Thursday, January 21, 2010

Strong Like Bull or Angry Toddler

It's funny how things can change on a dime, including you. I'm sitting on the RER (which is kind of like the light-rail within Paris and a couple of suburbs) and I've never bothered to take it before because you have to burrow like a mole to get to it and it's just annoying. However, after I lost track of my internal compass today by circling through St. Germain and around the Jardin du Luxembourg, it became the best option to get home. When I began my afternoon jaunt, I was hoping to cut through the beautiful landscape and sculpture that resides within the gates of the famous garden, but they were closing them as soon as I entertained the thought. I knew where the bus stop was that would eventually drop me right in front of my building, but since it was so beautiful out, I decided to walk for a while. And, that I did. In a BIG circle. It is synonymous with the way I've dealt with my own life's journey thus far: Circling around the main issue hoping to float along and be carried in the right direction, eventually finding my way, only to learn I'm exactly where I began. I face the same decision to take the clear path before me or wander about some more. I am a fan of Ferdinand the Bull's philosophy to stop and smell the flowers, but I've mastered that technique well beyond my wildest dreams at this point.
(I've included the Disney cartoon adaptation below if you've never met Ferdinand or would just like a trip down memory lane).

I moved to Paris for a number of reasons. The biggest being that I became so comfortable and complacent with life in New York that I forgot what I was doing there in the first place. Neverland really does make you forget when you're focused on nothing but the pleasures of daily life. I became a girl with circles of friends all over the New York Metropolitan area. I could get into the best clubs, with the hottest parties and VIP treatment on the other side of the red velvet rope without paying a cent. If I preferred a decadent meal with great wine, there were tons of restaurants where I was a regular patron and would be sent specialties complements of the owner, chef, sommelier or bartender. Live music and dancing were never a problem to stumble upon, or if it was an off night I might abuse some unsuspecting gentleman's pocketbook to amuse my fancies. I enjoyed every spoiled rotten moment I had in that city of sin and wouldn't take it back for anything. What was the most fortunate treasure to obtain above all else, were the friendships that have become the cornerstone of my existence there. Hardly any of them were involved in opera and on the one hand that really kept me sane. On the other, it was very easy for me to lose focus by trying to be the best friend I could to as many people as possible. It allowed me a strange safety net of spending my time, love and energy on all of them instead of myself. As much as they support and encourage me, none of them are going to stop their life to do the work involved in honing my craft. As I've struggled to deal with myself these past few months I am remembering that part of the relief to move somewhere I would have no solid network of support to coddle me through life's difficulties, was a huge part of this decision. I had to leave my friends behind. It was time to take all of this potential I'm made of and finally do something about it. People keep asking me if I've made friends, or gone out, or seen the sights and it's hard to make them understand that that isn't the reason I am here. I don't even have a cell phone, and I admit that I'm really starting to like it. Sure there are plenty of ways to distract myself and smell the flowers some more, but that doesn't sound as exciting as the rewards of hard work, determination and a strong sense of self.

I woke today with a different perspective. The problems before me that I've written about are not easy for anyone to face, but somewhere along the way I forgot that I knew how to fight. I am naturally stubborn, defiant, and aggressive to the point of madness when I can't have something I want. Ask my mother what it was like when I was told the word "no" as a little girl. The other party would be met with an infallible persistence that always ended in their surrender. I would regularly break rules if they weren't to my liking, and especially if they were illogical. One of my favorite memories as a child is from pre-school. I attended a school where my mother taught for a short time, but in a separate class. On her first day I was so excited that I would get to see my mom during school hours that I had a plan all worked out in my mind. When it came to the nap time portion of the day I would simply explain to my teachers that I hadn't taken naps since I turned two (I was now four) and that since all of the other children would be asleep, I should take this opportunity to visit with my mother in the room next door. It seemed a very rational request to me and there should be no reason they would choose to dispute such a coherent argument. However, I was in fact met with some opposition. First began a few moments of arguing, then I began to get upset (and pointed out the fact they had made me so) and proceeded to inform them that if they were to deny me a visit with my mother I would surely vomit all over the floor. Most people do not believe the idle threats of children, but I was no ordinary child. Projectile vomit had been a reactionary barometer for me since birth, and this occasion would be no different. After a few more moments of hysterics, I delivered on the promise and hurled my peanut butter and jelly all over their shoes. They would believe me now, wouldn't they. Needless to say, I was very quickly escorted to my mother.
Somewhere along the way I started to obey the rules and to believe people when they said, "no, you can't do it that way, it's just not done" or "the world doesn't work like that." I began to take their advice in so deeply as my own ideals that it became the food which fed the hungry beast of doubt living inside me. Where was that little girl who used to look "NO!" in the face, stick out her tongue and flip it the proverbial bird with her unparalleled relentlessness? The thing that made me such a difficult child is the thing my parents have said they admire most in me. Well, crap! How's that for switching on the light bulb?
This morning I recognized my opposition as a force that will always be there to trick me into believing that "NO" is my only option. That by entertaining the fear of never reaching my goals, I give power to my enemy instead of remembering to fight tooth and nail until I've torn that bastard to bits.
(photo by Jill Greenberg)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Let Daily Coffee Be Your Guide

