Tuesday, November 29, 2005

On Bigotry

I grew up in a Midwestern town where there were really only two races - black and white. There were some Asians and Indians, and there were a couple of temples in town, but the overwhelming majojrity of families were African-American or white.

I can only think of one family in my high school with a Spanish name. The Asians mostly went to the High School on the west side, where the rich folks lived, but we had a few in our school. We also had one high profile Indian family, all sons. Those kids, like the Asian students, were very quiet, kept to themselves, usually got the highest grades, and never seemed to get in trouble. After high school, they seemed to disappear. I imagined they went to impressive colleges, and likely never moved back to our little town. But I really don't know.

My high school's student body was almost half African American. Everyone else was plain white. The Jewish kids were white too, and frankly, we couldn't tell who was Jewish and who wasn't. Nobody seemed to care.

I always felt accepted by the black girls in my class. The term African American wasn't in use yet, so we used the term black. Those girls were nice to me. They liked the way I sang and danced in the school plays and in Swing Choir. And, I suspect, they knew that the white girls, for the most part, rejected me. I'm sure they saw how little self-esteem I had. I was far from uppity or proud. I was a geek, and a lonely one. A few of them were rather mother-hennish toward me, literally putting their arms around me and saying "You alright girl. You better than them."

I never wondered what they meant by that. I was simply grateful for the kindness, and the friendship.

In my senior year, when I got my first serious boyfriend, it was my black girlfriends who talked frankly with me about sex, about not losing my head in emotion, about doing the safe thing, and what was best for me. Most of my white girlfriends had visions of a wedding in their heads, and thought it would be so romantic if I were to start a family right away.

And that guy was such an asshole. Ugh.

I have always preferred "black music" to "white music." From the time I played "Sweet Georgia Brown" ad nauseum on a toy player piano at five, to now when I prefer listening to Kanye West rather than Nickelback. I was trying my hand at rapping when I was fifteen, and singing Billie Holliday songs in my spare time. My music teachers, however, far preferred my covers of Barbra Streisand tunes. Yeah, I could belt out Streisand songs with the best of them... but nothing moved me like "God Bless the Child" when I was fifteen, wearing my cousin's hand-me-downs, and knowing the only reason my classmates wanted to sit near me was so they could copy my paper. Yes, Barbra had a big nose like mine... but she was a rich movie star with fancy clothes and expensive hairdos. Like the popular girls at school. I could not relate.

When ya got money, you got lots of friends
prowlin' round your door
But when the money's gone, and the spendin' ends
They don't come round no more

Brains, you see, were my social currency.

You can't grow up in my hometown without coming face-to-face with blantat, old-fashioned, southern white-style racism. The KKK marches there once every few years, and there were riots in the nineteenth century that people still talk about. I was lucky to connect with my black classmates over a shared like – music – and a shared dislike - popular snobby kids, all of whom were white. This seemed to transcend race.

I've always said that racism, homophobia, and misogyny are three forms of hate that fall under the umbrella word of bigotry. I've never felt that one could, by nature, be worse than another. But, as Dantallion mentions, bigotry can be insidious. It slimes itself into efforts toward pride and diversity. It justifies itself by "keepin' it real." It turns appreciation for differences into judgement, and turns self-esteem into self-aggrandizement. It's a leap from Pride to Supremacy... but an easy leap to make, if you've been hurt badly enough.

When I was in college, a Doonesbury cartoon featured a beleaguered Principal being approached by the head of the Student Body Diversity Affairs Council, or some such title. They were congratulating themselves on having created a campus where the minority students felt that they were equal to the white students. Howevever, they were dismayed to notice that the minority students were making a set of demands. They wanted seperate bathrooms from the whites. Segregation by choice. Who would have imagined this would be the end result of all those Awareness & Sensitivity seminars? A lot of well-meaning hearts were broken.

Music, again, was the heartbeat of my college class in 1991. Grunge was white music. Hip-hop was black. If you walked through a group of white students, you'd hear Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden. If you walked past the Alpha Phi Alpha house, you'd hear Naughty by Nature, and Tribe Called Quest. I owned all of Nirvana's albums, but I knew all the lyrics to OPP too. I had also discovered En Vogue, SWV, Salt-n-Pepa, and Queen Latifah. I listened to that so much that one of my floormates in the dorm asked me where I was from, with that funny look on her face.

