Category Archives: God

Father Meeting Son

I just read this and it is now one of my favorite birth stories ever. The birth of my best friend’s third child, Berend, beautifully told by his father  from his own perspective. So touching, you can see his beaming pride, his tender smile as he watches over his wife and new child. I wept at the end.

Soren, I’m so glad you married into the family. Berend, I’m glad you made your way into it, too.

Dappled Things | Mary, Queen of Angels 2007 | Essays.

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Begging a Favor

I’m asking for a favor. Really. You. If you are reading these words, then I’m talking to you.

This has been a raw week. A raw week for my family. A raw week for this country. A raw week for this world. I need a break. I am begging you, if you are reading this – be part of what is good, do not participate in what is hateful. If you hear yourself start to use blame or shame or rage or stereotyping against someone – even yourself – please, stop. If you hear someone around you doing it, stop it. No, “Those Muslims” or “that Obama administration  or “those Republicans” or gun-toters or granolas. No “lazy” or “stupid” or putting someone down in front of other people. No gossiping or bad-mouthing. No bending tender necks in shame under the heat of your wrath. Stop. I need a break. We all need a break.

If you find yourself irritated by some older person walking too slowly in front of you, imagine what it must feel like when each step is painful.  When your toddler yanks off his shoes for the umpteenth time when you are running late, imagine what it must feel like to have zero control over your world.  When you get impatient with a student who hasn’t done his homework, reach down and say, “Let’s do it together, now. I’ll help you.” When you see the face of someone who has committed an atrocity, remember that he (or she) was a baby once, and probably has at least one person in his life who is also devastated. When you feel justified in your lecturing or preaching down to people you feel superior to, remember what it felt like the last time someone made you feel small.  When you feel numb from all of the violence, be the one to reach out in peace rather than hatred and blame. When you start to forget because the news cycle has moved on, remember that there are still families for whom the grieving is new, who haven’t moved on. When you think you have it the worst, remember that the people in the house next to yours probably have a very hard story you haven’t heard yet because we’re all trying to look perfect. When you know someone is going through something tragic and frightening and isolating, be the one to take over a plate of dinner and a hug. Reach out. Give the benefit of the doubt. Help.

I’m begging this of you, because this week I cannot stop crying. I’m begging you this not because I expect to change the world – the readership of this blog is hardly influential in size. I’m begging you this because we have to start somewhere. We have to stop it all somewhere. It’s you. It’s me. That’s all there is.

One more favor, and this one is from you, God. Without you, it all flies apart. We need you, and we know that. But from the rest of it, we need a breath.

Heaven and Earth 

“And there was silence in Heaven for the space of half an hour”

-Revelation

GOD, who with thunders and great voices kept
Beneath Thy throne, and stars most silver-paced
Along the inferior gyres, and open-faced
Melodious angels round,—canst intercept
Music with music,—yet, at will, has swept
All back, all back, (said he in Patmos placed)
To fill the heavens with silence of the waste
Which lasted half-an-hour! Lo I, who have wept
All day and night, beseech Thee by my tears,
And by that dread response of curse and groan
Men alternate across these hemispheres,
Vouchsafe us such a half-hour’s hush alone,
In compensation for our stormy years!
As heaven has paused from song, let earth from moan.

-Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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(Not) Enough!

We spent yesterday in the hospital ER. Little N woke up in the middle of the night unable to breathe.  Allergy-induced asthma. Seasonal allergies this time. We tried to treat him at home, but it just wasn’t working. His breathing was getting worse and worse. At 9 AM, we decided we couldn’t wait anymore. He was getting lethargic. Alarm bells ringing like crazy in my sleep-deprived head. We packed up the kids, grabbed our ER “Go Bag” and headed off to Mt. Sinai.

His blood oxygen level was 92 when we arrived. That’s still normal range, but toward the bottom. Worrisome. The doctor said that they don’t like people at home below 94, so it’s good we brought him in. The first round of medication didn’t help him enough, so we sat and sat and they gave him a second dose, and we waited to see if that was going to work. It did, thank heaven, and we weren’t admitted this time. (Last time, we were, and it was 3 days in the hospital.) We are really getting to know the hospital. This was our fourth trip in six months. My husband was even giving other patients’ families directions to the cafeteria. Sad.

