Thursday, July 6, 2017

On Ageism (2)

Almost exactly two years ago I wrote this article and thought that this would be a good time for a second pass.

The "triggering event" was the posting, by an incredibly troubled gay trans man, of a picture of Heidi Klum in a costume, which, silly out of touch me (!), I thought was a real picture of a woman in her late 70s or 80s.  I do not attribute his being "troubled" to his being trans or gay; I only mention these things because here is someone super-sensitive to his own issues, yet totally clueless about the sting of ageism.  (He posted the picture with a comment saying "this is how I feel if people ask me out after 9 pm.)  Quite frankly, it doesn't matter if this was a real picture of an elderly  woman, or not.  I skimmed the Heidi Klum article to see what her rationale was for choosing this costume for Hallowe'en but couldn't find anything other than that she liked to work hard to make costumes realistic (someone is shown painting varicose veins on her legs).  If she had done this as a teachable moment, to teach people about ageism (similarly to slim women who have put on a "fat suit" to highlight that fat people are treated with less respect than slim people) that would have been fine, and I am not judging her, only questioning the taste and sensitivity shown by the person who posted the picture. (I mean long ago people decided it was offensive for white people to dress up in blackface whether those people themselves were actually racist or not.  Ditto posting photographs of white people dressed up in blackface.) I quite frankly don't see any difference here.) I unfriended him.  I am sick of him anyhow.  He is one of the most self-absorbed, narcissistic people I have ever met.  I gave him a pass on all that because of his own struggles, including that his mother died recently (she was younger than I am), but enough is enough.  Grow up!  Despite having unfriended him, I got a comment to my comment by one of his (female) friends that was insulting, childish, full of coarse language, and basically beside the point.  I should pity these children.  God help them if they ever decide to grow up.

I mean I have spent the past nine months caring for a woman in her 80s who may be near death, fighting bureaucracies that would be just as happy if she died, especially now.  I have become knowledgeable about services that are available to seniors (which I may need to avail myself of as well at some point - I am going to be 67).  I have had serious, real, conversations with people about aging.  These are real problems.

After reading the inane offensive commentary of this young man and his friends I feel that I need a bath.  

With that, I will end with paraphrasing a quote from Law and Order's Jack McCoy (in a far darker, uglier context): "I guess there are some people who don't deserve to grow old."  Growing old is a privilege, young pup, not a joke.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Plus ça Change, Plus C'est la Même Chose

This week I had another disappointment.  My voice teacher bailed from our joint concert.  It's not the end of the world: I can do a solo recital.  Unfortunately it won't be all that different from my birthday concert, but I will be removing four numbers and replacing them with others that I like better.  I am going to drop the Jake Heggie/Sister Helen songs because they don't sound good with just a pianist and a singer (there is a major part written for a flute) and are not "enjoyable" to listen to.  I am also dropping the Barbra Streisand song "Evergreen" because I sang it as a nod to "LC" the hateful woman who dumped me cruelly as a friend.  And I am dropping "Et Exsultavit".  I love singing it, but it's better as a church piece.  Instead, I will be singing the "Drinking Song" from Lucrezia Borgia, and will (as of now) be adding "Cruda Sorte" from L'Italiana in Algeri and an aria from Orlando Furioso about love and courage, which I have heard Marilyn Horne sing.  It is a bravura aria with a lot of ornamentation and I have fallen in love with it.  And I will add the song "Ice Cream" from She Loves Me to the section for my partner (although she can't be there), because at this end stage of her life, what she loves most is eating ice cream.  And I will ask the accompanist to play solos in between the sets so I can have a break.  The sets will be pretty much the same as they were last time: Joy, Love, for [my partner's name], and Home.

