Tag Archives: struggle

The Agony and the Sehnsucht: How I find the Fabulous in the Common

Laura’s beautiful post on sehnsucht got me thinking this week (if you haven’t read it yet, you should! My post will make much more sense!).

What is it that allows me to find fabulous in the common?

It has been a particularly challenging couple of weeks. So digging down to find beauty in cleaning up the 37th pile of cat puke or the 102nd glass of spilled soapy-glitter-water-fairy-dust-concoction may have produced a few mumbled expletives and much more yelling and fist pounding than was necessary.

So, I started watching for the transcendent beauty around me.

Sigh.

I wish I could say that I find all my inspiration in the sweet smell of sehnsucht wafting out of a panoramic sunset, woven through the tiny intricacies of a monarch resting in Nick’s garden, or intertwined with Lidia’s infectious laugh.

But I can’t.

Often now, this soul-nourishing beauty is crushing, deflating and debilitating. I return to my life, look around, and can only see the drabness, the endless monotony and frustrations. I think partly it is the season of life in which I find myself, where the sum of my daily efforts do not culminate in a beautiful aria that allows people to reach out to infinity. Right now, because of the huge number of pressing, urgent daily needs, it is so easy to get lost in the world that only surrounds my immediate family. However, over the past few days, I spent a lot of time thinking and rediscovering the lens through which I am able to discern the fabulous hiding in the common.

I need to see the agony of real life juxtaposed with the beautiful foreshadowing hope of sehnsucht. Then I need to let this juxtaposition inspire me to confront the agony and work to bring the reality closer to the hope.


I first experienced this my senior year of high school when I spent two weeks at The Channel, a school for kids living in a favela of Fortaleza, Brazil. I spent the entire trip completely dumbfounded. I had never before seen such extreme poverty right next to such extreme wealth. I had never seen such pain. Such despair. Yet, I honestly had never seen such hope, drive and joy as I did in the kids who attended the school. At the school, the kids were told they were important and their life had a purpose. They were given a hope, a glimpse of what should be. They all lived in a nightmare, but those kids did not let the darkness engulf them. They looked outside of themselves, saw the light in each other, and helped carry the pain of their friends and family. Despite the darkness, the sehnsucht let them see even the tiniest bit of light and beauty in the most common things – homework, laughing with a friend, a bowl of bland rice, a barefoot game of soccer.

 It completely changed me.

There is something forcefully moving for me when I am reminded of the depths of the darkness that exists in the world. It drives me out of my narcissistic pity party. It puts my challenges into perspective and helps me distinguish between real hardship and mere irritation. It allows me to see my prosperity more clearly and share it with others. It helps me identify, ask for and accept when I really need help. The menial, monotonous and mundane tasks that make up most of what I do each day suddenly seem like a gift, because the utter darkness makes even the faintest light seem like a beacon. Suddenly, sehnsucht is not a taunting spotlight that only serves to illuminates how lacking my life is, but is the aspiring hope that gives me the inspiration to fight the darkness.

I really only want to see the beautiful. But I realize that I need to accept them both together, the agony and the sehnsucht. The excruciating beauty that ignores the present reality makes my life seem unbearably common. Facing the agony without the hope leaves me utterly forlorn. Sehnsucht gives life meaning and hope. Agony forces me to have drive and purpose.


I think this is why we are called to bear each other’s burdens. It is why it is so important to us that we cultivate a habit of service and outward thinking in our girls. This is why we are filling up our garage with other people’s garbage. This is why I love organizations like The Channel and Preemptive Love Coalition, who confront the agony, but inspire us with the hope and beauty of sehnsucht.

Because it helps me to see the fabulous in my own common, and inspires me to diminish the agony of others. If I could only just remember. 😉

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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.

 

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.