The Dirty Truth About Working From Home

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The start of this blog fell smack in the middle of a grant-writing consultancy. I knew it. I thought about it for about 14 seconds. Then I shrugged my shoulders and decided to start the blog anyway, knowing I wouldn’t be able to post anything until I turned in my draft. In a way, it was a good reminder of the dirty truth about working from home.

When I first started working from home, I thought, “This is amazing! I don’t have to pay for daycare, I get to spend wonderful quality time doing all kinds of inspiring projects with my kids and I get to have the freedom to work whenever and pick and choose my jobs! I can have it all!”

Wrong.

The dirty truth is, working from home while trying to stay home full time with the girls is a lot less fun and much, much harder than I ever expected.

Being home full time, in particular, is very challenging. It’s actually really hard for me to admit this. I have a LOT of fun at home with my kids. We go to the beach in the middle of the week. I get to have coffee with friends on play dates. I can hang out in my jammies all day and sleep in on those rare days that my kids also sleep in. Nick and I both gladly made the choice together that we would make financial sacrifices so I could stay home.

But…

I find myself constantly feeling I need to validate my usefulness to society, justify the thousands of dollars spent on my master’s degree, and to do something each day that cannot be undone by sticky, boogery little hands.

I grew up desperately wanting to stay home to raise children while simultaneously travel to exciting places and do big, important things. I knew somewhere in my subconscious that these two things were simultaneously incompatible. But the desire for both is still there. So when Nick started his graduate program 5 years ago, partly out of the necessity to bring in supplemental income and partly to satisfy my need to feel useful, I created a watered down version of both these desires. I found myself trying hard to do both things and doing neither very well.

I plunked my kids in front of the TV or, when I felt guilty about the amount of TV they were watching, I would stay up into the wee hours of the morning while I worked frantically on meeting a grant deadline. Cleaning stopped. Doing dishes stopped. Laundry stopped. Cooking stopped. Enjoying my children and husband stopped.  Exercise stopped. Sleeping stopped. Enjoying life stopped.

Then I would spend the next two weeks after a consultancy trying to piece our life back together and cleaning up the mess left behind. If I had enough time in between consultancies, we would reestablish some sense of routine and normalcy, and enjoy some beautiful time together before everything started all over again.

Surviving.

I feel like we’ve been just surviving for years now, probably due to the lethal combination of my terrible habit of overcommitting myself, Nick’s incredibly intense doctoral program, being very financially strapped, and discovering all three children have some major health issue.

Everything came to an explosive halt this past fall. I completely broke down. Nick shut down.  The girls melted down. It was ugly. Something had to change.

We are slowly working out a new normal. I am spending time alone NOT working. I started running and taking pilates. Nick and I started having dates again. I started doing creative projects with the girls again. I am cultivating friendships. I am working on saying no to projects that have too short of a deadline and trust that the money will come when we need it. I am considering other work possibilities. I am spending more time in prayer.

But mostly, I am changing my attitude. There was a time when I was focused on living vibrantly in the now – realizing that every moment is a gift that may not be here tomorrow. I easily forget these things when my survival mentality creeps back in. But then I read something that reminds me, like a punch to the gut.

I am looking for the joy and sacredness in the tediousness of things I do not enjoy and am not very good at – never-ending laundry, wiping poopy butts, washing dirty dishes, constantly dumping pee out of the little potty, the endless cooking and living in a house that is never quite organized or clean.

Much like my sister, I am working on being patient with myself when I work really hard at things that feel like they are never going to change.

It’s a work in progress. But I’m learning to realize that is okay, too.

 

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The Dirty Truth About Becoming a Diva Soprano

The start of this blog is coming right smack in the middle of a process/journey I have been on for a couple of years. To bring you up to speed, I’ve spent the past two years transitioning from a mezzo-soprano to a soprano. For those who don’t know, a mezzo-soprano is the lower female voice type and soprano is the higher. I often compare this transition to going from being a sprinter to a marathon runner; they use the same muscles to run, but in very different ways and for very different kinds of running.pianomusic

My path has always been one of being a little behind. I started my musical endeavors as a trumpet player, working hard and planning my future around this goal from middle school till college. After 8 intense years of trumpet study and beginning a trumpet performance major, I switched to vocal performance my sophomore year of college. Working to catch up in the vocal world, I studied and performed as a mezzo soprano for the next 4 years of college, 3 years of graduate school and 2 years as a young artist at Arizona Opera. Guided by trusted teachers, coaches, and colleagues, I then made the decision to switch to soprano. The Lyric Opera of Chicago final auditions were the first time I had sung or auditioned as a “soprano” in public, even though I hadn’t even begun the process of transitioning. They took a chance on me and I won the soprano spot in the program. I STILL can’t believe that happened. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing and this also meant I was behind, once again.