The disappointment isn't about having to sing a solo recital, it's about what I see as my teacher's priorities.  He said he doesn't want to sing this concert because 1. he has to go out of the country to see family (I am not totally clear about this because by the time he got to talking about this I had stopped listening but I think the reason there is a date conflict  is because his wife's new job won't allow her to take a vacation sooner than that), 2. he is stressed out because his wife is not happy at her job and 3. he is stressed out because of problems in his building.  What made me mad (to revisit old wounds) is that every year he sings at least one, if not two, concerts with his wife and various other singers.  He has never invited me to sing with them and this now has been 8 years during which I have made enormous technical progress, particularly in the past three or so.  Yes, most of the singers sound better than I do, but there is one mezzo who doesn't and last time when they sang as a quartet this was obvious.  She has a pretty voice and has sung a lot of bel canto roles with the pay to sing outfit that my teacher sometimes sings with (he never pays them anything because they always need men) but her voice is very small and certainly I sound as good as she does singing in the sort of range that we would be singing in in this type of recital.  So the excuses are a moving target.  I don't sound good enough, these people all know each other, this particular mezzo is a close friend of his wife's, the decisions are not totally up to him, blah, blah, blah.  Anyhow at my last lesson when he told me he was bailing from the concert, I really just lost it and yelled at him, which I have never done before.  I don't think it did any permanent damage.  The point is that I think it's a teacher's responsibility to try to provide opportunities for his or her students. A number of teachers have studio recitals.  He has never been that sort of teacher.  He's not what they call these days "a pedagogue".  He's a singer who has a gift for explaining vocal technique to people who need to improve theirs.  Most of his students are already singing somewhere (in the past they mostly came from that pay to sing or someplace similar). So I don't plan to go looking for another teacher.  I suppose what I need to do is simply drop the subject unless he starts flogging one of these concerts and trying to invite me.  I have been to a few of them but have never made getting there a priority.  I think I will just pass on them from now on, similarly to how I don't go to any of these small opera company performances either.  I will just mind my own business.  If he starts flogging one of these concerts (I don't think there's one on the  horizon) I will curtly say "Let's talk about something else" or find another "conversation stopper".

I think I'm also feeling cranky because I haven't had a chance to dig into the two new arias or do any of the administrative work I need to do because I have been busy with caregiving tasks, most notably trying to get my partner a hospital bed.  It is supposed to arrive tomorrow and the delivery people won't move her other bed out, so I have to get the super to do it.  I am hoping to get back to my regular practice schedule next week.

I also have to pick a summer solo.  I gave the music director my preferred dates.  He has two books of church solos in his mail box, so I had the admin photocopy the tables of contents.  So when I get a chance I will listen to the pieces on Youtube and try to match them up with the readings for those Sundays.  I am not that theologically literate, but I will give it my best shot.  Otherwise I can let the music director pick something, which he offered to do.

Monday, June 26, 2017

A Blessed Time and Some Thoughts on Pride

My partner is still alive, and is feeling better.  She still eats very little, but seems to enjoy food more than she had been.  She is more alert.  I can have conversations with her.  There was a low point when she refused to eat for almost 24 hours and then slept through the Tonys (something we always loved to watch together), but she is better now.

She had a wonderful 83rd birthday.  In total, 5 people showed up on different days, one with decorations.  She is smiling in all the pictures (I am not comfortable posting one here, although I did post some on Facebook, because the person who took them posted them on her Facebook page).

In a funny way I think I may be happier than I have been in almost a decade.  First, knowing, unambivalently, that my main purpose now is to make the end of a loved one's life happy, I no longer excoriate myself for not having a career or looking for a more interesting and stimulating livelihood.  Qualifying for Social Security helped also.  If I am "retired" the focus is less on what I do or did for a living.  And I don't have to feel resentful that I don't travel.  I just can't do that right now.  I don't have to apologize to the universe for it.

I am still singing, and am singing well.  Sometimes sounds come out that leave me stupefied as in "is that really me??" Of course what I always wished for most of all wasn't just to sing well, but to have the sort of diversified existence that one has when one excels at something, particularly in the arts or academia, which leads to travel, public engagements (performing or speaking), meeting new people, costumes, and the unexpected.

