To those of you who’ve supported me by donating funds to Team for Kids, running with me, or cheering me along my training, thank you. I couldn’t have come this far without you.
As you know, this part of the world has been ravaged by Hurricane Sandy, and I have no words to express my sadness and heartbreak for the victims of this storm. That it has begun to polarize our community about such a life-affirming event as a marathon further breaks my heart. So many of us have spent months training for a challenge designed to makes us stronger and raised donations for very worthy causes, and I believe in this marathon and that it should continue on Sunday. I believe we each should run with our heads held high, celebrating 26.2 miles of this amazing city and the inhabitants who now fight daily to keep it running in every way.
Although I think it practical and important to keep the marathon’s spirit, income and revenue rolling despite this difficult time, my heart does truly goes out to my friends especially in Staten Island, Long Island, lower Manhattan, and NJ, as well as those affected in other localities. Throughout the days leading up to the race and on Sunday, volunteers are encouraging runners to donate to help victims of the disaster. As participants, may we use this moment as a call to volunteer our time or donate as we can and not turn away from those who need our help. As spectators, please meet us with a cheer rather than a protest for our months of hard work.
Let’s not turn our backs on each other in this time of need. If you need disaster relief or volunteers elsewhere, please post where we can help in the comments. If you have a donation to give, please begin with the Red Cross Hurricane Sandy Relief here: http://www.redcross.org/hurricane-sandy. If you’d rather give to another similar organization, this Huffington Post article provides some good tips for giving well to the disaster relief efforts.
If you’re interested in giving also to Team for Kids, please send your donations in the way of my friend Kristen Kasarjian’s page. She’s running for the same charity I am and still needs to reach her goal. We all have goals, after all… Some of us want to finish a race, some want to replenish our incomes so we can pay our bills, some of us want heat, water and electricity, some of us need a new home. It’s the energy and beautiful stubbornness behind people like marathoners that make this city great. Please don’t hide behind the glow of your television, computer, and smartphone while criticizing people bringing revenues and hope to a city we love. If you want to help, unplug along with those who have no choice and look for an opportunity. I promise you, there are plenty… and if I can help, please tell me how.
Join me today, August 3 (my birthday!), in celebrating youth and fitness. This year, I’m running the ING New York City Marathon on November 4. It’s my first race ever, and each Saturday, I run more than I’ve run in my life at one time. This week, it’ll be 8 miles! I’m learning so much about nutrition, motivation, and my own limits and can only imagine what it might benefits I might have reaped if I had learned these things at a young age, like these kids in Team for Kids’ running programs. It would mean so much to me if you could take a moment to check out my website at Team for Kids and consider joining me by making a donation. Reaching my fundraising goal would be the best birthday present ever.
Living in New York City enlivens, pushes, and challenges me. In a subway car, you might find me working on my attitude toward life, reading a book like The Fifth Agreement by Don Miguel Ruiz and Don Jose Ruiz. The other day, I stumbled onto a concept that confused me at best. In the book, the Ruizes combat an often heard saying, “Nobody’s Perfect.”
In their Toltec beliefs, “the truth is that everything in creation is perfect, including the humans.” Continuing to explain the concept, they further insist:
“Everything about us is perfect, including any disability or disease that we may have. Someone with a learning difficulty is perfect; someone born without a finger or an arm or an ear is perfect; someone with a disease is perfect. Only perfection exists, and that awareness is another important step in our evolution.”
Perhaps I present these inspired authors unfairly by dropping you in the middle of a probably unfamiliar and weighty concept; however, after my morning volunteering at The Cerebral Palsy Center of New York, I can honestly say I met some amazing people, perfect in their current state. About a month ago, my work as a soloist began with a concert at Mt. Sinai Hospital for some incredibly grateful patients and staff. On that day, my definition of an audience changed forever.
Today, singing with Jacqueline Ballarin, I caught a glimpse of happiness in handshakes, stories, and wheelchairs. George and Karik came in early and talked with us about puppies and trips and asked what we would sing. The pure joy oozing from Karik’s face when we shook his hand melted my heart.
