Thursday, May 2, 2013

“I sure hate bacon”… said no one ever.

    (April 3, 2013)

          We hosted our first major family holiday this weekend. The fiancé and I had opera rehearsal the day before and after Easter, so somehow I thought hosting 12 people for the day would be easier than driving back and forth to Connecticut. My parents, future in-laws and cousins all went for the idea and in fact, seemed excited. For one thing, my cousins are local and have a one year old who hates being in the car, so they thought forty minutes of screaming preferable to two and a half hours to Connecticut. There was a big part of me that felt the whole thing was sort of silly; like B and I were just playing house and that it was sort of laughable; the formality of such a holiday, not to mention the fact that we are actually adults.

          I had this desire to do something different for an entrée over our usual ham, so I took a note from the Jews and made brisket… only I wrapped it in bacon. I woke up at 8am on a Sunday. If you know me, you know that the only thing that usually wakes me before 11am on a weekend morning is the occasional church singing gig, so to have woken up to prep and slow cook a piece of meat was a feat unto itself. I was moving at a pretty good clip, inspired by the smells of the red wine and bay leaf marinade roasting in the oven. It was only at about 10am that the tearing of the ends of green beans became zombie-like. A friend texted to wish me a happy Easter and I told her: “Wish me luck that I don’t burn myself, burn dinner, or give everyone food poisoning.” Two out of three ain’t bad.

          I should preface this by saying that I had already burned myself the morning before. I have a new and magical curling iron that makes me feel super glamorous and I had been periodically just slightly burning the tip of my forehead which was mostly covered by my hair. Saturday morning, however, while absentmindedly reaching for something mid-curl, I burned my neck something awful. And it probably wouldn’t even be that bad if I didn’t have the kind of neck skin that turns bright red when touched. (I have a special kind of paleness ancient aristocrats would have coveted.) So I was not only in pain, but it was the first real day of a long-awaited spring and I was off to a rehearsal where my fiancé had already been for an hour, with a giant red mark strongly resembling a hickey. But don’t worry, I’m not the kind of classy person who can be discreet about such a thing. If anyone got close to my right side I had to loudly exclaim that that mark on my neck was a burn and NOT A HICKEY. My hair looked fabulous though.

          So Sunday progressed and I managed to not burn the brisket. Everyone contributed something from beautiful flowers to delicious food, (Pysansky eggs, pierogies, kielbasa, and sauerkraut included, what kind of Ukrainians do you think we are?) To the best of my knowledge, no one suffered any food poisoning. I managed to only burn myself once out of the many times I pulled the brisket from the oven, (which would have been fine if my dad hadn’t absentmindedly grabbed my arm for story-telling emphasis more than once.) All in all, it was a good day. The baby, (and her family) recovered from a harrowing scream-fest of a drive across town, we improvised with seating, took a walk, and as with most Easter holidays before it, my five year old cousin and I ate our weight in candy.

          With the exception of not having a meat platter yet, we found that we are more like real adults than we thought.

Dirty Thirty

(April 1st, 2013)

          So I turned the big dirty thirty in November. Was I ready for it? I can’t be sure. The damn thing crept up on me so gradually that I only seem to be able to reflect on it now. I have read that research shows that this birthday can be a much more traumatizing event for men than for women and the reasoning seems fairly logical to me.

          For men in our culture, not unlike for women, it can represent a proverbial notch in their timeline which is supposed to point to their accomplishments— like they should have a good job and should be thinking about settling down. But I think for men, in our increasingly youth-obsessed, commitment-phobic culture, (and if you haven’t noticed it, you haven’t seen a comedy with Vince Vaughn made in the past ten years) it can be seen as an expected end to all their wild times with the drudgery of suburbia soon to follow. And so, even though it is more acceptable to push the settling-down piece of life further back with the generations, the anxiety on the subject seems to increase in the wake of the transition.

