Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Season of Light

One of my greatest teachers has been Rachel Naomi Remen. I have never met this woman, but her words have deeply influenced me over the past two years. She is a doctor who counsels terminally ill patients, and she has written two books about her experiences. Her stories of healing, life, and spirit make me cry and laugh and marvel, and they touch a place deep inside of me. They make me want to be a better person and a fuller human being.

Rachel's grandfather was a rabbi, and though he died when she was only seven he touched her life profoundly. In "My Grandfather's Blessings" Rachel includes a story about Hannukah. Now, I am not a religious person, and as a non-Jew I don't know much about Hannukah, or really any of the Jewish holidays. I know the basic story about the Maccabees, but that's about it. However, Rachel's story about Hannukah touched me and made me understand a little bit what it's all about, so I'd like to share it with you.

At the time of this story Rachel is a little girl just learning about Hannukah. Night after night she and her grandfather light the candles together and watch as they dispel the darkness of Winter. On the final night, the seven glowing candles are so beautiful that they make Rachel ache. Her grandfather then says this:

"The story of Hannukah says that God's light burns in the darkness even without oil, and it is so. That is one of the miracles of the light. But there is more. There is a place in everyone that can carry the light...When God says 'Let There be Light,' he is speaking to us personally. He is telling us what is possible, how we might choose to live. But one candle does not do much in the darkness. God has not only given us the chance to carry the light, he has made it possible for us to kindle and strengthen the light in one another, passing the light along. This is the way that God's light will shine forever in this world."

After this, Rachel writes "After many years I have found that often we discover the place in us that carries the light only after it has become dark. Sometimes it is only in the dark that we know the value of this place. But there is a place in everyone that can carry the light."

I don't believe in a God, but I believe in Light, which may be what people mean by God anyway. Because of this story I was inspired to get a menorah and candles and celebrate this beautiful holiday in my own non-Jewish way. I wanted to take some time to remind myself of the light inside of me, the light inside of all of us, and our call to kindle the light inside of each other.

May your inner light shine warm and bright as the days get colder and darker, and may we grow to be able to see the light inside of every person.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Giving Thanks and other Weighty Issues

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Four days later! Whatever, I was in a food coma for the past three and couldn't be bothered to get up off the couch in order to blog. But even though the holiday has come and gone, I still want to take a moment to publicly Give Thanks for all the wonderful things this past year has brought me.

So I officially give thanks for:
Buddhist abbeys
awesome moms
awesome sisters
awesome brothers-in-law
kittens and dogs
all the amazing people in my life who teach me new things every day
did I mention super-awesome moms?

Thank you world, for all the wonderful things in you. May I live my life in gratitude for everything that comes along in each moment.

Okay, that's done! Now let's move on to other matters that have been occupying my mind.

So those of you who know me know that I am a *ahem* "big girl." By that I mean that I've been known to eat my weight in fudge, and my body reflects that penchant. It's been a pretty annoying and sometimes awful sticking point in my life. But thanks (again) to Buddhism, I'm starting to create some space around this issue, and some interesting things have come up.

For example: I rarely feel like a fatty inside. As far as I'm concerned, I am a lithe and graceful fairy princess. When I see a picture of myself or catch an unexpected glimpse in the mirror or knock something over with my ass cause I didn't give myself enough room (true story, people), I am genuinely shocked and surprised and dismayed. The reality outside just doesn't match the reality inside.

So which one is real?

I'll give you time to discuss.

Oh wait, did you think I would have an answer to this? I don't. Let's just discuss and see what we come up with. And you may think the answer is obvious, but I'm not so sure.

Just think about it.

There is one other aspect to this matter of weight that has been coming up a lot recently, and it's a little thornier and a little less esoteric. I'd like to pose a question, and you may think you know the answer, but let's work with this a little bit.

The question is: Do fat people deserve happiness?

The answer is, of course, yes, everybody deserves happiness. But I suspect many of us don't give that answer right away, or give the answer quickly while a small (or maybe large) part of us recoils in disgust and isn't so sure.

Here's why I'm currently thinking about this. Example 1: My grandmother. She has very little to do and is insane and Italian, so her newest obsession is my weight. She calls me on the phone to tell me she's worried about my weight. I don't visit her anymore because the last time I did she advanced on me (quite literally,) smacking the back of her hand with her palm and exhorting me to "starve myself if I need to." She always brings my weight up in conversations with my mother and sister. Now, this is all mostly a reflection of her insanity, but her attitude that I'm no good if I'm fat is subtly mirrored in much of our culture. Grandmom is just an extreme example because she has no internal screening process. There's a lot more to this point, but it would take a thesis to explore, and we just don't want to go there.

So let's move on to other brief examples.

My sister has always been thin and strong and beautiful, from day one. She used to have these golden ringlets when she was a toddler, and next to her in pictures I look like a dark, angry, stocky troll. This body dynamic has never changed for either of us, and though 28 years have passed I haven't yet been able to free myself from envy. So the other night my mom and I did a little clothes shopping, and my loving mom quickly started playing her favorite game, "buying things for her daughters." I happen to like this game, but my ears perked up when mom said "this would look great on your sister. She is just so beautiful." I couldn't help but read into the subtext of what she said, and has been saying for years. The subtext is that she is beautiful because she has a beautiful body, and I couldn't help but feel the cry rise up inside me "but aren't I beautiful, too?"

