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On The Other Side

May 2, 2008

It’s been 4 months of a lot of darkness, but I’m doing better now. I’m enrolled in a UCLA online screenwriting class that is going pretty well so far. Thanks to David for the referral. What a relief to have a teacher who has his ego in the right place, and is simply interested in teaching us the basics of screenwriting. I am impressed with the quality of the writers in the class. No one sucks, and one guy is downright excellent. I’m not sure why he’s in the class because he’s clearly not new to the game, but who cares, I am learning from every assignment he submits.

So far, I fear that the story I’m working on is going to be a little too serious and dark to be enjoyable to read or watch. This is where Excellent Guy in the class excels. I have yet to see how his story will unfold but so far, he introduced a situation and characters that are rich and compelling without getting heavy. He saves us from heavy with humor, and that kind of agility is impressive, not to mention fun to read. I am terrified that I’ll never be able to achieve that. I say that like I’m going to actually get somewhere with this.

***

On the singing front, I haven’t found a new teacher, but I haven’t been looking for one much. I’m still having a hard time deciding what kind of music I want to sing, and where my voice fits in best. Classical is still an option: becoming a local soloist is not beyond my reach, I’m pretty sure of that. I think I need to stop thinking about it so much, and go with my heart. And I’m not sure the classical thing is what I really want.

I answered a local ad for a singer and have hooked up with a rather interesting Scotsman who has written a rather nice body of work. He came over 2 weeks ago, I sang for him and he said in his fantastic lilting accent: “I think you’ve got some potential, yeah, let’s give this a go.” He’s recorded/produced one album in Scotland and is here now because he thinks his music has a better chance. Its needs orchestration, but I think the guy has an interesting style. Kinda’ Sujan Stevens meets The Pet Shop Boys meets Rufus Wainwright, with a dose of slightly Celtic melodies that don’t cross over into the Enya realm (thank goodness). Interesting stuff. We’re rehearsing this weekend and we’ll see what we sound like. He wants to be out there performing, and I don’t think we’re ready for that. But if we could get a bunch of other musicians together and work out our music… it just might be something kind of cool.

***

My biggest hurdle is self-sabotaging thoughts of mediocrity and dilettante-ery that haunt me incessantly. Why am I doing this? Where do I think this is going and what is it going to get me? Who the fuck would want to read anything I write or listen to me sing? The answer is always to turn off my brain and simply get into it. Last weekend, as I sat down to write the first assignment for my screenwriting class, it was pure joy to delve in and not care about anything but the process. And when I’m signing with Angus, it all feels so right.

Oh, for the off switch in my brain. Maybe with practice, I learn to shut that off before stagnation sets in.

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Stealing Is Healing

April 3, 2008

I found a link worth stealing on Dooce’s blog. If you haven’t read Dooce (see my roll for the link), y’all need to get yerselves over there, and be sure to check out the dog videos and pics. The pics are adorable, the stories are hilarious and the videos… well, the best part about Dooce’s videos is her sniggering in the background. About the same as I would do, had I shot stuff like that. Of which I am entirely capable, I assure you. Go on, have a snigger.

I stopped by chez Dooce a few days ago and found a most moving link to some before/after death photography. Gruesome, you say? Life changing, I say. It sure kicked me out of my doldrums. Or at least, shuffled me a little closer to the warm sphere of light in which I normally waft and willow. Sort of. On Tuesdays, from 3:07 to 3:11, occasionally.

Don’t be afraid to look at these. They just might help you figure some shit out.

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In The Black

March 29, 2008

I’ve been trying to post here for months. Couldn’t do it. Couldn’t pull out of the darkness. I still feel so dark, like I’m stuck in emotional quicksand, but I’m writing tonight in spite of it.

It’s been some of the roughest 3 months I’ve had in a long, long time. Rough professionally, personally… everything. All kinds of things have gone wrong. I don’t feel like getting into specifics, as this post would be 4 miles long. But people and situations have hurt me, deeply, in these last few months. If I didn’t have a strong faith in God, I think I easily could have headed off some dark path in response to the stress and the pain. I’m sticking to a glass of wine and this blog instead.

I have so many things to be grateful for: work is better now, and even in this shitty recession, my husband and I support ourselves with our business. We live comfortably, even in these difficult times. We both have our health. We both have things we love to do, both personally and professionally. We have lives, and they are good.

And yet… I struggle with loneliness. Other people disappoint, so deeply and so often. I find myself pulling away from the world, deeper and deeper, and more often. Between the endless shitty spring weather, the upheaval of the last few months and never-ending shocking, horrifying headlines, I find myself thinking more and more that my father who pontificated too often on the woes of the world in my youth… was in fact, right.

“In all your life”, he said, “you can count yourself lucky if you end up with more friends than you can count on one hand.”

My god, he was so right.

My husband puts it this way: think about high school. Think how many of those people were even half-way decent people who were interested in anything more than themselves… the world is just high school, all grown up.

My god, he is right.

