Time Machine

Lately, I’ve taken a bit of a break from writing at Skydiving for Pearls, to focus on my crossover efforts from opera to musical theatre and film and television. I’ve also started gearing up for a very big project to come, called The Peace of Persistence, which I intend to unveil fully in September. In the meantime, I’m singing and acting up a storm, excitedly awaiting the start of rehearsals for the New York Philharmonic’s Carousel while filling in for an injured friend in the opening weekend of the return of Don Cristóbal, now through Sunday.

Speaking of returns, Kara Morgan is back! She’s moved to Los Angeles to more fully pursue her dreams in acting and singing, while I miss her shining face, I wish her all the best. PS, Kara, feel free to hire me when you make it big out there. I couldn’t resist sharing her newest episode, Time Machine. Enjoy!

Alright Here

Despite the news of Hurricane Sandy and the NYC Marathon cancelation, I’ve kept a relatively low profile as I recover from a couple of unexpected blows. First, the marathon, and its cancelation that oddly leveled a sizable blow to my ego even to the point of feeling like heartbreak. Second, my knee, the same one I had worked so hard to heal after my training fall on the Queensboro Bridge, which I then re-injured by falling while dismounting my bicycle on the way to my church job last Sunday – ironically, the day I had planned to run in the marathon. In one week, I went from running eleven-minute-miles to walking eleven-minute-blocks along with the elderly with their walkers on Tuesday. I did vote.

As I sat at home for the rest of the week, nursing my physical and emotional wounds, I searched for answers and lessons to be learned; meanwhile, the universe threw funny moments and great visitors in my direction to remind me that I wasn’t and am never alone. Several friends came to visit, along with a photographer I had met while singing in the subway. She needed a place to stay when her plane was canceled due to the Nor’easter last week and gave me an opportunity to help someone displaced from the storm, from the comfort of my home. The strangest surprise came when a census bureau representative who had tried unsuccessfully to ask me questions for a financial survey when I was sick months ago returned at this uncanny time, with organic orange juice and flowers.

My loved ones and well-wishers have helped to soothe my soul and teach me some valuable lessons about striving, resting, and communing with life and the living. Here are five things I learned this week:

  1. The elderly aren’t just wise because they’ve accumulated a lot of experience. Having to move at such a slow pace makes you choose between living in the moment and going insane.
  2. When it takes you 2 minutes to walk past someone, you’re more likely to be friendly. Otherwise, every person you pass is an instant awkward moment.
  3. Although I value peak experiences, I placed too much stock in one day’s easily canceled event. I talked a bit too little about anything else but the marathon, and in it I laid my worth as a woman who could do anything. I can still do anything, and I will likely run another marathon, but each day has no more potential than the next to change my life or the world.
  4. Heartbreak is sometimes a gift to make you a stronger person.
  5. Regardless of fame, success, dreams, and all our striving, our best lives still end with those we love at home

Thank you to everyone who cheered me on, and especially to those who donated to Team for Kids on my behalf. It’s an amazing charity, and I’m so grateful to have still helped so many children with your gifts. Finally, a song from my dear and talented friend Trina Bass Coleman, called Alright Here. It reminds me of the most important lesson of all: regardless of fame, dreams, and all our striving, our best lives still end with those we love at home.

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 remember 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

Gratefully Yours

Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” To those of you who have helped me raise over $3000 for Team for Kids for this year’s ING New York City Marathon, you have made possible one of the major experiences of my life and the motivation and encouragement of countless children who will benefit from your donation. Thank you! One of the many beneficiaries of your kindness left me a voicemail the other day… this is who you have helped.

Still haven’t had a chance to contribute? Meet Kristen Kasarjian, an amazing friend of mine running the race for the same amazing charity. Please help her reach her goal, since I’ve already reached mine! Anyone who donates at least $100 to her campaign can still sponsor a mile in mine (I’ll think of you during the marathon in the mile of your choice)… Just let me know when you do. In the meantime for me, lots of training continues, as I keep running to prepare for the 26.2 mile course I get to complete on November 4. Today, I ran 16 miles, and I get to train in some of the most beautiful areas. Here’s your bird’s eye view into some of my favorite runs so far. Thank you, thank you, thank you for making it all worthwhile. I can’t wait!

An Early Run at Bard
An Early Run near Bard College
Run in Palisades Park
Run in Palisades Park
Sunlight in Palisades
Sunlight in Palisades
Back in the city
Back in the city

Firsts and Seconds

Thank you SO much to everyone who helped me get more than halfway to my goal of raising $3000 for Team for Kids for my upcoming marathon in NYC this fall. Because of your support, I feel like I can do it… not just the fundraising, but the running itself! I run farther than I’ve ever run in my life every weekend now, and I couldn’t do it without you. This marathon is my first race, first marathon, first major fundraising event, and first attempt to make fitness a larger part of my life. Thanks for believing in me!

Now for the second… date! If you haven’t seen it yet, enjoy Kara Morgan‘s second installment of The Opera Sitcom. I love it.

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.

Vibrating away My Blues

Sometimes, I feel a little complicated. For instance, when I rattle off my diet preferences and needs: hypoglycemic, pescatarian, and allergic to shellfish. I love (and usually miss) lots of food and drink that I can’t have if I want to sing well. On vacation following a solo gig with the Ft. Myers Symphonic Mastersingers, I had to put on a blanket indoors when the air conditioning turned on… at 77 degrees. I often feel far too cold, especially when it’s just warm enough outside for the heat in my apartment to stop functioning. Brr…

Living with a restriction here or there occasionally frustrates me, so I look for ways to improve and simplify my diet and life. One recent day in NYC, I woke in a bit of a funk and thought I might strap on my Skydiving for Pearls attitude and try something new. Enter Groupon.