The day before was stressful, too. We had martial arts class for Big E in the morning and an awards concert we were singing on together in the afternoon. Easy, right? Two things? Simple! Not with two little kids. My general rule is that we schedule only one thing per day because that’s all we can guarantee will happen. However. Martial arts is Big E’s favorite thing of the week (ours, too) and the concert was important to us.

The stress happened before the class. Husband (from now own I will refer to him as RHR – less typing) was in the shower. I was responsible for getting the kids fed. Big E is looking small lately – we are concerned with allergy elimination diet for him. He’s growing and needs his nutrition, so we have cautiously added back Little N’s allergens. But it makes me a nervous wreck. Big E can have milk on his cereal, but only if Little N is asleep in the other room or is strapped into his high chair. Otherwise, Little N will find a way to pour his brother’s deadly milk all over his vulnerable little head.

So – you can see this coming a mile away – we are running late. We need to leave in 15 minutes. I need Big E to eat and Little N to eat and I have to finish getting dressed. I try to oh so tenderly place Little N in his chair, at which point he arches his sweet little back, stiffens his tender little legs, and shrieks like all of the cats in hell. No WAY that child was going in that high chair. I try to press the point with him. Shrieking gets louder, more determined. “Buh buh buh buh BUUUHHHHH!!!!!!!!,” he yells.  Well, SHIT! I just nursed him. Literally minutes ago. This kid is NOT in need of a nursing session. He NEEDS to sit in the high chair and eat some cereal and fruit and let me feed his brother. “RHRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” I yell. Nothing. He either can’t hear me or is strategically ignoring me. I sit down with Little N and nurse. But I’m really frustrated and angry. If we are late, Big E can’t participate in the class. Discipline is part of the whole deal – they don’t let lazy parents just waltz in whenever they feel like it to let their undisciplined children disrupt everyone else. No, we have to be there on time. And They. MUST. EAT. But picture it – how am I supposed to pour what is essentially poison to Little N into Big E’s bowl while I’m holding a thrashing screaming Little N? Man, oh MAN I was wishing for telekinesis just then!

But I don’t have it, so my tension level got higher and higher and higher and I started to imagine smashing a baseball bat into a wall, and then I picked up a pillow and screamed sang a high A in alt into a pillow. (RHR heard that one!)

Did I mention yet that I haven’t had any caffeine yet at this point?

The rest of getting to class is somewhat of a blur. RHR got dressed and somehow we got Big E fed and we arrived in class just in the nick of time.

And then we sang the afternoon concert and then we spent Sunday in the hospital, forced to cancel singing on a studio class in the afternoon, and the angst that came with that. (I need to sing this aria in front of people, will people question our commitment if we don’t show up, etc, etc, etc.)  And the whole weekend forced some serious conversations between me and RHR about how we juggle our careers and caring for a special needs kiddo. We have some ground rules now and a master plan, which feels good.

But I was still feeling totally completely overwhelmed. There’s just not enough time, not enough of me. And I feel that way all of the time.  Every moment of every single little day, I feel like I am drowning in responsibility to a million different people. All of them only aware of their little tiny part of my day, all of them teetering on the verge of disappointment, possibly anger, possibly some kind of harm (to their peace, their schedule, their business, their reputation, their physical bodies – like not eating, for instance). All of them underestimating the time it takes for me to do what they want, and by underestimating, devaluing what I do. And I feel like a loser for not being able to meet every expectation effortlessly. I feel like other women can. I mean, honestly – I’m not unique. I know that. I don’t have an unusual amount of responsibility. My sister-in-law has a special needs kid. So do several of my friends. Lots of people deal with far more severe food allergies, or even worse illnesses, altogether. Some people can’t afford food. Some people don’t have access to health care or clean water or live in a war zone or dig ditches in Siberia I get it, I get it! Which makes me feel so much worse because why can’t I get a grip and do this little bit that I have to do well. Why can’t I succeed at, essentially, being a woman? A perfect wife, a perfect mother, a perfect singer, a perfect friend, a perfect daughter, a perfect niece, a perfect sister, a perfect teacher, a perfect employee, a perfect neighbor, a perfect citizen, a perfect boss?

It’s a shame. It’s shame. It’s – what’s the German word? – unmöglich.  And here’s the thing – I know that no woman out there is doing it all perfectly. We’re just not talking about it.