Frankly, in most American people's minds I'm not, because I don't have a beautifully thin body. It seems a narrow standard of beauty, but it seems to be the only one that matters. I'm sure in Fiji, where large and hairy women are celebrated, I would be a prize. But I cannot even wrap my mind around a reality in which that would be true.

I certainly don't mean to disparage my mom, because she is she is wonderful and compassionate. But she is, we all are, a product of society, and she is an example of what most people think. It happened, I didn't imagine it, and it's been happening for all of my life. And I can see it in many, many other people's eyes. What I constantly see is: "she would be so beautiful if she would just put the box of Godiva down..."

And so I am left always feeling less-than, always falling short of the goal, and I've despised myself for it for all these years. I've screamed at myself and hated myself and told myself that I am undeserving of love. All because I don't fit into a narrow perception of a concept that could be so much broader.

I am beautiful. We all are. Period. No exceptions. And maybe it's just that I'm unable to see other things that may be in their eyes that I don't notice because I'm fixated on the weight thing. That's a definite possibility here.

At any rate, I'm tired of feeling awful because I fall short in one over-hyped category of classification. I'm over it. So get on the bus, Grandma. You're either in or your out.

Next stop, happytown!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Girls Gone Wild and other Bad Decisions

So I know back in August I promised to write a multi-part series for your entertainment about my Buddhist abbey experience. It was to be aptly titled "Abbey Adventures." Well, I tried to pull something together for you, I really did, but much to my dismay it just refused to gel.

The truth is, I've been wanting to write something vastly entertaining for you all, but I haven't been able to find anything funny and amusing to write about. Life seems rough these days, and though I've been writing a lot, it's not been particularly funny. It's not the kind of stuff you post on the internet for all to see.

Until now.

I've decided to bare it all in front of all of you. Consider me an emotional Girl Gone Wild.

I don't know if this is a good idea. Lord knows I have had a lot of really stupid, I mean like really stupid ideas lately, but apparently that doesn't stop me. Why I want to do this, I can't say. I don't know why I feel the need to vomit my guts up for everyone to see (ew). But I want to, so I will.

Plus, I'm pretty sure that nobody actually reads this thing except for my girlfriends and my sister anyway, so no harm done.

Actually, I'm going to give myself a night to reconsider.

Okay, so while I reconsider I can tell you all that I finally landed a waitress job.

After two days I've learned that it pays roughly five dollars an hour.

I had such high hopes. I was going to be able to pay my bills. I was going to be able to start paying off my credit card. I was going to join the leagues of civilized human beings again. Instead, I've learned that the shame of being a thirty-year-old woman with a $5-an-hr job burns, and not like the good shame-burn of lusting after teenage werewolves.

So to recap: my life has devolved into a combination of continuous bad decisions and Girls Gone Wild.

All I need is one of those pesky front teeth knocked out and I'll be ready for welfare and a comfy but cramped trailer.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Kittens, squash, and Shark Week

Greetings from Upstate New York! I am housesitting for some friends while they camp in the Adirondacks...well, I say housesitting, but really it's kitten sitting, which as far as I'm concerned is the best kind of sitting there is. Because what it better than a kitten? The answer is: NOTHING. Not a roller coaster. Not a bottle of wine (though that comes close). Not Shark Week. Nothing is better than a kitten.

Just to prove my point, here's a picture of the kitten with a giant squash.

So here I am in the country with the kitten, and I am realizing that because I've been living in metro NJ/PA for 8 months now I've forgotten a few things about upstate NY.

First of all, summer in upstate NY is a wonderful thing, really second only to a fuzzy kitten. It's at least ten degrees cooler than NJ and filled with waterfalls and swimming holes and shimmering lakes and cool evenings and warm sun.

Second of all, it is so quiet here. Like, a little unnervingly quiet. I think if my friend Brooke, who heralds from uber-metro NJ and wears things like leopard-print platforms and blue zebra-print bikinis (and looks fabulous in them, by the way) were here for a week, she'd slowly scratch her eyes out with boredom ("No pilates classes...no nearby shopping...heels sinking into grass...animals everywhere...must...plan...something...aaaaggghh!") There is just nothing here to distract you from your thoughts and the sounds of the summer critters outside, and I include roosters in that phrase.

So it's good to have your thoughts stacked neatly in a row, because if they aren't, they will be soon. There's no other option.

Today I will spend my day knitting and taking walks and petting kittens and trying to be okay with the silence and the thoughts it leaves me with. I'll probably pick some more giant squash from the giant garden and cook fresh veggies all day.

Big breath in...and aahhh.

If anyone wants to join me in this idyllic country retreat give me a call. I'll be here for a week. My only requirement is that you must love kittens. Or Shark Week. Either will work.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


I've hit a new low, and oh how the shame burns.

Last night I went to see the new(ish) Twilight movie Eclipse. And man, was I excited. I had the best time. But before the movie I looked around and realized that there I was, a 30-year-old woman, sitting alone at a teen movie.

I could have been shamed into leaving. But that's not how I roll. Instead I dug deeper into my pretzel-and-nacho-cheese snack and settled in gleefully for the previews.

Oh yeah. It was good. It was just about everything I had hoped for. But unfortunately it seems to have set me back about fifteen years. I was supposed to be job-hunting (again) today, or practicing, or meditating, or any number of the useful things I've been doing with my time. Instead I woke up and found I couldn't do anything but watch the first Twilight video.