Over the years I have uncovered a number of compulsive behaviors. I've tried to ask 'why,' find ways to make sense of them, and spent money on therapy to get to the bottom of things. I'm over that. I don't want to know WHY anymore, I just want to kick them all out the door like an unwelcome house guest. Since there is a tendency for depression when it's cold and grey outside, I have decided that the beloved artists' past time of alcohol should be omitted from the equation (along with all other drug use aside from coffee). Compulsive eating or purging are hard to do on a low budget, and I'm not disciplined enough for anorexia. I'm not computer savvy, so escaping into the world of chatrooms, online gaming or any other sort of avatar-like activity are also out of the question. If sleeping were an Olympic sport I would most certainly medal. Can one become a compulsive sleeper? I don't think that's really me either, as I do tend to stay awake through most of the night, which could cause the reason for the following day's drowsiness. What my latest obsession tends to be is the symbolic behavior related to my existential plight of not wanting to go outside until things are properly tended to on the inside. Essentially, I am acting out my spiritual crisis in the way I live my daily life. I don't want to go out into the world until my apartment is clean, I have exercised, practiced, studied and meditated. HOWEVER, I have been sitting idly by and not partaking in any of these activities, therefore creating a mild version of agoraphobia. Not enough to worry about panic attacks, but enough to keep me chained inside my surroundings until I deal with them. Maybe I'm depressed. Maybe I need more daily endorphins, or to just accomplish one activity a day that allows me to feel productive instead of thinking about the crippling feeling of doing nothing. I think there is more to it than a general tendency toward laziness, but as I mentioned before I don't care so much about the 'why' anymore. So, lately I've tried just doing one or two things on my grand list of necessary actions to motivate myself.
First, I decided that regular showering (no matter how irritatingly small my shower is) was a
good way to start. Water is cleansing and not smelling like a steel worker makes it worthwhile.

Second, came random fixes around the apartment.
It's surprising how gratifying it is to defrost
one's freezer - even if it is smaller than a Nike shoebox (literally, not

Next, I really needed a haircut, but am trying to be disciplined with money and no longer have access to the generosity of my New York City hair stylist friends. So....yes....I opted for the "do it yourself" method. I had worked in salons and seen enough haircuts to where I thought I might be able to pull it off. Just to be smart - I looked up a couple of techniques on the internet.... They were all designed for the ability to move around the person's head and since I have yet to achieve the ability to split my own atoms and form two Kristens this didn't really help. Then I thought....there has to be someone who has wasted enough time to post this sort of thing on YouTube. I found several different videos, but licensed cosmetologist Carolyn Dickerson was my favorite.
I can't recommend it enough if you have the patience to watch the entire thing. Be on the lookout for the wildlife in the background, her clear diction, heavy breathing from the camera man and exquisite wardrobe choices. It is a difficult feat to endure all eight minutes, but if you can get through the first 1:05 seconds, try to stick it out until at least 2:05.
Toward the end she is sitting in her lovely denim skirt which begged the concern - I hope she is
wearing appropriate undergarments. The ending credits are sweet as she does thank her son Lars for keeping her young....I spent some time wondering what that meant.

After the tutorial, I decided it was time to jump in with both feet. I wet my hair, sectioned
it off, and went to work. I had remnants of a layered haircut which was way overgrown, so I wouldn't just be able to simply trim the ends and call it a day. I remembered a technique from a stylist I used to work with and used that as my model while trying to keep it simple. I got through the back, front, and right side before I started to lose steam. I have a lot of hair and this was taking forever! By the time I got to the left side, the sections I cut became a little larger and less precise.... Not the brightest idea I've ever had, but it was like 1:30 in the morning and I was over it. Admittedly the layers on the left are a bit shorter and less graduated due to my lack of patience, and it is slightly reminiscent of a beauty school drop-out's handy work. Nothing a curling iron and a little hair spray can't fix......I hope. It's only hair. It grows back. Especially on your chin if you're over thirty.

