8 August 2010

Airbus 380 from Sydney to London.

I am once again caught fascinated by the turns and developments, or in the case of the past few months, the subtle shifts that can occur that simply alter the entire landscape of one’s life.

If you had asked me when I wrote last – from my horizontal position on my mother’s couch – what is your focus, where do you see yourself in a year, how do you feel about work and career, and most of all, how do you feel about picking up your suitcases another few hundred times…? … You would have gotten a blank stare, I’m afraid.

Frankly, my answers to myself were not only inconclusive, but a bit frightening for someone who has had their sights set clearly for years, and whose entire sense of purpose has sprung from a profound sense of personal will.
What to think when the Will is cowering in the corner, scared to come out to play for fear of the inevitable cuts, bruises, setbacks and confidence busters? And more importantly, how do you convince It that life is worth all the trouble it actually is to meaningfully participate in it?

Why do dogs put their faces out car windows, getting flies in their eyes and a mouth full of dust? For the thrill of it, I guess. To know what it feels like to be alive.
So, bring on the flies and the dust???

My ten weeks in Glyndebourne brought me to a fountain of blissful living and compelling and successful work, but also camaraderie. The combination of which not only soothed my soul and healed my body, but reminded me of some of the things I used to know I needed and wanted and valued; how my system functions at its best. Perhaps it pointed out that I have been too exhausted to provide the very thing I am most about providing – A different way to do life; taking a personal path and allowing it credence on its own merit, finding ways to be authentic in the midst of artifice, and maybe most of all, insisting on remaining a player of the game of consciousness regardless of the arena.

I have realized however, that even I need to learn and build strength in phases and waves, and that my iron will quite often leads me straight to banging my head bloody against the wall when it would be better to back off and re-boot. Growth might be brought on under the heat of pressure, but it is best directed and formed during periods of rest and allowance.

Partially because of being immersed in the American mindset for a long time, and partially because of how my career started, my frame of reference for success has been unduly defined by association with the biggest opera houses. And I guess I am learning that each “type” of house has its own set of features, capacities, strengths and weaknesses. I would like to liken the “top five” to an environment much like a large, deep swimming pool in which everyone is playing water polo. You CAN stay in there and just keep playing and playing, occasionally swimming to the edge of the pool for a quick rest – But ostensibly you’ll need to tread water ALL the time, while trying to perfect your game too.

I’m not a very good water treader, literally or figuratively. It’s good to know this about myself. I like drying off and treading firm ground, feeling the grass between my toes and getting close to other humans whose arms and legs aren’t always busy flailing about trying to keep them afloat. Sometimes some other game is nice – still intense, fully engaged and requiring comparable excellence, but with time to enjoy the breeze and the sun, and even the occasional encouraging hug or pat on the back from people whose focus is not entirely on their own survival of their environment…

Sound like a cop-out?

I think that’s what I’ve been struggling with over the past year – My own judgments about where the “real” game is being played. What I’m beginning to see and appreciate is the vast offering of playing fields. And the people who are keeping their eyes on a different set of balls. Wanting to play a tough game of polo is actually enhanced by time out of the pool. And admitting that, even to my harshest inner critic, is a breakthrough.

I recently heard Brian G Dyson, CEO of Coca Cola quoted from his Georgia Tech Commencement speech. He said something like, life is made up of categories represented by balls that you juggle – one each for health, spirit, family, friends and work/career. The most important thing to recognize is that while the work/career ball is made of rubber, all the others are made of glass.

In the case of an artistic career, I would venture to say that the stakes get even higher, as the career rarely is a ball that bounces back easily, and in the case of many of us, it appears as much made of glass as any other. But, I agree with the basic idea though – without the other balls intact, trying to keep work afloat mid-air is meaningless and hopeless.

Another lovely result of working at Glyndebourne was the continuous experience (4 weeks rehearsal+12 shows) of how the voice responds so easily to a perfect acoustic of the right size for me. The equation “role+house=result” is always true. Singers with a more traditional career path have the opportunity to learn this early in their careers before the stakes are terribly high, but when you start at 38 and time is limited, and the market is what it is, you make some choices that a longer career wouldn’t need to risk.
It’s always a need/opportunity/risk/gain consideration, isn’t it?
The past few months of re-examination have brought me to a place of great appreciation for the vast majority of the choices I have made – and an even greater appreciation for how, and that, I handled and survived the ones I could have made differently.

I truly believe there are no “wrong” turns in life. In a career with a particular projected path, sure…. But not in life! And I always try to see my career as part of my life path, not the other way around.

I recently saw a talk by a 40-year old Indian woman who has dedicated her life to saving women and children out of the sex-slavery trade. She, herself, was gang-raped at the tender age of fifteen. To date she has saved more that 3000 women and children (as young as 3-4 years old), and she believes it is her own nightmare experience that gives her the ability to empathize, create trust, and ultimately provides her with credibility in transforming the conversation surrounding the sex trade – both politically and from the inside perspective of the most vulnerable victims of violence and a stigmatized topic.

Not all of us go out and save the world in such a clear and easily recognizable way. But all of us affect change and build futures. All of us have to be responsible for what comes out of our mouths and what the result is of our actions. And one way for me to try to be and do all that I can, is to learn the greater lesson available in each experience, and to transform whatever negativity I may carry into positive thought, feeling and action.

In the arts, it is so very easy to buy into one of two prevalent patterns: One, that the classical arts are an expensive luxury sport with little or no social value, or two, that the only way to be socially conscious as an artist is to give it away for free in all the situations where politicians and budget makers have deprived humans of all of the softer values in life. Both of these leave artists misunderstood and grossly undervalued.

Great art cannot be free any more than food, shelter, education or medicine. It does not appear out of nowhere. And it is not generated out of, or in the service of, the lowest common denominator. It is as advanced in its structure and preparation as is science or finance or for that matter, the war machine. We keep the military machine going even in peace time – just in case… Well, we might want to keep the arts going too – just in case we come to our senses and raise more of humanity out of the gutter.

The classical arts are less elitist now than ever in history. More “common” people are enjoying our public theaters than have ever had the opportunity before.

Hans Rosling, a Swedish expert on population growth, third world development etc, gave a great speech at the TED.com conference this year. He talks about all the parts of society we deem either necessary or not. He talks about means vs. ends. And makes a great case for the idea that while education and health care etc., are means of forwarding the interests of human survival and development, the arts and culture are the ends. I love his ability to see the severity of the tasks that lie before us as humans trying to create a better world, without losing his sense of humor, appreciation and focus on the goal; as well as his own personal participation in the very thing that will need to be expanded in scope, not diminished – Culture!
Go to www.ted.com to watch his talk.

Very recently I met two men who restored an experience to me that I haven’t had in a very long time: Being supported, seen and appreciated as “girly” female friend, as an artist, and as a feminine force of nature, all at once. Not sure that’s what they meant to do, but that’s what I felt. And I am most excited about that. It’s a self-image that leaves room for both heavy-hitting water polo AND exploring the softer processes.
And ultimately, the balance I am seeking lies somewhere in the combination of fulfilling my ambitions and allowing the Universe the freedom to teach me how to be more complete, full, soft and present – Something that willful ambition alone cannot provide.

It’s a good place from which to start a new season. I am excited!

Anything is possible!