But that's not enough. My newly-young, teenaged, hormone-riddled heart demands more. I have about $50 to my name, and I just used a significant portion of it driving around town looking for the cheapest New Moon movie.

Oh, I got it. And as soon as I am done with this post (and there have been lots of mistakes cause I'm speeding though it just as fast as I can) I'm gonna watch it. And it will be good.

Oh, Jacob and Bella...I know I'm supposed to be learning through Buddhism that the pleasures of this world are not real, and that if we can give up the craving we can be truly happy. But love is so bitterly sweet. How can we not crave it?

So just for today I'm going to give in to the craving of this world. I'm going to pretend I'm a teenager and swoon over this silly story. And it's going to be awesome.

And I'm out of money, so for the love of Jeebus if somebody has the books and is willing to lend them to me CALL ME NOW.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Words To Be Read By All Internet Users Throughout the Universe Everywhere

Folks, the wedding showers may be over, but a whole new form of shower is rearing it's puffy, tulle-covered head.

That pastel-and-cake-covered thing over there is...wait for it...the baby shower.

Yes, they've started, and only nine months after the wedding showers have ended (coincidence? I think not).

But you know, I don't mind the baby showers too much, mostly because I don't have to DO anything official at them like I did for all the wedding showers. Even though most of the time is spent watching the large lady over there opening presents from people you don't know, you get to sit there and chat with your friends and drink the champagne punch. Then you eat cake and get the hell out of there. You don't have to help unwrap and catalog the presents, you don't have to come up with "games" (and I use the term loosely) for the shower attendees to play. You just sit and eat. Oh yeah, and bring your gift.

It's no day-at-the-beach-on-a-picnic-blanket-with-Matt-Damon, but there are worse ways to spend a Sunday afternoon.

But seriously, I cannot wait to meet the first addition to our girlfriend group! He/she should be here within a month, and it is very exciting.

Today at the shower it was brought to my attention that certain people find this blog interesting and amusing, and I realized that I have been lax in fulfilling my duty to interest and amuse, the duty that I took on when I created Words To Be Read By All Internet Users Throughout the Universe Everywhere. I have been flirting with the idea of documenting my experience at the abbey, and I think now that I'm gonna do it! Strictly in the name of interest and amusement, of course.

So starting tomorrow I will begin a multi-part series entitled...well, I haven't gotten that far yet. But it'll be good, don't you worry.

Stay tuned! And, again, you're welcome.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Mind the Gap, Please

Watch out, you guys, cause I'm going philosophical on you today. I'm supposed to be working on my fiction writing this morning, but instead I've gotten caught up in online teachings on Buddhism. So today you're getting my (undoubtedly fascinating and illuminating) thoughts on these teachings. Think of it as a little sermon given by a totally unqualified individual.

You're welcome.

I've been feeling kind of icky lately. After my abbey experience I was so centered and peaceful. Then I got bombarded by TV and radio and computer games (so wrong and yet so right) and, well, humanity as it exists today. And I can feel my anxiety rising and my peace fading. I can feel my demons slithering and clawing and crawling their way back through my innards. I was feeling so blissfully unconcerned with my body, like someone threw water on a fire that's been burning and suddenly there's relief from the pain. But with an impending trip to New York to see my friends from the casino the demon voices have started hissing in my ear again. They tell me that I'm so fat, that people will think I'm ugly, that I'm not sophisticated enough (for what, I don't know). I've tried to start singing again, and the demons hiss their old and familiar tune, that I'm not good enough, that I'm a failure, that I've racked up this debt for nothing.

In an attempt to take financial control of my life, I've been spending the week coming up with different "profit centers" that I can utilize to actualize my talents and make money with them. I've been working on business plans galore; one for singing and acting, one for writing, and one for a sort of "creativity store" that I mentioned in an earlier blog. And it's helped, a little bit. But then I listen to a dharma teaching, and I can feel how far from my own peace I've strayed and how anxious I've gotten.

I wanted to share a particular statement that struck me this morning. The teaching I listened to (twice!) is about suffering, and the nun who was teaching on it said this:

"Wanting to be happy, wanting perfection to happen [or] occur in our existence, that means there's always this gap that occurs, [there's] always this imbalance...and so there's always this ideal state that we desire for, hope for, and envision, and then there's the real state of existence that we have to put up with. That's quite a gap."

This statement and idea gave me so much relief. I can feel its truth so strongly. Can't you? I feel it especially in its relation to my singing "career." I feel such a sense of despair and failure that my career hasn't gone as planned, as was set out for me in the trade magazines I read, in the "opera camps" I attended, in the entirety of my Masters training. The gap between what is and what should be or what I (am supposed to) want is wide, and it doesn't seem to be narrowing. As a result I feel panicked. It also works for the discrepancy between what my body actually is and what I want it to be. And I assign my very worth to the fact that I can't close this gap. I can't be what I want to be, and so I am a failure, a nothing, worthless.

I just want to be happy. We all just want to be happy. And I'm not, and nothing I do seems to really, deeply fill the happiness void and make me feel whole, except for listening to Buddhist teachings and studying Buddhist texts. And, frankly, that's scary, because what do I do now? I'm certainly not ready to become a nun, for goodness sake, and I'm not ready to separate from the things that I love, like my family and horseback riding and ice cream (though we all know where that leads) and wine and roller coasters and the beach and my kitten.

