Category Archives: Things I Know Now That I Didn’t Before

Love that doesn’t hurt

I was so, so terrified of falling in love again. I was afraid of being consumed, of feeling once more the raging fire of passion that would only grow bigger and bigger until it destroyed yet another part of me, burning everything around me to the ground and forcing me to rebuild my whole life — you know, just like the last few times around. I was used to love ending in a cataclysm. I was used to love hurting, the way it had hurt for my entire life, and I’ve often wondered if there is such a thing as love that doesn’t hurt; many have said there is, but I had never seen it, so I couldn’t really be sure.

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I fell in love with either of my partners, but for both, it was probably much sooner than I was willing to admit. I was afraid to treat either as a sure thing or get too comfortable, because historically, that’s always been when the real trouble started . . . but now, contrary to what I feared, I’m not being consumed at all. Yes, my heart trembles a little bit every time I look at them. Yes, I’m practically unable to stop myself from covering their skin with as many kisses as I can possibly fit onto them. Yes, I start craving their presence again as soon as they leave. Yes, I want to write them poetry and songs; though the depth of my feelings are impossible to convey in words, and so all the words I come up with always end up feeling inadequate. Yes, I would happily do anything and everything within my power to alleviate any suffering they might endure. Yes, I want to do anything and everything within my power to help them achieve happiness. But I’m finding that none of this is really the same thing as being consumed by love, and I think the difference is that I never feel like I’m at their mercy (well, except during very specific times when I want to be). No part of my sense of self or self-worth depends on their approval, nor do they try to make me feel like it should. I’m not spending a lot of time and energy trying to “improve” them in some way or convince them that they don’t need to “improve” me; I never feel like I’m trying to fend them, their judgment, their unexamined prejudices, or their obsession off. Finding equilibrium with them isn’t even a little bit difficult, even when there have been brief moments of tension. I demand nothing of them, and they demand nothing of me — everything we give each other is given freely. And if one or both of them should leave me, well, I already had a life of my own before either of them came along, one that I built up myself; it would be emptier for a while, but I wouldn’t have to start over again from scratch. I depend on them for nothing, and they depend on me for nothing, so it’s easier to focus on simply being with them, without being plagued by the potential consequences of not being with them.

I’m learning that just because the stakes are so much lower than they were in previous relationships doesn’t mean the love is any less; the lack of movie-esque drama has no bearing on whether the love we have is real — and in fact, it may even be more real, because we’re not confusing pathos with depth. It doesn’t hurt. There’s still plenty of fire, but it’s a warm hearth and a light in the dark, not a blaze to burn the whole house down.

A couple of months ago, I remarked that it’s been a pattern in my life that the things I’ve been most afraid of doing have always been the things I most needed to do, and maybe I should just assume that pattern will hold. It appears I was right — and I’m glad for it.

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“Long is the way, and hard, that out of Hell leads up to Light.” — John Milton

I may still have a lot of healing to do, but at least I don’t hate myself anymore. Considering where I was a year ago, that’s pretty huge.

In fact, I haven’t experienced any suicidal ideation in almost a year, either — also huge, since the last time in my life I can remember having gone for longer than a couple of months without even a brief, completely casual fantasy of dying was when my age was in the single digits.

My boyfriend, Edward, has had a lot to do with this, of course. This relationship has been more healing for me than I can really describe. Who knew that relationships didn’t have to be an endless roller-coaster of drama and hardship? I sure didn’t — until now, that is. We each have our issues, of course (I don’t know that I could ever really relate to a partner who didn’t have a fair number of issues, to be honest), but at least this one is willing to actually talk through them with and not take them out on me. Simply not being blamed for everything that ever goes wrong in another person’s life (whether I actually had anything to do with it or not) has had an incredibly positive effect on my psyche. So has receiving consistent validation that in point of fact, I’m not crazy, selfish, or otherwise in the wrong for thinking that certain ways of communicating are healthy and appropriate, and some definitely aren’t. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that I never imagined things could be so . . . easy. (Not to say that it’s easy all the time — no good relationship ever is — but as it turns out, it’s also not supposed to be insanely hard. Well, okay, some things are nice when they’re insanely hard.)

I’m still not where I want to be in life, but for the first time ever, I really, truly feel that I deserve to have those things — a steady full-time job, a place to live where I pay at least half the bills, a college degree, all that good stuff. I’m not entirely used to this feeling, but it’s growing on me.