When I told RHR that I feel exhausted and overwhelmed and nobody gets it, he challenged me to write a list of everything I have to do and post it somewhere public, so that the next time someone says, “I just need you to…” or “It’s just a little thing, it won’t take you more than…” I can point to the list and essentially say, take a number. But the more I thought of it, the more I thought, we need to know each other’s lists. We need to see in black and white, holy hell that is too much work for one person. We can’t possibly do it all. It’s unmöglich. And that’s ok. We are still enough. We are still worthy of being loved. We are still enough. Enough!

Feel free to post your own list in the comments below.

To Do List

Here’s my list. I’m going to add to it as things come up. Yeah – I’m looking at this and already thinking it’s ludicrous!

  1. Give babysitter lowdown on asthma weekend, along with medication instructions
  2. Put bottles together for pumping session
  3. Sterilize pump parts
  4. Meet with boss #1
  5. Meet with boss #2
  6. File extension for taxes
  7. Hang up new HR signs
  8. Set up coffee with K
  9. Go to chiropractor appointment
  10. Put in research request for 3 companies
  11. Reschedule 5 separate reference calls
  12. Reschedule Friday meeting
  13. Schedule 2 new reference calls
  14. Return damaged handbag to Zappo
  15. Get flight itinerary for Thursday
  16. Send a travel link to colleague’s wife
  17. Check in with friend about weekend drama
  18. Schedule 3 coffee dates for client
  19. Go through bills
  20. Get resume & comp for candidate
  21. Instruct babysitter in way to force-feed medication to unwilling toddler
  22. Pump for Little N’s bottles for tomorrow – three times
  23. Nurse – 5-8 times while awake, 1-2 times in the middle of the night
  24. Make dinner
  25. Clean up apartment
  26. Write two lesson plans
  27. Go to voice lesson – sing the crap out of two of the hardest arias written for soprano
  28. Schedule conference call
  29. Prepare origination form
  30. Review and correct invoices
  31. Fix broken login
  32. Enter search information into database
  33. File expenses
  34. Request reimbursement for lost metrocard
  35. File boss’s expenses
  36. File boss’s personal travel with reimbursement company
  37. Give instruction on setting up a conference with a new vendor
  38. Pour caffeine down throat
  39. Respond to a call from Citizens’ Complaint Review Board about police violence
  40. Update two tracking sheets
  41. Type up a handwritten document
  42. Make two folders with labels
  43. Track two engagements (not own but for someone else)
  44. Schedule 4 Skype interviews
  45. Schedule 2 phone screens
  46. Contact Company A regarding questions from Fiscal Sponsor
  47. Thank Company B for nice note about declining to offer an in-kind donation and ask for other suggestions
  48. Make 5 initial fundraising inquiries
  49. Make marinade for ribs
  50. Play with kids
  51. Find a pianist for recording
  52. Schedule lessons
  53. Send fundraising file to husband
  54. Eat
  55. Sleep
  56. Shower & Dress
  57. Pray
  58. Schedule play date for Big E
  59. Confirm lesson with student
  60. Teach kids optimism and gratitude
  61. Book studio
  62. Get applications for CBO preschools
  63. Buy diapers and wipes
  64. Get kids ready for bed
  65. Schedule kids’ dentist appointments
  66. Make sure Little N is covered on our dental insurance
  67. Get laundry together to be done tomorrow
  68. Turn on out of office message
  69. Edit spec
  70. Second meeting with boss #2

NOTE: I know that not all of this will get done. That’s the point of putting the list here. I know your list is this long, and we all know it won’t all get done. So we can say enough is (quite literally) enough. And be compassionate with ourselves and with each other. And if someone isn’t compassionate with you – well, that’s their anxiety/insecurity/disconnect/shame and maybe they deserve an extra helping of compassion from you.

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Filed under Breastfeeding, Connections, Food Allergies, God, Parenting, Singing, women

What Will People Think?

In just the last few months I have become intensely interested in why people do what they do, and how we motivate or de-motivate people to do things. Trust  me, you think about it all the time when you are wrangling a 3 year old and a 1 year old.  These issues touch every single thing we do: the way we work and get others to work for us, the way we raise and teach our children, the way we relate to others in our communities, the way we relate to our spouses, and the way in which we relate to ourselves.  Even, I think, the way in which we perceive our relation to God.

