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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Why I've been missing in action...

So, I am trying to figure out how I am going to tackle my goal of blogging about The Case for God. It is a more dense book than I expected, and I've been putting off posting despite the fact that I'm three chapters into the book. I definitely prefer my posts to be personal rather than scholarly, so the challenge for me will be to switch between the sides of my brain. I also don't want to get out of the habit of blogging, and I may just work on these posts "in the background" and post them later, and keep blogging about my other random thoughts in the meantime.

In the meantime, I enjoyed this cartoon about lighting Hanukkah candles and thought I would post it...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Making my case for god....or not

Today I ordered The Case for God by Karen Armstrong, and I plan on blogging about it in detail in the weeks and months to come. I'm currently suspending my conversion plans, while I spend more time fleshing out my concept of God and religious practice. I always felt like I had a good idea of what my concept of the divine was, but I think that reading the "case" she makes for God and comparing it with will give me more direction.

I've written before about how much I love Karen Armstrong, and I can't believe it took me this long to finally get this book.

More to come...

Monday, December 5, 2011

I truly can't care any less....not capable

People always tell you the less you care, the more the guy seems to care. I always have wondered if that is a hard and fast rule. If anyone out there is a regular reader of this blog, you know that about 2-3 weeks ago I was bent out of shape over not really talking to my guy for 2 days. Here I am again, bent out of shape over another night not talking to him (with no advance notice or explanation).

My friends have said that they think it's so cute that we talk every day for a couple of hours. I think that when you're 2,500 miles apart, that's the only thing that fosters a real bond. Could that be why it bothers me so much when we don't get to talk?

Part of what bothers me the most is that I called, but never got a response. In fact, I was sent to voicemail after four rings three times. The logical part of my brain can think of reasons he couldn't get to the phone, or needed to concentrate on something, but common sense tells me that I deserve an explanation.

I refuse to accept the label that I am needy, the word some of the online advice columns have used to describe this behavior, which is, of course, most often exhibited by women. One male advice columnist says that calling a guy back and texting to follow up after he doesn't respond will make the guy feel that you are needy and turn him off of the relationship. You're supposed to move on, find things to do, and the guy notices your absence and then calls you. In the process he also learns that you are an independent woman that can stand on your own. Is this really true between two people who say they care about each other and are making plans to be together?

Am I a worrier? Yes. But I am far more likely to think something bad has happened to a person than to think they're up to no good. Unfortunately everything just escalates in my catastrophic imagination from that point. I get hurt feelings, I feel rejected, and spiral into seclusion thinking that I'm crazy.

I feel like I should take this guy's advice and let him call me back, but it doesn't feel natural to me to not try and contact him and keep our pattern of communication going. I can't help feeling hurt that he hasn't bothered to follow up with me yet either. I can't stop myself from caring that I haven't heard from him.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Making Progress

Great news!! I am down a dress size. I went to Marshall's to get gifts, when I saw a couple of things I couldn't pass up. I took them to the dressing room in my normal size (which was beginning to get too tight) and had to go back and get a smaller size.

To say that I am pumped doesn't even do it justice. I don't care about the scale as much, just the measurements !!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

World AIDS Day: Do Ask, Do Tell

It's been thirty years since a rare cancer was noticed in homosexual men, and on this World AIDS Day I think about the loss many people in my generation don't feel because they didn't see their friends dropping dead left and right. Neither did I for that matter, but I've done many things to inform myself of what happened back then, and I devoted several years of my life in service to the HIV/AIDS community both as a volunteer and employee.

Because I LOVE music and harbor a secret desire to be a transgender singing sensation, I always find myself imagining what the world would be like if AIDS had not taken Sylvester from us. I remember being a teenager and staying up late to watch HBO because that's when the more "mature" content came on. There was a clip of a troupe of drag queens in New York dancing to a song that I found so captivating, which turned out to be "You Make Me Feel Mighty Real". The image of them dancing freely and being themselves etched itself in my mind, and at the time I had no clue who sang the song.

Years later, I of course found out all about Sylvester and what happened to him, and in the process discovered other artists, such as Klaus Nomi, who were enormously creative and also taken from us by this dreaded disease. I can never imagine what it must have been like in those early days, but I am glad that I have taken the time to honor those who were around then and ask them for their story. My generation of GLBT folk benefits from what they went through and the pain they felt that sprung them into action.

Today I will celebrate those who have left us, be thankful for those who are still with us, and most of all, and honor those who have fought and are fighting this dreaded disease.

So, in celebration, here is one of my favorite clips of Sylvester

And here is a clip from Frontline: The Age of AIDS chronicling those early, early days. You can also watch the whole program online, and it is well worth it.

If you don't remember those days...ask somebody. If you do remember those days, don't let the rest of us forget.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Up, Up, and AWAY !!

I'm always checking the PBS website for new videos to watch, and this one caught my eye. It is about people who go to crazy lengths to get frequent flyer miles. Oddly enough, I can see myself doing mileage runs. I have the time on my hand, and unlike most people, I enjoy being in airports. Besides that I'm slightly obsessive and enjoy the stimulation. I would do it for a couple of months just for the hell of it, although I'm still not sure what the point would be. Beyond that it's probably not the wisest use of my money seeing as how I don't have a car.

Watch 30,000 Feet: Frequent Flyer on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Let dukkha "do what it do"...

Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing, or at least that's how the saying goes. A Shakespearean character asked the question, "Why then, can one desire too much of a good thing?," and Mae West said that "too much of a good thing can be wonderful." Being a person who is given to over-indulgence, but also exceedingly self aware, I try to stay somewhere in the middle. (Or somewhere between moderation and indulgence.)

As I sit here alone on a Saturday night, I keep trying to remind myself of the concept of dukkha that I absorbed from Buddhism. All phenomena are impermanent. When the reality set in that tonight would be an evening of solitude, I found myself surprised that I wasn't happy with it. I had become so accustomed to it before, so much so that I preferred it.

That feeling started when I was talking to my "romantic interest" and he informed me that we wouldn't get to talk tonight because he was going to see a movie and had to run errands. My first thought was, "but we didn't get to talk last night." Thankfully I didn't utter that desperate remark, but I was alarmed by the fact that I would even think that.

I thought about "Sitting with Unsatisfactoriness" as the title for this post but decided that a little twist of the urban phrase "let it do what it do" would be better. When it all comes down to it, there isn't a better way to look it this situation and just about every situation.

Dukkha is a Buddhist term, meaning unsatisfactoriness, misery, suffering, dissatisfaction, etc. The concept is central to the Four Noble Truths, and if I take nothing else with me from Buddhism (although I certainly will) this will be it.

It's not that two nights without talking to a beau drags me into misery. But after I had already called a couple of friends to see what they were doing and they weren't available, and my mother and sister were out to dinner with people from church leaving me at home alone, a hint of despair did creep in.

It really caught me off guard. In the instant that I felt the feeling come in, I realized how some people get trapped in negative cycles of thinking, emotionally spiraling out of control. It wasn't that I actually wondered whether or not he was going to the movie or on a date with someone. The thought came up that the same circumstances would lead someone to think that. I was glad that I didn't think that, but then I was equally upset that I wouldn't allow myself to go there.

There I was at a stoplight thinking to myself, "what purpose does it serve to let your mind go on this tangent?" I could only think of one; protection from misery. Logically, I would not expect a person who I've met only once but have talked with at length, who is also 2,500 miles away to be exclusive. I'm the one who disappeared on him two years ago. Based on that fact alone I understand if he has his reservations.

In that moment, I decided that I would sit with the unsatisfactory feeling, that I would let "dukkha" arise, do its thing, and move on. I wouldn't apply superficial labels to it. I made peace with it and left inner space to see what was at its core.

I prepared my dinner of food from my first visit to Trader Joe's, and as I plated my food and poured my glass of wine, I felt what I was waiting to feel. I didn't open myself up to the world, make efforts to deepen and maintain my friendships, only to spend another night like this.

