Tuesday, June 20, 2006


The view from my window in Frankfurt...

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Great Escape or Fiber

“I wish I had a river I could skate away on.” – Joni Mitchell

Those words have been ringing in my ipod lately, as I have been riding the U-Bahn to rehearsals. I also just finished reading Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. One of the main themes in Kavalier & Clay was the idea of escape – the main comic book character that Joe Kavalier and Sammy Clay create and become famous for is called the Escapist, one of the main characters is actually a trained escape artist, the first chunk of the book is devoted to the telling of an escape from Nazi occupied Prague, Houdini is mentioned dozens of times, another main character is gay and marries a woman in order to set his life “straight” (so to speak), to name a few examples. Between the book and Joni, I have been noticing how prominent the idea of escape is in our lives. I hadn’t noticed its universal presence, our communal desire for it before.

One thing that I’ve noticed is how I get to escape reality daily as part of my job. Everyday that I go to work, I am required to take off my clothes, put on a rehearsal costume, and pretend to be someone else for six hours. There are some days where I marvel that I get to make a living doing this. I am paid to step out of my life and into someone else’s on a daily basis.

Even more than this, I never work at home, so I have to travel around the world (escape) in order to be employed. It is a different way of life, and I find that I have to explain it at great length to most people I know who live “normal” lives. They never seem to understand why I am away so much and never really at home. They have this look in their eye that says, “I wonder if he’ll ever settle down.”

While this all seems very exciting, jet-setting, and yes, “unsettled”, the fact is that my life is in actuality a rather banal existence the majority of the time. There is a short film that you can download on itunes called Our Time is Up. The film begins with a shot of a Sony alarm clock buzzing at 7:00 (that white, boxy one with the black face and glowing, alien-green numbers that almost everyone you know owns). A person swings his feet over the side of the bed, puts on the slippers waiting there for his feet. Then there is a shot of him reaching for a starched white shirt that is hanging on a rack of other starched white shirts. Then a shot of him reaching for a red tie on a rack of other red ties. Every shot has a sterility, rhythm and order about it. My life is rather like that, for the most part. I try to get up at the same time every day, write my morning pages, work out, eat the same thing for breakfast everyday (one whole egg and two egg whites – scrambled, a piece of some grainy toast, fruit), check email, read the news online, shower, and then do the same 15 minutes of vocal exercises to warm up, and head to rehearsal. I do this everyday that I have to work (normally six days a week), and I follow this routine religiously. Without this routine, this rhythm, I stress and am quite unfocused and irritable. My mind feels like peach fuzz, and I am prone to snap at anyone who stands in my way.

In order to achieve the “escape” my profession requires of me properly, I have to submit to the predictability of routine – an odd paradox. Shouldn’t escape be full of adventure, the unpredictable, the unexpected, variety? On the other hand, the fact that “escape” is required of me so regularly makes it not a vacation, but a vocation. If that’s the case, I imagine a little regularity is a good thing in order to provide me with some grounding, stability, and a little bit of the predictable. It helps keep life in good flow. Sort of like making sure I eat enough fiber daily.

Friday, June 16, 2006


For Jeremy – this reminds me of that magical time when we first met.

The Self Banished (an excerpt)

It is not that I love you less
Than when before your feet I lay,
But to prevent the sad increase
Of hopeless love, I keep away.

In vain (alas!) for everything
Which I have known belong to you,
Your form does to my fancy bring,
And makes my old wounds bleed anew.

-Edmund Waller (1606 – 1687)

Photo by Nadine Balbeisi

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Comforting thought

"We followed his weakness. His incompleteness. Failure'’s open. Look at water, Esi. It finds weak places in the rock, the openings, the hollows, the absences. Following water we come where we belong."

-Old Music and the Slave Women, Ursula K. Le Guin

An interesting thought, no? It gives a new dimension to the phrase, "“Go with the flow". I found it really quite comforting to read today.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Memories in my ipod

The area around the Dom in Frankfurt is one of the few parts of city that is not modern in its design. It is a part of town where everything is architecturally historical and where people come and sit in the plaza by the fountain, drink coffee, and eat cake. I decided to come here today to read and finish the book I am working on now (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, by Michael Chabon---I am devouring literature here as fast as humanly possible). The cleaning person had buzzed my door this morning and woke me up before I wanted to be moving and conscious. So, in order to give her space, I thought I should get out of the house and go somewhere I could read.

It was a pleasant scene in the plaza today: children ran around playing tag, tourists wandered around aimlessly, a man was playing his trumpet next to the fountain, there were many more flags than usual flapping in the wind today (most of them having to do with World Cup), the sun was out, and there was good music on my ipod as it shuffled through it's collection – my ipod is my best friend when I am on the road. I often like to let her wander through her library at random, following whatever musical journey she takes me on.

They say that smell is the strongest trigger of memory. While this may be true, oftentimes, music is also a strong trigger for my memory. I often will become obsessed with some album that I have fallen in love with, and - like a teenager who would loop a song over and over again on a cassette - I will listen to a new CD ad nauseum and then permanently associate it with some period in my life.

Sarah McLachlan started to sing in my ipod this morning, and I was immediately distracted from Joe Kavalier's dilemma about what to do with his million dollars by a surge that I realized was my body being physically overwhelmed with emotions from a long time ago. It was as if I had been transported emotionally back in time. It felt strangely like a tingling, exciting rush and a heaviness descending upon me at the same time.