How many of you say this to yourselves: “Do NOT pick up that cupcake, fatty!”  (My husband has gone farther: he has programmed Siri to call him “You fat son-of-a-bitch” whenever she responds to him. Which takes it to a whole ‘nother level, folks!)  How many of you have been the subject of belittling comments in front of other people at work by a superior?  (I worked in a theater in which the director would single out one singer at the end of every rehearsal, ask them to stay late, and then tell them what terrible work they were doing and how they were hanging on by a thread to their job. None of us realized he was doing it to all of us until the second week of the run when one of us confessed how stressed he had been until he got an overwhelmingly positive response from the audience. The director thought he was motivating us to be better, when he was really only terrifying us, possibly making our work worse.)  How many of you have been told by a parent or have told your children, “I’m ashamed of you?”  (My family used to say, as a joke, “Hang your head in shaaaaame!” But I’m sure at one point in the family history, it wasn’t a joke.)

Does shame work? As awful as it feels, is it successful in achieving desired outcomes? And if not, is there another alternative?

Which is all to say that I cannot wait to read the books written by arguably the world’s leading expert on shame, University of Houston researcher and social worker, Dr. Brene Brown, starting with this one.

Curious about my readers out there….  Do you have  a shaming experience, either used on you or that you used on another?  How did that turn out? Answer in the comments below.

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All in.

What a week.  I’m sitting here, trying to gather my thoughts into some kind of readable coherency.  Maybe I can start with the touch points as a way of organizing…

1. Revolutionary coaching

2. Revolutionary lesson

3. Faust at the Met

4. Revolutionary coaching

5. Palm Sunday

This post is about singing, but it’s also about fear and courage, authenticity and integrity, hope and hard work, and the power of God.

I’ve been singing my whole life. There isn’t a day of my life that I can recall in which I wasn’t singing. When I was a baby, my parents would write letters to family members about how I was always singing. When I was 1 or 2 years old, my grandfather asked me if I wanted to be an opera singer – we have the recording. One of my earliest memories is telling him that I wanted to be a gospel singer when I grew up.  I sang country, rock, pop, hymns, musicals, art song, nursery rhymes, Christmas carols, songs I made up, songs the babysitters taught me. I sang in talent shows, choirs, caroling groups, musicals, to the church shut-ins, to the babies I babysat, in competitions, and if I felt like I just wasn’t getting enough performing time, I created concerts for my family, standing on the fireplace hearth as my stage.

I went to school and (shocker!) got a degree in vocal performance. And then another one. And then I boxed up my belongings and moved to NYC where I continued to train and to start booking professional engagements. I worked for several years, earning my living solely as a singer. And people liked my work. And I loved performing. And I got great reviews. Great, great, great.

Except that I was never totally satisfied (except for one miraculous performance when I was “in the zone” but which I’ve never been able to recapture).

I’ve been training with my current teacher for a while now.  And he keeps reiterating that my voice is very strong and I know what I’m doing and the coordination is there. Why am I not singing at the level he and I both know I’m capable of?  It’s exceedingly frustrating to him and to me.  I mean… It’s good. It’s fine. It’s ok…  But it’s not great.

I’ve spent the past three months really doing some deep psychological work on myself – unpacking all of those horrendously stuffed bits of baggage – and, as is common to so many of us, I have realized that I am a people-pleaser to the nth degree who constantly asks permission in subtle ways to do anything, especially to sing. I spent my undergraduate and graduate years waiting and waiting to be, as I called it, “anointed”. I wanted the gods of singing (at the time, the teaching staff at my schools) to give me permission to do what I wanted to do. And a few times they did, and how heady were those days! Except, then the next time I opened my mouth, I was listening for approval, rather than to my own inner voice.

And sometimes I would rebel and think, I don’t need anyone’s stinking approval, I’ll show them! Which is actually the other side of the same coin. “They” – teachers, coaches, conductors, other singers – became the focus of everything I was doing. I imagined (because they never actually said this to me – it was all in my head!) – that they had terribly low opinions of me and then I would spend all of my energy proving them wrong.

Good lord!