The depth and honesty of that feeling helped me to realize that spending three to four hours talking to someone on the phone wouldn't alleviate that feeling anymore than not talking to them would be the cause of it.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Lightheaded Musings

I've been focusing on losing weight lately, mainly by only eating 1500 net calories a day and getting on the treadmill 30 minutes a day. I'm not sure if I trust our scale here at home, but I may have lost three pounds so far. I've been feeling a little lightheaded over the past few days as well, but that is actually getting better.

On the personal front, I have started talking to a former romantic interest, and it is going well. The time I would have spent blogging late at night is now spent on long conversations. It feels better than it did the first time, with more openness and honesty. There wasn't necessarily deception the first time around, but perhaps the conversation is going to deeper places.

I just wonder how a real life cynic takes chances on love and romance, without all of the convenient traps and plot twists a Hollywood movie provides. Where is my Miranda Charlotte Carrie moment? Will they come? How close to those fantasy moments will reality have to come before I feel comfortable? I've already lived through or recreated my Samantha moments.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Hopefully this obstacle is the last one...

So, as expected, no contributions on the car campaign. I'm still without my own transportation, but able to get most places thanks to my mother and dear friend. Honestly, I wouldn't expect that people would give money to a person they didn't know, but I decided to do the uncharacteristic thing and ask for it anyway. The universe always provides. If you're reading this, just send me positive vibes that I don't end up with a lemon.

It is quite a bummer not to have a car, most annoyingly because I can't go to my voice lessons, nor justify paying for them when I "should" be saving for a car. As much as I hate driving, and enjoy being driven around, I think that it bothers me most that music isn't in my life right now. I told my self and my teacher that I wasn't going to let anything get in my way, and a couple of weeks later, my car completely died.

But I will bounce back, as I always do, and I think big changes are in my future for 2012. I'm just praying that I can get a decent car that is up to the challenge, for what I can afford.

A lot of people give up just before they're about to make it. You know you never know when that next obstacle is going to be the last one.
Chuck Norris

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Putting it out there and asking for help!

I'm trying to open myself up to what the universe has to offer, and I decided to start a small campaign on FundRazr to help me get a new car. I want to be optimistic that I can reach my goal, but the real point is to see what happens.

I give to Kiva regularly, along with other charities, so maybe the universe has something in store for me.

If you can't help, just tweet and retweet.


Monday, October 17, 2011

To stand where Moses stood...

Decided to come back to reading the Torah since my life has been so topsy-turvy lately. Good news: I mended the fences with my friend. Bad news: my car stopped working and isn't worth fixing. What's worse...unless the universe smiles upon me with mystery money, I will be without a car for a month.

After I read this week's parsha, I couldn't really think about what it meant to me, but after getting started on this post and reflecting on the g-dcast video from youtube, I have a couple ideas.

First off, I need to resurrect my ability to keep "the long view" in mind. If I am so blessed, it will not matter 50 years from now that I was really hurt by a friend's unconscious words, that I didn't have a car for a month, and had to inconvenience my friends and relatives for rides. I will remember that I was able to forgive and to apologize, and that people were there for me when I needed them.

Things that will matter to me 50 years from now (when I would be about to turn 82, G-d willing):
1.) Did I conquer my fear of singing?
2.) Did I find someone to share my life with?
3.) Do I have a good relationship with my family?
4.) Did I plan well enough to meet my basic needs?
5.) Did I finally learn how to keep my room/car tidy? (If I don't have a cleaning lady by then..)

Reading the account of Moses' death really put my problems into a proper perspective. It still shocks me how a backsliding Agnostic like myself is finding so many worthwhile passages in the Bible (as well as the troubling ones I already knew about.) The jury is still out with me as far as how literal the Torah/Bible is, but I felt touched by the words,
"Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses--whom the LORD singled out, face to face, for the various signs and portents that the LORD sent him to display in the land of Egypt." (Deuteronomy 34:10-11)

I feel as though so many people I know want to have grand, remarkable lives, especially people I tend to spend the most time with. (Myself included.) Of course, no one strives and hopes for the unremarkable, but along the way, so many give up, or are so focused on the unrealistic goal of being a wealthy celebrity that they lose the focus they needed to actually achieve something remarkable.

I'm beginning to think about what makes for a remarkable life, in my eyes. Although I don't expect to see G-d face to face, as Moses did, I hope to be a person who learned to be conscious of my actions, without being hindered by self-consciousness. Like Moses, I hope to have a long and healthy life. Like Moses, I want to deliver people from bondage, but in more figurative ways, such as kids like me who were bullied and teased, and adults like me who learned not to let their light shine bright, but instead to install a dimmer switch.

I feel optimistic that elevating my consciousness and listening to my inner voice will lead me where I need to go. Reading the Torah, I've learned, won't hurt either. I hope that I live my life with constant awareness that one day I will stand on my own Mount Nebo, and that I cast aside petty disputes, rise above trivial annoyances, and find the strength to fight the true battles that need to be fought.

That might be the key to a remarkable life.

Here's the video that got me thinking . . .

Friday, October 14, 2011

Becoming what I believe . . .

Went to the library, checked out the following:

The Fabulous Sylvester by Joshua Gamson
Sassy: The Life of Sarah Vaughan by Leslie Gourse (reading for the second time)
These are the Words: A Vocabulary of Jewish Spiritual Life
by Arthur Green
Jazz Singers: The great song stylists in their own words edited by Paul Roland

That seems like quite a lot to read before the due date, but I read the Sarah Vaughan biography over a weekend a couple of years ago.

I'm trying to follow Oprah's mantra, "You become what you believe." So if I fill my head and heart with Judaism and music, maybe in a few years I'll be a Jewish jazz singer.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Trapped in the life of another

I was watching Oprah's Lifeclass last night and one of the last questions asked was by an audience member who felt trapped inside someone else's life.

I'm not sure I could have articulated that question myself because emotionally I was stuck somewhere else, but in the instant I heard it, I was stopped in my tracks.

I've been in this situation before. I don't say no when I need to. I suffer from the need to be a good friend, even to be point when inconvenience turns into trapped.

In many ways I'm thankful for my mother always teaching me that helping someone may not always be convenient. Emergencies aren't scheduled, calenders aren't synced between people in need and people who can help. The problem is drawing the line.

Oprah and her guest continued to say that continuing to deny your own needs leads to resentment. I've seen that before, but I'm not so sure that the resentment was at the surface. My resentment more closely resembled a pervasive negativity and pessimism.

In the end, I cannot reclaim the things that I denied myself. No one can give them back to me, and I think only after I couldn't do it anymore and things got a little nasty, did the resentment come in.

Maybe a little gratitude on the part of the other person would have had a different result, but in the end I can only be concerned with my own personal growth. I have learned the consequences of not saying no, and am welcoming in the power of forgiveness.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.
- Gandhi

I have found it necessary to think about forgiveness, specifically forgiveness that will probably never be accompanied by an apology. I think the fact that I don't expect an apology from said person makes me even more resistant to forgiving them. However, wisdom tells me that it doesn't matter.

No amount of bitterness that I harbor will affect another person, it only affects me. I've always been able to forgive a person as long as I never wanted to be around them again or we were blood relatives. But it's time for a bigger lesson.

I realized what that lesson was last night while listening to a Yom Kippur sermon by Rabbi Sharon Brous (my favorite rabbi) in which she warned against being a person who loved all humanity but doesn't know how to love another human being.

In many ways, I feel as though the latter part of that statement is the test I am going through. I am used to dismissing people from my life who have hurt me without ever feeling a tinge of leftover bitterness for humanity in general. But now the test is to move forward from being hurt by someone you otherwise expected to have in your life for a while.

Maya Angelou says that the ego holds, but love liberates. Perhaps the true liberation I need is to learn to love, forgive, and accept the nastiness brought up by two egos clinging to their positions. I thought I knew everything about egos when I read Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth, but hearing those words from Maya Angelou moved mountains in my consciousness.

