Weltschmerz v. Wanderlust

There are so many things I could write about, but I have such little motivation.

Well, that’s a lie. I am motivated to begin and end this blog post. I am motivated to one day finish sorting the hundreds of pages of music and class notes scattered about my room. I am motivated to do all of my Lieder translations today, and look at the music for Russian diction. I am motivated to sing through Joan’s Aria, and I am motivated to restrain myself to only two cups of coffee today.

But after that I may switch to beer.

These have been the longest two weeks of my life. Professionally, emotionally, and mentally, I’ve been completely drained. My energy is at an all time low– all I “want to do” is sit quietly by myself. I don’t even really want to listen to music. That’s another all time low for me. I could at least sit with something on in the background, usually. But today and yesterday I’ve put on the last-resort playlist of the Avett Brothers’– the soundtrack of my adolescence and the only music I can listen to with a combination of compliance, satisfaction, happiness-in-remembering-home and abject misery. It’s very strange. I guess I would compare it to the musical equivalent of the concept of “Heimat.” The Avetts are my musical Heimat– especially their older songs denote my experiences both at home and at Eastman. They were the soundtrack to both homes and can comfort just as readily (and often at the same time) as they bring heartsickness.

Anyway, what was I saying?

All time low. That’s right.

But overall the past two weeks have been successful? I sang as one of eight finalists for the Friends of Eastman Opera competition. Didn’t win, but I’m not complaining, as I had my senior recital a short two days later. Both my family from home and my musical family here were mostly present, in person or over the internet. It flew by in half of an eye-blink and then this week occurred. Long opera rehearsal combined with work, schoolwork and classes… and then thoughts about the summer and how I am supposed to afford it… My brain is just frazzled. And this is without considering the natural human element. The drama here is just suffocating.

But, I’ve read a little poetry and kept to myself as much as possible. This is not to say that I’m antisocial… but sometimes (okay, more often than not) it’s refreshing to get away from others. I can’t distract myself with a dog, so no escape there… I’d go for a walk, but it’s cold outside: plus, it’s not as if Rochester is necessarily picturesque. The escape occurs when I can leave Eastman. Mostly figuratively, you understand, but when I picture myself in Philly this summer my spirit gets just slightly lighter.

And Germany. Let’s talk about that for a moment.

I have wanted to go for nearly six years now. That’s over a quarter of my life. I’m of the opinion, if you’ve wanted something for a quarter of your life and haven’t achieved it yet, it’s time.

The question is, really, how? How to afford it, how to get there? How to convince my mother? And again, how to afford it? There are so many other things that need to be paid for, the least of which being rent, and the greatest of which being the summer program in June I’ve already committed to. How to make another pocket of money, in order to travel alone, halfway across the world, just because I want to?

There really aren’t any acceptable excuses for wasting money (or even debating wasting money) in this way. I must just be selfish. Why can’t I wait for life experiences to find me? I keep telling myself, if it’s meant to happen, it will. I need to be patient.

The funny thing is, while typing “happen” just now, I made the mistake of writing “happy” instead. Twice, I did this.

Now, that should tell me something.

There are some things– like Eastman, like this Russian Opera Workshop– that happen almost on their own. Yes, I’ve worked hard, but that doesn’t always mean success. These things have occurred by a stroke of blessed, cosmic luck, and I am supremely grateful.

But other things in my life (my senior recital, which received six “brava”s from the six present faculty members, or the Mahler solo in October) have taken place and been highly successful because I’ve worked. And loved the work, and worked with love. That has to count for something, too. The work, and love, and cosmic power have to come together at some point, for some people, sometimes– otherwise no one would ever accomplish anything they set out to do.

So there’s that tangent. I want to travel and experience things (and, you know, maybe actually learn this language I’m obsessed with). I just have no idea how it’s going to happen. The sad part is, if I hadn’t signed on to do Russian Opera Workshop again, I might have been able to scrounge up the funds to do Goethe-Institut in July. Now, there’s almost no way, because I owe Ghena money and of course I’m thrilled to be singing Joan; it’s going to be another incredible June. But it is expensive.

And I feel as though I’m going to miss something! I know it’s strange, at twenty-one, to really worry about missing life. Extrinsically, I realize that I have plenty of time and blah, blah, blah. But if I’ve learned nothing else, I know that that is really not always the case. I’m stuck here at this conservatory, garnering a fabulous musical education– and I should only be grateful. I am grateful. But I don’t leave. I don’t meet anyone. I don’t sing anywhere. I don’t even have time to learn music because I’m busy with rehearsal and classes and work. And outside of this grey, miserable, freezing, windy, sunshine-less city, the world continues spinning and others live full lives with love and happiness and other types of motivating forces that often don’t seem to exist in Rochester.

