A shift in focus

I just finished narrating lovely Janice MacLeod’s memoir PARIS LETTERS for Tantor, which tells the story of Janice’s decision to save enough money to leave her job and travel for a year. Janice ended up meeting and falling in love with the lovely Christophe, and rather than tourist-ing her way through foreign lands, eventually, she put down roots, committing to Paris and to her new love, creating and embracing a new life and career.

Janice and I had a wonderful conversation this weekend by Skype. I’d contacted her to ask her how to pronounce the names of her friends and how to voice other phrases in the book that are unique to her world, but we ended up talking for an hour about writing, love, her work, my work, our future plans, and more.

Janice is preparing for another international move, this time in the company of her now-husband, Christophe. The two will leave Paris for Calgary this fall, and I’ll be checking into Janice’s blog so that I can keep up to date with her contemplations, observations, and adventures. She’ll be taking pictures and painting pictures, and as one of her newest fans, I’m eager to luxuriate in the work she creates and the window into her life she opens to others.

One of the things Janice said she’d miss is the beauty in Paris. Everything in Paris is made to be beautiful. Beauty is celebrated and prioritized. Her admiration of her adopted European home made me think of my dear Maine, where beauty is everywhere — on every tree-lined street, down each hill toward the park or the beach or the city square or the farmer’s market, where no matter the season, something sweet captures your eye and your heart.

I told Janice that I had been taking a lot of pictures in my New York neighborhood lately, and though the pictures were different than those I’d taken in Maine, I was finding just as much beauty around me in this urban landscape as in the more apparently bucolic setting of my previous home. Beauty still surrounds me, if only I will change my perspective. I can’t as often take a wide shot and find as much natural beauty; I must focus my gaze tighter, look for smaller details, in order to find something that soothes me. But there’s no shortage of scenery that brings me peace and well-being. It’s up to me to shift in harmony with my landscape, so that I don’t hold an old expectation in this new world.

I look forward to taking more pictures of my new setting here in New York, and I look forward to seeing the new setting of Janice’s life, too. In the meantime, here are some shots of the beauty that has blessed my days lately.

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Vocal heartstrings

Sunday evening I was at the 5th Maine Regiment Museum on Peaks Island in Maine to hear my beloved Renaissance Voices perform their spring concert. My best friend sat next to me as we listened to the a cappella voices perform songs by Stephen Foster, William Billings, Faith York, Amy Beach. When Leah noticed I was trying, unsuccessfully, to hold back tears, she reached over to hold my hand tight.

It’s been exactly a year since I was on Peaks and last made music with these dear people, the twenty or so sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses with whom I shared a decade — births, deaths, marriages and divorces, illnesses, injuries, success and all the messy rest of life — during Sunday evening rehearsals and seasonal performances.

On June 2nd, 2013, I took the ferry from Portland to Peaks with Bernie, Harold, Lisa, Jean, Sarah and Kirk, George and Cevia, and the rest of the choir. We got off on Peaks and walked the fifteen minutes up gentle hills, past yards decked with poppies, lupine, lilacs, and rhododendrons, swung around the last bend toward the rocky coastline, and then clambered up the stairs and across the wooden deck of the tidy, yellow clapboard civil war memorial.

As we had always done, we set up rows of folding chairs, changed into our black concert dress, then went through a quick warm-up and sang through the beginning of each piece. The double doors at the back of the room were open to the sea, and the salt air and surf accompanied our happy, relaxed preparations for the evening. When Harold, our conductor, was satisfied, rather than dismissing us to the wings to await the audience, he carefully pulled forward a chair and invited me to sit.

Then my friends gathered around and presented me with a basket full of presents. In 48 hours I would be moving to New York to continue my career as a voice actor and writer, and they had conspired for weeks to give me a loving, generous, heartfelt send-off. Lovely Cevia, my fellow alto, placed the basket in my lap, from which I pulled and opened each gift, wrapped in a page of sheet music with lyrics that perfectly, wittily complimented what was inside: an LL Bean hiking boot keychain; a NYC $80 metro card; a jug of Maine maple syrup; a Renaissance Voices T-shirt; a collection of dear George’s essays about island life; a card meaningfully signed by each singer.

The sweetest of all the gifts was a manila envelope decorated with the score for With a Little Help From My Friends, stuffed full of everyone’s personal contacts in New York, complete with explanations of how the person was connected to my choir compatriot — their friends, their family members, other musicians they held dear. Each person in the group was offering me an extension of themselves — the people who they trusted would soften my landing and ease my path in New York. Though I was moving away, they were showing me that I would not be moving on without them.

