Why It Matters (#244)

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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.

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From a Marathoner with Love

Closed Central Park

Dear Friends, Fans, and Family,

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.

Lifetime Investments

Child's Play

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how life has changed since childhood. We spend many of our days indoors, and most of us wouldn’t dream of recessing ourselves outside for any length of time in the winter, unless skiing or absolutely necessary. Most of us have our times at the gym or elsewhere to keep in shape, but the days of monkey bars and dangling by our knees feel like a lifetime ago (unless of course, you perform in Cirque du Soleil or hang out with the folks at the Circus Warehouse). Why?

Yesterday, I remeber waxing poetic about my fitness and flexibility as a child, receiving physical education and recess every single day, in addition to the time spent on the playground alone or with friends. Then, I decided to run over the Queensboro Bridge. I would, after all, have to run there during the marathon one month from now. As I ascended, I felt a sense of accomplishment and enjoyed the day, despite the overcast and drizzly weather and the somewhat inconvenient construction which had stripped away all of the pavement on the pedestrian/bicycle path.

Bam! As I flew through the air and promptly landed on my hands and knees, I tore the new capris intended for the marathon, bruised and cut my legs, and ripped open my right hand in a rather unattractive way. Looking up, I saw a concerned cyclist and the raised patch of metal that had caused my tumble and felt childishly offended, as though the universe had cruelly inured poor little me. Somehow, this felt oddly familiar.

Ah yes, it felt like childhood! Running another three miles after briefly cleaning up and begging for bandages at the nearest Starbucks, I pondered my silly though painful fall from grace. My ego cried a little about my mean and unfair boo-boos, and upon arrival at home, I had to take myself to the pharmacy for supplies, clean out my own wounds, dry my own tears, and wash the dirt and blood out of my own tattered clothes. After a few hours, I learned the lesson a teacher or parent no longer needed to instruct.

Kids run and play. They also bring home grass stains and broken limbs. With increased activity comes increased risk and investment. Take, for example, the ridiculous disclaimer I had to sign before skydiving. That said, while wounds may take longer to heal as adults, the lessons sink in faster, and the rewards are honestly priceless. As I sit today outside Lincoln Center, I know I will have many trials in life, more skinned knees, and likely bruised egos. Some years bring more challenges than others, and all of them bring opportunities for growth, investments, and action.

Here’s to the eight-year-olds on the playground and the octogenarian skydivers and triathletes – those who live all of their lives fully without excuses or fear of falling, or in spite of any such fear. Yes, I ran twenty miles in one day this week but a year ago, I wouldn’t have dreamt of it. I’m so glad I took the risk to run this amazing race of life. Yesterday, I fell flat on my face. Today, I took my bruised knees and bandaged hands to the Metropolitan Opera, put on a wig and a dress, and performed on one of the greatest stages on earth. Sometimes the greatest investment we can make in life is to get up, try again, and hang from the jungle gym.

Otello at the Metropolitan Opera

Join Me for My Birthday!

Rarely do I invite the world to an event, but in this case, I believe it’s a just cause.

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.

http://www.runwithtfk.org/Profile/PublicPage/7834

Run with Me

On Skydiving for Pearls, you can pretty much count on the fact that I love to seek out peak experiences. Bucket list items, challenges, excursions from the realm of safety and predictability. Why? Because when I push my boundaries now in the relatively secure confines of experimentation, then the real, unavoidable trials will later meet a stronger and more stubborn foe. As a bonus, I’ve discovered priceless joy and peace in activities I once feared or disdained.

That said, some strange part of me wants to suffer through these adventures like the heroine of Hunger Games or some similarly daring and adventurous paragon of courage. In hindsight, I think that same odd spirit in me relished dreading skydiving, as the only one of my group of twelve friends who honestly never wanted to try it. Despite my initial fears, I loved it. Loved it. Loved it. Although it may take some time to gather the motivation (and money) and feel the drive to try it again, if I had to choose one day of my life to keep and loose the memories of all the rest, I would save the day where I plummeted from that very tiny plane. Hands down.

Recently, I’ve chosen a new peak to pursue that I also kind of dreaded: running in the 2012 ING New York City Marathon. In some strange imaginative portion of my brain, I expect to hate it, push through it, and succeed. Running for an extremely worthy charity, I also have the fabulous temptation of fearing not only injury, dehydration, heart and cardio concerns, and nutrition but also raising the required amount of $100 for each of my 26.2 miles.