How nice to feel that everything isn’t ultimately going to turn out to be hopeless bullshit!

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So where have I been this whole time, anyway?

Well, remember when I said that I felt like 2013 was going to be a better year for everybody?

I was wrong. So very wrong. There are no words that can adequately convey how wrong I was. Hi, my name is Wrongy McWrongerson — how do you do?

Seriously, this doesn’t feel like 2013 so much as 2012 Part Two. 2012, Revised Second Edition. The remix album. Whatever you want to call it. Quite frankly, I’ve been so busy wading through headache after heartache after headache after heartache that I haven’t had the capacity to even think about this blog, never mind post on it.

For instance, one of the biggest things I’ve dealt with this year has been the regrowth of those tumors that were surgically removed from my abdomen last year, this time on my uterus. Not even a month ago, I went under the knife again — another laparotomy, meaning another huge lateral incision in my abdomen to take the uterus out; not to mention the cells that had gathered on the surface of my colon and liver that had to be burned away (with FRICKIN’ LASER BEAMS!). And we haven’t even seen what the biopsies taken from what organs are left in there will reveal; that comes on September 3rd, when I go in for my post-op appointment. Thankfully, we were able to catch this problem before it got too out of hand — but still, it hasn’t been a walk in the park.

And to top it all off, I still haven’t managed to convince my doctors to put a stereo system in the great, big space where my reproductive system used to be. Dammit.

And that’s far from all. I could go on and on, really, but who wants to listen to me whine for a whole post? It’s far more productive, I think, to talk about the things I’ve been learning from all this; after all, there is no better teacher than pain. And because I’ve been experiencing a lot of pain, I’ve been learning more than I ever thought was possible to learn in such a short period of time. This is a good thing, right? Silver linings, and all that.

So, the lessons I’ve learned or had reinforced, in no particular order:

– There’s nothing like a serious medical crisis to show you who really gives a damn about you.

– At the same time, just because someone is there for you in a crisis, be it medical or of another kind, doesn’t necessarily mean they have your best interests at heart. People who are fond of playing chess with human pawns will latch onto you really hard in times of struggle, if you let them. So will leeches.

– I’m lucky to have the unconditional love and support of my family — that is to say my blood relations. A lot of people don’t have the kind of built-in support system that I do; many people’s relationships with their family are too toxic to be relied upon. This isn’t to say that my family doesn’t have their share of problems — they do, and some serious ones, even — but I know that they have my back when the shit hits the fan. And for this, I am grateful.

– You don’t have to put up with situations in which you have to take what little respect and care you can get. If someone is taking you for granted, and they aren’t your underage child, you can and should walk away.

– How much money you make doesn’t matter nearly as much as how you manage your money.

– You cannot pour from an empty cup, no matter how much or how long you try. In order to give, you have to take — or receive (and yes, there’s a difference) — some things to replenish yourself. You will burn out otherwise; it’s a question of when, not if.

– If someone doesn’t want to get better or have a better life, your love will never be enough to help them, no matter how great it is. No matter what they may say to the contrary, there is no code to crack, no secret password that will allow you into the places where others couldn’t go, no blunt object strong enough to force those walls down. They’re either going to want something better for themselves enough to let you help them or not, and that’s a choice only they can make. And no matter what they ultimately choose, it does not constitute success or failure on your part; in fact, you have almost nothing to do with that. If they try to tell you otherwise, they don’t understand how love and support actually work.

– You can say you want things all you want. You can want those things on a purely intellectual level all you want. But unless you also want it deep down, where it really matters, you don’t actually want it very much at all. If there’s always an excuse for why you’re not doing the things you say you want to do, week after week, month after month, year after year . . . it’s time to get real with yourself about what your priorities really are. If you say you want help and support, but there’s always some reason to push away the help and support that’s offered you, it’s time to get real with yourself about whether you actually want it. Your priorities are what they are, and what makes you happy is what makes you happy — and those things are okay, no matter what they are. Be honest about it, though, and save yourself and those around you who are invested in your happiness the heartache of seeing what you only think you want be perpetually unrealized.

– If you don’t have your own house in order, how the hell can you be a safe harbor for those you love?

