Last week, I had the incredible fortune of continuing my path towards life coaching certification with the Balance course, offered by The Coaches Training Institute. Each class affirms my unique and powerful skills as a coach and my talent for intuition and working with people. I fully believe in this path for my life to add to the wealth of experiences and creativity and work I already enjoy as a singer, actor, writer, and filmmaker. “Coach” seems to fit really well within that collection of wonderful hats I get to wear.
In training, because we gain so much experience as coaches by actually doing the work, we have so many opportunities to receive coaching from our peers and our instructors, and each of these classes transforms me from moment to moment. It’s just incredible. I’d love to share one of my biggest takeaways from these lessons – the realization that I want to invite more mystery into my life.
For months, I’ve considered the difference between planners and rebels and the extreme reactions people have to choosing events and filling schedules. I see the benefits of both. Planning gives me a sense of control and security, and with so many planners in the world, sometimes only making time in advance permits me to see people who live their lives with full calendars. On the other hand, I now know several people who refuse to make plans, for the most part, until each day arrives. This leaves tons of room for surprise and spontaneity, but planners often find these rebels, of sorts, unreliable and impossible to trust.
Admittedly, I lean toward planning, but I really miss the days when I first moved to NYC, before I eventually slid into an almost hourly reliance on Google Calendar to keep straight all of my appointments and connections. Before I had a network and a routine, when I used to try new things… with this blog, on a daily basis! So, in the spirit of inviting more mystery into my life and making room for unknown surprises, I have created mystery week!
By creating space on my calendar for one week per month (aside from important work commitments or contracts), refusing to make any plans until each day starts, I have decided to invite creativity and mystery back into my life. It just started Sunday. On day one, I had already gone on an impromptu shopping trip with a good friend at the MOMA design store (I had never been) and ran into a lovely friend from the neighborhood, riding the subway home and meeting her super fun daughter, who sang to me a song she had written and regaled me with a story about a girl and her braces. In case you’re still wondering, she was charming and delightfully unexpected.
Yesterday, I had an important meeting with a friend with whom I’ve been working on a big project for some time. He offered to drive me home on the way to a private indoor skydiving lesson, and when, on the way, he offered to take me with him and give me a few minutes of his lesson time, of course I happily agreed and had an absolute blast. By opening myself up to possibility, I had the chance to experience something completely new and both intellectually and physically exciting. Today, I went roller skating at a park in my neighborhood – something I’ve never done – and I haven’t skated, since I suffered an injury a few years ago. It felt triumphant and was a serious workout. So for this week, anyway, I may not know what tomorrow brings, but I really, really like it that way. Mischief – or mystery – unmanaged.
You might notice from the title, this post gets a bit dark. Fair warning. When I first began this blog in 2010, the idea of processing my thoughts through writing might have crossed my mind once or twice. So many years later, I am still a huge believer in embracing meaningful change, but I’m also learning the necessity of having a vehicle through which to interpret and understand these events and evolutions. So, I’m back, after a whirlwind twelve days since I disembarked on three major journeys.
1. Life Coaching Training with CTI
On this topic, I haven’t a clue where to begin except to say I’ve decided to train as a life coach, as part of my journey to help others create habits of small changes to manage anxiety and live a more fulfilling life. Landing in exactly the right place at the right time, I’ve just begun my work in training, alongside some incredible friends and coaches with a really empowering program that has already begun to transform me, as well as my skills as a coach. Although I learned a lot about active listening, asking powerful questions, and countless other skills used in coaching, I also understood myself in radical ways I didn’t expect. I now see that I still shrink and filter myself in profound ways for the sake of acceptance, and that I spend more time than I’d like trying to hide in the past or future, or in distractions, despite my continued work and study in presence for years. This beginning opens up a whole new world of possibility – my favorite thing. Also opening up Pandora’s Box of growth, I see I have a lifetime ahead of vulnerability, change, facing my own demons, and opportunity. It’s going to be a wild ride. Much love to Julie Kashen and Edwin Vega for recommending this incredible path of beautifully unknown outcomes.