And though I now know that these "profit centers" that I've been working on won't bring me true, lasting happiness, I have to pursue the ability to make money and support myself, cause that's just a necessity, and I'd like to be able to do it in a reasonably pleasant way.

So I guess what has to change here is my mind, somehow. I need to stop feeling worthless because I can't close the gaps, and I need to start finding joy in what is. I need to Let it Be.

Maybe there's a reason why I cry every time I hear that song.

Be happy, everybody. Be what you are in this moment, and love it.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Busted Open

Hello from the other side (if you don't get that, see the end of the last blog post...and oh hell, while you're at it, go ahead and read the entire post)! I am happy to report that not only did I survive my week as a Buddhist nun, I thrived. I lost, like, seven pounds due to the mindful eating and vegetarian menu (of course right before writing this I had my face buried in a monster slice of cake. Old habits die hard). The constant silence allowed me to relate to both myself and the people around me in a new and lovely way. And the pesky clothing situation was hard at first, but by the end of my week not only was I reveling in the comfort of baggy clothing, I wasn't plucking my eyebrows or showering every day either, because those things just weren't that important. And I was happy as a clam. Well, probably happier.

I arrived back in stinking-hot Philadelphia with a new sense of peace and purpose. And then, just as I was about to return to my mom's apartment and life as usual, I sprained my ankle. Badly. I did it outside, in the rain, on, like, two steps, and afterwards I had to sit in the rain for a while because I couldn't walk and nobody was home. After a trip to the emergency room (my sister did come home eventually!) I spent the past week trying to keep my right leg elevated and being waited on by my sister and brother-in-law because I was completely incapacitated.

(P.S. Have you ever tried to carry a bowl of cereal from the counter to the table on crutches? Take my advice, just don't)

Not that it's not sort of nice to get waited on. But I had big plans for this week. I was going to find a job, start a Buddhist dharma practice, get back to working out, look for stuff to audition for, start singing again, etc., etc.

Instead I couldn't do anything. And I have a point about this. I sort of feel like "life," whatever that word means, is screaming at me to "STOP," and it will break my ankle and physically stop me if it needs to to get me to listen. I don't know why I would need to stop, but the fact is that it's happened, and maybe I should pay attention.

I'm not just talking about the ankle. I'm talking about the fact that even though I have a Masters and am highly intelligent, friendly, and professional, and even though I send in reams of applications for all sorts of jobs and even have a few interviews, I can't seem to find a job to save my life. I left my life in Ithaca and my loving and dear husband in January, and I still don't really know why (although things are slowly becoming clearer on this point). I am 30 years old and I feel like I'm moving backwards; no career, suddenly no prospects for children, and living with my mother.

So my life has already ground to a halt, and every time a try to start it up again I am forcibly stopped.

There are a lot of things that I learned about in this first foray into Buddhism that have started to illuminate why all this is happening. I'll save these insights for another blog post, because this one is already getting unwieldy! But maybe all this is happening for a reason, not some sort of cosmic reason or ultimate grand plan that I don't know about, but because of who I am in the world and what I want from it. And maybe I should start listening to the stuff deep inside of me that I've been scared to hear for so long.

Well, what an unsatisfying and esoteric way to end a post. Sorry. I'll leave you with the fact that my ankle is rapidly getting better and I can almost feed and take care of myself. Meanwhile my left butt cheek is getting the workout of its life. Things are going to be very uneven when I am healed up...


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Character-Building starts NOW

You guys, I am FUH-REAKING OUT! And the reason for my freak-out is so silly, so comically absurd. What is this reason, you ask? Well, I'll tell you.

I'm going to a retreat at a Buddhist abbey on Friday. It seemed like an awesome idea at the time, but now that the time has come to start packing my bags I am having second thoughts. Early mornings, no coffee, no cake, no wine, lots of meditation. I mean, I haven't had coffee in days to try to acclimate, and I am hurting. I almost got into, like, three accidents because my head is stuffed with cotton and hurts, and I can't seem to think straight or get off the couch.

(speaking of cake, get a load of this cake my dad baked for father's day:

That's icing in there! Mmmmmm. But I digress...)

A few days ago I got a document in my email telling us what we should pack. Here's the part that's leading to the meltdown:

"To demonstrate respect for the monastic environment and to subdue our minds please bring clothing that is loose fitting, baggy of solid colors. This means comfortable clothing that is not revealing and is free of designs, patterns and logos."

I haven't worn anything baggy since I was 12 and giant T-shirts were in. Pretty much everything I wear is revealing and patterned. Hell, I'm from New Jersey, people. We don't do sloppy here, we do tight and vivid! Also, I hate neutrals. Bright, vivid colors draw so much more attention, don't they?

I realized that I would have to make a shopping trip (and I use the term loosely) to pick up some solid-colored, baggy clothing. I tried Target, but it was just too cool. I realized I would have to dumb it down.

I went to K-Mart.

I tried, you guys, I really did. But I JUST COULDN'T DO IT. I have spent my entire life working to accent my boobies. It's all I know. I tried the ugly, baggy things on but, I swear, they burned. I took them off faster than you could say "om."

I knew that this was going to be a difficult, character-building kind of vacation. I just didn't realize the pain was going to start NOW, and with T-shirts.

I did manage to pick up a few solid-colored items, but they are fairly well-cut and, well, show off my boobies. A little bit. Just a teensy bit. I'll wear tank tops under them, I swear! Oh, and though there are one or two grays and browns in the bunch, I just couldn't resist picking up some brilliant blues and greens.

