Why yes, satisfyingly sarcastic meme about self-improvement, I accept your challenge.
I thought that I'd give the things in this meme a try for the next month and see what happens. Well, obviously not the face-replacement thing. But as I have learned through a Alice-in-Wonderland type trip down the YouTube rabbit hole, face transplants are a thing happening and can be very successful. Still, I like my face. As long as I am permitted to keep it, I will.
But what about everything else?
Let me tell you about Day 1 of my experiment.
I slept about 7.5 hours straight last night. I don’t know how that happened. I can’t usually sleep more than 5-6 hours without something waking me up: often, I’ve got to pee, or my body just decides it’s time to wake-up, because you know it’s 9am somewhere. But, last night, I remember looking at the clock at 12:25 and then next time I looked, it was 9:07. Win. Sleep will probably be the most difficult thing for me to accomplish. Christmas 2019, I teetered on the edge of a lack-of-sleep-induced nervous breakdown. My family was there to witness this brilliant and memorable merriment.
I've bounced between Europe, China and the United States on a regular basis for the past two years. This is one of the challenges of being a classical singer. We jump around. Or, rather fly. A lot. On two separate occasions, I flew from China, or the US, with one night in my own bed in London, before continuing on to the other side of the world. My circadian rhythm was some sort of unpredictable Brazilian samba, and we all know that Carneval and sleep are not synonymous.
I spend, or rather, spent, about half of my year working in China. I am a specialist in contemporary Chinese vocal music. I actually love China. This travel ban to my other home has been particularly difficult on me. I’ll see some post by one of my favorite bloggers, Thomas Derksen, aka Afu, and immediately get home-sick for Shanghai. If you don’t know Afu, check out his content at his website. I also love that I get to practice my German and Chinese at the same time. And, I aspire to achieve his level of Chinese fluency. Plus, he’s endearing and his content really fosters a cross-cultural conversation, which is something I can totally relate to.
But, back to sleep. That sort of travel can make one go a bit mad. Two years of it can, well, really mess you up. I did one super quick 36-hour turn around (also one of my specialties) to Beijing right before the outbreak happened, but other than that, I’ve been bouncing between London, Germany and Austria. An hour difference is barely a difference, and my body thanks me for the respite.
Singers drink a lot of water. Getting two liters a day seemed like this might be the easiest of them all. But wait, how much is exactly two liters of water? Well, it's four 16.9oz bottles, each of which is just about .5 liters (math!). That's actually....a lot of water. More than I drink on a non-rehearsal, non-performance day. Singers prefer to drink as much water as possible on performance days, because we love the pressure of seeing if we can get out of costume to pee in the thirty seconds before we need to be on stage. This is fact.
Monitoring my water needed more attention than I expected. I managed to get down two bottles of water straight up, the second two had fizzy vitamins and/or minerals. And then, I decided to drink another bottle of water just for the hell of it. My skin already looks better.
This one is nearly laughable. I'm singing in Hamburg right now; when I'm not there, I'm living in London. Neither are winning gold metals are at the sun olympics--they're not even on the podium. The are competing on ESPN-35 at 3am and are currently in 32nd and 35th place, respectively. In other words: there's no sun.
My loving husband has seen me struggle through the grayness of Chicago winters, as well as London and Hamburg. For Christmas, I received a portable sun: a Lumie Vitamin L SAD lamp. I have never been diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder, rather I am self-diagnosed. As a result, I've always lived in places that allow me to wallow in my SADness: Chicago, London, Hamburg. I'm a glutton for punishment. I am a classical singer, after all.
Today, I put on the lamp and did my requisite 30 minutes while getting other things done. It’s cool. It works. I have sunlike light whenever I want it, which actually also helps with jetlag. Who knew.
One needs only to look at a few photos of me to see that I have an aversion to the sun. I should have one of those flammable signs tattooed on my body, as I often burst into flames when I'm on a beach for more than just a few minutes. Lobster red is my signature color if I'm not incredibly careful. As a result, I am generally that whiter shade of pale that they sing of. But my pearly whiteness makes me the envy of women on subway platforms across the entirety of China. How many times have I been approached and touched on the face, or the arm? I can no longer remember. Maybe I should have those tattooed as tick marks on my body, too. "She's so white. She can't possible be real." I am real. I am white. But, I'm always nice about it, and we have a friendly interaction.
你是哪国人？（Where are you from?)
我是美国人。 (I'm American)
你的皮肤很白色很漂亮。(Your skin is so white, so beautiful.)
谢谢啊! (Why thanks!)
I once saw a Chinese ad for 150SPF. It was then that I knew that I had found my people.
I'm happy to let them explore their curiosity. These days, however, I’m not letting anyone, anywhere touch my face. Luckily, this is not a thing in Hamburg, or any part of the German-speaking world that I can see.