2. Berlin, Germany
Despite my German heritage (my mother’s father, from whom came my nose as well as at least some of my musical talent), I never had any interest in going to Germany. Switzerland, France, Italy, yes, but not Germany. This past year, several of my friends have mentioned Berlin as a really great city to visit and in which to live. Invited by Rebecca, who moved there last year, Janine, whom I met last May, and then Lindsay, who decided to travel there in November and said I should go too, I decided to see if I could meet my dear friend Adam from the UK there and created a trip.
Despite some serious travel obstacles in getting there (No need to trudge through that – but the moral of that story is: avoid kiwi.com, EuroAtlantic Airways, and Aigle Azur. Enough said.), I landed in Berlin, grateful to catch up with eleven friends and loved ones over brunch upon my arrival. We caught my incredible friend Glacéia as one of the stars of an out-of-this-world revue show with circus acts called Vivid. Singing and performing like a firecracker, she blew me away, along with the rest of the show.
For the rest of the weekend, I wrestled with my newfound vulnerability, attempted to shrink less and spend more time in presence (as learned from my life coaching class), and enjoyed the moments. Awareness has its downsides too, and I quickly realized why I never wanted to travel to Germany – because of its incredibly complicated and at times evil recent past. We saw some pieces of the wall, walked by Checkpoint Charlie, and got a little lost in the Holocaust Memorial.
Nothing, however, could prepare me for the way I would feel when facing the Brandenburg Gate – the sense of dread at standing in a place where Hitler once held rallies. Focusing much of my life on the positive, I admit, I rarely like to spend time facing the darkness, but I’m glad I went. At this time in a very polarized climate in the United States and in a rather dangerous era for citizens of many other countries in the world, I want to be one of the global citizens who pays attention and contends with both the light and dark. Thankfully, I ended on a light note with wonderful people, and I even took time to enjoy a visit to Vabali Spa with some friends.
3. San Francisco, California
Although I also had a wonderful opportunity to catch up with a few beloved friends and stay with a gracious host from Belarus (ex-DJ turning sommelier, how can you go wrong?), this trip went awry. Let’s be honest, I’m disappointed that the smoke from the forest fires kept me from being able to relax and give a solid audition representative of my talents. That said, who cares?
I am so sorry for everyone dealing with the forest fires in California, from the everyday citizens (hopefully) wearing medical masks or construction masks, to those evacuated, to the tens of thousands now homeless and the dozens who’ve lost their lives. I weep for the planet, and I have not yet recovered emotionally from breathing in the air of the earth that cries for help while we continue to pollute it with our entitled lives of carbon, plastic, and carelessness. Even South Park (I love this show) gets it right now. I came home last night and attended a child’s birthday party today. When the topic arose, one person said we’d have to wait until we had a better president to accomplish anything for climate change. I couldn’t help but argue that we can’t wait for someone else to make a change.
Well, needless to say, I’ve had quite a journey these past twelve days, including the six plane trips and huge array of food, smells, temperatures, personalities, and time zones. Distilling it down to the most important lessons, I have learned two crucial things. First and foremost, we are destroying the planet. We’ve been destroying the planet. We really don’t have the luxury of waiting for someone else to fix it or distracting ourselves from doing something about it. Period. Secondly, good people are my favorite attraction. Not museums, monuments, or even autumn leaves and shows. People. Given that, I have to remember that good people can make a difference.
About the Holocaust, Germans have said, “nie wieder,” meaning “never again.” In the time of World War II, countless individuals turned a blind eye to the atrocities facing their fellow citizens of the world. Passing the blame to the people executing orders or giving the orders, most of the people who might have done something to make it stop sat around and did nothing. Perhaps people will question my comparison of genocide to climate change, but what will future generations think if we too sit by and do nothing, while others enjoy their entitled freedoms and grow their wealth at the cost of the displacement of islands and cities, the destruction of homes, lives lost, and the desolation of Earth? This bothers me. It should bother us all.
Three more shows. Listen, I love NYC, and I do look forward to working on my current projects at home. I have lots of work to do, a wedding to sing at The Metropolitan Opera, lots of masses to sing at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a couple of solo gigs in December, and I hope to get more work singing or acting at home when I return. I’ll even have some great distractions, including a planned trip to Berlin, an audition in San Francisco, and Thanksgiving with my family in Florida.
