Monday, May 12, 2014

Baby Got Back Problems

This summer, I am taking a huge step forward in my life.  After five years of living in New York City, I am moving back to Los Angeles.  After years of chasing one singular dream, I am opening myself up to new aspirations and opportunities.  I would be eagerly anticipating this new life, but one thing seems to be holding me back…my back.

On August 4, 2010, five days shy of my one-year anniversary of living in New York, I was hit by a car while crossing the street on Broadway and 87th Street.  I’ll save the story for my memoirs, but the gist of it is I spent a year in physical therapy recovering and relearning how to use my body.  I have waxed nostalgic about my story of overcoming adversity because it inspired me to eventually apply to the Alexander Training Institute and start a new life helping others.  Two weeks ago, I stopped reminiscing about the experience and started reliving it.

On April 28, 2014, I was driving around Los Angeles, getting ready to head to the airport for my flight back to New York, when I was rear-ended at a red light on Wilshire in the Miracle Mile district.  The accident was minor and my little Civic has seen much worse damage over the years, but my back seemed to experience PTSD.  When the car hit, my entire body froze and my heart jumped into my eyeballs.  Once I pulled over, I started shaking uncontrollably, my face turned grey, and I spiked a fever.  My body was mimicking its last trauma.  I couldn’t write down the driver’s information, I had to take shaky pictures with my phone.  She was so freaked out by my reaction that she held me to calm me down.  After our surprisingly pleasant exchange, I called my insurance company, picked up an icepack at Walgreen’s, and sat perfectly still in my car until it was time for my very uncomfortable cross-country flight. 

Just like the incident four years ago, insurance has made this experience harder at every turn.  The only thing that makes me feel more helpless than spinal pain and blinding headaches is the anxiety over how to pay for thousands of dollars of physical therapy.  I cry a lot.  I crawl into bed at the end of a long day, curl up into a ball, and cry until my cat comes and licks the tears off of my face.  I cry because of pain, because of fatigue, because of dizziness, because of helplessness, because of stress from all of the things I don’t feel up to doing, and most importantly, because I am going through something very difficult for the second time…and for the second time, going through it alone.  I think being upset fuels the tension and the pain, which then makes me more upset.  It’s a real backbone or the egg conundrum.

Though I have not yet been able to attend physical therapy due to insurance hang-ups, I have found to two temporary substitutes.  They don’t help my spine, but they keep my spirit from atrophying.  First, there’s Billie, my newish cat.   Having a little purring fluffball curling up with me every time I can’t take the pain is a wonderful distraction.  I feel like she cares, even if she is just waiting for her next can of Fancy Feast.  My other therapy is going out to live shows.  The inspiration came when I had Cabaret tickets and almost didn’t go because I was in too much pain.  Then I thought, “What good is sitting alone in your room…?” If I can be in pain sitting in my apartment, I can be in pain watching Alan Cumming give one of the best performances I’ve ever seen.   This inspired me to go to Magnet regularly to sit in pain during funny shows featuring my close friends.  I don’t feel hopeless when I’m surrounded by people who make me smile.  That community provides more warmth than any heating pad and numbs pain better than any icepack.  They prove laughter really is the best medicine.

I’ll admit it, times of illness and injury are the times I wish I were married.  I wish I came home to someone other than my cat who would curl up with me and let me cry and then remind me he has a sweet PPO that covers all of my medical bills.   Then he would make me dinner and remember all of my allergies and intolerances.  Okay, I don’t need vegan carrot cake, just some dark chocolate, compassion, and companionship.  I want to cash in on that whole “sickness and health” thing.  I sincerely hope I won’t go through anything like this again, but if the third time does prove to be a charm, I hope I have someone who loves me enough to feel obligated to help me get through it.  Until then, I’ve got my own back.

I know this experience will make me a better Alexander student and teacher down the road.  Maybe not down Wilshire Blvd, but down that new career path and journey as an artist.  Right now, I can’t see the forest for the trees, but when my spine is lengthened again, I know I’ll have a better view.   Until then, I’m settling for this one.

Reject your sense of injury 
and the injury itself disappears. 
-Marcus Aurelius

Monday, September 16, 2013

Libra the Late Bloomer

Thirty – the promise of a decade of loneliness, a thinning list of single men to know, a thinning briefcase of enthusiasm, thinning hair. -F. Scott Fitzgerald

I am soprano on the verge of thirty and the verge of a nervous breakdown.  When I moved to New York at twenty-five, I said I would do anything to pursue opera and at thirty I would stop, rest, and assess if being a singer is a possibility or a fantasy.   While stop and rest don’t exist in my vocabulary, the assess portion has been difficult and confusing.