It seems contradictory that a softening of the heart will strengthen and liberate, but I will give it a try.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Reclaiming "my stuff"

I usually write the title first when I post, and then the body, but I can't really think of one right now. A lot has gone on that has kept me from blogging, singing, and otherwise engaging in activities that I find enriching and I want to allow my stream of consciousness to flow.

I've been thinking a lot lately about what one owes a friend. When you do everything you can to support a friend and they don't appreciate it, and in fact are nasty to you in return, at what point should you feel a little codependent? Is there a line of devotion that you shouldn't cross with a friend because it will cost you too much to come back to your center.

I've been having big conflicts with a friend. I've been thinking of some of this persons actions as unappreciative, but then I think about the fact that a person doesn't know what you give up doing to help them. Time that could have been spent learning the piano, singing, and tending to my own "garden" was spent to help someone else, and when they lashed their tongue at me I left feeling like I had been robbed.

It makes me think of Ntozake Shange's poem, "somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff". It doesn't have to be a lover, and given some of my experiences over the past year, I don't think it even has to be a person. Whatever lost cause has a person consumed, devoted, and eventually exhausted will all feel the same in the end.

However, I don't think I could be less of a friend. I like being the type of friend who is there through thick and thin, who will drop what they're doing for a friend in need. I guess I'm just learning (again) that it does come at a cost, and I should have boundaries.

On a different note, I REALLY enjoyed the High Holy Days. I have said repeatedly that the days I spent there were the best I've had all year (Roman calender). For someone who eschews organized religion, I have already made plans to go back for Shabbat next week.

In hindsight I overestimated the number of curious gazes I would get, along with my level of reaction to them. Overall I found people to be curious and welcoming, and cherish the privilege of going to someone's home for Rosh Hashanah.

That is where I also had my first taste of gefilte fish. It was so delicious and homemade. I must get the recipe. I could tell it was made from cod, and I absolutely love cod.

So, I've gotten 5772 off to a good start, and had a great introductory Jewish experience. Now I just have to decide when and where to convert...but I will take my time.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Fasting and food fantasies

I have been home for about an hour after leaving the Kol Nidre service. I am fasting as well, and anytime I go without food, I always take note of what I end up craving.

When I gave up meat for 30 days, I craved ham. When I was convalescing in Thailand and couldn't eat solid food for seven days, I craved cheeseburgers. Not sure what I'll crave this time, but I do have leftovers that someone gave me from their pre-fast dinner.

Tonight's was the third service I've attended. I take it as a MONUMENTAL sign that I still feel drawn into Judaism and at home. I haven't gotten that feeling in any other religious environments, not even in Buddhism.

Time to start learning Hebrew...

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Shanah Tovah!

Last night and this morning I experienced my first Rosh Hashanah services. I'm still taking it all in, and I will definitely write at length about it in a while, but I wanted to share my first thoughts, as I am just finally getting home.

First I can just say that I found the experiences to be completely enjoyable. I loved the music, the words we recited, and of course, the Shofar.

I didn't feel as much like a foreigner as I thought I would. For most of the services people read from the book just as I did, although there were certain times that everyone knew the words from memory.

I felt even more welcome as a guest in someone's home afterwards. Everyone was warm and welcoming.

All in all, it was my first Jewish experience, and it was great.

Monday, September 26, 2011

I'm back . . .

Finally back online after my move. Lots happening this week, will update tomorrow. Just wanted to let my "readers" know that I haven't fallen off of a cliff.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


For the few who read this blog . . . . I moved AGAIN, but this new move will be more permanent.

I learned today exactly what I am doing wrong with my tongue, like pulling it back in my throat while speaking and singing. Now I have to practice with a mirror and tongue depressor, to be aware of how much my tongue is moving. Knowing, as they say, is half the battle.

I had my first Jewish experience as well, when I went to a Shiva Minyan for a dear friend's mother, and I will write about that later, as well.

I also went to Chicago...more details to come.

As for's time to move my computer to the new place.

Hasta la vista baby!!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mothers and Zen Masters

Three friends of mine have lost their mothers in the past couple of months. I can't imagine a more earth shattering event, except losing a child.

I can't think of any relationship more intimate than a mother and child. We come out of our mother's body. The food she eats, the things she listens to, and the hormones running through our veins have lasting effects on our health and longevity.

Sometimes I gaze at my mother, almost incredulous that at one point I lived in her abdomen. I can hardly imaging that I lived in her womb with no concept of tomorrow or yesterday. A time so long ago when I didn't know what food was, what pain was, what music was, and didn't need to worry about a thing. I grew limbs, fingers, and toes without an ounce of effort or yearning.

Wayne Dyer says that an infant in the womb is the epitome of a Zen master, who just exists and depends on G-d for everything. If everything goes right we come into the world and our mothers show us the best way they try and take over that role to the best of their ability. To provide for us without us worrying, to answer our cries, to show us how to strive for things in the world without being consumed by the process.

We incur collateral damage from our parents' foibles and shortcomings, and may spend a lifetime healing or trying to erase it. We pile on insecurities, doubt, jealousy, and desire as we make our way in the world, but no matter what we go through and what wounds we accumulate, we always hold a special place in our heart for the ones who knew us when we were Zen masters . . .

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Celebrity Dehydration

Tom Jones cancelled a concert today due to "severe dehydration". He is currently in the hospital in Monaco. In my world, that means a bad hangover.

Maybe he is actually ill, or possibly even ill with something he wants to keep a secret, but I always think back on an article I read a while ago about celebrity "dehydration" and "exhaustion". I can't find that article, but I did find another one here. Lady Gaga, Kelly Rowland, Mariah Carey and a long list of others have all been hospitalized for conditions that normal people wouldn't want to waste an insurance claim on. Why don't real people get so exhausted and dehydrated that they need stints in the hospital? We bring bottled water with us and we take naps when necessary.

Tom Jones is too old for me to assume he's using the publicity machine the way today's young starlets do, but it did give me a chuckle to think about the hidden meaning these conditions have in celebrity press releases.

In case you need a refresher on how today's star making machine works, here is a primer...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Name Change

I decided to change the name of the blog to "The Timid Chanteuse." Although I have no vision for a "brand" based on overcoming my barriers to singing, I think it does give a clear idea of what the main point of this blog is, even if I do write about religion, spirituality, or assorted topics on occasion. I also joined twitter, under the same moniker, so I might as well be consistent.

Also, one of the main problems with my singing is my lack of confidence, so the title is appropriate.

So, now on to a chanteuse who is not timid, Donna Summer. I have fallen in love with her version of The Way We Were and her voice in general. I listened to it on repeat for almost 30 minutes after purchasing it on iTunes. This has to be my all time favorite version, even though I do "love me some Barbra Streisand!!"

Monday, August 22, 2011

You can take a girl out of mysticism, but ....

Though I am still a wannabe Jew (not yet in training) I feel the need to write about mystical experiences I have, one of which occurred today.

I've always loosely believed in chakras, but had no practical use for that belief. Recently, however, I've experienced strong impulses towards certain color auras during meditation.

I first experienced this a couple of months ago when I felt a warming presence during meditation, almost as if I was being touched physically. I sensed a purple aura, almost as a warm comforting embrace. I sat and meditated for over 30 minutes (I usually just do 20) and felt transformed by the experience. Days later I resumed writing my blog after a LONG break.

I couldn't really let go of that experience and after a couple of days and meditation sessions, I still felt this purple "aura-presence". I decided to look into chakras, since I remembered that each one has a color and to see what it represented.

To make a long story short, the indigo chakra represents intuition and self responsibility. It kind of propelled me to get more serious about singing and music and to take true action, by trusting my intuition that singing and making music is something I should do.