That early summer evening, before the concert audience arrived, as I was surrounded with people I cherished, I wept with gratitude, my heart at once breaking and full of joy. As each person hugged me in turn, the tears continued to flow. I was tearful throughout the concert. And when Harold announced before the encore that one of Renaissance Voices’ dear friends was leaving, but was always welcome to return home, I gave up and allowed myself to cry and sing shakily and wipe the tears from my cheeks and laugh, with Lisa on my left and Jean on my right tearing up, too.

As I sat in the audience Sunday evening, listening to the beautiful music my friends were creating together, many songs that I’d sung with them in years past and still knew note for note, I cried again, with an aching heart still so full of love and appreciation for the individual friendships I had made and for the collective experience we’d shared for so many years. There is nothing like making music with people you love, learning to blend your voice with theirs, to harmonize. I am so thankful to have had the gift of ten years in the company of these sweet friends, and to know that we’re connected still.

Harold’s trilogy of beautiful songs set to Shakespeare’s words was a magical, fitting end to a beautiful evening, with my favorite from Twelfth Night:

O Mistress mine, where are you roaming?
O stay and hear your true love’s coming,
      That can sing both high and low.
Trip no further pretty sweeting.
Journeys end in lovers’ meeting,
      Every wise man’s son doth know.
What is love, ’tis not hereafter,
Present mirth, hath present laughter:
      What’s to come, is still unsure.
In delay there lies no plenty,
Then come kiss me sweet and twenty:
      Youth’s a stuff will not endure.

36 things

It’s my birthday!!

I love my birthday. Celebrating another year of life gives me the opportunity to consider all the things for which I’m deeply grateful, to mark the beginning of my New Year, and to extend wishes to the Universe to send more peace, prosperity, adventure, love, good health, and friendship my way.

Let’s celebrate together! I’ll list 36 things I’m grateful for, and I invite you to list in the comments anything that brings you joy and blessings!

In no particular order, here are 36 amazing things to be thankful for:

1—6: My family! My mother is not only my beloved mama, but one of my very best friends. My father inspires me to be my best self every day. My brother exhibits grace and resilience and makes me very, very proud. And these three silly kitties, Mirren, Houdini, and Blossom! They’re cuddly and funny and fun and demanding and exasperating and maddening and loving and hilarious.

7: Dear Dutra, who is also cuddly and funny and fun and demanding and exasperating and maddening and loving and hilarious.

8—16: My wonderful girlfriends. Leah, who advises, counsels, guides, amuses, entertains, and uplifts, and breaks my heart open. Caseylin, who is proving herself to be a warrior every day, and is going to be such a beautiful mother, inside and out. Jamalieh, who is a creative genius and who motivates me to keep practicing and focusing on what’s most important. Elena, who soothes my spirit and awes me. Melissa, who is intrepid and brave and wise and as funny as ever. Michelle, who makes me laugh and cry, often at the same time, and in whose company I am my best self. Giovanna, who is crazy brilliant and ever surprising. Maggie, who is so lovely and kind and warm and wise. Bianca, who I think is as tough and devoted a girl as I’ve ever known.

17: This lovely view out my living room window:NYC view

18: This super secret detail about the view out my living room window. Notice the children’s toys? That’s because there’s a daycare right downstairs, so all day, I get to hear children laughing and playing outside my window, which I love:

NYC view 2

19: Getting to live in New York! I LIVE in New York! I know that 8 million other people do, too, but this still feels like a miraculous circumstance!

NYC

20: Discovering Oaxaca Tacos in my first week in Brooklyn! DEEEEEElicious!

Oaxaca

21: Finding an awesome apartment in Park Slope! I love my apartment and I really really love my neighborhood, which I discover is more rad (yes, RAD!) every day. Really, I couldn’t have landed in a better place.

22—25: The Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, the Brooklyn Public Library, Park Slope Food Coop, and BAM, which are all ridiculously close by.

26: The F line. My line. Takes me most everywhere I need to go, and doesn’t seem to be a grumpy line, like the G. (Sorry, G.)

F train

27a and 27b: MAINE and Renaissance Voices. As I said, this list is in no particular order, so my dear, sweet, peaceful, gentle, kind, supportive, nurturing, magical state of Maine could be first on the list. It could be the entire list. How grateful I am that Maine came into my life, along with my most adored Renaissance Voices choir, which is also dear, sweet, peaceful, gentle, kind, supportive, nurturing, and magical.

maine

28—30: Cornish College of the Arts, The Salt Institute, and Vermont College of Fine Arts — the wonderful places that have educated me and prepared me for whatever adventures and opportunities await.

31: My body. I am grateful for my imperfect, flawed, idiosyncratic feet, legs, spine, neck, and shoulders. They’ve been through a lot, but I’m walking and biking and dancing, and I AM SO GRATEFUL.

