WITHHOLDING LOVE IS NEVER THE ANSWER

Today my mother said these words to me: “withholding love is never the answer. Why would someone want to withhold love?”

It is a good question, isn’t it? Why WOULD someone want to withhold love? It is often used as a form of punishment. If someone does something you don’t agree with or something that is hurtful, you stop loving them or stop displaying your love for them temporarily. You punish them to teach a lesson. The lesson carries a message and the message is: if you do (blank) I won’t love you anymore.

Why is that a lesson we would want to teach someone we claim to love? In a recent statement made by the Dalai Lama, he said: “All major world religious traditions carry the same message: the message of love, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, contentment”. If that is true, which I believe it to be, then withholding love should never be an option. It isn’t our job to teach each others a lesson by refusing them our love. Our only job is to generously give all the love we have to give, even when it feels impossible.

I am trying to teach myself to love unconditionally. As of yet, I’m not very good at it. I’ve come across some inspiring quotes in my quest to learn how to love unconditionally, I have included them below.

Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Love is the ability and willingness to allow those that you care for to be what they choose for themselves without any insistence that they satisfy you.- Wayne Dyer

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.  Do to others as you would have them do to you. -Luke 6: 27-31

I’ve learned that love, not time, heals all wounds. -Andy Rooney

TRAITS I INHERITED FROM MY MOTHER

Whether we want to admit it or not, we all inevitably inherit various traits from our parents. Sometimes these traits are good, sometimes they are bad, sometimes they are embarrassing and we really wish we could push them back into our DNA helix things and save them for the next generation.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve become increasingly aware of just how similar my mom and I are. Though there are far too many common traits to list, here are a few that I’ve noticed most recently:

We get a bit obsessive. Who me? I’m not obsessed with Wooden Swedish Clogs. Yes, I did purchase my third pair in the span of two weeks but they are a necessity for my life.

There’s no one I could have gotten this obsessive quality from but my mom. Have you seen the Birkenstock picture?

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This isn’t even all of her Birkenstocks.

She becomes obsessed with things. This isn’t necessarily a problem, except that the obsession doesn’t generally last very long (the Birkenstocks seem to be an exception to the rule). My mother will decide that she is going to change her ‘look’ and only wear jeans and oversized button down shirts. Naturally, she will then buy ten over priced button down shirts and ten pairs of jeans. A week later she will decide this was a silly idea and go back to her bedouin clothes, which she will almost certainly need more of now that she’s a committed bedouin.

The obsessive quality is not necessarily a negative trait I suppose, we just approach life with gusto!

We need personal space. I almost never had a successful sleepover as a kid. I would beg my mom to let me stay over at a friend’s house and she would trepidatiously allow me to, asking “are you SURE you will stay for the full night this time?” I always assured her I would and then around bed time, she would get a call from my friend’s parents saying that I needed to be picked up because I wanted to go home. I’ve never particularly enjoyed sleepovers and I’ve found this isn’t necessarily a widespread feeling. Two years ago a group of friends and I went away for the weekend. I was shocked when two of the girls requested to stay not only in the same room but in the same bed. Luckily, this meant I got a single room to myself.

My mom is the same way if not exponentially worse. It is rare/unheard of that she will stay over at someone’s house. She will never go on a group vacation (or any vacation at all really) and she probably won’t stay at your country house unless you have a private wing or a guest house she can have all to herself. And she’s not even an only child!

We don’t particularly enjoy using connections. We won’t ask for tickets to your show or to meet your famous friend. We won’t ask you to pull some strings to get us into the hippest joint in town. We certainly will never stop a celebrity and ask for a picture. We will never really be big networkers. We (mostly) take what we get and try not to ask for much more. Can’t the rest of the world be that way too? It’s just uncomfortable, capiche?

Geography and history don’t come easy. My mom once asked if we would have to go through Ohio to get to Maine. When playing twenty questions with my boyfriend, I told him the noun I had in mind (Washington D.C.) was in fact located in the mid-West. We aren’t unintelligent people, our strengths just seem to lie in other areas. History isn’t one of those areas either, see below.

 

 

AIRPORT TALK

Can we talk about the airport for a hot second? Everyone has feels about the airport experience right? They hate it, they love it, they’re scared of flying, they always arrive three hours early, etc. 
I guess I don’t ever realize that I have opinions about the airport until I’m at one, and that I am. So, because I’m one of those people who is always early to the airport, what better way to pass the time than to talk about the airport. Should I say airport some more? 

