What I am learning about myself.

I am currently sitting in the Hamburg airport, waiting for my flight to Zurich, so I can catch my flight to Munich tomorrow to continue my audition tour. I am in the midst of three major career Firsts: 

1. My first European audition tour.

2. My first non-young artist opera role as Jenufa. 

3. My first international job singing said role in London. 

I’ve spent the past two months preparing for my role in Jenufa at English National Opera, booking flights and hotels throughout Zurich, Hamburg, Munich, and Geneva, brushing up on my audition arias, figuring out an international phone plan, attempting to pack as light as possible for 2 1/2 months in Europe, and singing gigs around the Chicago area. It’s been a whirlwind of preparation and, essentially, limbo. In the midst of the chaos of planning and preparing, I discovered a wonderful and difficult aspect of my personality. I am extremely present focused. I am constantly living and experiencing the moment, which is one reason I tend to not live in a state of high anxiety or angst. I don’t dwell on the past and I don’t fret over the future. I am here. This is one reason I never procrastinate. If there is something particularly important in the future, my way of dealing with the possible anxiety it might cause is to bring the thing into the present. If I deal with it now, I can just take care of it. It’s one reason I almost always had my school papers done days or sometimes weeks in advance. 


This trait has generally been a blessing in my life. It keeps me from living in angst, allows me to be prepared or over-prepared for my singing gigs, and is probably also why I arrive obsessively early for everything. However, preparing for this massive life change from being a young artist to a working singer has revealed a struggle with this little trait. 

What do I do when I HAVE to wait and can only prepare so much? 

The last week before I left for Europe was overwhelming and incredibly stress inducing. I had my planning planned out and whenever something didn’t go as planned, I flipped out. My switch to a phone company with a good international plan was suppose to be a smooth transition the Monday before my Friday flight. I had checked weeks earlier and assumed it would be an easy check off of my to-do list. It was not. Turns out my number couldn’t transfer to this particular company. I didn’t want to lose my number of 15 years, and after 2 hours in the store, decided to go with a portable wifi device. That night, around 10pm, I happened to read a review of the device which read “WARNING: DOES NOT WORK INTERNATIONALLY”. I had a mini panic attack at the thought of showing up in Europe with no cell service or google maps. I then was up for the next 3 hours googling solutions and emailing my friends in London. 

The next day, I went back to the phone store and we figured out a fairly simple solution and after two more hours of setting up the solution, I left with my phone plan. It was a fairly simple fix, but since the solution came much after I wanted it to, I had lived in panic for half a day. 

Before boarding my first plane to Zurich, fairly jet-lagged, I obsessively planned my train routes and took screen shots, in case I lose service. I find myself dealing with some anxiety as I do this, since all I can do is plan. As soon as I’m off the plane, DOING the traveling, I am fine. It seems so ridiculous. I am a fully capable adult, with decent enough German and in cities where they all speak English. But I also experienced this kind of anxiety about traveling to NYC the first number of times. 

The irony in all of this is that the thing that SHOULD be stressful, the actual auditions, are the place where I feel the most relaxed. I feel prepared, know myself and my voice, and LOVE getting the chance to sing some of my favorite pieces on these beautiful German and Swiss stages. I guess I can still be grateful for this, even if it does baffle me that I’m not nervous at all. 


I think the other thing this pre-traveling anxiety boils down to is my dislike of the idea of “Adventure.” I have NO interest in getting outside of my comfort zone and routine to explore or do something exciting…. Especially alone. If I have a companion or know the place, I’m all for it. But I would never choose to go on an adventure. 

This realization, during my stressful weeks of preparation, scared me a bit. That IS my career. I will spend my life traveling to new (and old) places alone, figuring out how to get around, and getting out to see the sites. I can’t get around this. I was terrified that this trip would teach me that I will HATE the career/life path I’m on. That I would lock myself in the hotel room of whatever city I had traveled to and stay where it was safe and familiar. 

