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)