Tuesday, March 31, 2020

My Angel is in Heaven and I am Heartbroken

My precious Betty, my angel, my loved one of 44 years, died March 29, in my arms at home.  She just slipped away in her sleep.

I am still making myself sing.  This evening I sang "Amapola", her favorite song.  I don't know if I will ever go back to singing heavy opera or anything requiring vocal power above a G or G sharp.  I will sing in church.

We had fights, and there were things about her I didn't like (she never understood my obsession with singing opera and was fiendishly jealous of my being around straight men, particularly in story lines with too much sex), but the past three years with her have been a gift.  She surrendered her business to me and her body to her bed, where she just "stayed in and stayed cute".   She smiled a lot, so I know she was happy.

That I will never see her smile again is so crushingly unbearable that I don't know if I can go on, really.

I want to make it to June or July to scatter her ashes in Maine. And conduct a memorial service. After that I am done.

I may not write anything here again.  I may start a blog or an online memory book about her.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Living in the Pause

So New York is "pausing" which means that all non-essential businesses are closed; except, apparently, liquor stores.  That will be a recipe for disaster.  And all employees who can work from home, must.

I have confirmed that I can go back and forth to visit my partner regardless, and could do that even if there were a "shelter in place" order.  And I will sleep with her and snuggle with her.

I think in some ways common wisdom is wrong.  I think the younger you are, the more precautions you should take, because you will still be here when it is all over, and can touch again, kiss again, snuggle again, and visit again.  They talk about seniors needing to take the most precautions but actually I think they should be allowed to take the least, because they might very well not live beyond the end of this.  It should be their choice whether to risk catching a virus or risk dying without ever feeling a loving touch again.

Now for a rant.  Our church is closed, and the choir has been on hiatus.  We can't sing in the church because there are too many of us, and it would break the "no non-essential gatherings" rule. They are streaming services on Facebook and I had assumed that that meant that the only people in the church would be the minister, one assistant, and the organist.  That was true the first time, but today, guess who showed up?? "Little Miss". (If you are a new reader and want to know about her, read some of my posts from 2013-2015.) Now why the bleep was she invited to come sing??? If they just wanted one person, why didn't they ask one of the soloists from the church? I couldn't have done it today because I had been sick with a UTI that gave me a fever and I was feeling weak. (I stayed away from my partner also, even though the fever was not related to anything contagious, but will see her again Tuesday.) Anyhow, I am now stewing.  I don't want to email the music director because I think it's bad form to bitch about anything during this time, but my question is - why?? I wouldn't have been at all upset if there had been one soloist from the church (not me).  If that had been the case I probably would have tossed off a short email to the music director to the effect of "if you are looking for volunteers to sing in the church while you're livestreaming I'm available" and left it at that.

In any event I have no idea what Little Miss sang; I exited the livestream as soon as I saw her and went off to do something else.

I was able to practice today for a little and tomorrow will go back to working on the Carter arrangement of "Ride on King Jesus".  I am not in the mood for opera, which is certainly understandable.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

A Cry from the Heart

I haven't written anything in a long time, which is an indication that things were better, or at least that I was better.  The happier I feel, the less I write.

My partner is still in hospice care.  It has been about 7 months now.  People talk about caregiving being hard, but I am much happier being a part-time caregiver than I was being a full-time copyeditor working at home.  Spending (through my best, white knuckled efforts) 30 hours a week in a small studio apartment staring at a screen, mostly preoccupied with where to put commas and periods, is not a life.  I could never make a full 40 hours (not for lack of work, but for lack of tolerance for that level of mental torment) so I was fortunate to be able to use the modest amount of money in my mother's savings account after she died to supplement my earnings, being frugal but not painfully frugal.

Things brightened a little when I started to collect Social Security.  If I could work 20 hours a week I could manage. Once my partner became more and more impaired, I had a really meaningful part-time job: geriatric care manager.  It involved difficult financial maneuvers, and dealing with recalcitrant bureacracies, but now my life was once again richly peopled in a way that it had not been in years.  There were always people in her house: aides, healthcare providers, social service providers. I got to use my management skills.