HOWEVER… 

This is not what is happening. I should NOT have assumed anything about myself during those weeks of preparing for 3 GIANT firsts in my life (one huge change/event is bound to bring a good amount of anxiety, much less THREE). As soon as I stepped off the plane in Zurich, I just slowly started figuring out where to go, I used my favorite German phrase: “Sprechen Sie English,” and I allowed myself to look like an idiot when I did something wrong or misunderstood. Once the adventure was in the present, I was fine and actually found joy in my surroundings and the experience. I love the German and Swiss people and the Counties are stunning. I’ve developed a deep desire to REALLY learn German; I find myself jealous of every person around me who is fluent. 


I’ve had a feeling that this next career step was going to reveal a lot about myself and I’m already finding that to be true, even though I haven’t even started up the job in London yet. I can now be aware that, when anxiety hits in my travel preparation, my fear of not currently having control is to blame. I am learning that I will, not only, be okay, but will learn, adapt, enjoy, and thrive. 

I know this blog has been silent for quite a while, but I hope to revive it. I will have lots to report, process, learn, and express over the next couple of months. I beg your forgiveness for ramblings… Hopefully some of it will come out cohesive and interesting. 

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Fact: Listening is Stressful

Did you hear that?

 

 

Listen.

 

 

That is the sound of silence.

Not the Simon and Garfunkel variety, but the beautiful, mythical-seeming kind – the absence of static, white noise, and the general chaos of life.

It has been silent at the blog this month. At first, the silence was circumstantial – life just got too busy. But then, thanks to my second husband, DIP (Nick’s Dissertation-In-Progress), it became intentional.

DIP and the family spent the past several Sunday afternoons having a party at the lab trying to iron out the kinks in the data collection process.

The girls happily hung out in the adjacent room with Miss iPad, our trusty babysitter. DIP and Nick hung out at the computer command center pushing buttons and trying not be frustrated. I hung out like this:

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I know it looks like I was just sitting there, staring at a computer screen. But in reality, I was listening to and repeating inane sentences (stockings in large sizes are hard to sell) being subconsciously stressed. Not just because Nick made me sit for long periods of time without shaking my legs or twirling my hair (sitting still is physically painful for me). It’s because listening is just stressful.

Yup. It’s a fact. In a process that is beyond the scope of my pathetic understanding of hearing science, when you decide to listen to something, your body predictably and involuntarily freaks out just a wee bit. This is a physiologic stress response called listening effort.

The body has a stress response when listening in quiet, and a bigger response when listening in noise. When Nick had me listen with white noise in the background, he recorded a higher level of stress, even for sentences that I had no trouble understanding. It is a universal, completely involuntary response to noise – even when you can comprehend perfectly fine, more noise equals more stress.

The last couple of years we have tried to intentionally observe the season of Advent as a family. It started as a way to refocus the season on the reconciling peace, joy, and love of the birth of Christ. But this year, it became more than a protest against Christmas consumerism. It became the impetus for a cultural shift in our family.

Advent is a season that embodies expectant hope. Joyful patience. Watching and waiting. Listening.

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Listening.

Sitting there in the lab, failing miserably at not moving, it struck me. The holiday season is where we do everything – decorating, purchasing, wrapping, baking, celebrating – in the name of relationship. For our families and friends. For our neighbors and teachers. For those in need.

I wear my stress like a badge of honor, as proof of how much I care. And inevitably, finding the time to sit down and listen – to my husband, to my kids, to my friends, to God – never quite materializes. I hunker down, close my door and my ears, and chisel away at my list of love activities. I always seem to be snippy. I never feel very loving. I just want to be left alone.

Listening effort – a beautiful advent metaphor. Trying to listen in the ambient (and oft self-induced) noise of the holidays just pushes me over my stress threshold. My brain rebels, screaming “TOO MUCH!” Autopilot switches on, shutting down my desire and ability to truly listen.

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In a season where Nick and I have decided to place extra emphasis on the practice of watching, waiting and listening – to each other and to that whispering voice that invites us to participate in healing those around us – I needed to be able to listen without putting myself (and my family!) in perpetual fight-or-flight mode. I knew this year I had to turn down the self-induced noise and limit our exposure to the rest.