So today I sat down to meditate and, though my meditations since then have been pretty normal and standard relaxation mechanisms, I was looking for insight into tension I've been feeling lately and thought I would leave myself open to whatever energy wanted to present itself today.

The color was green. A result so mystical and "spot-on" that the skeptical part of me can't rationalize it. I've realized that there really is no need to. If these spiritual tools have been leading me down a path of healing, growth, and insight, there is no need for an empirical investigation.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Finding the courage to be myself

I turned down an invitation to party till dawn at The Connection tonight. On one hand, I don't really want to be a regular fixture there, and on the other hand, I don't want to do anymore damage to my vocal cords. It just gets too loud there and I was more concerned about that than anything else. I even stopped myself from having a cigarette yesterday, when smoking is something I do so rarely that I never deny myself the pleasure. I really want to get serious about singing and it's going to definitely be a holistic (and Herculean) effort. I found a little encouragement that I'm on the right track from a Huffington Post article about three simple steps to finding the courage to be yourself. Here are the steps, with my own commentary.

1) Knowledge Is Power

According to the writer, you must know your passions and capabilities. Just the other day I sat back and remembered my first year and a half in college when I would do all of my homework assignments weeks in advance, always stayed caught up on my work, and had a 4.0. I wonder where that person is, or if life just gets too complicated to keep up a pace like that?

I don't think it will help my singing to go overboard like that, but I really could use some of that focus and drive to learn my jazz piano voicings. It will definitely help me learn songs beyond "plunking" out the melody. I definitely can't let myself off the hook on this one knowing what I am capable of.

2) Get Into The Flow

Music has always gotten me into the flow. ALWAYS. I actually can't listen to music when I need to focus on something else. If I need to focus, I turn on the tv, talk radio, or NPR. My whole desire to sing is driven from the need to be engage in the transcendental process of making music.

3) Embody What You Believe In

Here the writer quotes Gandhi:
"[h]appiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony."

When I practiced Nichiren Buddhism, part of the reason why we looked at the script of "Nam Myoho Renge Kyo" while chanting it is to unify our mind and action. If you are staring at the law of cause and effect, and chanting it at the same time, you are creating this sort of unity and getting into the flow as mentioned before.

I need to release the performer that I know is within me, I need to embody the performer that I know is within me, and I need to put her on display for everyone to see.

It's funny that my main vocal flaw right now is that I'm singing in a manner that amplifies my voice more in my own head instead of out in the open where others can hear it. That's where my hidden singing diva is performing her songs as well. She knows how to spin a song, how to be a vamp, how to be innocent and funny. The only problem is, she's always played to an audience of one, and she needs someone besides me to be her biggest fan.

I may have to feign courage for a while, but in the end I can accept nothing less than a complete expression of all parts of me. Getting over my fear of singing (in front of others) is only step one.

The writer finishes with this quote from Steve Jobs:
"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life... Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Swollen cords...

Went to my vocal lesson today, and I was advised to hold off on singing the rest of the day. I wouldn't have known it, but my teacher said my vocal cords sound swollen and I sounded fatigued in general.

I had a long weekend with a friend that started with partying and turned a little more serious when he got some troubling news. Then there were long, anxious nights.

Everything is okay with him now, and except for me being worn out and apparently having swollen, fatigued vocal cords, I'm okay as well.

This weekend I will be doing my first "Jewish thing" at the Temple. A shabbat dinner for 20 and 30 somethings, and a viewing of an Israeli tv show. I'm very nervous, but I'm sure everything will be fine. After that I will be going to my mother's to help prepare a birthday dinner for my great-grandmother who turns 96 on Saturday!!

I also got assigned my first song, "Why did I choose you" Here is a clip of Nana Mouskouri singing the song in 1976. I chose her version because it's a little lower than Streisand's.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Settling in

I'm settling in to my new place on the opposite side of town. Went from living with my mother and sister to having two roommates. I'm getting excited about the number of international eateries and grocers on this side of town, but I have to get used to the drive.

Voice lesson tomorrow. It will be my fourth so far and the first hour long lesson. I'm having to leave my comfort zone, and remember a lot of stuff at one time. It reminds me of when I learned how to drive. I was so overwhelmed by having to look at the speedometer, the side and rear view mirrors, not to mention looking ahead, but eventually it became second nature.

This weeks fixation is Donna Summer, who I can't believe is about to turn 63. She looks and sounds great. This clip is from October 2010 at David Foster's televised "Hit Man Returns" concert.

Friday, August 5, 2011

More DSB

So...I can't watch any recent video of Dame Shirley Bassey (one of my inspirations) without posting it. Besides that, it's the easiest thing for me to post today since I will be moving to a new place and will dismantle my computer for a few hours.

Here is DSB singing "Diamonds are Forever" earlier this year (at age 74) at the John Barry Memorial. John Barry, of course, wrote all of those enduring James Bond hits.

She's still got it!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Elizabeth Gilbert and Creativity

Today I was moved by Elizabeth Gilbert's TED Talk on Creativity. I generally love anything that she writes or says, and she didn't disappoint in this talk either.

I may be taking a brief hiatus over the next two weeks as I will be moving. I've got changes in mind for this blog as well, and hope to get more readers and comments as time goes on.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Rio Daydreams

I'm taking a break from serious topics like religion, etc. To be honest, IT'S TOO DARN HOT !!!! After suffering through this unbearable heat and humidity here in Kentucky, I just want to come in the house, drink a glass of wine, and figure out what I need to do to be singing by this time next year. What could be better than inspiring myself with music I love.

I have had a love affair with Brazilian music since I was 15. The music and the voices had such an impact on me then that I started teaching myself Portuguese. Of course, then I was a nerdy teenager with a penchant for languages who daydreamed about being an expat and playing music. Now I'm a nerdy 32 year old, coming back around to those same dreams having been through a couple of renovations and detours. With this heat and humidity, I couldn't think of a better place to daydream about than Rio.

First up is a clip of Elis Regina, probably the best known Brazilian singer, and one of NPR's "50 Great Voices". She, (along with Sarah, Ella, and Aretha) is a singer I CANNOT live without hearing on a regular basis.

Continuing with more music I love, I will share one more clip of Tania Maria, someone whose name I read many times in listings of great musicians and singers from Brazil, but never took the time to listen to until a couple of months ago, when a song of hers came up on Pandora. I seriously was missing out. Now I spend whole days with her albums Via Brasil 1 and Via Brasil 2 playing on repeat and drift off into musical ecstasy. Here is a clip of one of my favorite songs of hers.

Stay cool, wherever you are !!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Singing and Living Through the Low Notes

I learned a little something about the vocal bubble I've squeezed myself into over the years during my lesson on Wednesday. It's going to be the one of the non-physical barriers to singing (and maybe living in general) that I need to get over to make any progress.

I've been told by four different voice teachers that I have pure, beautiful tone in the "top" of my voice, and I have used this bit of information to help me persevere in my dream to sing. The only problem is, one's head voice only goes down so far, and especially in commercial (non-classical) music, I am going to have to negotiate these low notes.

The logical part of my brain knows that women sing below middle C. The emotional part of my brain is telling me that I shouldn't. Even though I speak in that range (as most American women do) and don't get called "Sir" (as my mother often does), I have a terrible hesitation and mental block to singing in that range.

The funny thing is, I LOVE to hear female voices that almost sound like baritones in their low range. Actually, that is one of the most prized qualities of Sarah Vaughan's voice, and she is my favorite singer of all time. I also fell in love with Jessica Reedy's husky female voice, and here is a clip of her singing a couple of LOW riffs. (Only 39 sec)

Her voice truly amazes me, and I saw its impact first hand when I watched that show with a group of people who were blown away. But part of me thinks people wouldn't be blown away if those notes came out of someone with my past.

What this all really brings to my attention is the fact that in order to sing, become a Jew, find a partner, or just to live the full life I'm dreaming for myself, I have to stop worrying about how people will react, and just put myself out there. Maybe I'll learn something about negotiating life's low notes and discomfort in general.