Somehow despite the obstacles, including some ridiculous runs on which I’ve strayed onto wooded paths and tiny, busy highways, I had fun today on my four mile run. Achieving something new always feels great, but after my five miler on Monday and standing all day at rehearsal yesterday, I did not expect the sense of relief and renewal I experienced at the end of a surprisingly peaceful time. The nourishment of my food afterwards felt real and incredible, and I appreciated the dining commons at my summer gig at Bard Summerscape with no palatable annoyance at the influx of kids at their sports camps or the increasing predictability of food offerings. No. Those black-eyed peas and local baby plums amused me to no end, and my body teems with a consistent life and vigor I haven’t felt in a few years.

Does this make me a runner? We shall see. In the meantime, lucky me who gets to enjoy pursuing what I know will be a hard-won goal this November. As for the charity, I’ve chosen to run for Team for Kids, an organization that provides coaching, motivation, and inspiration for children in New York City, across the United States, and in South Africa. Focusing on inner city (can you imagine running in the city without a coach as a child?) and/or low-income schools, they give kids an opportunity to stay active, prevent childhood obesity, qualify for scholarships, and feel the genuine rush of health and of achieving something real.

So it appears the silly, grinchy side of me who longs to suffer will at least have to wait while I enjoy living as an example for the children I hope to help with Team for Kids. For my friends with me upstate at Bard and in the city later this summer and fall, please join me in a run if you like and can suffer my still slow pace. For everyone else, please consider contributing to Team for Kids in support of my run. I have a birthday upcoming on August 3… Feel free to think of it as a gift. I know I do.

Donate to Team for Kids

Singing for Hope

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.

Audience at Mt. Sinai

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.

The Weather Monster

If you haven’t heard already, I’ve decided to run in November’s ING NYC Marathon for Team for Kids, a great cause promoting fitness for children in low income schools and preventing childhood diabetes. Please take a moment to visit my fundraising page, read about all of the great work Team for Kids does, and consider contributing to help me reach my goal.

As for my other goals? At the top of the list of course lies finishing. I also would ideally love to run the entire race, although as my first ever running event, I will happily walk if needed to arrive at the finish line. Truthfully, as a fresh-faced marathon newbie, I feel nervous to begin training for this next major Skydiving for Pearls adventure. How will I manage keeping my nutrition and energy elevated, with my regularly low blood sugar levels? Will I stay motivated and injury free? And seriously – rain? Cold weather in the fall and early spring training? Can’t I just run this thing on an indoor track somewhere?

Today I faced my first fitness challenge with a bit of a weather monster. Everyone has their dragons to slay… Mine? I hate the cold. That said, I also adore skiing! Vacationing in Okemo, VT has brought me a lot of fun, and we had a tremendous day on the slopes yesterday. Moguls kept me on my toes, and my body had an excellent workout. Still, I felt a bit unsure on shorter skis than usual and rarely ski without taking a private lesson, so I signed up for the following morning at 8:30 AM private. Early, but cheaper and with far fewer people on the slopes.

When I left our studio this morning, I thought the freezing rain might stop soon. Not so much. Kevin, my fun and knowledgeable instructor, helped me work on my turns, edges, and balance. Despite my fogged-up sunglasses (I promptly bought new goggles after my lesson ended), I loved challenging my mind and body to improve upon a sport I enjoy and revisit only once a year at best. Honestly, I can’t wait to go back out this afternoon and try out my new techniques… After the rain stops.

Racing down my final hill in my lesson, the hail stung my face and made my glasses almost unusable. The cold began to seep through my soaked ski pants, and I realized the water from the wet ski lifts had permeated down to my now quite cold skin. As I contemplated whether more expensive gloves might protect my hands better, I considered my upcoming marathon training. I will not likely want to run in freezing rain, but with the marathon in early November, I probably won’t.

Having enjoyed today’s lesson despite close to the worst weather conditions I can imagine, I learned another lesson I hadn’t quite expected. All of the things that can go wrong pale in comparison to the potential for growth, fun, and new experiences. Weather doesn’t matter really, and even the cold doesn’t sting quite so strongly when the heart starts racing for a fun sport or a good cause. I imagine the children who benefit from Team for Kids learn that truth well. Having slayed my morning weather monster, I feel much more confident and can’t wait to start running for those kids. This marathon, and training for it, might actually provide me with as much fun as the challenge itself, no matter the weather.

Skiing in Okemo