– “Give credit; accept blame” — provided you don’t take it to an unhealthy extreme — isn’t a bad rule by which to live.

– Real love may change its form, but it never dies. It cannot die. (Even if you really wish it would, which can be quite unfortunate.)

– Your life will improve at least threefold if you learn how and when to shut the ever-living fuck up. You have two ears and one mouth; prudence dictates that you must use them in that proportion. Really, it solves so many problems. (Maybe that’s ironic coming from one of the reigning queens of TL;DR — that would be me, in case it wasn’t already abundantly clear — but hey, at least you can stop reading a blog post and start up again whenever you want, if you want. Not so when you’re interacting directly with other people.)

– Knowing how to say “Enough is enough” and get out of a situation that’s slowly killing you is a really important skill to have.

– Love without respect is not love at all, but patronization.

– If one person insists all the time that you’ve got $CHARACTER_FLAW, but literally everyone else tells you the exact opposite of what the one person says, it’s probably safe to assume that the one person is full of shit (and most likely projecting hir own failings onto you). This also applies to any sycophants and/or generally submissive people the one person may have around hir.

–  You can’t hang out with only sycophants and submissive people, and then complain that you don’t have any “real” friends who “really” care about you. (Well, you can, but that doesn’t mean it makes any logical sense.) A real friend is someone who’s willing to stand up to you and whack you on the nose with a newspaper when you’re doing something destructive. If you only surround yourself with yes-people (while pushing away those who try to offer you more than that), of course they’re not going to know what to do when you’re in dire need of support. They look to you for direction! Start hanging out with people who will call you on your bullshit, then, and make sure you don’t get all defensive and shit when they do.

– You may very well have the potential for greatness, but until you start actually doing great things that have a great impact on the world, you are not great or in any way special among humankind. Any thoughts to the contrary are mere delusions of grandeur.

– Your intelligence, no matter how above average it is, does not excuse you from having respect and empathy for other people. If you honestly believe that everybody around you is inferior to you, you’re the problem, not them.

– Intelligence is not the same thing as emotional maturity.

– You can’t bank on intelligence and charisma alone getting you to where you want to be. You can’t woo the kind of life you want over to you; you actually have to work for it.

– There are no situations in which it’s a good idea to put somebody up on a pedestal, no matter who they are or what they are to you. If you do it anyway, the only person who can be held responsible for your bitter disappointment is you.

– When you’re in a relationship, it’s a good idea to keep in mind (and note that keeping something in mind is not the same thing as making it an obsession) that your partner always has other options, no matter who they are, what their gender is, or what kinds of self-esteem issues they have. If you don’t want those other options to start looking really good to your partner, you’d better make sure you’re treating your partner as well as you possibly can and not taking them for granted. If your partner is a selfish asshole who would cheat on you and/or leave you for someone else no matter what you did, at least then you can honestly say that you didn’t contribute to that toxic mess.

– When you’re meeting with an ex-partner to tie up the loose ends of a breakup, it’s good form to leave your friends at home. We stopped bringing our whole posse along to assist in giving our exes the kiss-off back in high school. Adults know how to face other adults on their own.

– It’s unhealthy to spend all of your free time, or even most of your free time, with other people. It’s especially unhealthy when it’s the same few people all the time. You should not be attached at the hip to your significant other, your best friend(s), or your significant other and your best friend(s); that’s not what healthy boundaries look like.

– Just because someone has helped you advance in life doesn’t mean you owe them your life, soul, and firstborn child. No matter what they’ve done to help you in the past, you stop owing them jack shit once they start getting toxic.

– You know how they tell you, “Don’t leave your current job until you have another job”? Turns out that applying that same principle to romantic relationships can be tricky. It’s not that it never works, but it can make dealing with some of the baggage from the previous relationship that much harder, so treading carefully is definitely in order.

– There are many things that are simply impossible to understand until you’ve been there. Sometimes, the only way to become a more compassionate person is by fucking up badly.

– If you don’t deal with the problems you’ve got now — meaning really deal with them, not make a tiny bit of headway here and there, dragging your feet — the universe has a funny way of making things explode in an attempt to autocorrect your life for you . . . and when it does, you’re not going to like it, because the universe is also a sadist (no better teacher than pain, right?). So it’s really in your best interest to fix your life on your own while it’s still relatively easy to fix, rather than wait for the universe to rudely awaken you, grab you by the ear, and drag you along a much bumpier path.