Hey, they didn't actually say anything about bright colors...

So now that I'm home, am I drinking a glass of French chardonnay with an ice cube in it? You bet I am. I bolted into that liquor store like my head was on fire. I will spend tonight drinking the bottle whilst floating in the apartment pool and enjoying my last hours of decadence.

Wish me luck, everybody. See you on the other side.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

City Girl Goes Country...Temporarily

Who am I kidding, I'm no city girl. I'm stuck somewhere between city girl and country girl, in the netherlands of non-classification (hee hee, netherlands...). But anyway, I went backpacking for the first time this weekend.

When I told people I was going to do this I got raised eyebrows and chuckles. But seeing as my life is wide open, it seems like an ideal time to try anything and everything. And, frankly, I've always been curious, and I like hiking, and I've been camping once, so I said what the hell, let's do this thing! And so, my sister and her husband helped me load up my ridiculously puny pink backpack, donned their own giant, 80-pound hardcore backpacks, grabbed Milo the retarded dog, and we all headed down into Shenandoah national park for three days of pain.

Here's what I learned on my first backpacking trip:

1. Your knitting project is not a necessity and therefore does not get to come.

2. Ticks and zombies are essentially the same thing, but ticks are much much smaller and harder to find. You'll have to check various...crevices and pull them out with your fingernails. To do this, you will have to get multiple, multiple ticks under your fingernails. The first time you will be all "ew ew ew ew ew!", but then you will get used to it, which is disturbing. When you're in your tent ticks will climb the walls trying to get to your delicious blood, and if you listen hard enough you can hear their little teeny voices groaning "braaaiins."

3. Even though Clif bars come in a variety of flavors, such as Carrot Cake, Cherry Almond, and Oatmeal Raisin, they all taste basically the same. And you will eat a lot of them whilst backpacking.

4. Bears are an ever-present danger when you're backpacking. You will live in fear of them for the duration of the hike. Any smell will attract them, including toothpaste, boxed wine, hand sanitizer, and, of course, those delicious Clif bars. When you are sleeping you must put all of these items in a big bag and hang them in a tree far away. Like, really high up. This process involves lots of rope and pulley systems. Also, when you hike, you will constantly be looking for bear poop and making as much noise as possible. In short, bears are terrifying.

5. Brushing your teeth in the wild is a disgusting process, but less disgusting than not brushing your teeth, so it must be done. First you must go far away from your campsite because of the bears. The actual brushing is fine, but the cleaning of the toothbrush involves spitting water onto your toothbrush, and the foam gets all over your hands and you can't wipe them on your pants (again, because of the bears), and it's just bad.

6. Millipedes are in actuality not slimy, but sort of hard and exo-skeleton-y. Please don't ask how I learned this, you don't want to know the answer.

7. Being on the top of a mountain in a thunderstorm is, simply put, THE WORST PLACE YOU COULD POSSIBLY BE IN THE WORLD. Worse than China. Worse than the DMV. Especially when you're holding metal hiking poles. You will think it's no big deal, that the chances of getting hit by lightning are very small, but the experienced hikers will literally run down the mountain and you will have to follow. You will not get to see the views that you hiked uphill for 5 hours to see.

8. There are plants that sting if you touch them. Entire campsites can be surrounded by them.

9. Pooping in the woods is the most disgusting thing that you will ever have to do. Whilst doing so, you will worry incessantly about stinging plants and ticks in crevices and millipedes. Then, to "leave no trace", you'll have to do stuff to it. No more will be said about this process.

10. That first shower, bed with sheets, and hot, non-Clif-bar-based meal is the most glorious thing you will ever experience.

11. After one backpacking trip you will be convinced that you are ready to hike the entire Appalachian Trail and you will start making abstract plans to do so the next summer. You are not. But it's good to have unreachable goals.

So, you may ask after reading these 11 key points about hiking, why do it? You couldn't possibly have had fun, could you? Well, the answer is that I did actually have fun. The hiking itself was fabulous exercise, and I saw lots of beautiful scenery. There's really nothing like walking through a fern field on the top of a mountain, even with a retarded dog strapped to your hip. Even if you don't get to stay on top of the mountain because of a storm.

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. The satisfaction of feeling your legs carry you through 13 miles of wilderness is worth the various pitfalls. The stunning views of the Shenandoah mountains fading into the distance is worth the sweat and the bear danger. The new and unusual lifestyle that must be adopted stretches your mind and your life experience and gives you a new appreciation for all the conveniences that modern life offers.

Especially if your brother-in-law carries the boxed wine.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Kicking ass and taking names, Mozart-style

I've been having a busy, exciting spring of gigging for money! How cool is THAT? First there was my composer friend's recital, wherein another soprano and I sang a 25-minute, 7-scene mini-opera totally a-capella. Then it was a guest appearance with my dad's chorus.

But the latest gig is the one I want to talk about. I did the soprano II part in Mozart's Grand Mass in C Minor, or, as I like to call it, One Of The Coolest Things In The World Ever. I sang it in chorus in college, and it blew my mind. Specifically, I thought "I WILL sing those solos before I die. Someday it will be me up there."

Well, that day came last week, but not without its complications.

First of all, I wanted the Soprano I solo, but it had been given away already, so I thought (perhaps against my better judgement) that I would give the lower II part a try.