And what it all amounted to, from a technical standpoint, was that I was always either timidly undersinging, not wanting to be too big for my britches until I had permission, or that I was oversinging to prove ’em all wrong. So I didn’t sing “on” my voice with full depth, resonance and chord closure, or I pressed and sang too loudly and mucked everything up with tons of unnecessary tension.

And all the while, my singing was bullshit.  Not just technically, but from the perspective of meaning.  It didn’t mean anything. How could it? I wasn’t me! I was a projection of some fake person from my own imagination of what other people thought of me. Total bullshit.

So – what about the five events I listed above?

I had a coaching with Dr. Noa Kageyama, and please, if you need his help, run do not walk to his studio. An hour with him is an hour well-spent.  He basically said that I have to stop looking for an extrinsic value and start finding intrinsic value in what I’m doing. In other words, figure out what I like and then do that. And that it doesn’t matter what my teacher or my coach or my husband or my kids or the people behind the table or on the other side of the footlights think. My job is to be the curator of what I think is beautiful and then show that to the world. And to expect that I will come across people who passionately hate it. And that’s cool – it’s not their thing. But eventually, I will come across the people who can’t get enough. And it doesn’t have to be a lot of people. They just have to care a lot. And that will come when I am true to myself.

Then I had a lesson with my teacher. I can’t explain exactly what happened. I’ve listened to the recording to try to figure out what happened, but I think I just looked into his eyes and everything clicked. I started repeating to myself, “You don’t have to apologize for anything and you’ve got nothing to prove.” And all of a sudden, we weren’t talking about my breath or my jaw or the position of my larynx or anything. We were talking about intention and line, and I was singing. Not vocalizing. Singing. My voice responding to the direction of my mind. I went in a few seconds from driving a Pinto to driving a Ferrari 360 CS – I could drive it with my pinky. Freedom I don’t think I’ve ever felt before.

Then I went to the Met to see Faust. I was so happy to be back in that house, but a bit let down by the performance. Still, it was a thought-provoking night, so maybe one of the most important performances ever to me. The cast was good. Really good. Every single singer a world-class voice. And every single one was in some way a disappointment. At the end of the night, I felt like no one was really committing. No one was willing to go all the way. Here we have an opera that is about pure evil and shocking redemption. The story is so horrifying that we should all have been crying and throwing up in the aisles. Instead, it garnered polite applause, with some bravos thrown in for a technically superb aria by the tenor. Every single one of those singers, I believe, has what it takes to commit 100% to the music and the character – to look at evil and decide to go in – but chose not to. And so, missed the mark.

They used to bury performers at the crossroads, so great was the public’s fear of their art. My former acting teacher, Tim Phillips, says that we are the emotional firemen – running into the burning building of the psyche when everyone else is running out.  I want to run in. Bury me at the crossroads, please. These singers, after this performance? I don’t think anyone would have cared where they were buried. They were all so obviously “pretending” that no one could possibly have mistaken it for the real thing.

Ok, so all of this is swirling around in my head. And then I go coach with the wonderful Steve Crawford. I sing through Lucia’s first aria. I’m tied up in knots before I begin. With all my might, I’m repeating my new mantra, to no avail this time. I can’t stop the little voice from telling me how terrible I am and how Steve must hate it, and I sang like a pig. Really awful. He asked me what I thought of it and I said, “On a scale of 1-10, maybe a 2. At most.” We talked it through and starting working on it bit by bit, when he stopped and asked me what my intention is. I said something about my inhalation and getting the right vowel blah blah blah….  He stopped me and said, “So you don’t have a vision for this phrase.” Holy lightbulb, batman! It sounds so obvious. But what a revelation! He said, the problem is usually in either the lack of vision or the lack of execution. I think you can execute – your technique is fine. You don’t know what you want to do, so you obsess about your technique and it self cannablizes. Wow. Knock me down with a feather. We started breaking down the aria phrase by phrase from an aural standpoint. Boom! Legato was there, runs were clean, vowels were pure, etc, etc.  It’s amazing what you can do once you decide what it is specifically that you want to do.

