Feeling Existential

Wow.  It’s been nearly a month since my last blog post, which says something about my daily life.  Somehow, way back at the beginning of the year, I thought I’d be able to juggle a thousand balls without dropping any.  Perhaps I could, if I was really determined, but at what cost?  So far in 2012, my family has been hit hard with two major illnesses costing the children and me many days off from school and work.  During the fall semester, we hadn’t missed a day!  I’m not saying that doing too much is the cause of illness, as viruses do as viruses do.  However, having days constantly filled with “stuff” certainly doesn’t make things easier for your body or mind.

What has surprised me about being home with sick children now for the seventh (yes, seventh!) day in a row is the sense of relief that accompanied me canceling, well, everything.  On any given day, I typically have lessons, rehearsals, and classes that I teach.  Combine that with taking care of my own kiddies and trying to make time for my husband, and I’m amazed each evening that the day is already over–this scares and saddens me.  Am I truly not present enough in my daily life to even notice as each hour passes?  Am I hustling my kids through each part of the day in order to “be on time” so much that I’m teaching them not to value what’s happening at that moment?

This realization has really prompted me to stop and appreciate what I have.  Now, I’m not saying that I’m not thankful for my life.  In fact, last Thanksgiving, I decided to give thanks on Facebook for something or someone each day until the New Year.  It was really a profound experience that prompted me to start this blog, in fact.  However, what I am still searching for is not just gratitude, but satisfaction–contentment in my life.  The concept of Hungry Ghosts in Tibetan Buddhism has always resonated with me.  Hungry Ghosts are often depicted as ghosts with tiny mouths and huge stomachs that can never be filled.  The underlying idea is that people often try to find fulfillment by meeting goals or physical desires that prove illusory.  I can’t tell you how much this metaphor represents me and how disturbing that is to me.  Let’s see…earn college degrees–check, get married–check, get a “good” job–check, buy a house–check, have children–check, do the best possible job I can do at everything I do–check, check, check, check, check…

It’s almost as if I “conquer” one thing in order to move on to the next challenge and that next challenge will be “the one” that will change my life.  Add to this obsessive goal-setting the need to be outstanding at everything I’m involved in and you have someone who cannot “stop and smell the roses” because she’s too busy making sure the roses are the right size, shape, color, etc. to compare to the neighbor’s and planning for next year’s blooms.

Back to feeling existential and connecting that to being an “opera singer.”  Notice that my blog subtitle is “Story of a music teacher turning opera singer.”  Why?  I’m actually already an opera singer–someone who sings opera–and have been for the last two years.  Now, I’m not employed by the Met and I’m not earning a salary playing roles on stages across Germany.  However, I’m learning and singing beautiful opera music.  My blog subtitle is very telling of my mindset, though.  Can this facet of my life simply be part of my life, part of who I am?  Does it have to be all or nothing? Perhaps I need to brush up on Kierkegaard’s and Nietzsche’s writings on personal life fulfillment and creating meaning for oneself from our daily experiences.

A good friend of mine who did have a fairly long first career as an opera singer is now in school studying to be voice faculty.  When I asked him why he decided to make the change, he simply stated, “I want stability.”  We chatted about how being on stage is thrilling and a huge boost to the ego and performing beautiful music with others is an amazing experience.  However, he also said that not knowing when your next performance is can undermine that thrill.  You’re left hustling for engagements, saving money because you aren’t sure when you’ll be paid again, and not having a stable relationship or family either because you’re traveling or don’t have normal working hours.  In essence, he wants what I already have.  Huh?

Lately, I have talked to all my close associates in music about their opinions on my career–continue as a music teacher or make a break as a performer?  Inevitably, they have all asked me in response, “Well, what makes you happy?”  Easing my anxiety, they have all been kind enough to add that I have the required “equipment” to do either job, as long as I’m committed to putting in the work needed to succeed.  The funny thing is that I haven’t been able to answer the question.  I assumed that once I’d progressed enough to have professionals in the opera world tell me I had chops, my decision would be a no-brainer, but this is confusingly not the case.  I’ve realized that if I’m going to plunge into performance and leave all the rest behind, that I will be abandoning a flourishing music program that I started (at my own kids’ school no less), juggling schedules with my family in which I won’t be seeing them as much since rehearsals are often at night, existing on little to no pay (which our family could manage, but I’m not sure I could accept), and relinquishing teaching.

My surprising reaction to this potential change is reluctance.  Certainly, fear of the unknown is also involved, but for the first time in my life actually, there is little struggle.  Sure, there is the daily struggle that everyone has, but I mean real struggle, like moving across the country, finding a job, finishing a college degree (out of state), facing a major health issue, fighting to adopt a child (twice), making ends meet…you get the idea.  Do I want to create struggle where it doesn’t exist?

Perhaps even framing it this way is wrongheaded. Perhaps, the issue isn’t all-or-nothing.  Perhaps, a long-term goal requiring a sacrifice of everything and everyone isn’t needed.  Maybe, just Imagemaybe, it’s okay to simply take each day at a time without judging myself; accept that I’m actually successful at lots of things and so are other people, which should be celebrated.  Enjoy the fact that I can teach, sing, play, and be a good wife and mom without being perfect at any of them.  The only need to be “the best” exists in my mind, which is the same place where contentment resides.  Which cause do I want to give space to grow?

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