A few months ago, when the market was doing well, I bought an annuity.  (I am so happy I did that!). So now I only have to work 10 hours a week.  Over the past few years, I hadn't been able to make myself work 20 anyhow.  It was more important to be with my partner.  Or just go OUT with a friend. But I paid a price.  I have now used up all but $4000 of my mother's savings.  All that's left for emergencies is the rapidly diminishing money in my 401k (I have 60% left because I used 40% to buy that annuity).

My singing has improved.  I seem now to have a solid vocal technique that I can rely on, even if I'm a little tired or haven't eaten enough protein. I sing much much much better at 69 and 3/4 than I did at 54, or even 64 or 67.

Fast forward to coronavirus. My biggest problem for a long time has been inadvertent social isolation.  I work at home (I have noticed that the less I work the happier I am), and when I am not at home in my apartment, I am at home at my partner's apartment.  I spend about 80% of my time shut in.

And now my tiny handful of opportunities to go out are disappearing.  Church is closed. They are live streaming services but that doesn't really interest me.  I go because there are people.  And of course to sing. We will have an online choir get together of some kind (I will have no idea if this means I will be visible, so I had better dress properly. ) My therapist asked if I would be open to having a phone session and I said no, I would not pay for a phone session.  Either I will have a session in person and pay for it, or I will see if I can get some free counseling (in person or over the phone) from the hospice.

Several people who used to visit my partner (her therapist and someone from the LGBT senior center) have been told not to, to talk to her over the phone.  My partner has dementia.  She has a much harder time understanding what's going on over the phone, compared with in person.  And she never learned anything about technology; has never used the Internet and does not have a smart phone. There is no technology in the house other than the aides' smart phones which they were told not to let her touch.

So far my Pilates studio is still open. We spray down the mats. I don't know if my voice teacher will be conducting lessons.  I know his wife has health issues, so he may not want to, but if he wants to I will come.

I ride the subway and the bus.  How else can I visit my partner? Cabs are too expensive and frankly more dangerous if someone with the virus was sitting in the back before me.  I guess if I had to I could walk, at least the weather is nicer.  It is about 3 miles or a little more.

I am much more afraid of sinking deeper into this isolation that I have fought and fought and fought to get out of for a decade than of catching coronavirus.  All I want is not to die before my partner.  If she dies of the respiratory symptoms of coronavirus rather than of something else, and I die shortly thereafter, to whom will it really matter?  I have my affairs in order.

ETA: My Pilates studio is now closed.  My voice teacher is not seeing students. I suppose the one silver lining to all this is that now everyone has to live the way I have lived for a decade. I no longer have to envy other people's diversified lives.  Now we're all in the same boat.  My only fear is that a "shelter in place" order will force me to choose whether to stay with my partner or stay home.  I work at home (there is no way I could set up my home office at her apartment, which not only doesn't have an Internet connection; it doesn't even have decent electrical wiring) and I have my cats.  And I will not let her die in her apartment without me. I will shelter in two places.  If I can't get a "compassionate exemption" I will do it anyhow.  What's the worst that could happen? I will have to pay a fine?

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

The Return of Old Hurts, and My Take on "Little Women"

Well, it seems I am in a writing mode again, although I have not felt like revisiting my memoir.

I thought I was "done" with a lot of the old hurts that I used to write about, but I just found out that once again my teacher is helming a concert with his opera cronies and I am not in it.  I am done having an argument with him about this. He will just throw out one excuse after another.  I think he began agreeing to participate in nursing home concerts with me because at one point I made noises about leaving him so I could study with a teacher who put on "studio recitals".  Then at least I would have something.

Sadly, if I know how to leave "well enough alone", he doesn't.  His wife sent me an email about their concert which went out to a large email list of "family and friends".  I couldn't help but notice that when she tells people about my concerts with her husband, it's only a few choice people.

Anyhow, when I went for my lesson yesterday I didn't mention the email but when we were done singing my teacher did.  So I told him that first, I am not free on Saturdays, and second, that since I resented not being asked to participate, I wouldn't come anyhow.  Then he said he knew that.  So why did he bring the bleeping subject up???

