Everywhere and Nowhere
Is it possible to be homesick for a place that was never 'home'? We talk of homesickness, that type of longing for the place that holds such things as our memories, our families, and our hearts. But, what of those places where we never lived, can we still be homesick?
I've developed homesickness in these past few years. I was used to having the ability to live in three different places at once---well, perhaps not at once, although I would argue skipping over three continents in a 48-hour span certainly feels that way.
London feels like home, because my boys are here. Wherever they are will always feel like home.
Because of my husband's family, Italy has also become home to me in the past 15 years. As my family in the US have moved to different parts of the country away from where I grew up, it is my husband's hometown of Bergamo which has remained constant, and if measured in length of time, nearly as much 'home' as where I grew up in Michigan. Other parts of Europe, such as Germany and Austria also feel like home, and I am always anxious to get back to cities such as Berlin and Vienna to reconnect with the city and people there.
China has, of course, felt like another home for nearly the past decade. I'm grateful that I was able to get there in May 2021 for nearly two months, as today that is impossible. Direct flights have not resumed from the UK, what few flights there are are unfathomably expensive (think $7000-$10000 for a one-way, economy class ticket), and although my visa status would technically allow me into the country, after serving an anywhere from 14-21 day mandatory quarantine for those coming from outside of China, I would likely have been stuck in my apartment with large portions of Shanghai, some of whom have had to endure a 31-day lockdown due to rising cases in the city. With the Chinese policy on covid still being a '100% No Covid' policy, it is impossible to know when I will be able to return to my adopted country, when my in-person relationships with friends, colleagues, and students can resume, and when I can return to that important part of my career. I walk the streets of Shanghai in my dreams, day and night. Change happens so quickly in China, will I even recognise it when I am finally able to return?
The United States will, of course, always hold a piece of my heart, after all I grew up and was educated there, my entire family still lives there, and many dear friends are based there. But, I've lived at odds with so much in the past decades: the endless gun violence and refusal by law makers to make change. The return to times when a woman is no longer given license over her own body. A festering hate and division. This is my home country. I've seen how the sausage is made. It's no wonder I'm becoming progressively vegan.
New York City, however, has always felt like one of my non-home homes. I cannot believe that it's likely nearly four years since I've been back. Those are also streets I walk in my dreams, often punctuated with cab horns to remind me that I'm looking the wrong way, since I've been living in the UK this whole time. I'm sorry, Your Majesty, Jubilee or not, the right side of the street will always be the 'right' side of the street for me. But, this trip is a reunion with so many wonderful friends and dear colleagues with whom I've not worked together in decades (yes, it's true: I'm that old.), not to mention a chance to perform and create new, living art in New York City.
I am so incredibly fortunate to live the mobile life I lead. The opportunities I've been given to see the world have helped me to see all of the beautiful differences that make us each individuals. But, I can say that it is the similarities between all places that help to put my heart at ease. I can say that in each of my 'homes' across the globe, my personality changes due to the language, the culture, and my roles in each place. Maybe that's why each feels like home, because each place speaks to a different part of me. Or, maybe its just that each place has allowed a different aspect of my personality to develop in a different way.
And yet, sometimes it feels like I'm never truly whole in any place. There are always sacrifices to be made in each location. Perhaps that is the tradeoff of living everywhere and nowhere.
UPDATE: Better Living through Memes
Well, I've made it through week one of my meme challenge. And, what a week it has been....
Remember where there world was a week ago? I hardly can at this point.
Some things have not changed: I am still in Hamburg because, believe it or not, my performances have not been cancelled. The house I'm performing in is smaller than the 1,000 seats mandated for closure. So, tomorrow night, we will sing The Magic Flute to...empty chairs? Ourselves? All of this is yet to be determined.