Airport Observations:

1) You get a free pass to eat, drink, and shop as you please. At least this is my opinion. You are stuck in a building for possibly hours at a time and one of the only forms of entertainment is either a) shopping, i.e. buying books you’ll never read from Hudson News or b) consuming cardboard food and watered down beverages while you pass the time. When is it really socially acceptable to drink wine at 10am? At the airport! 

2) People have crazy stinky feet. This is a great topic of conversation you guys, I recommend it for first dates with strangers any day. But really, how do people have such stinky feet. After a long day in flats with no socks, sure, my feet aren’t smelling like their usual rosy self. But how do you actually get your feet to smell that bad. It’s unreal. 

3) Some people are just chronically late airport getters toers. You see it all the time. They are the ones who aren’t just late because they are connecting to another flight. They are the ones who are standing in the security line asking to go first because they are going to miss their flight. Sure, I don’t know the circumstances so I can’t judge, but that can’t be a pleasant way to travel. I personally don’t enjoy running through the airport with my luggage flip flopping behind me. Why don’t you just leave one hour earlier next time? I think you’ll find that it’s a much more peaceful experience. 

4) Some people have really good airport outfits. Sometimes I’ll go shopping and think to myself “gosh this is so comfy and simultaneously chic, this would be a great airport outfit.” And yet, somehow I always look like a schlub. What makes a great airport outfit? Is it the accessories? Is it a great hair day and a full face of make-up? I guess I’m doomed then.  

5) There’s really no telling whether I’ll be a nervous flier. I started flying alone when I was 6 I think. Mom? Dad? Can you verify? Somewhere around that time I started flying to Canada to visit my father by myself. This was during the time when you could still drop off and pick people up right at the gate so it wasn’t that strange that I was doing it alone. But my point is, I should not be afraid of flying. Regardless, I often am and it hits me at strange times. Sometimes I’ll get on a plane and there will be tons of turbulence and I’m just chillin’, unphased. Other times I’m panicking as soon as the plane starts moving. There’s really no telling how it’ll go so at a certain point I have to make a decision about my sobriety on each flight. Is it hurricane season and I’m flying from Florida to New York? I should probably start throwin’ ’em back. 

There you have it folks. A fascinating read for a Saturday morning, am I right? Gotta jet. Literally. ✈️

THE ‘CAREER’ VS. ‘JOB’ CONUNDRUM

“Gemini traits: Expressive and quick-witted, Gemini represents two different sides of and you will never be sure with whom you will face. Gemini can be sociable, communicative and ready for fun, while on the other hand it can be very serious, thoughtful, restless and even indecisive.”

I am not a big believer in Astrological Signs or horoscopes but I am truly the epitome of a Gemini. One day I will have a very strong opinion leading me to believe one thing, and the next I will have the opposite opinion. This doesn’t generally apply to very important things, but more so the little things in life or things that really only affect me.

As a kid I constantly struggled with what my “look” was. I wanted to represent myself accurately and in a consistent way by identifying with a certain style, but I could never figure out what that style was. Was I a hippy at heart? When I decided I was, I’d buy moccasins, wear long flowing skirts, and braid my hair. When I got tired of that, I decided that was wrong all along and I was actually preppy. The preppy thing didn’t work well for me because I’ve never been able to look perfectly put together for very long. My hair is usually a mess and my mom makes fun of me because I spill food/coffee on most of my clothes.

I have always had this conundrum about my work life as well. A part of me feels that I should strive to be a successful career woman, perhaps a big Broadway producer or Production Stage Manager. On the other hand, so far I haven’t found something that I’m so passionate about that I’d be willing to make it my life’s focus. Then I think, perhaps I should get a job that supports the kind of life I want to live. Should I manage a yoga studio? Work at a small bookstore in Maine? Make jewelry in a hole in the wall jewelry store in Brooklyn?

Are you bored yet or do you identify with these feelings?

When you grew up with a mom who knew what she wanted to do when she was 5 and proceeded to do it quite successfully, it’s hard to not know what your passion is. She didn’t have to sacrifice her life for work because she LOVED her work. So what do you do when you can’t find the thing that you love. What percentage of the time do people who are passionate about their jobs, love their jobs. Am I being a big baby and this is actually how everyone feels? Why should I settle for something I only enjoy 50% of the time?

Seriously though, can you give me some answers?