As I mentioned in my previous post, my anger and sadness about not being able to break into the world of the no-pay opera companies has mostly receded.  Partly because of age, as I said.  All I really want is to do solo singing in front of an audience, wear something glamorous, and eat up the limelight.  So I can do that.  Of course it's not all a walk in the park.  If I want those things, I have to work hard, which I do.  And really church people are a lot nicer than opera people.  Interestingly, my teacher and his wife seem to have made a friendly social life in that milieu but I never found those types of classical singers to be a nice bunch. 

As to the second subject of this post (I guess it's a "twofer") I got to thinking about Little Women again because of the new movie that has come out.  Interestingly, the first chapter of my memoir is partly about my relationship to Little Women and how my mother was bemused by the fact that I did not identify with Jo.  "Don't all brainy women see themselves as Jo?" she would ask.  Well, first, at 11 or 12 I hardly saw myself as a "brainy woman".  I liked to read fiction, but what I liked most was playing the piano and trying new lipstick shades.  As for Jo being an "independent woman", well, in 1962 that was not as anomalous as it was in 1862. Most of the young women in their 20s whom I knew worked after they graduated from college.  Many eventually married and some stayed home (my mother did that and in fact considered being able to stay home a "privilege") but reading and writing was a calling or a job, not a "lifestyle".  I just realized recently that it was probably from reading Little Women and modeling herself on Jo that my mother bought into the trope that "brainy women", women who read and write, don't care about their appearance.  I remember her once talking about a close friend and saying "Well Hattie obviously doesn't take herself seriously as an intelligent woman because she dyes her hair."  To all these points, growing up I certainly didn't see Jo as "rebellious".  She was just like all the "politically correct" women I knew over the years who were always scolding other women for primping, or buying products that they shouldn't.  I mean selling her hair for a greater good? How goody two shoes can you get?  I mean I think it was a noble sacrifice, but it certainly doesn't fit my definition of "rebellious".

My role model as a 13 year old was Kim Novak's Moll Flanders (and after seeing the movie, I read the book). She looked just like me for one thing (at 13 I was five foot six, weighed 155 pounds, wore a bra size 36D, and despite all that extra weight had a tiny waist). Katharine Hepburn I was definitely not.  Recently, I saw the PBS Little Women and decided that if I had to identify with one of the girls it would be Amy.  She took herself seriously as a painter and loved pretty clothes, primping, material comfort, and flirting.

Of course I don't think my mother wanted me to grow up to be a literary spinster like Louisa May Alcott.  At the end of Little Women, Jo marries a professor many years her senior.  My mother did likewise.  Was it because she saw herself as Jo, I wonder? Jo loved the professor because he engaged with her writing (even if only to criticize it) not her femininity.

Ironically, I grew up to be a Lesbian who paired off with a butch who loved me for my beauty (in her eyes) and sweetness. When she could afford it she bought me flowers and jewelry.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The End of a Decade

I know I owe readers a post (I still seem to have readers, although I have had no new comments for over a year) but I haven't felt much like writing these days.  Oddly, I think it's because whether or not I'm happier, I'm more at peace with myself.

First and most importantly, I have found a singing "home": singing concerts and recitals for seniors at nursing homes and other senior venues. I have given up trying to break into the world of the no-pay opera companies.  I really am too old.  Not from a vocal standpoint, but from the standpoint that not only is my arthritis too limiting for me to run all over a stage (including using stairs and wearing heels), I also don't see myself traveling between the boroughs (or even here in Manhattan) for rehearsals that begin after 7:00 and run as late as 10 pm.  These days I wake up between 6 and 7:30 and can barely keep my eyes open by 9:30.

Also church singing.  I have decided it doesn't matter whether I am or am not Christian.  Church singing is an art form and it's one I am good at.  What's important is conveying a message to an "audience" that is meaningful to them.  A good high church service is a form of liturgical theater.  That is not to say that I am not moved by the spiritual messages (and this church is politically to the far left, so there is a strong social justice message as well).  And I have met a nice group of women my age.  I am not strictly speaking a "member" of the church, but I do give them money.  As I've often said, I feel "too Jewish" to want to be baptised but not "too Jewish" to have a Christmas tree (or to celebrate Christmas in general) or to sing church music.  I mean aside from the "star" soloists, the world is full of non-Christians who sing in the sort of big choruses that put on requiems and masses.