That . . . was a lot. I wouldn’t mind taking a break from learning shit the hard way; quite frankly, I think I’ve earned it, at this point!

May the rest of the year go easier on all of us.

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It’s been a long time. How have you been?

It’s been forever since I’ve posted to this thing. 2012 was . . . quite a year, to put it mildly. I didn’t believe in all that “end of the world” nonsense until I was about halfway through the year, when I started seriously questioning whether there was something to the idea that 2012 was the end of the world as we know it, if not a literal apocalypse. Just about everything got shaken up, and not only for me — it was a trend I noticed in the lives of damned near everybody I know. The old order was thrown out, and a new order established itself.

I know it’s awfully late for a 2012 summary post, but these thoughts have been percolating in my head and trying to get out for almost a month now, and, well, better late than never. The condensed explanation for my absence (from this blog, anyway) goes like this: major abdominal pains beginning in February, an unnecessarily drawn-out process to figure out what the problem was that included two major surgeries, the removal of two cantaloupe-sized tumors engulfing both my ovaries (which also meant removing my ovaries, along with my greater omentum and appendix, both of which had pre-cancerous cells on them) in May, healing up all throughout June, finding out that a beloved former voice teacher of mine also had cancer, a couple of cancer scares with a couple of friends, health issues with other family members, quite a few people whom I either knew personally or know people who were close to them dying of various causes (cancer being the cause for some of them, because apparently 2012 was the year for cancer-related issues), close friendships of mine that had lasted for years suddenly splitting up with no warning, jobs coming and going, and my heart getting broken way too often for way too many reasons.

So yeah, I haven’t exactly had the energy to do much more than post things on Facebook, as far as the Internet has been concerned.

Nevertheless, I learned a hell of a lot last year. And as painful as some of those lessons were, I’m better for having learned them; I certainly know more about myself than I did before, and quite a bit about how other people work, too. So here are some of those lessons that I either learned for the first time or had reinforced, in no particular order:

– When you’re suffering from a major, potentially life-threatening illness — like cancer, for instance — you find out who really gives a damn about you.

– Unfortunately, you don’t find out about some of them until after it’s over, and that’s when it can really suck.

– I’m not the politely tolerated burden to my family that I always thought I was.

– It’s one thing to be betrayed by your blood family. To be betrayed by your chosen family, however, is infinitely more painful.

– The grass is not greener on the other side.

– Every single time I ignore my intuition, I get into trouble. Every. Single. Time.

– Intuition and lizard-brain paranoia look and feel very similar. However, if you’re trying to find reasons to stay in a situation instead of finding reasons to leave it, there’s a pretty good chance it’s your gut trying to tell you something, not lizard brain freaking out.

– Ignoring a couple of red flags here and there is not a good idea. Ignoring or trying to rationalize red flags for years can only end in explosive disaster. When you’re one of only a couple of people who’s stuck around after literally everybody else has headed for the hills, mostly independently of each other and all for the same reasons, you should probably start seriously thinking about why that might be happening. Hint: it’s probably not because you’re one of the only people who truly understands the person or thing to which you’ve been loyal.

– Being treated badly by someone really makes you appreciate the people who have treated you well.

– My boyfriend may drive me batshit crazy sometimes, but he’s still the best partner I could have asked for, and I will never take him for granted.

– “All charming people have something to conceal, usually their total dependence on the appreciation of others.” — Cyril Connolly

– Some periods of time — years, for instance — are about moving forward. Others are about battening down the hatches and waiting for the storm to clear, about simply enduring.

– However, doing your best to endure is no excuse for thoughtlessly hurting other people. You either give a damn about someone besides yourself, or you don’t. And there is not a single thing that can excuse the latter.

– That being said, certain first offenses are more forgivable than others, and someone who actually cares about you as a person should be willing to work it out. If said someone isn’t willing to work it out the first time you hit a bump in the road, that’s a pretty good indication that zie wasn’t worth getting so worked up over in the first place.

– Some offenses really do cross the forgiveness event horizon. They’re few in number, but they exist. At least, they shouldn’t be forgiven, unless your greatest aspiration in life is to be hurt over and over again.

– You really are the company you keep. Guilt by association isn’t always complete bullshit.