I was worried about it. There were complicated runs right through the middle section of my voice, which is the hardest section to contend with. My aria plunged from low A to high A two octaves above in the span of a measure or two. But I worked and worked it, and went to upstate New York with the knowledge that I had done my best.

Then I met the other soloists and became afraid. They were all older, with big honking voices, and I was sure that I was being sung out of the water by them. But I knew there was nothing I could do, and I let it go. I kept working and polishing and refining as best I could, but my voice was my voice and there was absolutely nothing I could do to change it at the moment.

(Perhaps now is the time to mention that, as an unemployed artist, I haven't been able to afford a lesson since December, so I've been working stuff myself. Not a confidence builder)

But at the dress rehearsal something happened. When it came my turn to sing I knew that the only thing I could do was to feel the fire and go into it. I just had to tame that aria and ride it, wild tiger that it is (I've been reading Life of Pi, which is about a boy and a tiger trapped in a lifeboat on the ocean. You should read it). So I did. I forgot about the chorus members listening and judging behind me, and I just sang it.

And it was awesome.

I also sang my guts out (in a refined way, of course!) in the duet, trio, and quartet, and I rocked those too.

Afterwards I received more compliments than I've ever received in my life, including compliments from the orchestra members, which I thought just didn't happen. And then I repeated it all for the performance, and I was great.

See, I realized that I could either go into the voices in my head telling me how much I suck, or I could realize that I had other things to offer that these older singers couldn't. Being young, I had a freshness and evenness of voice that they didn't. I also possess a musicality that they didn't (if I do say so myself, and I do). I had my own strengths to bring, and I needed to believe that to be able to succeed, and I have never believed it before.

I think I finally developed what is called "mental grit."

I've never been so happy with a performance, and with what I heard when I listened to the recording.

To put it bluntly: I did it! Yay!

This is good, because the auditioning has not been going well. I've been raked across the coals, and my ego was badly bruised. So I stopped and started over.

It's just nice to have some confidence back.

Maybe I'll try again, but this time with the tiger fire inside of me!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Krishna vs. Buddha Cage Match

I imagine Krishna and Buddha looking down at me from above. One has his arms crossed over his chest and a furrowed brow. The other pulls at his lower lip pensively. Both are deep in thought. Krishna turns to Buddha.

"Maybe she wasn't ready to come back as a human."

Buddha nods.

"What was she the last time?"

"A sloth."

"Hmm, she should have come back as a cat. I think she skipped a stage."

Silence. Both contemplate.

"Let's see if she can make it," Buddha says.

*Disclaimer: This blogger assumes no responsibility for the accuracy of the process of reincarnation as put forth in the above

*Additional Disclaimer: The title of above blog has little to nothing to do with the actual content.

Friday, February 26, 2010

I am taking back my Power

I'm done with letting other people define who I am.

I know I live with my head in the clouds. I've designed my life to be that way. That is how I choose to live, because in the clouds, anything is possible, and isn't life exciting in a place like that? That's where I like to be, and where I am happy.

I know I'm emotional. But isn't that wonderful? To be able to feel life with such intensity? Not that it doesn't cause difficulties, and doesn't paint my life in shades of gray and black sometimes, but it's better than than the alternative. And as often as it paints my life in darkness or dullness, it just as often paints it in brilliant blues and purples.

Well, to be honest, I'm still trying to find that balance, but it's coming.

I'm sick of singing in the hopes that someone will like me. I sing because I have this gift, and don't you dare try to judge me on if it's good enough. I'm done with that. I will always work on it, but it's good enough as it is.

I am beautiful just as I am, and I've spent all my life not believing that. I am taking back my power, and my right to inhabit this world as I am. All my life I thought I was inherently flawed.

Well, not anymore. That is done right now.


I don't usually do this, but I'm going to post a poem that I myself wrote. Here it is:

When I was younger I ran to the edge, to the brink, to the lip, and sobbed, begging.
Take it. Please. I don't want it. I can't deal with it.
Nothing answered.
Then I learned
to push it under
To pummel it and to punish it
and to hate it, finding ways to reaffirm the fact
that I was wrong wrong wrong.

Now suddenly I sob and beg again at the brink.
Help me. Please. I couldn't get rid of it. I couldn't deal with it.
This time a voice whispers back
gently, barely audible.

It sighs:
Don't you know that this is what makes you beautiful?

Friday, February 12, 2010

We apologize for the delay in our regularly scheduled programming

Life has been upside-down. White has suddenly become black, black has become white, Flava-Flav has become handsome...you get the idea.

I've been meditating and doing Yoga nonstop. I've also started reading and studying yogic texts, as well as various others from the self-help genre (a genre which I love, and will feel no shame about). I've been researching Ashrams in India.

For the first time in my life I'm really, really, I mean really listening to myself, scary stuff and all. It's terrifying and wonderful. Sometimes my fears and my grief overwhelm me, and that's okay. But also, sometimes I feel a core of genuine strength that I've never felt before inside me. That strength is scary, because it's not compatible with a lot of the way I've been living my life. But the strength takes over, whether I want it to or not. It is sweeping through my life, whether I want it to or not.

I won't go on about this, but I will say that this strength is telling me to start a school. A school for the arts and creativity and soul. Or something like that. I don't know. I'm starting to work on it and collect ideas and people in my mind.

For now I'm going to pursue that stillness and truth, because that's what I want and need right now, more than performance opportunities.

