reading time

breaking for good

by | Apr 18, 2024 | Painfully Sincere

I just got back from Detroit after a truly wonderful time singing in Missy Mazzoli’s Breaking the Waves (for the record, I don’t recommend traveling on tax day) and I’m feeling like I’m entering a period of personal artistic renaissance. For the last few years, the relentless grind of day-to-day living in a rapidly crumbling society has made it hard to see the little pockets of beauty that still exist.

This year, I got incredibly serious about taking care of myself, in the most insufferable way possible. Yes, it’s been about taking long, indulgent showers and buying face masks and avocado toast, but it’s also been about yoga and nutrition and accepting my own neuro-diversity and trauma, and learning how to say yes to myself and no to the things that make me want to crawl under a rock and disappear.

I spent so much of my life afraid to honor my wants and needs that I lost the ability to even identify things as basic as what I wanted to eat for dinner. I hid all of the sharp edges of my personality that I could, and tried to file down the things that still poked through. I tried to turn myself into the person, the singer, the artist that I thought everyone wanted from me, and it took all the joy out of life.

Reimagining what life looks like is hard. For me, it felt impossible, because my childhood and my education created a reality that was determined by everyone but me. Good and bad were decided by God, musical worth was decided by a conductor, vocal ability was decided by a teacher, legitimacy as a musician was decided by instrumentalists and organists and musicologists and reviewers and cranky anonymous opera fans on social media. Upsettingly, when I realized that something had to change, I was forced to confront the fact that choosing an entirely new was of looking at the world is viscerally disorienting, and it makes you question the literal fabric of reality. I still sometimes feel panicky and crazy before I fall asleep at night, because what if I’m wrong?

And that leads me here – five weeks in Detroit on what proved to be a literal dream job with a dream cast and crew, and so much support and love from the community that I’ve found over the last fifteen years, in spite of myself. What do you do when the good things start to overtake the bad things? What do you do when you begin to heal? What do you do when you start to figure out who you’re going to be for the rest of your life?

On one of my last days in town, I went to the Detroit Institute of Arts – a chill museum stroll with my oldest, best friends, who came out to see the show (thank you omg), and I realized somewhere on the second floor that I felt safe. That sounds over the top, but it came out of the blue and settled somewhere deep, and it felt like the kind of reassurance that you want a therapist to give you even though they never will. The world is still falling apart, and I still have no certainty that my career will go exactly the way I want to micromanage, and I am still human and am full of mistakes, and all of that is ok. It’s good. It’s human.

My friends have been trying to get me to talk about my feelings for years and it’s never easy. I’ve always felt deeply, but I hate being perceived in the act, and there are large parts of me that are still ashamed of existing at all. But some moments in our lives seem to call for explicit recognition, and I think this is one of them, because all those moments of love and care that make up a life that’s worth living. A wife who puts everything she has on the line for me; friends who have stood by my side during the last ten worst (and best) years of my life; mentors and colleagues and and open-hearted women across the whole of the internet who want to build a world worth living in.

This was quite a show to do while in the middle of a personal sea change, and I still cannot believe the series of events that had to align to bring this specific cast, crew and admin team into the same room at the same time like it was made to affirm my personal and highly specific journey of individual growth. If I were still someone who believed in the power of the universe, I’d have to point to it and say thank you. But I can’t give credit to the universe because the credit goes to the deep, complex humanity of every person that touched my life during this process, and that’s even better.

Sometimes I finish a show, and I’m sad because I feel like I’ve lost something or because I’m busy worrying about finding the thing that comes next – everything that has to do with singing feels like trying to collect fog in a bucket and then make it do your will. But I think I found something a little different in Detroit: it’s always going to be the place where I let go of searching for perfect and just allowed myself to be good.

special thanks to: Sara van Os, Christine Goerke, Adalina Ceretto, Noelle McMurtry, Caroline Miller, Jessica Waite, Liz Lang, Anja Smith, Alice Smith, Kiera Duffy, Gabrielle Barkidjija, David Portillo, Nathan Stark, Bobby Mellon, Ben Taylor, Stephanie Childress, Diana Wyenn, Kat Coyle, Peter Nictakis and all the cast and crew of Breaking the Waves. I put this here because truly, THANK YOU.

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