Now, I’m just starting my third and final year as a young artist with the Lyric and the transition has been the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life. All of the sudden, in the midst of my career path and at an extremely high profile company, all of my understanding, history, defaults, and confidence with my instrument went away. I started the painstakingly slow process of retraining my muscles, building new endurance, and learning ALL new roles. The 20+ roles I had learned over the years as a mezzo would never be repeated and would disappear from my resume. Every new soprano role had brand new challenges. As a mezzo, I was able to sing basically every role given to me with ease. Soprano roles tend to be longer, more demanding, and there are so many different types of sopranos. Finding the right repertoire to sing isn’t an easy feat for someone who has been studying as a soprano for years, much less one who has only started to understand the new instrument.

toomuchmusiclauraAll of this has felt like trying to lose weight and weighing yourself every hour. The progress is clearly happening, but it is very slow, frustrating, and often scary. Many have tried to make the vocal switch, only to discover it’s not right and to go back to what they were before. I do not like “unknowns”. I do not like that I have had days when I don’t know what will come out of my mouth. I do not like that my expectations for my performances and the dramatic choices I want to make have been, at times, beyond my current abilities.

However, it has also been the best decision I have ever made. I finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. Soprano is absolutely, 100% right for me. In the right repertoire, it is starting to feel simply like releasing what has wanted to come out for years. I also will have the joy of playing some of the most wonderful roles ever written in the operatic repertoire: the epic Strauss, Puccini, Wagner, and maybe Verdi heroines. These are the roles I would hide away and sing through even as a mezzo, never dreaming I would be able to sing them for real. I am also discovering the perfection of many beautiful and powerful roles in the Slavic repertoire that happen to fit me like a glove. On top of that, I am surrounded by amazing people, who believe in me and in my future as a soprano. I couldn’t be more blessed.

This process has brought me more emotional ups and downs than anything else in my life. Because of this, I am starting the process of redefining my expectations of success and failure as a performer. There is often a massive juxtaposition between what the audience sees at my performance and what the brain of Laura thinks about it. I foresee many of my blog entries having to do with this juxtaposition, wrestling with the truth of an experience, finding joy in the beautiful act of singing, and dealing with the rest of life on top of it all. Get ready, blog world, for more than you ever wanted to know about the mind of a performer, from the perspective of a Type A, analytical, emotional-robot soprano. Get excited.

Meet Laura

The life of an opera singer looks, from the outside, like non-stop excitement, glamour, and accolades. While all of that is a part of the life, it is, by no means, the entirety or even the majority of how I experience my life. Yes, I get paid to do what I love. Yes, lots of the shopping I do is for fancy gowns. Yes, I end many of my workdays with applause and a bow. However, the majority of my time is spent tediously translating musical scores from German/Czech/Italian/French/German/Polish to English, learning and memorizing the music and text from 300+ page operas, running scenes over and over and over, continuing on the never-ending and often excruciating journey to understand and take command of my vocal instrument, booking extremely expensive flights, figuring out how to pack heels, gowns, and stage makeup into a carry-on bag, putting my heart, soul and voice on the line in countless auditions, and sleeping. The “common” reigns in my life. But the common is what I love.

As a Type A personality in an unconventional, artistic world, I often struggle with the irregularity and the overwhelming influence my career has on my life. My desire for structure, consistency, regular paychecks, health insurance, and stability often clashes with the realities of my career path. The day-to-day work is what gives me that structure. Every time I crack a new score, I know the outline of how the learning process will go. I have consistent vocal exercises that begin my daily practice routine. I have a set, trusted team of people I go to when facing any new decision, vocal frustration, or career question. And even though my instrument is ever changing (a highly irritating, but exciting aspect of being a singer), it is my constant companion.

As I begin this blog journey with my sister, I am struck by how different our writing is. My brain is straightforward, fact-driven, and linear, while my sister has the artistic, creative, outside-the-box mind and writing style. How did I end up the professional artist and she the stay-at-home mom and grant writer? How did I go from being that little kid who would dance and sing for anyone (willing or unwilling) to the grown up who gets paid to dress up and perform for crowds, but wishes she could skip the bowing, center-of-attention part? How did I somehow lose my deep sense of creativity and how do I find it again, amidst the endless amounts of analyzing, translating, and micromanaging my craft demands?

All I know is that this can only help. My hope is that this blog can help me explore what I love about my day-to-day life, warts and all. I hope to be encouraged by my sister’s quirky, imaginative perspective and to allow myself the freedom to create, get lost in my craft, and cherish the tedious aspects that make it, strangely, the perfect job for me.

duellaura

Two sisters. Divergent lives. Exposing the fabulous. Savoring the common. Eliminating the Fear Of Missing Out.