So, why do I tear up when I think about ending our run of La Traviata at Washington National Opera in DC? Without a doubt, the people here are great and have welcomed me into their family without hesitation. I plan to write more in the future about my adventures with housing, but I’ve had an incredibly gracious host in a beautiful home who has truly become a friend. I’ve worn costumes perfectly tailored to my body, tasted wine, celebrated and laughed with friends, caught up with great people I haven’t seen in decades, and sung repeatedly in a gorgeous opera house for incredibly grateful audiences.
If I’m completely honest, these fulfilling and enriching experiences follow me, and I will return for a production of Faust in February and March. Although I don’t yet know where I’ll stay, the universe teaches me over and over that good people and my own resourcefulness abound, and I suspect I’ll have some unknown experience that will make me smile and help me grow. Why the tears? Change is hard. I tout it as a lifestyle all the time, and I plan to write a book about the importance of making it a habit, but I cannot lie and pretend that I don’t still fight, every time a big change arrives. So why bother?
Yeah, I have more questions than answers in this post. Still, I know that I felt the same way, getting on a bus to come here and fight through the discomfort of being the new kid at school. The sheer lack of foreknowledge of the neighborhood, my host, the staff at my gig, how I might adjust… I knew nothing. In less than two months, I’ve grown so comfortable with this change that I don’t want to leave. It happens every time. I hate packing. I hate leaving. I hate not knowing what might happen on the other side of Monday. Since the future doesn’t exist yet and now is all we have, I intend to wipe those honest tears, enjoy my friends here and my family coming to see the show, dance and sing in the most lovely costumes I’ve worn in a while, and remind myself of my greatest truth and passion – an openness to change. When I step out of that bus, I welcome another adventure and another fulfilling reality to help me become a better person. Without that shift, I’ll never open the door to whatever unknown journey will make me want to stay next.
DC, thank you. I can’t wait to see you again soon.
This last day of Autumn, I find myself surrounded by the common theme of new dreams, uncharted challenges, and new adventures to discover. Last week, blessed by four completely different performances for which to prepare and perform, I had the opportunity to check in with my incredibly talented and diverse friends and colleagues. One friend had just produced her second one-woman show. Another contemplated her next steps to her rise to hopeful fame, while a third shared her desire to sing jazz despite not knowing quite where to start. Bold steps by brave people.
Taking me to a black belt Aikido test, another adventurous man opened my eyes to the calm intensity of a challenging practice that intrigues me, and I had the chance to watch even a handful of elderly participants test for their black belt after years of training and discipline. Finally, at a party hosted by some invaluable friends, a photographer friend Michael Chadwick convinced me to run a marathon with him. So, for next Autumn, I’ve decided to run the ING NYC Marathon to support Team for Kids, a non-profit organization working to keep children active and combat childhood obesity. I’ll have more information in future posts, hopefully including details about a team to join if you’d like to take up the challenge with me! In the meantime, please consider helping me get off to a running start with a donation of any amount.
In the similar rush of these changing seasons as Autumn comes to a close, New Year’s seems already upon us, and my friends and I contemplate actions of almost spring-like renewal. In celebration of the rebirth we each have when we wake to a new day and open ourselves to new possibilities, I leave you once again with my dear friend and hero, Kara Morgan. Her ability to create her dreams literally and figuratively, always with a dash of humor, inspires me regularly to take the leaps that scare me most. May we all have such courage to wake up to our dreams this holiday season.
Standing in the subway at Columbus Circle waiting for the A train, I can hear a blues singer, wailing away about love lost. Upstairs, on the 1 train platform, another soulful songbird entones her version of “Hallelujah.” When exiting above ground, a woman in her red Daily News cap hands me an ad for the new Century 21, opening today in the location of my once favorite bookstore, the Barnes and Noble in Lincoln Square. Completing this accidental tour of loss, change, and instability of this last day of Summer, I pass by the now ad-obscured and hidden storefront where once operated the Borders Books and Music at the Time Warner Center.