– I’m at a point in my life where I need stability a lot more than I need excitement or perfect fulfillment. This is especially true for my career goals: as much as I love bartending, I’m not at a place in my life where I can deal with the general instability of the restaurant/bar industry without putting the rest of my life on hold — including school. Maybe that will change in the future. But right now, my needs are what they are, even if they’re not what I wish they were.

– I need to play more video games. My geek cred has been slipping over the past several years. And quite frankly, books and movies can only take you so far into another world (much as I adore books!); there are times when being an active participant is far and away more satisfying than being a passive observer.

– While I wouldn’t say I’m a passive observer in the rest of my life, I could stand to be even more of an active participant in it than I already am. Letting go of my nigh-paralyzing fear of inconveniencing, burdening, or steamrolling other people will be a good start.

– Sometimes, even when you do everything “right”, you still get fucked over. There actually are cases in which one party is entirely at fault for how things went down, and searching for some measure of equality by finding reasons to blame yourself in fact only perpetuates the unfairness of the situation. There comes a point where it’s okay to stop asking what you could have done better; sometimes, there really is nothing.

– Endings are frightening as fuck. But “frightening” is not always a synonym for “bad”.

– Even when you’re better off for something having ended, you’re probably still going to mourn it in some way. You might mourn a single aspect of it, or some aspects, or all of it. You might mourn in a subtle way, or in a far more encompassing way. All of these ways of mourning are okay, and beating yourself up for not being able to completely move on within a certain timeframe will only prolong the process.

– It’s okay to want justice, no matter what your religion, somebody else’s religion, or popular opinion says to the contrary. That doesn’t necessarily mean you should try to serve it yourself, but wanting it and hoping for it are not wrong. To want justice is to affirm your belief that the forces of good should ultimately prevail.

– Still, some things — and people — don’t deserve to be held onto.

– You don’t have to have faith that the bastards will get what’s coming to them, because it’s not a matter of faith, but of probability: you can’t be shitty to person after person after person without eventually pissing off someone who will make you pay for it. The bastards might even piss off the wrong people over and over again, all the while wondering why on earth everything keeps going wrong for them. This fact has helped me sleep many a night.

– It’s worth figuring out whether you’re reacting badly to another person because you’re seeing someone else who hurt you in them, rather than because they’re actually mistreating you.

– People who say “I’m not afraid to be honest” to excuse being rude and hurtful to other people are actually cowards. They’re deliberately rude because it’s a more socially acceptable way of taking out their aggression than straight-up punching their targets in the face. Even though, you know, punching people in the face is more honest than trying to pass off unnecessarily blunt comments as “having the courage to be honest”. (Not that I’m advocating punching people in the face. What I’m advocating is not being an ass to other people in the first place.)

– Haters gonna hate. When they hate, it about them, not you. Do your best not to take it personally.

– When the truth hurts, it becomes all the more imperative to deliver it with as much compassion and concern as you can possibly muster. Piling more hurt on top of what already hurts can only backfire.

– 2012 was especially hard on a whole lot of people. None of us are alone in having suffered.

– Even when you feel like you’re all alone, no one is ever alone. Sometimes it’s a matter of putting yourself and your pain out there, so that the people who share in your pain will see you and come to you. And sometimes it’s a matter of letting yourself see that you’re not alone, of not resisting the people who are with you.

So I’m still here. 2012 tried valiantly to break me, but it failed. And two weeks into the new year, the whole world feels lighter, cleaner, freer.

Let’s all make 2013 a better one, shall we?

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On learning how to deal with people

From now on, whenever somebody asks me how it is that I’m less high-strung and drama-filled than they were at my age, I’ll tell them it’s because I grew up on the Internet.

Because there’s really nothing like being punched in the face with the fact that some people just aren’t worth the hassle of arguing with them, every single day, within the privacy of your own home, until you finally learn that lesson.

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Alcohol endows me with the power of awesome.

“On the one hand, I have fewer filters in place when I’m drunk. On the other hand, I’m grammatically correct, and my manners are impeccable.”

Yep, I said that last night, after having had five drinks . . . well, okay, three drinks of my own, and enough of my three friends’ drinks to count as two more — not enough to be completely out-of-my-mind wasted, but definitely drunk.