I still regret the past.  Saying I "shouldn't" is really not helpful.  When I say regret what I mean is that almost anything I don't like about my life (that I might have had control over at some point) can be tracked back to bad choices I made beginning in high school.  I am learning that there really were people, even people who were adolescents during that train wreck of an era 1964-1972 who did the right things.  I met a woman recently who mentioned how much she enjoyed going to the World's Fair in 1964.  She was there with a school choir.  I remember my mother dragging me there and my being bored witless and cranky about all the mountains of food everywhere when I was trying to diet.  That was the state I was in 99% of the time  during adolescence, wherever I was, so I generally preferred staying home.  Now I am, I guess, "serving a sentence" at home as a freelance copyeditor.  I didn't appreciate chances to have a wider life when they were offered and available for the taking, so I didn't get to have one.

Yesterday was Pride Day.  How different things are now.  We are less of a subculture (life is less titillating and hush hush) but we are also less angry, even with all the collective societal anger at Trump and what the Republican Party is doing to this country.  I meet lots of Lesbians now who are what I would call "wholesome".  They are not in the closet but they look nice and are comfortable around men.  If I were 25 now I doubt anyone would be telling me that I shouldn't "invest my energy in a patriarchal art form like opera".  Through chance Googling I found out that one of the young singers who sang with the choir, whom I was envious of, is gay!  She just got married.  She is a pretty coloratura soprano.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

My Heart is Full of Sadness But Yet My Heart is Full of Joy

My partner is home from the hospital, where she was rushed last week after becoming septic, most likely from a cat bite.  Our cat Darby, whom she adores, and who has slept on her bed throughout the latest phase of her decline, bit her when she kicked him in her sleep because he had been playing with her toes.  Twenty-four hours later she had a fever of 103 and was semi-conscious.  The aide called 911.  She was in the ER for almost 48 hours, then in a bed for the next three days.  They gave her about 10 bags of antibiotics plus some pills to take home.

Despite not having a diagnosis (her heart disease is controlled with medication), she is fading.  Basically, all the symptoms she has are those of someone dying of what used to be called "old age". This article, which I found by doing a Google search, bears this out.  I don't know how long she has left.  No doctor has said that she has six months or less, and that therefore she should be in hospice.  On other other hand, pain is not her problem.  Lack of a life force is.  Here is a list of what is happening now.

1. She never gets out of bed.  She refuses all attempts at physical therapy that involve trying to walk, even though she had been able to do this in March in the nursing home.
2. She eats very little.  Every passing week she eats less.  Now mostly she just drinks Ensure, eats ice cream, and drinks milk and water.  She refuses meals that she once liked. (I have told the aides that if she refuses food she has to have a bottle of Ensure.)
3. She sleeps most of the time.
4. She is confused about the time of day, what day it is, and when I am coming, although she knows me and all other people she has contact with.
5. She has lost interest in most things other than snuggling, her own body, ice cream, and cute programs about animals on tv.
6. Her hands are cold.

I can't be with her all the time but I want to be with her more than I used to.  I have to work 20 hours a week and want to sing (more on that later - that's the "optimism" part) but I don't want her to die without me there.  A friend who has watched several people die said that as the actual time approaches I will know.  Then I will take both cats (I couldn't bring Darby back to her house when she came back from the hospital) to her house along with all my blood pressure medicines and just stay there.  I stayed with my mother when I thought she was dying, which was 48 hours before she died.

I don't think she is suffering.

As for the optimism, it is ironic that I keep singing better and better (my voice keeps getting bigger and the high - and low - notes keep getting easier) but am no longer interested in all that heavy 19th Century Italian music.

My teacher and I are going to put on a concert on October 1.  As the piano where it will be is out of tune (or was last year) we are not doing a lot of opera anyhow.  We were going to do the duet from La Gioconda but he said he feels that it is too high for him now, so we will do the duet from Samson et Dalila that precedes "Mon Coeur" and then I will just sing "Mon Coeur".

We also talked about some mezzo and baritone duets from the French repertoire.  I might enjoy doing those so we might do a Shakespeare-themed concert next Spring.  I would love to do the duet with Gertrude and Hamlet from the Ambroise Thomas opera and then we might do the Henry VIII-Anne Boleyn duet from Saint Saens' Henry VIII, which is based on the Shakespeare play.  And we could end with something from West Side Story.