THE SECRET TO GETTING A CAB IN NYC

I try hard not to be a mean girl. I like to think that I give my fellow sistas the benefit of the doubt. In fact, this one time I caught a girl traipsing down a hill in my college town in the dead of winter wearing heels that she couldn’t walk in to save her life. My initial reaction was a) why the hell are you wearing heels in the middle of winter in Maine walking down a hill and b) why are you wearing heels if you can’t walk in them. I’m proud to tell you that after a few seconds of inner mean girl dialogue, I Buddhafied and came to my senses. I said to myself “Emma, you are being a real see you next Tuesday. That girl just wants to feel pretty. What’s so bad about that?” And so, I’ve attempted to change my ways and TRY to always find the best in people.

I didn’t do such a great job with this the other day on my way home from work. I was walking down fifth avenue, past a lobby for one of those so-popular-it’s-actually-not-cool-anymore rooftop bars. It’s the kind of place that’s become a caricature of itself, finance bros in Sperry’s and Khakis and PR girls in sensible wedges and off the shoulder tops…you know the kind. A couple of bottle blonde girls tumbled out of the rooftop bar lobby and started yelling for a taxi. Each carotened (I’ve made that noun into a verb, whaddya think?) girl stood on the edge of the sidewalk flapping her arms, attempting to attract a taxi. I was too amused by the sight to try to assist them in their useless endeavor. It was the shift change after all. If I had decided to charitably help them out I would have told them this: the secret to getting a taxi is…

…knowing when they are on duty.

You’re going to waste a lot of time and energy if you continue yelling and waving your arms at off-duty taxis.

Taxis have a light on the roof of their car. If the numbers are lit up, it means they are on-duty and available. If the numbers are dark, it means they are in use or off-duty. When I was a youth (when we walked uphill both ways to school) there used to be actual off-duty signs and if they were lit up, it meant the cab was off-duty. The modern taxis don’t seem to have this.

This should help a bit in your attempt to get a taxi. You can also just hike up that mini-skirt a little more and see if that works.

‘UNCLE’ MIKE

 

The alternate title for this blog post was “Mom’s homosexual ex- husband”. If that sounds like a subject that would interest you, please read on.

My mom’s first love was Mike. According to her, they were married for ten years (I never quite know if she embellishes the truth but I think this one is factual). For nine of those 10 years, both my mother and Mike knew that Mike liked men.

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My mom describes it like this: they were madly in love and were best friends. Mike loved Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland just as much as she did. In fact, as a wedding gift to my mother, he decorated their entire bedroom with Barbra Streisand posters.


After a year of marriage, Mike realized he was gay and came out to my mother. They were still very much in love and couldn’t find the reason nor the strength to separate. My mother eventually decided she needed to find love with someone who could love her and only her. And so ended the decade-long ‘Will and Grace’ style love affair. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Two people challenging the norms of sexual orientation in order to be with the one they love. How very radical of mama Blodgette!

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As a kid, Uncle Mike was always a part of my life. He lived in the south and was working as a very successful Opera director. He was in a relationship with a wonderful man named Gary and the two of them came to visit now and then. I believe Mike’s mother was convinced I was his child, an error which neither my mother nor Mike ever had the heart to correct. In 2011 when my grandfather passed away, Uncle Mike was one of four men to carry his coffin down the church aisle.

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All this to say, Uncle Mike has always been a member of my family. I never quite knew if he felt as organically attached to me as I felt to him until recently.


This year on my 27th birthday, he composed an essay about the day I was born and its effect on him. Its message is truly beautiful. I certainly can not do it justice, but the gist of it is that there are ripple effects in life. The ripples of a child being born impact not only the immediate family but also those you never knew to consider family. This “family” is sometimes people gathered for a dress rehearsal of “Don Giovanni” in another state. Sometimes it’s people who spoke to your mother once. Sometimes it’s people who worked with your father once. Sometimes it’s even people who met your mother’s ex-husband at a summer theater. These people’s days can be changed by good news. There is a constellation of people all around the globe who know you by however many degrees of separation. This net of people cares for you, if only because you are similarly human. You are living in a parallel world, possibly having met someone that has or will have crossed both of your paths. And just the fact of your existence can create a ripple in these people’s lives.

Namaste and please see below.

 

 

ON THE OCCASION OF EMMA’S BIRTHDAY, 16 June, 2016

Dear Emma,

Twenty-seven years ago last week on your actual birthday, June 16th , I was called out of a DON GIOVANNI dress rehearsal at the Cleveland Institute of Music to take a telephone call that would announce that you, Baby Emma, had stepped across the threshold from the nether to the human, arriving healthy and beautiful into the World.