I've always loved singing with bands in bars and clubs, and have always wanted to get a gig - meet the right bunch of fellas, so to speak. When I was nineteen, someone - a beautiful African American gal who sang with a local club band - told me that I'd never be asked to join a band that played the kind of music I liked to sing, because a black band would never hire a white singer, and I "sang black." This didn't make sense to me. Was she talking about vocal "licks," and messing with the beat, and that sort of thing? Reba McIntyre does that all the time with her voice! This gal told me that if I wanted to sing with a cover band, I should do more Sinead O'Connor and less Mariah Carey. "And nobody wants to hear that old stuff," she scoffed, referring to my love of old jazz standards.

I'm sure a lot of performers have stories like this one. I did feel rejected on a personal level, and I never tried to get a gig with a band after that. I slunk back into musical theatre, and eventually turned to opera - both essentially "white" venues.

But I think, at nineteen, deep down inside myself, I didn't believe what that gal said to me. After all, I had wonderful memories of African American musician friends from my hometown, who loved my singing, who liked working with me musically. It was the fact that she believed it that hurt. This is what she believed, and likely, others did as well. This was the real sadness to me.

Racial Pride became a hot subject while I was in college as well, although to read books written by people who were in college during the sixties, this wasn't a new thing either. College students tend to think they are the first ones to come up with ideas.

Suddenly people were wearing their nationalities on their sleeves, shouting it from the rooftops. I wasn't white anymore, I was a Wild Irish Rose, and I can drink all of you under the table! I'm also Italian, so you better not piss me off! But... I was also laughingly accepting the idea that people might think I'm a borderline alcoholic, and a-moral. It took a short while for that to really sink in. And my fellow students? I saw a group of African American girls swarm a lunch table in the cafeteria, harass the lone white student eating there until she got up and left, and then laughed at mach-Q decibels as she scuttled away, "We scared her good!" They were immensely pleased with themselves, and I was horrified.

For me personally, this meant that the black girls I used to feel so welcomed by were all of a sudden hostile strangers. At first I assumed that, in college, race relations are just that much harder. Over half the students at my college were from Chicago, and I figured their inner-city experiences might have shaped their bitter, angry behaviors.

But then I noticed that even within their own ethnic group, certain girls were excluded. Overweight girls. Girls with bad fashion sense. This didn't seem to be about race anymore. This seemed to be about... popularity. I didn't quite know what to make of that.

Not too long after that - I believe it was the same semester - a Latin boy in one of my classes invited me to a movie, so I went along. He was hot as hell, and seemed like a nice guy. He was very quiet, soft-spoken, and very proud of his heritage. He spoke Spanish beautifully and I liked practicing a few words and phrases with him. We went to a Disney film - it might have been Beauty and the Beast.

He was all over me. I was disgusted. I think he honestly thought we'd have sex in the theatre. Call me naive, but I actually thought we'd watch the movie. If he had waited until after the movie, who knows. But the minute the lights went down... eeuccch.

After the movie was over, I walked purposefully in the direction of my dorm. My date took out a pocketknife and started flipping the blade open and closed, open and closed. My blood went cold. I began talking about the class we had together, how awesome I thought the teacher was, how much I loved Moby Dick. He didn't say much. When we got to my dorm, he said he would call me. "Sure," I said, "Thanks for the movie." I went inside without a kiss, and never heard from him again.

Thinking he'd score in the movies - that's a guy thing, not a spanish thing. But latinos, at that time, on my campus, among the provincial white girls, had a stereotype of only wanting one thing. I'd never been treated that brutishly by any other boy - and I'd been out with white guys, black guys, and once an Islamic named Aladdin. All of them had been more respectful. I sat there in my dorm room, after the date, seething. Doesn't he know that he's proving them right, I thought to myself, those people who say those things?

And what the hell was up with the pocketknife?

Both the girls in the cafeteria and my date were clearly enjoying being intimidating. I've heard that this is an effort to reclaim something. Ok, you call me dangerous, fine. I'd rather have you scared of me, because then you'll respect me. Maybe my date was assuming I'd heard what people say, and had agreed to go on the date because I wanted sex? I'll never know, but I always felt that this line of thinking and behaving was playing into the hands of the racists. Yes, it's true that just because you dress like Ludacris does in his videos, that you're not robbing convenience stores in your spare time, or shooting people, or that you have no respect for women. But it's not just the clothes.