As New Yorkers, we talk about the changes at our rehearsal for the next round of concerts with the New York Philharmonic. Yet somehow, despite our admitted disdain for the loss of value in physical bookstores, we venture into Century 21 anyway. My friend shops there now as I type. I ride the subway with the free Century 21 canvas bag handed to me upon exiting the store, not filled with any purchases from them but advertising the change nonetheless. Tomorrow arrives, and we move on. That’s what New Yorkers do, right?
All of these changes remind me of a moment in time shared by Eckhart Tolle in his book, “A New Earth.” When he and a friend journeyed into an historic site, complete with crumbling echoes of a past era, they stumbled upon a sign that read, “Caution. All structures are unstable.” Together they paused, contemplating the truth of that statement in all aspects of life.
Two hundred posts ago, I created Skydiving for Pearls to both reach out to my community and help myself recognize and embrace the stability of instability. For several months, those of you who followed watched me do something scary, unusual, or uncomfortable every day. Although I don’t literally take this daily challenge anymore, I do take it very seriously as a way to live each moment. This year, when I decided to embark upon the journeys of singing nude in Sarah Small’s Tableau Vivant, going skydiving, and donating my eggs for example, I didn’t try to do things that would shock people. Rather, I opened my mind up to new possibilities that have changed my perspective on life in the most beautiful way I can imagine.
Starting a new leaf in my career towards acting in film and commercials scares me enough to have avoided actually taking the “quantum leap” (as Dallas Travers recommends) for thirty-three years and no longer counting. Living with fear of change only paralyzed me and prevented me from evolving. As I complete this post on now the first day of Autumn, I invite you to join me, breathe, and find the stability found only in each unstable second. Enjoy this moment. As seasons pass, we all have our time to protest the closing of stores we love, the opening of new institutions that frighten us; once the pages have turned, let us embrace life as it is and not as we would have pictured it once upon a time. My recommendation? Celebrate by sitting in your local bookstore still surviving or by catching the photo exhibit at the Park51 Islamic Center – you know, the “Ground Zero Mosque” we thought might never make it.
The world did not end yesterday, making possible at least three weddings and two performances in my path. Today brought a long day sprinkled with filming, choreography, singing, posing, robing and disrobing, all to prepare for another day of the same and two performances of Sarah Small’s Tableau Vivant. I can’t wait to sleep tonight. The only portion of this week I await more passionately? Tuesday night, after the second performance and the fourth aria, after singing for the VIP vault event, when I get to relax with my incredible friends and have a drink.
Although I imagine that my dear friends Matt and Liz felt the same way before their wedding yesterday, as likely will all three couples participating in the wedding portion of our two tableaux, such a step in one’s relationship requires as much courage as singing nude, alone and in front of an audience. In my recent history, I’ve grown to accept my marriage to my career, a commitment to which I’ve felt drawn since birth. Among other pursuits of mine (like participating in Tableau Vivant), friends, family, and strangers have asked so many questions surrounding this passion that sometimes I feel overwhelmed, as if my silly head might spin itself off and away from their doubts and my fears.
Despite the sometimes good intentions of those inquiring, questions such as “Why aren’t you singing solos at the Met,” “Doesn’t it make you nervous to…,” “Don’t you feel like you should get more compensation,” “You’re so busy, why don’t you have more time for…,” and “Why don’t you try doing this other job on the side, since you do it so well?” frankly, make me want to scream sometimes. All performers also deal with the pressures of other artists and industry professionals working beyond our fiscal or physical boundaries and have to constantly draw our lines and weigh the benefits of the product and experience with the inevitable trials that affect someone within the process. Some seem to handle these pressures brilliantly and easily; others quit the business.
After months of drawing few and often last-minute and therefore less successful and more stressful boundaries, I have learned some incredible lessons in sanity and personal integrity. First and foremost, the word “yes” works best when never used against one’s own judgment and instinct. More than about just wanting to please others, I struggle most trying to make sure everyone understands me. I really do care, work hard, want to help, and want everyone with whom I work to know that. No wonder I feel stressed, trying to control others’ ability to empathize with me, an actor, opera singer, puppeteer, nude model, ex-conservative divorced woman living alone in the city and preferring it that way!