So the blog, among other things, fell silent for this season. Once I created a space to listen, almost immediately a handful of friends reached out. Friends standing at life-altering crossroads. Friends staring into inexhaustible heartache. Friends who just needed someone to listen. And, for the first time during the holiday season, I had the time, energy and desire to be present with them and listen.

Our gifts to others this year have been simple, our activities limited, and our house is not clean, but it feels right. I feel like we are where we need to be.

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Laura is entering a season of huge responsibility and limited time, so she and I will revisit our blog format after the holidays. But until then, I hope you too can respond to DIP and turn down your noise to truly listen in peace.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

What is wrong with me?!?

I do not want to move.

Eesh. That feels scary to admit.

I have never, in my entire memory, not wanted to move. In the first six years of our marriage, Nick and I lived in six different homes, in five cities, and in three states, and I still love moving. I love going somewhere new, where everything is fresh and anything is still possible.

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But as we creep closer to the end of graduate school, we have started to casually toss around talk of what will be next. I could feel my internal jaw dropping as I heard myself think, I want to stay here.

It is certainly not because Iowa City is my dream town (although, it is pretty awesome) or that I’ve always dreamed of living surrounded by cornfields. It is not because we love our house or our neighborhood or the schools.

So what, then? What is wrong with me?!?

It is their fault – my people – these quirky, caring, graceful, inappropriate, brilliant, frustrating, witty and spectacularly amazing families who are overflowing with incomprehensible love. By some fluke, we all genuinely enjoy each other. The guys go camping and play pool. There are frequent ‘girls’ nights out.’ The kids have sleepovers.

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They have seen my house at its lowest level of habitability. They have shooed us out the door on date nights while my kids were kicking and screaming on the floor. They have hugged me even though it had been four days since my last shower. We have broken bread together with an Easter katana (don’t ask).image I have snort-laughed at their inappropriate jokes, hugged them in their despair and spat out fuming words at them, angry tears dotting their couch. We surround each other during the rough times, risk confronting each other when we see something amiss, irritate each other, and hurt each others’ feelings when we get too caught up in our own lives. We have been collectively broken and helped each other pick up the pieces.

imageI know that no matter what happens to me, my girls will have a handful of women all within a 30-minute drive who would show them how to be women of grace, honor and integrity. They would have someone to go bra shopping with, have “the talk” with and ask them the hard questions. And no matter what happens to Nick, there are a handful of men who would step up to show the girls how a man should respect, care for and cherish them. They would have someone to scrutinize their prom dates, tell them how boys really think, and teach them how to write code and wire a circuit.

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These relationships have been a long, intentional time in the making. It has required way more sacrifice than I anticipated – sacrificing time, personal space, money and the freedom to do what I want whenever I want. But I would do it again in a heartbeat because these people are worth it. We are (imperfectly) learning together how to let go of this heavily ingrained American idea that my family is a self-sustaining entity. I had to learn to set boundaries, but recognize that the needs of my family cannot always come first. I have had to learn how to ask for and accept help without feeling guilt. My children have had to learn that sometimes they have to put their own needs aside for the moment to help another. And they have seen their friends return the favor. I am learning what it actually means to be the church.

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We certainly don’t all agree on how to discipline, or who the president should be, or what method of schooling is the best. But we do all agree that who our kids become is infinitely more important than what they learn to do. We agree that teaching them unconditional love and introducing them to the One who made them is the most important thing we can give them.

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I have had these depths of friendships throughout my life, but never a group of families in one place. For the first time, I feel like I have a community to raise my children. I don’t feel the pressure to have it all together as a parent. And I have no doubt how much they love us. I hope they know the same.

I know how much mutual investment went into my people and I recognize it for the rare gem that it is. I want my girls to grow up in the messy love of this crazy group of people.

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I don’t know if we will get to stay. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring for my friends. It is terrifying and heartbreaking for me to think about leaving my people and having to start that arduous process all over again.

But tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I am so thankful that today I have this amazing group of people who we love and who love us in return.

And that alone, is worth living the rest of my life surrounded by corn.

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