Oddly, I felt depressed after the coaching. I mean, I felt good that we found the problem, and that a Met conductor thinks my technique is fine and not the issue. But I felt overwhelmed. I told my husband, “I feel like I’m standing at the base of Mt. Everest looking up.” Do I have the courage to do it? It’s not about figuring out my vision, per se. I need to work that out in greater detail, but I already have lots of ideas. The question is, do I have the courage to stop the bullshit and be me? To say, this is my vision and I’m going all the way in. I’m singing this phrase to the hilt, I’m going into crazy. I’m going to scare you and me both. I’m going to break your heart and make you laugh and make you throw up in the aisle from fear and horror. And I’m going to do it with dissonance and consonance and text and line and vowels and my body and my eyes and my soul. Do I have the courage to be that naked?  Can I even do it if I’m that brave?

I don’t know. I don’t know.

And then we went to church. I was exhausted and lay my head on my husband’s shoulder and listened to the sermon, my eyes in soft focus on the mosaics above the altar, not really seeing. Until I did see: Be of good courage, wait on the Lord, the mosaic said.  And the benediction was this:

When you feel unwilling or unable, remember that there is a Power far greater than you possess that wants to walk with you. Go the distance. Go the distance. Be at peace. God attends.

Wait on the Lord. Be of Good Courage.

He went to the cross. I can go to the crossroads.

All in.

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Filed under Connections, God, Singing

A plea for gratitude and humility

Maybe I’m weird. (Ok, I know I am.) But I’ve always been uncomfortable with the idea of art as a product that we sell. I mean, viscerally uncomfortable. It was suggested to me recently that I find my market and sell to them, and while on one level, I get it, on another level, it makes me queasy.

I don’t want to get all mystical on you – well… ok, actually, I do.

Why did I sing when I was a little girl? A lot of reasons. It felt good in my body. It was pretty. It was fun. I liked the way people responded (singing along, smiling, clapping, crying). I liked telling stories. I liked harmonies. I liked instruments. I liked the kind of people who make music. I liked the way the curtains backstage smelled. I liked make up and costumes and curtain calls. I liked the notes on the page. I liked the conductors and directors and house managers and stage managers. I liked props tables. I liked practice rooms and lessons and pianos. I liked getting better at doing it. I like opening nights and closing nights and all the nights in between. I even liked reviews. Singing, when I was a little girl, made me so happy that I always felt like skipping or spinning when I was singing. I actually had one teacher who told me that I was going to have to learn to stand still while I sing.

And yeah, I want to get paid so that I can devote my time to my art instead of to finding a way to pay the rent.

But selling it? I don’t know…

And I don’t think I’m alone. Most singers I know are not great business people. And most feel very uncomfortable with the idea of marketing themselves or their voices.

But I think there is more to it than a lack of aptitude or business acumen. I think it has to do with the intersection of art and the divine.

The commercialization of art makes it possible and, in fact, likely to put ourselves in the position of critic and judge. If art is something we are consuming, something we sell and buy, we want to assign value to it. And the value comes from us, rather than being intrinsic to the art itself. And I get this, I do. I really do. I mean, I’m an American – free market capitalism and individualism and thatswhatmakesourcountrygreat and all that. But it’s wrong.

Why is it wrong? And this is where I’m going to get all mystical and if that makes you uncomfortable, you might want to click away now. It’s wrong because we have left out connection, which is what art is for. Connection to what? (Didn’t she say she was going to get mystical?) Connection between the artist and God. And from the connection between the artist and God, from the artist to the observer.

Think about the moments when you yourself felt that everything clicked, when you were “in the flow”, when things just seemed to be miraculously happening, almost beyond your will or control. See? You can’t even think about it without using mystical terms – sublime, divine, miracle… And you’re right. God was acting through you to bring whatever you were making into the world. And of course, using your skill and training and technique and ability to make it happen. But still – acting. Through you. And then you in turn offer that as a gift to your audience.

Which means that all the snarky things that people say when they see art as a commodity are not just mean-spirited but wrong. They miss the point. If art is great, our response should be, as Elizabeth Gilbert said, “Allah! Ole!”  Thank God. And if not great, you should still thank the artist, for having the courage to show up, to put their souls at the service of the divine and you, whether God chose to take up their particular vessel in that particular moment or not.

And what if you are the artist? Well, then if you happen to be great, you should drop to your knees and thank God for creating the art in you on that moment and allowing you to be the vessel. And if you aren’t great that day, let yourself off the hook. Your job is to train, improve, practice. And show up.

I think we could do with a lot more gratitude and humility, on both sides of the footlights.

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