I wish this had solved my problem of taking care of my daily responsibilities but, alas it only allowed me to avoid them that much longer. So, onto the new fix. There is not enough sage I can burn, crystals I can empower, or books I can read that will give me a way around the only solution that lay before me. Just do it. (Nike's marketing efforts have truly stayed with me apparently......kudos Wieden & Kennedy). The thought of doing everything all at once becomes a bit overwhelming, so I am going to experiment by bringing in one new thing that I do routinely everyday for 5 days and then include an additional task alongside that for 5 more, and so on. Right now the only ritual I take part in without fail at the exact same time every day, is that of coffee in a French press. This has been going on for years, so I feel confident that now is the time to introduce it to some new friends. Like all new relationships, there may be difficulty in finding a proper rhythm once excitement of the honeymoon has worn off, but in the same vain it is in the establishment of a good foundation which will imbibe solidification for longevity. God, I hope I buy that.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

KEEP OUT OF HEAD! Trespassers Will Be Shot.

I have been studying opera for more than 50% of the time I have been alive. Granny always said I could sing before I could talk (yes, just like the ABBA song) and I still have the "ABC" pillow she used to show for proof of my genius. I can't remember a time when singing was not a part of my life in some fashion. I grew up in a less than culturally dense town, and hadn't even attended my first opera until I was 18. Due to a relatively quirky and sheltered childhood, I really am a textbook "late bloomer" in a lot of ways and I have learned many things the hard - or more affectionately known as - dumb way. With that in consideration, it has taken me longer to find a sense of direction in this business. I have some friends in the opera world that continue to encourage, support and give me advice. They believe in the beauty of my instrument, the resilience of my persona and the tenacity I bring to the obstacles I face. There are others (some friends even) I've come across who feel the contrary and I admit that not having their approval really bothered me for quite some time. Perhaps, I was just allowing them to feed my own fear of failure until all of a sudden my goals became too large to digest. Due to a fairly sensitive skin, I had developed some serious complexes about my singing and faith in my own abilities. Mostly these were all lies told to me by a subconscious low self-esteem, which lately appears to be growing a pair and is trying to take over the helm of the ship. I suppose "knowing is half the battle," right G.I. Jane? The point being that there have been few things in my life where I have felt able to stand in full confidence.

Until recently I had never considered anything other than what I've been doing for the last however many years, but at my tender age I've started opening up to the possibilities. Writing is always something I have done to take the pressure off the head. I was telling a friend of mine how I went through a terrible wanna-be-Emily-Dickinson-poet phase in my journals as a young girl (aww, so cute...maybe I'll find one and post it). I used to write every term paper the night before with very little editing and a ton of joy. I write when I feel inspired by the moment, when something funny comes to mind and I want to remember it, or to cure the evils of uber-deep thinking. I almost always use my first draft even though I'm a total freak about spelling, grammar and punctuation which causes me to re-read everything until my eyes bleed (obviously run-on sentences don't keep me up at night and I love the use of parenthesis). I am more terrified of a poorly edited document than to the likability of its content. The faith I have in this ability completely juxtaposes how I feel about everything else in my life. Maybe because I've never really tried to make a career out of it (other than a couple of fluke columns in the New York Press) or maybe because it allows me to hide out in my pajamas with a cold cup of coffee that I'm too lazy to reheat on the stove (no microwave in Paris). What it really has given me lately is another form of expressing myself that seems to take the pressure off the singing. I had to do something before I set up camp inside The Bell Jar. The permission to fail at something I've worked toward for what seems a lifetime, is a totally fun feeling. I once had a judge say to me, "you will be free when you stop caring about it so much." Damn, I hate it when old people are right.

And now, to show you why I gave up poetry at 16 (Julia, this is for you):

A poem.

By Emily Dickinson-wan. A. B. and her lover,
E. E. Cummins'

To hear softness of Breath
In rhythmic patterns.
Know the sound
Feeling; flow through my Body.
Life brings all cause
For trouble in humanity.
Take part in generosity
Abandon greed.
Let me drink truth and knowledge.
More is never enough!*

*insert laughter

Friday, January 8, 2010


The past few days have been, what I am told is, unseasonably sunny. I would like to try and take some credit to say it's because the sun follows me wherever I go. I haven't accepted the fact that I live somewhere that is grey for most of the winter, so I chose to believe otherwise and have yet to be disappointed. Truth be told I have not been outside enjoying it as one should when the sun is shining. I was feeling pretty down and not sure what to do about it. In the spirit of being honest with myself, I am trying to be more open with how I'm feeling as opposed to holding it together in front of everyone. Now, granted there are times and places for such discussions and I have asked for a bit of encouragement from some friends as of late (which is that prideful thing of asking for help...I've never been good at that). They have done their best to deliver what I asked for in the spirit of friendship and I am so grateful.