Mind you, I have no business complaining that my performances have not been cancelled as I have so many talented colleagues whose work has been stopped. If you yourself are not a performer (or, a lawyer for that matter), I urge you be acquainted with the term 'force majeure' and its impact on the freelance community. I highly suggest that you start reading a fantastic blog by tenor and writer Zach Finkelstein, called The Middle-class Artist. Zach takes a detailed look at those of us who are not the superstar artists, but still sing for a living. His article on the impact of 'force majeure' on freelancers in this time is sobering. If you do not realize this, the majority of us only get paid if we sing. And if a we are sick, or the show cancelled, that money is lost to us. Moreover, I have many colleagues who have been rehearsal for weeks and none of whom will receive pay, as their payment is directly linked to their performances, not their rehearsing. And because these cancelled performances fall under an 'act of God,' companies are not obligated to pay at all. Force majeure indeed. This is a very scary time for freelancers. May I humbly suggest that, if you have purchased tickets for a performance, before requesting a refund, please check to see if the theater or organization is setting up a sort of fund for its affected artists and donate your ticket fee there. As Zach's article outlines, the chance of many performing middle-class artists needing to file for bankruptcy is high.
But how are you doing? Have you also been living better through memes?
I wanted to give a brief update of my meme-living:
I am happy to report that, while I have not achieved 8-hours every night (I stretch which I already knew at the start), I did have three days this week which achieved that count. The other four nights ranged between a piddly 6.5 to a not-bad 7.5 hours. Considering my sleeping difficulties of the past two years in which I sometimes was not making more than 5.5 hours of sleep, this is definite improvement.
The effect? I'd like to say that I had more energy to do things...I'd like to say that, but the lack of sun proved difficult. And even when there was sun, on the days that I slept my 8 hours or more, I actually felt more sluggish. I wonder if my body has adapted to less sleep over the years?
This one I'm also happy to report I improved upon. Five of my seven days I reached my water goal. The other two, I came in just under. I'd also like to acknowledge the ladybug that gave its life for my little experiment. I have an unusual number of ladybugs that just show up in my room. I don't know where they come from---my windows don't open. This one apparently decided that it was needing to take a dip in my glass of water. I noticed after it was too late. As is stated in one of my favorite movies, Fried Green Tomatoes, 'a lady[bug] always knows when to leave.' Fly high, little ladybug.
The effect is that my skin is not nearly as red as it was looking a week ago and everything just runs a little smoother. It does still not feel natural to intake this much water, but I'm working on it. It's a worthy habit, especially in these virus-ridden times. Whether you're sick or not, water is your best friend. Oh, and sleep. See above.
I had three sunny days to enjoy, one of which was in Berlin. You can check out my post on Berlin below if you're interested. The other days I had to employ my SAD lamp. I don't know if I've felt a noticeable difference yet, but I can say that the return of the sun is a reminder that summer is coming. That makes me smile.
This one was pretty split. I had milk tea, but only requested 30% sugar. I had a chocolate bar, but it was dark chocolate with mint filling. No extra sugar/honey in my tea, but I definitely partook of the sweet stuff.
This one is hard to measure over the span of a week. I am no where near the sugar intake of the past eight months, I am proud to say. As I stated before, the less of it I eat, the less of it I want.
30-minutes of Reading
I definitely achieved this this week, but not always reading for entertainment. I had three nights of reading before bed just for pure enjoyment. The other four days were reading usually related to my Chinese studies (which I do also consider pure enjoyment), or articles related to a variety of subjects.
On the nights where I read before sleeping I don't believe that I woke up early or in a panic, things that often happen to me for no reason at all. I also felt the desire to read more when I read, if that makes sense? Again, it's just a matter of building a habit here, and we all know that habit-building is rarely a linear path.