But this wasn’t really meant to be a “look at how pathetic my life is” ramble. It originally started off as an update on the life of a tired soprano, for the three souls on the planet that might actually wonder (three is being optimistic, anyhow). And I know, too, that if I want change, I have to make it. That’s just one of those things, though, that is much, much easier said (or typed) than done.

I’m reminded of a poem I recently read; it resonates with my own unwinding, stormy mood this week. Like I said, this wasn’t supposed to morph into a gloomy mess, but here we are. Might as well indulge…

Ûber die Heide 
Theodor Storm*

Über die Heide hallet mein Schritt;
Dumpf aus der Erde wandert es mit.
Herbst ist gekommen, Frühling ist weit–
Gab es denn einmal selige Zeit?
Brauende Nebel geisten umher;
Schwarz ist das Kraut und der Himmel so leer.
Wär ich hier nur nicht gegangen im Mai!
Leben und Liebe– wie flog es vorbei!

My own poetic (ish) translation follows… watch out, world… 

Over the heath echoes my footstep;
Muffled out of the earth, it roams with me.
Autumn has come, Spring is far–
Was there ever once a blissful time?
Brewing mists spirit around;
Black is the grass and the sky, so empty.
If only I had not gone here in May!
Life and Love– how they flew past!

*For posterity’s sake I feel I should mention that Theodor Storm (besides being one kick-ass name) was the author of Die Nachtigall, one of my favorite poems ever. The text was set to music by Alban Berg and features as the third song in the cycle Sieben frühe Lieder. I sang these nearly a week ago for my senior degree recital.
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Unraveled

I think I have unraveled a tiny portion of my churning unpleasant mood.

I don’t think the boy thing is directly related to the baby dream. Which is good.

But I do think that A.) I am disgusted with myself for thinking about boys/a boy, and in turn being distracted and B.) Letting that distraction keep me from being goal-oriented. Right now I’m of the mindset that I should just trust myself to do the best thing and not make myself sick thinking about the potentially negative results. But this is college. Everything here is bigger and badder than high school, and that’s great, but… that means that every mistake I make is bigger and badder, too.

I also think that the baby dream was partially correctly analyzed by the dream interpretation website. I just had a quick discussion about it. It was proposed that, due to the setting (here) and the instant and huge fear it gave me, that something here is developing, being born, and I’m scared of it. Whether it is for the best is yet to be seen. It was part of the newness and the unknown prospect of the baby that made up a large part of my terror. That same newness and unseen features could apply to whatever it is that’s growing. It could be my potential, or the prospect of a relationship, or my future. Or even something as simple as my voice.

A little bit of time

I’m taking a breather right now. I’m just sitting in the dorm relaxing (playing on my laptop) as the sky dims to a sheet of grey outside the window as a soothing breeze tries to creep in.

It’s just a nice pause in a week that’s been crammed with new sensations and the first spurt and rush of a new life. Fourteen weeks to go until this semester’s over.

I want to say that I will be prepared. I have a plan. I am ready for what may come my way, or I will make myself ready. I’m facing the future with less fear than I’ve ever felt. I haven’t wondered “what will happen if I die today” in almost two weeks. Well, to be truthful I thought it yesterday, but it was in passing over the fact that I haven’t really thought about it. In case you’re confused, after my cousin passed away at nineteen, I became fairly neurotic and theorized about death almost daily. If you could see my other blog… well, it wasn’t the most cheery read some days. I mused on life and its end a great deal.

But lately, I have thought about other things.

For example, how Eastman is like Hogwarts. We have a Chamber of Secrets (the Director’s Dining Center, off of the regular Dining Center), many (MANY) stairs that lead to hallways that look highly alike, and we make something from nothing. Whether we use wands or batons or horns or ourselves, we’re shaping ourselves and the world around us into (what is perpetually hoped to be) something better. Something that can make the world better.

That brings me to what I’ve been up to. Yesterday I went to the first SA meeting of the year. SA is the Student’s Association. Representatives from each class are chosen and it’s recommended they attend regularly; also reps from clubs and organizations on campus show up. It’s where student government leaders are decided. In addition, anyone who has something to complain about is urged to go.