As I’ve been committing liver abuse — well, not abuse, not really; I prefer to think of it as liver training — I’ve learned a lot of things about the kind of drunk I am: I enunciate the hell out of everything I say, trip over my words less, speak better French, fall in and out of a cadence that could only be more English if I also acquired the accent, use impeccable grammar, am impossibly polite, can still sing on pitch (yes, really, I have witnesses), proofread my texts and notes better, and remember to drink plenty of water so I’m not miserable the next day.

So basically, I just become even more awesome.

Not that I intend to do this more than once in a while, mind; but at the very least, it’s safe to say that I’m no longer terrified that I’ll become an alcoholic or do something so stupid that it’s life-altering if I get drunk even once. Life feels so much better now that I don’t have that hanging over my head.

So, you all know what that means . . . let’s get the party started.

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Addio del passato (Farewell to the past)

There’s a reason why this blog is no longer called La Belle Voix — and by the way, welcome to The Geek Chaser! Anyway, I’ve decided that I’m no longer pursuing a career in opera.

I’ve been sitting on this decision for about three weeks now, waiting to see if I would have any lingering doubts. I haven’t. In fact, I feel far more comfortable going in this direction — or at the very least, not going in that direction. I feel far less boxed-in than I had before.

About three weeks ago, I was reading through the latest issue of Classical Singer online, reading once again about what it takes to have a career singing opera. It’s apparently not uncommon for a singer to be on the road for eleven months out of the year, away from loved ones, stressed out much of the time, spending one’s own money left and right just to keep a hotel roof over one’s head. It could be years before one was able to really put down roots anywhere. One’s relationships will be strained from time to time. Most opera singers marry other people in the music world, because only other musicians can truly understand what it is to have a life completely focused on music. One becomes completely immersed in the world of classical music, to the exclusion of almost everything else — including other music.

I realized at that moment that as much as I love music, as much as music is a part of me that wouldn’t leave me even if I wanted it to, and as much as I can’t bear to not sing . . . I also can’t bear to do any of the above. I couldn’t stand to be so far away from home all the time, and I especially couldn’t stand to be away from my friends and family so often. I can’t bear the thought of having to withstand the crushing loneliness that would come from being away from my sweetheart, Marcus, or my godchild.

Beyond that, I realized that there’s simply no way to have that dual career I wanted, to be both an opera singer and a published author of fiction. My singing career would make it necessary for me to focus everything on it, and my writing would inevitably fall to the wayside due to lack of the time and energy I’d need to produce anything of quality. And even if I did miraculously manage to juggle both, my writing might prove to be unpopular. I have definite opinions on everything from religion to politics to the social sphere, and I do love me some dystopian satires. My sense of humor isn’t always the most reverent, or the most politically correct. Sexuality, in all its forms, is a topic very dear to my heart. I definitely have the chutzpah to say what I feel needs to be said . . . but if I wanted a career in opera, I couldn’t say any of those things, or I’d put my career in danger. Opera is as much about image as it is about singing, and . . . well, I’m not. I don’t like having to worry so much about making the best impression I possibly can at all times, even when I’m not working, simply for fear of upsetting somebody. I’ve always had a lot more success just being me, anyway; a lot of people really like that person, after all!

In fact, if I were an opera singer full-time, I couldn’t pursue any of my other interests with the same energy and passion — and I have a lot of them! When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a singer and a songwriter and a classical composer and a movie star and a director and a screenwriter and a playwright and a novelist and a scientist and an architect and a philosopher and a seamstress and a wife and a mother and a fabulous cook and a socialite and the best hostess in town and a wealthy, powerful individual who left an enormous impact on the world . . . basically, I wanted to be a polymath. (I was really excited when I learned that word, by the way: Yes! There’s a name for people like me! Or who I’m going to be, at least. I think it has a smoother, cleaner ring to it than “Renaissance woman”, anyway.) So because my interests are so numerous and varied, I don’t want to have to devote my life entirely to one and demote all the others to occasional hobbies or indulgences. Some people are okay with that, and that’s perfectly fine. I’m just not one of them. In fact, I honestly can’t stand feeling locked into one thing, with precious little room to move.