I still wasn't feeling quite right and there was someone I love and respect so much, whom I don't speak to often, but had been thinking of calling all week. I knew he would throw some heavy perspective my way, but perhaps I hadn't been ready to hear it until now. I waited until a decent hour, and when he answered it appeared I had woken him, but this was not the case. It's funny how circumstance can change your thought process in a split second. As it turns out he had had an emergency appendectomy on Monday that led to a poor urinary catheterization procedure and a tension pneumothorax (collapsed lung) (which one could speculate was due to carelessness or lack of medical experience) and these kept him in the hospital longer than should be necessary for a basic appendectomy.
This story did have some funny moments as he described waking up early from the anesthesia to find they had inserted a catheter. He could see blood in the area and asked why they thought a catheter was necessary for such a short procedure; to which they replied that they didn't want him to urinate during he concluded to them that they'd rather have blood than urine on their expensive hospital linens. I started to laugh and he begged me not to, as it would cause him to laugh and therefore a lot of pain. All I could say was, "dead kittens, dead kittens!" and that only made it worse.

Now, this particular friend has survived a spinal cord injury where he was never supposed to walk again; he has been the caretaker of a mother who has gone through two rounds of cervical cancer, complete with chemotherapy and radiation treatments and he has never once accepted or asked for my help. However, when I called him today, I heard the weakness in his voice that said how this was the one time he could have used the help I had always offered. Instead he took a cab by himself in total pain to the nearest (and least competent) emergency room and somehow got himself home a few days later. My heart immediately broke and I realized how self-indulgent I was being by stewing in my feelings of lonliness and insecurity. He gave me the perspective he always does, just without the use of words.

The one thing that never ceases to amaze me about the experiences he's had, is that he chooses to be wise and find the lesson of strength instead of self-pity. It is truly humbling. Each difficult situation only makes one stronger and more self-reliant. This time he was merely thankful that this hadn't happened two weeks before while working during a cave dive in Mexico. The final lesson for me came when he thanked me for the call because it let him know that he really wasn't alone. Funny how I originally called to selfishly seek out that exact sentiment. Irony, like karma, can be a bitch.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Outdoor exercise, you say? Madness!!

I went for a bike ride with my friend Camille on Saturday in Brittany. I have not ridden a bike in at least 10 years. It was in fact easy and just like riding a bike when it came to my motor skills, but what that saying fails to warn you about, is that you might be a little older and out of shape compared to the last time you rode the damn bike, and that makes a difference! Now, Camille is a wunderkind when it comes to physical activity. She had disc replacement surgery almost 2 years ago and has worked vigilantly to get her body back into full recovery. I, on the other hand, who has a healthy constitution can't seem to motivate into the work out zone. I actually enjoy working out, how it makes me feel and the results it then WHY don't I do it??? This is always the dangling last step to getting into a good daily rhythm for me. I should have joined the military; I could have learned self-discipline or at least engaged in mutiny with a violent knife fight....either way, it might have helped. So, here we were, the cheetah and the sloth preparing for what turned into a 17km bike ride (roughly 10 miles). Now, it wouldn't have been so bad had we had proper 10-speeds for hills and such We had beach cruisers, with no gears and a seat that even three days later has left me feeling like I was ruffied at a frat house. Yes, I know that is crass, so now turn your attention to the picture on the right and see if you can read the look on my face (here's a hint: Camille has the camera). The cliche beret just makes everything come together, don't you thnk?

It was well worth it as I survived and saw some beautiful landscape, sea salt fields and the old town of Guerande. The fields are called les marais salants, and are where all of the grey sea salt is hand cultivated in that region.

What I didn't expect was when going through the pictures from that day, I found photographic evidence related to a lack of working out! Why wasn't this like the last time I moved to Europe in 1999? I ate chocolate, cheese and bread without exercising and LOST weight. I applied the same dietary system as soon as I arrived here in Paris and am sorry to report I will not be publishing a sub-sequel to the South Beach diet, as there are flaws in my experiment. What I'm dealing with is Newton's 1st law of motion: Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it. So, my question is: What is my external force that needs to be applied to the object of my body to change its state of motion? Think about it, and get back to me.
As we were walking in the old fortified city of Guerande (Gwenrann) I heard someone praticing an antique woodwind instrument and decided to take a video. I thought it would be fun to be on the outside listening in for a change. However, upon reflection I should not have held the camera vertically. Please tilt your head to the left for the full experience. :-)

Toward the end of our adventure, we ended up at a local wine store (keep in mind we were in the heart of Loire) and I let Cam work her magic as she impressed the owner with her knowledge and fervor for discussing wine to which he purred and opened up a bottle for us to share. In the picture you can see the hanging saucisson and the round things above are the sausages which he made galette style with cidre. Quite a lovely pay off for a physically taxing day. Then he sent us home with booty in the basket of the trusty steed. The end.