So Mary and I went and were the only freshmen there. We’ve been (well, I’ve been) trying to kind of spread the word about the need for freshmen class council members. I’d like to do it, but I think I’d want to be secretary/treasurer, so the pressure of leading others to decisions doesn’t necessarily fall on me. I have to see if I get an ushering job first, though. And there might be more interest and someone with more drive will want that spot.

I’m not saying I’m not ambitious: quite the contrary. But I’d rather see someone who’s obsessed with class government get it, if they want it and will do a good job. I would be pretty good, I’m not going to lie, and I want to be involved, but Garrett Rubin’s organization seems like something I’m going to find a passion in.

It’s called Eastman for the Shropshire Music Foundation, and Garrett developed our little part of it. The Foundation itself was founded by Liz Shropshire, whose background and experience in music and music education led her to raise funds to purchase musical instruments for the children of Kosovo refugees. It now reaches children in Northern Ireland and Uganda as well. I won’t go in intimate detail here, but please visit this site for more information if you’re interested. If you’re not interested, check it out anyway (please). But my point is, I want to get involved. I don’t want to just “be a part of something” for the feeling of inclusion. I don’t want to commit my very limited time to an organization that isn’t doing something proactive, something useful and beneficial.

The Shropshire Foundation is worthwhile. It helps people. Moreover, it helps the children who will grow up to someday have their own impacts, however publicly realized, on the world. To be a medium through which people can learn to love music seems to me a truly influential and vital use of time. Especially since Eastman for the Shropshire Music Foundation is based here. It seems too coincidental that something I’d be crazy about doing would be one of two university-based campaigns for the foundation.

So in this little snippet of down time I’m snagging now, I’m considering the future, considering the options here to be a part of something that’s making a difference. And, I figure, it’s about time.

Refugees (picture taken from http://www.shropshirefoundation.org/mission)

To ghost along the border of spiritualism: my first visit to Lily Dale

Get ready for one long, in-depth analysis


So my visit to the mediums of Lily Dale was a learning experience, to say the least. I’m a lot calmer about the whole idea now, knowing what can be expected there.

I learned a LOT. It helped that, the entire time, I was thinking of it sort of like a field trip, like a class. Milk all you can from it and remember it, that sort of thing.

I’d done some research before leaving, so I knew that spiritualism was a religion. Upon arriving I had so many questions: they just weren’t written down. I legitimately had no idea what to be prepared for.

It turns out we were to wait in line for two hours before being admitted to Circles. I met Sarah’s grandparents: her grandmother is a medium, and apparently so was her great-grandmother. I also met two ladies staying with Sarah’s grandma; one was from Britain and the other from Rochester. Apparently they frequent Lily Dale as visitors over the summer.

My first impression of Lily Dale as a place was that it’s beautiful. Quaint little houses, brilliant greens of the trees. A kind of innate stillness and picturesque quality underscored by an air of mystery, of presence. It was just really pretty.

While waiting, I asked questions. At first it was tough to get going because hey, I’m not a journalist– I don’t really have an excuse to pry, and as silly as it may sound, I didn’t want to offend anyone. They take spirits and things very seriously there. But I am an obsessed academic and eventually found a manner in which to ask, without sounding like a putzkie.

Here’s a brief summary of some facts I garnered from a few who know a great deal about the facets of spiritualism. Bear in mind they’re just knowledge I’ve gathered, I don’t necessarily put stock in all of them. More on what I do put stock in will come later.

– Firstly, spiritualism is: a religion, a philosophy, and a science.
– Spiritualists worship one deity, one creator God, but acknowledge the existence of many spirits, floating around in the ether.
– Spiritualists believe that, just as in life, spirits can change for good or for bad on the other side as well.
– Ouija boards are a NO-NO: they let whatever’s chillin’ over there come visit, with no boundaries to keep the creepers back.
– According to spiritualists, we each have a group, a “band,” of spirit guides that accompany us as we grow. They can change depending on how we change or how we come to need them, but they are there to protect us from things like anxiety, imbalance, health problems, and, of course, evil.

And naturally there are other things, too, but those are the most prominent tidbits of insight I scrounged up.

Now for details on my own ten minutes with a medium:

We got into Circles the first round (there was a massive line). There were at least twenty mediums set up on the floor of the auditorium. Seating varied: some had four chairs around them, some five, and others six. We were taken to a medium named Bonnie White, an older lady with pale hair and grey eyes, dressed in black. She handed me a watch and said, say when it’s been seven minutes, then you get three minutes to ask questions. So I was the timer.