I already started doing this one in a smaller way in the past few months. I only drink tea. China is the land of pre-sweetened drinks and I’d adjusted to having a tooth-achingly sweet drink, especially milk tea. Mmmmmmmilk tea. I don’t like coffee, never developed a taste for it. Plus, growing up in Michigan, I remember seeing my caffeine-addicted mother get the shakes after a storm knocked out the electricity and coffee machine one winter morning. I vowed never to be that person. Tea is my downfall. Behold the small temple to the tea gods which is the entire first cabinet of our cramped kitchen storage. It is that important. But, I’ve been slowly weaning myself off of the sugar that I put into it. It’s amazing how that little adjustment changes your perception of sweet over time. Now, eating a Kinder egg after dinner does not fit well into this one. I think that I will call yesterdays sugar game sum zero. I’m going to have to make baby steps along this path. I need to get the added sugar out before I can even begin thinking about the items I eat on an everyday basis that include added sugar.
30-minutes of Reading
I read a lot. I read for research. I read for study. I read for my Chinese classes. I read articles and short stories. But, my choice of reading for pleasure has long been audiobooks. There are a variety of articles and studies out there pitting word readers against word listeners. I tend to agree with this article from 2018 in Psychology Today.
Look, I come from a family of teachers, both in career and in personality. I myself am a teacher, and through my own experience know that not everyone learns the same way. If it’s important, I need to hear it, see it, say it and use it. But, if it’s for entertainment, hearing or seeing it is enough. Still, my husband devours books, as evidenced by the pile of discarded spines next to our bed. I’ve wanted to become a little more of a word reader again. 30 minutes I can do. I love short stories. This should be a match made in heaven.
I saw a cool guy sitting on the tube in London a few weeks back. I don’t even remember what made him look cool to me, but he was reading The Dinner Party by Joshua Ferris. I looked it up when I got home: short stories. So, this is where we start.
Workout 3X a Week
This one doesn't scare me. Last year, I was having a little bit of a mid-life crisis with an impending birthday number. I don’t know why. I’ve never been arithmophobic before. I committed to a year-long workout and nutrition program led by my dear colleague, David Baldwin, who works with Precision Nutrition. Every morning, I’d get an email with a lesson and a workout for the day, including some days for resting. Now, I’m pretty autonomous when it comes to health stuff. I have to follow a pretty strict diet to keep my body and voice healthy. I learned that the hard way from the Great Sinus Infections of 2012. But, I’ve found my way. In my 20s, when I was dating a body builder, I was eating as many calories as he was, he who was spending upwards of three hours daily in the gym. When we broke up, I had about 25 pounds of memories that I needed to lose. Interestingly, it was then when I met my husband and he fell in love with me. I’ve never asked him if he prefers the chubby girl he met, or the one I am now. Actually, I don’t care what he thinks. Moving on.
I lost those 25 pounds by myself through diet and exercise. I lost it again after I had my son. But, I really liked someone sending me messages to keep me on my game. For a whole year, I was in the gym, or at least working out 3-5 times a week. With my travel, sometimes that ended up being exercise bands and jugs of water for lifting in my hotel room. But I got it in. I was happy with the results. That ended back in August of last year and I panicked a little. Will I know what to do? What if I go back to the way I was? And then I remembered that I had done it before. I could do it again. But those changes from last year seem to have stuck, plus I’m exploring some new dietary things.
Yesterday, I worked out in my room, a free, 30-minute, lower-body HIIT video on YouTube. I am sore today. That’s what getting sick and not working out does to you. But, I’m back on the horse, and my burning inner thighs are here to prove it.
I have lived with generalized anxiety for a very, very long time. It has manifested itself in a variety of ways over the years, including nail biting, stomach pain, pelvic pain, racing thoughts or obsessing over one specific thought. About two years ago, I realized that it was not serving me anymore. I had tried meditation a few times in my 20s and always failed miserably. I hated it. I hated the stillness, because internally there was so much frantic, frenetic energy. Then, somewhere along the way, a therapist, or friend, or podcast I had engaged in an effort to try and help myself said that the exercises that we tend to shy away from are the ones we most likely need the most. Huh.
End of 2018, I was in the first leg of a 10-city solo tour of my Chinese repertoire recital in China. I was struggling. I remember thinking “Maybe its time to return to this idea of meditation.” Online, I found something about meditation. All the previous attempts which involved directions to empty my mind, or watch my thoughts float away with the clouds was a tremendous crock of shit. But, counting my breaths on my fingers, as suggested by this text, that I could do. I remember sitting in my overly warm, interior-designed-within-an-inch-of-taste hotel room in some “small” (20 million) city in China, turning on my timer for 2 minutes and counting my inhalations and exhalations on my fingers. Two minutes flew by. Could I do five? I did. Ten? Yup. I ended up collectively meditating for over 20 minutes that day. The effect was immediate and amazing.
Since then, I’ve used meditation to help with chronic pain issues, to fall asleep, to get back to sleep, to focus for auditions and performances.
I don’t always do ten minutes a day, but I’m willing to make it a priority again.
So, that’s Day 1 of a bunch of small changes. Let's see what happens.
Do any of these things resonate with you?