It's when four African American guys get on the Metro-North Train, walk through the cars until they find one that’s quiet, and half-full of white yuppies, and then start bragging at the top of their lungs about the escapades of they brutha that jus got out of prison - I mean he JUST got out! Then laughing even louder as he relates the story of the bitch he done fucked in the bushes last night in front of someone’s house, who I imagine they don’t like. “He JUS’ out of prison, you KNOW he (insert euphemism for sex).

I can’t imagine that their deliberation as to which car they should ride in wasn’t at least partially motivated by a desire to irritate the occupants of the car. There were plenty of other African Americans on that train - but not in that car. Those young men on the train were asserting something. It was kind of like those commercials with the Vikings, who have no battle to fight, so they wreak havoc in modern society.

Was I irritated because I’m white and I can’t relate? No. Were they just “keepin’ it real” or “representin’?” No. They were being obnoxious, immature assholes, and you can be any color to pull that off. This is not a race issue – but by embodying this negative stereotype, they are feeding the fires of racism that may be smoldering in anyone near them. So it becomes a race issue.

So much unfocused rage. So much arrogance. So much... bullshit.

My mother proudly wears a T-shirt warning others that she has an Irish temper with an Italian attitude. (I think I might have given it to her!) My father, until it shrank in the wash, wore a sweatshirt that reinforces the stereotype of Germans as overly-indulgent beer drinkers. After it shrank, I had fun wearing it on occasion. The African-American youths on the corner of 82nd and Amsterdam that call each other "mah nigga" were polite to me as I walked by with my enormous bags, moving out of my way and saying "excuse me ma'am," and they did not laugh behind my back. My girlfriends and I sometimes call ourselves bitches. And I've lost track of how many times I've been around a bunch of gay boys referring to themselves as a bunch of faggots.

Some would say this is pride, but I'm not sure. This appears to be the opposite of intimidation posturing - this is a laughing acceptance of negative words and stereotypes in an attempt to demystify them. And this is an equally loaded position.

The current debate surrounding the "n-word" as adopted by popular African American culture is the most visible example. (I myself am so uncomfortable with that word that I won't even type it here.) On Random Noise, Kyle discusses a recent Oprah show that addressed this issue:

Her guests included the cast of the Crash, a movie that deals with racism and social perceptions. While discussing the movie and its contents it brought up an issue about the usage of the word 'nigger'. On one hand, Oprah argues that the term holds too much hurtful history and is still a term filled with negative power. On the other, Don Cheadle believes that the word can have its connotation changed to be a term of endearment and can be embraced with acceptance.

(The rest of his post is a worthy read, as is the rest of his blog.)

Dantallion makes a point in that the assumption of the acceptance of stereotypes reinforces them, and this leads bigots to utter hateful statements such as the ones quoted in his post. But where do positive sterotypes come in? African American men have the biggest penises. There's no lover like a latin lover. Jewish people will get you the biggest tax returns. Nothing is holier than Motherhood.

The real answer to this question is that we wish the world was a different place. I wish that the raising of children was something that everyone valued and took responsibility for, so that women wouldn't feel obliged to choose. I wish that African American and Latin men could, like white men, be taken seriously enough in pursuits of the mind that they wouldn't accept such sexual objectification. I wish that other races could be as well known for their education and brilliance as the Jews, so that the bar would be raised on the professions of law and accounting, and we wouldn't say "He can get you the biggest tax refund because he's Jewish and knows how to cheat the government" - they would say "He can get you the biggest refund because he knows the tax laws like the back of his hand."

The world is the way it is because of the people we are letting make the rules, and because of our willingness to follow them. And yes, it's been this way for millennia, but I believe there is hope. Things really are better than they were years ago. People and societies can and do change.

Just ask Betty Friedan, who I heard speak at my old church in the late '90's. She recounted a time when if a woman pursued an advanced degree, she was called "unfeminine," and a woman who pursued a career in the performing arts was assumed to be a prostitute, or simply a slut. Yes, things are better. But we still have a long way to go.

The "Anti-PC" movement of the 1990's was a backlash against sensitivity efforts. All of a sudden it became fashionable to call a spade a spade - a person isn't "vertically challenged," for pete's sake, they're short! This was basically a call to Americans to stop molly-coddling (there's a misogynist term for you) people with chips on their shoulders. Women shouldn't be insulted by being called hot babes. Black people are black. Bald people are bald.

But what's really going on here? The problem is not that we're using some of these terms, for example, short, bald, black, hot babe. The problem is that these terms are seen as insults. Just because someone is short doesn't mean they're weak. Just because they're bald doesn't mean they can't bring me to multiple orgasm. Just because I'm a hot babe doesn't mean I'm not smart. And just because he's black doesn't mean he's dishonest.