This is Bonnie White, the medium we met


She started with a prayer. We held hands and she asked the great spirit to bring a white light down around us, to protect us and bring us only good spirits.

I will say this, when I first entered and sat down I felt a great deal of energy, not my own. Around me, a warmth touching my skin, the right side of my neck. It was pleasant, not unnerving or weird. Just different. But it was something.

It turned cooler as the sitting went on.

She started with Sandy, Sarah’s mom. Spent a few seconds touching her hands, “connecting with her individually.” Then Ms. White proceeded to tell Sandy things that a stranger wouldn’t know.

It was hit and miss, with Sandy and with Sarah. She did “sense” that they were mother and daughter. She hit upon Sarah’s boundless energy and constant activity, as well as her interest in athletics and music. It seemed as though she faltered a bit, though: if she stumbled upon something correct, she would blather about it for a little before continuing on: to fill the time, is my guess.

When it was my turn, Sarah took the clock. Apparently she’s better at reading cell phones than hand-clocks, because she gave me twelve minutes instead of ten (love that girl).

It was weird, to say the least. Maybe I just use weird as a filler word because I don’t know what should really go there to describe it.

I was skeptical, but then I’m always skeptical. I tried to keep an open mind, though, for the sake of… I don’t know. For the sake of academia.

She didn’t connect me with anyone from the other side, though. I guess no grandfathers felt like chatting with me (don’t know how I feel about that). Potter must not have wanted to, either, but if she’s in spirit form she’d be bounding off and eating something instead of waiting for me to hold hands with some bad psychic.

Instead Ms. White told me I was artistic. This is when Sandy, Sarah, and I exchanged glances because she told me I had a “good” singing voice, but art and drawing and fashion design were where I was really suited. Fact: I only ever finger paint. I suck at drawing. Blatantly pathetic.

Oh, and I’m going to the Eastman School in a week, folks. I think they accept at most ten sopranos per freshman class?

Man, I hope they have an art program so I can switch my major (HA).

No, you do not 'bong' on this instrument... merde, some people.

She asked me if I played a stringed instrument (no way, Jose), then said she saw a piano-like thing, and what did I play? I told her the xylophone, and she replied, and I quote “Don’t you bong on those?”

Oh, geez. If I wasn’t so curious I would’ve put my head in my hands, a mercy, please gesture before she could say anything similarly silly.

Then, a little later, she spoke directly to me. Earlier, when speaking to Sarah and her mother, and at the start of my reading, she was kind of speaking in show to the group. Now she was entirely focused on me. She began to get agitated. Grey eyes under bristling pale brows tried to connect with mine, fervently almost.

And this is as close as I can remember, it could be a little out of order but this is the gist:

“You’re very sensitive, I’m getting an image of a heart. You know what people are thinking, you’re very intuitive. This is hard for you. You know what people think and you’re right, but it’s hard to know it.

You’re very accurate, perceptive. You arrive at conclusions before everyone else, you’re quite quick. It’s sometimes hard, awkward really, for you to be there, but they’ll catch up. You get there differently, but you’re right. You are also on– what do you call it? Like, on the right note, you’re good at that. In tune. You know when you’re in tune or not.

But… you’re sad– anxious. There’s a spirit guide around you who just wants to calm you down. Do you have a lot of stress, relating to making choices? It’s difficult for you to know you’re path. Did you have a lot of stress recently about college?

But you can follow your intuition. You’re right when you do. When you see a light around a decision, take it, you know it’s right.”

And then she became the most lively she’d been:

“I– I just get this sense– I just really want to comfort you. Don’t be sad, okay? No one wants you to be sad. It will all work out. Your life is just beginning now. It will be an entire change for you, but it’s just starting. Just don’t be sad. You’ll grow from it.”

Later as she said the closing prayer it was as if she was trying to talk straight to me. “Let us be comforted and feel safe and grow and learn from new beginnings, wherever they may be and wherever they may take us.”

That was the weird part for me, when she started talking about being sad. I never mention that to anyone. Ever. She told me that the spirits “wanted me to” march forward with my head up. You know, be confident and all that jazz. She made a cringing motion when she tried to illustrate what they didn’t want me to do. They didn’t want me to enter this new chapter of my life weak and scared. They want me to go kick ass, apparently.