After that call, excited, no, elated, I raced back into the theater, where it should have been my intention to put the information of the jubilant phone call aside so that I could return my full attention to the progress of this final DON GIOVANNI run-through without orchestra. Indeed, to allow the rehearsal to continue uninterrupted was my conscious intention, and for the first several seconds back in the hall, I stuck with it. But the news I had just received was so enormously happy that, like the peppy, busy, effervescent bubbles we have all seen work on countless sinks full of greasy dishes in myriad soap commercials, my excitement, that is, my ELATION quickly bubbled away at any focus I had managed to hold onto. Further, it sent swirling and whirling down the drain my conviction that the only time the word ‘stop’ could be applied to a dress rehearsal was on the rare occasion during which NOT to use it would almost certainly result in disfigurement or death.

Thus ecstatic over the news of your arrival, and having lost not only my resolve to focus on the rehearsal but also my commitment not to stop it, I was ripe to experience a startling moment of blind impetuosity, which lead, several seconds later, to the recognition of the ‘S Word’ as it flew from my mouth. Understand that to shout the ‘S Word’ in a conventional staging rehearsal is not something I have difficulty over. But, as was drummed from Day #1 into my understanding of the methods and techniques of staging a show, run-throughs and dress rehearsals are sacred events whose secrets are revealed in full via the continuity that can only come when they are allowed to proceed uninterrupted.

In other words (and if I have not yet completely made my point): to stop a dress rehearsal is a BFD.

It never occurred to me that, should the time ever come in which I had to curtail a dress rehearsal that it would an easy thing to do. But when, on your birthdate, I found myself doing exactly that, I was shocked that it happened with an effortlessness that had, no doubt, for centuries, inspired comparisons to everything from falling from atop a log, to the baking of a pie, to the recitation of the first three letters of the English alphabet. Unthinking, I had executed the unthinkable action, and it was an endeavor of such simplicity, that I entirely failed to be surprised by the result, which was, of course, that it worked: rehearsal stopped.

DON GIOVANNI is a magnificent work of art, and within the somewhat limited scope of the resources available to us at Lyric Opera Cleveland on that June afternoon, we (performers, Donald Sherrill, Connie Dykstra, Jody Peterson, Hillary Nicholson, John Vergilii, Dale Ganz and Richard Lewis; designers, Rusty Smith and Michael Baumgarten; conductor, Steve Larsen; chorus master, Marti Bein; a really good bunch of Apprentice Artists and myself) were doing our best to honor that magnificence. No doubt, the passing years have, to some extent, artificially magnified the degree to which true brilliance was achieved during the course of the production, but I think it is entirely possible that we were succeeding, at least to the extent that made stopping this dress rehearsal especially questionable. Under the circumstances, however, and as the seconds following my use of the ‘S Word’ piled up, it grew ever-clearer to me that I had made the right decision for some very important reasons.

In the first place, stopping the rehearsal was important because as soon as the news of your birth had seeped into the common knowledge (which, knowing me, would probably have happened before the next break), there would be no way to stay focused on the show. At least if I made an announcement, the event could be openly if briefly celebrated, discussed and digested, following which, we stood a much better chance of getting some work done.

Secondly, there was no better way to set up the GIOVANNI people (my intended audience) to receive a certain devastatingly clever, ha-ha funny, special, silly, thought-it- up-myself announcement that, given the occasion, I was dying to deliver. In other words, by stopping the rehearsal, I had created the perfect set up for a very silly announcement I had wanted to make since the day I found out that your Mother was pregnant. Here’s how it worked: I run out of rehearsal, take the phone call, ooh and aah appropriately, hang up, run back into rehearsal, call it to a screeching halt, muster up as much self-satisfied legitimacy as possible, then take my moment and intone to the entire company of Lyric Opera Cleveland’s DON GIOVANNI that, based on information from the phone call I had just received, I was proud to announce that:

 You had been born

 You and Kristen were doing well, and

 I, at last, was a Fairy Godfather.

The third excellent reason for stopping the rehearsal was, in actuality, the only legitimate, serious one, and it revolved around the concepts of family and shared energy, and it celebrated the belief that anything is possible because everything in the Universe is not just connected to everything else, but is dependent for its survival upon that connection. I don’t know when this rather profound thought occurred to me, but I do know that sometime between the time I walked out of Kulas Hall to receive that phone call and the moment I invoked the ‘S Word, it occurred to me that probably every performing and design artist, technician and administrative staffer involved in my rehearsal that day; that is, everyone currently expending gobs of creative energy on Lyric Opera Cleveland’s DON GIOVANNI knew and loved your Mother; probably knew Peter as well. In addition, the vast majority of that group was surely aware not only of the fact of my graft- like existence upon your family tree, but also of a great number if not all of the details of exactly how, when, where and why I had gotten there.