Workout 3x a Week
This week, I definitely achieved this, but again in different ways. One day was a HIIT workout that I did in my room which I described in my previous entry. Then my days in Berlin, I walked 14 km and 7km respectively. Believe me, having the freedom to do this while my family members in Northern Italy are quarantined in their homes is not lost on me. Yesterday, I was craving something old school workout, like 80s Jane Fonda or Kathy Smith. Ultimately, however, I landed on a fun 30 minute dance workout called the 'Old-School Hip-Hop Grooves Workout' by SugarPop Fitness on YouTube. The moves remind me of a little Boyz 2 Men, a littleTLC, dash of Salt-N-Pepa, and maybe just a smattering of MC Hammer. It was fun. I broke a sweat. I'll check out the other videos they have for free on YouTube. I also did a little bit of yoga this week for good measure, a quick 20-minute good morning flow. It's easy for me to get stuck in the it's-only-a-workout-if-I-go-to-the-gym mentality. I have to consciously remember that there are lots of things that I can do to benefit my body, my cardiovascular health and my muscle tone without any equipment and without leaving my home. How timely.
This was much more difficult than I expected this week. I was able to do it four times. I always managed to find a reason to 'do it later,' which then never happened. I have suffered from chronic pain for about 14 years. Again on a not so linear path, I have seen that frequency and intensity of pain decrease dramatically over the past year. I even cancelled a physiotherapy appointment a few weeks back just because I didn't need it. Meditation has played a huge role in that, specifically the guided meditation that I found in the App 'Curable.' If you suffer from chronic pain, even if it's a long-standing pain like mine was, if you've tried everything but still aren't ready to give up, please consider trying the Curable app. It's part educational tool, part meditation guru, and part therapist. You have to be willing to go deep into where your pain source is. I was ready for that change. And I can honestly tell you, even if you think you know where your pain is coming from, you don't. It's very likely that it is just the tip of the physco-emotional ice berg which you've managed to freeze yourself into. It is not free: there is an annual subscription fee of around $100. When I think about the out-of-pocket expenses to my whole team of physiotherapists, psychotherapists, acupuncturists, Alexander technique teachers, Feldenkrais instructors...shall I continue? All of these helped me immensely, but when I finally and thoroughly committed to doing the work on my own with Curable I finall felt like I had control over my healing and wasn't reliant on those outside sources anymore.
One other thing that I've really stayed committed to this week is eating vegan. I started a slow slide into this when I got to Hamburg and met person after person eating this way. As I've mentioned before, eating dairy-free was suggested to me a number of years back after I discovered my allergy. Being gluten-free makes eating vegan difficult, but I've done a solidly good job in exploring my options. I am beginning to wonder if this is final piece of my pain puzzle, because with a tremendous decrease of meat in my diet, I've had NO pain. As things have been getting better over the last few years, I was down to maybe three or four times a month with a flare up. But now, nothing. And most importantly, its such a significant decrease in pain that my brain doesn't even look for it anymore (if you're a chronic pain sufferer, you'll understand what I'm talking about). Those pathways that track my pain are shutting down. 'Physician, heal thyself?' Actually, yes.
Don't ever give up on living a pain-free life. There is something out there that can improve your quality of life...you just might have to fight for it. Fight for yourself.
Stay well, my friends. Wash your hands.
The Lake House
Have you ever seen the Lake House? The 2006 movie with Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock?
No, no, it wasn't that bad. Stay with me.
The story (spoiler) revolves around two people, played by Reeves and Bullock, who occupy the same house but at two different points in time. They fall in love through a correspondence of letters left for each other in a mailbox, while maintaining their timelines. Eventually, however, happy Hollywood ending.
They are in the same place, but never at the same time, which pulls at my heart because
this is my life.
At least, most of the time it is. And then, somehow luckily, the timelines cross and I am hugging old friends tightly. Yes, even during this time of corona virus.
These next few days, I am in Berlin. Berlin has always been a city of magical coincidences. Often times, it’s been running into colleagues at auditions, running into a directing power couple in a café near the Brandenburger Tor, or as happened last night a fortuitous 19-hour overlap with the brilliant pianist/coach/conductor/overall person, Carrie Ann Matheson, and her equally brilliant husband, bass, David Soar. Carrie Ann is based in Zürich at the opera house there and was easily the best part of my time there (another story over a few bottles of wine).
