power I normally can. I said to myself, ACT, BABY, ACT. Because I figured it wouldn't be a day of perfect vocal prowess.

A second piece went surprisingly well. The pianist complemented me--that helped. And then the head of the company asked for a "piece" of a third aria. "for contrast" he said. (another Rossini, which I thought was odd for contrast). Anyhoo...I sang some of it, but instantly I could feel pinched notes. I tried to get my feet under me, but I knew it wouldn't happen. I couldn't get the pianist to slow down, and I hadn't given her a tempo. DAMNIT. I made it through a section. I acted. I squawked out notes at the top that weren't great, but at least they were in tune.

I stopped. I said, "is that enough? We're taking it a little too fast, so I thought it might be a good place to stop." I laughed, trying to feel as utterly calm and casual as I could. The pianist profusely apologized and I responded, "oh no, it's me, not you" as much as I could. The company head was friendly, kind. He said, "it just repeats anyway" but I didn't feel great.

The last few auditions had been such victories. I suppose sick, tired, spilling milk, it was a victory in itself. But it's a bit tough in the wake of it.

I remind myself that sometimes I have sung the crap out of an audition, shined, done the perfect thing, and gotten nothing. I remind myself that I got jobs out of average singing. It's too hard to second guess. Just too hard.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Finding my Stocking


My stocking is gone.

My relationship with the holidays has been strange. I grew up with a catholic dad. He was midwestern, and I adored him, and we put up lights outside together (though it was 60-80 degrees in Phoenix) and got an enormous tree. He made the whole thing sparkle. In fact, as a special thing, when he played "santa" he would leave tinsel on the tree and tracks from "santa mouse" and fill the stockings with creative, marvelous modern gifts and candy. My dad was really good at the show. He got you what you wanted. He knew. All year he may have followed through, he may have drunk too much, but he made sure the holidays were good.

I grew up with a Jewish mom. She was not a huge fan of christmas. She said we would blitz out on candy and be obnoxious by 10am. She was probably right. I remember sibling fights on christmas. I also remember my dad, exhausted by a "santa" run that started around 2:30 am, probably passed out by noon. It was never quite it was hyped up to be. Hanukkah, on the other hand--was simple, special. It was a few moments each night of warmth with my family. It was one or two gifts each night, and time to appreciate each one.

So as a single person, I just pretty much abandoned Christmas. I celebrated Hanukkah on the phone with my mom and usually my sisters, but on Christmas I did the following: I avoided crowded churches, went to the movies, ate a hot dog from a stand, and called my dad. Done and done. Nothing was ever missed. In fact, I LOVED the peace of those days! New York City is so quiet on Christmas (if you're up in Harlem). I do remember my first year going down to the upper west side and getting stuck in a revolving door of a movie theater. It was the MOST CROWDED movie theater I've ever seen. And as I got stuck in that door I heard the woman next to me yell "Jeez! Every jew in New York is at this theater!" I'll never forget that. I guess I had picked a team for that holiday.

When dating my husband, I'll never forget the conversation when he told me he (as a single man) had TWO christmas trees. Artificial (we always had real, and the smell of pine still makes me happy) and "themed". He got "wow gifts", and shopped 'till he dropped, and all of the things that made me feel uncomfortable about Christmas. He told me if we got married I'd have to get my own tree (rather than compromise his theme) and I got off the phone and cried. I had just found what made me happiest as a single person on the holidays, and did the opposite. He even ate (gag me) ham!

So . . . here we are. I've got a baby, I married that weirdo, and now I find myself trying to remember the things I most loved about the "trimmings" of Christmas. I loved having my own stocking, and now my dad can't find my childhood stocking! I loved the lights. The bell ringers outside stores are cool, and carols on Christmas Eve. I can't do carols that never stop for the two months prior....no way. But my husband decorates for Hanukkah now. He only puts up one tree (I still have to have my own) and we compromise.

All I have to do is find these things in my daughter's eyes. That's why we do it anyway, I think...to capture the thing we lost, the innocence. That kind of thing. I make no pretense about it being about the Bible...the easiest thing to do is just accept it for what it is. Commercial. Shiny. Innocent. That kind of thing.