On a separate note, I also want to pay some respect to Amy Winehouse, a husky contralto voice that was taken away from us too soon. Here is one of my favorite songs of hers.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Off and Running

I want to post this trailer because I have been drawn in by it. As an aspiring Jew of Color, I get excited over the stories of other Jews of Color, either by birth or by choice. The subject of this documentary is African American, yet adopted by two Jewish lesbians and of course, raised Jewish.

As of yet, I've only seen the trailer and the additional video clips on the PBS website, but I will definitely be purchasing this film next week (it's on iTunes). I remember wanting to be Jewish as a teenager, without any idea that I would convert, or what that would even involve.

I had Jewish friends in middle and high school, but I distinctly remember one person who was a redhead with blue eyes. One time in middle school we (a group of non-Jewish white kids and myself) questioned if he was really Jewish because he didn't look like the other Jewish kids in school, and he answered that his dad converted. Fast forward fifteen years to all the things swirling around in my head now, and I have a completely different perspective. I wonder, "was his mother Jewish?" Even five years ago I wouldn't have had any context for that question.

Just thinking about the film without having even seen it stirs up so many issues. I still wonder if it will matter to me that I won't ever "look Jewish". I obviously can't have children and would have to adopt and I wonder how they will feel. Would some man's Bubbe not want him to marry a Jew of Color by Choice, one who had their gender reassigned? My therapist would say that I'm borrowing trouble from the future, however borrowing trouble from the future is one of the few times where I haven't had trouble getting a loan despite my bad credit.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Two Great Singers I Had Never Heard Of

I don't want to write a lot today, seeing as how I'll probably have plenty to write over the weekend. Stressful events over the past few days have opened up a need for some spiritual healing and deep thinking this weekend about what really matters to me. Well, I guess I already know what's important to me so I need to refocus on those things and move beyond the setbacks.

I also don't want to write anything serious, so I'm posting music clips from youtube.

The first is of Marsha Ambrosius, a British neo-soul singer. I CAN'T BELIEVE I HAD NEVER HEARD OF HER !! I was so impressed during her performance on the BET Awards a couple of weeks ago. I've been trying to find a good clip to put on here, and the one I like the most is or the rehearsal for the BET Awards, where she did a fabulous job. Unfortunately all of the clips that were on youtube of the actual performance were removed for copyright reasons.

The next singer I'd never heard of but fell in love with is Sophie Milman, a jazz singer. My friend Aaron posted this clip on my facebook page and I was immediately mesmerized. I then went on an iTunes shopping spree (maybe a mini spree, as I have done way more damage before.)

I also love this song, "Eli Eli"


Monday, July 11, 2011

The Taming of the Wannabe Jew

I read another chapter of Judaism as a Civilization over the weekend and have been attempting to write this post over the past three days. Every time I would read something that struck me I would automatically type the quote into blogger. I ended up with six excerpts that I planned to write about, but thankfully I whittled that down to two.

Of course, I skipped around as I did with the first chapter I read, and this time it was, "The Folk Aspect of the Jewish Religion." I have to say that this chapter ranks high on my list of writings that transformed my way of thinking. The chapter is basically about the role of personal and folk religion in life, both ancient and modern, but it also helped center my focus on one of the central issues in my life at the moment. Before I read this I have found it hard to even begin to answer the question, "Why do you want to be Jewish?" He also talks about how religion helped to tame the self-seeking instincts of man. Instincts that once helped me go against the grain in life, that I am now trying to tame as well.

I think this chapter helps me answer an even larger question that I couldn't answer even in a conversation last week. "Why be religious at all?" Everyone has always known me to be a deeply spiritual person, and to be "spiritual, not religious" is so common that it's often a box you can check off on a questionnaire. That was always enough for me until lately.

My home in Buddhism was inadequate, because I found some forms practiced by "Westerners" to be too focused on retreating through meditative practices. This is not good for a person with social anxiety issues and occasional tendencies towards agoraphobic behavior. All of a sudden the solution to every problem was to sit at home meditating, chanting, and lighting candles. I believe that this is why Buddhism has not been enough for me. Practicing with the Soka Gakkai gave me a set of rituals and a welcoming comunity, but an overly simplified belief system that never was enough.

Mr. Kaplan had something interesting to say about belief sytems...

"Judging from the nature of the beliefs usually stressed in the historical religions, it seems that emphasis always went with incredibility, as though their being in conflict with reason enabled them to test the loyalty of the individual to his group. In fact, there seems to be a great deal of truth in the witticism that a religious dogma is a doctrine which people have ceased to believe."(p.335)

I will never discount the negative effect of growing up in a fundamentalist Christian sect that offered little in the way of folk religion. I just had to believe the world was coming to an end in a short matter of time, deny myself any "questionable" pleasures of this world, and spread the word door to door. Any failings in these areas, I could blame on Satan's persuasion and persecution. I never really believed in Satan, but of course, I was told that was just Satan convincing me that he didn't exist to lure me out of "The Truth".

So much of what has touched me in my quest is how Judaism is more (at least in the things I've read) about doing than believing, and that doing things according to this set of principles is what can lead you to greater awareness and appreciation. Until reading this chapter and the way he differentiates folk religion and personal religion, I never understood the needs I was trying to meet through all of my spiritual exploration over the years. But now I get it. After finding my own personal religion and set of beliefs (or at least deeply held thoughts) I'm looking for folk religion, for something to do that will elevate my thinking and actions above my own interests and predilections.

Being a polyglot, post-op, African American, transgender, aspiring singer with Attention Deficit Disorder I thought my religious journey and issues I'm struggling with were as unique as the path that got me here. Intuitively I know that human nature doesn't change, and I use that knowledge to be a compassionate person, but somehow reading something that completely describes inner workings and urges that I had no words for has been very exciting.

"Primitive man, no doubt, resorted to praising his deity as a means of eliciting favors from him. But in the higher civilizations, when the pious sang praises to God they gave utterance to the ineffable delight they derived from communion with him...To areticulate that experience in the midst of a worshipping throng is a spiritual necessity of the normal man. He needs it as a means of affirming the meaning of life and of renewing his spirit." (p. 347)

It has been so easy for me to think that my needs are unique, that my struggles are as unique as they appear when I compare them to what I currently see in those around me. Now I can no longer continue along that line of thinking, and I would say, mystically, that Mordecai Kaplan read my mind (except that he wrote this book in 1934).

It is so much more comforting to realize that the problems I have and the path I am taking are nothing new. Reading this book feels like an embrace, saying to me that I'm not alone in my struggles and the issues that have isolated me from religion and urges that bring me back. I have found through reading stories of conversion, through reading Torah, and especially through reading Judaism as a Civilization, that this is not the case.

That is so refreshing.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Not where I want to be, but not where I used to be . . .

I didn't make it to temple today. I got finished with my day way too late, and the person I was going with did not feel like going this week. It's a good thing I found those streaming services online. I'll be getting a late start, but I'll be up late tonight anyway.

I had a moment today where I just paused and thought to myself, "I'm so glad I'm in my thirties". Every once in a while something will happen and I'll remember how that would have affected me when I was twenty-five. I'll notice how I actively cultivate friendships now, when I used to think all you had to do to get new "friends" was to start going to Happy Hour at a different bar.

Times have changed, and even though I have more growing to do, it has been good to see how far I've come.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Opposing polarities

I'm starting to feel a little pathetic because I told both my mother and a close friend that I no longer care whether or not I ever find "that someone". I really don't mean that in any depressing kind of way, but I'm starting to realize that if given a choice between a fulfilling romantic life or a successful and fulfilling career, I would probably choose the latter. I even said the tragic words that I wouldn't care if I was celibate for the rest of my life. Well, I might be exaggerating on the last one. . .

I guess there really are a couple of things going on here. Up until I was about 27, the #1 priority was being involved with someone, usually the wrong someone. By the time I knew better I had also learned that focusing on other paths to self-fulfillment was reaping bigger rewards.