As for how church music measures up compared with opera, it requires the same kind of vocal technique but is not as strenuous (the range is more truncated, for one thing) and if you sing in a church you're basically singing one aria or song and the services are in the morning which is a better chronobiological "fit" for me these days.

Right now the most important thing to me is making the end of my partner's life as sweet as possible.  All the pieces are in place (Medicaid, hospice) so I just have to stay with her on this journey.  I would like to think she will live longer than two months, but I don't know if she will see another Thanksgiving or Christmas.

I am still "orphaned" and can't seem to break through that form of isolation.  I have made a lot of new friends, but I am not a priority with them.  By the time people are my age they have accumulated a multigenerational family that branches all over the globe, so it seems.  My orphan state is the result of 100 years of choices by my forebears.

My father was the only child of an actress who divorced her husband almost immediately after he was born.
My mother had one sister whom she fell out with.
Her sister had one son who isn't interested in "connecting" with me (I made numerous attempts).
His wife is not a "social" being (she is an academic who writes books).
They have one son (he is probably in college by now).
I am an only child.
I have no children.

So I am no one's "obligation".  Last year at this time when I was asked what I wanted that I didn't have, interestingly, I didn't mention singing.  I said "A birthday celebration that I don't have to plan or pay for" and "someone whose name I can put down on a form as an emergency contact".  And both those things are related.  I still don't have either. For many people it's a sibling, an adult child, or an adult niece or nephew.  They may not be close, but there is duty.

I was told I could have my partner's funeral at the church.  If I plan some music, people will come.  I don't know what will happen to me when I die.  Will I really be in a situation where there is no one left but a lawyer?

Friday, November 15, 2019

Hospitality, Gay Choruses, Waifs, and How All Roads Led to My Weight

Thanksgiving is coming and that is more and more becoming a hard time for me.  My partner is dying (I have this on the authority of the hospice nurse; her albumin levels are dropping and her arm circumference is getting smaller).  Thanksgiving was our anniversary, although I always celebrate it on November 25 because that was the date. This year the two days are far enough apart that we can have two celebrations.  "Celebrating" will consist of figuring out something she is willing to eat and eating it in bed in front of the tv.  Probably feeding her as well.  She can use her right hand to hold a fork, but she likes being fed.  Unless she is eating something sweet, hunger does not motivate her.  Thanksgiving is about food and family.  For my entire life I had a conflicted relationship with the former, and for good or ill, I do not have the latter.  I can't remember the last time I sat at a Thanksgiving table where the people were related by blood.  In high school? In my early 20s?  When my grandparents were alive and my mother and her sister were still speaking to each other, we all had a meal together.  I dreaded these because beginning at the age of 12, I was always on a diet.  I had been overweight as a child (actually, certainly by the time I was 12, I was overweight because I was a child; if I had been an adult my BMI at that age would have put me at the top end of "normal") and yearned to be thin.  I hated being confronted with mountains of food.

At church last Sunday a friend of mine said that her mother had a "gift for hospitality" and that she had inherited it.  (Like so many New Yorkers, she has too small - and perhaps too messy - an apartment to "do" hospitality in, so she cooks for people in the church kitchen.) My mother, too, had a gift for hospitality.  Our house was always full of people and she was always serving food.  There was a nonstop feast.  If I was overweight, my mother was obese.  I swore that I would never be like that.  My house would not be full of food.  Art, yes, pets, yes, books, yes (I did  inherit my mother's love of art and books). Food, no. As a young adult things were easier for me.  I had learned how to say "no" to food even when it was around.  I spent my 20s at Lesbian AA Thanksgivings.  None of the women there were on good terms with their parents so we created our own world.  I could ignore the food and dance.  Or flirt.  Finally, I made a modicum of peace with my mother and for years my partner and I would have Thanksgiving dinner at her house.  She would invite one or two guests.  By then I was a vegetarian and so my mother did not make a traditional Thanksgiving feast.  That was not her style of cooking anyhow (I think when she was alive my grandmother had cooked the meal for us.)  I am a firm believer that people get the punishments they deserve.  Mine, for valuing cultural norms of thinness over family and good fellowship, is spending most holidays with nothing but scraps.  Although I cling to how grateful I am that my partner is still alive.  When she goes maybe I will leave the country that week, go to a place where no one celebrates Thanksgiving.