When looking for a quiet concert venue, do not choose The Cerebral Palsy Center of New York, where the inhabitants laugh, sing along, and joke uncontrollablly as they experience the emotions we usually temper and control with a beautiful abandon. Jacquie boldly navigated the crowd as she sang, making them feel wanted and entertained, and they responded with exclamations of “Wow” and “I wish I could sing like that.”
After our songs had ended, Timothy showed us to the front door, pulling his wheelchair along with the wooden railings installed on every wall. Smiling as brightly as the applause that had rung through the corridors, Timothy thanked us, laughed, and corrected the staff member we passed who insisted that he raps. Apparently, he writes poetry and sings R&B. After seeing the paintings along the walls done by artists in their community, I don’t doubt it one bit.
Perfect? I suppose that depends on how you define the word. Despite their illness, these stunning people find and share joy by the mile – a talent we could all stand to develop further. Personally, I cannot imagine a better way to have spent my day. I don’t know for whose hope I just sang – theirs, or my own.
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.
Update coming soon. Well, let’s just say I’ve busied myself lately, surrounded by geniuses and working harder to walk among them. In the meantime, I wanted to alert my New York City fans to a great last minute opportunity.
Kent Tritle’s Organ Recital. Tonight. 8pm. You have 2 hours to get there. Go.
Seriously, aside from the fact that the title of the event rhymes brilliantly, Kent Tritle is an incredible organist. According to an extremely talented friend of mine who has played upon this recently refurbished Schantz organ, it remains one of the best early music organs on the East side. If that doesn’t mean much to you but you love the organ, believe me, you’ll understand by the end of the concert.
Tonight, Kent will feature works by George Crumb, Larry King, Ned Rorem, and Julius Reubke, and I can pretty much guarantee you won’t regret attending.
Gone are the days when I hear the phrase, “Oh, it must be so easy for you,” in reference to myself or anyone else dating or finding a good match. Still, people often look surprised upon hearing that New York has a reputation for stacking the numbers in favor of the single man, and even those who defend the dating scene here admit (and, in true New York fashion, like the fact) that it isn’t easy. Although I have learned so many beautiful lessons, found priceless and lasting friendships, and truly value those I’ve met while dating in the city, I admit I have suffered occasional defeat.
I once wrote a post (or two or three) about dating; however, I admittedly shy away from discussing such a topic online, especially when it involves other people I respect. Even omitting any mention of the couple of mixers and speed dating events I’ve attended during and because of my efforts writing Skydiving for Pearls, I seem to have decided to remain a bit of a mystery in this area of my life. Don’t expect that to change anytime soon.
On the other hand, when I stumble upon something of interest to myself and potentially other women (or men) who, like me, navigate the sometimes muddy waters of the single life in Manhattan, I feel obliged to share. At a group exercise/dance class downtown last night, I met Maria Coder, founder of InvestiDate. As a former journalist and certified investigative reporter, Maria has steered her life toward helping people learn the skills necessary to date smartly.
With a surprisingly optimistic outlook, this dating sleuth told me that she doesn’t judge the way someone chooses to try to find a mate. Craigslist, for example, could theoretically work with the right investigative mindset before making potentially dangerous mistakes on a date with a stranger. When she invited me to her class this Thursday with a discount, I decided to give it a try. Hopefully I have already learned the street smarts not to put myself in situations that might harm me, but I don’t doubt I might learn something new.
For those of you wondering, “Is this what we’ve come to – not trusting anyone and doing background checks on my husband?” I suspect the lovely Maria has a more balanced approach. Based on our brief conversation, I believe she wants to help women succeed in their efforts to find whatever they seek by dating in the city, without putting themselves in physical or financial danger. Sometimes we can’t avoid emotional pain, but I look forward to this class on Thursday where I may just learn to try my best. Either way, I doubt my heart can ever doubt too much to once again fall in love.