So the main reason that I had to stop that rehearsal was, clearly, because even though I might have been the person most primed to receive the phone call that announced your arrival; and the one closest in relationship terms to the key personnel, it stood to reason that if I was, by extension, a part of the Blodgette-Atherton family, the same rights and privileges should extend, logically, to everyone currently in the room with me. I mean . . . it was a no-brainer. We were all beneficiaries not only of the news of Emma as blessed event, but also of the blessed event itself. It occurred to me that you, Baby Emma, had pockets of family not just in however many Blodgettes and Athertons were, at that moment crowded around your tiny self in Manhattan, but also in whomever was holding down the fort in Fairview Park, and among my family in Charlotte and elsewhere, and wherever else those in the know were tuned in to the pulse of your imminent arrival. Pondering the steady rise of the sheer number of connections that day brought me back to myself, and I realized all over again, that there was a whole stage-full of DON GIOVANNI participants, and, by further extension, most of the entire Lyric Opera Cleveland family from whom heartfelt offers of “Happy Birthday, Baby Girl” and “Congratulations, Kristen” were bursting to issue forth.

So, rehearsal definitely stopped, my ‘hilarious’ Fairy Godfather thing said (and greatly appreciated), the group excitement and an interlude of well-wishing and breathless questions began:

 How was Kristen?

 Boy or girl? What did they name the baby?

 Does the baby have red hair?

 Did she emerge wearing a PHANTOM OF THE OPERA SHOW show jacket?

 Did she emerge wearing tap shoes and a straw boater?

 Did she emerge singing ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business’?

 Did she emerge wearing tap shoes and a straw boater, and singing ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business’?

There was much congratulatory hand shaking, many hugs, some misty eyes. Every little conversational group generated outbursts of laughter inspired in one cluster by the retelling of some of the great Kristen stories of the past:

 Remember Schoenberg’s ‘Gorilla Eater’?

 Remember the three-day/three ounce Ratatouille?

 Does this SOUND like the Family Owl??

 Remember ‘Allegro agitato, allegro agitato?’

 Remember her sharing the keyboard with a very famous Broadway composer who, suffering a panic attack smack in the middle of a gala, public tribute to himself, deserted her onstage to finish it solo?

. . . and, in another cluster, speculations, now that Kristen would have a baby in tow, of the great Kristen stories that were yet to come:

 Will Kristen take the baby to auditions?

 Will she consult with the baby when she takes her to auditions?

 Will Kristen have the baby in the pit with her?

 Will NY State child labor laws apply if the baby’s only activity in the pit is to sleep? What if she sings? Plays the piano? Conducts? And what if she isn’t in the pit at all because she prefers Field Hockey, poor Kristen!

The interlude, happy, full of good wishes, of questions, and speculation and story telling was brief. There was work to be done, and everyone knew it. And so, as informative as the break had been, and as energetic and animated, it didn’t have the effect upon the resumed rehearsal that another, more typical unscheduled interruption might. I remember, as we returned to GIOVANNI mode, that the work energy had been strongly maintained, the group focus was sharp, and rehearsal resumed as if there had been no interruption in the first place. The whole rehearsal seemed, in fact, to be several clicks more advanced toward opening night readiness than it had been an hour earlier.

Then, several days later, when the Lyric Opera Cleveland DON GIOVANNI opened to enthusiastic reviews and great audience response, I remember thinking back to the phone call that interrupted dress rehearsal, of the joyous news shared, of the elevated levels of focus and energy that it triggered, and I also remembered the unshakable sense that the growth experienced that day was disproportionately high and had a far greater significance than one would imagine possible given the fact that the group population had increased in number by only one, tiny baby.

Given the identity of that baby, it could be argued, of course, that I might be just a tiny bit predisposed to read more cosmic significance into your arrival than might otherwise be noted under the scrutiny of a less biased evaluator. But it is not in the nature of a Fairy Godfather to be unbiased. It is, in fact, part of my job description to notice, in the case of certain, special people, certain special qualities. The GIOVANNI production was to be, in the course of things, one of Lyric Opera Cleveland’s proudest achievements, but to point that out in connection with the interrupting phone call would be to reduce your place in the story to merely that of, say, a favorable omen, and I think it is so much more than that.