I’m too talented to let all this do me in. It’s just a hard time right now.

There are things I really want to do with what is left of my life, so this blog is going to open up and take a new direction:

– I’m not going to do the opera thing. If I was 23 and had more time, yes. I’m not and I don’t.

– I’m going to find a new teacher. This was part of the pain of Q12008… more on that later, maybe. She was nuts and bitch, is the short version.

– I’m going to get back to story and screenwriting. I miss it and I think I could do it. I have stories to tell. I’m done wasting time with stupid people and situations. I’d rather write about them.

– I’ve left the toxic salsa people behind. I’ve found a great new dance studio/school, and I’m having a lot of fun there. No more bitches. Mean people suck, ya’ know?

I feel better at the end of this post than I did at the start. Perhaps I’m turning a corner on this darkness? I’d better be, staying where I’ve been the last few months is simply not an option.

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New Year

January 21, 2008

Belated wishes, and all that. Still singing. Back with LD who is horrible and wonderful, but really, mostly wonderful as I am learning to sing. Really.

Yesterday in our lesson she said I had finished sound. Wow.

Still so hard to get it right, but I am getting there.

Off to practice now.

More later….

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Rudolph

December 3, 2007

rudolph.png

I am entirely unashamed to tell you that this movie makes me cry like a baby. There are not a lot of movies that have that effect on me, and I’m wondering tonight what power this film holds over me.

As a little girl, I waited impatiently every year for Christmas to arrive, my stomach full of iced butter cookies — my all time favorite sweet to this day, although I’ve never found any baker anywhere that could make them with the same finesse as my mother. They were a little bit of utopia, those cookies. She’d found the magic formula of butter, sugar and flour and every year, she made dozens of them, all delicious, all perfectly baked and frosted. She’d hide them away in the metal fruitcake tins with the Christmas cowboy theme that my uncle from California would send us. No one but my father could stand the fruitcake and we were more than happy to see them so delectably re-purposed. Being that we lived in Ohio, the garage was a second freezer in the wintertime, and she’d stack up the tins in there, bringing them in one by one as guests or family came by. Anything was an excuse to brew a pot of Constant Comment tea and open up those tins, and oh was I glad to have an excuse. I would scavenge every cookie I could get until she’d close up the tin in embarassment or a full-blown scolding if it was only family. I didn’t care. I only had one chance a year to get my high off of them, and shame was simply not going to stop me.

Every now and then, I buy myself an iced sugar cookie. It’s never right. The icing is hard. Or the cookie is too thick, or not enough butter, too much sugar, or vice versa. The closest I can get is when I make them myself, but I avoid that as I know it’s guaranteed weight gain, and I’m a lot more careful about my arteries than I used to be. But I do long for them and sometimes I give in at Christmas and make a small batch.

But back to Rudolph.

I watched a bit of ‘Polar Express’ the other night, which is the 21st century answer to the questions of Christmas. I was impressed with the pixel pyrotechnics… but it’s not Rudolph. Too much made sense, too much left any room for the leap of faith that a little movie like Rudolph requires. And I found myself wondering what children are missing by having so many of the blanks filled in like that. Rudolph requires that we suspend our rationale for an hour or so and allow ourselves to believe… and something essential to the meaning of Christmas is to be found in that, I think.

And maybe that’s why I cry, every time. When Rudolph is chosen, when the misfit toys are picked up at last, and Rudolph glides off into the moonlight with jolly ol’ Santa wishing a Merry Christmas to all… I can feel what it felt like once to believe — that dreams do come true, that rights are wronged, that the lost are found and that reindeers can fly. I think I cry because I feel how much I want to believe, still, and how hard it is sometimes to do so… to believe that the sun shining is enough, that one footstep will follow the other, and that today will not bring anything I cannot handle.

I think I cry because Rudolph gives me hope and that opens up the floodgate of my tears. Perhaps I’m hoping more than I realize, most of the time.

* * *

This can be a hard time of year for me. My large and very dysfunctional family remains in a few estranged and broken clusters of people who share the same DNA but haven’t spoken in years. Sans the brother who died last spring. His death did nothing to make us better. I don’t know what it would take, but it would have to be something monumental. Because not even death seems to shift things. We are a sad and tragic group, and as I said, this is a hard time of year for me.

Watching Rudolph brings up the hard memories, but the good ones too. Christmas was a magical, wonderous time in our house and I can enjoy those memories in spite of ugly things.

Watching Rudolph reminds me to Have Myself A Merry Little Christmas, in spite of it all. And so I do. We put up our little Christmas tree with the tiny little decorations that I love so. And a little light of hope is lit in my heart for a while.

My husband hates Christmas, much more than I. It’s only in keeping our Christmases small and very real that he’s been able to enjoy them with me. A little Rudolph never hurts either.