As I smile to myself writing this post on the subway, I feel oddly like one of the sane ones today. I’ve decided to let go of how others perceive the articles by Huffington Post writer Daniel J. Kushner, part one and part two, from which I have discovered my tendency to say “like” far too much. I do not know what tomorrow will bring (aside from a long day and exciting tableau performance), but I finally! accept that I can not control the outcome. Magically I seem to breathe more deeply, letting go of my drive to make everyone “get” or accept me. I can’t wait for tomorrow. This tableau promises to surprise even the performers in its many but honest intricacies. If you have any interest or curiosity in seeing this completely unique artform live, I recommend buying your tickets now for tomorrow or Tuesday, in advance. General admission tickets especially have increased sharply in sales since our listings in Time Out NY and the New York Times, and I’d love for you to experience it. If you find such an eclectic and exposed medium uncomfortable, offensive, or not your cup of tea, I’m okay with that… Well, at least I’m working on it. Finally.
After only eight months of revising the role of Yes Man, pursuing like Alice the white rabbit down his hole, I find myself seriously asking, “Whose life is this?” Tonight, I stood soaking wet on a crowded bus to the Bronx, surrounded by screaming passengers as lightning struck nearby on my way to discuss modeling for a body art and face painting workshop at Frank Bee Clown Studio. Before dying, my phone delivered to me an email from Chrissie Rouse (Program Manager for Sarah Small), informing me that Sarah wants to use me as a nude singer in her Mini-Tableau Vivant next weekend. Losing the blog post I had written for Thursday (now Friday) when my phone died, it seemed every odd accident happened around me this evening. When we finally passed an MTA bus on fire on the third leg of my trip, my mind exploded simultaneously, landing somewhere between feeling overwhelmed and unbelievably blessed.
Somewhere in the midst of the madness of embracing change, I’ve stumbled upon a surprising stability previously unknown. Sleep sometimes escapes me as I try to balance learning new skills and abandoning excuses in my life with actually earning a living and paying bills. With little room for recollection of upcoming events, I rarely know what tomorrow holds for me until just before bed when I remind myself with Google Calendar. Strangely, it doesn’t matter; I feel safer, stronger, healthier, and happier than ever (knock on wood), not in spite of my newly open-minded and action-packed lifestyle but as a direct result of it. I even felt more confident at an early music audition on Wednesday because of the nude audition I performed on Friday for Sarah Small.
Moving to New York City three years ago, I felt a certain desperation to land a full time job or a lasting relationship. When I couldn’t seem to achieve either goal, I maintained the expected “young opera singer” appearance physically and relationally and felt uneasily unlike myself spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. Now even I sometimes don’t recognize my life on the outside! Yes, actor and singer still dominate my career definition and personality, but nude model? Skydiver? Puppeteer who likes to frequent social media events? Musical theater singer and member of Actor’s Equity?
I love it! Internally, I have never felt better, and the energy I’ve gained opening up my life to so many new possibilities leaves me breathless and yearning for more. A chronic abuser of excuses, I used to fear the unfamiliar and sometimes still do; yet, somehow change has become my constant, and that gives me more peace than I could have ever expected to feel. My advice to anyone still afraid of change (including myself as I prepare to sing, nude, for an audience on the 25th of September):
Acknowledge your weaknesses (including fear)
Realize that you can almost always find a way to overcome or subvert them.
Make a plan that will inspire you to seek change beyond your excuses. I chose writing with a goal each day to leave my comfort zone. Milton Sheppard started a clown studio in the Bronx to teach others how to bring joy to their own lives and the lives of others while earning a living. My talented friend David Michael continues to learn to master photography and creates a new business for himself on top of his opera career while helping to raise his family. To each his own. Find yours.
Keep going. Phyllis Greene, at ninety, writes a blog to keep life joyful and productive during hospice care.
I have a lot to learn. Life presents its difficulties, and one never knows the future. Somehow, direction changes everything though, and optimism enters my mind even at the end of this bizarre and never-ending day. May tomorrow always be as fruitful .