So rather than adjust the thinking surrounding these people, we're going to outlaw the word.

Don't get me wrong - I believe in monitoring your speech. Being cautious in the words you use shouldn't be something you do because you're afraid of being called a bigot. It should be something you do because you care about whether or not you hurt people, on purpose or by accident. You care about showing the world - and God, if you so believe - that you're a good person. You care about making the world a more welcoming place for everyone, yourself, your family, and those you've never met. Don't do the right thing because of peer pressure. Do it simply because it's the right thing.

I was called a racist once, when five Latino boys on the corner of Astoria boulevard and 32nd street surrounded me, making sexual comments and gestures, and I swept though them as fast as I could, without looking at them. This does not make me a racist.

However, all my serious boyfriends have been white. Most have been Jewish. Am I a racist?

I don't want to end this essay with a question, but the truth is, our society doesn't have the answers yet. I'll simply close by saying that I am doing the best I can. I don't believe that the color of a person's skin will tell me anything at all about what kind of person they are on the inside. For every Snoop Dogg, there is a Carlton Banks. For every Paris Hilton, there is a Jane Roe. I believe that the kind of person we are lies in the choices we make, and how we treat people. All people.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Making the Most of This Time...

Well, look at me, just blogging away. I’m not working right now. Most likely I’ll have no work this week. So maybe I’ll blog again before the week is out!

I spent the majority of today re-working the play I wrote in college. It’s not exactly the next American classic, but maybe it doesn’t completely suck. I’m thinking about sending it to a friend of mine back home who’s a director. I’d love to do it myself but I’m really more of an acting coach than a director. And, let’s face it, I’m a little busy these days.

I wrote a song last night at about 4am. I woke up, and words and music were running through my head. I’d been having a dream about a teenage boy falling for a girl I went to high school with, and watching him try, endearingly, to ask her out. It was like something out of “Saved by the Bell.” He spontaneously burst into song, and when I woke up, I remembered it. I finished the song in my head, but I didn’t get out of bed and write it down. I think I was in one of those half-awake states. I really wish I had gotten up and written it down – or better yet, grabbed my little hand-held recorder and sang it. Gee, that would have been fun to listen to later. It wasn’t exactly the next top-40 hit, but it was humorous, and cute. And now, unfortunately, completely gone from my mind.

This has happened to me before, but it was a long time ago. Maybe it will come back to me.

Like several other bloggers I know, I also have a novel in my head, and haven’t been able to get it down on paper. I have a few scenes outlined, but it’s like 7 pages of something that may turn out to have hundreds. It was inspired by a visit to an old farmhouse a few years ago. I made up this whole story about the family who had lived there 100 years ago. If I could just get the shit onto paper. I’m going to try and devote some time to this over the holidays.

I’m expecting a miniscule paycheck tomorrow. Better than nothing. But I think I’m still short my monthly payments. Which sucks.

Wish me luck. I’d really like a hair salon appointment this week. The place I’ve been going recently isn’t picking the phone, and neither is a machine or voicemail. I might wind up trying to score an appointment with my old friend, the expensive-yet-worth-it, booked-a-month-in-advance Peter.

Yeeeaah. Wish me luck.

Addendum: thanks for the well-wishes - I scored an appointment with Peter of the magic brush for tomorrow at 12:30!

Friday, November 18, 2005

How I Blew My Day Off


If you're gonna post a blog quiz AT LEAST get the HTML right.

Never mind. Suffice it to say, I blew most my day off by mindless internet surfing. However this evening shall be spent in the city with my old pal Jules, one of the my Chicago crew. Hopefully I won't freeze my ass off.

I am so exhausted, I can't stand it. I watched the last half of Titanic today because I was too tired to sleep. I have only seen Titanic once before - when it was first in the theatres, opening weekend at the huge moviehouse in Times Square. I saw it with my ex-husband, back when things were still pretty good between us. I remember how we were enthralled with that cheesy-assed film. We held each other and cried.

Christ. And he reads this blog too. Sorry Dimarc. Embarrassing Stories-R-Us.

I've had nothing to eat today but yogurt and a cup of tea, because I'm short on cash in a big way and am saving my twenty bucks for dinner with my friend. I didn't get enough temp work this month, and things are pretty scary right now. I bought some CD's a week or so ago - 8 of them for a little under $70 - and have been feeling crappy about it. I don't spend money on luxuries like that anymore, because I just don't have it, but I think I just got sick of the radio. I'm spending inordinate amounts of time in my car these days. So I did that. I might return one of them.

