Friday, October 26, 2012

A Broad Abroad, Chapter 2: The Pleasure of Pain

I have been thinking a lot about the German culture and trying to understand the use of Schadenfreude during my European experience.  It seems like such a malicious concept, “Deriving pleasure from another person’s misfortune.” The song from Avenue Q summarizes it perfectly with numerous examples, saying, in short, “Making me feel glad that I'm not you.”  In this journey abroad, I’ve decided to take it into a different direction, finding delight in all despair, even my own.

I used to think of auditions as the ultimate combinations of pleasure and pain.  I would be thrilled for the opportunity to audition, but hated the experience because it required standing around in a musty hallway full of sensitive singers.  That was the period that would make or break my auditions.  Auditions often felt like swimming in a sea of jellyfish.  Nerves were so high, singers employed a defense mechanism of stinging each other.  “Oh, you’re singing THAT?”  “That’s MY aria.” ” Yes, the composer wrote that with me in mind two hundred years before I was even a fetus.” I can’t blame the singers who used venomous tentacles; I can only blame myself for being insecure enough to allow those words to sting, or for stinging myself with the same venom to save them the trouble.  On the bright side, if I ended up peeing on myself by the end of the experience, I could say it was for medicinal purposes.

While preparing for the German audition experience, I worried that waiting areas would be even worse abroad, that more jellyfish would be present in international waters.  I even came up with a game plan to protect myself: to the German jellies, I would say, “Ich spreche nur ein bisschen Deutsch,” and to the Americans I would say, “Ich spreche nur ein bisschen Englisch.”   I would be the Harpo Marx of the waiting room.  I walked into my first audition prepared for polyglot putdowns, but instead, there was a communal sense of Schadenfreude, finding pleasure in the fact that we were all in a form of pain, nervousness.  English speakers from Canada, Australia, and US bonded together to help each other if someone was struggling with German or metric conversions of height and weight, and the Germans then jumped in and helped as well.   I actually made friends at my auditions, the places I thought I would feel most alone and foreign.    When many people, regardless of nationality, are on the same journey together, everyone benefits from communal support.  The result of this bonding: Vorsingenfreude.

 During this whirlwind week of auditions, I had an experience in the “real world” where I saw someone in pain and the familiarity of it brought some semblance of pleasure or comfort.  Before you start thinking about what a horrible person I am, I will explain the situation.  In Vienna, I saw a young woman on the subway, sitting very quietly, trying to maintain composure.   Upon closer inspection, I saw tears running down her cheeks.  I know, I still sound horrible.  However, I was touched at this sight because I think crying on a subway is something every city girl (and hopefully a city boy or two) has experienced at some point.  It’s a profoundly vulnerable moment, an urban rite of passage. People around a subway crier completely understand, we’ve all been there.  With this Viennese frau, it didn’t matter if she spoke German or English (she spoke neither), I was able to offer her a tissue and a look that said, “You’re not alone.”  Two days later, back in Berlin, I found myself still thinking about her, hoping her day got better.  Then, as my Ubahn ride continued, I started thinking about yesterday’s audition, with which I was not pleased, and about my friends I miss back in New York, and my eyes started to well up with tears.  Before I could even process that I was becoming a subway sobber, a man nearby looked at me with sincerity and compassion and said, “Schöne Dame, weine nicht.” 

It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are from, or why you are in pain, nervousness or discomfort, you are never alone.  It will pass as you find your way to the next station in life.   New people will come in and out constantly, but you are all on a journey together. It is nice to know that in those moments when we feel our suffering is the punchline of the Universe’s joke, we will find someone, if only a stranger, to remind us to smile again.  Making you feel glad that you are you.


Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Broad Abroad, Chapter 1: I am a jelly donut

Hallo!  I’m on day drei of my two-month German audition extravaganza.  I’ve never been to Germany before, and now I’m trying to live like an authentic Berliner, a Berliner who travels all over Germany and neighboring Germanic countries as well. 

I decided I would try to write as much as possible during this time because everything here feels new and different.  First of all, I’m shrugging off the New York Young Artist Program audition season for the first time in eight years.  While this German audition season is not going to be pressure-free, the moment I looked at yaptracker and started clicking the “Not interested this year” option, I felt a tremendous weight lifted from my shoulders.  Suddenly, I stopped trying to fit a mold and felt the freedom to explore the big questions, “What do I want to sing?” and “Why do I enjoy singing this?”  After eight years of running into a wall, I finally took Milton Berle’s treasured advice to build a door.  I went from people-pleaser to Parker-pleaser, and I hope this perspective lasts even when the auditions get intense.

In some ways, the immersion has been easy.  I live in what most would call a small apartment, but compared to my New York studio, this place is quite spacious.  I miss having a microwave but love having a washing machine.  I miss my bathtub, but love my balcony.   The subway system is easy to navigate and so refreshingly clean!   The food has been a more difficult adjustment. I can’t make a judgment on German food yet because the truth is, I haven’t really experienced it.  With my food allergies, finding things I can eat has been difficult.  Add in my starving artist budget and I’ve been preparing most of my meals at home.  Even though I have studied German, I find the ingredient lists and labels on grocery store items very confusing, so I’ve been keeping things simple to avoid my two main nemeses:  dairy and tomatoes.  They’re in everything! I’m not proud of it, but I did opt for baby food at one point and it will probably happen again.  I miss the abundance of produce options I had in New York.  It’s hard enough to find spinach in some markets, let alone kale and jicama.  Potatoes will get really old really quickly. 
Ich bin.

Despite my lack of culinary options, I still worry about my weight while I’m here.  There is a Weight Watchers on my street that has meetings on Tuesday nights.  I can’t wait to see how it differs from those in America and seeing my weight will be a lot more pleasant with the metric system on my side.  I’ve been avoiding the enticing pastries and chocolate so far, but once I found dairy-free Nutella, I knew my willpower had an expiration date.  Without my weight loss utility belt of weighing and measuring tools and an encyclopedic knowledge of Weight Watchers points, I worry I may lose my way and gain some weight.  I want to nip it in the bud early and not after I find myself in a sea of strudel and streusel. When in the land of the wurst, prepare for the worst.

As far as the language is concerned, I expected everyone to assume I wanted to speak English, but surprisingly, I haven’t used it since I moved into my apartment.  I love being immersed in the language.  One great tool has been watching American sitcoms dubbed over in German.  The worse the show, the easier it is for me to translate the obvious punchlines.  Zweieinhalb Männer may not be funny, but at least Charlie Sheen is finally serving a purpose.  

I miss my close friends back in New York and I miss the way they make me laugh.  I have seen many charming and lovely things over the past few days, but I don’t think I’ve found anything terribly funny since my arrival.  Again, this is one of the unfortunate consequences of watching Two and a Half Men.  I miss laughing so much I considered it my cardio, but this makes me that much more excited about visiting Boom Chicago in Amsterdam.   Or maybe the taste for Schadenfreude will come with the taste for sausages.

Travel makes a wise man better, and a fool worse. -Thomas Fuller