Back in 1999, I was driving on my way to the Aspen Music Festival for the first time. I had decided to ride out with my friend Kindra, another singer from the University of Michigan who was going to study in Aspen, as well. We drove Kindra's white, whale-sized SUV out to Colorado that summer - our belongings, a cooler full of snacks, and tons of water stuffed in the back, and our bikes mounted on the rack in the back of the vehicle. It was a fun trip that took about three and half days. We stopped at my aunt's house for one evening in South Bend on our way out, and then we trekked to Lincoln, Nebraska, where I had my first experience staying in a hostel. Then, we drove to Denver, where I dropped Kindra off at the Denver Airport so she could fly out to Alaska to see her sister run a marathon. I drove the last bit from Denver to Aspen alone, getting lost as I tried to find Independence Pass (I didn't find it on that trip). In the last stretch going into Aspen, there was an accident that stopped traffic for two hours in a canyon. So people stopped their cars, were walking their dogs, and having picnics on the side of the highway as they waited for traffic to get moving again. The sun was setting, day was turning to dusk, the breeze blew pleasantly, there was a rushing, little creek to the left of the road, and the air smelled clean. At this point, driving Kindra’s white tank by myself, stranded in the middle of a canyon in the Rockies, I discovered Sarah McLachlan.

The nine months leading up to that road trip to Aspen were a very hard stretch for me. I had been dumped by my first love, and it took me a good portion of the year to move on. I came out to my parents, which was a terrifying and hurtful experience. By the time that summer had rolled around, things were quite rocky. I really needed to escape from Ann Arbor and to be alone. I needed time to figure things out. I was numb with pain. I felt so alone, so abandoned, so confused, and so lost (both figuratively and literally). I felt such relief when I dropped off Kindra at the airport that day and was finally by myself, away from everything I knew, and about to start anew (for a summer) in an unfamiliar, but beautiful place. It was the beginning of a vacation from my unhappy and seemingly dismal reality.

I'm not sure why the memory sticks with me so much - I don't even listen to her much, but when Sarah popped into my ipod this morning, I was taken immediately back to that trip and my adventure - my first traveling adventure alone - in the mountains of Colorado.

Sitting there and looking up at the Dom with my cheap, white headphones in my ears, I was lucky enough to have a moment of reflection. My ipod had unwittingly jerked me out of drowning in the present and allowed me to get my head above water to have a little perspective. So much has changed in the last seven years – perhaps more in my head and my heart than anywhere else in my life. I count a lot of blessings in my life, including my parents, my boyfriend, my friends, my job, my opportunities among them. It was nice to look up into the sun, smile as I felt its warmth on my face, and have an adventure with my ipod today.

Saturday, June 03, 2006


“The morning arrived with applause and they made toast”

That sentence is sheer brilliance, I think. It’s from the book that I am reading right now---a collection of short stories called How We Are Hungry, by Dave Eggers---the man who wrote A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius a few years back. His use of language is virtuosic. They way he uses adjectives at times almost redefines them. It’s mind-blowing. His perspectives on the situations he describes, on his characters, on their surroundings, and even on the words themselves are so incredibly original, surprising, creative, and fresh! I feel like I am writing an advertisement for Glade or a Massengill douche here, but it really is a fresh way of looking at the world. And what is truly amazing is that he seems to do it with almost no effort at all. He is truly a master of the English language. There are so few people who truly master anything ever in a lifetime---I admire those people who manage to do it.

I think about mastery a lot, actually. I often stress about whether or not I will ever achieve it myself, although I am, it seems at the very least, undaunted in my efforts to do so. My daily (almost) devotion to practicing making strange noises with my voice are, I guess, a testament of sorts to my own effort to achieve mastery in my own medium.

Believe it or not, it really is little things like that sentence above that get me through the day at times. A little inspiration, if you will. Without little things like that, our world becomes so mundane---why do we take all that is around us so much for granted?


The lush, vibrant, green German countryside flies by my window at lightning fast speeds, and the electric hum of the train is ubiquitous around me as a tenor sings a Handel aria in my ipod. I’ve been lonely in Frankfurt---I am not sure how to go out and meet new people in a foreign country. I guess I could try my luck at one of the bars in town, and grab a drink by myself and hope that someone talks to me---I’ve never had much luck with that before, though. That whole fear of people that I have kind of gets in the way.

I am on my way to visit my friend Nadine. Nadine moved here five years ago to continue her studies after we graduated from college. She started at the musikhochschule in Cologne, and took her time as she got situated in the community here. She is a small woman of wild, passionate, impulsive, upbeat energy, with an incredibly inquisitive and sharp mind full of strong opinions. Her hair is very curly and brown and has a mind of its own, much like Nadine herself. She speaks excellent German. She laughs loudly. She is one of my favorite people.

This last March was the first time I had seen Nadine in two years. I hadn’t seen her since I was in Berlin to study German a couple summers ago. She was singing with an opera company up in Rheinsberg, a small town 2 hours away from Berlin for the summer, and I went to visit her. We had a fun time, despite some crazy, insecure people who tried to ruin our fun with gossip and intrigue. I was there only 48 hours…I’m not sure how or about what they managed to find something to create gossip about, but they did. I don’t get to see Nadine much, because she lives so far away, but whenever I see Nadine, it’s guaranteed to be a good time.

It’s hard to be away from people I know well. Perhaps one of the blessings of being on the road so much is that I get to visit some of those people once in a while, even though we are scattered across the planet. Maybe, in the end, I am not as alone as I have been feeling recently.

As the train pulls into the station in Cologne, I see Nadine waiting for me on the track, wrapped in a shawl and hugging herself to keep warm in the chilly, wet spring weather. Nina Simone begins to croon through my ipod that the sun is coming, and that it’s all right. Thanks, Nina.