I’ve become less active on Facebook over the years, but still use it to make sure that I can keep track of my friends and colleagues. I mentioned in my first post that us opera folk fleetly flee, we fly, and Carrie Ann posted that she was on her way to hear her husband make his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic. Thanks to the power of social media, less than two hours later, I too was watching David make his triumphant debut singing the bass solos in Beethoven’s Christus am Ölberge (Christ on the Mount of Olives). I was not familiar with this oratorio “depicting the emotional turmoil of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane prior to his crucifixion,” but clearly the Berlin audience was, as they lept to their feet at the end of the final chorus. Sir Simon Rattle brought sweetness, espeicially from the strings. The focused yet elegant power of Benjamin Bruns’ Jesus matched David’s urgent and imploring portrayal of Peter. Iwona Sobotka’s soprano stayed grounded while descending from the heavens as the Seraph.
The first half of the of the concert was also a piece I was unfamiliar with, and yet, its innate familiarity kept a broad smile on my face and tears in my eyes. Berlin Phil principal oboist, Jonathan Kelly, acted as soloist for the Richard Strauss Oboe concerto in D Major.
I had grown up mistakingly thinking that Strauss was a nazi. He actually never joined the nazi party, and was disliked by Goebbels, the close associate of Adolfo Hitler, but still managed to be appointed President of the Reichsmusikkammer. He accepted the position in the hope that his cooperation would help save his Jewish daughter-in-law and grandchildren, as well as allow him to continue to conduct the music of the banned Gustav Mahler and Claude Debussy.
It makes me wonder what I would be capable of doing to try and save my family and my art.
I have long known that Strauss loved the soprano voice, and specific to me, the pyrotechnics of the coloratura soprano. His song, Amor, from Brentano Lieder, Op. 68, no. 5 is one of my favorite to sing, as the voice flits around like Cupid’s wings and arrows. I still hope that the entire role of Zerbinetta from Ariadne auf Naxos is still in my future.
As Jonathan Kelly began the opening theme, I couldn’t help but think of all the Strauss that I had been introduced to as a kid playing in orchestras. Till Eulenspiegel. Don Quixote. Death and Transfiguration. Luckily for me, Strauss also loved the viola. As soon as principal violist Amihai Grosz began to play his solo, initiating the playful duet between him and Kelly, I could not control my utter joy, simultaneously smiling and wiping away tears.
You see, before I was a singer, I was a violist. I actually began my degree at the University of Michigan as a voice and viola double major. I think my affinity for the viola actually grew out of the fact that it has a range much like the human voice, specifically a gifted mezzo soprano, a range I would never be blessed to have as a coloratura. I started playing at age 10. I played my first paid orchestral gig at 13. From high school until college, I worked all around Michigan subbing and playing gigs, winning competitions with my string quartets, sitting principal violist in a variety of youth and community orchestras in the greater Detroit area, and generally believing that I was going to be an orchestral violist.
At the same time, I was practicing for piano competitions, an instrument I had started on at age 3, taking dance lessons, choreographing musicals, and acting in plays.
As my Dad always pointed out, I was determined to be in all places at the same time.
But then the realities of college life hit hard. After a full year in both majors, I knew for my sanity's sake I had to make decision. I always like to say that I was too much of a show off to sit in the viola section. So instead, I chose to be a coloratura, but with the heart of a violist. And, to all the classical musicians who happen to be reading this, consider this fodder for any hybrid soprano-viola jokes you want to throw at me.
I can take ‘em.
As a string player, however, I had had very little exposure to wind concerti. Violas have struggled for centuries for repertoire, as we were never considered a ‘solo instrument.’ Although my amazing colleague, violist, Michael Hall, is now single handedly taking care of that for the entire viola race.
We ‘borrow’ repertoire from clarinets a lot. So, I knew some clarinet repertoire. But no oboe.
But, when Jonathan Kelly began to sing on his instrument, I was overwhelmed.
