In the meantime, I enjoyed this cartoon about lighting Hanukkah candles and thought I would post it...
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
In the meantime, I enjoyed this cartoon about lighting Hanukkah candles and thought I would post it...
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
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
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
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
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.
Posted by TimidChanteuse at 10:55 AM
Sunday, November 20, 2011
Saturday, November 19, 2011
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
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 moment...my Charlotte moment...my 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
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.
Saturday, October 22, 2011
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
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 now...it's time to move my computer to the new place.
Hasta la vista baby!!
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
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
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
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
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
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."
Posted by TimidChanteuse at 10:00 PM
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
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
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.
Posted by TimidChanteuse at 12:17 AM
Friday, August 5, 2011
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
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.
Posted by TimidChanteuse at 11:35 PM
Sunday, July 24, 2011
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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 g-dcast.com 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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
What a WACKY day!!
Monday, May 30, 2011
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 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
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.
Posted by TimidChanteuse at 1:58 PM