I'm resisting the urge to Christmas-shop for people, partly because Mercury will be in retrograde until December fourth, and partly because I'm fucking broke. This is the hardest part of being poor for me - not being able to buy holiday gifts for people. Thankfully my list is short, and I'm a fantastic shopper, so I might be able to swing one small thing for my Mom, Dad, Boyfriend, and two best girlfriends. I'm working on that.

Today is one of those days when I can't see the light at the end of the tunnel of debt I've been hacking my way through for the last two years. I just have to have faith.

I guess spending some time with an old friend is a good way to get through that.

Have a great Friday night, everyone.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

the Family We Want, the Family We Get

Thanksgiving is coming up. I’ll be spending it with G and his parents, like last year. He’s coming home to Illinois with me for Christmas this year. This all works for me, since when I was a kid, we spent Thanksgiving with Daddy’s family and Christmas with Mom’s family every year. Maybe it will be the same when I have kids.

I guess my family Christmases in Connecticut are a thing of the past. I can’t imagine anything being better than that. I also used to see a certain branch of my family on the Jersey shore every year, but since all my generation has grown up and married and begun breeding, I guess they have so many in the house that they don’t invite us anymore. But then, my parents told me a couple of years ago that usually, we were never invited to begin with - my parents invited themselves to people's houses! I'm sure my aunts would say "What's wrong with that? We're family, we visit." But it irks me that if my parents had simply vanished one year, nobody would have called us to ask where we were. We don't see people for five years, and then we bump into someone at some family event, and then it's all "why the hell don't we see you anymore?" I even had one of my favorite aunts going on and on to me about how we MUST visit this summer - but what she really meant was, I'm going to have to consistently call her and call her and call her until she finds five minutes to talk to me, and don't expect her to call me back. And don't expect her to write or email. I'm going to have to take all the initiative to insert myself back into her family's life. Gee, I feel so wanted. So loved.

This is the first year I can recall actually dreading the holidays, expecting to be lonely. I have always looked forward to them, all year long. I reveled in buying new red and green and black and gold clothes to wear a-visiting. I glowed when I'd buy that box of fancy chocolates for a hostess gift. This year...

Everyone I was close to growing up, I’m not anymore. I know people’s life paths diverge, but it just feels wrong, and I feel somewhat robbed. I have over 200 people in my family, and last year every Holiday card that showed up in my mailbox was from someone I’m not related to, who I’ve known about five years or less. That just saddens me, knowing this year it will be the same. Not that I'm not glad I have friends. I'm just furious that my family has vanished.

It would be nice to think that some of these friends might still be around five years from now, but it’s unlikely. There are some people in my life who I call friend, right now, who I hope stay forever. But where will we all be next year? I do have that wonderful handful of close friends of 10 years and more, but they ALL live in Chicago, and I only get one week of vacation, and they have family obligations of their own. And yes, I’ve thought about moving to Chicago to feel less lonely many times. Maybe if I hadn’t met G, I would have done that, but that’s life, and I’m awfully glad I met G.

I hear all these stories about friends of mine who move someplace far from their family and old friends, and fall in love with it, and are happy there, and content to make lives for themselves there. My parents did that. For some reason the prospect of that makes me amazingly sad. I guess I love adventure, but I love coming home afterwards too. I love traveling. I love seeing new places, spending lots of time there, and living in different cities for a few years here and there has been awesome. But I'm growing up, I suppose, and I want to nest. I want a home. And I want family around - lots of them. I'm just pissed that I'm going to have to squeeze a whole family out my cooch in order to have that. I have 200 people in my family! 200, dammit! Why the hell can't we have Christmas parties!? Fourth of July? the yearly family reunion? Do we all HATE EACH OTHER OR SOMETHING?

Of course we don't hate each other. Most of my family simply has their heads shoved up their asses. And of course I mean that in a kind way. Their entire world doesn’t extend outside their own front yards. I hear this is what happens when you have kids. Another thing that puts me off motherhood. I don’t want those blinders. I don’t want everything in the universe to center around my kid. I don’t want to stop being involved with my friends and my family. I don’t want to drop off my kids at school one day, hear something on the radio about New Jersey as I’m driving off, and realize that I haven’t seen or spoken to or heard from my cousins in six years.