It doesn't help that I'm a painfully shy person who occasionally morphs into an extrovert. I've read about so many of my favorite performers who either confess to being painfully shy as well, or are described that way by others, so I guess maybe it makes sense that I would have these opposing polarities. I know how to strut my stuff, but turn into a 13 year old if a man I don't already know strikes up a conversation with me. Heaven help me if I'm interested in him as well.

It's crazy and completely true, but I'd rather speak in front of a thousand people than let someone know I'm interested in them. I hold on tightly to the idea that every crush and infatuation will dissipate with time, as long as I'm not foolish enough (as I have been recently) confide in the wrong person. (Note to self: Only share your crushes with people who also believe that if left alone, they will vanish into thin air.)

I couldn't find a video of Aretha's 1971 performance of Mixed Up Girl at the Fillmore West (I have the CD), but I found a version by Thelma Houston. I think of myself when I hear this song.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Miscellaneous updates...

I have fully recovered from my fall into Tea Party madness. Whew!! I actually spent a couple of hours yesterday getting a a more balanced perspective of the Federal Reserve system and fractional reserve banking. I'm now aware of the advantages and problems with an elastic money supply. I'll also know exactly what it means when the Federal Reserve buys Treasury bonds, which it will be doing to the tune of $25 billion monthly, until further notice. Here is a link to the Planet Money article that started this whole intellectual excursion. I guess I can add monetary policy to the list of potential topics I might blog about.

More exciting things are on the horizon in my life as well. Today is my first singing lesson (of my third round of lessons, that is). I know I won't be doing much singing, mainly breathing. Also today is the launch of the Fall/Winter 2011 edition of Louisville Bride Magazine, in which I have a styling credit. At end the week, I'm supoosed to go to The Temple for Kabbalat Shabbat.

Off to my lesson...

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Creation of Money

For some reason I have been watching documentaries about our monetary system all day long. I'm not exactly sure how I went off on this tangent, but my search for "finance documentaries" led me to this page, where I have spent most of my day.

I have learned all about the perils of the Federal Reserve system, and the impending financial disaster that will dwarf any that we have seen so far. Part of me was getting swept up in the momentum, and but a larger part of me was having flashbacks of all the Armageddon craziness I grew up with as a child. Some of what I heard even sounded like Tea Party conspiracy theory.

Could it really be all doom and gloom as some of these people are predicting? Maybe so. I think people are so irrational when it comes to money and have no clue how the monetary system works that it will all be perpetuated until it becomes painfully obvious that it is not working. I didn't realize until today that money now represents debt instead of value.

It also never occurred to me that money actually disappears from our money supply when a debt is paid off, since the bank created that money out of thin air in the first place, and must create more debt to replace it (in the system as a whole). I really thought there was gold in a vault somewhere, even though I know I've listened to debates about going back to the "gold standard" on NPR.

In the end, I'm sure we'll eventually get more regulation and come to some sort of balance. But I'll be looking into urban homesteading and living off the grid...just in case.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Bringing myself to the Torah

I started reading Judaism as a Civilization today, and in my usual fashion, I did not start at the beginning. I skipped to the chapter on the Torah as a way of life. Something about the title of that chapter spoke to me, and though I wanted to start at the beginning of the book, I just had to read this chapter first.

Although I'm not done reading the chapter yet, I felt the need to stop and blog about a realization I just had. I remember when I first began to formally practice Nichiren Buddhism in 2007, I was having a hard time with the concept of the Gohonzon, which is the scroll that Nichiren Buddhists enshrine, and chant in front of.

Through years of independent Buddhist practice, I learned the value of meditation and chanting. I didn't even have a problem with a Buddha figure, but when people at SGI were talking me into getting a Gonhonzon, I really didn't see the point, and for some reason, I even felt uncomfortable about it.

This discomfort went away when I read an analogy between the Gohonzon and other pieces of paper that we assign meaning to such as money. A scroll with Chinese script hanging in a wooden cabinet does not have inherent meaning or power, just as a piece of paper with Benjamin Franklin's picture and the number 100 has no meaning to someone who has no frame of reference for it. We are taught these things, buy into these things, and then use them move through the world.

I've realized that some of my issues and stumbling blocks in beginning my conversion relate to a similar hesitation to give the Torah meaning and power in my life. Though I was able to make a mental and spiritual leap in Nichiren Buddhism, coming back around to familiar names like Leviticus and Deuteronomy put me back into an old frame of reference. In some ways I've felt that accepting liberal interpretations of scripture was lower on a spiritual hierarchy, despite the fact that I vehemently do not believe in taking things literally.

But as a friend commented, you bring your whole self to the Torah. I think that is definitely what makes it a living and relevant force and symbol in a person's life. If I as a trans person can only experience its power by conforming to something that is against my nature, then it serves no purpose and has no symbolism in my life. I think the Torah becomes more beautiful and powerful when it becomes the source of "trans" liberation, queer liberation, heroic inspiration, or maybe just a way to make it through ordinary life in any era.

When I was 20 years old and feared I was backsliding into Satan's world of things, I left a desperate message at a Kingdom Hall in the middle of the night. I told them that I felt like Satan was tempting me. I did not share with them that I had been exploring some of my issues with gender and my attraction to men. On some level, I really think at the time my subconscious mind was responding to the level of risk of meeting people online and basically being naive. This was in 1999 when meeting online was sort of a new thing, as was the internet in general.

They came a couple of days later, with their Bibles and Watchtowers in tow. They told me that we as humans were not wise enough to discern right from wrong, and that the Bible provided explicit instructions for how we were supposed to live. They also said that the presence of my guilty conscience over my actions was some kind of evidence that Satan had led me astray.

I still remember standing there and literally having two currents going through my mind and body. One current told me that these people were right, that Satan had lured me away from the flock, and that the outside world (especially college, they mentioned) was a dangerous place. The other, and thankfully more powerful current, said that even though I had no other worldview at the moment and couldn't argue with them, there had to be a better answer out there.

Writing this post is like creating a empty space in my consciousness for a new understanding of and relationship with the Torah and with sacred writings in general. However, I must always remember the danger of the old ways of framing and seeing those same words.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Karen Armstrong, The Freelance Monotheist

"People equate religious faith with believing things."

"A lot of religious people prefer to be right rather than compassionate."

Most of all when mentioning Hillel's summary of the Torah ... “Do not do unto others as you would not have done unto you. That is the Torah. The rest is commentary. Go and study"

Just a few of Karen Armstrong's words that moved me to reconnect with a religious practice. No one else ever described the need for religion, the legitimacy of wrestling with religious concepts and ideas, and the emphasis on behavior and doing rather than believing. It doesn't matter whether the ideas new, hearing her perspective completely reoriented me. Whatever they awakened in me, they have led me to Judaism.

Below is a video of her TED Talk (about 20 min), and here is a link to her interview that truly changed my spiritual life on what was then called Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett, (now On Being) "The Freelance Monotheism of Karen Armstrong."

Monday, June 27, 2011

My first date with Torah !

Today I read Torah!! I couldn't actually believe I was doing it. I read intently, and even read some parts more than once.

It may seem insignificant, but I haven't even picked up a Bible and opened its pages in about 10 years. I can distinctly remember throwing away a Bible a couple of years ago. I vowed that I would never allow any religious babble to brainwash me the way I had been in the past. I guided myself through the next few years with sessions on a therapist's couch, and episodes from Oprah and Sex and the City. I take comfort in knowing every episode (from every season) of Sex and the City, and the fact that I can recommend one for any particular problem a person is going through means that 55 Torah portions will be a piece of cake (to remember the gist and details, that is).

