Monday, April 28, 2014

We Are ALL Like That!

Last Saturday afternoon I had the pleasure of watching the Metropolitan Opera's really fine production of Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte, via MetHD at our local multiplex. This is an opera I have seen live at the Met (but not for many years) and listened to on CD and radio simulcast, and in bits and pieces on YouTube quite a lot over the years.

This time it was different. Or I was different.

The title of the opera translates to "All women are like that." And yes, it is a pretty annoyingly sexist title, and the premise of the opera is also pretty annoying. Because the "that" referred to is unfaithful. Fickle. And possibly: not so very bright.

As is always the case with Mozart, though, the music is transcendently beautiful.

But as one of the three Mozart operas with libretti by Lorenzo DaPonte (the other two being The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni, and they both have more layers and more stuff going on), this one always disappointed me. Because, you know, I was a woman and a feminist and I was going to BE SOMEONE.  Right?

Well, I am still a woman and a feminist. The "someone" part of that equation is open to debate, but in my humble opinion trending negative. (I'm pretty sure I'm going to get verbally bopped on the head for the last half of this paragraph.)

But here's what's funny: as I grow older, as I experience more of the lovely pleasures and really horrible challenges life can and often does throw one's way, I become less and less sure. Of myself, of others, of everything.

I mean, who the hell knows??

So I went to the multiplex yesterday, with Lars and Saskia and my parents, thinking: I will love the music and the voices and, no doubt, the acting (opera singers today are pretty fine actors, too), and the sets and the costumes, but I will not like this story all that much. :(

But I found myself sitting there just being open. This new openness in me possibly grows out of aging, and perhaps a waning of my old eagerness to fight what seemed wrong. Out of being just plain tired of struggle and strife.

You might think I am talking about apathy, that I just don't care about things anymore, but that's not it. I think it is really a species of mindfulness. Willingness to be open and quiet and not so judgmental, to really look at what's coming my way.

When I looked and listened last Saturday I realized I knew very little about this opera that I thought I knew everything about. This does not mean I got it TOTALLY wrong and in fact it's a subversive feminist piece.

Hahahaha! Nope.

But it has some things to say, if we allow ourselves to hear them. I'm not sure 18th-century or 19th-century audiences did. Maybe not opera-goers of the 20th century, either. Maybe not many people today, even.

But when Dorabella tries to convince her sister Fiordiligi that they should accept the proposals of their "Albanian" suitors while their fianc├ęs are presumably out at sea fighting some battle or other, and she says, "Well, something is a whole lot better than nothing" -- rather like "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" -- it got me thinking about the vulnerability of women.

Not just back then, either. I know women who've agreed (or chosen) to stay home and raise their kids while supporting their husbands in their careers -- or have done so out of necessity driven by illness or disability (hell-o!) -- only to be thrown overboard when a newer, less TIRED model came along.** And it is not so easy to swim to shore when you've spent the last ten or fifteen or twenty-five years out of the work force. You might very well have kick-ass project management skills -- you might even have several graduate degrees under your belt and be an honorary physician, therapist, and accountant -- but no employer, and not that many other folks who haven't walked in your shoes, will embrace the skills you developed at an unpaid job as "real" skills.

Another thing I saw this time was that the one character in the whole story who shows any real depth of feeling, any kind of inner struggle and genuine emotional pull, is Fiordiligi.

The two guys,  Ferrando and Guglielmo -- suitors and fake suitors of the sisters (it's a long, complicated story which you will not get from me now because it's EARLY and I am tired) -- are simply a couple of immature and confused and egocentric young men. The other guy, Don Alfonso, is older and more worldly, but no better. The only potentially likable characters in Cosi, to me, at least, are the female ones. I like the scheming maid, Despina, because she IS a schemer, and cheerfully mercenary to boot. Good for her!

And the sisters? The women who supposedly exemplify female treachery? They are two young women simply trying to keep their heads above the rising waters.

So, this time around, sitting there open and quiet and just being in the joy that is the music of Mozart, I saw and heard something new. We are ALL "like that." Confused, at times unfaithful. Vulnerable and insecure. Schemers in love and in money. Trying to LIVE, in  whatever ways we can.

I "got" these characters. I never really did before.

I believe this is the most important lesson in Cosi Fan Tutte, even though I suspect its authors and generations of its audiences took (and still take) its message to be: "Women. Ya can't live with 'em, and ya can't live without 'em."

Which could sometimes be true. Sometimes we suck. So do men, So does my dog. So does that mountain of laundry that grows like a fungus in my basement. SO WHAT? As long as we don't inflict wounds too deep on others or ourselves, it's no big deal in the scheme of things.

(I am not including the acts of extraordinary cruelty inflicted by people on other people or animals, or on the environment, every single day. Those things are definitely not okay.)

So here's the punch line, Ladies and Gents: I AM SO NOT WHO I ONCE THOUGHT I WAS. And life is not anything like what I assumed it would be.