I have a feeling this is going to open up a whole new world for me, one in which I can stop clinging so tightly to my performance dreams and just open up. I can let me be me, and whatever follows will follow. And, frankly, I know that if I stop grasping and gasping after performing and instead follow my truth, the performing will come to me. Because really, all I've ever wanted from performance was to open my inner soul and create a community, however briefly. I've always wanted to find the emotional truth and power in the music and the emotion and the text and let it flow through me.

Maybe now it will actually be able to.

Change, real change, is the most difficult and painful thing in the world. Now I really know that. But, change we must.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Bach to Baroque

What a terrible, music-dork/jerk title.

But whatever. It effectively conveys the theme of the gig I did last night over at Eastman (hells yes!).

A dear professor over at SU asked me to sing a few pieces on his organ recital there. First off, let me say right now that of all the instruments in existence that I like, the organ is waaay down at the bottom of the list (right above clarinets...shudder).

I do not like the organ.

I mean, the organ, the instrument, not the organ, the...(oh no, stop right there, Em! Your mother-in-law reads this!)

Aaanyway, regardless of my feelings about the organ, singing is singing, and singing at Eastman is a big deal. So I did it.

It turned out to be really great, because this organ was not the usual organ. It was an organ from the late-seventeenth/early-eighteenth century, and was much cooler than modern organs. It made bird sounds if you wanted it too. Very cool, and for several minutes, very confusing.

Moreover, the organ was in the Baroque gallery of the Memorial Art Gallery, so it was at the end of this lovely room, surrounded by truly fantastic Baroque paintings. The collection was beautiful, they had El Grecos and Tintorettos and lots of other fantastic things.

Here's a picture of the organ:

And here's a picture of the gallery:

So to sing in this room with this organ, surrounded by artwork from the time period in which the music you are singing was composed, was a fabulous experience.

And all this relaxing practice I've been doing, all this yoga and meditation and painting? It's totally paid off in my performing. It's like I've been gathering my forces and honing my concentration and emotion. I felt more confident last night than I ever have. For the first time I felt like a real singer, because I wasn't bogged down by all the negative, scary crap that has been going through my mind for years and years.

All I wanted to do was keep breathing, trust my practice, and wrap my energy around the audience and bring them with me to the places the music would take us.

I suspect it was one of my best performances.

Also, it seems that every time I literally run out of money some more falls from the sky. This was an unpaid gig, but they ended up giving me a $200 honorarium. Not enough to pay off debts and larger bills, but enough to keep going, to eat and pay for gas. And when I run out of that, more will appear. It's happened so many times now that I'm sure of it.

So, it's back to serious music for me. From Santa Lucia and the Godfather theme to Bach and Mozart.

What a fabulous life.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Lots of New Things

You guys, it's been a crazy week of newness. Yesterday I did so many new, weird things that it made my head spin. I was exhausted-I slept for 10 hours! But let's start at the beginning:

New experience one: Two days ago I went to Lowes, that bastion of man-ness, by myself. I bought some sort of board/wood stuff (unfortunately I am not manly enough to remember what it was), had them cut it, and picked out and bought paint. Then I had them load everything into my car, and I had to put the seats down to fit stuff in (you can do that)!

I became a maven of hauling Big Stuff around. I felt pret-ty cool. And for the last two nights I've been working on my new GIANT ART PROJECT, which is also a new experience for me. (Oh wait-by the way, Yukes, if you're reading this, I'm going to make a giant wall hanging which will now take up a wall of our living room.)

New experience 2: I did voice-over work. I thought "this should be easy, I'll just talk and I have a nice voice. Easy money!"


It was really hard. They couldn't quite get the quality they were looking for, so I kept getting suggestions like "pretend you're talking to a 14-year-old about this thing that is just going to change her life." Then I had to look at a microphone and weird sound thing and say corny phrases that really made me want to gag, whilst pretending to be really excited and talking to an innocent young girl.

Thank goodness for acting classes.

In the end they got what they were looking for, and asked if I was available for more jobs. I was. Perhaps a new portion of my career looms.

New experience 3: My friend Katherine, of the ex-roommate and cat blogs, came with me to a devotional chanting thing at a yoga studio here in Ithaca. What's devotional chanting, you may ask? Well, I didn't know, but it sounded like something straight out of Eat, Pray, Love, and I wanted to be a part of it.

What it turned out to be was this musical ensemble who composed music set to old, mostly Sanskrit chants. The chants were either call-and-response or simple melodies that were sung over and over. The idea, as I believe the idea with most chanting is, is that the vibrations of the holy words when spoken over and over will set up a new vibration within yourself,.

I thought, "Awesome!"

Then it started, and that thought turned to "uh-oh." Maybe I'm overly sensitive from my childhood experiences, but I started to get a distinct Christian Gathering feel. You know, people talking gently and being a little too happy and contented and full of the spirit, complete with outstretched hands and closed eyes. The music was also of the mediocre, new-age Christian type (let's all sing with this guitar together in praise!). I wasn't expecting Mozart, but I guess I thought the music would be more...Eastern.

And the people were mostly of the Ithacan Hippie-type. It is very hard to describe this kind of person. Imagine a woman who makes and sells pottery and wears loose clothing with pastel watercolor prints on it and dangly earrings and is probably a vegetarian and does Yoga and meditates and shops at the local co-op and is always serene and happy and full of love. Now, there are a lot of things about the Ithaca Hippie that are good and positive, but get lots of them in a room together and my angry Jersey Girl starts to suffocate and...well, get more angry.