So a couple of years, a gender reassignment, and a few trials and tribulations later, I've learned that those same stories that I could never accept are giving me reassurance. I remember book studies and Bible studies as a child and teenager where I constantly heard about how Satan controlled the world's rulers and how the Bible had already predicted the horrible state of the world and the "Last Days" we live in. It was so refreshing to read this weeks Parshat Chukat and delve deep beyond the words that were written onto the page into something that strengthens me.

I've been watching videos from on youtube lately, but this is the first week that I've actually read the Torah portion, mainly because I just got my copy of the Tanakh from the Jewish Publication Society last week.

Here is the G-dcast video for this weeks Parshat Chukat (Numbers 19:1 - 22:1), I also read other writings on the parshat that focused on the red heifer, or Moses's anger, or Aaron and the kiss of death, but I was really inspired by this video, especially as I am looking beyond myself for healing and direction at this particular time in my life.

So on my first date with Torah, I think this might be the start of something special....
To Be Continued. . .

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Summer Fun

I had the best time this weekend lounging around in an $80 pool from Big Lots and drinking on a box of Pinot Grigio with a good friend. Between the lounging, ordering food, and watching Will and Grace DVD's, it was like a mini vacation, months worth of therapy, and weeks of visits to the tanning bed all wrapped in one.

It was a great time spent dreaming, planning, and relaxing....the first "real" summer experience I've had in about 2 years.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Inside of a Dog

Okay, so I've already mentioned my love of dogs, but since I'm too busy to have one, I'll have to just read about them, watch videos of them on online, and spend lots of time at my dog owning friends' houses.

A couple of weeks ago on CBS Sunday Morning, they examined our love of pets of all kinds, but they also had a segment focused on dog intelligence. It's crazy to think that there are border collies out there who can recognize hundreds of words, which, in my biased mind I think a cat could never do. I later watched a video about this topic on the PBS show, Nova Science Now, which I have always loved. the full episode. See more NOVA scienceNOW.

So apparently Border Collies have been selectively bred over generations for the CTNND2 gene (of course nobody knew that at the time) and this gene is connected to cognitive abilities in humans. I find that sooooo amazing. It kind of makes me want a Border Collie. I'm still partial to my Shih Tzu's, they really seem like little furry humans.

I finally ordered Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz after seeing her on the CBS Sunday Morning episode I mentioned earlier. It just arrived today and I have barely been able to put it down.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Lightening Up

Even though I try not to write this as a journal, and at least imagine that people are reading it, I sometimes feel like the less serious side of me is not worth writing about. I haven't even shown how I truly make it through life by finding the humorous and sunny side of everything.

Of course, since I'm making progress on some of the big issues I've been writing about lately, such as singing and "finding religion" (so to speak), I sometimes forget about the blog completely.

So here's a list of what's missing in my life, and potential themes that will be running through my upcoming posts, be they light and fluffy, or stone cold serious.

1. A spiritual/religious tradition and community
2. A musical/artistic outlet
3. A Man (at least 5'9", nerdy and naughty, and not a neat freak)
4. A safe neighborhood where I can live, work, play, and walk everywhere (without a man in a beige Oldsmobile from the 1980's following me)
5. A city that as least has light rail or some form of public transportation that isn't just used or believed to be used by the disadvantaged.
6. After finally getting all this, I'd like to get another dog, preferably a Shih Tzu. (which I will not sell to a friend when I go back to school, only for them to then move to Las Vegas and start beauty school themselves.)

Monday, June 20, 2011

What happened to my deep thoughts?

Over the past week I helped a friend grieve the death of his mother, and helped another friend make plans for her wedding next week. I gave my father his "best Father's Day" ever, and watched some inspiring documentaries.

I've basically been doing lots of little things for people that had bigger impacts than the grand gestures I would have planned on doing. Spontaneous events usually bring out the most authentic reactions out of me, and maybe others.

In other news, I finally met with my voice instructor and we had great chemistry and equal levels of enthusiasm about where this could go. It was a great experience and I once again feel less like a dreamer and more of a doer.

I just need to focus on staying committed, and as I've learned with so many other struggles and victories, the small gestures and small battles have much more of an impact than grand gestures and proclamations. Waiting for the opportunity for a grand gesture just leads me into procrastination.

I was soooo moved by a documentary I watched on hulu yesterday, and it renewed my faith in the importance of treasuring one's gifts, persevering, and letting that take you wherever it is you are supposed to go.

The movie is called Only When I Dance, and it shows how the gift of dance lifted a poor teenage boy from a favela in Rio, took him around the world, and eventually to the American Ballet Theater (where he is still dancing). It has subtitles which are easy to get over because the dance scenes are amazing.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Dana International

Today's post contains none of my inner workings, just clips of Dana International, the Israeli transsexual singing sensation. I remember seeing her picture and a small blurb about her win at Eurovision in 1998 in a magazine. I was sitting in the cafeteria of the student activities building in my first year of college. Even though I had been burying my gender identity issues in my studies, I felt a small rising of curiosity and warm optimism for what was possible, yet not knowing that within a few years I would be marching in the same direction.

Below is a clip of a recent interview she did on a late night show in Ireland.

So now Dana has competed for her second attempt in the Eurovision contest with the song Ding Dong (not what you think). Twelve years later, I still feel drawn into her story, even though I'm not so crazy about the song.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Another reason to sing

I've been watching a lot of videos about Jewish history and personal experiences over the past few days, and I've realized how important songs and singing are. All the more reason for me to cross this wall of fear and let songs come out of me. Will I fully be able to carry on any of these traditions if I am afraid to be heard?

It seems like pure fantasy to think that one day I'll know and sing the words and melodies to songs like Lecha Dodi and Shalom Aleichem with others(I kind of already know the words to the latter). Stranger and more monumental things have happened in human history, but that would be a big deal for me.

Today's clip is of a group of people sharing in an experience that both entices me and fills me with dread. It's funny that I gave a presentation at a national conference but something like this scares me.

Anyway, do enjoy (the two other people who read this...)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

To Jerusalem by way of Dharmsala

If anyone is actually reading this blog, you will not be surprised to find out that I am planning on converting to Judaism. I feel enormously content that I have finally opened space in my heart and mind for anything resembling religion to actually take hold in me. I used to think of being raised a Jehovah's Witness as being the worst thing that happened to me as a child, but perhaps it is the only path that would have opened me up to exploring every aspect of myself after my belief system was shattered.

Buddhism provided a warm, serene, and welcome home for me afterwards. I put my concept of an intervening God on the back shelf and learned to revere my Buddha nature. I learned to bow to it, light an incense for it, to ring a bell for it. Nothing will ever replace that period of discovery in my life, and I have said over and over again that meditation and chanting saved my life. It also opened me up to the world (in baby steps) and helped me see the Buddha nature in others. I began to see the oneness of the world and became a more fearless participant in it.

Last night and this morning I watched live streaming Shabbat services online. I felt enthusiastic that one day I would revel in the songs and in the Torah. I'm not even worried about the Hebrew, because I discovered a penchant for languages at 15, when I started teaching myself Portuguese because I loved Brazilian music so much (I had already learned Spanish).

It's funny to have read accounts of other people who converted to Judaism but first found refuge in Buddhism. I certainly don't feel as unique anymore (in that regard), and that is uncharacteristically okay with me.

Since I've developed the habit of sharing something that moved me at the end of each post, I wanted to share a quote that I came across today, from Rabbi Sharon Brous, in an article she wrote for the Washington Post. I think it captures the spiritual place I was in before exploring Judaism. She is specifically talking about the phenomenon of Eat, Pray, Love and the dropping everything for some unending spiritual journey that takes you away from the world we have to inhabit.

"You can't live in an eternal Shabbat, because the religious life is not about personal spiritual satisfaction, it is about pouring holy light into a tragically broken world."

Friday, June 10, 2011


I wanted to share the news that I will be starting with a new teacher next Wednesday. Not sure why I'm having a fear of commitment. I've actually heard from another as well in the past few days but I haven't called her back. It feels like cheating to try them both out.