          For women of our generation I think it’s a little different. From a completely shallow point of view, I think thirty is a good milestone for a woman’s confidence. I think my mother was at her most beautiful around her third decade, and that thirty looks good on most women. Certainly, I feel more comfortable and confident with my appearance than I ever did in high school. I’m not saying I was some deformed freak then (although close). It’s just that we all seem to have just met our adult selves in our late teens and early twenties and I, like many, am much more accustomed with my looks at this age, accepting of my flaws, and comfortable with my style. So in this way, I feel being a late bloomer has served me well. I’m also very lucky to have descended from a long line of late bloomers. I suspect and hope that this correlates in some way to this longevity gene I seem to have coming at me from both sides. My grandmother’s grandfather in the Ukraine lived to 101, and I had grandparents, and great aunts and uncles on both sides who lived to their late 90’s. Having grown up surrounded by many who considered eighty to be young, thirty is like an embryo still.

          I’d say the big change for me is professional I suppose. I can completely relate to one sentiment of a teacher of mine in junior high. She said she couldn’t wait to turn thirty— that she felt she would finally get the respect she deserved and she would stop being treated like a child and referred to as a “girl”. I can completely relate to this sentiment. Professionally, I feel like I can sing more of the repertoire I want to because I’m not a baby in the singing world any longer. I have felt some of the expected changes to the timbre of my voice in the past few years and more importantly, have the confidence finally to try some different repertoire choices. Having a slightly more varied aria package, for auditions, for example, shows some confidence at age thirty. If I had presented the same set of arias for an audition at twenty-two, it was more likely to show willful ignorance. Ironically, at this age my zest for having an international travelling opera career has greatly diminished— actually it’s pretty much disintegrated.

          There are several reasons behind this. For one, I’m pretty happy with my current life. I live in a great city, surrounded by great friends, have a wonderful fiancé, and I’m not too far from home and family. I work during the day and have a good salary without always having to constantly hustle for the rest of my life to make ends meet. I have gained a lot of entrepreneurial skills as a freelance singer, but at my core, I am not a hustler. I think very few people actually are. So even if all the hard work and sacrifice paid off, which is statistically no guarantee at all, I still don’t want to give up so much of what I already have. I don’t have a desire to sacrifice an active social life to sit in hotel rooms ten months out of the year in various cities performing opera. This is this side of opera they tell you about, but I, like many I suspect, was too blinded by the stars in my eyes to realize the reality of it. It’s not uncommon for me to run into classical singers who re-evaluate career paths as we start to fall out of the “young artist” category. I asked a friend recently if she thought I had become complacent about my singing career because I am getting married. She said: “Nah, you’ve been talking like this for a long time.”

          To a certain extent, I wonder why I didn’t accept that I wouldn’t have a different kind of career earlier— one that didn’t involve a lot of travel for auditions and gigs and where I sang a lot more in local opera and in more oratorio and concert work. Truth be told, if I could make a living singing recitals, I would. Not every Classical singer feels that way. I just love art song that much. But a travelling art song career is even harder to obtain than an opera career, and the latter is usually a prerequisite for the former. In some ways, I just did the thing that everyone who loves opera and singing around me was doing. It isn’t that I couldn’t accept that I didn’t want/couldn’t have a successful travelling career. I realized years ago that in many ways, I am not built for a traveling opera career and it alone is not enough for me, but I was having fun doing it. I still am having fun singing opera. I get to sing some of the world's most beautiful music with wonderful colleagues. I think and hope that for me, age thirty is going to mark a time in my life when I become more creative with my passions. I have dreams of traveling more, (for pleasure, not work), and of being a champion of the arts in my city in ways I didn’t think of before. Perhaps that means finding more writing venues. Maybe it means starting an art song salon. Right now, I’m working fulltime, performing in an opera, and finishing wedding planning. If I can find time to do my taxes in the next 2 weeks, I will be convinced of my ability to do anything.