From the day of the Emma phone call, let’s fast-forward twenty-seven years. Rusty Smith’s remarkable color set rendering for the Lyric Opera Cleveland DON GIOVANNI hangs on the wall above me to the left, and, at my right, on the desk, is a framed copy of the logo I derived from one of your baby pictures, years ago when I needed a presence behind the name of the baker/cater company I founded in Atlanta and called . . . well, you know, EMMA.

So, what does all of this mean, these thoughts and memories, these connected images, repeated themes and discernable patterns? And, really . . . these entities, are they really connected. Are there repeated patterns to be found among all that is random? Are images discernable amid incoherent streams of thought? Are they, these entities, in actuality, simply a collection of the great unconnected, pieces of a giant, disparate collage, globs and bits of the cosmic random onto which our brains, desperate to find a shred of logic here, a relationship there, or a clue (any clue) that will help project a big (bigger, biggest) picture in which, somehow, it all means . . . something.

Well, I certainly don’t know about all of that. I mean, not in the deepest, most cosmic of meanings. Life, I know, presents events and ideas and feelings, all of which we weigh in, categorize and assess in degrees ranging from those of most insignificance to heaviest profundity. Those things we deem most profound are those to which we attach the greatest significance. They get our attention and our energy, and, as a result, they have the greatest influence on our lives, or so it would seem. I mean . . . they exert the most gravity.

We are told not to sweat the small stuff, and, further, that it is all small stuff. But, on the other hand, is it not the small stuff, the wrong number, the missed train, the detail overlooked, the clue barely glimpsed, the almost perceived, the whispered, the misty, the random flash upon which we are most likely to obsess. Are these not the things in life that most populate our dreams, our hidden compulsions, our strange and inexplicable actions? So, I say, no, don’t sweat the small stuff, but don’t ignore it either. Acknowledge it as much as possible, and celebrate it when appropriate. Flout the common wisdom. Refuse to see yourself as one of many. Embrace your significance, understanding that your smallest actions are capable of generating reactions that reverberate unto the profound. We are all cause and effect. Just because we do not seem to have the capacity to track the affects of our energy doesn’t release of from the responsibility of acknowledging its power.

Our amazing, seemingly effortless capacity to generate connections, to form families, to exert influence should be one of our greatest qualities. Our embarrassing tendency to discount our own, individual worth, downplay the significance of our singularity, deflect attention away from our strengths reduces us to a population of unwitting saboteurs of the human condition. Yours, I think, is the first generation who can begin to save us the seemingly endless trend that focuses us more and more upon our selves and results in the Catch-22 of polarization we see all around us. You, by understanding the positive effect that the individual can have upon the greater good can start to make a change, to reverse our spiral into the relentlessly selfish before we all become, in sum total, our own Facebook page incarnate.

But finally (finally), if there is anything I think that you (and, while we’re at it, I) might benefit from having taken away from this philosophical ramble on the occasion of a birthdate remembered, it would be on the important, actually vital subject of family. I know that for you, at age 27, having grown up bombarded from all sides by the enormous amount of love and support that came to you from your immediate family, ever to wonder about or question the presence of family in your life must seem a ludicrous, highly hypothetical situation. And so should it seem that way. That, in a way, is my point. But, the notion of family, as I’m sure you must realize, can possibly extend way beyond attributes like genealogy and DNA. Family is also shared connections and history, the ability of one side to bring out the best in another. It is learning from and teaching to. It is about knowing that somewhere, somehow, you will always be a part of a bigger something whose every fiber resonates with you. It is the drawing out of inspiration and the ability to motivate the better parts of ourselves—all attributes of that day, just over 27 years ago when I got called out of a DON GIOVANNI rehearsal because I had received a phone call from which I was about to receive the most exciting news.

Happy Birthday, Emma, and much love from your Fairy Godfather.

 

 

MY TWO DADS

I would say I have two “dads”, though not in the conventional unconventional way. My first “dad”, Peter, is my biological father. He makes up half of my genes (though my mother secretly believes I am somehow only genetically tied to her). My second “dad” is my step-father, Larry. Though I’m not blood related to him, he’s helped raise me since I was 8 years young. I think they are both fascinating individuals although the two of them couldn’t be more opposite. Here’s a bit about both of them, in chronological order.