Today's clip is Whitney Houston, "I Turn To You", which somehow I missed out on when she had her big comeback. I love this song.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Why am I so afraid of brown butter sauce?

I was watching a video on youtube on red snapper with brown butter sauce and all of a sudden I had a revelation that I probably wouldn't make this dish. I love red snapper and have been wanting to prepare it since I saw them whole at Costco. The first time I tasted red snapper was in the hospital in Thailand. You could order either a "Western" or an "Asian" breakfast in the morning and after I gave in to my curiosity over what congee was, I finally ordered the Asian option. To my surprise I actually enjoyed a savory breakfast of fish and rice porridge. The fish was of course, red snapper.

Before I run off on a tangent, I guess I'll get back to the brown butter sauce. Brown butter sauce, like red snapper and a host of other ingredients I've savored in the past, is something I've always wanted to make. I've watched countless videos, scoured cookbooks, and imagined the process in every minute detail. Yet I've never actually tried to make it. Although I'm a confident cook, I feel like something this simple would be way beyond me. In the instant that I watched this video and said to myself, "I'm not going to make this," I realized that making brown butter sauce and singing are likely impeded by the same mental and emotional roadblock.

What's the worst that would happen, that I would burn it instead of brown it and have to throw it out? What would I do then? I would clean the pan and start over. I can rationally tell myself this, yet expect that if I initially had similar results with singing, the heartbreak over failing would shrivel up my will to live (an exaggeration of course.)

Every time I've tasted brown butter sauce it nearly sent me to heaven, and I haven't given myself the gift of preparing it at home. I am also not allowing myself the pleasure of singing and making music.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Made a connection

I finally heard from a teacher. I googled and found someone who performs locally but also used to teach and sing in New York. I like that she responded promptly to my emails and is ready for our consultation in a couple of weeks. She takes a vacation between sessions (spring, summer, etc), so we will start in July. That gives me plenty of time to pick up where I left off practicing and get back in the groove.

I also heard from a piano teacher, but he only teaches classical. I'm still trying to hold out for a jazz piano teacher. Since I easily waste $200+ a month, I figure I might as well put them to good use and start taking lessons.

I fell in love with this clip yesterday of Nina Simone singing "My Man's Gone Now" and I must say it is my favorite version ever of this song, and I only heard it for the first time yesterday. A friend (who sings) told me he thought I should go for a androgynous sound like Nina Simone, and not correct some of the things I perceive as flaws in my voice. I'm still not sure about that, and although I love Nina Simone as well, I feel like I hear and feel different things in my voice. Time will tell...

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

“Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.”

I REALLY need to find a teacher. I don't want to keep running on this wheel like a hamster. I finally have the drive, focus, and time that I didn't have in previous years. I JUST NEED A TEACHER!

Maybe I need to send out a mass email or something.

And here is a little clip I enjoyed today of Dame Joan Sutherland singing "Vissi d'arte" from Tosca. I like it, but I must say, I am much more enamored with Leontyne Price's version.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

God or Something Like It

The fact that I used the word God the other day in my blog has freaked me out a little, or at least gotten my wheels turning. I typically always say "the universe" because that's probably closest to what I believe, but I also notice that in the past few months I've gained a new perspective on God and religion.

I finally have come to understand that there are as many concepts of God as there are people and that even if we told all 6+ billion stories, we could never actually approximate the true nature of the divine. I will never believe in a God that can be understood by the limited perceptions of a human mind. A God whose limits of compassion, love, and grace can be completely described in a book written by men will never be sufficient to me.

However, I have come around to the idea that these stories and descriptions can serve a purpose in my life, as they have for others for thousands of years. If I can draw inspiration from a random person plucked from obscurity and put in a reality show, why can't the story of Joseph also inspire me. Why should I cut myself off from a tradition that has enabled countless generations to bring meaning and order to their lives?

I always thought I would never come back around to a Judeo-Christian tradition because didn't believe in personifying the divine. The Jesus story has always been problematic for me as well. However, as I have started to see this personification as more of a tool (under the most rational circumstances), I have found tremendous comfort in my explorations into Judaism, and it really has changed the way I've been moving through the world.

I find myself now, praying for people, and accepting the prayers of others. As I've seen some of these prayers come to fruition, I've realized that it doesn't really matter to me whether it could be simply a coincidence or not. Some people might say, "Well, that would have happened anyway," but I don't think that's the point. Even if prayer only helps me align my subconscious thoughts towards whatever the desired outcome is, it has proven to be a useful tool.

I'm not sure where this new aspect of my spirituality will take me, but I feel optimistic.

Murphy's Law

Don't have much to write, but it seems like everyone I know experienced Murphy's Law today, including myself. Other than that I keep checking my mail to see if the voice teacher will write back. If I don't hear back from her by Friday I will take that as a sign to seek someone else.

What a WACKY day!!

Monday, May 30, 2011

New Direction

So today I wrote a vocal instructor to start lessons again. I think it is a step in the right direction. I think if I know I have someone else's ear I can turn mine off and concentrate on the feeling of proper singing.

I need to make this a commitment, however, and not let things I'm doing with other people stray me from my path. The path only gets exciting if you're making progress and not ending up at the same spot over and over again.

Besides, maybe some of the qualities in my voice that I'm obsessing over may be my own vocal idiosyncrasies. It's better to just get a professional opinion, and stick to it.

The only thing that makes me nervous is that I don't already know this person, but I also think that will be better.

Friday, May 27, 2011


I guess I'm writing this to put some sort of energy out into the world that will come back and manifest itself in my life, or more importantly, my voice.

I finally started vocalizing every day (again), and felt so much improvement in the ease of singing, and placement of the sound. I promised myself that this time I wouldn't stop practicing, and for the most part I have upheld that promise for the past couple of weeks, but the events of this week proved to be an effective deterrent and psychological block.

When I finally mustered up the courage to take singing lessons last year, my vocal problem was identified as singing with a closed posture and too much tongue tension. I've been lip rolling and tongue trilling myself into a frenzy, over the past few weeks and was really noticing a difference.

Today, however, brought a new surprise. I just got a new computer this week and decided to record my voice to listen to all the great progress I knew I had made, only to feel like I hadn't made any.

I'm wondering if external events are putting a negative spin on how I perceive things. Even as I type this I'm starting to feel as if I was way too critical when I was listening. I feel like I could "hear" my tense tongue when I was vocalizing the notes, and hear the tentativeness in my technique and intention when I sang a couple of lines from a song.

In the back of my mind I've been thinking to myself, "Does a calling require this much of a struggle?" It's making me question why I feel like it is my calling to sing in the first place. I only know that no matter how much I feel like I'm struggling, I just don't want to give up. I just want to be heard by someone one day and for all people involved in that exchange of feeling and sound to be pleased with what they experienced, myself included.

I remember listening to Eckhart Tolle talk about the symbol of the cross, and how it was the symbol of both suffering and salvation, and that we each have our own crosses to bear. I have never looked at a cross the same way, and I have felt that my struggle to be heard and gain my voice, though currently the source of my anguish, is the ONE thing I hope sets me free. I never prayed for such a long time, but did so for the first time in a long time when I was laying on the table in Thailand about to be put under for reassignment surgery. My prayer was, "God, if I am not going to sing, don't wake me up." I vowed with my whole heart that if I woke up I was going to take this seriously.

It all sounds so simple, but I feel like there is some spiritual or physical reason why I can't let go of the tongue tension. I know that my voice teacher said it is really just a habit that a lot of singers have to unlearn, but I really see it as a fear of letting go. Despite the fact that I know it is not the most efficient and free way to make sound, I feel that something else is making me hold on to old ways.

I definitely need a breakthrough . . .

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Thanks to my new found free time, I will be posting regularly, and resuming my efforts to learn the piano.

I definitely must be careful of what I write due to ongoing circumstances, so I will confine this blog to musical, spiritual, and culinary topics.

I will make the best use of this to time as I go into the next phase of my life.