I think life and I both might be better than that, even with our many shortcomings and failures.

I have lost an inconceivable number of people and things. I have a child who no longer lives in my home, in spite of my impossibly huge love and admiration for him. That still shakes me when I allow myself to think about it too deeply...I have not yet learned how to fully understand that reality.

 I have another child who may very well play Fiordiligi one day, if not at the Met then at some other venue, large or small.

And I have a husband who was a son of the Arch Enemy, an impossible partner for me -- and yet the only man in whose company I can imagine growing old, and in whose embrace I feel joyful, beloved, and safe.

Who the fuck knew??? Jeepers. Life is just like that, I guess.

**This is not me. I don't expect I'll ever be thrown overboard for a newer model. But the other stuff is my stuff, and I am in good company.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

My Healing Projects

Happy spring, Readers! And not a moment too soon. :)

I thought I would give you a family update and then hint at some plans I am gestating -- either brilliant or nutso plans, TBD -- to guide me toward greater wellness.

As advertised, here is the update: Life is better. I am not continually struggling against the death-grip of anxiety, trauma, exhaustion, illness, and fear. I say "not continually" because life throws crap at you now and then. Of course. But I (along with Ben, and Lars, and Saskia) have discovered some of those quiet interludes in which healing can begin.

We have figured out what we need to recover, and where we can get it.

For Ben, it is a school in the country. Horses. Sheep. Chickens. Sports of every stripe. Community. Friends. Space from the people who love him most, fought like hell for him, and found (somehow) the strength and wisdom to understand that sometimes love and fight are simply not enough.

You would not believe him if you saw him right now -- even if you only know him from this blog. I miss him like crazy, and I am so proud of him I cry when I tell people about him, or talk to his teacher or house parents. I cry when I see him laugh -- YES! He does that now! -- and when he opens his arms wide to me and says, "Mom, can I hug you? I love you so much."

(I am crying right this very minute, in spite of the fact that at my feet lies the pinnacle of fluffy cuteness, with an exposed belly and an inviting look on his face. The Fluff Therapist in IN.)





For Saskia it is a private arts school where she can devote herself to her singing as well as academics, where there are others as devoted to their arts as she is to hers. And (I hope) sufficient time spent on the butterscotch couch with her old lady, watching Bad TV.

For Lars, it is the becalming of his own, previously unacknowledged anxiety, and a desperately needed respite from the trauma and illness that was grinding the four of us into dust.

For me? Oh, where to begin... Well, I am learning to take care of myself. To pace myself every single day so that my chronic pain and fatigue do not lurch into overdrive. I am learning that it's OK to rest, to NOT be a doer every moment of the day. To not be the first person in the room with a book contract or a kick-ass blog, or a wide fan base. (Fan base???)

I am trying to kick the Mombot out of this house. Out of me. And believe it or not, I am seeing some success.

All that learning and Mombot ass-kicking I'm doing suggests something very, very important: that the chaos, the maelstrom, the shit-storm that had occupied my brain 24/7 for the past 12 years, has finally moved on. Not 100% -- I am WAY too anxious and restless for that. But one of the perks of not trying to figure out, EVERY WAKING MOMENT, how you will keep people alive and not let important things slip through the cracks and remember the names and dosages of a thousand-and-one psych meds, and find a way to do your paid work right so you won't lose the job you desperately want to leave but can't -- one of the perks of that is that you can focus on other stuff, like getting healthy.

So that's what I'm doing -- just like my darling boy does in his school and his home away from home.

And that leads me to my healing projects. I'm only offering a hint right now.

One of them looks like this:


And the other? Kind of like this:


Stay tuned for more on the healing projects...as they grow clearer to me I will share the details of them with you.

And now, Readers, I am so exhausted from writing this post I will have to take a little siesta on the butterscotch couch.

Good night. ;)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

In Honor of National Autism Awareness Day...

I am thrilled to share an amazing essay by my dear friend Daphne, about how music has made a difference in the life of her autistic son, Ben. (Yes, Ben. And it's his real name. ;)

Here's the link:

http://www.newtonfamilysingers.org/essay/singing-his-part/

Do read this. You won't regret it. And as soon as possible I'll bring Daphne back...she and I have quite a bit to say about "autism awareness" and the baggage it brings with it.

But what I want to sign off with now is this:

Autism families, whether you celebrate your loved one(s) with autism or grieve for them (or both); whether you like or hate vaccines; whether it is with joy or a sense of loss that you make the sacrifices we all must make if we parent or live with someone on the autism spectrum -- let's just acknowledge our kinship as people who love and fight for our kids. And people who get bone tired or depressed or giddy with joy, or who are losing brain cells and money and sleep, or sprouting gray hairs, over what we do every single day.

Here's to putting one foot in front of the other -- whenever we manage to do it! YAY us!!!!