I’ve always feared being behind those around me, and not just because I was always the slowest kid in gym class.  In school,  I actually had a head start.  Having an October birthday meant my parents had the choice of putting me in school early and being the youngest in the class or waiting a year and being one of the oldest.  As a result of being the runt of the kindergarten class, I started out being labeled as one of the slower students.  Our class had a rating system of shapes to show progress, from rectangle, the simplest shape, to more complex ones.  Though I don’t remember which shape was the most advanced in the class, for the sake of this blog and my own personal amusement, I’ve decided to remember it as a dodecagon.   As Laura the Rectangle, I fell in love the story, Leo the Late Bloomer.  In the book, tiger cub Leo isn’t speaking, reading, or writing like the other animals of the jungle.  His parents worry, but Leo blossoms in his own time and finds he can do more than he ever imagined. Inspired by Leo, I pushed myself to climb the geometric ladder to eventually become a dodecagon, instilled with a desire to forever stay ahead of the game.

Age 20: Junior Recital, Boston University

Being a soprano of a certain age, I cannot help but feel I've fallen behind my peers in this operatic jungle.  I can't count how many times I’ve said to myself, “THIS is the year I’m going to come into my own as a singer. THIS is the year things are going to happen for me.” But THIS year, I am starting to question if I am late bloomer or if I already missed my chance.  I no longer feel the prestige of the starving artist label, thinking I’m so brave for working hard and suffering for my passion.  I can no longer say I am an aspiring opera singer with pride;  I say it with a tinge of shame, feeling a more appropriate title might be professional auditioner or musical masochist.  As hard as it is to admit, I feel slightly relieved most of my extended family has passed, because it would be too hard to tell them I'm not the successful singer they hoped I would be. I don’t know how to explain to people that sometimes hard work and talent isn’t enough.  Instead, I say THIS is my year!  I am a dodecagon of potential and now that I’ve changed my teacher and my repertoire, everything is going to fall into place.  I’m Laura the Late Bloomer.

I wonder if I will look back on this phase at age thirty-nine and think, “I was young, I didn’t need to put all of that pressure on myself.”  When I think about my twenties, I remember  frustration and tears over worrying about the milestones of a young woman.  My first kiss was at age twenty-two.  (Yes, my first kiss was after I’d completed a year of graduate school. ) My closest friends knew I carried a tremendous amount of shame about my never-been-kissed status, fearing I would never be able to successfully interact with straight men.  I thought I was ugly, I thought I was awkward, I thought I was unlovable.  At that time, I was often cast as the mistress or vixen in operas, performing simulated sex scenes on stage, not knowing if my actions even closely resembled the real thing!  But everything happened for me when it was meant to happen, and I learned a lot from the wait.  Maybe my career as a singer will be like the loss of virginity: quick, painful, and awkward, or maybe it will be as magical as that long overdue first kiss, when I had no idea what I was doing and never wanted it to end.  Either way, I hope the answers will come to me in my own time and I will find my place in this world.
Age Almost 30: New Year's Recital, St. Maarten

One way to combat my feelings of not living up to my potential is tackling something I never thought I would do in the first place. Two years ago, I started taking improv classes here in NYC and while it was fun at first, I’ve had my upsetting moments feeling behind my experienced and hilarious peers. So, I tried something else new!  I’m now tackling hip-hop improv and I never imagined I would find joy and ease in the rap genre. This little hobby ended up being the highlight of my summer.  Freestyle rapping may not be my calling as an artist, but the small victories make it much easier to face life’s big battles.  I’ll pounce on any chance to roar.

I’ve said a lot here, maybe too much.  I so appreciate the lovely comments and messages from fellow performers, it encourages me to continue to share (and overshare).  If anyone else is suffering from a crisis of age or faith, please be in touch; we can pluck each other’s gray hairs and create new shapes as we celebrate being fashionably late bloomers together. 

Happy Birthday, Libras!

Giuseppe Verdi
Dmitri Shostakovich
Ralph Vaughan Williams
Charles Ives
Camille Saint-Saƫns
George Gershwin
Franz Liszt
Luciano Pavarotti
Yo-Yo Ma
Jenny Lind (We share October 6)