32: Kate Christensen. I’ve narrated more than 200 audiobooks, but never had I had an experience like that of narrating her Blue Plate Special. I can’t wait for her book to be released, and for readers and listeners to get to know her joyful, huge spirit.

33: My clients — all those publishers, producers, and directors who have given me so much opportunity and trust and faith and patience and support. I would not be anywhere without them.

34: Pat Fraley and Hillary Huber, who set me off on this audiobook journey, shepherding and encouraging me and helping me hone my skills. They’ve become life-long friends and without them, this path would have been far rockier, and much lonelier.

35: Stephen McLaughlin, who directed all of my first books, and has been one of the kindest, most supportive, forgiving, loving friends anyone could ever ask for.

36: Language — written, spoken, read, heard, sung — my greatest joy.

And one to grow on:

37: The ARCHERS! My favorite, favorite, favorite thing in the world.

Your turn. What are you going to celebrate today?

 

Let’s go at this from a different angle

At 7 p.m. last night I was walking, again, to Guitar Center, on a mission to buy yet another cord — The Cord, I so hoped, that would finally solve all my problems and let me hear the beautiful nothingness of a clean room tone. It was getting late, the day had been totally wacky, and I did not feel like persisting in problem-solving. What I really wanted was to just go to bed.

My cell phone was dying, so I couldn’t call my mama or any of my lovely friends to keep me entertained during the two-mile walk. I couldn’t ride my bike because I still have only a U-Lock, which is sufficient in Maine, but would be useless in the big, bad city (it takes fewer than 10 seconds to break a U-Lock and steal your best friend bike, Brooklyn bike shop owners assert), and a bad-ass New York bike lock costs $70. I had just tried to deposit $70, incidentally, but the ATM ate the check, made no record of my deposit, and then flashed an error message, “This ATM is out of service,” so a bike lock was not to be had immediately.

I was striding grimly and resolutely down the sidewalk, passing fast food holes in the wall, grimy-windowed laundromats, and cluttered, jam-packed convenience stores. The streets were crowded with teens walking and texting on iPhones, harried commuters emerging from the subways, clusters of cigarette-smoking men in doorways. Fourth Avenue was clogged with traffic, hot and dirty, the air filled with exhaust and the cacophony of cars, buses, and taxis blurring past.

I felt miserable, lonely, and discouraged, when I became aware that my forehead was furrowed, my mouth was in a tight frown, my eyes were cast down to the sidewalk. And then came the memory of David Taft, one of my wise and mystical physical theater teachers from Cornish College of the Arts, who daily reminded us to keep a cool face.

A cool face is a relaxed face, a countenance that is receptive and open to possibility. The expression of a cool face is neutral — non-judgmental and non-critical while remaining thoughtful and discerning. A cool face does not scrunch with deep lines of grouchiness, fatigue, and irritation. A cool face does not express that after fewer than two weeks in New York, the face-wearer is quickly becoming stained with the exasperation of a cynical, life-long city-dweller.

Remembering David’s warm smile and consistent invitation to wear a cool face was a gentle reminder that I was creating my experience, and that I could make a different decision, walk in the world with whatever attitude I chose — one that would serve me, or one that would not.

So I changed my face and my posture. I willed my hot face to relax, to soften, to smooth out the lines and creases until it became a cool face. I straightened my shoulders, relaxed my hands, brought my eyes up from the pavement to take in everything around me.

And then I saw a grinning, wide-eyed little girl wearing a pink helmet and riding a pink scooter, her father guiding her along a blocked-off side street with his hand protectively at her back. Fuschia and yellow flowers burst through the gate of a community garden tucked into a small, triangular lot at a screamingly loud intersection across from the Barclays Center. The intrepid policewoman directing traffic halted cars barreling down the street just by lifting her palm, and when she scoldingly wagged her finger at drivers trying to make a right-hand turn, she smiled and winked at them, too.

With my new commitment to keeping a cool face, the return home was much more cheerful than the first leg of my journey. There were so many things to notice and take pleasure in, so many things to be grateful for:

Paul McCartney was playing at the Barclays and the gay pride parade was in full swing, so Park Slope’s bars, restaurants, and sidewalks were crammed full of people in full drag — huge wigs and garish makeup — or wearing old Beatles t-Shirts that looked like they’d been worn and washed a thousand times.

I checked my dying phone and found a very kind and generous message from a narrator friend, who had read of my preamp plight and offered to ship overnight a spare preamp she had in her studio — such a supportive offer that it brought tears to my eyes.