I remember saying to someone a few years ago that family is all we have. Is this why everyone’s so quick to reproduce? Because "all we have" just dissolves? Am I the only one who thinks this completely sucks wind!? Is this the reason I'm supposed to birth? I guess the propagation of the species is ensured, but this is such a sad reason to have babies.

Alright, let's do it right now. The babies post.

I want to have kids because I want to continue the line of dysfunctional personalities from which I'm descended. All joking aside, my grandparents and great-grandparents were incredible, fantastic people, and I don't want to be the last of them. I could also wax poetic about the joys of motherhood and parental love, but I imagine you've eaten recently and I'm sure you'd like to keep that down. Besides, I kind of already have that for my cat, but I hear a baby is even better.

I'm only sort of joking. I'd be lying if I said I didn't want kids. But I don't want to be... a parent like my cousins are. It's easy to say "Oh, Ouiser, you're not them, you're you." Well, they're my blood. The odds ain't in my favor. You could say "But look at Person X, they are great parents, they have great kids." Yes. And Tia Carerra got a Hollywood movie by wearing the right makeup to the convenience store. Maybe that will happen to me too?

I'm sorry. I shouldn't be so dismissive. Everyone has doubts about their parenting skills. The thing is... I'm not really afraid of being a bad parent, or of screwing up my kid. What I'm afraid of is turning into someone that I don't want to be. I'm afraid of becoming isolated, of having nothing in my life outside my family. Career will help. But I don't want to see the world through this lens that filters out the lives of everyone who doesn't have kids. I don't want blinders. I don't want to get lazy and not leave the house for anyone but the immediate family, errands, or work. I don't want to let my connections to music, to writing, to my pet political issues, and to the people I've met through those things vanish in a flurry of bottles and onesies and the Wiggles. I'm afraid that ME - the person I'm really only just getting to know, the person I fought so hard to be able to let flourish, and the person that I've grown to love, and to understand that God loves too - I'm afraid of losing myself - my Self - in my family. As so many women do. As so many women in my family have done.

Underneath it all, I feel that I wouldn't be so afraid of this if I had my family around me. My family, who would say "WE are like this," or "WE all do these things," with a knowing smile, and a shrug, and a here, have some soup and we'll feel better. My family that I grew up with, that I had such fantastic times with, my huge Italian-Irish family that could always be counted on for big parties and lots of hugs and long talks and side-splitting laughs, is gone. My kids and I just aren't going to have that anymore. I miss them. I miss our parties with the mountains of home-cooked food and the daddies watching football in the living room and the mommies in the kitchen gossiping and laughing and cooking and the kids playing games and talking about school and clothes and dating and pop bands, or playing outside in the snow. All my life I looked forward to being the one who brought the pies, or the salad, or the cookies, and having long talks with my cousins until the wee hours like my Mom and my Aunt did every Christmas Eve. I'm not going to have that. And I hate that. Hate it, hate it, HATE IT.

I used to be part of something huge. Now I feel alone.

You might ask about friends. My friend with kids - singular - is one of the Chicago people. 15 years of friendship is pretty hard to mess up, but I admit that we don't have a lot in common when it comes to child-rearing issues. She raises her kids the way she thinks is best, and they are great kids, at least I assume they are, since I've only been around them for a few hours, and that was years ago. But I can't talk about kids with her without wanting to rip her head off. I know that when I do breed she will not be able to "be there" for me, anymore than I was for her. Even if we do live in the same city. But that doesn't sadden me. That feels appropriate, for many reasons. Our friendship seems to transcend our womb status. Which is one reason why I value it so much. Maybe, I'm actually afraid that even those long-standing friends will be in my kitchen stirring sugar into their tea even less than they are now. Now that, I am not ok with.

Oh, by the way, G has virtually no family. Two parents and a sister that he's not overly close to, a niece he adores but hasn't seen in years. So if I want to cook for more than three people on Thanksgiving or Passover, I'm going to have to have babies. Several of them. I swear there are few things more depressing than buying a pound of Turkey breasts because you know you won't have enough people in the house to justify cooking an entire Thanksgiving dinner. I don't ever want to cry over my half-empty refrigerator on a holiday EVER AGAIN.

And yes, I know, there's no guarantee that if I have six kids that I'll be cooking for eight. Things happen. But right now it seems like the only way to up the odds.