As I ride the train from my second photo shoot this week, my mind rests on the necessity of fighting for our dreams and the people we love. Last night, I had the supreme joy of seeing my dear friends Shinjoo Cho and Alban Bailly perform with their tango group, the Oscuro Quintet. How happily I watched them make their New York performance debut at Drom Bar, pondering the beauty of Shin’s phrasing on the accordion.
Dancing throughout, talented and passionate men and women swept me up in the unspeakable beauty of Milonga, an Argentinian style of tango that involves more upbeat music and close positions with one’s partner. So many in the room had spent years learning and enjoying their passions, from Spanish dance to piano, guitar, and accordion playing. Shin, once a timidly strong girl entering college as a pianist when we first met, now appears to me transformed into the passionate, talented, and beautiful woman she likely never quite imagined.
Setting out for my photo shoot this morning in my pencil skirt and power-red button down shirt, hair curled, makeup primped, I felt a strange power not entirely unknown but rarely acknowledged in myself. Having made my dreams known to myself and to the universe, I made room in my schedule and found three photographers to aid me in the first tangible step toward taking my acting career to the next level. Sam Henriques, a brilliantly talented cinematographer, met me to the Manhattan Bridge today for a local shoot and even found a movie set for a few shots. Previewing a few shots on his camera lit a fire I hadn’t anticipated in this soul that has wanted such a career despite fearing it for so long. In The Tao of Show Business, Dallas Travers insists, “Don’t shy away from painting an extraordinary picture of what you truly want your life and your career to look like… the worst thing that will happen is that you’ll get close.” Taking even the smallest step today toward that goal gave me the slightest and sweetest taste of the joy and empowerment from doing my ideal job, and I intend to make sure I keep living my dream everyday.
When I met Shinjoo Cho so many years ago, we both lived much smaller lives and took far fewer risks. Now, Shin dances a smooth tango and plays a fantastically mean accordion. Her husband, Alban, moved across the ocean to start a new life for himself and create one with Shin. These gorgeous friends of mine didn’t find their inspiration in fear but in spite of it. With their inspiration, I hope to wake again tomorrow, ready for the exciting dance of life that awaits us when we fight with it, not against it.
I never quite made it to the World Trade Center buildings before they fell. You know, one of those things I assumed I’d get to eventually. I did manage to stand within a couple of blocks from the site on September 12, 2001 (although of course I’d rather I could just hop on the subway and visit them today, still standing). Singing my first professional gig after achieving my undergraduate degree, I had a scheduled rehearsal on September 12 at New York City Opera (which, ten years later, also very sadly seems to be falling down) for I Capuleti e i Montecchi.
In 2001, I lived in Newton, NJ, a two-and-a-half hour commute from the opera house, with my husband at the time (Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus), a music teacher. Newly out of college and too poor to pay for cable, we had no television. We tried rabbit ears once during the World Series, but returned them when we could only view the RAI Italian network. On September 11, my friend called to warn me not to go into the city in case I had rehearsal. When she told me about the plane (only one had crashed by then), I assumed she meant a comparatively harmless private plane. Attempting to understand, I turned on the radio. As the plane crashed into the second tower, I only had one radio station left to hear, NPR. All other radio towers broadcasting to my region were conveniently located on top of the towers.
After a day of receiving images via the Internet, phone calls from my mother, and updates out of London on the BBC network broadcasting for NPR (not an exaggeration), I felt oddly out of touch with my nearest major city. I also doubted I’d have rehearsal in the morning but had no way of determining my next course of action. I called our rehearsal hotline. No change. Still no change. Still no change.
I took the NJTransit train in the next day from the Dover station, not knowing what to expect. What didn’t I anticipate? A free ride to and from the city on NJTransit, the only way into New York City on September 12. Plumes of smoke visible from the train, from Penn Station, from Lincoln Center. People walking slowly in Penn Station and locking eyes with one another on the subways. Strangers of all ethnicities praying together and speaking frankly, as if related to one another, on the trains in from NJ. An eerily empty Broadway.