My father was born in Kentucky…I think. Actually, it’s a bit of a blur to me as whenever he tells me all the places he lived as a kid, I just hear a mass of mid-western/southern states. As a kid, I remember thinking he was very tall with a very low voice. Of course now his characteristics don’t seem quite as extreme to me. He went to school to study voice and now has a PhD in vocal studies. He and my mother met at Wolf Trap for the Performing Arts in Virginia. She was a vocal coach and he was performing.  He went on to perform in The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, in LA and in Toronto. He eventually decided to pursue Opera more exclusively and became a professor at Chapman University, where he now acts as the Director of the Opera department. Every summer he goes to either Rome or Vienna to direct various operas.

My father is an incredibly elegant man. For as long as I can remember he has enjoyed having nice things and keeping them nice. He always had perfectly pressed shirts and perfectly shined shoes. His hair is almost always in place and if it’s not, he usually has a comb handy. His house is always tidy and his cars (and motorcycle) are in impeccable condition.

My father lives by the work hard/play hard mentality. He works long hours and often brings his work home with him, but he also really likes to have fun. Like me (or I guess like him) he loves margaritas. In fact, he likes to eat and drink most everything, a quality we certainly share. He is a hilarious person and always tries to ensure that people are laughing and having a good time when in his presence. Though I don’t get to see him very often, we always have fun when we’re together.

My step-father, Larry, was born on a tiny island in Maine. We like to say he was raised by wolves, which he confirms for us when he butters his toast on the counter with no plate underneath. He went to the University of Maine and eventually became the tri-state director of publishing at Scholastic. After he and my mother met (online!) he moved into the city and became the Director of Publishing at the Museum of Modern Art.

When my mom and Larry first met, I would ask him constantly if he was going to marry my mom. I told him he had to make sure I was there when he asked her. One night when my mom and I were in our Columbus Circle apartment, the phone rang. It was Larry and he said he was calling for me. He said, “can your mom hear me? Don’t say anything but, how would you feel if I asked her to marry me?” I did my best to hide my excitement and handed the phone to my mom. He asked her right then over the phone, the two of us standing in the kitchen. When my mom hung up, we stood there shrieking with excitement. We couldn’t believe how lucky we’d been to be adding such a wonderful person to our family.

Larry embodies the eccentric artist stereo type to a tee. He’s been known to paint his toenails purple from time to time and was a “dead head” in his youth. He is a loud and proud liberal and often expresses his opinions through his art work. He is a fanatical runner and was extremely patient when trying to teach me the joys of running as a kid.  He is a lover of animals and takes the responsibility of caring for his family, dogs, and homes very seriously.


Some might think that having two father figures can be difficult. Of course there are aspects of it that are, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

  

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THE PROBLEM WITH MY VERSION OF POLITICAL ARGUMENT

I know a lot of people who know a LOT about politics. Say a word about the government in front of my step-dad and he’ll start talking so fast, it’ll make your head spin. Not only that but everything he’ll say will be so convincing and intelligently crafted that you’ll be immediately swayed by his conviction alone. My “third dad” Peter Von Mayrhauser has been known to start arguments with strangers in airports about politics, backing up his opinions with hours upon hours of fact based evidence supporting those opinions. Alan Cumming? Danny Burstein? Hal Prince? Not only are they incredible talents, but they are also extremely passionate liberals with lots to say about what they believe. These people are convincing, not that I ever needed it.

I grew up in a home where musicals were like sacred texts. The Tony’s were like the super bowl and Barbra Streisand’s words were scripture. When people made liberal jokes I laughed, not realizing there were people who didn’t agree. I guess I thought extreme conservatives were theoretical. There weren’t truly humans who hated gay people. There couldn’t be people who honestly believed guns were an answer to…well anything. I don’t know if I had met a republican (except my grandparents who are the fake, old-school kind that now love Obama), until I went to college.

During my first year at college, I finally started to encounter people who had different opinions than I did. I got there right at the time when Maine was voting on “question 1” which said, “Do you want to reject the new law that lets same-sex couples marry and allows individuals and religious groups to refuse to perform these marriages?” I was shocked to know that this was a question which had to be asked. From a young age, my mom had told me bedtime stories where the children had two mommies or two daddies. Many of the people who helped raise me were in monogamous homosexual relationships. Was this something people had to think twice about?

I rarely have trouble arguing for equal rights when it comes to loving who you choose. However, I did have trouble defending my other left-leaning beliefs with these people. Up until this point, I had my crew to fight for me. If there was a (theoretical) conservative opposing me, I would have just said “sic ’em boys” and my well-spoken and well-read friends and family would handle the disagreement. But after leaving home, I was left to fend for myself and it suddenly became much more difficult to intelligently and succinctly argue my opinion.