So I was skeptical, but then the music became less new-agey and sped up, and the room slowly became a whirling dervish of people dancing and singing and the drums got faster and faster and it was sort of fun. It was fun to watch the people dancing and see the joy on their faces. And joy is inevitably contagious. At one point I did feel the room sort of...thrumming. It was kinda cool. Plus there was this ancient man sitting on the floor in front of us who was so adorable. He couldn't dance, but he would rock back and forth and flap his arms up and down to the music. More than anyone else, his movements were full of pure delight, even though they were limited. He was so much fun to watch.

But then after each song had slowed down again and ended, people kept their eyes closed and were silent for a bit, I guess to really feel the spirit, and I again ended up thinking "this is a bit much."

We left after two hours, and they were only halfway done with all the chants on the sheet.

One more story about this: At one point the lead singer of the ensemble was thanking everybody who had made the CD possible, and she thanked "Hawk" for something and gestured to the back of the room.

I fully expected to turn and see a hugely-muscled, angry, steroid-filled bodybuilder with a blond crewcut and a white Gladiator unitard at the back of the yoga studio who would point and grimace at us all and say something like "I'm coming for you!" Then he would take one of those big exercise balls and pop it with his teeth. Actually, Hawk was a slight blonde woman with a perpetual smile on her face who said "thank you," and gave one of those namaste bows.

Well, there's a first time for everything.

And I actually did buy a CD, because I liked those long, intense whirling-dervish songs. But I think I'll dance to them in the privacy of my own apartment, for now.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


This morning I sat in bed with my coffee and treated myself to some Pablo Neruda jewels. This one was a balm to my worried, jobless heart, and so I wanted to share it. Maybe it will speak to you as it did to me.

Keeping Quiet

Now we will count to twelve
and we will keep still.

This one time upon the earth,
let's not speak any language,
let's stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be a delicious moment,
without hurry, without locomotives,
all of us would be together
in a sudden uneasiness.

The fishermen in the cold sea
would do no harm to the whales
and the peasant gathering salt
would look at his torn hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars of gas, wars of fire,
victories without survivors,
would put on clean clothing
and would walk alongside their brothers
in the shade, without doing a thing.

What I want shouldn't be confused
with final inactivity:
life alone is what matters,
I want nothing to do with death.

If we weren't unanimous
about keeping our lives so much in motion,
if we could do nothing for once,
perhaps a great silence would
interrupt this sadness,
this never understanding ourselves
and threatening ourselves with death,
perhaps the earth is teaching us
when everything seems to be dead
and then everything is alive.

Now I will count to twelve
and you keep quiet and I'll go.

(The end-that's not in the poem, it's just the end. Back to the Emily channel.)

All I want is this stillness, where the truth about life and the earth can be felt. I know people worry about me because I have no job, no money, no savings. But I think all of that stuff is secondary. Of course it matters because we live on this earth in this way and need food, shelter, and cute boots. But it's not what really matters.

What really matters is finding the truth and light inside ourselves and spreading it to the world. I am finding that truth and light, and thanking the stars that I have the space and time and opportunity to do that. I haven't found a way/am not ready yet to spread the beauty that I find to the world, but I will when I'm ready. I'm not sure if that will be through singing or writing or teaching or something that I can't even see yet, but it will happen. When the time is right.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Resolution and Change

Lately when I go to meditate I can't seem to still the chattering of my mind and go down into my body. Granted, I am out of practice, because I haven't meditated since early December (or even late November?).

But it's also because here I sit, 30, jobless, and out of money. Even worse is the fact that I can't seem to get an audition to save my life. I send in my application (and my application fee, btw), my resume, and my headshot, and invariably, inevitably I get the email a week later: "We're sorry, but you have not been chosen for an audition slot. The number of people who applied was very great..." etc., etc.

Reason dictates that I should throw in the towel.

BUT I know I have something to give and I think maybe I'm just not ready yet. What I want more than anything is to sing from the bottom of my very soul. That is my purpose here in this life. I have so much to give. I'm just not ready to give it yet.

My resolution for this year is to work diligently at my Yoga and meditation and creatively expressing my soul. I'm going to cultivate order, discipline, and great love in my life.

And when I am ready, when my body and soul is ready, then I will be unstoppable because I'll be singing with all of me. I will be singing for all of life, not for my ego.

That's my dream, and I won't rest until I've gotten it. I want it now, and it sucks to wait, but wait I must.

Maybe some people call it foolish, but I'm going to choose to call it Courage.

Until then, though, I'd better find some kind of income, and fast.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Look out World-seriously, my aim is not great

Lately I have this fantasy that I can't get out of my head. As soon as I lie down at night it zooms into focus, and I can barely get to sleep from excitement. In it, I want to go home and just throw paint on the walls of our apartment. I want to splash it and smear it, and I want that paint to be vivid shades of orange and purple and black and white. I want to write giant phrases like IT IS IN YOU and YOU ARE AMAZING. I want to write smaller quotes that I love that remind me of my journey and my beauty.

So you know what? I'm going to. Okay, I think it's probably better if I buy a large, wall-sized piece of plywood or something that I can do it on. I think I may want to take it with me as I travel through life. But I'm going to do it! Look out world! Here comes Emily-with paint!