This may sound like a non sequitur, but I just found out that my friend Abbie's granddaughter is a Lesbian.  She is still in high school.  The thrill of her life, according to her mother (Abbie's daughter) is being part of an LGBTQ youth chorus.  How wonderful!  But here's what I wonder.  I got a letter from Abbie's daughter (it was a group email sent to a large number of people, most of whom probably live in the same city where Abbie's daughter and her family live) about the chorus's holiday concert.  She and her husband are "patrons".  She stressed in the email that her daughter is lucky to have the "blessing" of her parents, that so many of the youth in this chorus have been rejected by their parents and that many are poor and can't get a hot meal, so the chorus serves a hot meal before rehearsal, free of charge.  I wonder.  When I came out and immersed myself in the Lesbian community, one of the biggest attractions was that it was a world of parent-less peers.  Many of those women, too, had been rejected by their parents.  Oh, how I envied them!  Being a part of that group gave me the courage to push my overbearing Jewish mother out of my life and be myself.  When you're a teenager, is something as much fun if your parents approve of it?  I don't know, maybe times have changed.  I also remember part of the fun being that we didn't have much money (this was in the 70s, when you could still live cheaply in New York) and certainly my partner and I never ate much.  Probably only getting one hot meal a week (and living otherwise on nuts and containers of yogurt) at 26 I weighed 20 pounds less than I had at 12.

Was I always looking at everything the wrong way round, I wonder?

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Second Concert

Yesterday's concert went very well.  I got all the videos and am mostly happy with how I sounded (of course there are a few things that could have sounded better).  The only really gauche thing was that I had to stop to drink water (twice!) during the Bolena duet because my throat got dry and there were still plenty of high notes ahead.  Lately there have been various discussions (online) about the fact that it's a myth that people always need to have water but I know that when I'm singing my throat gets so dry that I just wouldn't make it up to some of those notes without staying hydrated.  So what do the big stars do when they're onstage?  All I can think of is that big opera houses and concert halls have a humidfying system of some kind, which regular venues don't.  And churches are dusty.  And for me maybe it's just my chronic upper respiratory issues.

But I shouldn't dwell on negative things; I am happy with how most of it sounded and I looked lovely in my new dress.  It was a splurge (well, for me; it cost $75 and usually I shop at thrift shops for concert wear) but it was worth it and my last semi-formal concert dress is 10 years old.

I really like the site I ordered it from.  It's called "Rose Elegant" (I can't seem to find a site to link to) and everything comes from (as distinct from having been made in) China so the sizes are odd.  A size 12 maps to XXL, but this fit me perfectly.  Since I have gotten shorter and much bigger around the waist (I attribute some of that to the muscle and fat "donut" that singers are supposed to have around the waist and back) I have stopped buying anything fitted around the waist.  I wouldn't wear a tent dress but there are a lot of dresses like this one that are shapely, but not tight at the waist.

Unfortunately I can't seem to be able to download the videos individually (when I do that there is sound but no picture) but I can see them (and I guess show them to people) by posting a link to the original drop box file.  Maybe the videographer can fix the problem.  I hate to bother her because she never charges me anything; apparently making these videos is part of her volunteer work creating "lasting impressions" for seniors. 

So now I can retire the Bolena for a while and start planning 2020 concerts.  At least three of the places want us back; I just have to pin them down about dates and times.  I think next time we may revisit the "Judgment Scene" from Aida and the "Vengeance Duet" from Samson et Dalila.

I am going to be 70 next year but have no sense of slowing down.  I sing a lot better than when I started at 54; even than I did a few years ago.

To end on a humorous and flattering note.  There is a sustained high A at the beginning of the Bolena duet.  It ends the opening recitative, and after I sang it, the audience here broke into applause.  I have never had that happen.