With rehearsal of course canceled ten minutes after my arrival at Lincoln Center, I went to the now also defunct Barnes and Noble on 66th Street and Broadway to gather my thoughts, like a deer in headlights who couldn’t move. I stumbled upon a week-old article in a weekly Washington-based journal that asked the question, “What needs to happen for us to realize we need to change something about our intelligence community?” In the surrealism of that moment, I knew I wouldn’t turn around and go home.
I’d like to blame my lack of television coverage for the remainder of my actions that day, but I now realize I suffered from the same first stage of grief that most Americans felt: denial. My husband and mother would both scold me for venturing down to Ground Zero on September 12 but in doing so, I witnessed the heroes who continued to volunteer well after 9/11 and the unfathomable beauty of strangers made brothers up close. Taking the 1 train (since the 9 suddenly no longer operated) as far as I could, I got out at Canal Street and continued walking south. In itself, that fact still astonishes me, considering I get lost there now as a New Yorker, having lived here for several years.
More miraculously, I found a way to continue walking past the initial barricades designed to keep anyone but residents out of the area, after walking into a small chapel, praying, and leaving through the other side. Along with so many volunteers and residents, I was able to walk down to Stuyvesant High School, close enough to see the flag so famously photographed among the rubble and far enough to stay out of the way of the work that still continues, now ten years later.
Of course it broke my heart. Inhaling the death and ash, a stranger I’d met along the way and I picked up used doctors’ masks on the ground out of desperation to breathe. We saw someone’s incinerated résumé, cars that had hardly any metal and definitely none of the rubber left from the destruction, ash… Lots of ash. Amidst all of the turmoil (most of which lay one day behind and too far away to see), we had the moment to watch as each person present came together to offer support, provide food, search for survivors, and begin the process of picking up the pieces of our sometimes broken world.
As AT&T offered free phone calls across all pay phones in New York, NJTransit offered free train rides to and from the city, and countless people offered their time, energy, health, and lives, a strange and beautiful sense of community entered into the actual heart of our capitalist society. Since then, we have struggled. Plugging our money into wars, banks, and Ponzi schemes, we have lost things too this decade, in addition to the people who have also perished. Our hopes rise and fall, and we wonder sometimes where to place our faith.
Buildings tumbled, and we bled, but the biggest difference I came to understand that day lay in the fact that we embraced the truth of our common reality. Each of us who lives, breathes, and dies saw for a brief moment the precious human mortality we all share and made eye contact. We knew each other and understood, and it was beautiful.
I don’t preach for a living, I sing and act. Last night, I had the unspeakable pleasure of singing in Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony No. 2 with the New York Choral Artists and the New York Philharmonic. Tonight, it airs on PBS at 9:30pm, following the President’s address. As I sang, I remembered that day, the day after, and all the challenging days since through which we have endeavored as a people, sometimes together, sometimes apart, to resurrect ourselves. Imparting a message of hope through struggle, we gave the best gift we know through free music, and the most grateful audience I have ever seen applauded for what seemed like an eternity. I leave you with a translation of the text of the final movement of Mahler’s Second Symphony, by Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock and Gustav Mahler, along with my sincere belief that together, we will rise again.
Once upon a time, several of my readers asked, “Why?” They continue to ponder, “Why the nudity,” “Why the Bulgarian music,” “Why you (a question more likely uttered by acquaintances or colleagues)?”
My answer, written in January but as yet unpublished, seems all the more poignant to me as we prepare for our upcoming, much grander, longer (less than an hour), and far more ambitious performance this coming Monday and Tuesday, May 23 and 24 at 7pm and 8pm, respectively. Within this tableau, one will find weddings (yes, actual weddings), dance, improvisation, Bulgarian folk singers, a string quartet with a few additional players, opera singers, new compositions (none of mine in this production), classic opera arias, and just about every body type imaginable, both clothed and exposed. Within this preparation time and Tableau Vivant itself, I hope to find the peaceful pandemonium of life so perfectly expressing the imperfect we all discover each new day.