So this is the post about babies, and family. I know there are no easy answers to these statements. I joke about these things, but they are so heavy on my heart that today I can barely stand upright. And in the forefront of my holiday angst is the idea that I really ought to call G's Mom and ask if she minds if I bring a pie to Thanksgiving. And then the idea that I'll have to find the time to bake it, let it cool, and transport it four hours in the car to Boston. Not to mention the fact that I've been planning to bake a kind of pie that I've never tried before, because it's G's favorite. And his mother is a fantastic cook, and if I don't bake a really GREAT pie, I'll be mortified! Making cream custard from scratch on the stove is something I have only once chance to get right! You know, if we lived closer, I could just go over early in the day and bake it there, and help with dinner overall. I mean, that's how it should be.

Thanksgiving with Daddy's family. Christmas, and Chanukah, with Mommy's. And I'll bring dessert.

Monday, November 14, 2005


I aced all my tests last week. Four exams, aced 'em all.

G's birthday party last Saturday, also known as the Second Annual Cerulian Olympic Games, was da bomb. I'll post pics at some point, maybe Thursday. He's now 35. Mah baby.

Everyone must see this film before it closes. Awesome effort, but I think maybe about a year late. Then again, there's never a bad time for this story to be told. And the soundtrack is incredible.

Hey saxman. This is what I want to sing.

UPDATE: Aced my first practical exam tonight. Clean sweep. Next stop WORLD DOMINATION.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

No, you don't know me... but you will.

I met a saxophone player at Joey's parent's 50th Anniversary Bash last June. I sang with that band, for the fun of it, and my Aunt sang too. It was a lot of fun, and a special day. That sax player and I exchanged cell numbers, and kept in touch over the summer, emailing each other and trying to schedule a time to get together and play and sing. We sent each other song lists, he sent me some MP3's, and we struggled with our calendars.

We've been trying to make this date for five months. He's been busy, I've been busy, and now it's November. But we made it happen, and today, he came over. He arrived at about 11:30. I carried a tote bag full of sheet music, and he carried his music stand and his sax. I was a little nervous, but mostly excited.

I had asked him to bring a copy of "The Nearness of You," and he did. He instructed me to put on my Norah Jones CD, and listen to her sing it, while he went online with G's computer and found the lyrics for me. I hummed along with Norah while he printed me a lyric sheet.

"Ok," he said, "now try this." He handed me a CD. "Track nine." I popped it into the CD player, and out came a rather structured-sounding jazz backing to the same song. Of course, compared to Norah Jones, anything's going to sound structured, but "that's really different," I said.

"This is more of a standard arrangment," he informed me. "This is what you're most likely to hear Out There."

I tried singing along to it, but it was tricky. I had to listen closely to the rhythms, and fit my vocals into the overall song, like a puzzle piece. Not something I'm used to doing - but this is exactly what I need to learn. This arrangement has an odd ending - a key change, and the last few bars repeat. The first time I didn't do much with it. The second time, he played his sax, and I got a better feel for it, got a better idea of what I had to work with. The last time I sang it, I closed my eyes and really listened. I followed the accompaniment, and at the end, improvised something that was completely wrong in terms of how the song is written, but it fit with the music, and felt good in my voice. It felt... like fitting in that last puzzle piece.

"Now that," he said, "was good."

I flipped through a songbook and exclaimed "Moonglow! Somebody told me I needed to learn that song!"

"I think that might have been me," he replied. I laughed. "Maybe it was you!"

"Do you know it?" He asked. "Nope," I sighed.

He went onto Napster and found some clips of the song, sung by various singers. He played a few bars from Carly Simon, Billie Holliday, Mel Torme. He found the lyrics online and printed them out for me.

"Ok, sing this," he commanded.

"But," I protested, "I don't know it!"

"You just heard it three times!" he said, grinning.

"I heard three clips, not the whole song!"

"Yeah, but that's all there is to it," He said. "Try it."

I sang it. He was right. It's a very simple song. And sing it we did. Me with my voice, him on sax, with a CD accompaniment providing rhythm, piano and bass. And it wasn't half bad. It wasn't great, but it didn't suck.

"I know you know this song," he said, advancing the CD. It was "You Don't Know Me," popularized in the 60's by Ray Charles, but written in 1955 by Eddy Arnold. I don't just know that song. I LOVE that song.

I did sing it, but it was the oddest thing... the words completely left my brain. And I didn't launch into song like I often do, coming in strong and clear and present. I slid into it quietly, like sneaking in somewhere I'm not supposed to be, singing a full octave below my comfort zone. My friend fed me the words. The pitch was so low, I was murmuring to myself. I felt the vibrations in my sternum, and felt my stomach knotting slightly, but not in a bad way... I was remembering... something. In the blink of an eye, with just the idea of the song in my head, I was in another place, and another time.