I’ve resolved one thing this year though: I will never say ‘Happy Holidays’ again. It makes me angry that I’m supposed to suppress my Christian background simply to make someone else feel better. Does any other religion have a term like ‘Happy Holidays’? Hell no, they don’t, and I’m really done doing what other people tell me what I have to do/say to make others feel better at this time of year. And yeah, I know, the red-green, Christian-dominated theme is everywhere at this time of year… but why shouldn’t it be? This is our heritage, this is what a large percentage of Americans come from and I’ll be damned if I’m going to suppress that for anyone. It’s no less wonderful than Hannukah, Kwanza, etc., and just because it’s in the majority (albeit a thinner and thinner majority), doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with it.  And yeah, it’s everywhere and it’s annoying at this time of year… but that’s the commercialization of Christmas and it annoys us Christians or those descended from a Christian background, as much as anyone else. So… Merry Fucking Christmas, whether you like it or not! Ha!

* * *

The last lesson with Opera Man went very well. I’ll start again with La Dolce in January. She told me to take a break for a few weeks. I’m impatient to start again. My heart sank when OM confirmed that they are leaving for the East Coast sometime in May. They’re from there originally, their stint out here was short-term only. They have a house to get back to, and something tells me they have babymaking on their minds as well. Alas, I only have them for a short while longer and I fear replacing them will not be easy. So I will have to make these last months really count… and I guess I just have to believe, huh?

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Something Is Happening

November 8, 2007

Third lesson with La Dolce’s man today, who I shall refer to as Opera Man from here on out. He lucked out as La Dolce’s hammering, melding and sculpting of my vocal chords took effect just as she was taking off for being fabulous elsewhere. We had one last lesson where I was consistently rather fabulous for the entire hour and then she was off. Opera Man has been reaping the benefits ever since. As have I.

The first few months with LD were, to be really honest, kinda hellish. It was totally different from anything I’ve been doing in the choirs for the last 5-6 years, it was very different from anything I did with Blackbeard. I consequently now think that Blackbeard is basically a total fraud and more than once I have wanted to write him a scathing email. But I refrain and try to stay with the positive.

Something kicked in with that last lesson with LD, and suddenly… I could sing, really sing again. I like what I’m hearing coming out and so do LD and OM. They only have two kinds of comments: change this/do this/not like that or yep/that’s it/gorgeous. It’s been way more of the latter lately. I feel like a piece of wood or clay they are sculpting. I’m not done yet, but I’m starting to take shape.

On the day that I ‘got it’ finally with LD, I had a sudden flashback feeling: this is what I used to sound like when I sang so much in high school. And it made think that maybe I wasn’t dreaming, maybe the things people used to say to me about going for it, having a beautiful voice, really were true and not something my fragile ego had made up to soothe the pain of not ever having been good enough. It’s really hard to say for sure, and I might be wrong… but lately, I’ve been beginning to think that I might have been good enough. And maybe even, I still am.

What does good enough mean? It means that the voice teacher who told my mother at the [fairly well respected] local music school that yes, she could have a career in opera if she wanted, wasn’t lying. It means that I didn’t dream that. It also means that those days and that opportunity are gone because that was well over 20 years ago. BUT — and that’s a big but which is why I wrote it in all caps — that was a different opportunity and what I have now is possibly a new one. Like, maybe roles in local opera. The Met and La Scala? I’m not supposed to say never, and the silly little optimistic in me doesn’t want to… so rest assured I’m a realist when it comes to all this stuff, but like any dreamer, I leave that door open. Beverly Sills sang for the first time at the Met in her early 40s. Why not me… you know? I know, just play along, will ya?

Opera Man has been wanting me to let go, stop thinking so much, feel the music and let that music come out. A refreshing change from the hammering of La Dolce. I didn’t mind her hammering, but I’m talking entire lessons where I would sing two notes and be interrupted. Hard work, let me tell you. So now, I’m getting a longer leash and he wants to hear the music. It would be easier if he played the piano so that he could accompany me. But in some ways, singing accappella — especially what I’m working on now, Bellini’s Casta Diva — has it’s own beauty. Or, it would if I could just really let go. I think I need to imagine myself singing it all alone in a beautiful concert hall. Not in some dingy practice room with harsh neon lighting, or their somewhat scrappy apartment where we usually have our lessons.

Anyway, the technique is sticking, something is happening, I am happening and I had to note this here because I will likely have plateaus and I must remember that plateaus are only temporary and just when you think you can’t… is when you often have that breakthrough.

I found this poem on another blog tonight, and liked what I was reading there so much I’m blogrolling her. I need to read more stuff like this to keep me in the right frame of mind. To keep my star shining. Twinkle, twinkle.

A Star Without a Name

When a baby is taken from the nurse
it easily forgets her and starts eating solid food.

Seeds feed awhile on ground
then lift up into the sun.

So you should taste the filtered light
and work your way toward wisdom
with no personal covering.

That’s how you came here,
like a star, without a name.
Move across the night sky
with those anonymous lights.

—Rumi

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Pearls Before Breakfast

November 6, 2007

Read this if you love music.