In Sarah, her mother, and her grandmother’s opinions, this lady sucked. I’m not saying she was legit, because I gathered she made stuff up to fill time. I’m not a fool.

But the part about being sad? It’s cute, I guess, that there are floaty guys that want me to not be sad. No one else would know that. In fact I try my damnedest so no one does.

When I got home, I rehashed it all with my mother and sister. My mother’s not “into” it, per se, but she’s aware of the fact that we’re not without ectoplasmic friends.

My mother has had contact with a “spirit world” before, and I’ve talked to people who have had legitimate touches with the other side. In the case of my mom, she didn’t ask for it, didn’t want it. “I never liked spooks.”

But she’s had vivid dreams, in which dead relatives have been with her, spoken to her. She doesn’t normally dream at all. Yet, she’s done a walk-through of her grandparents’ home in her sleep, where she saw things she wouldn’t have drummed up in her subconscious by herself (her memory is awful). She’s ridden in the car with her uncle on the night he died, from her sleep. And she’s had a conversation with a member of my father’s family that she’d never met: when she woke and described her, it was exact.

She’s been to see a medium twice in her life. She said the first time was out of spite, when she was in college. Her father died in an accident when she was in her early teens, and this was a personal visit for her. She was angry with him, and with the medium, for reasons I won’t discuss.

The second time, she said the best part was the dog the lady owned.

Schnauzer (not necessarily the type of dog the medium owned)

She did tell me, very seriously, that psychics and whatever were for entertainment purposes only. And I get that completely, because if you don’t know who you are or where you are in life, it’s highly possible to be duped and tricked. Personally I know that if I spent time trying to puzzle out the mysteries of the ether, I’d go stark-raving. But I’d like to have a professional reading done, for the hell of it. Just because I’m curious. I feel that I’m like my mother: I’d be able to go and keep a level, cool, head. Without putting my faith where it shouldn’t go.

I’m not buying into spiritualist rituals and all of their theories. But I’m a firm believer that there are things out there– call them what you will– and that they come in shades of good and bad. Where some would touch their relatives or friends with love, others would seek to harm. Whether we become these things after death isn’t up to me to figure out. I’ll gladly pass that decision on.

In addition, I know there are, because I’ve felt them. This is what I asked Sarah’s mom, a practicing spiritualist, about. I know when I was younger, and even recently, I’d be praying alone, just trying to have a conversation with God, and feel a little niggling worry, an unease. A lurking, creeping fear. I used to feel it a lot when I was eleven, twelve. I would get scared and start praying hard. Just curl up in my bed, jostled from my thoughts, praying like the dickens for it to go away, for God to protect me.

Sarah’s mom’s take on what to do was similar to my actions. She acknowledged that there were spirits who might try to bust in while I’m praying; she said the spiritualist action would be to say “God bless you, but leave me alone in peace,” and to always ask for “the best and the highest” spirit when praying. And something about asking for a white light.

See, I always just start going when praying, you know? Just, “Hey, so God:” and go from there. But it’s interesting to think that when I’m talking to him, there are eavesdroppers… some benign and some not-so. At least I can tell them to hit the road because it’s a private convo and know I’m not being a neurotic paranoid.

Sarah’s mom also told me something else. Let me just say right now that at no point was she ever trying to sell me her religion. She was just informing me about it, which was cool, because I wanted to know.

The board outside a spiritualist church

She told me that spiritualism wasn’t a mainline religion and that she was raised with a Lutheran background so she’d have something steady, then made her own choice to become a spiritualist when she was old enough to learn about it on her own. A remarkable statement I recall, though, was: “At the end of the day, I don’t think it matters necessarily what we call the one we worship, because it’s probably the same guy anyway. Allah, God, the great spirit, the Creator– probably all the same. It’s what you do in this life that matters– whether you use your life for good or for evil, what you do with it. How you love.”

It reminded me a little of Brendan, and even of my own conclusions relating to religion and love. Just love with all you have and learn everything you can. Keep an open mind and an accepting heart and you’ll be okay.

And so yeah. I’ll wrap this summary up with what my mother told me after I got back home and recounted to her the events of the evening.

“You’ve been raised with a strong faith. You have a strong faith. Don’t waste your brilliant* brain cells trying to figure out things about spooks. Know that there’s good and bad in this world, around us all the time, and that there’s God. The rest you can come up with yourself, but always remember those basics. And now I’m going to smoke and go to bed.”

*Not saying I’m brilliant here. Just quoting my mother, who is probably obligated by law or something to say that.