You give your hand to me
and then you say hello
and I can hardly speak
my heart is beating so
and anyone can tell
you think you know me well
but you don't know me...

I can't tell you who I was thinking of... because I don't know who it was. But I know the feeling of this song.

No, you don't know the one
who dreams of you at night
who longs to kiss your lips
who longs to hold you tight
to you, I'm just a friend
that's all I've ever been
No, you don't know me...

Faces appeared in my mind and disappeared. I felt the pressure of a hand in mine. I felt the constriction in my rib cage, the frustration of knowing that someone does not hear me, that someone is not listening.

I never knew the art of making love
though my heart ached with love for you
Afraid and shy, I let my chance go by
The chance that you might have loved me too

I could barely speak, but I could sing. It felt appropriate to sing in a register so low that I had to keep my volume low, or I'd crack the tone. It was frustrating... and right.

You give your hand to me
and then you say goodbye
I watch you walk away
beside that lucky guy
to never, never know
the one who loves you so
No, you don't know me.

I can't think of anyone in my past who I loved, that I didn't tell. I can't think of anyone I wanted that I didn't tell very clearly and directly how I felt. I did have one or two unrequited loves, but they knew perfectly well how I felt about them. This song isn't really me. And yet...

It just felt magical. I don't know who I was, or where I was, or why I felt the way I felt, but it's the way I always want to feel when I'm singing.

My friend had no idea what I was going through. He didn't seem to get it at all. Oh well.

We ran through some other old standards, and I learned some new styles - the latin-bossanova-ish arrangment of "Over the Rainbow" was particularly fun, which surprised me considerably, as most latin styles don't really move me. He asked me to sing one piece higher, give another piece more breath, try syncopating the beat on this one, etc. We drained a bottle of Chianti, and the afternoon slipped by.

We sat down to talk, and he asked me, "What do you want to sing?"

I don't know how to categorize myself. I could say I want to sing jazz, or blues, but my voice has too much "show" for those styles, and frankly, I feel ridiculous, posing as a jazz singer, when I'm really not one. I could say I just want to sing great songs, with great messages, and really reach people... but everyone says that. I could say I want to sing everything, but nobody wants to hear everything. Really, they don't. People like categories. People like to hear a new song by a certain artist and instantly know it's them. Well, I lose patience with this. I don't want to have to define myself by saying "I sing jazz" or "I'm an opera singer." I don't want to have to choose!

I'm 34, but I look very young. My face has this midwestern, farm-girl innocence to it. Some of my mannerisms are childish, and I have such a drive to learn that I tend to look like a fourth grader absorbing her textbook. The problem is that I've lived through a lot more than most people my age, and it shows. I have an incredible life history and have lots of amazing stories to tell. I have so much to say, so many colors to my voice, so many styles and tones and shades... I'm like magic eye wallpaper. It's dizzying. And coming out of this young-looking package...

He said, "I can hear your history... and I don't know what to make of it." Well. That makes sense.

It's really amazing, when I think of all the things I've experienced. The loves I've had, and lost. The many jobs. The apartments, the friends, the schools. My family stories, my friend stories, my church stories. I've been married and divorced. I've wrung every last drop of life out of every experience I've had. My first engagment. The abusive relationship I battled through for close to two years. My struggles with my mother during my troubled adolescence. The time I went on tour with the Nutcracker. My ballet company years. My opera years. My musical theatre years, singing and dancing my heart out on stage in front of thousands of people. My yuppie years. My emergency room visits. The loved ones I've buried. The hearts I've broken. The homes I've left behind.

Hell. I don't know what to make of my history. How can I expect others to? But this gives me something to work with.

If I can figure out how to make my voice express certain things and not others, depending on how I use it, then it becomes a more useful tool. I can express heartbreak in several voices. What do those voices say about me? What kind of person uses a clear strong high note? A sultry low note? A Joplin-esqe scream? What parts of my history are revealed in these voices?

I've got the technique. I've got the pipes, and the lungs. I know how to use them to produce commonly accepted sounds, and achieve certain desired results. But I've never learned to use my equipment to say what I want to say, what I want people to hear. This is the most advanced work I've ever done.

Wish me luck.

Addendum: I've started a journal to keep track of my work on this little self-improvment project. I'm commiting to weekly work, so I should be able to make notes on something every Sunday night.