Then I realized that I wasn’t really all that interested in learning classical repertoire that has already been sung a thousand times over. If I were to continue on as a classical singer, I’d honestly want to sing nothing but new music. What I’m really interested is progress, evolution — not to say that the opera world isn’t evolving; it most certainly is. But it’s not moving forward as quickly as I want to move forward (and on a much larger stage, too). Besides, in order to get to a point where I could potentially sing nothing but new music, I’d have to sing all the older repertoire first. I adore that music, but that doesn’t mean I want to cover the same territory that everybody else has been covering for centuries.

And then I realized why I’ve had so much trouble motivating myself to learn new arias and get started on learning a whole role: if I don’t have a hand in creating what I’m singing — whether composing it myself, as I’ve always wanted to learn how to do, or collaborating with a composer to create something that no one has ever heard before — I’m somewhat less interested in singing it. I love Verdi and Schubert and Mozart and Bizet and all the other music I’ve been singing for the past six years, and I always will. But part of what draws me to jazz is the sense of creation that defines it: that spontaneity, that emphasis on improvisation. No two performances are the same, even while performing the same arrangement. I love singing jazz, and I’d want to sing as much jazz as I sang opera — not that I could, if opera was my bread and butter. I’m at my best when I’m creating something, whether it’s music or fiction or a dress or what have you. Oh, sure, I could comb through a libretto and find new ways to interpret a classic soprano role . . . but that’s much easier for me than creating something new, and I’d get bored with that process after a while. Creating something new is much more of a challenge to me, and I much prefer a challenge. (It’s why I couldn’t be bothered with busywork in my high school English classes — why write a three-page paper in twenty minutes, when the screenplays I was writing at home were so much more interesting to me? I craved intellectual stimulation, and many of my high school classes simply couldn’t provide the level of stimulation I required to stay interested in them. Perhaps needless to say, I’ve been doing much better in my college classes!) I even want to have a hand in creating the world we’re entering now (there’s that love of progress and change again), one that’s better than the one we’re beginning to leave behind — and we are beginning to leave it behind, make no mistake. And that’s a sense I’ve had since I was a little girl: that the world was on the brink of a new and better age, and I was supposed to have a hand in bringing that age about. I also had the sense that John Lennon was right: “You may say I’m a dreamer – but I’m not the only one.” There had to be more people out there who felt the same way I did; I just had to find them. And now I have, so to leave them behind is unthinkable for me.

That realization led to me realizing how uncomfortable I feel when I can’t take control of where I’m headed. As a singer, so much of your life is directed by everybody but you — the audition panel, the director, the producer, the audience, the economy . . . and I’ve learned from hard experience that I’m simply not the kind of person who can deal with giving up that much control. You can only be so proactive in your opera career, and all that proactivity goes towards influencing everybody else’s decision to hire you or not. But if I really want my life to go in a particular direction, the only thing that makes sense to me is to move towards it; I hate having no choice but to sit around and wait for a call from someone, from anyone. Oh, God, please let them like me enough to hire me, please let me have made a good enough impression, please, please let me hear from somebody soon . . . I don’t want to do that. I don’t want anybody else to have that level of control over my life ever again; I had to deal with enough of that growing up, for goodness’s sake, and I hated it so much that I recklessly rebelled any way I could. It’s bad enough that I’d have to do that with any other job in any other field I might go after; I’d hate to have to do it so many times a year that I could barely keep track.

Then I remembered how much I love that sense of connection I feel when other people are touched by my voice. The reason why I wanted to make a career of singing in the first place was because I wanted to connect with other people through my music, and to raise them up with me . . . but it was time to be honest with myself: I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that if I were to become really established in the opera world, I would ultimately isolate myself from the very people I’ve wanted to reach. I would be on an elevated stage, singing “elevated” music for people who would consider me a diva (which, as you may know, is the Italian word for goddess), a person elevated above most other people by virtue of possessing a beautiful and well-trained voice. I’m uncomfortable with being put on any kind of pedestal; if I’m going to rise, I want to take others with me, not make them watch me from below. I hate being idolized. If I have faults, I want them to be recognized for what they are, not dressed up or merely tolerated or forgiven based on the fact that I am somehow “above” “mere mortals” — and I want to be loved despite those faults, despite my obvious humanity. And while I’ve always loved being onstage in a theatre production, I’ve honestly never loved feeling like I was drowning in praise afterward. It’s not that I don’t want to be very good at what I do, or that I don’t want to be acknowledged by others as being very good at what I do. But there was always a sense of being disconnected from the people who told me endlessly how good or convincing I was. Audience members usually focused entirely on me, me, me and how much they admired my awesome talent . . . it was somewhat rare for me to hear how I’d made them feel: whether they had been touched, whether they had cried, whether they had felt angry at my character, whether they had been inspired by the lines I spoke, whether they had empathized with anything that had happened onstage. And while I’m sure that they were absolutely sincere in their praise, I could never shake the feeling that it was focused primarily on the superficial aspects of what I’d just done — the more “glamorous” aspects, I guess, if that makes sense. I’m not happy when I feel like I’ve been simply admired in a very detached, superficial manner; my ego doesn’t work that way. I want a true connection. You could even say that I want power — the power to influence people: to make them think, to make them feel, and ultimately, to inspire them to move forward (whatever that might mean for them).