If you haven’t met Groupon Now yet, the app will give you on-demand coupons in your area available to redeem today within a specified time frame. Through Groupon Now that gloomy morning, I discovered a place called Amplitude Vibration Studio who offered a ten dollar introduction workout in their state of the art facility.

What the heck is a vibration studio? I asked myself the same question as I purveyed their website, watching strange videos of people working out while vibrating on a machine I’d never before encountered or seen. Seriously grabbing my attention, Amplitude Vibration Studios promised a boatload of benefits, including increased bone density (great news for a girl with an extensive family history of osteoporosis) and improved circulation.

Sold. If they could potentially improve my circulation on a chilly day, I would happily pay much more than the $10 deal through Groupon. After traversing to the Upper East Side and signing a surprising plethora of disclaimers regarding my current state of health, I met David, one of the owners and the trainer with whom I would experience my first workout.

I returned three times since that day when David first introduced me to a phenomenal exercise that did indeed live up to its promises. I stood on their vibration machine and first felt the intense vibrations coarsing strongly through all my cells at a rate of 22 times per second. Explaining that higher rates work well for exercise and that vibrations less than 15 times per second work well for people needing physical therapy and massage, David demonstrated the plates within the little box upon which I stood.

He led me slowly and carefully through each exercise for the first time, including lunges, squats, flexibility stretches, and even tricep bends and the plank. Altogether, I worked out for little more than twenty minutes and felt like I had experienced the best and most efficient training session in years. I kid you not. My muscles felt sore in places I never expected over the next two days. I felt warm for a change, days after the exercise actually briefly flushed my skin from the improved circulation. I left feeling happier and having spent far less time there than I usually spend at New York Sports Club.

While on my visit, David also told me of their regular yoga classes, TRX personal training, occasional seminars, and physical therapy options. Then I saw it, a potential savior for my marathon training: an anti-gravity treadmill! Showing me how one zips into the machine, David briefly took ten, then twenty percent of my body weight off and increased my speed with no real danger to my legs or heart, both unaccustomed to running so fast. I can see why their calendar filled with marathon runners last fall, taking pressure off their sore bodies while still continuing their practice and momentum. Brilliant.

Amplitude Vibration Studio shook my cells and rocked my world, I have to admit. Last I checked, they offered free brief demos, intend to open a store within the year on the Upper West Side, and have monthly plans comparable to a gym membership with customized and far more efficient workouts with many immediate and long-term benefits outside of a standard routine. Until you use the vibration equipment, it’s hard to imagine the full effect. Visit their website for a complete list of benefits and programs and to see if you qualify to use the equipment. I can’t recommend them more highly, and I know I’ll go again.

You Should Read This

Should I Stay or Should I Go?Sometimes, I just don’t want to leave the comfort of my apartment. Of course, that’s why I created this blog in the first place – to force myself out into the world I really do love so much. This morning, I awoke next to an amazing person and enjoyed breakfast and a ride to my gig at Carnegie Hall. I met with friends, sang with a world-class orchestra, and listened as they performed Notre Dame by Franz Schmidt, an incredible and rarely done opera.

Afterwards, having dinner with a friend with whom I sang and another friend who came to the performance, I remembered what it felt like to eat and enjoy company for hours without really ever needing the time to end. Yay. Then shopping for groceries with a friend? Still actually a lot of fun. Finally, while on the subway coming home, I met Paul and Eric, a lovely couple who live in my neighborhood, and we talked about local news channels, cantoring, donating televisions, and our lives.

Why did I not want to leave the apartment today? Between watching my boyfriend’s Aikido test yesterday and all the events of today, I enjoyed a very charmed weekend. I suspect I sometimes hesitate to actively live because I’ve done a lot of “shoulding” myself in life. Saying that I have to go to work or that I need to leave for my gig makes me forget or even dread the important parts. I LOVE MY JOB! Furthermore, I love my life. I want to everything I did today, and most days of my life. I like to sing and act, and I choose to enjoy friends who try new things and value living in the moment with me.

Some things require more effort, and I admittedly will have a harder time removing the musts, shoulds, have tos, need tos, am supposed tos, and ought tos from my vocabulary on my next task: taxes. For a little inspiration, Marshall B. Rosenberg provides a story in his book, Nonviolent Communication.

I recall, however, from my childhood how differently my father and grandfather felt about paying taxes. They had immigrated to the United States from Russia and were desirous of supporting a government they believed was protecting people in a way that the czar had not. Imagining the many people whose welfare was being served by their tax money, they felt earnest pleasure as they sent their checks to the U.S . government. 

I feel grateful that so many without jobs can receive extended unemployment benefits right now. My taxes support student loan programs, some healthcare, education, some of the arts, and so many other great initiatives. Granted, I may not agree with or even know all of the ways in which the government spends my tax dollars. I certainly didn’t study accounting and usually prefer people to numbers, so crunching them doesn’t usually excite me as much.

That said, I want to change the way I think, live, and speak, in the most positive way I currently know how. Whether I sing, act, prepare taxes, hang out with friends, exercise, work, or just live, I want to do it well and as joyfully as I can. So perhaps tomorrow I may not wake up wanting to work on my taxes, but instead of “shoulding” myself, I will choose to take on our annual national ritual of filing taxes, with the beautiful music of Notre Dame still ringing in my ears.