I emailed her to tell her that her generosity was deeply appreciated, but would not be necessary, because earlier in the day, after locating a replacement preamp listed on eBay by a guy in Forest Hills, Queens, Dutra had driven me though industrial swaths of the city to pick it up, making sure I didn’t get murdered in a stranger’s house (Reuben was actually very nice and dryly funny, and probably wouldn’t have been murdery, but still, it was very gracious of Dutra to sacrifice his afternoon soccer game for my safety).

When we’d become hypoglycemically irritable and frenzied on the drive back home, we’d screeched to the side of the highway and had lunch at a little Columbian restaurant, where we’d talked to the beautiful woman who simultaneously served, hosted, bussed, and caressed her baby son’s toes and kissed the palms of his tiny hands.

We’d brought back with us a takeout carrier of bandeja paisa to reconstitute for future delicious meals made with fresh, organic vegetables from the local market we’d discovered a few blocks away the night before, the market where three heaping bags of produce cost only half as much as it would have from Whole Foods.

Although I didn’t know it on the walk home, the $50 cord from Guitar Center would, sadly, not prove to be the solution to my problems, but I would continue to be grateful that the ever-generous Charles would stay on the phone with me until 10:15 p.m., trying different setup configurations until proposing that still another cable might be the answer.

And I’d be thankful that a potential cat sitter had dropped by right after Charles and I hung up to introduce himself to the kitties and Dutra and me, so we could see what he really wanted — a place to party in Brooklyn for the summer — and confidently remove him from our list.

All this and more make me thankful. Things are not perfect. There are challenges ahead. The recording studio saga is ongoing. But I shall remind myself to keep a cool face, keep breathing, remain grateful for the enormous support and offers of resources and love that come to me minute by minute, from every direction, as long as I will see them.

Up Early

Sunday morning. Almost everything I own is packed in boxes heaped in my small, open kitchen/living room. I’m sitting at the breakfast bar drinking a cup of coffee next to the big kitchen windows, which have been stripped of their curtains, making it easier to see the backyard of lush green bushes and grass, and the birch tree where the cardinal sings each day.

I’ve just listened to Sinatra sing the Theme from New York, New York. The song was sent to me from a new friend, Grant Overstake, the writer of a lovely young adult book I hope to have the privilege of narrating, called Maggie Vaults Over the Moon. That unexpected offering arrived in my inbox last night, along with a selection from Debbie Ford’s The Dark Side of the Light Chasers:

“As Charles Dubois once said, “The important thing is to be able at any moment to sacrifice what you are for what you could become.” The only thing that stops us from being our whole, authentic selves is fear. Our fears tells us that we can’t fulfill our dreams. Our fear tells us not to take risks….To overcome our fear, we have to face it and replace it with love.”

Grant shared these gifts with me on a day when the pleasure for this life has come up against the thrill of anticipation at creating a new life. I’m alternately buzzing with excitement and enthusiasm, and feeling tearful and heart-heavy with the pain of leaving behind all I know and love. No one could be moving to New York under better circumstances; an already-robust career, a close-knit community of kind friends, a great talent agent, a wonderful apartment in a lovely neighborhood — all these await. And yet, I’m fearful. Everything is changing — all my maps are being redrawn.

Still, I’m aware that my challenges and fears and concerns are those of privilege and abundance. I am truly wealthy beyond measure, and I have a responsibility to use all the gifts that have been given to me to offer the world beauty, peace, health, and happiness in any way that I am able. I’ll try to do that in the small ways that I can from the hustle of the big city.

I’m going to finish my coffee, then load the car with food, dishes, clothes, my computer, an air mattress, sheets, towels, my bicycle, cleaning supplies. Tonight will be my first night in my new apartment and tomorrow my first trek into Manhattan to begin recording Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites, by my new and already dear friend Kate Christensen. It’s significant and meaningful that Kate is accompanying me on this week’s journey. I feel her friendship and support, as I feel the friendship and support of so many people.

Thanks for coming with me. Let’s go.

Get out your tissues!

There is something so evocative about people making music together. I often cry when I make music with people and I often cry when I’m watching other people make beautiful music together. They’re joyful tears — cleansing, grateful, and unselfconscious.

I posted the Som Sabadell flashmob video last year, because it was so lovely. Then when I saw it again today (and, yes, cried just a little bit with the pleasure of the music and the joyful faces and the dancing children), I thought I’d post it to my blog, before  realizing I already had. (I suppose this reveals I am a creature of habit!) I looked for another wonderful musical flashmob to share, and found the Copenhagen Phil performing Ravel. This one, too, is charming. Hope it starts off your day with a bit of happiness!

It would be sweet to make this a regular part of my blog (which will be more regularly attended to in 2013). If you have any music to share, please do. Let’s bring as much joy and delight to each other as we can this year! What do you say?