Upon realizing all these things — or rather, coming face-to-face with feelings that had been simmering underneath the surface for a while already — there was an initial moment of panic. I had defined myself as an aspiring opera singer since I was seventeen, and I’d been training my voice in that direction since I was fifteen. I’d been working on this for over six years! I’d been planning to spend the rest of my life working on this! For about three minutes, I felt adrift. What now?

Well, now the walls I’d put around myself were gone, leaving me the space — the freedom — to focus on that question: “What now?”

You see, I had been focusing so much of my attention on the future — what schools and conservatories I wanted to attend, what Young Artist Programs I was going to audition for several years down the line, what I said on the Internet (wouldn’t want anything to come back to haunt me later, while I was trying for my big break!), how I was going to finance weekly voice lessons, what repertoire I should learn, this and that and the other thing — that I hardly had the energy or space in my head to concentrate on what was right in front of me: getting a job, completing my transfer courses, getting a car, moving out on my own, and so much more. Nor did I have the energy to devote to my other passions — especially writing; rather, I was so worried about not writing something that would kill my singing career before it began that I couldn’t really bring myself to write much of anything, even in a blog that I had created just for my musical pursuits! Well, actually, I spent most of my time making blog posts everywhere else — not public ones, of course, even though many of them would have been public if I hadn’t felt like I needed to guard myself and my opinions for the sakes of producers and casting directors in the future. Really, in a lot of ways, I’d been feeling so trapped within the confines of the future that I couldn’t see any of the steps I needed to make first in order to reach the future, whether a musical future or otherwise.

After those three minutes of panic and uncertainty, I remembered that the world is changing, and there are more possibilities for me now than ever before. I can’t bear to not sing, and I can still find a way to sing classical music — and jazz and blues and rock and pop and everything else I damned well feel like singing — without making a full-fledged career out of it. Hell, I could compose incidental music to accompany my novels. I could compose my own damned operas and create roles for myself, just like I wrote those screenplays with the intention of acting in those films on top of that.

I’ve fallen in love with UC Berkeley, too, and I had originally intended to pursue my undergraduate Music Performance degree there . . . even though there isn’t much of a department for vocal performance . . . but that would surely leave all the more room for me, right? Individual attention FTW! (Which San Jose State can’t really provide right now, from what I’ve heard.) I really, really didn’t want to not attend Berkeley. But they do have the best English department in the country (one of my friends is a recent graduate of that English department, which is how I know), so if I were to really go for intellectual stimulation and become an English major, I’d be in exactly the right place for it. The prospect of that level of engagement is exciting to me. And though some people knock that major for being very broad or “basic”, that’s the very reason why it appeals to me: it opens up far more options for me, and again, I can’t stand feeling like my options are limited.

So yes, all that rambling I’ve just done serves to explain why I’ve decided to officially be an English major now. I’ll still sing and perform whenever and wherever I can, and I’m certainly not going to stop busking! Like I said, I can’t bear to not sing. Right now, though, I’m focused on what’s right in front of me: finding a bartending job, saving up enough money to move into an apartment of my own, and saving up enough money to buy a car. School is on hiatus for the time being, but I’d like to take no more than a year off from school, if I can. I’d get bored if I just worked for the rest of my life!

So there you have it. This blog will now be geared towards a variety of rants and ramblings, and I’ll probably dig through all my other, more private blogs and crosspost those ramblings onto this blog at some point soon. Until then, addio del passato.

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Filed under Lessons Learned, Things I Know Now That I Didn't Before