So life goes on.....

Thursday, May 18, 2017


Sadly, I have to report that the man I referenced here has now died.

I have so many mixed feelings.

Why him and not me?  How did he live such that his life had so many blessings?  Talent well used, an ability to form healthy relationships, home-making skills.

I have none of those things and I am still here.  I didn't know whether to beam, cry, or rage with envy when I read his wife's FB tribute. I don't want to recap it all here, as it went into a great deal of detail and also I want to respect their privacy.  But this struck a note.

We encouraged each other and complimented each other. We had very different brains, talents and character defects, but we genuinely loved and respected each other.

A lot of this is relevant because I am shepherding someone through the end of life.  Of course much is different.  He was a man in his 50s who was dying of a terminal illness and was in hospice.  My partner is going to be 83 next month and is bedridden but not "ill".  Whatever else I complain about, I feel blessed to have this time with her.

Did we encourage each other?  Probably no.  We clung to each other and she, particularly, felt   threatened by any venturing forth on the part of the other.  I had to fight, literally, like a tiger, for any scrap of independence I had.  Now it's easier because she's too out of it to make demands.  She can't tell me "you can't go to the Met unless you go with me" because she doesn't go anywhere.  So yes, I will go out with friends.  She has accepted that I must sing, not just in church.

And yet we have always loved each other, passionately and desperately.  My greatest joy in life is to lie curled up by her side watching tv, or to hold her little hand.

I suppose the man who died, and his wife, were just enough younger than me (and the fact that this was his third marriage, and they both came to it as people, not children says something) that he was able to have a relationship with less teenage (or less 1950s/1960s) baggage. You know - stand by your man (or your butch beau) and the worse he treats you the more brownie points you get, because of course, life is supposed to be like a rock song - or an opera.  I partnered when I was an age that is now not even considered adult (25) during a decade when the most important thing for a woman was to "please" a partner, not to be a person. Now people develop selves first, partner later.

And of course I always envied how proud he was of his daughter, as I wrote several years ago. Another example of a healthy relationship. My mother was never proud of me that way: she alternated between mercilessly criticizing me and taking any of my accomplishments (certainly if they involved writing) to be her own.

I have spent the past, God knows, 8 years (since I left the full-time work force) trying to make a rich, vibrant, fulfilling life for myself and not much has come of it.  Something has come of it, yes.  I keep singing better and better.  I realize I will never do anything I even like for a living, but that I can do many things that I like. I can write. I have discovered that I enjoy helping children with language skills. I can live on very little money.  I don't have to travel.  I don't have the money or the energy to turn this overstuffed British spinster style studio apartment into a "middle class home" (read shovel everything out, even temporarily, and have the floors sanded and waxed and the walls painted, not to mention keeping the dining table looking like a dining table instead of a place to keep my electronic keyboard) but I try to say that this does not mean that I have "failed" at being an adult.

Love is love whether you share erudite conversation at a dinner table with a tablecloth or hunker down in front of the tv with sandwiches on paper plates.  I don't believe this man's widow loved him any more than I love my partner because they lived in nice surroundings and spoke to each other like adult friends instead of  like squabbling teenagers madly in love who don't get along.

Most precious of all was the fact that his last words to her were "I love you".  If I can have that too, that is really all I have a right to ask for.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Just an Update

I called Amsterdam House (the nursing home where my partner had been, which has a beautiful room with a piano) and they said they were totally booked for concerts in 2017.  I said I would like to book something for the Spring of 2018.  They said that they weren't taking bookings yet - to wait until the Fall, then call, although the man who coordinates all this took my phone number.

When I told my teacher, he said, no, I shouldn't wait that long, that I should call the nursing home where I put on my birthday concert.  I was hesitant to do that because the piano was out of tune, but my teacher said it didn't really matter.  He had been to that concert and hadn't been disturbed by the piano.  So I emailed them and now have a date to sing on October 1.  I will use my birthday concert as a template, but will remove some pieces so that my teacher and I can sing a duet and he can sing an aria and a few songs.