So many colors. So much grace. If only I could learn to circular breathe like a wind player, I’d be a millionaire.
Listening to his phrasing reminded me that there is still room, a houseful of room in fact, to improve my own. I should aspire to sing more like an oboe: the evenness through the range, the focus of sound, the musicality.
I noticed when the orchestra tuned that it was the concert master who gave the tuning A. No oboe in the orchestra for the oboe concerto. I wonder how many composers did that in their oboe concerti, as if to say, ‘there’s only one star here tonight.’
It was the Marschellin’s voice singing the first half of the concerto, but my beloved Zerbinetta who showed up to finish it off in a blaze of glory. She even brought along her signature half-step ascending trill pattern in the cadenza.
It was then that it occurred to me that what Strauss really had written in Zerbinetta’s showpiece, and what I should aspire to, was actually an oboe concerto for voice.
There are many ways that listeners can learn to identify a composer. For me, in Mozart and Rossini, I recognize the structure and patterns. But for composers like Strauss and Poulenc, it is the harmonies. Strauss’ harmonies twist and turn like a train weaving through the Alps, sometimes barely staying on the tracks; yet somehow I still know where they are going.
When Kelly was done weaving his magic spell, he was curtain called thrice, finally rewarding the audience with something acapella: Britten’s 6 Metamorphoses after Ovid: Pan. When he was done with that, we all collectively let out a sigh, as none of us had realized we’d been holding our breath for two minutes. I could listen to Jonathan Kelly sing all night.
Today, I was rewarded yet again, this time with a crisp March day and an unusually blue sky. I guess Berlin was happy to see me, too. I had a lovely day walking (and eating) my way around the city with my friend Anja, a German linguist whom I met studying in Shanghai in 2014. How that became 6 years ago, I cannot tell you.
We caught up at a delicious, bright and airy vegetarian Chinese restaurant, Tianfuzi. I had a giant, fresh bowl of rice noodle soup with mixed vegetable and tofu, as well as a 'small' portion of deep fried tofu and fermented black beans. The portions were so large that I had them pack it up, as I barely made a dent. As a result, I enjoyed them for dinner, as well. We spoke some Chinese with our waiter. He was from Suzhou, a beautiful lake city outside of Shanghai that I know very well. He said that he hadn’t been home in eight years.
Singing in Hamburg, I have a number of colleagues who are vegetarian, a few more who are vegan. Whenever we go out, I always feel like I should follow suit, not from pressure from them, but more of the feeling that I actually do like eating vegetarian and do it often by choice. Why not now? I also would feel a little rude devouring a medium-rare ribeye in front them. Besides, I have plenty of meat-eating colleagues who are happy to join me for a steak. I already eat pretty much dairy free after food allergy testing proved my issue. Needing to also eat gluten-free to stay healthy, I always thought that going vegan might be difficult. And the truth is, it is difficult: a lot of plant-based meat substitutes have wheat flour as their primary ingredient. But, I recently found that Germany has some amazing vegetarian and gluten free products, and I am happily trying them out. As a result of this experiment, I’d also been choosing to eat more vegetarian while out to eat.
In 2012, I had a total of nine sinus infections in a seven month span. On the third day of the infection, I would lose my voice. It would then take me about a week and a half for my voice to come back. I could never predict when I would start to get sick. We tried everything beginning with surgeon-style hand washing, rounds and rounds of antibiotics that wreaked havoc on my gut and the other flora and fauna in my body and all sorts of supplements. At my wits end, and at the risk of not being able to sing anymore, I finally went to a homeopath, as Western medicine was failing me.
She determined two things: a systemic yeast overgrowth (not just for ladies, gentlemen) and a variety of food allergies. We successfully identified an aggressive treatment for the overgrowth. Then, she started me on an elimination diet, which if you’ve ever had to participate in one, is really an elimination of your will to live. Bread: gone. Dairy: gone. Sugar: gone. Everything I had loved to eat growing up in an Italian-Slovak household in the Midwest: gone. And then I went to China for my second summer. Beijing for five weeks and no sinus infections.