My answer: The Peaceful Pandemonium of Tableau Vivant
By Abigail Wright
In September, at our first rehearsal for the current incarnation of Sarah Small’s Tableau Vivant, a large circle of fascinatingly varied introductions confirmed my role as the only nude singer. Although CJ Body joined me in my exposed expression as an unclothed upright bass player for our fall tableau as part of the DUMBO Arts Festival, I bore that undertaking alone in January’s Bathhouse Studio performance. Rima Fand, a brilliant composer I’ve had the extraordinary joy of knowing in three separate artistic endeavors, entered into the equation and introduced an unusual task for most of the models as well. As musical director, she and Sarah Small designed an aural tapestry that placed almost every performer equally far from their comfort zones by layering voice upon voice (mostly untrained), until each added his unique sound to the swelling chorus of suspended, sighed, and soared tones.
Since September, the larger group of artists composing Sarah’s tableau has grown closer in companionship and familiarity, and something about the quality of the picture and drones of the sonic landscape feels more cohesive and powerful as we join together again, now at Bathhouse Studios. The Black Sea Hotel, a hauntingly beautiful Bulgarian folk quartet fully clad in bright crimson wool dresses, ever-powerfully intones a stirring folk song about a man waiting for his friend’s death in order to marry the woman for whom he pines. Sarah Small, whose musical arrangement they sing, enters into the living picture to enliven selected groups of models, static poses beginning to unfreeze and interact with one another.
As eventually the motion quiets and our once crescendoed chorus comes down from the swell, this photographer/composer/creator adds her voice as a soloist which then melds with the folk quartet to conclude the perplexing but poignant song. Almost ominously, as the melodic love story ends on the Bulgarian word meaning “death,” each of us personalizes it, as chanted, spoken, shouted, and vibrated pitches echo a resonant “umre” throughout the space. Upon this scattered final iteration, each person in tableau releases her individually held pose, engages the eyes of a random audience member, and waits for the first note of my aria after extended silence as a signal to fade away and drop her head.
In September when Sarah and I first met to discuss which aria I might perform to conclude her Tableau Vivant, I had a comparatively vague sense of the profound nature of her living picture as a whole. After hearing her focus for the tableau as a means for exploring life and death, I chose music and a text that would minister to her spirit as the creative energy behind such a feat. In “C’est l’amour vainqueur,” commonly referred to as “the violin aria” from Jacques Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann, the character of Nicklausse sings this song to the poet E.T.A. Hoffmann, imploring him to write. Referencing the beauty of music, its transforming power, and finally triumphant love, Nicklausse exclaims, “It is all-conquering love, ah, poet, give your heart!” Little did I understand at that moment how much the aria and tableau as a whole speaks not only to Sarah Small as the creator of the concept, the musicians and the models inhabiting it, and the audience in the room, but especially to everyone as a microcosm of life as a whole.
In my brief but meaningful experience with the art of tableau vivant, I have enjoyed an insider’s view of her “Delirium Constructions” as a means to explore in public all of the common human experiences most hide. Fusing truly implausible combinations of the primal with the classical, musically and visually through the clothed and bare, static and engaged, healthy and deformed (some models in particular have body paint and positions to indicate bruises, rashes, and injury), proud and meek, this odd concoction of life without pretense explores some of the most profoundly universal themes in a short twenty-minute span. Reminiscent of the musings of Shakespeare as Hamlet tells Claudius how “a king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar,” this photographer brings to light in one small space a truly living picture of the simple complexities of humanity, seen and unseen. By insisting upon such an unapologetic depiction of existence, Sarah Small presents the most honest public offering in which I have ever taken part. As society imbues her art with love, death, life and its intricacies, may she continue to inspire audiences in the peaceful pandemonium of her Tableau Vivant.