I can't believe I am saying this, but finally after 12 years, I am bored with both the "Habanera" and "Mon Coeur".  I am going to sing the "Drinking Song" from Lucrezia Borgia.  My teacher and I will sing the love duet from La Gioconda.  The last time I sang that was with The Mentor.  The point here is to focus on material that is upbeat.  I will of course sing "Let Me Call You Sweetheart", "I Dreamt I Dwelt" and "Home Sweet Home".  We will then decide the rest.

I can't believe I am saying this either, but I think I've reached the point where I'm bored by the heavy Verdi and verismo pieces.  I am just not in the mood for anything heavy right now.  My teacher said this is because my life has been sad and stressful.  This does not mean, however, that I am going into vocal retreat!!  My upper register continues to be easier and easier (although my teacher said I don't need to vocalize above a B most of the time) and I intend to tackle some new difficult pieces ("Tanti Affetti" from Donna del Lago comes to mind) just to see if I can do them.  That has numerous B flats but most of them are in elaborate coloratura passages which is something I am good at.

We are almost out of the woods with my partner and her health issues.  We are settled with the managed care company.  She will continue to have 24/7 home care, but not the split shifts.  It will be three different people sleeping in.  We will have two of the people we already have, and then will have to find someone new for Tuesday-Thursday because the woman who has been with my partner in the daytime on those days does not want to sleep in.  There are still problems with her landlord not accepting the checks I write on the Supplemental Needs Trust bank account but I think those may be on the way to being settled.

Now I am off to sing an 8 part "country" piece to welcome our new pastor.  I am a little nervous because it will be my first time singing the second soprano part with the first soprano part.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Holy Week Wrap Up

This year's Holy Week went pretty well for me.

I had a solo on Maundy Thursday, "Qui Sedes ad Dextram Patris" from the Bach B Minor Mass.  The church sexton made a cell phone video of it.  He does a terrific job with these.  A few weeks ago he made one of the choir singing a piece for Palm Sunday. This is probably the best video I have of myself singing because he shot me facing front instead of in profile.  I look much better head on than in profile. Also because the piece was in a lower register and I was not nervous about my support and did not have to constantly think about vocal technique, I looked more composed.

On Good Friday the choir sang a variety of different pieces using the text of Jesus's last words, by Bach, Mendelssohn, Haydn, Franck, Gounod, and others.  I sang the alto line in a solo quartet that was part of the Haydn piece.  I thought overall the service went well.  I always find it very moving to participate in this service even though I am not Christian.  It is a magical piece of sacred theater and you won't find anything that gripping in a UU church, I can tell you.

Easter Sunday we sang an anthem and the "Hallelujah Chorus".  I think the soprano part in the "Hallelujah Chorus" is absolutely the hardest thing I ever have to sing; much harder than "Rejoice Greatly".  Anyhow, this time I bailed and sang the alto part because we sang it at the end of the service rather than at the beginning and by then I was too tired to sing the soprano part.  It meant I would have had to sing it after being "shabbas goy" for all the communion hymns.  If I have to sing a difficult soprano part I usually don't sing the hymns but I have to sing the communion hymns (which usually come after the anthem) because the choir people don't sing if they're taking communion (or even afterwards).  I did find the alto part easier to sing than in the past because that lower middle part of my voice that goes through the passaggio is stronger than it used to be.  I just don't want to be stuck in the alto section permanently (that's why I'm happy we sing pieces with divisi so I can sing second soprano) not because I don't like singing low, but because alto parts have a much shorter range than soprano parts.  Some soprano parts go low, but alto parts never go high.  So it's like going to a gym and only exercising half my body.

In other news, today a nurse from a managed long-term care company came to interview me and my partner.  She is now approved for 24 hour care, but it will be sleep in care.  That is fine, the only problem is that it means we will lose the aides we have because they work split shifts and I don't think the day people (whom we really like) are available for sleep in.

I also am nervous because we were told originally that our arrangement with the city ends April 30, but now we are told that the arrangement with the managed care company won't start until June 1.  My partner can't be left in the lurch for a whole month and there is not money to pay anyone.