“Well, what did you eat while you were there?” she questioned when I came back.
Only trace amounts of wheat. Rice-based, vegetable heavy. Virtually no dairy.
“Then, this is where we start,” she concluded.
It’s where I’ve been ever since.
I always thought that I was good at listening to my body in terms of food, but the truth is I was ignoring giant red flags: constant acid reflux (which many singers experience because of the way our bodies engage when we sing), chronic sinus infections, exhaustion, and chronic inflammation.
Here is what I have concluded about the things I consume: there are things that I eat out of habit and out of convenience. There are things that I eat because they taste really, really good and I find comfort in them. Luckily, in my case, not all of the items that fall into those categories are actually bad for my body. But the ones that are, I’m not willing to give them up. I just need to find the right balance of them so that my body is happy.
When I eat less sugar, I crave less sugar. When I eat less meat, I crave less meat,
In my case, my inflammation goes down. My chronic pain goes away and I feel so much better. And once I can get those things under control, if my body says “steak time!” I say, “sure!”
After our clean-eating lunch, Anja and I walked around Berlin catching up since the last time we had seen each other, a shocking two years ago in Zurich. At lunch, she had declared that she knew of “the best milk tea outside of China.” So, of course we ended up there.
The line at Comebuy was snaked around the room. We both knew that we were committing to about a 30-40 minute wait. But, we both concluded that it was worth it. We both missed China a lot, as we had concluded at lunch, and there would not be a more Chinese experience than waiting in line for milk tea. My Ultimate QQ Milk Tea with Tapioca and Hantian did not disappoint.
As we left the shop, Anja remarked “We’ve had a very Chinese day here in Berlin.”
We both agreed that since we couldn’t go to China, we did our best to bring China to us.
Finally, we walked a bit more, and suddenly I felt like I was in a place I had been before. I was correct. We were suddenly standing in front of Rosenthaler Strasse 39.
Back in fall 2016, right after we had moved to Zurich, my Dad came for a visit and we all came to Berlin. He had never been to Berlin, and I knew he would appreciate the incredible history of the city. We took a few walking tours, the second one being about the street art of Berlin. This led us to alley of Rosenthaler Strasse 39.
My son was six years old at the time and was riveted by both the history and the street art tours we took. He especially liked looking for the “Banksy” tags as we walked, although the validity of those tags have actually since been questioned. Still, I remembered my son running ahead of the whole group looking for these tags on heavily grafittied Rosenthaler Strasse.
I was at the Lake House.
I’ve had people ask me before how I manage to be away from my family so much.
I’ve also had people ask me why I am away, but that’s a different blog entirely.
First of all, I have an amazing partner who is supportive of everything that I do. That also goes for my family. Second, I have ‘stacked the deck’ when it comes to friends…and then proceeded to spread the deck out all over the table. My closest friends don’t live anywhere near me, but like me they live everywhere, in every city, in every time.
I needed to walk down Rosenthaler Strasse today, because I missed my family. In my own harmonious, Strauss-like twisting and turning around Berlin with Anja, I ended up there by chance. But, being there even for a few minutes set my soul at ease and reminded me that, even when I’m not in my own city, I can find places that feel like home.
So, thank you, Berlin, for showing me my love letter. In another time, we were all in the same house.
My heart understands that.
***I dedicate this blog to my childhood friend, Christopher McVittee, who died suddenly and unexpectedly at age 40 on 21 February, 2020. I was privileged to grow up with his sister, Erika, and him in both Michigan and Ohio. My body was not able to be there with his beloved family and friends to celebrate his life, but my spirit certainly was. Please take a moment to read his obituary and appreciate the goodness his life brought to others.***
Better Living through Memes
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?
Classical singer. Lover of languages, cultures and people. Looking for light in everything.
© COPYRIGHT JULIET PETRUS 2022