I’ve found this to be true even now that I’ve returned to my liberal safe haven of New York City. Sometimes it seems that social media exploits people’s stupidity (perhaps those of you reading this think that’s what’s happening to me right now!) I read idiotic facebook posts about people who have rifles in their closets that “never killed no one” and yet I have nothing to say back. This happens to me quite often, I know exactly how I feel and what I want to say, and yet I can’t articulate my thoughts in a meaningful way. Perhaps this is one of the huge disadvantages of growing up in a community that thinks primarily the same way I do.

I suppose there are a few morals to this story:

  1. We should all get off facebook and go read a book.
  2. We (I) should learn to articulate my beliefs independent of my highly educated and intelligent friends.
  3. If all else fails I’ll just say “sic ’em boys”.

 

WHY ARE YOU SO MEAN?

I like to think that New Yorker’s aren’t as mean as people say they are. They aren’t really, at least they aren’t mean inherently. I think what makes New Yorker’s “mean” are the daily demands that are put on them. We all have places to be, emails to answer, and money to make. But wouldn’t everything be a little more pleasant if we were kind to one another along the bumpy road of deadlines and budgets?

At times, I find it terribly disheartening to see how humans treat one another. We’ve started to operate from an “eye for an eye” perspective, which in my mere 27 years of experience, never seems to work well.

One evening as my mom was strolling through Times Square (only tourists stroll through Times Square, let’s say she was racing), she witnessed a cab hit an older woman in the cross walk. From my mother’s description, the woman was in her early 70s, very well dressed and fairly mobile. The cab driver hit her going very slowly around a corner while she was crossing. 

The cab driver stopped his car and sat in the front seat burying his head in his hands. After making sure that the woman was ok, my mom went around to speak with the cab driver. He was crying and said he was worried he was going to have his license taken away from him. He mentioned that he had a family to take care of and he was doing the best he could but was tired from long days of driving. As he was speaking with my mother, an onlooker walked around to the front of the cab and started hitting the hood of the car. She told him to get out of his car or she’d beat him with her cane.  She rallied a group of people to join her and they surrounded his car yelling at him. 

Excusez- moi?

Herein lies the problem: perhaps if this woman had come around to the front of the car to politely speak with the gentleman, she would have seen that he was a HUMAN BEING who made a mistake. We are all human beings and we all make mistakes. Some are worse than others. Some are unforgivable. But why don’t you make that assessment once you have all the facts? I’m not condoning reckless driving or saying this cab driver wasn’t at fault, but as the saying goes “be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle”.

 

 

WOULD YOU LIKE (VOCAL) FRIES WITH THAT?

I pick up the phone at work to call an agent. She’s reached a level of success where she has her calls placed for her and I have to go through several assistants to get her on the phone.  One would think this woman  might have a mature speaking voice and perhaps an impressive vocabulary. I’m greeted by an all too familiar sound which, much to my dismay, seems to be increasingly common in teens and 20-somethings. It’s that raspy sound made famous by the likes of Lauren Conrad of “The Hills”, the Kardashians, and even the adorable Zoey Deschanel. It suggests a combination of boredom, carefree/casual attitude, and lack of interest in what others have to say. It’s called “vocal fry” my friends, and it ain’t cute.

When did it become trendy to sound underwhelmed and unimpressed? Perhaps I’m being incredibly anti-feminist by saying this, but I think speaking this way does an extreme disservice to women who are probably quite intelligent (except perhaps Khloe). The combination of vocal fry and uptalk (ending a sentence like you’re asking a question?) literally diminishes the voice that women have worked so hard to have.

I unknowingly fell prey to this trend a few years ago. I had just graduated college, was spending my first summer back in the city and was feeling particularly aimless. In a voice lesson, my teacher brought it to my attention that I was talking a little too much like a bored valley girl and it was harming my vocal chords. I started paying much closer attention to my speech, and in doing so, became increasingly aware that other women were adopting these bad habits as well.

I still often sound like a little girl when I talk. I don’t always speak eloquently or use big fancy words. My voice sounds floaty and aimless if I’m not paying much attention to what’s coming out of my mouth. But as we continue to fight for gender equality, we can’t take for granted that we have been given a voice. Let’s not fall prey to sounding unintelligent and indecisive. Let’s speak with confidence and authority, making the decision to use our voices as one of the most important vehicles of expression we have been given.

Am I right? Or did I lose you when you realized this wasn’t actually about Fries?